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Sergeant First Class Robert Howard: Refused Two Medals of Honor

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Sergeant First Class Robert Howard. July 11,1939-December ,23 2009.

US Marines in Vietnam during Operation Allen Brook in 1968

He earned three nominations for a Medal of Honor but received only one. Not because he did not deserve all three, but because some of his actions occurred where officially the US Army was not supposed to be.

Robert Lewis “Bob” Howard was born on July 11, 1939, in Opelika, Alabama with a family reputation to maintain. His father and four uncles all served in WWII. Sadly, two died during the war, while his father and two others died of their wounds after it ended.

With little money, the family was forced to move back in with his mother’s parents. To help put food on the table, Howard and his sister picked cotton at a very young age. In July 1956 when he was 17, he dropped out of school and joined the US Army.

In Vietnam, Sergeant First Class Howard served with the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam–Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG). It was a highly classified organization carrying out secret operations throughout Vietnam and the surrounding territories.

On November 16, 1967, the SOG attacked a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) cache. Howard had killed four soldiers when a machine gun nest opened fire on his team pinning them down. He shot a sniper and then charged the nest, killing its occupants. Another machine gun then began shooting at them.

Robert L. Howard on March 2, 1971.

He grabbed a grenade, crawled up to the nest, and destroyed it at point blank range. More firing forced him to retreat enabling another NVA force to retake the machine gun. Grabbing a light anti-tank weapon, he stood as bullets whizzed past, and fired – taking out the second machine gun for good before his team was extracted by helicopter.

He had earned his first MoH recommendation. As the encounter had occurred in Laos and the US was a cosignatory of the 1962 “International Agreement on the Neutrality of Laos,” the operation never happened. Instead, the recommendation was downgraded to a Silver Star.

On November 15, 1968, he accompanied a Forward Operation Base (FOB) 2 Hatchet Platoon; again into Laos. Four days later, they were ambushed by NVA troops with a Soviet Pt-76 tank. Using his trusty anti-tank rocket, and braving intense fire he crept toward the tank and destroyed it.

American soldiers with an alleged Viet Cong captive near the Cambodian border.

When a medivac chopper came for them, it was shot down. While wounded, Howard ran through enemy fire to the helicopter, and lead the two surviving pilots and injured door gunner out. He then fought another 300 yards through NVA fire to get them all to safety. He sustained more injuries receiving 14 pieces of shrapnel, which really annoyed him.

Pissed off, he charged the NVA, killed two, and took one prisoner. A rescue of the men was attempted but was unsuccessful as the NVA kept them at bay with anti-aircraft guns. Next morning when another attempt was made Howard charged forward and silenced a 37-mm anti-aircraft gun allowing the extraction to go ahead.

A rescue of the men was attempted but was unsuccessful as the NVA kept them at bay with anti-aircraft guns. Next morning when another attempt was made Howard charged forward and silenced a 37-mm anti-aircraft gun allowing the extraction to go ahead.

North Vietnamese Army troops marching through Laos in 1967.

Again, he was recommended for a MoH. Again, as the operation took place in Laos, he got a Distinguished Service Cross, instead.

On December 29, 1968, Private First Class Robert Francis Scherdin was the assistant team leader of a ten-man reconnaissance patrol. They were in Cambodia in the tri-border region of South Vietnam and Laos when they were attacked. Scherdin became separated from his team.

Howard was part of a 40-man rescue team that flew in the next day. They were fired upon even before they landed. One Huey was shot down, so the platoon leader ordered Howard to secure the landing zone. As he led his men up a hill, he and Lieutenant Jim Jerson were injured by a landmine. A bullet then detonated the latter’s ammunition belt. When Howard came to, it was to blindness and pain. After several minutes, his vision returned, but the pain in his hands was intense as shrapnel had shredded them.

A US Air Force Bell UH-1P helicopter of the 20th Special Operations Squadron “Green Hornets” at a base in Laos in 1970.

Screams of dying men reached him – some were burning. It was an NVA soldier with a flame thrower. Howard tried to drag Jerson downhill, but it was not easy; he was 6-feet 4-inches tall and weighed about 200 pounds.

Two NVA companies were firing at them as Howard dragged Jerson to a log. NVA soldiers rushed them. One ran directly toward Howard, his bayonet raised but he tripped over Jerson. Howard was then shot in the foot.

The situation was grim. They were surrounded so Howard did the only thing he could.

President Richard Nixon pinning the MoH on Howard

He ordered the remaining 20 men to make a triangle with three strobe lights. Then he radioed base and ordered an airstrike on their position. For the next three and a half hours they held their ground until the strikes finally came. The explosions were so close some of his men were hit.

An emergency night extraction then rescued them. Despite his severe wounds Howard refused to board until everyone else had. Unfortunately, Scherdin was never found.

Howard finally received his MoH on March 2, 1971.

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WWII 1944: The Assault on Myitkyina was a Failure of Leadership

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H/T War History OnLine.

How many such failures of leadership happened during World War II?

Merrill’s Marauders rest during a break along a jungle trail near Nhpum Ga.

In May 1944, the Allies assaulted Japanese-held Myitkyina in Burma. It was an attack that brought successes despite significant failures of leadership and coordination.

Stilwell in Burma

From the moment Japan joined the Axis cause in WWII, Burma became an important theater of conflict. The Japanese launched a successful invasion, swiftly pushing the British toward the Indian border. The British regrouped, turned a rout into a fighting retreat and began to push back. As the Americans went on the offensive against Japan, they too became involved.

At the time, Allied forces in Burma were led by two men. The British had the steady Bill Slim. The Americans had the more belligerent “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell.

A daring commander, Stilwell was also aggressive and uncompromising. An example of this was shown in action at Myitkyina.

Target Myitkyina

Stilwell had two primary objectives; Myitkyina and Mogaung. Both were on a rail line, and Myitkyina also had an airfield. Taking them would interrupt Japanese lines of supply and communication while improving them for the Allies.

Stilwell’s objective was not just to defeat the Japanese. He also wanted to beat the British by having American forces achieve a significant victory. For all his strengths as a commander, he had a prejudice against the “Limeys” that tipped over into argumentative paranoia.

Merrill and Stilwell in Burma.

Chindits and Marauders: The Allied Irregulars

The troops used in the attack on Myitkyina should have been one of Stilwell’s greatest assets. The American unit Merrill’s Marauders had been trained to fight as irregular forces deep in the Burmese jungle. Like the British Chindits, whose tactics they imitated, they were highly skilled soldiers who were at their best raiding and ambushing behind enemy lines.

However, that was not what Stilwell had in mind for them. He was going to throw them against the Japanese in Myitkyina.

Meanwhile, the Chindits had also fallen under Stilwell’s control. Their founder and commander, Orde Wingate, had recently died in a plane crash, so they lacked a figurehead capable of standing up to Stilwell.

Only the Airfield

While Stilwell pushed his main force toward Mogaung, the Marauders were diverted to seize Myitkyina. Like the Chindits, they had recently lost their founding commander. They were now under the leadership of Colonel Hunter; a brave and capable commander but, unlike the Marauders, he was a regular soldier.

On May 17, the Marauders attacked Myitkyina. The town was defended by the weak remnants of two Japanese battalions.

At half-past one in the afternoon, the Marauders signaled Stilwell to tell him they had taken the airfield. He swiftly relayed a message saying the town had fallen. It was not true, but he could not resist a chance to gloat in front of the British.

Merrill’s Marauders rest during a break along a jungle trail near Nhpum Ga.

The Wrong Reinforcements for the Job

Seeing that Myitkyina was ripe for a full-on assault, but that he lacked the manpower to do it, Hunter asked Stilwell for urgent reinforcements.

Hunter asked for fresh infantry. The British 36th Division were ready and waiting, but Stilwell could not bear to let the Limeys take the town. He searched around for any available American troops and sent them.

Instead of infantry, Hunter received engineers and anti-aircraft troops. Some of the troops sent were shown how to use a rifle on their way to Myitkyina.

Chinese Fiasco, Japanese Reinforcements

Meanwhile, the Chinese were heading for Myitkyina. On May 19, two of their units attacked the town. The attack went horribly wrong. Instead of overwhelming the Japanese, the Chinese ended up fighting each other.

Tragedy turned to farce on the 20th when the Chinese again attacked themselves.

By now, the Japanese knew that Myitkyina was important to the Allies. Fresh troops were hurried in, boosting the garrison from 700 men to 4,000.

The opportunity Hunter had seen was gone. By the end of May, his forces were driven out of Myitkyina. Through illness, they were down to 300 fighting men.

Calvert (left) giving orders during the capture of Mogaung in June 1944.

The Chindit Factor

Meanwhile, the Chindits were behind enemy lines. For Operation Thursday they had been dropped into the jungle to set up fortified camps and harass Japanese supply lines. However with the death of Wingate their base, codenamed “Blackpool,” was abandoned on May 25, freeing Japanese troops to fight at Myitkyina and Mogaung.

Another force of Chindits reached Myitkyina. There they, like the Marauders, were ordered to abandon the role they had trained for as guerrilla jungle fighters. Instead, they were thrown into the assault on the increasingly well-defended town.

Meanwhile at Mogaung

A third Chindit force under Brigadier Michael Calvert had been ordered to abandon their jungle stronghold and attack Mogaung.

Calvert had worked with Wingate to found the Chindits. Although he knew it was a misuse of his troops, he did his best. Thanks to his leadership and courage, and a little support from the Chinese, the Chindits took Mogaung.

Instead of showing off in front of the Limeys, Stilwell had been shown up by them. One of his officers circulated a message advising the Chinese had taken Mogaung, rather than giving the Chindits credit.

Brigadier Mike Calvert, Commandant SAS Brigade, at the ceremony marking the passing of 3 and 4 SAS (2 and 3 Regiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes) from the British to the French Army at Tarbes in southern France.

Fallout

Due to the poor support and leadership of Stilwell and the officers around him, Myitkyina did not fall until August 3.

By then, both the Marauders and the Chindits hated him. They had suffered huge losses. The Chindits had achieved a remarkable victory but had been robbed of the credit. Calvert himself had an angry confrontation with Stilwell. Lord Mountbatten, head of South East Asia Command, stepped in and had the exhausted and demoralized Marauders and Chindits evacuated.

Stilwell had taken his objectives, but in trying to upstage the British, he had wasted his best troops.

Source:

David Rooney (1999), Military Mavericks: Extraordinary Men of Battle.

These are some of the most famous warhorses in military history

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H/T War History OnLine.

Some interesting history of war horses.

Memorial to the horses of the second Boer war. NJR ZA -CC BY-SA 3.0

Since mankind first learned to ride horses, we have been riding them into battle. Some war horses have been particularly beloved and famous, thanks to the bonds they shared with their riders.

Here are five of the most fondly remembered.

Bucephalus

The favorite steed of Alexander the Great, Bucephalus was believed to have been with the Macedonian monarch from the time Alexander was 12 or 13 years old. He won the horse in a bet with his father after taming the beast.

Bucephalus was a massive horse with one blue eye. His name meant “ox-head” and came from a mark branded on him.

Alexander rode Bucephalus in numerous battles. It is possible that Bucephalus may have died from wounds during the Battle of Hydaspes against King Porus of Paurava. Other accounts indicate he died of old age. Whatever the cause, Bucephalus died during Alexander’s campaign in the Punjab. In 326 BC, Alexander founded a city on the banks of the Hydaspes in his memory, naming it Bucephala.

Bucephalus became one of the most famous horses in classical culture, alongside such mythic beasts as Pegasus and the wooden Trojan horse. Due to his fame and the popularity of Alexander, it became a standard for other generals to make a show of having a favorite horse.

Alexander & Bucephalus by John Steell located in Edinburgh, Scotland. By Stefan Schäfer, Lich – CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Marengo

Born around 1793, Marengo was a small gray Arabian stallion, only 145 cm high. Brought to France from Egypt in 1799, he became the steed of the First Consul and later Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Marengo was steady and brave, essential characteristics in a horse whose rider traveled the length and breadth of Europe making war. He carried the Emperor in battle at Austerlitz, Jena-Auerstedt, and Wagram. He was injured eight times in military service. During the Russian campaign of 1812, Marengo was one of 52 horses in Napoleon’s personal stud. He fled with the other horses during a Russian raid and survived the retreat from Moscow, unlike the majority of the soldiers in that unfortunate army.

Image source

When Napoleon returned to war during the Hundred Days, he once again rode his favorite horse. Marengo was captured at the Battle of Waterloo and sold to a captain in the British Grenadier Guards.

After Marengo died at the age of 38, his skeleton was put on display. It can still be seen at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. Two hooves were turned into souvenirs; one a snuff box, the other an inkwell.

Copenhagen, the Duke of Wellington’s battle charger.

Copenhagen

Napoleon’s greatest opponent, the Duke of Wellington, had an equally famous horse.

Born in 1808, Copenhagen was a mixture of Arabian and Thoroughbred parentage. He was named in celebration of the British victory at the Second Battle of Copenhagen the year before his birth. Chestnut brown with two white heels, Copenhagen was compact, muscular, and powerful.

He did not start his career as a war horse. Instead, he raced in 1811 and 1812, coming in third each time.

Sold to Sir Charles Vane, he came to the Spanish Peninsula with Sir Charles in 1813. When Sir Charles left Spain, he sold Copenhagen to a colonel acting on behalf of the Duke of Wellington.

The Duke rode Copenhagen at several battles, most notably Waterloo, where he remained in the saddle constantly for 17 hours. On dismounting after his hand-earned victory, the Duke patted Copenhagen’s flank. The horse kicked out, narrowly missing Wellington’s head.

After the Napoleonic Wars, Wellington continued riding Copenhagen for ceremonies and parades. Copenhagen was retired to the Duke’s estates at Stratfield Saye. There he lived a relaxed and pampered life before dying at the age of 28. He was buried on the estate with full military honors in a funeral overseen by the Duke.

Years later, the Duke was asked if he would disinter Copenhagen’s skeleton for display with Marengo. He refused.

Palomo

Simón Bolívar’s campaigns of liberation carried him back and forth across Latin America for many years. During much of that time, he rode Palomo, his favorite horse.

Palomo was a beautiful horse and suited Bolívar who had a sense of drama with which he approached so much of life. Tall, white, and with a tail that reached almost to the ground, this was a horse that stood out amid the ramshackle armies of the wars of liberation.

Bolivar at the Battle of Junín, August 1824

Palomo’s origins were supposedly far more humble. Gifted to Bolívar by an elderly peasant woman from Santa Rosa de Viterbo, in 1819, just before the Battle of Boyacá.

Palomo died while on a campaign. Having been loaned to one of Bolívar’s officers, the horse died of exhaustion during one of the long marches that featured in Bolívar’s wars. He was buried next to a hacienda chapel, and his horseshoes are now on display in the Museum of Mulaló.

Traveller

Born in 1857, Traveller was an American Saddlebred who started out with the name of Greenbrier, after his home county in Virginia. 163 cm high and weighing 500 kg, he was a tough, sturdy horse. He had iron gray hair with black points and a long mane and tail.

General Robert E. Lee mounted on Traveller.

In February 1862, General Robert E. Lee bought Greenbrier for $200 and renamed him, Traveller, using the British spelling with two “L”s. Lee was very proud of the horse, all the more so because of his color, which he described as Confederate gray.

Lee rode Traveller during many of his battles commanding Confederate forces during the American Civil War. At the Second Battle of Bull Run, Lee was holding Traveller by the bridle when the horse spooked pulling Lee down onto a stump. Both the General’s hands were broken, and for some time he had to travel in an ambulance.

During Lee’s funeral procession in 1870, Traveller followed the casket, with black crepe draped over his saddle and bridle. A year later, he stepped on a nail, developed tetanus, and was shot to put him out of his suffering.

These Weapons Caused The Deaths Of The Soldiers Who Used Them

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H/T War History OnLine.

Throughout the 20th and 21st Centuries, military technology has advanced considerably. Along the way, that evolution has taken some disastrous turns, particularly several weapons which proved almost as dangerous for the men using them as they were for the enemy.

Here are five that proved unreliable to the point of being deadly to those who used them.

The Mark 14 Torpedo

Like many nations around the globe, the US and its Navy struggled to develop effective torpedo systems during WWII. The Mark 14 torpedo was a particularly dangerous venture.

Not only did it often miss its target, but on one occasion it sank the submarine it was launched from. Due to its magnetic trigger mechanism, it doubled back and hit the USS Tullibee, the submarine that had fired it, resulting in the deaths of almost everyone on board.

Its development had been under-funded and the testing period for the weapon was much too short, so the risks were already high. The torpedo was eventually redesigned, and the problems that had made it so dangerous were corrected.

Mark_14_torpedo_side_view_and_interior_mechanisms,_Torpedoes_Mark_14_and_23_Types,_OP_635,_March_24_1945
The Mark 14 Torpedo

The M16 Rifle

During the Vietnam War, American soldiers were issued with new M16 rifles. The manufacturers claimed the weapons were “self-cleaning” so troops were supplied with minimal cleaning materials and no instructions on how to maintain them. It proved to be a deadly problem.

American_sergeant_&_rifleman_engage_enemy_with_M16s_in_Vietnam
The M16 Rifle in action

The rifles got clogged with dirt and detritus, and spent cartridges became stuck inside the chamber. The only way to remove the blockage and get it operational again was to take the rifle apart, clean it and remove the cartridge. This laborious process left troops on the battlefield completely defenseless, and there were numerous reports of soldiers being found dead after a gunfight with their M16 disassembled beside them.

Gas

French soldiers making a gas and flame attack on German trenches in Flanders. Belgium. (Army) Exact Date Shot Unknown NARA FILE #: 111-SC-10879 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 642
Gas being released from cylinders

An iconic feature of WWI, chemical weapons like mustard and chlorine gas could be devastatingly effective when used successfully. However, there were risks involved for the men deploying the gas in the first place.

The delivery of gasses via a projectile had been outlawed by the Hague Convention in 1899. The only available method was to open a gas cylinder when the wind was blowing towards enemy lines. It meant if the wind changed – as it often did – the cloud could be blown right back onto the soldiers who released it.

Also storing the cylinders was dangerous. If any of them leaked prematurely, the ensuing stream of gas drew enemy fire and shelling, as well as directly affecting the soldiers nearby.

Underground Explosives

Hawthorn_Ridge_mine_1_July_1916
An underground explosion on the Western Front

Tunneling has been used in wars throughout the centuries, and during WWI, it became a practice on both sides of the Western Front. Teams of men worked to dig passages underground, moving towards and underneath enemy lines.

When they reached beneath critical enemy positions, they set explosives to be detonated. However, planting the explosives was incredibly dangerous for the soldiers involved. Tunnelers risked dying from cave-ins, or crushed and trapped when the passages collapsed around them, as well as carbon monoxide poisoning. Explosives sometimes went off prematurely, killing the men charged with setting them up.

The Ross Rifle

Ross_rifle_RCRMM_1
The Ross Rifle. By Balcer – CC BY 2.5

Originally designed as a hunting rifle, this weapon was supplied to Canadian troops during WWI. Although the firearm worked well for its original purpose, as a military tool it was far from ideal.

It was large and unwieldy, for one thing, and the mud and dirt of the trenches easily jammed the internal workings. A bayonet fixed on the barrel often fell off when a bullet was fired.

The worst and most troubling feature of this weapon, however, was that the bolt of the rifle often dislodged when in use, launching the bullet back into the soldiers’ hands. At best this could result in serious injury, at worst it could cause their death. Understandably, the Ross Rifle was removed from service after just a year in action.

The True Story Of A Famous World War Two Photograph

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H/T War History OnLine.

A little bit of untold history.

Lt. Col. Lokker’s aircraft exploding over the Blechhammer South. Photo Credit: via James Althoff

ery few wartime photos show the terror and violence of air war with such expression. The photo had been published in 1944 by most of the leading newspapers, and it remains one of the most well known WWII photos today.

Where was the photo taken? Perhaps over the oil fields of Ploesti in Romania? Or the Ruhr area in Germany? During a mission to a target in Austria ? Or maybe…

The IG Farben chemical complex in today’s Kędzierzyn (Blechhammer South) was one of the most heavily defended targets in Europe. The synthetic fuel plant was located on the eastern peripheries of the Nazi-occupied Europe where only the Italy-based US 15th Air Force was able to reach.

American bombers raided that area many times in 1944 during the campaign aimed at destroying the Nazi oil industry. On November 20, 1944, over 400 heavy bombers, escorted by nearly 300 P-38 “Lightning” and P-51 “Mustangs,” were dispatched to hit the industrial installations which escaped destruction during the previous missions. However, due to adverse weather, only a third of the bomber force reached the target area.

On that day, a B-24 marked “Blue I” carried more crew than usual. This was the lead aircraft not only for the Group but for the entire Bomb Wing. The “Liberator’s” commander was Lt. Col Clarence “Jack” Lokker, also the commander of the 781st BS 465th BG.

His crew was: Capt. Milton Duckworth (co-pilot), Lt. Joseph Kutger (lead navigator for the BW), Lt. Joseph Whalen (radar operator), Lt. Robert Hockman (bombardier), Lt. Grosvenor Rice (nav), Sgt. James Bourne (waist gunner), Sgt. Jack Rabkin (top gunner), Sgt. Paul Flynn (tail gunner), Sgt. Edmund Miosky (radio) and Sgt. Lee Billings (engineer).

Lt. Col. Clarence Lokker at the control tower of the Pantanella airfield in Italy. Photo: Frank Ambrose via James Althoff

Lt. Col. Clarence Lokker at the control tower of the Pantanella Airfield in Italy. Photo: Frank Ambrose via James Althoff

The “Blue I” was in fact a tactical marking, not a given name. At the end of 1944 each of the Bomb Groups of the 15th AF had been divided into “Red” and “Blue” forces. The latter ones, better equipped with electronics, were used for the long distance missions and for bombing without visual target identification.

Hence, the lead aircraft was marked the “Blue I”. Also, the lead aircraft carried extra crew, usually the lead navigator and the lead bombardier for the entire Bomb Group or Wing. Lead ship’s ball turret were removed and replaced with a BTO radar.

On November 20, 1944, the 465th BG took off at 0742. The bomber formation formed up at 5000 ft at setting up a course to the target at 0841. During the inbound leg, a heavy overcast had been observed, and it was not sure whether the primary target could be bombed. Already over the Initial Point (IP), it was decided that the formation could turn to bomb the secondary target.

A few moments later, the visibility started to improve and suddenly the target appeared down between the clouds. Since the entire formation was already bound for the secondary target, a 270-degree turn was ordered to return to the IP. Lt. Col. Lokker also decided to climb from 22000 ft to 23000 ft to avoid the large caliber flak. The message about the maneuver was passed to the 464th BG flying behind.

Suddenly things started to develop very quickly: just before the bomb run, Lt. Col. Lokker’s plane received a direct hit between the no.2 engine and the fuselage. Left wing started falling off, the aircraft rolled over, and the bomber immediately burst in flames. That very moment had been captured on the heading photo.

Sitting inside the “Liberator,” just behind the pilot (rearwards to the flight direction), was Lt. Whalen. Next to him, facing the flight direction, was Kutger with his radios. Kutger knew that the plane was mortally wounded for through the waist window he noticed the wing falling off.

He knew also that all that left was 2-3 seconds to leave the plane. He shouted to Whalen to abandon the ship, but Whalen was either wounded or killed, since Kutger saw no reaction in his eyes. Kutger grabbed chute with his right hand and jettisoned the bomb load with the left.

Right after that he jumped into the bomb bay, at the same time trying to put the chute on. He’d been falling through 20000 ft before he finally succeeded. He pulled the handle and after just a couple of swings under the fully opened chute he touched the ground. He was convinced that no one else made it from the bomber.

Lt. Col. Lokker quickly gave up attempts to save the bomber and left it through the top hatch. Rabkin, in the top turret, had just removed his seat and was leaving the ship when the plane suddenly tumbled and he fell back in. He hadn’t made it before the plane exploded and most probably was killed in flames.

Duckworth tried to get out through a waist window, but failed when the plane started spinning. He crawled to the top hatch, grabbed the top turret’s barrels and bailed out. When leaving the bomber, he noticed Hockman and Rice still in the nose of the falling plane.

Hockman managed to put the chute on and got out through the nose wheel bay. Rice had been navigating from the nose turret and got trapped without his chute.

Most probably, when the electric installation failed, he could not leave the turret and had no time to put a chute on. Bourne, Billings, and Miosky were in the rear, at the waist guns. Miosky was last seen standing over the escape hatch with his chute on.

The explosion of the aircraft had probably thrown him away from the hatch and he got trapped in the ball of fire.

 

A B-24 Liberator from the 464th Bomb Group
A B-24 Liberator from the 464th Bomb Group

The same explosion threw Bourne and Billings out. They could not remember the moment they left the ship, but falling down they both managed to open their chutes and land safely. They both were severely burned and wounded. Bourne recalled that he was standing at the waist guns, trying to get to the tail gunner.

He couldn’t do that because of flames. Next moment he could recall he was pressed against the top of the fuselage when the plane started tumbling. The subsequent explosion threw him clear, with a partly torn parachute and some ropes protruding from the pack.

At first, he tried to put them back in, but he could not remember when he pulled the handle. Somehow, he remained conscious, despite his severe burns. He lost an eye and broke a leg when landing.

Actually, he landed on the refinery they’ve bombed and was captured immediately. He spent a month in a hospital at Blechhammer. Right before the Soviet advance troops came, he was moved to the hospital in Bad Soden. He spent rest of the war on recovering from wounds and numerous skin transplants.

Flynn was trapped in the tail turret without a chute and had no chance to abandon the ship. Meanwhile, tragedy in the air continued…

…Flak over the target was heavy, intense and accurate. Smoke screen laid by Germans obstructed the target until some 40-50 seconds till bomb run. The deputy lead bombardier finally managed to see the synthetic fuel plant and, at 1227 bombs had been released. The formation failed to leave the target area as scheduled because the lead ship (Lokker) was shot down and the deputy lead received serious damage.

That plane was commanded by Fred Johnson with Tom Moore as co-pilot. After the bomb run, Johnson dropped off the formation, due to fracture of the fuel and hydraulic lines inside the bomb bay. After some hastily applied repairs, the “Liberator” slowly joined the formation. They made it to base, however landing gear had to be lowered manually.

The other wingman to Lokker’s plane was Ernest Taft. His bomber was hit soon after the lead ship, went into a dive and exploded. No chutes were seen. However, Taft and his navigator managed to escape. According to Taft, their top turret gunner bailed out without a chute, he either forgot to put it on or chosen that instead of dying in flames.

During interrogation, Taft was told that his crew had been captured by civilians. He was told that his co-pilot bailed out too, but Taft never saw him again. German reports captured after the war revealed that a number of airmen were lynched by civilians. This could explain the fact that Taft never saw any other crewmembers besides the navigator and that the Germans presented him with some personal articles belonging to his mates.

Another B-24 in Lokker’s formation was flown by Joseph Norman with his co-pilot Bob Wills. They flew directly behind the Lokker’s plane. They flew through the ball of fire that remained from the lead ship and “collected” it’s left main gear. With a tire still burning, it stuck to the nose of the Norman’s plane.

His crew thought that their plane also got hit and started bailing out. Two of them actually got out before Norman regained control and assured the rest that he could still fly the bomber. In fact, they got hit and trailed thick smoke from two engines.

461st Bombardment Group B-24 Liberators, 1945
461st Bombardment Group B-24 Liberators, 1945

Norman called over the radio that he was heading towards the nearest safe territory. He made it to the Russian-held area and landed safely on the Mokre airfield near Zamość, Poland. They later returned to base.

Flak cut the steering cables in the plane leading the second squadron of the 465th BG and it could not make a turn after bomb run. Therefore, the entire squadron flew straight through the flak barrage. The unfortunate crew was led by Lubie Robinson.

Not only the plane was crippled, but the ball turret gunner was also severely wounded. Since steel cables in the bomb bay were no longer needed, the engineer with some help from other crewmembers used them to repair the steering cables. They regained control over the plane and made it back to the base in Pantanella.

Fortunately, the remainder of the 465th BG suffered no loses and left the target area as planned. They were joined by survivors from the first two squadrons. The outbound leg was relatively uneventful, in the same weather conditions. One more American plane failed to make it back and its crew bailed out. The 18 surviving B-24s landed at 1630.

The after strike photos revealed direct hits in the hydrogenation chambers, injector and compressor houses, with two secondary explosions in the latter. Further hits and fires had been identified right next to power stations and tanks.

Many other hits were also noticed in the production installations and in the neighboring living quarters. Refinery’s northern railway junction located in the western part of the complex had been hit with a series of bombs; further hits also damaged railway sidings.

Luftwaffe released only a brief report “…in Blechhammer damages are moderate, in Blechhammer Sud light, Odertal not hit”. On that mission the American losses totaled 16 B-24s (including the four ships from the 465th BG) and two P-51s.

The author, Szymon Serwatka, has been researching US Army Air Force over Poland in WWII for more than 20 years. He offers WWII history tours to Poland, which include USAAF museum at Blechhammer and B-24 crash locations.

By Szymon Serwatka
Translation: Piotr Wiśniewski

The Blechhammer Tour

The Lost Battalion and the pigeon that saved them

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H/T War History OnLine. 

This is an amazing story.

During World War I, two hundred American soldiers were saved by a pigeon.

The Lost Battalion and the pigeon that saved them

In World War I, the Hundred Days Offensive was the last great Allied attack on the Western Front, leading to the Armistice of Compiégne. One important part of it was the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, also called the Battle of the Argonne Forest, the largest offensive in American military history, with 1.2 million U.S. soldiers participating. During the battle, over 500 men, now called the Lost Battalion (though not an actual battalion), found themselves in dire straits and their lives depended on a single messenger pigeon.
American soldiers in the Argonne Forest
On October 2, 1918, the nine companies moved into the Argonne forest under the command of Maj. Charles White Whittlesey, their flanks protected by French and American forces. Their orders were to advance up a ravine and capture a mill. From this mill, a nearby road and railroad could be controlled, stopping German supplies and securing Allied ones. A general order issued to all units participating in the battle strictly forbade any retreat. Allegedly, Germans often tricked attacking Allied soldiers by shouting “retire” or “fall back,” causing confusion. With the no-retreat order, any such commands were to be assumed to be an enemy ruse or an act of treachery.
Major Charles White Whittlesey
The force began its attack on the morning of October 2, but found their advance stymied by German forces dug in on a nearby hill called “Hill 198.” It took the Americans all day to find a way up the hill and dislodge the defenders. Unknown to them, however, the forces on their own flanks were driven back by a massive German counteroffensive. By the end of day, the 554 men were on top of the hill, but they were completely surrounded by the enemy. Their position was well-defended, except for the rear, which they guarded with a few riflemen and some machine guns. The holes, however, were dug too close together, making a good target for snipers and artillery.
American soldiers during the Battle of the Argonne Forest
On the morning of October 3, Whittlesey sent out runners to make contact with the flanks he thought were in position, as well as troops in the back, but all were killed or captured. For a while, the Germans overestimated the size of the American force and didn’t attack, but got emboldened by the afternoon. Several attacks were repulsed with heavy casualties on both sides, and the fighting continued on October 4. Refusing to budge, Whittlesey started sending out messenger pigeons. The first message said “Many wounded. We cannot evacuate,” but the bird was shot down by Germans. The follow-up, “Men are suffering. Can support be sent?” was also shot.
A Signal Corps pigeon (not Cher Ami)
To make things worse, American artillery started shelling their positions. Facing the risk of complete annihilation from a friendly artillery strike, Whittlesey fetched their last messenger pigeon and wrote out a message: “We are along the road paralell [sic] to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heavens sake stop it.”
Official transcript of the message, made upon its delivery
The last bird, named Cher Ami (“Dear friend” in French, though she later turned out to be a hen despite having a masculine name), took to the air. She was hit almost immediately, either by rifle fire or shrapnel from a shell exploding directly underneath her and she fluttered to the ground. She took flight again, disappeared from sight and returned to her loft at battalion HQ 25 miles away, 25 minutes later. The bird was a ghastly sight. She was covered in blood and shot through the chest, she lost an eye and the leg to which the message was attached in a small container was shot off, hanging on a single tendon.
Cher Ami in life
Her flight saved the Lost Battalion. Plans were made to rescue the men trapped behind German lines. For the next four days, Whittlesey’s men held their position, gradually running out of ammo and supplies. Near the end, bandages were taken off the dead and applied to the still living wounded. Their single source of water was exposed to the enemy and they had to creep through gunfire to get to it. At one point, the Germans sent a captured American soldier to the defenders with a message: “the suffering of your wounded men can be heard over here in German lines, and we are appealing to your humane sentiments to stop….please treat (the messenger) as an honorable man. He is quite a soldier. We envy you.” Whittlesey refused to reply.
Major Whittlesey
Finally, at 3PM on October 8, Allied forces broke through and rescued the beleaguered Americans. Out of the 554 men who went in, 194 walked out unscathed; the rest were wounded, missing, captured or killed. Whittlesey received a battlefield promotion and the Medal of Honor along with two of his captains. Cher Ami, the heroic pigeon, received a wooden leg to replace the one she lost and was awarded the French Croix de Guerre but died the following year from her wounds.
Cher Ami’s stuffed remains
In November 1921, Whittlesey, alongside other Medal of Honor recipients, acted as pallbearer at the burial of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. A few days later, the hero who saw his men through the worst of gauntlets boarded a ship for Havana, but he never arrived. One night, he dined with the captain and retired, seemingly in good spirits; he was reported missing the next morning. It was presumed he committed suicide by jumping overboard. He left letters addressed to family and friends in his cabin. To Captain (later Major) George Mcmurtry, who was his right hand man during the battle, he left a war relic: the preserved letter in which the unnamed German officer demanded his surrender.
Monument to the Lost Battalion and its flying savior in the Argonne Forest
You can visit the Argonne American Cemetery, built near the site of the battle, and learn more about America’s participation in the Great War on our Fields of World War I Tour. You’ve missed our tour this year, as it starts tomorrow, but it’s never too early to sign up for the 2018 one!

Maynard Smith: Awarded the Medal of Honor And Then Demoted in WW2

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H/T War History OnLine.

The story of Maynard “Snuffy” smith is one of rebellion and unbelievable heroism.

Maynard Smith receiving the Medal of Honor

It is perhaps a tale that Veterans of the United States Air Force are more familiar with, the story of “Airman Snuffy.”

Given a choice between jail or the military, Maynard Smith reluctantly opted for the army. This 31-year-old private was a discipline problem from the start and was reported to be spoiled, insubordinate, and unliked by all he encountered.

When he arrived in England for combat as an aerial gunner, no one wanted to fly with him, and it was only upon direct orders that the other crews would do so. Odd as it may seem it was on his very first mission that Maynard “Snuffy” Smith inexplicably emerged with the Medal of Honor.

Troublemaker

Born in 1911 Caro, Michigan, Maynard Smith developed an early reputation as a spoiled kid prone to trouble and the ability to annoy almost anyone. On leaving school, it was apparent his plan was to live off his inheritance for as long as he could until eventually taking up a job in the tax field.

Smith fathered a child which oddly enough led to his unique path to the military. He and the child’s mother separated, but his failure to pay child support put the 31-year-old troublemaker in the hands of a judge.  He was given two choices in 1942, go to jail or join the military.

Once in the Army, Smith found it tough taking orders from anyone particularly men nearly ten years younger than him. Consequently, he opted for the quickest route to acquire rank which at the time was to volunteer for Aerial Gunnery School.

Considering the bombers he was to crew often had a 50% survival rate; it seemed an odd choice for a typically selfish man.

B-17 in flight.

By the time he arrived in England in 1943, his obnoxious personality and reputation for failing to be a team player preceded him. Making no friends in his new location, he earned the nickname “Snuffy” for his obtuse personality.

The First Mission

On May 1, 1943, now Staff Sergeant Smith climbed into the ball gun turret of his B-17 and headed out for France. The target was a series of U-Boat pens near Saint-Nazaire which was a heavily defended location with the nickname “flak city.”

Despite its reputation, at least one group of bombers arrived on target and met little resistance from the German forces.

Dropping their bombs and heading for home, the crew of Smith’s B-17 felt they had made it. Unfortunately, the lead plane made a navigational error, and while he believed they were heading for England, he was leading the group straight to the heavily fortified city of Brest, France.

Modern view of the submarine base at St. Nazaire. By KaTeznik – CC BY-SA 2.0 fr

As the group began to descend from the clouds, they were met by a welcoming party of German fighters and intense anti-aircraft fire. Smith’s bomber was instantly hit. Enemy fire ripped through the plane’s fuel tanks causing a massive fire to erupt in the middle of the fuselage. Their communications system went down, the oxygen system was destroyed, and the power to Smith’s ball turret was knocked out.

With the fire raging, three of the crew members decided it was time to bail out. They parachuted over the channel never to be heard from again.

Smith, on the other hand, leaped into action. He tended to the wounded crew as the pilots attempted to navigate the plane home. However, German fighters were still riddling the plane with bullets, and the fire continued to rage threatening to melt the fuselage. They were a long way from home and Smith spent the next 90 minutes treating the wounded, manning the machine gun, and fighting the fire.

90 Minutes of Gallantry

The temperature in the plane became so intense the extra ammo began to explode. Smith threw the exploding ammunition through the holes in the fuselage the fire had created. Anything not bolted down he ejected. When the fire extinguishers were empty, Smith donned some protective clothing and attacked the fire by hand. As the plane finally approached England Smith had put the fire out, in part by urinating on it.

Maynard “Snuffy” Smith manning the machine gun of a B-17.

The plane landed on the first available airfield and broke in half upon touchdown. Somehow they had made it and the man they dubbed “Snuffy” now found himself an unlikely hero.

Unfortunately for Smith, it did nothing to alleviate his personality problems, and his fellow soldiers only seemed to resent him more. The week that Smith was to receive his Medal of Honor from the Secretary of War he was assigned to KP duty for disciplinary problems.

After the presentation, Smith continued to fly on four more missions before being diagnosed with “operational exhaustion”. He was reduced in rank to Private with a clerical job far from the skies where he earned the nation’s highest military honor.

Smith lived until 1984. He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery as the war hero with whom no one wanted to fly.  His actions on that fateful May day in 1943 will forever remain noted as a real display of inexplicable courage; obnoxious personality or not.

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