In April 1944, an American B-17 Flying Fortress was shot down by flak over occupied France. Its navigator, Raymond J. Murphy landed relatively safely, and with the help of some Frenchmen, he was able to evade the Germans until August when he was able to make it back to England.
When he was debriefed by his leadership, he mentioned coming upon a village just a four-hour bike ride away from the farm where he was hiding. The village was eerily quiet and Murphy quickly discovered why. He saw more than 500 men, women, and children who had been massacred by the retreating Germans.
The village was Oradour-sur-Glane, a hamlet with a population of just under 650. Weeks prior, the townspeople became victims of the Nazi SS as they retreated in the face of the Allied invasion of Normandy.
On Jun. 10, 1944, SS-Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann of the 1st battalion, 4th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment was told by informants that a captured SS officer was being held in a village nearby, along with other items intended to fight the Nazis in France..
The tip came from the Milice, an internal security force operated by Nazi collaborators in the Vichy French government. 110 soldiers of the “Der Fuhrer” Waffen SS tank Regiment approached the town and prepared to raid it, going house by house. They were looking not just for a German officer, but also a supposed arms and ammunition cache being concealed in the bourg by the French Resistance. Things were about to go from bad to worse for the people of Oradour-sur-Glane.
The women were herded into a church and locked inside. The men were taken to a barn, where they were mowed down by machine guns, covered in fuel and then set on fire. The church was set ablaze as well, with the women locked inside. Six men managed to escape from the barn, and only one woman survived the church.
The SS soon departed but returned later to destroy the rest of the village. Survivors of the massacre had to wait days to come back and bury their neighbors.
Even the Germans were shocked at the atrocity. Both the Nazi military command and the French Vichy government opened an investigation into the incident, but Diekmann would never face a courtroom. He was killed as the Allies advanced into France. Much of the battalion was killed as well. 65 more were charged years later, but many were safe behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany.
In 1983, one surviving member of the unit who escaped justice was finally caught by the East German secret police and brought to trial in Berlin. Then 63, Heinz Barth was given a life sentence, of which he served 14 years.
After the war, President Charles de Gaulle ordered that the village never be rebuilt, in case the rebuilding should conceal what happened there. A new village called Oradour-sur-Glane was built near the massacre site.
Today, the village sits the same way it did in 1944, half-destroyed but lying in state as a permanent memorial to the 642 people who died there.
For hundreds of years, military cadences have been used as an iconic tool to keep service members upright during formation runs and marches.
Structurally designed to keep each man or woman properly covered and aligned, a cadence helps a formation of troops in PT land each step at the exact same time as everyone else, preventing a massive falling domino effect.
Military cadence is a preparatory song performed by the leader of the formation during the marches or organized runs. Many parts of these running songs are so catchy, they will be forever embedded into our heavy left feet.
Take a listen and let yourself be transported back to the good ol’ days of the little yellow bird and the days of sitting in the back of your truck with Josephine.
1. “Down By The River”
2. “Pin My Medals Upon My Chest”3. “C-130 Rolling Down The Strip”4. “Hey, Hey Whiskey Jack”5. “How’d Ya Earn Your Living?” Cadences tend to cross-breed through the different branches and change words to make them service-specific. We salute everyone for their originality.
If you don’t think East-West relations have come very far in the past few centuries, consider the fact that James Puckle’s flintlock revolver fired two types of ammo: round shot for use against Christians, and square shot for use against Muslims. The square shot was supposed to hurt more, convincing Muslims of the superiority of Christian life.
Invented in 1718, his “Puckle Gun” is the first weapon to be called a “machine gun,” even if it doesn’t fit the modern definition of the word. The Puckle Gun was tripod mounted, intended for use on ships but had field uses as well. The cylinders revolved manually, firing 32mm shot through a 3-foot barrel and loaded while detached from the main gun.
The main problem was that instead of shooting a series of shots, the chamber had to be unscrewed before the handle could revolve the ammo, then screwed in again to seal the breech to the barrel. In demonstrations, the Puckle Gun could fire nine rounds per minute, tripling the output of disciplined troops, whose rate was three rounds per minute.
The armed forces of Britain didn’t respond favorably to the weapon. As a result, neither did the investors of the time. Only two models of the Puckle Gun exist today, at the homes of members of the Montagu family, the only people to ever buy Puckle Guns with the intention of using them.
Montagu, while acting as Britain’s Master-General of the Ordnance, purchased this first machine gun for use on a doomed expedition to capture St. Vincent and St. Lucia. It’s unknown if they were ever used in combat.
A military unit losing its colors is pretty humiliating — maybe even as bad as losing a battle. But it probably feels pretty good to be the one who captures those colors. And American troops have captured a lot of enemy flags over the years.
While the Geneva Convention demands all POWs be allowed to keep their personal belongings and protective gear, a “war trophy” like a captured flag doesn’t really apply.
But even if troops decide not keep trophies like an enemy flag, that doesn’t mean they can’t snap a quick photo – just as many have before and will likely do for many wars to come.
1. Civil War
Union soldiers pose with Confederate flags that they captured in battle during the Civil War. Each was awarded a Medal of Honor for grabbing the enemy’s flag.
2. United States Expedition to Korea
3. Spanish-American War
4. Philippine-American War
5. U.S. Intervention in Nicaragua
U.S. Marines holding the Nicaraguan rebel leader Augusto César Sandino’s Flag in Nicaragua, 1932. (Marine Corps photo)
6. World War II
7. Korean War
8. Vietnam War
Sailors from SEAL Team One captured this flag during the Vietnam War, circa 1970. (NARA photo)
9. Invasion of Grenada
10. Invasion of Panama
11. The Iraq War
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Rod Coffey holds the flag of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor to ISIS, in Diyala Province, Iraq, 2008. (photo from Rod Coffey)
There are, of course, many other photos of American troops with captured enemy flags that we can’t post here. There are photos depicting joint U.S.-Afghan forces taking down a Taliban flag. Photographer Scott Nelson also took a photo of U.S. troops with a captured Iraqi flag during the 2003 Invasion.
If you do decide take a battlefield souvenir, be sure to fill out your DD Form 603-1.
Remember those super sweet toys from the 1990s, the planes with “backward” wings. The one that comes to mind for me is the old X-Men X-Jet. The new movies feature a plane that looks a lot more like an actual SR-71 Blackbird, but the old cartoons and the movie trilogy from the early 2000s had those distinctive, futuristic, forward-swept wings.
Well, those wings existed on actual planes, first in World War II and then in experimental designs through 1991. But you likely won’t see the iconic wings on any real fighters or bombers overhead, even though they allow planes to fly faster while still directing air over the craft’s control surfaces.
The inspiration for forward-swept wings dates back to World War II. As the warring powers developed faster and faster aircraft in the war, they eventually all found that, above a certain speed, pilots suddenly lost control of their aircraft. America tried to overcome this problem with brute force, and it backfired gruesomely in November 1941.
Eventually, plane designers figured out a more graceful solution to the problem. If they swept the wings, then the airflow would shift, and the shockwaves wouldn’t form. But, when the wings are swept back, the new airflow creates a new problem. The air starts flowing quickly along the wings away from the body of the aircraft, creating stall conditions at the tips of the wings.
And those tips of the wings hold the ailerons. A stall in that region robs the pilot of the ability to roll the aircraft, a vital capability in combat.
So, in 1984, DARPA, NASA, and other agencies launched the X-29 for the first time. It was an experimental aircraft with its wings pointed forward from the body of the aircraft, same as the old X-Men jet. And the Germans actually had a design in World War II with similar characteristics, the Junker 287.
The Russian Su-47 had a similar wing design to the American X-29, but neither plane was adopted for combat use.
(Jno, CC BY 2.5)
The X-29 had some amazing characteristics compared to its more conventional brethren in the air. It had less induced drag, meaning that it had a better balance of lift-to-drag at high speed. And that allowed it to be up to 20 percent more efficient than it would be with wings swept to the rear. Best of all, the plane would be super-maneuverable even at high speeds. A Russian plane, the Su-47, saw similar advantages.
But designers found in their models, their wind tunnel tests, and actual flight tests, that the X-29’s wings created a lot of problems.
First, the wings had to be made extra strong to deal with the additional stress of the wind hitting those leading edges of the wing far from the body. And, the plane had trouble maintaining its pitch, even with those canards mounted near the cockpit.
But worst of all, the air flowing over all these control surfaces was simply too chaotic for a pilot to control. So, in the X-29, pilots had three computers working together to adjust the flight surfaces 40 times per second. These computers worked to keep the aircraft stable so the pilot could give their inputs according to what they wanted the plane to do rather than constantly having to prevent crashes.
But, if the computers ever all failed in flight at the same time, it was likely that the pilot would encounter an irrecoverable spin or other emergency. So, when the computers all failed on the ground during testing, it sent a shudder through the program. A DARPA history page about the plane even calls it “the most aerodynamically unstable aircraft ever built.”
Still, with all the advances in AI and computers, there might be a place for a design like the X-29 if not for one additional problem: forward-swept wings seem to be inherently less stealthy than wings swept to the rear or a delta-wing design like that of the B-2.
So, with the X-29 less stable and also inherently less stealthy than other designs, the U.S. decided to continue using rear-swept designs in combat aircraft, and it’s unlikely that you’ll ever look up to see something like the X-Jet supporting you from overhead.
The history of the U.S. Space Force goes back long before President Trump directed the Pentagon to create a “Space Force” in June of 2018. But the history of space and the military actually goes back to shortly after the end of World War II.
General Hap Arnold was an early visionary of the potential of space operations. He directed the RAND Corporation to determine the feasibility of satellite for strategic communications in 1946. That study identified nearly all of the current space mission areas: intelligences, weather forecasting, communications and navigation. The Air Force’s role in space remained constant leading up to Air Force Space Command’s creation. During the Cold War, space operations focused on missile warning, launch operations, satellite control, space surveillance and command and control for national leadership. During Desert Storm, AFSPC showed their importance for supporting the Warfighter.
Then, in 2001, the Space Commission recommended that Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) give up Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) to AFSPC. Due to the nature and importance of space, AFSPC was the only command to have their own acquisition arm within the command. In 2002, AFSPC was given their own four-star commander, a position that had previously been split between AFSPC and NORAD. In 2005, AFSPC was given the control of cyber, but it was later forced to give up that responsibility in 2018. This move allowed AFSPC to focus on gaining and maintaining space superiority and outpacing adversaries.
In August 2019, the AFSPC commander was assigned the dual-hat responsibility of U.S. Space Command Commander and on December 20, 2019, with the signing of the National Defense Acquisition Act (NDAA) the United States Space Force was born.
For those outside the space community, the idea of a Space Force felt outlandish and people wondered what this Space Force would do. Would they fight wars in space? Why is space so important that a whole new military branch was created? And with much of the work within the Space Force and AFSPC classified, many people do not know the role and scope of why a Space Force was created. But if you do some research you will learn that both China and Russia already have their own version of a Space Force and America needed to take this crucial step forward to maintain space superiority.
For many years, the role and scope of space have been growing and the “wars” being fought in space have been happening hidden behind layers of classification. Even everyday tools that Americans use like Global Positioning Systems (GPS), cell phones and more, rely on the technology created to keep our country safe and on the leading age of this new frontier. With the recent success of private companies such as Space X, the role and scope of space is changing. The military needs a branch of its own to help continue the innovation and keep up with this changing climate.
So where are we now? The Air Force opened the window for organic space career fields (such as Space Operations and Space Systems Operations) and common career fields (such as Intelligence, Cyber, Engineering and Acquisitions) to apply for transfer to the U.S. Space Force from May 1-31, 2020. For those within the organic space career fields, they were given the option to transfer, retrain to a new career field or leave the military. The transfer for organic space career fields is set to begin on September 1, 2020. For common career fields, each career field board will meet to determine what members who applied will be accepted to the Space Force. The transfer for all Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSC) is expected to be completed by February 1, 2021. Army, Navy and Marine Corps transfers are still being worked and are expected to take place in FY 22/23. Those who choose to transfer will incur a two-year service commitment.
Those who have decided to apply for the transfer are now in the wait and see bucket. Waiting to find out what the military board decides to do and waiting to see how this change will impact where they are stationed and what their future will be. While many people are already in a Space Force billet there will be new Space Force members who will need to be reassigned to a new unit based on their choice to join the Space Force. The Air Force and Space Force are still working out the details on how these changes will happen and how and when they will take place.
Those who are waiting to join the military’s newest branch have a bit of excitement as this historic change takes place. With new information being released as it becomes available the excitement and uncertainty makes this an interesting time to be serving in the military. The Space Force is a new branch that will allow space to take its role in the forefront of our nation’s security. And while still so much of what happens within the Space Force is unknown, we know the impacts of what is happening will change the world we live in.
Today, the modern battlefield of Iraq and Afghanistan has prompted our military to change what our troops take with them. “SAPI” plates (Small Arms Protective Insert) were added to help protect the service members vital organs from small arms fire.
All that gear adds up. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago)
Travel back in time where medieval Knights wore several layers and different types of heavy body armor to protect themselves from sharp swinging swords to the accurately shot arrows. These fearless men would spend countless hours training while cloaked in their protective garments, acclimating their bodies for war.
Fast forward to the rice patties of Vietnam where Marines, Sailors, Airmen, and Soldiers bravely left the wire typically sporting only their thin layered green t-shirts due to the constant humidity of the jungle while still toting pounds of extras.
One 155-pound TV show host wanted to experience just how heavy the gear of an American GI in Vietnam was. So after donning the full Vietnam War style combat load — complete with ammo, an M-16 rifle, an individual medical bag, and 2 quarts of water — the TV show host’s total weight amounted to just under 235 solid pounds of gear. It was an 80-pound difference.
Check out the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to see this TV show host play grunt for an afternoon.
In the game series Fallout, one of the weapons most coveted by players is a portable mini-nuke launcher that, as you might imagine, is capable of destroying basically anything it touches. It fits perfectly within the game’s theme of roaming across the apocalyptic wasteland, dispensing wanton destruction.
Bethesda, the developers behind Fallout, weren’t just pulling something out of thin air when they designed the digital weapon. In the late 1950s, when the threat of nuclear war with the Soviets was lurking around the corner, the U.S. actually created a functioning mini-nuke launcher of their very own.
It was called the M-29 Davy Crockett Weapon System. And the reason it never really made it out of initial testing was because it was probably the most poorly designed weapon system the U.S. military ever thought would work.
The Davy Crockett was a recoilless, smooth-bore gun, operated by a three-man crew, that fired a nuclear projectile. In theory, this weapon gave a small squad the ability to decimate enemy battalions with an equivalent yield of 20 tons of TNT — or roughly the same firepower as forty Tomahawk cruise missiles.
The maximum effective range of the Davy Crockett was about a mile and a half. Anything within a quarter-mile radius of the explosion would receive a fatal dosage of radiation. Anything within 500 feet of the epicenter of the blast would be completely incinerated.
It was so portable that it could either be attached to the back of a Jeep or given to paratroopers for airborne insertion. The weapon technically worked, but not without a bevy of significant problems.
The first major flaw was the aiming. The launcher was flimsy when compared to the immense weight of munitions, so it was prone to toppling over at any moment. It had an unreliable height-of-burst dial, so accurate detonations were nearly impossible. It also didn’t have an abort function, which meant that as soon as it was fired, it’d have to detonate.
To make matters worse, the previously stated half-mile kill radius was only accounted to instant death by radiation. As we’ve learned, being downwind of a nuclear blast almost certainly meant death — maybe not right away, but eventually. So, the three-man crew firing the Davy Crockett, who had at most one mile of safety, could only fire and pray that the winds didn’t turn against them.
For more information on why mini-nukes were an awful idea, check out the video below:
More than 50 years after the war, former adversaries began to reunite as friends. The war’s 75th anniversary reunion, for example, was particularly notable for bringing together almost 2,000 veterans. According to one contemporary media account at the time, the average age of the reunion was 94. That report also noted that a 1913 reunion had been marred by nine deaths among the veterans. The 1938 reunion, billed as the last great reunion for the Civil War vets, also was notable in that an eternal flame was lit to serve as a symbol of peace and unity.
What was also unique was that the Civil War veterans were also treated to an air show. Among the planes featured were the Consolidated PB-2, which saw brief service in World War II as a trainer, the Northrop A-17 Nomad, which also was primarily used as a trainer, and, a future legend, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.
Luckily for us, this unique reunion was caught on film. Check out this brief clip to see more, including the B-17 flyover.
The house of the Commandant of the Marine Corps is one of the oldest continuously-occupied buildings in the capital of the United States. Steeped in American history, the house was spared the torch when the British captured and burned Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812. All but the first two Commandants have lived in the 15,000 square-foot house and, since 1916, all the historical occupants of the house were honored with portraits by order of then-Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
All but one, that is. There have been 37 Commandants of the Marine Corps but the house holds just 36 portraits.
The conspicuously missing spot belongs to Lt. Col. Anthony Gale, the fourth Commandant of the Marine Corps. He was the only Commandant ever to be fired from the position and the one with the fewest surviving records. No one knows what he looked like or even knows the location of his final resting place.
This is not Lt. Col. Anthony Gale, this is Archibald Henderson, his successor.
Luckily for us, it’s not so much of a mystery anymore. The Marine Corps Association and Foundation’s Robert T. Jordan did an exhaustive work on the life of Lt. Col. Gale. He was born in Dublin, Ireland, around 1782 and his tenure as Commandant lasted from March 1819 until October 1820. In the decades that followed, Gale fell off the map. He’s seldom-mentioned in the annals of USMC history because the events surrounding his dismissal were said to have brought “embarrassment” upon himself and the United States Marine Corps. And so, he was pretty much lost to history entirely.
Until 1966, that is. General Wallace M. Greene Jr., the 23rd Commandant of the Marine Corps set up an investigation into the history of the Marine who fell from grace.
What was learned, however, was still very little. Anthony Gale arrived in the nascent United States in 1793. When President John Adams rebooted the Marine Corps (which was disbanded after the American Revolution), Gale was among the first to sign up as an officer. He commanded Marines guarding French prisoners of the quasi-War in Philadelphia and took to sea aboard the USS Ganges, where he fought Barbary Pirates and British sailors alike.
Gale cared deeply for his Marines and when a Naval officer, Lieutenant Allan MacKensie, arrested one of them aboard ship, Gale slapped the officer and challenged him to a duel — the duel that killed MacKensie. That’s not what got him the boot from the Corps, though. Superiors in Washington believed the duel would force Navy officers to treat Marines with respect.
This is also not Gale. This is Maj. Gen. Charles Heywood, 9th Commandant and Medal of Honor Recipient.
His career continued, and soon he was married and saw service aboard the USS President and USS Constitution. By 1804, Gale was brevet Major Anthony Gale and his duties became focused on the recruitment and training of Marines. But soon, there was a new sheriff in town: Commandant Lt. Col. Frank Wharton took over for Commandant William Ward Burrows and Burrows looked at Gale with a much sharper eye than his predecessors.
Gale’s once squeaky-clean reputation soon became tainted by notes of alcoholism, sloppy management of the Marine Corps Barracks, and allegations that Gale used Marine Corps funds to renovate his personal home. Wharton took Gale to trial, but Gale was cleared of any wrongdoing. Still, Wharton sent Gale to the then-backwater of New Orleans – perhaps not the best place for a potential alcoholic, even in the early 19th Century. Still, when Wharton died in 1818, Anthony Gale was the most senior Marine Corps officer.
That did not mean he was promoted instantly.
No one forgot the charges filed against Gale, whether he was cleared or not. Others tried to have him removed from consideration to become the next Commandant. Gale was less concerned with the succession crisis and more concerned with keeping his head down and retaining his command. Even though he was not trying to be Commandant, that’s exactly what happened. He was promoted to Lt. Col. Commandant of the Marine Corps on March 3, 1819.
Gale had trouble with the position immediately. The Marine Corps became disorganized and undisciplined in the six months since Wharton died and he found himself spending more time fighting to re-organize it while the Navy Secretary and President Monroe would frequently counter his orders whenever it suited them — at the request of Gale’s subordinates. Overwhelmed and frustrated, Gale turned again to booze.
His mental state deteriorated as he became a drunkard, a womanizer, and verbally abusive toward his subordinates. Eventually, he was accused of drunkenness, conduct unbecoming an officer, signing false documents, and leaving his quarters without permission and was placed under house arrest. He was court-martialed and plead mental instability during the inquisition.
The court still found Gale guilty and removed him as the Commandant on Oct. 16, 1820, less than two years into his tenure.
This is Maj. Gen. Ben Hebard Fuller, the 15th Commandant, who is both not Gale and consolidated the Fleet Marine Force Concept.
After being helped out of the service, Gale moved to his home in Philadelphia, but found no peace there. He eventually moved his family to a log cabin in Kentucky where he found that being a farmer was not in his blood, either. He turned back to his old friend, alcohol. He fought to be granted a pension for his instability, earning one 15 years later in what might be one of the earliest veteran disability claim suits.
According to Kentucky records found by the Marine Corps, Gale died of Lung Cancer in 1843 in Kentucky. A number of his sons also joined the Marine Corps, some of whom served in the Civil War. They apparently had no idea he served as Commandant, believing he was a quartermaster in the Corps. But Gale’s sons are also lost to history, so even if a supposed burial site is ever found, there’s no way to definitively prove it.
War stems from division. It happens when there are problems we just can’t seem to solve. War is seldom beautiful, but every now and then, a little light shines through. The Christmas Truce of 1914 was one of those rare moments.
It all started with one of the ugliest wars in history.
World War I began on July 28th, 1914, after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. It quickly escalated, pinning the Ottoman Empire, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria, known collectively as the Central Powers, against the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania and Japan, known as the Allied Powers. The two sides proceeded to engage in over three years of brutal trench warfare. The experience was hellish, with mass casualties on both sides. In total, over 16 million people lost their lives.
In the midst of utter carnage, the opposing side often seemed evil. Yet, it wasn’t. It was war itself that was inhuman, not the men across the trenches. On Christmas Eve, 1914, soldiers on both sides did the unthinkable; they laid down their arms and sang.
The renowned Christmas Truce that followed was unauthorized.
In the earliest weeks of the war, forces on both sides were aggressive and angry. By December, they had seen enough death and destruction for a lifetime. They had initially believed the war would be over by Christmas and many of them longed for an end to the fighting. While Pope Benedict XV called for a temporary ceasefire for the holiday, none of the countries involved settled on any official agreement, so the exhausted soldiers took matters into their own hands.
As Christmas approached, a sudden cold snap turned weeks of wet weather into an eerily beautiful winter landscape. On Christmas Eve at around 8:30 pm, the truce began. German soldiers began lighting their trenches and singing carols. Small Christmas trees dotted the trenches. Initially, the British were suspicious. One officer reported to headquarters that, “Compliments are being exchanged but am nevertheless taking all military precautions.”
Soon, it became apparent that it wasn’t a trap. The Germans sang “Silent Night”, and the British responded with “The First Noel”. A British soldier, Private Frederick Heath, reported that a Christmas greeting rang out through the darkness: “English soldier, English soldier, a merry Christmas, a merry Christmas!”
Between the trenches, the war-battered no man’s land transformed.
Cautious at first, scouts ventured out of the trenches and over the barbed wire that divided the two sides. There, they imparted a message: If you don’t fire at us, we won’t fire at you. Let us have peace, if just for a night. Spontaneous truces sprang up along the trench lines without anyone really knowing how they began. In addition to sharing songs and well-wishes, impromptu games ignited. The Germans claim to have won a soccer match against the British 3-2. Meals, drinks, and laughter were shared until dawn.
The truce was imperfect, but miraculous nevertheless.
Unsurprisingly, many officers were against any type of truce. Fraternizing with the enemy was frowned upon, and measures were taken to prevent it from ever happening again. It’s unclear how widespread the truce really was, but some evidence suggests the truce extended across much of the British-held trench line that extended across Belgium, but other reports suggest that the truce took place in sections, scattering pockets of peace and brotherhood throughout thickets of gunfire.
If anything, that makes the night’s events even more striking. The soldiers who chose to shake hands with their enemies must have been afraid, but they chose to do it all the same. The next day, the war continued with just as much hostility and destruction as it had before, but the opposing forces had been humanized. A grain of respect had settled in. The surprising events that took place on December 24th, 1914 along those dark and bloodied trenches didn’t bring any lasting resolution, but to those who were there, the truce brought the greatest Christmas gift of all: Hope.
The video below is just a reenactment (and an advertisement at that), but it’s a pretty moving reminder that Christmas spirit lives on, even in the darkest of places.
It’s easy now to think of Operation Overlord as fated, like it was the armies of Middle Earth hitting Mordor. The good guys would attack, they would win, and the war would end. But it actually fell to a cadre of hundreds of officers to make it happen and make it successful, or else more than 150,000 men would die for nothing.
But the planners of Operation Neptune and Operation Overlord had an insane number of factors to look at as weather, moon and starlight, and troops movements from London to Paris would affect the state of play when the first Allied ships were spotted by Axis planes and lookouts. Planners wanted as many factors on their side as possible when the first German cry went out.
The map above allowed the planners to get a look at what sort of artillery emplacements troops would face at each beach, both during their approaches and landings and once they were on the soil of France.
Looking at all the overlapping arcs, it’s easy to see why they asked the Rangers to conduct the dangerous climbs at Point Du Hoc, why they sent paratroopers like the Band of Brothers against inland guns, and why they had hoped for much more successful bombing runs against the guns than they ultimately got.
Instead, paratroopers and other ground troops would have to break many of the enemy guns one at a time with infantry assaults and counter-artillery missions.
Speaking of those bombers, this is one of the maps they used to plan aircraft sorties. The arcs across southern England indicate distances from Bayeux, France, a town just south of the boundary between Omaha and Gold beaches. The numbers in England indicated the locations of airfields and how many fighter squadrons could be based at each.
These fighter squadrons would escort the bombers over the channel and perform strafing missions against ground targets. Bayeux was a good single point to measure from, as nearly all troops would be landing within 30 miles of that city.
But planners were also desperate to make Germany believe that another, larger attacking force was coming elsewhere, so planes not in range of the actual beaches were sent far and wide to bomb a multitude of other targets, as seen below.
Diversion attacks were launched toward troops based near Calais, the deepwater port that was the target in numerous deception operations. But the bulk of bomber and fighter support went right to the beaches where troops were landing.
Bombings conducted in the months ahead of D-Day had reduced Germany’s industrial output and weakened some troop concentrations, but the bulk of German forces were still ready to fight. Luckily, the Allies had a huge advantage in terms of weather forecasting against the Axis, and many German troops thought the elements would keep them safe from attack in early June, that is until paratroopers were landing all around them.
This map shows additional beaches between the Somme and the Seine Rivers of France along with the length of each beach. These beaches are all to the northeast of the targets of D-Day, and troops never assaulted them from the sea like they did on Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches.
But these beaches, liberated by maneuvering forces that landed at the D-Day beaches, would provide additional landing places for supplies until deepwater ports could be taken and held.
But all of that relied on actually taking and holding the first five beaches, something which actually hinged quite a bit on weather forecasting, as hinted above. In fact, this next two-page document is all about meetings on June 4-5, 1944, detailing weather discussions taking place between all of the most senior officers taking part in the invasion, all two-stars or above.
(Maj. Gen. H.R. Bull, the memo author, uses days of the week extensively in the memo. D-Day, June 6, 1944, was the Tuesday he was referring to. “Monday” was the June 5 original invasion date. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were D-Day+1, +2, and +3.)
This might seem like a lot of military brainpower to dedicate to whether or not it was raining, but the winds, waves, and clouds affected towing operations, the landing boats, fighter and bomber cover, and the soil the troops would fight on.
The fate of France could’ve been won or lost in a few inches of precipitation, a few waves large enough to swamp the low-lying landing craft, or even low cloud cover that would throw off even more bombs and paratroopers. So, yeah, they held early morning and late night meetings about the weather.
The Vietnam War went on for a long time, from 1955-1975. The war killed over 58,000 Americans and had a total death count of millions. For US soldiers, many of whom were drafted, one of the worst parts of the whole deal was that they knew their efforts were in vain. Why? No one likes to admit defeat, least of all America. At a certain point, it became clear the US couldn’t win the war.
Vietnam has never been an easy conversation
Talking about war has never been easy. Vietnam was the first war that was televised and reported on in real-time, so the public formed opinions as events unfolded. As anyone who’s spent time downrange can tell you, that’s not always a good thing. As the country navigated 20 years of war, the American people continued to feel its effects more and more. That’s no more true than in smaller communities like those in the West Virginian mountains.
The town of Wheeling, West Virginia’s population hovers just over 20,000 today. During the Vietnam Era, it was even smaller. The tight-knit community endured funeral after funeral of fallen Vietnam War soldiers. In late February 1967, Wheeling buried another one of their own, Marine Corporeal George Edward McRobbie. He was only 21 years old. By that time, two other Wheeling soldiers had already been laid to rest that year. And in 1967 alone, Wheeling lost 26 young men to the war.
West Virginians sure showed up in large mumbers for the Vietnam War
It wasn’t just Wheeling, either. More West Virginians served and fell in the Vietnam War per capita than any other state. In total, 36,578 West Virginians served, and most of them began as teenagers. Of those, 1,128 were killed. Throughout the 1960s in West Virginia, burying fathers, sons, husbands, and brothers was a common occurrence.
Among the West Virginians who served was a conscientious objector and medic Thomas W. Bennett from Morgantown. He was the only conscientious objector in the Vietnam War to earn the Medal of Honor.
In general, rural guys from West Virginia and even some women were ready to fight in the Vietnam War, draft, or no draft. Once in active combat, many of their assignments were things like walking points in the jungle, thanks to the fact that they already had experience tracking and with guns. This prior experience may be the key to understanding why West Virginia soldiers had such a high fatality rate per capita in the war. So many were put on the front lines in dangerous positions because they could handle it.
But the West Virginian youth eventually turned their backs on the war
As we all know, the news coverage of the war, particularly the brutal series of attacks by the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive, turned many citizens against the conflict. Unfortunately, the young soldiers often took the brunt of the criticism. By 1968, West Virginia high schoolers who had once been eager to serve their country no longer viewed the war as honorable and began to dread the potential of being drafted.
Regardless, the brave soldiers from West Virginia and throughout the country who served in Vietnam simply did what their country required of them.