Unfortunately for the Russian soldiers, their generals followed Soviet military doctrine nearly to the letter, and the Germans had grown used to their tactics. Anticipating a Soviet bombardment, the German generals had pulled most of their men back from the first defensive lines and reduced the number of men in the second lines.
So a Soviet bombardment with three times as many shells as there were defending troops managed to obliterate one line of trenches, damage another, but kill very few of the defending troops. It also left German mortars, machine guns, tanks, and artillery emplacements.
The Soviets continued the battle with a rolling barrage that did begin softening the German army positions. But, by that point, Soviet tanks and infantry were struggling to get through the soft ground around the Ober River which had been flooded and turned to marshlands.
The German weapons which had survived the artillery bombardment were able to inflict heavy losses on the attacking Soviet columns.
Despite the heavy losses, the Red Army took the Seelow Heights on April 19, 1945, and launched its final drive to Berlin. Soviet troops surrounded the city and forced their way in. German leader Adolf Hitler killed himself on April 30 and Germany surrendered on May 8.
There were two reasons that the Japanese Navy found itself on the wrong end of the Marianas Turkey Shoot. One was the F6F Hellcat, which proved to have much better performance than the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. But just having the Hellcat wasn’t enough.
The real key to the overwhelming victory in the skies above the Philippine Sea was how well a pilot could operate their plane. During the Battle of the Coral Sea, Stanley Vejtasa earned the second of his two Navy Crosses by destroying three Zeroes while flying a Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber. Later in 1942, Vejtasa would score seven kills in one day during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands while flying the F4F Wildcat. Vejtasa would find himself sent back Stateside, his kill total for World War II frozen at 10.5, as he became a test pilot.
Many other aces were sent back, some as test pilots, but most were responsible for training up-and-coming pilots. The combination of the user-friendly F6F Hellcat and skilled, veteran pilot instructors made this fighter a superb weapon. It scored 5,165 kills during World War II. David McCampbell would score 34 of them to become the Navy’s leading ace. Japan kept its pilots on the front lines, so when they were shot down, they were often killed.
One reason the Hellcat racked up such a high total was that its contemporary, the Vought F4U Corsair, was difficult to fly – earning the dubious nickname, “Ensign Eliminator.” By contrast, the Hellcat was a relatively simple plane to land — a big plus when it came time to land on a carrier. As a result, the Corsair was relegated mostly to land bases.
As the Allies advanced on all fronts in World War II, the United States needed a new weapon. It had to be able to protect Allied troops while being powerful enough to break through the German defenses at the Siegfried line and land on the Japanese mainland.
The Army built two prototypes of a super-heavy, super armored tank for just that purpose in 1945 – and then lost one of them almost as quickly.
Toward the end of 1944, American war planners knew the war was coming to a close. They were looking at how they would be able to smash through the vaunted defenses of the Siegfried Line that blocked their path into greater Germany.
Nazi Germany’s Siegfried Line was a 300-mile line string of fortifications along the German border that was filled with bunkers, “dragon’s teeth” tank traps, pillboxes for machine guns and anything else that might slow or stop an enemy advance.
Meanwhile, they were also preparing for the final invasion of the Japanese mainland. The year 1945 would bring them to the doorstep of mainland Japan, after the fall of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Japanese resistance had been extremely strong almost everywhere the Americans fought them.
For both these reasons, the United States decided it needed an equalizer. It decided that this equalizer would come in the form of a massive tank, the T28 Super Heavy Tank.
Concepts for super heavy tanks were nothing new. Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom were already developing their own versions of massive tanks for the war. The American version came in at 95 tons, with 12-inch armor plating, and a massive, fixed 105mm turret as a main gun. This behemoth was powered by a Ford V8 engine that could only move at a top speed of eight miles per hour.
Originally planning to build five, the full order had to be cancelled as the war had ended by the time the first working prototype was completed in the Fall of 1945. Still with two in the arsenal, the Army decided it would test the ones it had.
The tests did not go as well as the Army had hoped. The first T28 was scrapped after an engine fire heavily damaged the tank during its first trials at the Yuma Proving Grounds. The second T28 fared much better but the program was scrapped anyway. Army planners had already created two newer, more versatile tanks without making it super heavy.
Then, everyone, including the Army, forgot about the T28. Literally. As tank concepts continued to evolve and more and better tank programs were rolled out in the 27 years following World War II, the Korean War, and even the Vietnam War, the T28 sat abandoned in a field.
By the time someone discovered the massive World War II-era super heavy tank in a Fort Belvoir field in 1974, it was covered in brush and bushes had grown up around the tank. No one really knows if it had been there the entire time or where it could have been if it wasn’t there the entire time.
It was soon moved to the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor at Fort Knox in Kentucky, as the remaining T28 prototype had really just become a museum piece in the intervening years. The Vietnam War was over, the Army was in its second generation of main battle tanks with the M60 Patton tank, and Japan and West Germany were now American allies.
The T28 was moved from the Patton Museum at Fort Knox to Fort Benning in Georgia in 2010.
Prince Charles ascended to the Swedish throne in 1697 at the age of 15 as Sweden, then one of the most powerful countries in the world, was beset on all sides by enemies and rivals that began attacking early into his reign. Unfortunately for them, the new King Charles XII just couldn’t stop winning battles, even when severely outnumbered.
Swedish King Charles XII led a series of successful counter invasions after his country was attacked by a three-way alliance anchored on Peter the Great.
(David von Krafft)
Charles’s forebears had built Sweden into a massive country for the time, consisting of modern-day Sweden, Finland, and Estonia as well as sections of Russia, Latvia, Norway, and Germany. By the time that Charles XII ascended, some small sections had been lost, especially in Norway, but Sweden still had a firm grip on the Baltic Sea.
They were wrong. The Swedish people rallied around their young king in 1700 at the beginning of the invasion, and Charles XII marched with his men to meet the threat. The first two attacks came from Poland-Lithuania and then Denmark-Norway, but both were weak and easily beat back, and Frederick IV was knocked out of the war.
The true threat would come that November when Peter the Great marched on Livonia, a Swedish province that bordered Poland-Lithuania and Russia.
Great Northern War – When Sweden Ruled the World – Extra History – #1
It’s important to note here that Sweden’s armed forces were the envy of much of Europe. Their army was known for discipline, and the navy was highly capable. But the Russian and Polish-Lithuanian forces arrived first and laboriously dug into the frozen ground to prepare for a siege.
But Charles the XII, riding high after his battlefield success against Danish troops, sailed to Narva and prepared to attack despite the freezing cold. Some of his father’s top advisers pushed hard against that plan. Swedish forces would be outnumbered 4 to 1 while fighting against a dug-in force.
Peter the Great, certain that Charles XII wouldn’t attack until his men could rest and refit from their long movement, left the battlefield to attend to other matters of state. Charles XII, meanwhile, figured his 10,000 men would perform just as well now, tired from their long march from the coast, as they would after weeks of “resting” in the snow and ice.
So, near the end of November (November 30 by our modern calendar, but the 19th or 20th by calendars in use at the time), Charles XII ordered his men into formation for an assault despite a blizzard that was blowing snow into his own men’s faces.
The advisers, again, begged Charles to back off. But then the winds shifted. For some number of minutes, the Russians and their allies would be blind while the wind was at the Swedish back. Despite the string of questionable decisions leading up to this point, he was now in perfect position to crush the primary rival attempting to break up his empire.
His men attacked, appearing like ghosts in the wind-driven snow. They fired their weapons at close range and then dived into Russian trenches, fighting bayonet against saber for control of the battlefield.
The Battle of Narva in 1700 saw Swedish forces break Russian lines despite being horribly outnumbered.
The Russians and their allies, despite outnumbering the Swedes 4 to 1, were driven from their defenses and fled east, attempting to ford a swollen, freezing river or cross one bridge near the battlefield which collapsed under the weight of the retreating forces.
Charles XII had broken Russia’s only major force, seized much of its supplies, and was well-positioned to invade the motherland before Peter could raise a new force. But instead, Charles XII wintered in Livonia and then pushed south into Poland-Lithuania, quickly driving Augustus II into Saxony, allowing Charles to name his own puppet to the Polish-Lithuanian crown.
In six years of war, Charles XII had won nearly every engagement, had knocked one of Russia’s allies out of power and crippled the second, and had forced Peter the Great to rebuild his broken army from scratch.
But all of this success had gone to the young king’s head. It was 1706, and he was now 24 and the power behind the throne of a large kingdom that bordered his own empire. Charles XII struck north with all the bravado that the early successes could muster in his young soul.
But while he was marching to victory in Poland, Peter the Great had been battling Swedish generals to the north, winning more than he lost and cutting through the Baltic provinces to create St. Petersburg on the shore of the Baltic Sea. Peter had his port and offered to give everything else back if he could keep it. Charles XII declined and headed north to re-take his coastline.
But Charles had been so successful against Russia in 1700 thanks to a bit of luck and the high discipline of Swedish troops against less experienced and drilled conscripts. By 1706, Peter had a large core of battle-hardened troops that were real rivals for Swedish forces, and he would exploit most any mistake Charles XII would make.
A portrait of Peter the Great.
Charles XII marched on Russia, and his initial thrusts were even more successful than his first forays against Russian forces. His men would hit Russian lines before the troops could even dig in, forcing Peter to pull back faster and faster.
But Peter was secretly cool with this. Remember, he just wanted to keep his fort, and he was steadily fortifying it as his men withdrew. Swedish advisers still thought they could take St. Petersburg, but it would be a hard-fought thing by the time they arrived.
But Charles would reach even further, overreaching by far. He marched against Moscow instead. The advisers begged him not to do so. It was impossible, they thought.
Peter launched a destructive defense just like Russians would do for generations after him, stopping invasions by Napoleon and Hitler. They burned bridges behind them, sent horsemen to harry the Swedish attackers, and waited for the cold to drain Swedish strength.
Peter began picking good ground to defend, but the Swedish king was still successful in battle after battle. At Grodno, Holowczyn, Neva, Malatitze, and Rajovka, Swedish forces were victorious despite often fighting outnumbered both in terms of total men and artillery strength. Some of these, like at Holowczyn and Malatitze, were decisive victories where Sweden inflicted thousands of casualties while only suffering hundreds of their own.
But Peter the Great had traded space for time. Sweden was racking up tactical victories, but his men lacked sufficient supplies as the Russian winter set in, and this was the Great Frost of 1709, the coldest winter in 500 years of European history.
Russian forces smashed Swedish troops at the Battle of Poltava in 1709.
Both sides lost forces to the cold, but disease and starvation took out over half of Charles XII’s army. Charles tried supporting a revolution by Cossacks in Ukraine to gain more troops and supplies there, but it failed, and Peter was able to pen Charles XII in, cutting him off from Swedish lines of re-supply.
At the Battle of Poltava, Charles XII tried to conduct a siege without artillery and with only 18,000 men ready to fight. Peter arrived at the fort with 80,000 men. Charles XII, unable to walk or ride because of a shot to his foot during the siege, ordered an attack anyway.
Charles was nearly captured during the fight, narrowly rescued by a Swedish major who sacrificed himself to save the king. 14,000 Swedish soldiers were captured, and Charles XII barely escaped to the Ottoman Empire, a historical rival of Russia. Charles would overstay his welcome here.
While he was stuck, Norway and Poland began war against Sweden once again, and Prussia and England joined the fray. Charles XII was killed in the trenches near Frederiksten in 1718, in some ways the victim of his own early success as a boy-king. Sweden would see its territory chipped away, much of it lost in 1720.
The tale of Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Gerard Roope is quite amazing – particularly given that it was a Nazi, Hullmuth Heye, who recommended Roope for the Victoria Cross, the United Kingdom’s highest medal for gallantry in combat. But Heye wasn’t the only Nazi to recommend a Victoria Cross for a foe.
Oberleutnant Klemens Schamong was commanding the German submarine U-468, a Type VIIC U-boat, during World War II. U-boat.net reports that U-468 displaced about 871 tons submerged, and was armed with five torpedo tubes (four forward, one aft) as well as an 88mm deck gun and other smaller anti-aircraft guns. According to U-boat.net, this sub is credited with sinking one ship — the motor tanker Empire Light, in March of 1943.
But an incident off West Africa five months after U-468’s lone ship kill would leave Schamong in a unique position. The sub was caught on the surface at about 9:45 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 11, 1943, by a B-24 Liberator provided to the Royal Air Force under Lend-Lease and piloted by Royal New Zealand Air Force Flying Officer Lloyd Allan Trigg. During the war, many B-24s were used as maritime patrol aircraft due to their ability to operate at long range and still carry a heavy payload.
According to the London Gazette, Trigg began to approach the U-boat and came under heavy fire. The B-24 was damaged and started to catch fire. Trigg could have pulled away to make a water landing, but instead he chose to press the attack. He dropped depth charges that left U-468 in a sinking condition. The B-24 then crashed into the sea. None of the Liberator’s crew survived.
But a rubber dinghy from the crashed aircraft floated on the sea, near where the U-boat went down. Schamong and six of his crew would reach that life raft, where two days later, a Royal Navy Flower-class corvette, HMS Clakia, would find them. As a POW, Schamong reported the actions of the B-24’s pilot to the British, who awarded Trigg the Victoria Cross posthumously.
“The war began in my front yard and ended in my parlor.” This statement about the start and the end of the U.S. Civil War was spoken by Wilmer McLean and is surprisingly almost perfectly true.
Wilmer McLean was born on May 3, 1814, in Alexandria, Virginia, one of fourteen children. When his parents passed away at an early age, McLean was raised by various family members. At 39, McLean married a widow by the name of Virginia Mason, who had two daughters from a previous marriage. Mason also inherited her family’s 1,200 acre Yorkshire plantation located in Bull Run, Virginia.
Life was peaceful at the Yorkshire plantation with McLean working as a fairly successful wholesale grocer. As tensions mounted between the North and South, McLean, a retired military man (former member of the Virginia militia with the rank of Major) and current slave owner, offered to let his plantation be used by the Confederate army and it was soon put into service as the headquarters for General P.G.T. Beauregard of the Confederacy.
McLean welcomed General P.G.T. Beauregard to stay at his house on July 17, 1861. The next night, July 18, 1861, General Beauregard was sitting at McLean’s dining room table when a cannonball exploded through the fireplace and into the kitchen. General Beauregard wrote about the event in his diary, “A comical effect of this artillery fight (which added a few casualties to both lists) was the destruction of the dinner of myself and staff by a Federal shell that fell into the fireplace of my headquarters at the McLean House.”
Cannons at Manassas National Battlefield Park.
What followed was the First Battle of Bull Run (also known as “The Battle of First Manassas”). Although the Civil War technically started at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, besides being the first major land battle of the war, the First Battle of Bull Run is generally marked as the point when the war began in earnest.
During the Battle of Bull Run, the Union soldiers were initially able to push back the Confederate troops, despite the impressive efforts of Confederate Colonel Thomas Jackson — Jackson earned his nickname “Stonewall”, for holding the high ground at Henry House Hill (shown in the background of the picture above). In the afternoon, Confederate reinforcements arrived and were able to break through the Union lines. The Union troops were forced to retreat all the way back to Washington D.C. Their retreat was a slow one, as it was delayed by onlookers from Washington who wanted to watch the battle unfold.
After the First Battle of Bull Run, the McLean household was used as a Confederate hospital and a place to hold captured Union soldiers. The Confederate army paid rent to the McLean family during their stay, a total of 5 (about ,000 today) over the course of the war. McLean also made a small fortune running sugar and other supplies through the Union blockade to the Confederacy.
McLean started to fear for the safety of his growing family when the Second Battle of Bull Run started in 1862. His house and land were in disarray from the war, so he decided to make a fresh start in southern Virginia. After scouring the area, McLean found a nice two story cottage in Appomattox, Virginia about 120 miles south of his home in Bull Run. Here he hoped to stay away from the war and all of the problems it had caused for his family.
The McLean family enjoyed a few years of peace and quiet in this way, but in 1865 McLean found the Civil War at his front steps once again with the Battle of Appomattox Court House started on the morning of April 9, 1865.
Prior to this battle, General Robert E. Lee was forced to abandon the Confederate state capital of Richmond, Virginia after the Siege of Petersburg. Heading west, Lee hoped he would be able to connect with Confederate troops in North Carolina. The Union troops pursued Lee and his forces until they were able to cut off the Confederate retreat. Lee then made his final stand at Appomattox Court House and was forced to surrender as his troops were overwhelmingly outnumbered, four to one.
General Robert E. Lee.
A messenger sent to McLean informed him of the Confederates intentions to surrender and asked him to find a location where the surrender could take place. On the afternoon of April 9, Palm Sunday, General Robert E. Lee met with Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant in McLean’s parlor to officially surrender. The terms of the surrender were generous to Lee and his army: none of his soldiers were to be held for treason or imprisoned; his men could take their horses home for spring planting; and the starving Confederate troops received food rations.
While this time around McLean’s house didn’t get partially blown up, after the Confederates surrendered, Union soldiers started taking tables, chairs, and any other household items from McLean as souvenirs to remember this historic event. A few soldiers gave McLean money as he protested the theft of his household items. For instance, the table that General Lee signed the surrender document on was purchased by General Edward Ord for (about 00 today).
In the days that followed the surrender, the McLean house was used as the headquarters for Major General John Gibbon of the United States Army. It was also at this time that local civilians started visiting the house… and taking any part of the home that they could get their hands on. McLean did manage to continue to make some money off of this for a time, selling many items supposedly in the house during the signing; he reportedly sold enough items in this way “to furnish an entire apartment complex”.
General Lee was offered the position of the head of the Union army by Abraham Lincoln, but decided to lead the Confederate army instead as he couldn’t bring himself to lead troops against his native Virginia. Despite the Confederates being vastly outnumbered and not as well equipped as the North, Lee and his right hand man, Stonewall Jackson, managed to post victory after victory against the North, primarily due to Lee’s brilliance, Jackson’s audacity, and the North’s moronic and sometimes timid Generals.
Albert Woolson was the last known person to die who fought in the Civil War, living all the way until August 2, 1956. He was a member of the Union Army.
Joshua L. Chamberlain was the last Civil War soldier to die of wounds incurred in the Civil War, managing to live until 1914 with lingering health problems from wounds inflicted during the war. He also has the distinction of being one of the few soldiers to be battlefield promoted to General.
It is estimated that during the First Battle of Bull Run, there were 4,700 total casualties during this battle, 2,950 for the Union and 1,750 for the Confederacy.
Even though McLean made some money during the war by renting out his house and much more running sugar for the Confederacy, he had little to show for it after the war. McLean was paid entirely in Confederate notes — a currency that no longer existed after the fall of the Confederacy. In 1865, his house was foreclosed on for ,060 (about ,000 today).
After losing the house and having very little money to his name, McLean moved his family back the Alexandria, Virginia. There McLean lived out the rest of his life as an IRS auditor. He retired at the age of 66 and passed away two years later.
The McLean cottage in Appomattox lay in ruins until Congress bought the house in 1930 and rebuilt it. The Appomattox house became a tourist site starting in 1949. Today, McLean’s Yorkshire plantation no longer remains but there is a historic marker where it once stood.
1 in 13 veterans of the Civil war became amputees because of the war.
During the American Civil War, the Union soldiers blocked many supply lines to the Confederacy. Due to this, there were mass shortages of a variety of things. One such shortage that resulted was that newspaper offices ran out of paper. Instead, some took to using wallpaper to print their newspapers (this was not ripped from parlor walls as some books mistakenly state, but rather new rolls of wallpaper that were available). Some editions of the Confederate papers were even printed on other substitutes like brown wrapping paper, blue ledger paper, and even tissue paper.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
Prior to World War II, the rising chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler, announced plans to make Germany into a motorized nation. This led to the adoption of the Volkswagen Beetle. But Hitler also ordered military versions of the vehicle developed, and these vehicles would go on to fill the same niche for the Reich that the Jeep served in America.
American Jeep Vs German Kubelwagen: Truck Face-Off | Combat Dealers
The road to the Kubelwagen began in the 1933 Berlin Auto Show. That was when Hitler called for a motorized Germany and then heard the plans for Ferdinand Porsche’s 25-horsepower vehicle with an air-cooled engine. Hitler demanded that it seat four and get good gas mileage, and they were off to the races.
It took a few years for Porsche to finalize the design and begin mass production under the newly formed Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Volkswagens company, soon shortened to Volkswagen.
But Hitler quickly rose from chancellor to Fuhrer, and his SS officers asked this new Volkswagen company if it could make a militarized version of its KdF Volkswagen in January 1938. The company fast-tracked the project, and the first prototypes came off the line in November.
A Type 82 Volkswagen Kubelwagen
The initial prototypes had some shortcomings in testing. They could not run at walking speed due to their gearing, and they had insufficient ground clearance as well as a less-than-robust suspension. All of these problems were quickly ironed out, though. By the time the Type 82 version, the vehicle’s second iteration, went into production in 1940, it was a capable machine well-liked by the troops.
It was fuel efficient for the time, reliable, and could carry four soldiers and the lion’s share of their gear. It was not, by default, armored or armed, though. So it rarely acted as a front line troop carrier. Instead, it served in a logistics and support role, ferrying spare parts or other key supplies to where they were needed or getting key leaders into position to observe the enemy or their own troops.
So, you know, similar to the Jeep. But there were a number of traits that separated the two vehicles.
A Volkswagen Kubelwagen
(Staffan Vilcans, CC BY-SA 2.0)
For instance, the Kubelwagen had a 22.5 hp engine, much weaker than the Jeep’s 60 hp or even the civilian Volkswagen’s 25-hp engine. But the engine was air-cooled, which did make it a little less prone to breakdowns. And it had a wider and longer wheelbase than the Jeep as well as more storage space.
But the Kubelwagen wasn’t the only military version of the Volkswagen. A command vehicle, the Type 87 Kommandeurwagen, had 4-wheel drive and looked more like a Beetle. And the Type 166 Schwimmwagen was the most-produced amphibious car in history.
When Allied troops got their hands on any of these variants, the vehicles were generally met with grudging respect. So much so that Americans put together an English-language version of the manual to help other troops maintain their captured vehicles.
The Gato-class, diesel-powered US Navy submarine USS Barb is known for a lot of things. In 12 war patrols, she sank the third most tonnage in World War II, had eight battle stars, and fired the first submarine-based ballistic missiles on Japan. It earned her crew a Presidential Unit Citation, among numerous other awards and decorations.
But one of its proudest moments was also its most daring. Crewmembers aboard the Barb were also the first American combatants to set foot on Japanese home soil — in order to “sink” an enemy train.
They did all of this without losing a single man.
On Jul. 23, 1945, eight members of Barb‘s crew landed on mainland Japan under intense cloud cover and a dark moon. Their mission was to rig a Japanese train track to explode when a train crossed a switch between two railroad ties. Immediately, their best-laid plans went right out the window, forcing the crew to improvise.
The USS Barb off the coast of Pearl Harbor, 1945.
The mission of the USS Barb was to cut the Japanese fleet’s supply lines by sinking enemy ships out of the island of Karafuto in the Sea of Okhotsk. This was the ship’s 12th war patrol, and the fifth for her skipper, then-Commander Eugene Fluckey. They could see as Japanese shipments moved from trains on the island to the ships. Once the ships were at sea, they were easy pickings for crews like the Barb’s.
But why, Fluckey thought, wait for the ships to get to sea? Why not just take them out before the trains ever reach the port? That’s exactly what Fluckey and his crew set out to do.
They couldn’t just place charges on the tracks, it would be too dangerous for the shore party once the Japanese were alerted. Instead, the U.S. Naval Institute tells us how Engineman 3rd Class Billy Hatfield devised a switch trigger for an explosive that, when set between the rails, would go off as the train passed over it.
That was the goal as the crew manned their boats and made it ashore that night, but they accidentally landed in the backyard of a Japanese civilian. So, they ended up having to struggle through thick bulrushes, cross a freeway, and even fall down drainage ditches on their way to the railway. Once there, a crewman climbed to the top of a water tower — only to discover it was a manned lookout post. Luckily, the guard was asleep and their work continued.
They dug holes for the 55-pound bomb as quickly and as quietly as possible, even having to stop as a freight train rumbled by. But they did it, put the pressure switch into place, and booked it back to the ship as fast as possible. At 1:47 am, a 16-car train hit their planted explosive and was shot into the sky. Five minutes after that, the crew was back aboard the Barb.
The Battle Flag of USS Barb, the train is located bottom middle.
Barb’s battle flag could now boast one enemy train “sunk” in combat, along with six Navy Crosses, 23 Silver Stars, 23 Bronze Stars, and a Medal of Honor earned by members of its crew.
Featured Image: Green Beret in Vietnam (not Gaspard); Photos: SF Association Chapter XXI.
‘A Warrior’s Warrior’ in MACV-SOG
During America’s long war in Vietnam, many of the Green Berets who fought there became legends within the Special Forces Regiment. And among those warriors were the men of MACVSOG (Military Assistance Command Vietnam, Studies and Observations Group); the SOG warriors were among the finest the country has ever produced.
LTC George “Speedy” Gaspard was one of the most well-known and respected officers from that generation. After serving with the Marine Corps in World War II, Gaspard joined the Army. He was an original, volunteering for the newly formed 10th Special Forces Group and attending Special Forces Class #1. He would run cross border operations in the Korean War but really made his mark during the war in Vietnam, working in Special Forces A-Camps as well as running some of the most secret operations across the border into North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
Gaspard became a “Distinguished Member of the Special Forces Regiment” in December 2010.
Shortly after I moved to SW Florida I got into contact with Chapter XXI of the SF Association. I was checking out their excellent website, saw a large segment dedicated to LTC Gaspard, and remembered a brief meeting I had with him years ago. More to that soon.
George Wallace Gaspard Jr. was born at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Ala., on August 5, 1926. He was the son of the late George W. Gaspard of MN, and Annie Lou Bamberg of AL.
He served in the United States Marine Corps from 1944 to 1946 and fought in the final battle of World War II on the island of Okinawa with the 6th Marine Division. He first entered the U.S. Army on June 11, 1951.
In May 1952, Gaspard was a student in the first all-officer-class at the Ranger course. He then attended a special course at the Air Ground School located at Southern Pines, N.C. Afterward, he volunteered for the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), which had just been organized at Fort Bragg, N.C.
His first assignment was as a team leader of the 18th SF Operational Detachment. In November 1952, he attended Special Forces Class #1. The fledgling Special Forces unit, much of it comprised of World War II vets from the OSS, was anxious to get involved in the Korean War and conduct missions similar to those conducted in occupied areas of Europe and the Pacific during the war.
The SF troops were put in an active intelligence operation that utilized Tactical Liaison Offices (TLO). Although they were initially manned only by anti-communist Koreans, the TLO would eventually conduct “line-crossing operations” which included using Chinese agents to gather intelligence on the enemy.
However, the Far East Command (FEC), assigned the SF troops as individual replacements rather than as 15-man A-Teams that SF was employing at the time using the OSS WWII Operational Group model.
In March 1953, then 1Lt. Gaspard was assigned to FEC/LD 8240AU FECOM. He commanded four enlisted men and 80 South Korean agents, who were dispatched behind enemy lines to gather intelligence on the North Koreans. Obviously the threat of double agents, something that would later haunt SOG operations in Vietnam, loomed. An excellent piece on this facet of the Korean War, written by former SF Officer and USASOC Historian Eugene Piasecki, “TLO: Line Crossers, Special Forces, and ‘the Forgotten War'” can be found here.
Gaspard was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star for actions in combat during June 11-12, 1953.
In October 1954, Gaspard joined the 77th SF Group (A) as a guerrilla warfare instructor with the Psychological Warfare School’s Special Forces Department. He was subsequently transferred to the 187th ARCT and honorably discharged in September 1957.
From 1960 to 1962, he served as a civilian mobilization designee with the Special Warfare department in the Pentagon. In April 1962, he was recalled to active duty and assigned to the 5th SF Group (A) at Fort Bragg, commanding Det A-13. In September, he opened a new Special Forces Camp in Kontum Province at Dak Pek, Vietnam, which remained the longest continuously active SF/ARVN Ranger camp until it was overrun in 1972. That would be the first of seven tours of duty in Vietnam for Gaspard.
During the early days of Vietnam, there was a general lack of accurate reporting by the press on the fighting. However, there were a handful of reporters who were willing to walk in the field and endure combat with the troops. One of those was Pulitzer Prize-winning author and reporter David Halberstam. He was a special correspondent with the New York Times and not a wire reporter, so, he had the time to visit the troops and share a much closer look at what was truly transpiring on the ground.
One of the first people that Halberstam met in Vietnam was Speedy Gaspard. The two developed a friendship and Gaspard became a source of what was really happening in the outlying areas of Vietnam where SF was working by, with, and through the locals. Halberstam was so taken by Gaspard that he modeled the lead character of his war novel “One Very Hot Day” after him.
Captain Gaspard returned to Fort Bragg in 1963 as adjutant and HHC commander of the newly formed 6th SF Group (A). In July 1965, he reported to AID Washington, DC, and subsequently to AID Saigon, where we was assigned as a provincial adviser in Quang Duc Province. He was instrumental in the very tricky negotiations to peacefully transfer FULRO personnel (Front Uni de Lutte des Races Opprimées — United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races) to the Army of South Vietnam.
FULRO was comprised of the indigenous people of the Central Highlands of Vietnam (Montagnards). They were hated by the lowland Vietnamese, both in South and North Vietnam and referred to as “moi” (savages). At the time, Vietnamese books characterized Montagnards as having excessive body hair and long tails. The Vietnamese rarely ventured into Montagnard regions until after the French colonial rule. Then, they built several profitable plantations to grow crops in and extract natural resources from those bountiful areas.
The simple mountain people were excellent hunters and trackers. They immediately bonded with the Green Berets assigned to stop the communist infiltration of South Vietnam and the Green Berets responded in kind. SF set up the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG), which trained and led the Montagnards in Unconventional Warfare against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese.
But the South Vietnamese government never trusted and hated the CIDG program because it feared the Montagnard people would want independence. (Such was their hatred for the Vietnamese that the Montagnards would continue to fight a guerrilla war against unified Vietnam for 20 years after the war ended. There were reports of genocide against the mountain people and over 200,000 died during the fight.)
Gaspard was promoted to major in 1966, and after completing his tour, reported to 1st SF Group (A), Okinawa. In October 1967, he returned to Vietnam and directed the MACVSOG “STRATA” program until September 1968.
The commanders in Vietnam, especially among the SOG personnel, were never satisfied with the intelligence collection activities conducted in North Vietnam. STRATA was conceived to aid the intelligence situation by focusing on short-term intelligence-gathering operations close to the border. The all-Vietnamese Short Term Roadwatch and Target Acquisition teams would report on activities across the border and then be recovered to be used again. Gaspard and the SOG Commander, Col. Jack Singlaub, briefed Gen. Westmoreland and Gen. Abrams on STRATA operations.
Once, a STRATA team became surrounded and required emergency extraction. Gaspard, riding a hydraulic penetrator, twice descended to remove a wounded agent. He was subsequently awarded the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross for Heroism and the Purple Heart Medal for his actions.
Moles inside South Vietnam’s government and military, even in SOG, were a constant source of leaks to the North, even in SOG. Some of these leaks came to light much later. However, Gaspard would remedy that. As written in a fantastic piece by SOG team member John Stryker Meyer, Gaspard moved the operations jump-off location out of South Vietnam and the intelligence leaks began to dry up.
“The unique aspect of STRATA, which operated under OP34B, the teams launched out of Thailand, flying in Air Force helicopters. The Air Force performed all insertions and extractions without pre-mission reports to Saigon. During Gaspard’s tenure at STRATA 24 teams were inserted into North Vietnam on various intelligence-gathering missions. Only one and a half teams were lost during that period of time that involved inserting and successfully extracting more than 150 STRATA team members during that time.” “Again, a key part to our success was having our separate chain of command and not telling Saigon. We worked with the Air Force on a need-to-know basis.”
It wasn’t until many years later that Gaspard realized the extent of the communist infiltration of the south, right into SOG headquarters. Meyer describes in his piece the horror felt when someone close to the Americans, someone who had been vetted, was in fact a spy for the enemy.
“During a 1996 Hanoi television show, Maj. Gen. George “Speedy” Gaspard, was shocked when he saw an individual he knew as “Francois” receive Hanoi’s highest military honor for his years of service as a spy in SOG. Gaspard, who had several tours of duty in Vietnam and in SOG, knew “Francois” and was “shocked” when he saw the program. Francois had access to highly sensitive information while employed by the U.S. Author and SOG recon man John L. Plaster, has a photo of Gaspard standing with Francois in Saigon when Gaspard had no idea of the spy’s real role for the NVA. That photograph of Gaspard and Francois is on Page 463 of Plaster’s book: SOG: A Photo History of the Secret Wars, by Paladin Press Book. “There’s no question that he hurt SOG operations,” Gaspard said. “Again, how do you gauge it all? When you look at the success rate of STRATA teams by comparison, you can see why they succeeded. We were disconnected from Saigon and we didn’t have the NVA and Russians working against us.”
Gaspard returned to SOG in 1969 and was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1971. He reported to 1st SF Group, Okinawa as the group executive officer, and later assumed command of the 1st Battalion. He retired in August 1973 after having served in three wars.
His earned multiple awards and decorations including the Silver Star Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal with V-device and five Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Medal with V-device and three Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, Combat Infantryman’s Badge with one Battle Star, Master Parachutist Badge, Pacific Theater Service Ribbon with one Campaign Star, Korea Service Ribbon with two campaign Stars, Vietnam Service Campaign Ribbon with 15 campaign Stars, 18 other service and foreign awards including the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Gold, Silver and Bronze stars, U.S. Navy Parachute Wings, Korea Master Parachutist Wings, Vietnamese Master Parachutist Wings, Thailand Master Parachutist Wings, and Cambodia Parachute Wings.
LTC Gaspard was a member of SFA, SOA, VFW, MOAA, American Legion, and the Sons of Confederacy.
From 2004 to 2017 Speedy served as president, vice president, or secretary of the Chapter XXI President of the Special Forces Association. (The Chapter provided a lot of Gaspard’s personal biography listed here.)
In 1985, Colonel Gaspard entered the South Carolina State Guard and in 1987 was appointed Chief of Staff with the rank of Brigadier General. In 1991, he was inducted into the Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, Georgia.
In the early fall of 1989, when I was a student in the SF Officer’s course at Ft. Bragg, one of our fellow students was a young man named George Gaspard, the son of Speedy. Young George, whom we knew as “Buck” was an outstanding officer and an even better man who was very popular among the officers in the class.
We learned that General Speedy Gaspard was going to address our class. He first showed us an outstanding slideshow of pics he took while conducting some hair-raising missions with SOG. They were better than anything we had seen in any book or magazine. He then addressed the class in his self-effacing style and said: “standing before you is an old, fat man, but in Vietnam, I was an old, fat captain… but I relied on and surrounded myself with outstanding SF NCOs who made me look brilliant.”
He encouraged the future A-Team commanders to trust in their team sergeants and NCOs and they’d never be steered wrong. SF NCOs, he said, were the true leaders of Special Forces and officers need to realize it, work together, and take care of NCOs. Of course, sitting in the rear of the classroom was General David Baratto commander of the Special Warfare Center and School (SWC), who cringed a bit at those pointed comments.
Sitting in the back, my buddy Wade Chapple and I were stealing glances at General Baratto who looked pained… In a typical Chapple bit of sarcasm, he leaned over and said to me, “I think his (Baratto’s) head is about to f***ing explode.”
After the day was over, our entire class, including many of our instructors, joined Speedy Gaspard at the “O-Club” for a cocktail or three. He regaled us with some cool stories about the SF and SOG guys he served with. It was a memorable night. When we left that night, he made everyone feel that we knew him well. It was an honor to have met him.
LTC George “Speedy” Gaspard passed away on January 30, 2018.
People who serve in the military tend to develop a pretty dark sense of humor. It comes with the territory. When a very large part of your life involves risking it for your country and for the guy next to you, the idea that your last moments could be closer than you think never fully leaves your mind.
This can change a person. Veterans have a different outlook on some of the more serious aspects of life, laughing at things many others would never dream to, for fear of offending others or, worse, tempting fate. For the crew of the British destroyer HMS Sheffield during the Falklands War, this change became readily apparent and their darker sense of humor flourished.
In 1982, the military junta that ruled Argentina decided that the nearby Falkland Islands, a series of small and strategically unimportant islands off the Argentine coast were going to belong to Argentina again. They had been held by Britain for about 150 years at that point. After a workers’ dispute saw Argentine laborers raise the Argentinian flag on South Georgia Island, Argentina invaded. Soon, 10,000 Argentinian troops occupied the islands. The Argentines thought the UK was unwilling and unable to defend their territories so far from the mainland. They were wrong.
They thought the woman with the nickname “Milk Snatcher” was gonna just let them have the goddamn Falklands.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dispatched a two-carrier naval task force to the area and declared a 200-mile war zone around the Falklands. Within two months, the British retook the Falklands and punished the Argentinian military, but their win was not totally without loss. One of the deadliest weapons the Royal Navy had to face was the new French-built Exocet anti-ship missile. The versatile weapon is capable of sinking enemy vessels with a single, well-placed shot.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in sinking the HMS Sheffield.
Exocet: the trump card of naval warfare.
The Sheffield was on alert but was more concerned about the submarine threat from Argentina’s navy. The crew was totally unaware of the incoming ordnance until they could see smoke from the sea-skimming missiles. The firing aircraft, two Argentinian Navy Super-Étandards weren’t even detected. One missile hit the water, well away from the ship, but the other hit the Sheffield just eight feet above the waterline.
The ship was set on fire and, because the missile hit Sheffield’s water main, there was no way to put it out. Smoke and flames quickly filled the ship, beginning from the second deck where the Exocet missile struck. The crew could only gather and accept the ship’s fate as it burned and they waited to be rescued. Some 20 British sailors died in the initial explosion.
The HMS Arrow was on its way to rescue the Sheffield’s crew, so they formed a chain to keep everyone together and a Sub-Lieutenant named Carrington-Wood led the crew in singingAlways Look on the Bright Side of Life from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. To this day, it’s the most-requested funeral song in the UK.
The Sheffield did not sink immediately. She was looked at to see what could be salvaged and only began to take on water as she was towed across the Atlantic. When she sank, she was the first Royal Navy ship to be sunk in action since World War II.
In 1775, Captains Samuel Nicholas and Robert Mullan recruited men in a popular Philadelphia bar, promising them beer and adventure on the high seas. Just a few months after that November gathering at Tun Tavern, some five companies of the finest Marines landed on the island of Nassau and handed the stunned British a gleaming defeat.
Marines across the Corps maintain that the two newly-commissioned officers were in Philadelphia’s Tun Tavern that chilly November day to create a cadre of warriors who would serve aboard ships of the Continental Navy. Former Quaker and onetime pacifist Samuel Nicholas managed to raise two battalions of Marines out of Philadelphia. They would need all the help they could get because while the Army was fighting the British off at home, the Marines were going to take the fight to the enemy.
This 1803 map of Nassau is very similar to its 1776 defenses.
In the early days of the American Revolution, the colonial government of Virginia moved its stores of gunpowder to a “safer” location, to keep it out of the hands of rebel forces — who were desperately low. That location was in the Bahamas, supposedly safe from marauding rebel ships and fighters.
When word reached Congress about the large stores of gunpowder in the Crown Colony of the Bahamas, the body sent secret instructions to Commodore Esek Hopkins to lead a flotilla of eight ships and 220 Marines (led by Capt. Samuel Nicholas) to Nassau and capture the large gunpowder supply in March, 1776. Consisting of two forts, Nassau and Montagu, the island’s defenses were a wreck. Fort Nassau could not support firing its 46 cannons. Fort Montagu controlled the entrance to the harbor, but most of the gunpowder and ammunition on the island was held at Nassau.
After a brief council, Hopkins decided the landing party would land near Fort Nassau aboard three ships at first light. The invaders would capture the town of New Providence before the alarm was raised among the island’s defenders.
They were spotted by the British, who then fired guns from Fort Nassau to arouse the island’s defenses. The landing team was forced to withdraw back to the ships and the ships left to rejoin the rest of the flotilla to determine their next move. The aborted raid did have a positive effect for the nascent Americans however: The Governor of the Bahamas almost had the extra gunpowder moved aboard one ship for safekeeping, but that idea was abandoned. The gunpowder stayed put and Fort Montagu was reinforced with only 30 mostly unarmed militiamen.
Back aboard the rebel flotilla, a new plan was hatched. The Marines, bolstered by 50 Continental Sailors, would land on Nassau via three ships and backed by the USS Wasp for firepower. In two hours, the Americans landed their entire force east of Montagu unopposed. This was the first amphibious landing of the U.S. Marine Corps.
After landing, the Marines encountered a British reconnaissance force as Fort Montagu was reinforced with another 80 militiamen. Word soon got out that the invading force was sizably larger than the island’s defenses, Montagu fired only three shots before giving up, and the militiamen simply returned to their homes. The Marines occupied the fort that night. The next morning, they occupied Fort Nassau without a shot.
Unfortunately for the invaders, the governor managed to sneak 150 barrels of gunpowder out of the harbor that night because none of the American ships were guarding the harbor. They did take the remaining gunpowder stores and all the weapons and guns the flotilla could carry. These weapons were later used by the Army under Gen. George Washington.
World War II saw the decline of the battleship, the rise of the aircraft carrier, and the maturation of the destroyer and submarine. However, there was another type other major combat vessel in that conflict that often goes ignored: the cruiser. This ship was arguably very important for several reasons.
First, for the initial part of the war, cruisers served as heavy escorts for a carriers against surface threats. Battleships were often too slow to keep up with the carriers and destroyers packed a potent anti-ship punch in the form of torpedoes, but they couldn’t take much punishment. Cruisers were the perfect match.
USS Galveston (CL 93), one of 27 completed Cleveland-class light cruisers. She packed 12 six-inch guns and 12 five-inch guns.
Second, cruisers also were able excellent for maintaining a presence at sea. It took fewer personnel to fully crew a cruiser and they were comparatively cheaper to build than other major vessels. Despite their lower cost, they were still deadly vessels, equipped with either six-inch guns (on light cruisers) or eight-inch guns (on heavy cruisers).
Third, cruisers also fought it out when other options weren’t available. For example, during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, a force of two heavy cruisers, a light cruiser, two anti-aircraft cruisers, and eight destroyers were led by Admiral Daniel Callaghan and took on two Japanese fast battleships, a light cruiser, and a number of destroyers. Callaghan’s outnumbered ships managed to turn away the Japanese force, leaving the fatally wounded Hiei behind.
While it’s best known for being sunk by a Japanese submarine in 1945, USS Indianapolis (CA 35) also served as the flagship of Admiral Raymond Spruance.
Fourth, cruisers could serve as flagships. The Portland-class heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA 35) was the flagship for Admiral Raymond A. Spruance during the Central Pacific offensive in 1943 and 1944. It was also common for Japanese admirals to choose heavy cruisers as their flagships in surface engagements instead of battleships when they had the option.
While all of the major powers had cruiser designs, the most successful was the American Cleveland-class light cruiser. There were plans to build a total of 52 of these vessels. Of those, 27 were completed. The others were either cancelled or converted into light cruisers. Other notable cruiser classes include Japan’s Mogami-class heavy cruisers and the British County-class heavy cruisers.
Other powers in World War II operated cruisers, too. HIJMS Atago served as a flagship in several engagements, including her last one at Leyte Gulf.
(Imperial Japanese Navy)
With the end of World War II, cruisers began to fade away, especially as guided missiles emerged and submarines became more of a threat. Today, the United States Navy has the most of these vessels, with 22 Ticonderoga-class vessels in service.
Though the cruiser’s heyday has come and gone, there’s a chance they’ll make a comeback. The United States Navy intends to replace the Ticonderoga-class ships with a new, modern class of cruiser.
French Marines were manning observation posts on either side of the Vrbanja Bridge. They were UN peacekeepers, the first to arrive in the decimated city of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War in May 1995. But their day was to begin in humiliation and end in bloodshed as their mission to hold the observation posts quickly escalated into the first UN combat mission of the war.
When they first began their occupation of the bridge, one side was overtaken by Bosnian Serb commandos. Dressed in French uniforms and donning French weapons, the commandos took one side of the bridge without firing a shot. They even pulled up to the post in a stolen French armored personnel carrier. For many of the Serbs, it was the last thing they would ever do.
A lot of them, like Serbian commander Ratko Mladic, were busy committing war crimes.
At gunpoint, the 10 French marines were disarmed and taken captive, and driven to another location. The other two were to be used on the bridge as human shields. The other side of the bridge didn’t even know their comrades had been overrun and captured. When the other unit didn’t check in with headquarters, their platoon commander came to check in on the Marines – he then sounded the alarm. When their fellow marines discovered their friends had been taken captive, they decided to move quickly on the Serb commandos.
“When the Serbs took our soldiers under their control by threat, by dirty tricks, they began to act as terrorists, you cannot support this,” Said Col. Erik Sandahl, commander of the 4th French Battalion. “You must react. The moment comes when you have to stop it. Full stop. And we did.”
French APCs on the ground in Bosnia, 1995.
When French President Jacques Chirac found out about the captured French marines, he went around the UN and ordered his troops to retake the bridge and find the missing men. The French sent 30 more Marines, 13 APCs, and 70 French Army soldiers to the bridge. But they couldn’t just blow up the observation post or do a regular infantry assault on the position. There were still hostages inside. They were going to have to do it the old fashioned way.
The French marines mounted their first bayonet charge since the Korean War.
François Lecointre, now a general and France’s Chief of the Defence Staff, led the bayonet charge.
After the bayonet charge, a 32-minute firefight ensued that saw one of the French hostages shot by a Bosnian sniper, the other hostage escaped, three Frenchmen killed in action and another ten wounded, along with four Serbs killed, three wounded and another four taken prisoner. The 10 French hostages were later released. The Serbs soldiers captured were treated as prisoners of war and held by the UN peacekeeping force.
It was the last time the French Army ever launched a bayonet charge, but for the rest of the time the French were participating as UN Peacekeepers in Bosnia, the Serbian forces kept a clear, noticeable distance from them.