Book: The Cross in the Sky

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The Life and Adventures of Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton
Soldier – Pioneer Aviator – Pathfinder for Global Peacekeeping.

by Charles Stuart Eaton

Foreword by Dick Smith AO
In Retrospect Air Commodore Dr Mark Lax OAM, CSM

The Cross in the Sky is the remarkable story of Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton. As a soldier, pioneer aviator and pathfinder for global peacekeeping, Charles emerges as a trail-blazer in many realms. His story is intertwined with tectonic world events and a 65-year romance with Beatrice Rose Godfrey.

Eaton served every day of both world wars, starting with the Royal West Surreys and finishing with the Royal Australian Air Force. He was a prisoner of war and twice court-martialled by the German Army. After the Armistice, he ferried delegates to the Paris Peace Conference. In 1920 he flew in the first aerial survey of India, after which he lived amongst the Khond people of Orissa.

In Central Australia, following the disappearances of Kingsford Smith’s Southern Cross and Lasseter’s Golden Quest, he led rescue missions into the Tanami and Great Sandy deserts before establishing and then participating in the air defences of north-west Australia and West Papua during World War Two. As the Australian Consul in East Timor, he assisted the post-war reconstruction of that war-torn land.

In the midst of the Indonesian War of Independence, his life-long experience culminated in initiatives that led to the first United Nations venture to monitor conflict resolution. As Australia’s first diplomatic representative to the new nation of Indonesia, Charles Eaton laid the foundations of Australian–Indonesian bi-lateral relations.

The Cross in the Sky is the story of an extraordinary man, told by his younger son—and witness to some of these events—Charles Stuart Eaton.

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SOVIET FIGHTER ACES IN KOREA

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Russian MiG-15 Aces in Korea, from left to right: Aleksandr P. Smorchkov (8 kills), Nikolai Ivanovich Ivanov (6), Semen Alexeievich Fedorets (8), Yevgeni G. Pepelyayev (19) and Sergei Makarovich Kramarenko (13).

On Sunday, June 25, 1950, the North Korean Peoples Army suddenly launched its invasion of South Korea by crossing the 38th Parallel. Spearheaded by T-34/85 tanks and supported by swarms of 11- 10 Shturmovik ground-attack aircraft, the offensive rapidly pushed South Korean and UN troops back.

USAF F-80s, F-5 1 s, F-82s, and B-26s were quickly in the fray, wreaking successful havoc on Communist supply lines, and some big scores were built up against obsolescent Russian- built piston-engined aircraft; as the tide of war was beginning to turn and the North Korean advance slowed down to a halt, the advent of the Mikoyan-Guryevich MiG-15 mid-wing monoplane jets came to the Allies as one of the nastiest surprises of the war.

On November 1, 1950, UN pilots submitted first sighting reports of MiG- 15s in Korean colors and, although 12 days later the first victory was reported, it soon became very obvious that the F-80s, F-84s, and Meteors had at a stroke become obsolete. The MiGs could even outclimb the F-86s that entered combat in December, 1950, and enjoying an untouchable ceiling of 15,200 meters, they could dive down on their prey and climb back up to a safe position after striking with relative impunity. From their experience Russian pilots determined that the MiG’s main strength though lay in its enormous firepower, offered by one N-37 37mm cannon and two NS-23KM 23 mm cannon. A two-second burst would pour a devastating 14 kilograms of lead into the enemy plane, tearing it to pieces, while the MiG could take a lot of punishment from the Sabres’ .50 caliber guns thanks to its heavier armor protection.

United States military authorities have always felt certain that skilled Soviet airmen fought in Korea. The actual Soviet involvement has long been due to continuous Soviet attempts to hide their participation at all. Glasnost and Perestrojka as late as 1993 have laid Open fragments of Russian files, allow allowing to make a fairer comparison of the history of aerial warfare. Although there are many Russian participants who are still reluctant to talk freely about their experiences, there is no more denying that the combatants in Korea in terms of technical and psychological quality were actually more evenly matched, and that UN estimates of their air-to-air losses were grossly underestimated.

The VVS posted its 64 IAK on secret mission to Korea primarily tasked with blunting the Allied air offensive against the north. It was comprised of some elite fighter divisions which were rotated in and out after six to twelve months of combat. Commanding officer at its peak was General Major G.A. Lobov, late of the crack 7 GIAD of World War I1 fame with I9 air victories to his credit, who was destined to add four more kills to his already distinguished record in the ferocious air battles fought over Korea. In 1952 the 64 IAK commanded three fighter air divisions along with two antiaircraft divisions (85mm and 57mm guns), having a total of 26,000 men in strength. Recent information from Russia reveals that a total of 10 fighter divisions were committed to action in Korea at one time or another. The following units have been traced so far:

32 IAD

913 IAP

151 IAD

29 GIAP

216 IAD

518 IAP

303 IAD

18 GIAP,

523 IAP,

17 IAP

304 IAD

324 IAD

176 GIAP,

196 IAP

As the Soviet Air Force was undergoing a complete transformation in modern equipment, units were deployed not uniformly prepared, some containing a relative proportion of pilots with an all too brief training period on jets; the tough veterans of the Patriotic War, however, formed the bulk and guts of the Soviet fighter force in Korea. They devised tactics under combat conditions that put the good qualities of the MiG to best advantage. In fact, the aircraft itself was confidence-inspiring, as it proved a clear ascendancy in many respects over the best enemy fighter, the F-86.

For fear of Soviet airmen falling into enemy hands, orders were given that prohibited pilots from penetrating a restricted area 100 kilometers wide north of the 38th Parallel, and from flying over coastal areas with the risk of imminent enemy naval vessels. Some Russians said that American pilots were quick to make good use of these restrictions when things were beginning to become too rough, running for the safety of these areas.

One of the first divisions to become operational was the 324 IAD under the high caliber leadership of the legendary Ivan Kozhedub, the Allied ace of aces of World War I1 with 62 kills. The unit had distinguished itself against the Luftwaffe during the so-called Svir-Petrozavodsk campaign (June-August, 1944) and was now tasked with neutralizing the Allied bombing campaign against North Korea, producing six more Heroes of the Soviet Union, the highest Soviet military distinction; whereas Kozhedub did not see any combat in Korea, his deputy, Vitalij Ivanovich Popkov, did. Popkov, a brilliant pilot and able tactician with 41 air victories against the Luftwaffe, went off whenever the opportunity arose, reporting the destruction of three more enemy planes in the skies above Korea.

On September 19, 1950, well before the first MiG-sightings were reported by the Allies, Podpolkovnik Aleksandr Karasyov, another notable fighter ace of World War 11 with 30 kills, again proved his attributes by flaming three F-84 Thunderjets in quick succession. On December 24 Kapitan Stepan Naumenko of the crack 29 GIAP had the distinction of becoming the first Soviet fighter ace in Korea by scoring his 5th air victory.

Aggressive, flying a formidable fighting machine and almost always enjoying the advantage of height, the Russians in time enjoyed moments of glory in their principal function of stopping the B-29s from systematically bombing North Korean industries, airfields, and bridges. On April 12, 195 1, 48 B-29s were ordered off to strike the railroad bridges at Andong and Sinuiju, but 36 MiGs rose to engage them and claimed to have knocked down nine heavies, while the Americans admitted the loss of three of their number with seven more sustaining damage. On May 20 Starshij Lejtenant Fyodor Shabanov became the first fighter pilot in history to destroy five jets in air combat when he forced down an F-86 to bring his tally to six – five against jets – tying him with the American Jim Jabara of the 335th FIS, who, by coincidence, racked up his fifth and sixth victories that same day.

The MiGs appeared in increasing numbers as the war wore on, with poorly trained Chinese and North Korean units entering the fray, only to be whittled down by the battle-hardened Sabre pilots. The Allied fighters, though, again fared badly engaging Soviet MiGs on September 10, when the 64 IAK submitted claims for five F-86s, five F-84s, and one each F-80 and Gloster Meteor, all without loss; Kapitan G.I. Ges, an ace with five kills in World War 11, accounted for the Meteor. Two weeks later, on September 26, Starshij Lejtenant N.V. Sutyagin claimed another of these to raise his bag to nine as the 303 and 324 IADs were claiming a total of four F-86s, three F-84s, and two Meteors, again without loss. In fact, the Soviet fighter elite in Korea considered the Americans less aggressive and flexible when met on equal terms, and lagging behind in fighting morale considering them unmotivated, fighting without cause.

The B-29s took another terrible battering on October 23. This time the MiGs were really ready. 56 fighters were put into the air during the raid, 12 of which were kept in reserve to intercept any bombers that might break through. 44 relentlessly attacked the bombers, 12 of these being claimed destroyed despite an escort of 55 F-84s, four of the Thunderjets also being knocked down. One MiG fell victim to the screening force of 34 F-86s over North Korean territory. As is so often the case, accounts from the opposing sides vary, and the exact figures are a matter of dispute. Whatever the truth, the B-29s were relegated to night raids following their heavy losses.

The hopelessly inferior Meteors were again meat on the table on December 1, 195 1, when the glorious 176 GTAP got into its last scrap with the Australians, coming away with nine kills. Kapitan S.M. Krarnarenko was high-scorer that day with a double, while singles were turned in by Podpolkovnik S.F. Vishnyakov, Major S.P. Subbotin, Kapitan A.F. Vasko, who was a 15-victory in World War 11, Starshij Lejtenant F.A. Zubakin, P.S. Milaushkin, A.F. Golovachyov, and 1.N.Gulyj.

The number one jet ace of all time is squadron leader Kapitan Nikolaj Sutyagin. He went to war as a deputy squadron leader with the 17 IAP and claimed his first success on June 19, 195 1. Three days later he was able to bring his tally to three with two F-86s. He continued to chalk up victories on a regular basis and excelled in December, 195 1, reporting the destruction of five enemy planes in the air. He finished with a confirmed total of 22 kills during 149 sorties, his score running as follows: 15 F-86s, three F-84s, two F- 80s, and two Meteors.

The runner-up was the highly talented commander of the 196 IAP, Polkovnik Yevgenij Pepelyaev, whose score is quoted by some sources as 23, although this is considered a combined total of his personal victories and shares. Pepelyaev required only 108 sorties to amass his impressive score of 19 kills, all of which were achieved against jets: 14 Sabres, two F-84s, one F-94, and one F-80. He also made a distinguished record as leader of the regiment, which finished the conflict as one of the top-scorers with 100 air victories against 24 aircraft and five pilots lost to enemy action during the period of April, 195 1 to February, 1952. Among stellar performers in Korea was Major Dmitrij Oskin, who scored a string of eight victories in 23 days of combat between October-December, 1951 and wound up as an ace with 15 confirmed kills. Major S.A. Bakhayev is credited with 11 victories in Korea and one RB-29 intruder during the cold war period on December 29, 1950, while serving with the 523 IAP.

The Korean War produced 51 Russian fighter aces scoring five or more confirmed air victories; numerous other pilots made acedom by combining their World War II bag with credits in Korea. The 303 IAD boasted a total of 12 Heroes of the Soviet Union in MiG- 15s.

The war ended on July 27, 1953. Total losses are a matter of dispute. Material disclosed by the VVS General Staff in 1993 indicates that the 64 IAK was credited with downing 1,106 enemy aircraft, 650 of which were F-86s, in 1,872 aerial en-counters. Overall losses (conceivably not including missing in action or non-operational causes) were 335 planes and 120 pilots. Some Soviet sources quote a final score (not including Chinese and Korean victories) of some 1,300 for the loss of 345 MiGs. The Chinese and Korean air forces claimed a combined total of 231 victories at the cost of 271 of their number; the Americans reported the destruction of 954 aircraft, 827 of which were MiGs (or 893 resp. 841 as suggested by other sources), admitting the loss of 78 Sabres, 14 F-80s, and 18 F- 84s in air-to-air combat and 971 losses overall, mostly to groundfire and non-operational causes.

Holy Lance

Holy-Lance-at-Antioch

The ultimate fate of the lance found at Antioch is unclear. Raymond of Aguilers writes that it was carried into battle when the crusaders marched against the Fāțimid-held city of Ascalon (mod. Tel Ashqelon, Israel) in August 1099, while Fulcher of Chartres comments that Raymond of Saint-Gilles kept the relic for a long time after Peter Bartholomew’s disappointing ordeal.

A relic discovered at Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey) on 14 June 1098, identified by many participants in the First Crusade (1096–1099) with the weapon that pierced Christ’s side during the Crucifixion (John 19:33–34).

According to the eyewitness chronicler Raymond of Aguilers, a week after the capture of Antioch from the Turks on 3 June 1098, a Provençal peasant called Peter Bartholomew approached Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy and Raymond of Saint-Gilles, claiming that he had received a series of visions from St. Andrew during the previous months. On one of these visitations, Andrew had revealed to him the spot where the lance that pierced Christ’s side lay hidden within the Church of St. Peter in Antioch. After five days of fasting and penance, twelve men (including Raymond of Aguilers) accompanied Peter Bartholomew to the church on the morning of 14 June 1098 and began to excavate the site in search of the relic. That evening the lance was uncovered by Peter Bartholomew himself. Both Raymond of Aguilers and the anonymous Gesta Francorum report that the discovery of the Holy Lance was greeted with great enthusiasm by the crusaders, at that point themselves besieged within Antioch by Turkish forces. These same sources, as well as a letter sent by the crusade leaders to Pope Urban II on 11 September 1098, relate that the lance was carried into combat when the crusaders broke the siege of Antioch on 28 June 1098. From these accounts, it seems clear that the crusaders attributed their success in that battle to the inspiration and divine protection offered by the holy relic.

Over the following months, however, while factionalism among the crusade leaders delayed the army’s departure for Jerusalem, the authenticity of the lance was called into question, particularly by the Norman followers of Bohemund I, future prince of Antioch. In addition to claiming lordship over the newly conquered city, Bohemund was vying for authority over the crusade army with Raymond of Saint-Gilles, the guardian of the lance, and his southern French supporters. This situation came to a head when certain nobles and the less privileged elements of the army beseeched Count Raymond to lead them to Jerusalem or surrender the lance to those who were willing to continue the march. Raymond acquiesced and led a substantial portion of the crusaders toward Jerusalem in early January 1099.

Nevertheless, a faction led by Arnulf of Chocques, chaplain to Robert, duke of Normandy, persisted in questioning the legitimacy of the relic. This situation encouraged Peter Bartholomew to undertake an ordeal in order to prove the lance’s authenticity. On 8 April 1099, Peter hazarded an ordeal by fire while bearing the lance. Raymond of Aguilers reports that Peter crossed safely between two piles of burning wood, but was mortally crushed by the thronging crowds that greeted him on the other side. Regardless of the exact circumstances, Peter Bartholomew died on 20 April 1099. Though this turn of events did not diminish Raymond of Aguilers’s enthusiasm for the lance, it clearly contributed to the relic’s controversial status among contemporary crusade historians. Fulcher of Chartres, who was at Edessa (mod. Şanliurfa, Turkey) when the lance was discovered, expressed his skepticism about its authenticity and wrote that Peter Bartholomew’s death was a clear sign of his duplicity in the matter, adding that the ordeal’s outcome greatly disheartened the bulk of the relic’s supporters.

Writing around 1115 in praise of the recently deceased Norman crusader Tancred, the chronicler Raduph of Caen excoriated both Raymond of Saint-Gilles and Peter Bartholomew for their fabrication of the supposedly holy relic. Raduph asserts that Peter Bartholomew’s demise was clear proof of the lance’s falsity. Writing from a less polemical standpoint, subsequent generations of crusade historians, including Albert of Aachen, Guibert of Nogent, and William of Tyre, present the discovery of the lance as a moment of great significance during the course of the First Crusade, but also acknowledge the controversy that surrounded the relic and its discoverer’s ordeal.

The question of the Holy Lance’s authenticity was further complicated by the existence of well-known competitors, including a lance kept at Constantinople (mod. Istanbul, Turkey) since the seventh century and one possessed by the Holy Roman Emperors since the tenth century. The ultimate fate of the lance found at Antioch is unclear. Raymond of Aguilers writes that it was carried into battle when the crusaders marched against the Fāțimid-held city of Ascalon (mod. Tel Ashqelon, Israel) in August 1099, while Fulcher of Chartres comments that Raymond of Saint-Gilles kept the relic for a long time after Peter Bartholomew’s disappointing ordeal. According to second-hand sources, Count Raymond may have given the lance to the Byzantine emperor, Alexios I Komnenos, or he may have lost it during his participation in the ill-fated Crusade of 1101. If the lance discovered by the crusaders did find its way to Constantinople, it may have been the same one purchased in 1241 by King Louis IX of France from Baldwin II, Latin emperor of Constantinople.

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76-mm Sherman

Sherman-76mm-02-px800

Standard M4A2(76mm) Sherman

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M4A3(76mm) Sherman

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The US Army made a conscious decision in 1943: to ignore calls for rapid development of the heavy, 90mm-gun T26 (Pershing) to take on the Panthers and Tigers, and instead to mass produce the M4 – a medium tank that would do the job well enough rather than brilliantly, and at a practical cost in time, talent, treasure, and shipping weight.

Its 75mm gun and 50mm (2in) frontal armor were not good enough to take on a late Panzer head-to-head; but Sherman crews used their numbers, speed and agility to swarm round the Panthers and Tigers. The Panzer might survive long enough to kill one, maybe even two M4s; but in the meantime the rest of the platoon, working round onto its flanks, would be putting rounds into its more vulnerable sides and engine compartment from close up.

The Sherman also lent itself to adaptation. The 75mm gun was a good all- purpose weapon with a very useful HE round; but when its shortcomings against the new Panzers became evident, the British customized a proportion of their Sherman fleet by shoe-horning into the turret their big 17-pounder anti-tank gun. Probably the best Allied anti-tank weapon of the war, this 76mm (3in) gun could pierce at least 130mm of armour sloped at 30 degrees at 1,000 yards range, compared to about 60mm for the 75mm gun (the frontal armor of Tigers and Panthers was around 80mm). Sadly, there were never enough of these 17-pdr.Sherman “Fireflies” to issue more than one tank per platoon. The US Army turned them down, but late US Shermans received a new turret for the long 76mm M1 series gun.

So why go to all the trouble of installing a new gun in the Sherman when it only fired a projectile that was 1mm larger in diameter? Well, the typical AP M72 shot used with the 75mm M3 Gun attained a muzzle velocity of 2,030 ft/sec. The typical AP M79 shot, which was used with the M1A2 76mm Gun, achieved a velocity of 2,600 ft/sec. This additional speed provided a penetration difference in homogeneous armor at 30 degree obliquity from 2.4in (60mm), to 4.3in (109mm), a penetration difference of approximately 2 inches. To what was this new penetration performance due? It was mostly due to the additional powder used in the larger shell cartridge, but both the increased length of the barrel and the improved performance of the projectile itself also had some effect. The increased velocity of the round still wasn’t enough to penetrate a Panther or Tiger I head on at distance, but the improved performance was directly noticeable to the users, and it temporarily reduced American tankers’ complaints about the poor performance of their earlier 75mm M3 weapons.

One good point about the US Sherman’s guns was that their trajectory allowed indirect fire – wartime photos show tanks lined up track to track on slopes with guns elevated, firing HE barrages over crests like howitzer batteries, a tactic impossible for most German tanks with their high velocity cannon.

Of the many versions of the M4 which were produced, varying in armor, turret, ammo stowage, weapon, engine and suspension, the best – by acclamation – was the M4A3E8 (“Easy 8”) with a big liquid-cooled V8 engine, wider tracks, HVSS suspension, and enlarged turret with 76mm gun; these began to reach the troops soon after D-Day. They served on for some years, seeing combat in Korea; and they – and many earlier marks – would continue to serve in overseas armies for decades afterwards. A handful served in Israel’s 1948 war of independence, and many in her 1956 and 1967 campaigns; Shermans fought in the Indo-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971; and in odd pockets of the Third World a few may have soldiered on even later.

 

Posted in AFV

WWII USN Torpedoes

Torpedo_Exploder_Mark_6_NH-88457

“Damn those exploders…damn them all to hell!” exclaimed the skipper of submarine Jack, Lieutenant Commander Thomas Michael Dykers, on June 20, 1943, as he watched through the periscope and saw a torpedo, fired from an excellent position and at the optimal range of 1,000 yards, “premature” (explode before reaching its intended target), a 1,500-ton trawler. “Son of a bitch from Baghdad!” Dykers roared as the other two torpedoes he fired also failed to reach their target, either missing or failing to detonate.

This flawlessly executed attack, the premier combat for both the Jack and its skipper, failed because of faulty torpedoes. Very unfortunately for the U.S. war effort in the Pacific, its submarine campaigns were plagued for fully the first half of the war with torpedo problems. These problems included premature detonation, running depths deeper than specified, and failure to explode upon contact with a ship’s hull. Often one of these problems masked another, with the solution of one problem seemingly leading to the emergence of another, unanticipated one. The full extent of the torpedo problems was not known or completely remedied until the fall of 1943.

But, as if to compensate for this American failing, the Japanese committed an equal or greater strategic blunder of their own: they chose not to make extensive use of submarine warfare against U.S. shipping. Throughout most of the war, Japanese submarines and torpedoes were superior to their U.S. counterparts. Japanese submarines, or I-boats, were bigger than the U.S. submarines, and their torpedoes were vastly superior. Even after it was perfected, the U.S. Mark-14 torpedo had a range of 4,500 yards, a warhead of 668 pounds of Torpex (a specially designed mixture of TNT, other explosive compounds, and beeswax), and a speed of 46 knots. (Fired at 31 knots, the Mark-14 theoretically had a range of 9,000 yards, but this setting was seldom used, except against anchored ships.) The electrical Mark-18–1 torpedo, which came into increasing use toward the end of the war, had a range of 3,500 yards, a top speed of only 33 knots, and a warhead of 500 pounds. By contrast, the typical Japanese submarine torpedo, the Type 95, had a range of 10,000 yards, a speed of 49 knots, and a warhead of 900 pounds. It took only three such torpedoes, fired from Japanese submarine I–19 on September 15, 1942, in the Coral Sea, to fatally cripple aircraft carrier Wasp. On the same day a Japanese torpedo blew a 32-foot hole in the hull of battleship North Carolina.

mk14

The Mark-14. The standard Mark-14, the torpedo most commonly used by U.S. submarines in World War II, had three problems: running too deep, exploding prematurely because of faulty magnetic detonation devices, and not detonating at all upon contact with a ship’s hull, because of poorly designed mechanical detonators. The first fault to be detected and corrected was running below set depths. When this problem was solved, the issue of premature detonations came next, and when this in turn was resolved, faulty mechanical detonators had to be reworked until they performed satisfactorily.

In June 1942 navy technical personnel placed a large fishnet across a bay in Western Australia and then fired three torpedoes at it. Two torpedoes set to run at 10 feet tore through the net at 18 feet and 25 feet, respectively, and a third, set to run on the surface, pierced the net at 11 feet. The U.S. Bureau of Ordnance (BuOrd) questioned the unsophisticated protocols of this test, but its own more careful tests confirmed that the torpedoes were indeed running deep. The reasons involved, among other things, weight differences between live and dummy torpedoes tested, improperly calibrated equipment, and inaccurate record-keeping. Instead of addressing all of these problems, submariners simply set torpedo depths for 10 feet less than they needed.

The next major problem with the Mark-14 torpedoes was the Mark-6 magnetic exploder, a device copied from captured German U-boat torpedoes and designed, at least in theory, to detonate the torpedo’s warhead just as it passed through the magnetic field beneath the keel, usually the most vulnerable and least armored part of a ship. Unknown to the Americans, the Nazis had encountered so many problems with their own magnetic exploder device that they eventually abandoned it as unreliable.

Torpedo_exploder_Mark_6_Mod_1

The Mark-6 Exploder. The most infuriating quirk with the Mark-14 torpedo equipped with the Mark-6 exploder was not that it never worked, but that it worked unpredictably. When this torpedo/exploder combination did perform as designed, it was devastatingly effective, and severely damaged or sank any vessel unfortunate enough to be its target because it broke up the ship exactly at its most vulnerable part, the keel. These successes happened with just enough frequency to convince BuOrd that the torpedoes were largely problem-free.

Predictably, skippers very quietly deactivated the magnetic exploders on their torpedoes and set them to detonate on contact only. Most did not reveal that they had done so, because tampering with the government’s ordnance was, technically, a serious offense that could get them courtmartialed. Admiral Charles A.Lockwood, commander of the Pacific Fleet submarines, eventually learned of this practice and sided with the skippers. He also decided to take his case against the faulty magnetic exploder to the commander of the Pacific fleet, Admiral Chester Nimitz. After hearing Lockwood’s grievances, Nimitz directed Lockwood to issue orders for the deactivation of the faulty devices, and this Lockwood did in June 1943.

Disabling the magnetic exploders did greatly reduce the premature explosion problem, but an equally serious fault emerged: dud torpedoes. Instead of exploding prematurely, many torpedoes did not explode at all, even when they hit an enemy hull with a solid thud.

On July 24, 1943, Dan Daspit, skipper of Tinosa, was on the trail of a huge tanker of 19,000 tons, Tonan Maru III. Two of the first four torpedoes he fired at the vessel were solid hits, and smoke began billowing from the tanker. Finding no surface or air escorts for the tanker, Daspit had a matchless opportunity to send it to the bottom. In all, he fired fifteen torpedoes, the last against a Japanese destroyer. All failed to detonate. Daspit saved his last torpedo to take back to Pearl Harbor as proof that something was drastically wrong with U.S. torpedoes. At Pearl Harbor, Lockwood and others soon concluded that the contact detonators were malfunctioning, and a team of investigators was soon looking into the problem. Dummy warheads fitted with the defective exploders were dropped 90 feet from a crane onto a thick steel plate. When the warheads hit the plate at the perfect angle of 90 degrees, the contact detonators were crushed by the impact before they could strike the fulminate caps. But when the warheads were dropped onto a plate angled at 45 degrees, only about half were duds. It was clear that the detonators were poorly designed, and torpedo experts at Pearl Harbor immediately began reworking them. (Ironically, the new and improved detonator devices were fashioned out of very tough metal obtained from Japanese aircraft propellers found in the Hawaiian Islands.) Lockwood directed that all Mark-14 torpedoes thereafter be equipped with the new detonators, and told submarines still at sea to try for angled shots instead of the ideal 90 degree approaches.

By the late summer of 1943, all of the torpedo problems were remedied. Only now could submariners confront the enemy with full confidence in their ordnance. The reworked torpedoes soon led to dramatic increases in submarine sinkings of Japanese shipping, and by the first quarter of 1944, more than 1,750,000 tons of Japanese shipping were destroyed, which nearly equaled the figure of 1,803,409 sunk for all of 1943. By the end of 1944, the destruction of Japanese shipping was truly devastating: more than 3.8 million tons sunk.

Mark_18_torpedo_general_profile,_US_Navy_Torpedo_Mark_18_(Electric),_April_1943

The Mark-18. Early in 1942 the Allies had captured a German electric torpedo, and eventually Westinghouse was producing copies. One of the main advantages of the electric torpedo was its wakeless track, which made it much more difficult to spot. Westinghouse’s Mark-18 electric torpedo also proved to have none of the depth control or detonation problems of the Mark-14s, and its production costs were less. Its main immediately discernible drawback was its slower speed of about 30 knots. But as the Mark-18 was taken into combat situations, problems emerged. For one thing, it ran slower in cold water because the cold reduced the power of its batteries. Hydrogen leaks from its batteries led to several fires and explosions, and ventilating the torpedoes of hydrogen became a frequent precaution. (Later, hydrogen-burning technology right inside the torpedo itself made this unnecessary.) Torpedo technicians at Pearl Harbor quickly identified and remedied these and other problems, and by 1944 the Mark-18 was gradually gaining acceptance from submariners. Gradually a consensus arose: they would use the electric Mark-18s by day and the now reliable Mark-14s by night. Some 30 percent of the torpedoes fired from U.S. submarines in 1944 were electric, and by war’s end the figure had risen to 65 percent. By the end of the war, the Mark-18 had definitely proven its worth: it had sunk nearly a million tons, about one-fifth of the total sent to the bottom by U.S. submarines.

The torpedo was the submariners main tool of war, and its improvement was the single most important technological development in U.S. submarine warfare during World War II. But other items of equipment and improvements in them also contributed to the stealth and deadliness of the U.S. submarine.

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Ia Drang Valley

Ia_Drang_Infantry_disembarking_from_Helicopter

The 1st Cavalry Division deploys the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, at Ia Drang two miles to the northeast of Landing Zone X-Ray. There they are ambushed by Communist forces and nearly overrun until rescued by the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry. American losses are 276 men to an estimated 400 Viet Cong.

Iadrang-map

The most significant individual battle of the Vietnam War was fought on November 14, 1965 in the Ia Drang Valley in the Central Highlands. It was the first engagement of North Vietnamese Forces and an American unit, bolstered by the technology of the helicopter to deliver troops into battle. The 1st Air Cavalry Division prevailed, but not without sustaining significant casualties, and the victory was sealed when US airpower was unleashed against the numerically superior forces of the PAVN. This earliest of battles is described with great detail using eyewitness accounts in Hal Moore and Joe Galloway ‘ s We Were Soldiers Once and Young (2004 [1992]). Such writing was possible because the authors had been involved in the battle as commander and reporter, respectively. They not only chronicle the battle moment by moment, but they offer a gripping analysis of the impact of the outcome of the battle on decision – making in Washington, Saigon and Hanoi. The American leadership assumed massive force and technology would always prevail, and the PAVN leadership decided to minimize force size to avoid casualties. They also realized that Cambodia provided sanctuary: “I was always taught as an officer that in a pursuit situation you continue to pursue until you either kill the enemy or he surrenders… Not to follow them into Cambodia violated every principle of warfare. It became perfectly clear to the North Vietnamese that they then had sanctuary; they could come when they were ready to fight and leave when they were ready to quit “. Ultimately, the North Vietnamese analysis of the battle and subsequent battlefield strategy would prevail.

Operations in mid-October by units of the 1st Air Cavalry provided intelligence on PAVN dispositions and General Westmoreland decided on a spoiling attack. This resulted in the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, a forested area just east of the Chu Pong massif, from 23 October to 20 November. It was the first major battle between PAVN and US Army units and one of the war’s bloodiest encounters.

On 27 October Westmoreland committed a brigade of the 1st Air Cavalry to search-and-destroy operations. For two weeks there was sporadic but light contact between the opposing sides. This changed on 14 November. Over the next four days savage fighting erupted over landing zones (LZS) X-Ray and Albany. It began when Lieut. Col. Harold Moore’s understrength 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment-some 450 men-landed at LZ “XRay” almost on top of two PAVN regiments of 2,000 men. Outnumbered and in unfamiliar terrain, the Americans fought desperately. In bitter, sometimes hand-to-hand combat, the Americans drove back the attackers. Beginning the next day, 15 B-52 bombers from Guam began six days of Arc Light strikes on the Chu Pong massif. It was the first time that B-52s were employed in a tactical role in support of ground troops. Moore’s battalion was relieved by Lieut. Col. Robert Tully’s 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, which was then ordered to vacate LZ “X-Ray” and march overland to “Albany” two miles away. Three PAVN battalions ambushed the Americans en route, and in the most savage one-day battle of the war 155 Americans were killed and another 124 wounded.

The battle ended when PAVN units withdrew across the border into Cambodia. In a month of fighting the 1st Air Cavalry had lost 305 killed. The Americans estimated PAVN losses at 3,561, less than half of these confirmed. Both sides claimed victory. The PAVN learned they could survive high-tech American weapons and the new helicopter tactics. They also learned to minimize casualties by keeping combat troops close to US positions in what Giap referred to as his “grab them by the belt” tactic.

The PAVN had inflicted heavy casualties on the Americans, even while suffering horrendously themselves. But the PAVN leadership believed that even lopsided body counts favoured them and would eventually wear down American resolve. The Americans believed they had prevented a decisive PAVN success before the US deployment could be completed. Westmoreland and his chief deputy, General William DePuy, both of whom had learned their trade in the meat-grinder battles of World War II, saw their estimated 12 to 1 kill ratio advantage as proof that the war could be won through attrition, by carrying the conflict to the PAVN in search and destroy operations. Indeed, Time magazine selected General Westmoreland as its Man of the Year for 1965. In that year the United States lost 1,275 killed, 5,466 wounded, 16 captured, and 137 missing. RVN forces lost 11,403 killed, 23,296 wounded, and 7,589 missing. The Allies estimated VC/PAVN dead at 35,382 killed and 5,873 captured.

The Battle

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LTC Hal Moore, Commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, on the radio during the fight for LZ X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley of Vietnam. Hal Moore regarded the battle as a draw, and I agree with that assessment. Another veteran put it, “The survivors of Landing Zone X-Ray have always had an aura of fame about them. They fought in the first violent “stand up” fight of the war, and they won… barely.”

The North Vietnamese Army attacked a Special Forces camp at Plei Me; when it was repulsed, Westmoreland directed the division to launch an offensive to locate and destroy enemy regiments that had been identified in the vicinity of the camp. The result was the Battle of the Ia Drang, named for a small river that flowed through the valley, the area of operations. For thirty-five days the division pursued and fought the North Vietnamese 32d, 33d, and 66th People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) Regiments, until the enemy, suffering heavy casualties, returned to his bases in Cambodia.

With scout platoons of its air cavalry squadron covering front and flanks, each battalion of the division’s 1st Brigade established company bases from which patrols searched for enemy forces. For several days neither ground patrols nor aeroscouts found any trace, but on November 4 the scouts spotted a regimental aid station several miles west of Plei Me. Quick-reacting aerorifle platoons converged on the site. Hovering above, the airborne scouts detected an enemy battalion nearby and attacked from UH-1B Huey gunships with aerial rockets and machine guns. Operating beyond the range of their ground artillery, Army units engaged the enemy in an intense firefight, killing ninety-nine, capturing the aid station, and seizing many documents.

The search for the main body of the enemy continued for the next few days, with Army units concentrating their efforts in the vicinity of the Chu Pong Massif, a mountain range and likely enemy base near the Cambodian border. Communist forces were given little rest, as patrols harried and ambushed them.

The heaviest fighting was yet to come. As the division began the second stage of its campaign, enemy forces began to move out of the Chu Pong base. Units of the U. S. 1st Cavalry Division’s 3d Brigade, which took over from the 1st Brigade, advanced to establish artillery bases and landing zones at the base of the mountain. Landing Zone X-RAY was one of several U. S. positions vulnerable to attack by the enemy forces that occupied the surrounding high ground. Here on November 14 began fighting that pitted three battalions against elements of two North Vietnamese regiments. Withstanding repeated mortar attacks and infantry assaults, the Americans used every means of firepower available to them-the division’s own gunships, massive artillery bombardment, hundreds of strafing and bombing attacks by tactical aircraft, earth-shaking bombs dropped by B-52 bombers from Guam, and, perhaps most important, the individual soldier’s M16 rifle-to turn back a determined enemy. The Communists lost more than 600 dead, the Americans 79.

Although badly hurt, the enemy did not leave the Ia Drang Valley. Elements of the 33d and 66th PAVN Regiments, moving east toward Plei Me, encountered the U. S. 2d Battalion, 7th Cavalry, a few miles north of X-RAY at Landing Zone ALBANY, on November 17. The fight that resulted was a bloody reminder of the North Vietnamese mastery of the ambush, as the Communists quickly snared four U. S. companies in their net. As the trapped units struggled for survival, nearly all semblance of organized combat disappeared in the confusion and mayhem. Neither reinforcements nor effective firepower could be brought in. At times combat was reduced to valiant efforts by individuals and small units to avert annihilation. When the fighting ended that night, almost 70 percent of the Americans were casualties and almost one of every three soldiers in the battalion had been killed.

Lessons!?

Despite the horrific casualties from the ambush near Landing Zone ALBANY, the Battle of the Ia Drang was lauded as the first major American triumph of the Vietnam War. The airmobile division, committed to combat less than a month after it arrived in country, relentlessly pursued the enemy over difficult terrain and defeated crack North Vietnamese Army units. In part, its achievements underlined the flexibility that Army divisions had gained in the early 1960s under the Reorganization Objective Army Division (ROAD) concept. Replacing the flawed pentomic division with its five lightly armed battle groups, the ROAD division, organized around three brigades, facilitated the creation of brigade and battalion task forces tailored to respond and fight in a variety of military situations. The newly organized division reflected the Army’s embrace of the concept of flexible response and proved eminently suitable for operations in Vietnam. The helicopter was given great credit as well. Nearly every aspect of the division’s operations was enhanced by its airmobile capacity. During the battle, artillery units were moved sixty-seven times by helicopter. Intelligence, medical, and all manner of logistical support benefited as well from the speed and flexibility helicopters provided. Despite the fluidity of the tactical situation, airmobile command and control procedures enabled the division to move and keep track of its units over a large area and to accommodate the frequent and rapid changes in command arrangements as units moved from one headquarters to another.

Yet for all the advantages the division accrued from airmobility, its performance was not without blemish. Though the conduct of division-size airmobile operations proved tactically sound, two major engagements stemmed from the enemy’s initiative in attacking vulnerable American units. On several occasions massive air and artillery support provided the margin of victory, if not survival. Above all, the division’s logistical self-sufficiency fell short of expectations. It could support only one brigade in combat at a time, for prolonged and intense operations consumed more fuel and ammunition than the division’s helicopters and fixed-wing Caribou aircraft could supply. Air Force tactical airlift became necessary for resupply. Moreover, in addition to combat losses and damage, the division’s helicopters suffered from heavy use and from the heat, humidity, and dust of Vietnam, taxing its maintenance capacity. Human attrition was also high: hundreds of soldiers, the equivalent of almost a battalion, fell victim to a resistant strain of malaria peculiar to Vietnam’s highlands.

Westmoreland’s satisfaction in blunting the enemy’s offensive was tempered by concern that enemy forces might reenter South Vietnam and resume their offensive while the airmobile division recuperated at the end of November and during most of December. He thus requested immediate reinforcements from the Army’s 25th Infantry Division, based in Hawaii and scheduled to deploy to South Vietnam in the spring of 1966. By the end of 1965, the division’s 3d Brigade had been airlifted to the highlands and, within a month of its arrival, had joined elements of the 1st Cavalry Division to launch a series of operations to screen the border. Army units did not detect any major enemy forces trying to cross from Cambodia into South Vietnam. Each operation, however, killed hundreds of enemy soldiers and refined airmobile techniques, as Army units learned to cope with the vast territorial expanse and difficult terrain of the highlands.

Moore, Hall G., and Joseph L. Galloway ( 2004 [1992] ). We Were Soldiers Once and Young: Ia Drang – the Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam. Novato, CA: Presidio Press.

HERBSTNEBEL – Special Forces

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Above is one of the rare pictures of this operation. Von Der Heydte is on the right, his arm injury clearly visible. In the center is Von Kayser and to the left is one of the jäger involved in the operation. The stress of the operation clearly shows on Von Der Heydte’s face. Von Der Heydte survived the war, returning to his law work and later the army in which he rose to the rank of general, dying in 1994. Von Kayser is also said to have survived the war, and became a famous ballroom dancer owning his own dance school in Germany!

As the Allies approached each other from east and west, the strain on this unholy alliance would grow insuperable. Canada, he predicted, would be the first to yank its troops from the theater. “World historical events have their ups and downs,” the Führer declared.

Rome would not be thinkable without a Second Punic War.… There would be no Prussia without the Seven Years’ War.… The palm of victory will in the end be given to the one who was not only ablest, but—and I want to emphasize this—was the most daring.

Toward that end he had a plan, originally code-named WACHT AM RHEIN, Watch on the Rhine, but recently renamed HERBSTNEBEL, Autumn Mist. This he would now disclose on pain of death to any man who betrayed the grand secret.

It had come to him as in a fever dream, when he was bedridden and yellow with jaundice in September. Brooding over what Jodl called “the evil fate hanging over us,” the Führer had again been hunched at his maps when his eye fixed on the same unlikely seam through the Ardennes that German invaders had already ripped twice in this century. A monstrous blow by two panzer armies could swiftly reach the Meuse bridges between Liège and Namur, carving away Montgomery’s 21st Army Group in the north from the Americans in the south, and eradicating the enemy threat to the Ruhr. Destroying thirty divisions in the west would wipe out a third of the Anglo-American force, requiring Churchill and Roosevelt to sue for peace; conversely, exterminating thirty Bolshevik divisions in the east, among more than five hundred, could hardly deal a decisive blow. Therefore Germany’s destiny must, he proclaimed, be “sealed in the West.” As for the offensive’s ultimate objective, Hitler in a conference with his senior generals had abruptly blurted out a single word: “Antwerp.”

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Crows or starlings might have been mistaken for German parachutists near Spa, but more than a thousand actual airborne troops were due to be dropped north of Malmédy on Null Tag to further disrupt American defenses.

Nothing went right for the enemy. Airdromes designated for training proved not to exist, half the Ju-52 pilots had never flown in combat, and many paratroopers were either novices or had not jumped since the attack on Holland in 1940. “Don’t be afraid. Be assured that I will meet you personally by 1700 on the first day,” General Dietrich had told the mission commander, Colonel Friedrich von der Heydte. “Behind their lines are only Jewish hoodlums and bank managers.” After confusion and blunders delayed the jump for a day, a howling crosswind on Sunday morning scattered paratroopers up to fifty kilometers from the drop zone. Two hundred jumpers were mistakenly dropped near Bonn, and American gunners shot down several planes. With a single mortar, little ammunition, and no functioning radios, von der Heydte rounded up three hundred men, who stumbled into a losing firefight before fleeing in small groups for the Fatherland; the colonel surrendered after briefly hiding outside Monschau. Two-thirds of the original thousand were killed or captured. That was the end of what proved the last German airborne operation of the war.

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As soon as the 17th Airborne Division hit the continent,the Counter Intelligence (CI) Section began work in earnest. The sifted through mounds of information and passed it on to the division’s units to keep them informed. In the wake of the saboteur/spy problem precipitated by Operation GREIF with Brigadenführer Oberst Otto Skorzeny commanding the 150th Panzerbrigade, everyone was on edge looking for traitors, saboteurs, spies and enemy agents. The division passed on information on suspected and confirmed citizens and soldiers who fit into these categories. Most were accompanied by name, description and in most cases, photos.

Operation GREIF, or “condor,” proved no more competent. Under the flamboyant Viennese commando officer Otto Skorzeny, 2,000 men had been recruited into the 150th Armored Brigade for behind-the-lines sabotage, reconnaissance, and havoc. Their motor fleet included a dozen Panthers modified to resemble Shermans, German Fords painted olive drab, and a small fleet of captured U.S. Army trucks, jeeps, and scout cars. Some 150 men who spoke English—only 10, mostly former sailors, were truly fluent in the vernacular—would lead raiding parties X, Y, and Z to seize three Meuse bridges. They were issued captured or counterfeit identification documents, as well as GI uniforms, many of which had been purloined from American prisoners under the pretext of disinfection. To mimic American cigarette-smoking techniques and other mannerisms, the men studied Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca.

All for naught. Sixth Panzer Army’s troubles on the north shoulder disrupted Skorzeny’s timetable, and a set of GREIF orders discovered on a dead German officer alerted the Americans to skullduggery. First Army MPs on Monday, December 18, stopped three men in a jeep near Aywaille who were unable to give the day’s password; a search revealed German pay books and grenades. Four others on a Meuse bridge in Liège included a GI imposter who carried both the identification card of a Captain Cecil Dryer and the dogtags of a Private Richard Bumgardner. He and his comrades were found to be wearing swastika brassards beneath their Army field jackets. In all, sixteen infiltrators were swiftly captured in American uniforms and another thirty-five were killed without effecting a single act of sabotage on the Meuse. Most of Skorzeny’s brigade eventually was dragooned into battle as orthodox infantry near Malmédy, where inexperience and a lack of artillery led to heavy casualties. Skorzeny himself suffered a nasty head wound.

The sole accomplishment of GREIF was to sow hysteria across the Western Front. A voluble, imaginative German lieutenant captured in Liège claimed to be part of a team sent to kill Eisenhower. Colonel Skorzeny, he said, had already infiltrated American lines with 60 assassins. The ostensible figure quickly grew to 150, and rumors flew that they could be posing as GIs escorting several captured German generals to SHAEF headquarters. Soon hundreds of jeeps carrying suspected killers and blackguards had been reported crisscrossing France; more than forty roadblocks sprang up around the Café de la Paix in Paris, where Skorzeny and his henchmen were expected to rendezvous. Police bulletins described Skorzeny as six feet, eight inches tall—a considerable exaggeration—with “dueling scars on both cheeks,” supposedly incurred while brawling over a ballerina in Vienna. It was said that some infiltrators carried vials of sulfuric acid to fling in the faces of suspicious sentries; that many spoke English better than any GI; that they recognized one another by rapping their helmets twice, or by wearing blue scarves, or by leaving unfastened the top button of a uniform blouse. It was said that some might be costumed as priests, or nuns, or barkeeps. The Army official history dryly recorded that “Belgian or French café keepers who for weeks had been selling vin ordinaire, watered cognac, and sour champagne to the GIs were suddenly elevated by rumor, suspicion, and hysteria to captaincies in the Waffen SS.”

MPs at checkpoints sought to distinguish native English speakers from frauds with various shibboleths, including “wreath,” “writhe,” “wealth,” “rather,” and “with nothing.” Some asked the identity of the Windy City, since an intelligence report advised that “few Germans can pronounce Chicago correctly.” Other interrogatories included: What is the price of an airmail stamp? What is Sinatra’s first name? Who is Mickey Mouse’s girlfriend? Where is Little Rock? Robert Capa, burdened with a Hungarian accent and an ineradicable smirk, was arrested for failing to know the capital of Nebraska. Forrest Pogue, when asked the statehouse location in his native Kentucky, carefully replied, “The capital is Frankfort, but you may think it is Louisville.” When the actor David Niven, serving as an officer in 21st Army Group, was asked, “Who won the World Series in 1940?” he answered, “I haven’t the faintest idea. But I do know that I made a picture with Ginger Rogers in 1938.”

Cooks, bakers, and clerks were tutored in the mysteries of bazookas, mortars, and mines. Trigger-happy GIs gunned down four French civilians at a roadblock, and an Army doctor was shot in the stomach after answering a sentry’s challenge with, “You son of a bitch, get out of my way.” Promiscuous gunfire could be heard in Versailles near the Trianon Palace, now entombed in concertina wire, and a fusillade behind Beetle Smith’s house one night brought the chief of staff out in his pajamas, cradling a carbine. “We deployed into the garden and began shooting right and left,” Robert Murphy, a visiting diplomat, later recounted. “The next morning a stray cat was found in the garden riddled with bullets.”

With Skorzeny and his cutthroats presumed to be still at large, Eisenhower reluctantly agreed to move from the St.-Germain villa to smaller quarters near his office. Each day his black limousine continued to follow the usual route to and from SHAEF headquarters, but with the rear seat occupied by a lieutenant colonel named Baldwin B. Smith, whose broad shoulders, prominent pate, and impatient mien made him a perfect body double for the supreme commander.

Battle of Reports – Gettysburg I

In the orders, issued less than a month before the Battle of Gettysburg, Adjultant General and Inspector General CS Army Samuel Cooper[1] required all officers to “confine their statements to the facts and events connected with the matter on which they report.” This included “sieges, campaigns or battles.” He emphasized further that: “No extraneous subject, whether of speculation or of collateral narrative, has a proper place in the official reports of military operations. As much conciseness as is consistent with perspicuity and fullness of statement, will be observed in such communications.”

Problems had come up earlier in the war over Confederate officers’ fulminations against other officers in their official reports. General Joseph E. Johnston returned one of Major General Gustavus W. Smith’s after-action reports during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862 because it criticized Longstreet, and Longstreet tried to quash one of Major General Daniel H. Hill’s reports on the operations around Suffolk in the spring of 1863 for its intemperate language. Those earlier tiffs very likely helped provoke Cooper’s directive in June.

Years later, Dr. Hunter McGuire, Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s physician, elaborated on what constituted a good report in his opinion, as exemplified by Lee and Jackson: “Everyone has noticed how free from boasting and exaggeration are the reports of Jackson and Lee. They are simple, modest, unpresuming records of the facts as they knew them.” Lee could be sarcastic and disparaging face-to-face, but he exercised admirable restraint when it came to criticizing others in his military dispatches. He did not seem to think criticism in the official record served any useful purpose, and he often glossed over the failures of subordinates by striking any mention of them from his staff-prepared reports. His aide, Colonel Charles Marshall, who often prepared those reports, said, “Never in a public dispatch did the commanding General blame anyone under his command.” In the case of Lee’s two Gettysburg reports, Marshall wrote that the commanding general “struck from the original draft many statements which he thought might affect others injuriously, his sense of justice leading him to what many considered too great a degree of leniency.” Marshall declared that Lee’s official report was “substantially true, as far as it goes,” but added that, “it is not complete in many particulars which should be known to understand the campaign fully.”

Brigadier General Alfred Iverson

Thus did Lee repress any urge he might have felt to condemn one or more of his trusted lieutenants who let him down in Pennsylvania, starting at the top with Longstreet and Brigadier General James E. B. Stuart. Even Brigadier General Alfred Iverson, Jr.-who had badly mishandled his brigade on July 1, getting the majority slaughtered, turning the survivors over to Brigadier General Dodson Ramseur, and then trying to lie his way out of it all in his official report-was not singled out for censure. Iverson is significant because his blundering could well have been the difference between a brilliant Confederate triumph at Gettysburg on July 1 versus the heartbreaking defeat that ultimately transpired, and because he was the only officer at Gettysburg whose conduct caused Lee to relieve him of command. Lee was not hesitant about trying to court-martial Iverson and boot him out of the army, yet when it came time to write his reports, Lee passed over Iverson’s role in the defeat without saying a word.

Iverson offers a different study in Gettysburg after-action reports. On the first day of the battle, Iverson, as part of Major General Robert E. Rodes’s division, sent his brigade into action on Oak Ridge while he himself hung back. When the leaderless troops went astray and marched straight into a slaughter pen, Iverson went to pieces and abjectly turned over command of his brigade to Ramseur. Iverson tried to cover up his “misconduct” in two reports, in which he said among other things, that “General Rodes took upon himself the direction of the brigade”; that “the regiment promised me… did not report to me”; and that “I endeavored… to make [another] charge with my remaining regiment and the Third Alabama, but in the noise and excitement I presume my voice could not be heard.” None of this dissembling made any points with Lee, who relieved him of duty and wanted Iverson court-martialed but was prevented from doing so by Jefferson Davis’s intervention. In the meantime, he assigned him to provost marshal duty. As soon as possible he had Iverson reassigned to the cavalry and exiled him forever from the Army of Northern Virginia. Iverson thus became the only general officer to be punished for his performance at Gettysburg.

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Armistead led his brigade from the front, waving his hat from the tip of his saber, and reached the stone wall at the “Angle”, which served as the charge’s objective. The brigade got farther in the charge than any other, an event sometimes known as the High Water Mark of the Confederacy, but it was quickly overwhelmed by a Union counterattack. Armistead was shot three times just after crossing the wall. Union Captain Henry H. Bingham received Armistead’s personal effects and carried the news to Union Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, who was Armistead’s friend from before the war.

Pickett’s report.

Because we do not have Pickett’s own words, and because Lee’s terse Gettysburg reports are models of obfuscation and ambiguity, we are forced to try to reconstruct Pickett’s report from limited historical evidence-bits and pieces of information plus passing references and paraphrasing by those who claimed to have read the thing. There are two primary questions to be answered. First, what exactly did the report say? Second, whom did Pickett blame for the disaster of July 3? Each of these fundamental questions, however, raises a graduate exam’s worth of related questions.

As for what the report said, we can find hints of it in the comments of others. What quickly emerges is that everybody from the commanding general down agreed that “support”-or lack thereof-was the crucial issue. On the night of July 3, an exhausted Lee told Brigadier General John D. Imboden: “I never saw troops behave more magnificently than Pickett’s division of Virginians did to-day in that grand charge upon the enemy. And if they had been supported as they were to have been-but, for some reason not yet fully explained to me, were not- we would have held the position and the day would have been ours.”

The same lament was heard from the officers of Pickett’s division. Peyton and Aylett, being Virginians and having the same perspective on the day’s events, provide strong clues to what would have been going through Pickett’s mind when he wrote his own report. Both of them expressed barely-contained anger, though they refrained from identifying any culprits in their plain vanilla reports. Peyton said the division was “unsupported on the right and left” by the time it reached the stone wall, implying criticism of the divisions of Brigadier General Henry Heth and Major General W. Dorsey Pender and of the two brigades under Wilcox, all of which were part of the assault formation from the beginning. Heth’s division, commanded by Pettigrew, and Pender’s division, commanded that day by Isaac Trimble, were both on Pickett’s left flank when they went into action. In Lee’s plan they were part of the main attack on the center of the Union lines, but in the eyes of the Virginians of Pickett’s division, they were no more than “support troops.” Wilcox’s two brigades on the right were aligned en echelon to Pickett’s division; their job was to cover that flank, so, by the military definition, they were definitely in a support role. The advance of Pettigrew’s, Trimble’s, and Wilcox’s troops was poorly coordinated with Pickett’s advance-a fact that was glaringly apparent to everyone on the Confederate side. In this light, Major Peyton’s statement could be interpreted as a criticism of all three officers and their troops.

Aylett’s remarks on the fight at the stone wall echoed Peyton’s: “No supports coming up, the position was untenable, and we were compelled to retire.” This implies that the blame rested with Longstreet, Anderson, or the troops back on Seminary Ridge, who did not “come up” at the critical time. Neither Peyton nor Aylett were trained professional officers who could be expected to make a distinction between “supports” and “reserves.” They probably regarded all troops who were not part of Pickett’s division as supports. So, although Peyton and Aylett provide some clues as to what Pickett might have thought in the days after the charge, the clues, like the language the two officers used in their reports, are too vague to give us much insight.

[1] Samuel Cooper (June 12, 1798 – December 3, 1876) was a career United States Army officer, serving during the Second Seminole War and the Mexican-American War. Although little-known today, Cooper was also the highest-ranking Confederate general during the American Civil War. After the conflict, he remained in Virginia as a farmer.

Battle of Reports – Gettysburg II

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Map of the third and final day during the Battle of Gettysburg.

There are, however, other trails to follow. Several Confederate officers who fought at Gettysburg, who knew Pickett well, and who were likely to be familiar with his report later talked about its contents. These included E. P. Alexander, Longstreet, and Colonel Taylor of Lee’s staff. Alexander, who commanded Longstreet’s artillery on July 3, said in his Military Memoirs that Pickett’s report “reflected unjustly upon the brigades of Hill’s corps [the divisions of Pender/Pettigrew and Heth Trimble] among which the break first occurred.” Alexander did not claim to have seen the report himself, but he wrote knowingly of its contents, and he was certainly well acquainted with everyone at both Longstreet’s and Lee’s headquarters who would have handled the report. Still, in the absence of direct observation, Alexander’s comments must be considered hearsay.

Longstreet, who was Pickett’s corps commander and, equally important, was as close to him as any man in the Army of Northern Virginia, could have cleared up the mystery easily in any of the several postwar accounts of the Battle of Gettysburg he wrote for publication. Unfortunately, he seems either to have been completely in the dark, or to have been covering for his old friend, when he wrote disingenuously in Battles and Leaders: “The only thing Pickett said of his charge was that he was distressed at the loss of his command. He thought he should have had two of his brigades that had been left in Virginia; with them he felt that he would have broken the line.” Like Alexander, Longstreet did not claim here to be quoting directly from the report. Even so, his description of Pickett’s sentiments hardly indicates anything so potentially destructive of good morale that Lee should have ordered the report suppressed.

Colonel Taylor, who received the report at army headquarters and passed it on to General Lee, is hardly more helpful than Alexander or Longstreet, but he does offer one vital clue about the document’s contents. In his Personal Reminiscences, Taylor wrote: “The report passed through my hands, but was not carefully perused. Not realizing then the extent to which we were making history, I took no note of the contents of the report; but the inference is clear from reading General Lee’s letter that General Pickett complained of the lack of support and charged it home to some one [emphasis added].”

Reading between the lines, we can infer that Pickett pinned the blame on a specific person (“some one”), not an entire unit, which seems to let Pettigrew’s North Carolinians, the most frequently mentioned villains, off the hook.

If Pickett’s report was indeed a personal attack on a fellow officer, that alone would have given the commanding general grounds to “suggest” that the report be rewritten. If we pursue Taylor’s lead by seeking an individual culprit in Pickett’s report, there are plenty of suspects among those who fell down in their duty that day. The list of suspects must begin with Longstreet, who exercised overall command of the assault, including the troops borrowed from A. P. Hill’s Third Corps. Lee told his First Corps commander that morning, “I am going to take them…on Cemetery Hill. I want you to take Pickett’s division and make the attack.” It was as clear as that. When Longstreet demurred, Lee insisted, causing his subordinate to lament later, “Lee should have put an officer in charge who had more confidence in his plan.” But Lee chose instead to rely on Longstreet’s professionalism and loyalty to do everything necessary to make the attack succeed. This was in keeping with Lee’s oft-demonstrated willingness to leave all arrangements up to his corps commanders, a fact which must have been known to Pickett from long experience.

When Pickett made his troop dispositions on the morning of July 3, it was under Longstreet’s watchful eye. It was also Longstreet who placed the artillery batteries in position, put Alexander in charge of the bombardment, and decided when and if the assault should be made. Pickett stood face to face with Longstreet just before moving his men forward. Longstreet had one further, crucial bit of responsibility during the assault-the authority to order forward the reserves after Pickett’s men had engaged the Federals on Cemetery Ridge. Unfortunately, none of this was written out in formal orders; the division of responsibilities was arrived at in discussions with Lee on the morning of July 3.

In the initial advance, Longstreet refused to commit the divisions of Major Generals John B. Hood and Lafayette McLaws, despite being “so ordered” by Lee. Then he refused to send reinforcements forward at the height of the charge, feeling it was “useless” and a further waste of men. The Comte de Paris described the situation in his early account: “Longstreet did not give to Pickett’s desperate attack the support of all the force placed at his disposal, and did not cause any diversion to be made in his favor by the two divisions under Hood and McLaws.”

The possibility of Longstreet being held culpable by Pickett is supported by something Lee told Colonel William Allen after the war: “The imperfect, halting way in which his corps commanders fought the battle gave victory finally to the foe.” If Pickett did in fact blame Longstreet, he would have received a lot of moral support in the years after the war from such prominent Longstreet bashers as Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early, Brigadier General William Nelson Pendleton, and J. William Jones, long-time secretary of the Southern Historical Society, all of whom pinned the blame for the failure at Gettysburg squarely on the First Corps commander.

Representative of their opinions are the words of Jones, written to the editor of the Richmond Dispatch in 1896. In the letter, he accused Longstreet of not making his attack “as ordered, with his whole corps, supported by A. P. Hill.” Instead, Longstreet sent Pickett forward “with a bare 14,000 men against Meade’s whole army while the rest of our army looked on.” These words reflected a long-running feud between Jones and Longstreet, but could they have been the same sentiments Pickett felt and perhaps expressed when he sat down to write his report? Perhaps. One of Pickett’s own colonels, Eppa Hunton of the 8th Virginia, harbored an even blunter version of the same view. “It seems clear,” he wrote, “that if Longstreet had supported Pickett by the rest of his corps… and by part of Hill’s corps… he would have penetrated and held the lines of Meade.” At least some of Pickett’s officers, it seems, thought the buck stopped with the First Corps commander.

While Pickett wrote no memoirs and remained aloof from the war of words between former comrades after Appomattox, he was not completely silent on the central event of his life. Fortunately for us, he expressed himself on the subject of the battle, although it was done, not for the general public, but for a more select and sympathetic audience. About a decade after the war, Pickett addressed a reunion of his division’s veterans in Richmond. In a speech long on oratorical flourishes and short on facts, he recounted a version of events the veterans must have loved:

We marched across one mile… into the jaws of death under fire from 200 pieces of Ordnance and upon the center of the foe… without support and without faltering. Oh grand but fatal day…. Had we been supported, had others followed to hold what we had gained at such heroic sacrifice then would our freedoms have been secured. If the views Pickett expressed on this occasion were the same as his feelings in the weeks after Gettysburg, then the principal objects of his wrath seem to have been the “supports” back on Seminary Ridge who failed to come forward at the critical time. This view certainly agrees with the accounts of Colonels Allan and Mayo and Major Timberlake: It was those behind Pickett’s men-not those on the flanks-who failed in their duty that day.