GMC CCKW

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G.M.C. CCKW LWB

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The GMC CCKW is a 2.5 ton 6X6 U.S. Army cargo truck that saw service in World War II and the Korean War, often referred to as a “Deuce and a Half” or “Jimmy”. The CCKW came in many variants, based on the open or closed cab, and Long Wheel Base (LWB 353) or Short Wheel Base (SWB 352).

Built to 812,262 copies, CCKWs were employed in large numbers for the Red Ball Express, an enormous convoy system created by Allied forces to supply their forces moving through Europe following the breakout from the D-Day beaches in Normandy, from August 25 to November 16, 1944, when the port facilities at Antwerp were opened. At its peak the Red Ball operated 5,958 vehicles, and carried about 12,500 tons of supplies a day.

The designation CCKW comes from model nomenclature used by GMC; the first C indicated a vehicle designed in 1941, the second C signifies a conventional cab, the K indicates all-wheel drive and the W indicated tandem rear axles. The term “Deuce and a Half” is not a post war term and was applied to all 2½ ton cargo trucks. Including the DUKW, General Motors in the US produced 562,750 of these 2.5 ton trucks just prior to and during World War 2.

Versions

Truck, cargo, 2½-Ton, 6X6, long-wheelbase / short-wheelbase

Water tanker 700 Gal.

Fuel tanker 750 Gal

Dump

Flatbed

Ordnance Maintenance Truck, Van

K-53 truck Van

K-60 truck Van

M27 Bomb Service Truck

M27B1 Bomb Service Truck

M1 chemical Service Truck

Dental Operating Truck, Van

Surgical Truck, Van

Water purification truck

Fire Engine

Tractor cab

Initially all versions were of closed cab design (having a metal roof and doors) with all steel cargo beds. But as the war progressed an open cab version was designed that had fixed ‘half doors’ and a canvas top/sides and the steel bed was replaced by a wooden one to conserve steel. The wood bed proved unsatisfactory and a ‘composite’ bed with steel sides and framing, but with wooden slats for the bed, was developed. Later on the ‘wood/steel’ composite bed was replaced by an all steel composite bed.

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HMS Agincourt (1913)

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HMS Agincourt was a dreadnought battleship built in the United Kingdom in the early 1910s. Originally part of Brazil’s role in a South American naval arms race, she held the distinction of mounting more heavy guns (fourteen) and more turrets (seven) than any other dreadnought battleship constructed, in keeping with the Brazilians’ requirement for an especially impressive design.

Brazil ordered the ship as Rio de Janeiro from the British Armstrong Whitworth shipyard, but the collapse of the rubber boom and a warming in relations with the country’s chief rival, Argentina, led to the ship’s sale while under construction to the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans renamed her Sultan Osman I, after the empire’s founder. The ship was nearly complete when World War I broke out, and British Admiralty fears of a German–Ottoman alliance led to her seizure for use by the Royal Navy. This act was a major contributor to the decision of the Ottoman Empire to support Germany in the war. Renamed Agincourt by the British, she joined the Grand Fleet in the North Sea. The ship spent the bulk of her time during the war on patrols and exercises, although she did participate in the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Agincourt was put into reserve in 1919 and sold for scrap in 1922 to meet the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty.

The Tiger Tank–Overcoming Misperceptions

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A thorough study of various battles and engagements from Allied unit histories and published historical accounts reveals strong biases within the Allied forces. Among the Allied armies, units continually reported that Tiger tanks were in their sector or that they had destroyed Tiger tanks. A casual reading of many Allied accounts during the battle of the Bulge, for example, would indicate that at least half of the German tanks employed there were Tigers. Actually, no more than 136 Tigers were involved, with the vast majority of German tanks in the battle being Panthers and Panzer IVs. The Soviet reports also have to be treated with the same skepticism in some instances. Soviet propaganda, for example, claimed that 700 Tigers were destroyed during the battle of Kursk. This number is five times more than the actual number engaged in the fighting.

Generally, this phenomenon should be attributed to the formidable reputation of the Tiger among its adversaries, and sort of parallel to the insistence by many American infantrymen that they were being continuously shelled by “88s,” when, in fact, they were almost always being bombarded by the 105mm and 150mm howitzers standard to a German divisional artillery regiment. Just as the deadly 88mm artillery piece was the most dreaded German gun, so also was the Tiger the most feared-and therefore, most often misidentified- German tank.

To obtain the most accurate picture possible, this study uses many different sources. Tank kills reported by the heavy tank battalions against the British and U. S. were verified in specific engagements from a variety of records, including unit histories, after-action reports, diaries and other personal accounts. Not surprisingly, Soviet tank losses were often omitted in their unit histories and in personal accounts, making an accurate count much more difficult to obtain. Several western sources provide some analysis of Soviet tank losses in several battles and were used to evaluate German claims.

A source of confusion in reporting tank losses and kills is the definition of what constitutes destruction of a tank. Tanks of World War II, especially the Tiger, were robust and resilient and could be repaired and put back into action if they were recovered and brought back to a maintenance unit. One side may have claimed the destruction of an enemy tank, but in reality, that tank was repaired and returned to service.

The German heavy tank battalions submitted regular reports on Tigers destroyed and also on the quantity that were operational. An unserviceable tank required the unit to make a report, identifying the chassis number, a survey of the damage, and an estimate of the time needed for the repairs. A second report was made at a higher level, indicating the number of tanks in working order for the unit, and the number of tanks under repair.” In all cases, clarity and accuracy were required. This makes obtaining an accurate accounting of the number of German tanks destroyed easier with one notable exception. The records for the King Tiger equipped units, especially those fighting the Russians, are incomplete because the unit war diaries and other unit records were either destroyed or captured by the Soviets.

The accuracy of German reporting, in terms of Tiger losses, can be verified literally almost down to the last vehicle against American and British forces. This is in part from the outstanding historical coverage by both the American and British military establishments at many different levels, from small unit journals to official army level reports. Included in these are a number of battle studies, including the “official histories,” which received exhaustive coverage after the war, incorporating documents and sources from all sides. Another reason is that there were never more than three heavy tank battalions committed against American and British forces at any one time, thereby reducing the overall number of Tigers employed against them. In other words, when American and British forces destroyed a Tiger, it was a noteworthy event.

The result is that, at least in the West, the German daily strength reports- and therefore losses-can be verified with a relatively high degree of accuracy. Usually, in cases where a conflict exists, records and a small amount of research will reveal the truth. For example, on 17 December 1944, in the Ardennes, a King Tiger of SS-Heavy Tank Battalion 501 was immobilized and subsequently abandoned as a result of a strike by P-47 “Thunderbolt” fighter bombers of IX Tactical Air Command. Later, as German forces withdrew, the commander of an American Sherman from the 740th Tank Battalion reported destroying it. Although both forces justifiably claimed the King Tiger, the end result was still only one loss for the Germans.

Given the credibility of German reporting in the West, there is no reason to doubt the veracity of German Tiger losses in the east. Caution must be exercised, however, in assessing the number of tanks operational. As a member of the 1st Panzer Division stated:

I must honestly confess that since 1942 we always reported we had 15-20 percent less than our actual combat-ready strength available to be put into action . . . . Any commanding general of any panzer division at that time was very happy if he could assemble 20 or 25 tanks. For that reason, as we well knew, if he reported we had 60 tanks, we were sure that on the next day, as we defended on our own front line 40 kilometers wide, we would have only 20 tanks because the high command would take them away to where the more critical points were.

Due to extended frontages and heavy demand from higher echelons, it is logical and possible that some heavy tank battalions employed in the East also followed this unofficial practice of reporting fewer vehicles operational than were actually available. Unit commanders, however, wanted replacement vehicles as soon as possible and a replacement vehicle could only be requested if a vehicle was lost, not just inoperable, so it is highly likely that the heavy tank battalions would have been meticulously accurate in reporting the loss of any Tigers. The primary obstacle to overcome in researching engagements in the East against Soviet forces is confirming the kills made by Tigers.

While their accounts and reporting may indeed be accurate for the most part, German sources normally fail to provide a contextual background for the account, especially at the operational level of war. If an opponent’s actions are included in the German account at all, it is usually cursory, superficial, focused at the tactical level, and does little to help explain the reasons behind German actions that resulted in failure or success. German sources may simply state, for example, that a large number of Tigers were destroyed by their own crews to avoid capture after they had broken down. They fail to include in their account how or why those Tigers were threatened with capture and what action their opponents had taken to put those vehicles in an untenable position. Rather than being an impediment that cannot be overcome, however, the lack of context in German accounts simply reinforces the necessity of using sources from as many different perspectives as possible.

Shooting Star

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Lockheed XP-80A (44-83021)

In late 1944 the Army pilots visited Muroc to fly the Gray Ghost and Lulubelle in mock combat against such front-line fighters as the P-38, P-47, and P-51 and various bombers. The secret tests were designed to find out what tactical formations, if any, could be used against the German jets then being seen in combat over Europe. The jets bested the propeller-driven planes every time. The results of the exercise made production of American jet fighters all the more urgent to counter the German threat.

On January 8, 1944, the Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star Jet fighter made its first flight at Muroc. At the controls was Milo Burcham. The plane soon proved capable of reaching over 500 mph. Tex Johnston knew what it meant for the P-59. After seeing the first flight, he telegraphed Bob Stanley: “Witnessed Lockheed XP-80 initial flight STOP Very impressive STOP Back to the drawing board.” Later, a mock dogfight was held between a P-80 and a Grumman F8F Bearcat, the navy’s latest prop fighter. Unlike the YP-59A, the P-80 held the initiative, controlling the fight. The F8F was never able to catch the jet in its sights long enough to get a shot. The era of the prop fighter was over.

The XP-80 contract specified that the prototype was to be delivered in 180 days. Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, Lockheed’s chief designer, went to company chairman Robert Gross. Gross told Johnson, “Go ahead and do it. But you’ve got to rake up your own engineering department and your own production people and figure out where to put this project.”

For some time, Johnson had been asking Lockheed management to set up an experimental department where there would be direct links between designer, engineer, and manufacturing. Johnson decided to run the XP-80 program on this basis. The only place for the new section was next to the wind tunnel. The tools came from a small machine shop Lockheed bought out. The walls were wooden engine boxes, while the roof was a rented circus tent. Johnson assembled a group of twenty-two engineers; the new group had its own purchasing department and could function independently of the main plant. Working ten hours a day, six days a week, they had the XP-80 ready in 163 days.

Part of the secrecy surrounding the project was that Johnson’s new section had no name. Soon after the makeshift shop was finished, Lockheed engineer Irving H. Culver was at the phone desk. The phone rang, Culver was alone, and he had not been told how to answer the phone. Culver was a fan of Al Capp’s comic strip “L’l Abner.” In the strip, “Hairless Joe” brewed up “Kickapoo Joy Juice” using old shoes, dead skunks, and other ingredients. On impulse, Culver answered the phone with the name of that brewery.

It was called “the Skunk Works.”

Bronco Bustin

An air-to-air right side view of an OV-10 Bronco aircraft firing a white phosphorous smoke rocket to mark a ground target. The aircraft is used by forward air controllers in support of ground troops. Photo from November 84 Airman Magazine.

An air-to-air right side view of an OV-10 Bronco aircraft firing a white phosphorous smoke rocket to mark a ground target. The aircraft is used by forward air controllers in support of ground troops. Photo from November 84 Airman Magazine.

Soon after arriving in Viet Nam I saw an OV-10 Bronco. It was love at first sight and I was determined to get a ride in one. Luckily my job as an information officer gave me the opportunity. The ALO (Air Liaison Officer, pronounced “aye lo”) assigned to the division flew OV-10s so I tracked the unit down.

It turned out that the current commanding officer was Wing Commander Larrard, Royal Australian Air Force. He quickly approved my flight on the condition that I would come over and party with them the night before.

The next night I finished dinner and bummed a ride over to the ALO. Larrard met me with a firm hand shake and a cold can of Aussie lager. He introduced me around to other members of his crew. We soon pulled up chairs, popped more cold ones, and talked. I asked him all the usual questions regarding the operation and his tour all the while he kept handing me fresh cans of beer. Finally conversation moved on to the Bronco itself.

He loved the plane, “She’s a pilot’s aircraft. Quick, agile, plenty of power. You love to be up in her.” A frustrated killer turned spotter, he realized the unused capacity of the aircraft. “All they give me is Willy Peter (white phosphorus) rockets for spotting. She’s a great gun table, steady, lots of T.O.T (time on target) and as I said, she’s plenty powerful. They could load me down and I could still do my mission. I’d love to have a mini on her and get in there and mix it up with Charley. It’s a pure shame they won’t let me. Waste of a great aircraft if you ask me.”

With that I heard the sound of another can top being pierced and another Swan being handed to me. Good beer, ehh mate? Not like that Budweiser piss water you chaps have to drink.

I’d held my own in college drinking bouts but the Aussies were professionals. My dad had run into them in Casablanca toward the end of WWII and had been mightily impressed. “All you had to do was run the bar rag under a Frog’s nose and they’d get high, but the Aussies, well they were another story. We’re all sitting around in a bar one night in the French area and one of the guys had a fifth of bourbon we were passing around. An Aussie sergeant wandered by and we offered him a taste. The bottle must have been two thirds full. ‘Don’t mind if I do mates.’ he said, then he tipped the bottle back and damn near drank it all in one swallow, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, smacked his lips and said, ‘Thanks, mates. Not bad at all.’ He walked away leaving all of us looking at the bottle in amazement. You don’t want to drink with those Aussies.” His wisdom was rattling around in my cranium but I was finding it more and more difficult to locate. I began trying to nurse my drinks but Commander Larrard would have none of it. “You can’t bugger off now, mate, we’ve still got a fair amount of beer to kill.”

I hung on as best I could. Somewhere along the line we all began to sing Waltzing Matilda rocking back and forth with arms draped around each other’s shoulders. I struggled to keep dinner inside my churning stomach and reason inside my head. Both insisted on being free. The night ended with a toast or two to Yank – Aussie friendship and my forced pledge that I had never tasted better beer than Australian beer: not in Canada, not in Germany and certainly not in Britain. In truth, by the end of the night, all beer was starting to taste alike and I was coming to the sad conclusion that I might never want to taste another one regardless of its nationality.

I have no idea how much sleep I got that night. The tent kept spinning in opposition to the world’s rotation. My stomach growled and pitched like an angry sea. My head throbbed, my feet and hands felt swollen and stiff. But the sun came up and I felt compelled to rise to the challenge.

I cleared enough cobwebs from my mind to locate my dopf kit and towel, step into my Ho Chi Minh flip flops and aim my suffering body in the direction of the shower point. For once the breath stealing chill of the water felt good. I let it fall straight onto my noggin, the water massaging my temples, cooling my fever. I finished the shower and then, razor in hand, I acknowledged the grim face in the mirror. Thoughts of suicide were balanced against the idea of living out the work day feeling the way I did. Suicide was ahead on points going into the final round but I finally convinced myself that all of this would pass. Plus, I really did not want to miss that ride in the OV-10. I finished my shave and padded back to my hooch to dress stepping, lightly for fear I would further bruise my aching brain.

The smell of breakfast pulled me into the mess hall. I passed on the oatmeal and the S.O.S. and sought the warm comfort of greasy bacon and eggs to pour oil onto my troubled stomach waters. But though I was hungry I could not force the food down. I sat and stared at my plate wondering what had happened to my appetite between entering the mess and sitting down. I chewed on the edges of my toast, the crunch of each bite echoing painfully in my ears. I knew I had to eat something or my torture would continue unabated, but knowledge was easier to obtain than cure.

I carefully selected my route to the office tent, deliberately avoiding anyone I would either have to salute or whose salute I would have to return. I was sure the sudden lifting of my arm would jerk my stomach out of balance and bring about a sudden and violent up chuck of epic proportions. I made it to the tent unimpeded by military courtesy and sought the sanctuary of the coffee pot. Thank God Colonel Vicienza was either in a staff meeting or sleeping off his own “night before.” The office could not have contained two such hangovers simultaneously.

Willy and Wayne wandered in and we worked for a while on selecting our sound bites for the show. I was in no mood to write script and so I procrastinated, telling them I would get back to the script before we left for Long Binh the next day. Then I sent them off for more interviews while I wandered down to the PX just so I could walk around and try and clear my head. By now I had reached the point where aspirin and a cold Coke could be brought into play and speed my recovery. I got both at the PX and then headed back toward the mess hall for lunch. I was able to get the soup and sandwich down and my tummy thanked me for not putting in more poison.

I returned to the tent so that Specialist Huckaby could give me a lift to the ALO office. There I was met by Larrard and his Aussie band. They were unbelievably chipper. I tried to pretend that I had not been seriously wounded by the activities of the previous night but I’m sure I detected a few winks and smirks on their part. They knew I was hanging on, praying for the bell to save me from the knockout punch. They fitted me up with a parachute, a shoulder holster with a Smith and Wesson .38 and a flight helmet. The parachute was a flat, lumpy sort of back pack. The bottom fourth of it rested on my rump ending about three inches south of the gluteus maximus crease. I tromped around feeling like a toddler with a load in a baggy diaper, all the while Larrard and the sergeants briefed me on emergency measures. They spent time explaining how you had to grip the ejection seat ring and tug it free. I tired to imagine my willingly ejecting from a plane and always came to the same conclusion that I would end up inside a pilot-less aircraft trying to fly and land her rather than bailing out. Larrard ended my internal debate by saying, “Don’t worry mate, if we do get in a bit of a fix I’ll launch you before I go myself.” If those words were supposed to bring me comfort they failed.

We piled into their jeep and began the ride toward the aircraft. I was easily able to suppress whatever fears I harbored as I contemplated the OV-10. She looked like a P-38 from my father’s war. I felt the little boy in me imagining the exhilaration of a combat flight. I eagerly climbed into the back seat noting that the second seat sat about a foot higher than the pilots. Then I waited as the sergeant strapped me in. I listened intently to each instruction, noted the maze of controls, located the black and yellow stripped ejection seat ring and then squirmed a bit to settle the parachute into a comfortable position. I remembered there was a red arrow on the fuselage marking the plane’s center of gravity and realized the arrow pointed directly to where my hips were located. The cockpit was closed and Commander Larrard’s confident voice came through the earphones inside my flight helmet. “She’ll be a bit hot Lieutenant until we get airborne. There’s a vent you can move about but there’s not much escape from this sun.”

I hadn’t thought about such things prior to asking for a flight. The huge greenhouse on the OV-10 was designed with mission, not comfort, in mind. The inside of the plane had baked all morning as she sat on the flight line. The sun streamed through the plexiglass making a solar oven out of the cockpit. The sweat poured out of me, trailing down the sides of my face, running down my arms and legs, finding all the baggy places in my uniform to gather. Meanwhile, Larrard was going through his check list, revving the engines and talking with the tower. We taxied into position. He locked the brakes and pushed the throttle forward for one last test, then released the brakes and we began to roll. By now the heat was making things uncomfortable. I fidgeted to make the parachute comfortable and found that it wasn’t to be. I might as well have been sitting on the bare metal seat itself for all the cushioning affect the chute offered. Still, my excitement reached a crescendo as we rolled toward the end of the strip, I watched as our shadow raced along the ground after us, saw the nose tip up and felt the power and speed of the plane. The angle of climb increased and I was pushed back against the rear of the seat but I could now feel the cooler air flowing into the area. We leveled off and I began to admire the design of the aircraft. The wings were above and behind us and the greenhouse bulged out over the fuselage. From the air the view was spectacular, clear and unobstructed in all directions.

WE flew on straight and level and then Larrard’s voice came on again. “We’ll be flying out to our run here for a minute and then I’ll start my first orbit.”

I gave an “OK” back as if I understood what was really going to happen. I imagined that we would fly in straight lines following the boundaries of the division’s AO, or that we would fly in some huge, lazy circle. I had no idea of orbits.

“Here we go Lieutenant.”

With that I saw the left wing tip drop and the plane turn until I was looking almost straight down. My respect for the aircraft’s design increased as I took in the incredible size of the vista. We seemed to hang as straight as a sword, as if a giant wire were attached to the top wing dangling us parallel to earth. Once, twice, three times we orbited and then Larrard would snap her back and we would fly straight for a few minutes until the wing would drop again and we would begin another tight orbit. I soon became used to the idea that I would not fall out and that I could move my head in all directions and see even more. Larrard pointed out things he was looking for: trails, bunkers, changes in the landscape from previous missions, anything that might develop into intelligence of enemy activity or, even better, a fire mission for artillery or a ground target for a fighter bomber.

At first it was fascinating and time moved quickly. But then the continual orbits began to wear on me. The parachute had not grown any softer and the importance of that “center of gravity” marker was finally coming into play. During each orbit the G-forces went right through the center of gravity. That meant they went right through me. At the beginning of each orbit I felt myself being squeezed tighter against the bottom of my seat. I grasped the sides of the seat with my hands and pushed up, lifting my legs and my butt off of the metal but then I would have to sit down again. Circulation was cut off and I began to feel the tingle of my legs and butt “going to sleep.” I looked at my watch and swore the hands had not moved for the past half hour.

I tried to think of how to broach the subject of mission length with Larrard. “Sir, how long do these missions run?” We overlap on each end so that at least one ALO is always in the air but the basic mission is three hours unless things get hot; then you go till the mission’s over or your out of fuel and ammo.”

Any enthusiasm I might have had to get involved in a real combat mission ended with that thought. I looked at my watch again and swore the hands had moved backwards. The day was stretching toward eternity. My butt was turning into pancake and the natural force of gravity was trying to locate my stomach and bladder.

We reached the final orbit on our line and began to work our way back toward Lai Khe following the same path and the same pattern we had used on the way out. The heat, the movement and the G-force were beginning to win the uneven contest. “Sir, what do I do if I have to blow lunch?”

“We keep a bag for that, Lieutenant. Here you go.”

I saw his hand reach back and dangle a barf bag in front of me. I had no more grabbed it and brought it to my area when the headphones began to crackle. “Sidewinder 4, this is Dauntless 6. I got fire from my front. Can you take a look? Over.”

“Dauntless 6, this is Sidewinder 4, Roger that. On my way. Give me your position.”

I could hear faint sounds of small arms fire in the background. I looked down but saw nothing on the ground. The two voices, Larrard and the ground commander, calmly exchanged information. I was amazed at the lack of emotion, just direct, business like, straight forward exchanges of facts.

Before I had time to think about it Larrard spotted his target on the ground. I sensed the right wing come all the way over. All blue disappeared from my field of vision. The nose of the craft sought a point on the ground and the plane bored straight toward it. I felt the craft twist, a long smooth spiral. Sky reentered my sight but the ground was racing up to meet us. My stomach and other vital organs hung suspended inside my body cavity, that crazy feeling you can get as you crest a small rise on a country road except that this continued the length of our dive. I looked past Larrard’s head and could see the ground clearly. I spotted a few isolated figures, men in jungle fatigues either lying on the ground or moving about hunched over, all looking in the direction we were headed. A short distance behind them was a slowly rising spiral of yellow smoke, marking their position for Larrard. I heard a whoosh emerge from outside the Bronco and suddenly saw two rockets trailing smoke and flame and heading for a clump of trees. Just before they hit, the nose of the OV-10 suddenly lifted and the earth disappeared from view. I was slammed back into the seat and then felt the craft spin hard to my right. I could look back and see the white smoke rising from the green trees as the Willy Peter burned in place.

Larrard and the ground commander were talking again. We went into a tight orbit, the plane seeming to snap into various angles and flight lines. The two rockets made it easy to spot the ground troops now. I could see the bursts of red tracer from the American M-60 drawing a line a bit to the west and south of the burning rockets. I heard “Roger, out.” Through the head phones, and looked up just in time to see the right wing once more flip over my head. Again the sky disappeared, again my stomach floated, again the earth raced toward me.

Larrard adjusted his point to just where I had seen the tracer going. Then whoosh, no earth, slammed against seat, tight spin, and snap, into another orbit.

The ground commander’s voice was back in my headset. Confirming the accuracy of Larrard’s rockets. A third voice came on announcing the cooperation of an artillery unit. We moved away from the target and went into another orbit, Larrard’s eyes focused on the area we had marked. We hung around long enough to watch the first rounds slam into the enemy area, and heard the adjustments being made. Not much was needed. Seconds later the target was smothered with red orange bursts and the dark gray smoke of artillery explosions. We flew on to our next orbit.

Things had happened so fast, I hadn’t had time to be sick. I had been upside down, rolling over, diving, climbing, spinning. My stomach had no idea where it was and even less an idea of in which direction to push things in order to throw up. I felt awful but I no longer felt nauseous. I guessed that was progress.

We continued our string of orbits and then I heard the welcome voice of Lai Khe tower coordinating Larrard’s landing approach. The heat, nowhere near as bad as when we took off, began to return to the cockpit. At last we rolled to a stop and the canopy was rolled back. I was stuck to my seat almost unable to move. My legs tingled from the lack of circulation and my uniform was damp and shapeless. The same sergeant that had strapped me in was there to help me out. I stood up, felt my legs wobble a bit, and then feeling began to return.

I walked away glad to have the whole thing behind me. I climbed into the back seat of the jeep and did not turn and look longingly back at the Bronco. My Aussie friends helped me out of the parachute and shoulder harness. I was whipped. They offered another beer and I knew that this was the final test. I accepted the challenge. If the flight had not turned my insides out one more beer was not going to matter. I finished it up, thanked Larrard and the sergeants, and began to walk back toward the office.

I was glad I had gone, but one ride on the Bronco was enough for this cowboy.

Note: by Forrest Brandt

WWI Night Patrol

73-British Trench Raiders

I really believe that I am after all a coward for I don’t like patrolling…The battalion who alternates with us here have lost three officers (or rather two officers and an NCO) on this business in front of my trenches. Let me try to picture what it is like. I am asked to take out an ‘officer’s patrol’ of seven men; duties – get out to the position of the German listening post (we know it), wait for their patrol and ‘scupper’ it; also discover what work is being done in their trenches.

I choose my favourite corporal (a gentleman, a commercial traveller for the Midland Educational in civilian life) and my six most intelligent and most courageous men. My sentries and those of the first platoon of the battalion on my right are told we are going out so that we shan’t be fired on. Magazines are charged to the full, one round in the breech; bayonets are examined to see if they slip out of the scabbard noiselessly; my revolver is nicely oiled; all spare and superfluous parts of equipment is left behind. Everything is ready.

As soon as the dusk is sufficiently dark, we get out into the front of the trenches by climbing up on to the parapet and tumbling over as rapidly as possible so as not to be silhouetted against the last traces of the sunset. No man feels afraid for we have grown accustomed to this thing now, but every man knows that he has probably seen his last sunset, for this is the most dangerous thing in war. Out we walk through the barbed wire entanglement zone through which an approaching enemy must climb, but we have a zigzag path through the thirty yards or so of prickly unpleasantness; this path is only known to a few. The night has become horribly dark already, and the stillness of the night is broken only by the croaking of many frogs, the hoot of an owl and the boom of distant guns in the south. The adventure has commenced.

We lie down in the long grass and listen. Nothin’ doin’. I arrange my men in pairs – one to go in front and one to either flank, the corporal and myself remaining in rear, but the whole party is quite close together, practically within whispering distance of one another. We all advance slowly and carefully, wriggling along through the long grass for a hundred yards or so, past the two lines of willow trees and across the stream, now practically dry. There we lie and wait and listen. One pair goes out another fifty yards or so, nearly to the German wire to see if there is anything about. Nothing is discernible, so they return, and for another hour we lie in absolute silence like spiders waiting for flies. It is a weary game and extremely trying to one’s nerves, for every sense especially hearing and sight are strained to the utmost. Tiny noises are magnified a hundredfold – a rat nibbling at the growing corn or a rabbit scuttling along give us all the jumps until we learn to differentiate the different sounds. In the German trenches we hear the faint hum of conversation. Nothing is to be heard near us, but there is a very ominous sign – no shots are being fired from the trenches in front of us, no flares are being sent up and there is no working party out. This points to only one thing and that is that they also have a patrol out. There is no other conclusion.

Suddenly quite close to the corporal and myself there is a heavy rustling in the long grass on the right. Now, if never before, I know the meaning of – is it fear? My heart thumps so heavily that they surely must hear it, my face is covered with a cold perspiration, my revolver hammer goes back with a sharp click and my hand trembles. I have no inclination to run away – quite the reverse – but I have one solitary thought: I am going to kill a man. This I repeat over and over again, and the thought makes me miserable and at the same time joyful for I shall have accounted for one of the blackguards even if I go myself. Do they know we are here? How many are there? Are they armed with bombs like most German patrols? However, our queries remain unanswered, for quite abruptly they change their direction and make off to the right where to follow them would be only courting certain disaster.

So with great caution we come in and breathe again when we are safely inside the trench. I give instructions to the sentries to fire low down into the grass but it is very improbable that the German patrol will get anything but a fright.

Note: by Second Lieutenant H E Cooper, Royal Warwickshire Regiment

German Sdkfz.251 halftrack

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The SdKfz 251 stands with the Panzer IV at the focal point of Wehrmacht armor. Its only rival for “best of its kind” was its US army counterpart. It was a bit of a military afterthought. German infantry had regularly ridden trucks to the combat zone during maneuvers since the Reichswehr years. In the early days of the armored force, motorcycles were so popular that five of the nine rifle companies in a panzer division’s rifle brigade rode them. Trucks and cycles, however, shared common problems: high vulnerability and limited off-road capacity. On the other hand, the panzers’ commitment to the principle of close tank-infantry cooperation was reinforced by the experiences of both sides in the Spanish Civil War, when tanks operating alone in broken or built-up terrain proved highly vulnerable to infantry who kept their heads. In a 1937 exercise, the modified civilian two-wheel-drive trucks assigned to the motorized infantry performed so badly that Guderian, still a mere colonel, directly challenged the armís commander in chief, Werner von Fritsch, to remedy the situation.

“Had my advice been followed, we would now have a real armored force” were bold words, often cited to prove Guderian’s professional conviction, his moral courage, and his arrogance, depending on the author’s perspective. In fact, exercises and maneuvers were historically regarded as high-stress situations where such outbursts were more or less predictable, and Fritsch had a known high tolerance for young enthusiasts. Guderian, moreover, was widely understood as Lutz’s protégé (an alternate German word is Protektionskind, “favorite child”). In short, he got away with it.

In concrete terms, Lutz and Guderian pressed for the development of an infantry-carrying vehicle with sufficient cross-country mobility to accompany tanks into action, and with enough armor and firepower to allow the crew to fight from it, if necessary. Such a vehicle had to meet two external requirements. It had to be cheap, and it could not interfere with tank production. That ruled out prima facie any kind of full-track design. Trucks were disqualified because any reasonably armored version would be heavy enough to overload suspensions and to lack off-road capacity. The answer came from the artillery—and indirectly from France.

Even before World War I, truck companies on both sides of the Atlantic had been experimenting with replacing rear wheels with some sort of track in order to lessen ground pressure and improve mobility in mud, snow, and sand. Most prominent in this effort was French engineer Adolphe Kegresse, whose successful conversion of some of Russian Tsar Nicholas’s autos inspired the Putilov armaments works to consider a project for military half-tracks. After the war the French firm of Citroën developed several civilian versions, staging well-publicized desert crossings in North Africa and central Asia and attracting the particular attention of a French army still engaged in Morocco and southern Algeria.

From the later 1920s, half-tracks made up a steadily increasing percentage of France’s military motor vehicles. Initially and primarily used as artillery and engineer vehicles, they found their way to the mounted troops as well. The French cavalry division as reorganized in 1932 had 150 armored versions as reconnaissance and combat vehicles. Another hundred, unarmored, carried the men and weapons of the battalion of Dragons portés (motorized dragoons) newly created for each mounted division.

With such an example so ready at hand, as early as 1926 the Reichswehr’s Weapons Office began preparing its own design for half-track tractors. Daimler-Benz began working on a production version in 1931; by 1936, a series of vehicles from one ton to eighteen tons were on the drawing boards or in the field, mostly as artillery tractors. That reflected, in passing, the artillerís continued reluctance to accept the urging of the Lutz/Guderian school and fully mechanize the panzer divisions’ fire support by developing self-propelled mounts. This was more than commitment to branch self-interest and a tradition of towing guns into battle. Tracked vehicles were still fragile relative to the weight and the recoil of even a light field piece like the standard 105mm howitzer. In addition to probable effects on accuracy, a breakdown took the gun out of action as well. Not until well into the Cold War would even the US army abandon towed guns as standard divisional-level weapons.

On the bright side from the panzers’ perspective, Hanomag’s three-ton tractor seemed well suited to carry a rifle squad. The armored chassis was provided by Büssing and the fit, if not perfect, was close enough for government work. At eight tons, with between 8 and 15mm of armor and mounts for two light machine guns, the 251 was tough and durable, eventually serving as the mount for a bewildering variety of weaponry. Tracks extending to nearly three-fourths of the chassis, plus a sophisticated steering system, compensated for an unpowered front axle and gave the vehicle better cross-country abilities than its US counterpart and eventual rival.

The technical hair in the soup of the 251 was its complexity. It may be argued as well that neither the infantry nor the panzers sufficiently internalized the need to emphasize rapid, large-scale production. The first A-model versions did not begin service trials until 1939, and there would never be enough of them to equip more than one battalion in all but a few favored panzer divisions.

Production delays bedeviled as well the 251’s smaller cousin. The SdKfz 250 developed out of a growing mid-1930s belief that reconnaissance was too vital an element of mobile war to be trusted to existing combinations of motorcycles and armored cars. At times it might be necessary to fight for information; at times it might be necessary to traverse rough ground to secure information. The solution was a half-sized half-track built on the chassis of the 1-ton artillery tractor. At 5.4 tons, with up to 14.5mm of armor, an open top, and a six-man crew, the 250 could move at almost 40 miles per hour, cover 300 miles on a single fueling, and, when necessary, put a few boots on the ground to search, destroy, and provide fire cover. It would not see service until 1940, but eventually it would prove almost as versatile a weapons platform as the 251.

There were four main model modifications (Ausführung A through D), which formed the basis for at least 22 variants. The initial idea was for a vehicle that could be used to transport a single squad of panzergrenadiers to the battlefield protected from enemy small arms fire, and with some protection from artillery fire. In addition, the standard mounting of at least one MG 34 or MG 42 machine gun allowed the vehicle to provide support by fire for the infantry squad once they had disembarked in battle.

Positive aspects of the open top included greater situational awareness and faster egress by the infantry, as well as the ability to throw grenades and fire over the top of the fighting compartment as necessary while remaining under good horizontal cover. The downside was a major vulnerability to all types of plunging fire; this included indirect fire from mortars and field artillery, as well as depressed-trajectory small arms fire from higher elevated positions, lobbed hand grenades, even Molotov’s cocktails, and strafing by enemy aircraft.

The first two models were produced in small numbers from 1939. A and B models can be identified by the structure of the nose armor, which comprised two trapezoidal armor panels – the lower of which had a cooling hatch. The B model, which began production in 1940, eliminated the fighting compartment’s side vision slits. The C model, which started production in mid-1940, featured a simplified hexagonal-shaped forward armored plate for the engine. Models A through C had rear doors that bulged out. The C model had a large production run, but was quite complex to build, involving many angled plates that gave reasonable protection from small arms fire. From early 1943, the D model was developed with the purpose of halving the number of angled body plates, simplifying the design and thus speeding up the production. D models can be easily recognized by their single piece sloping rear (with flat doors).

The standard personnel carrier version was equipped with a 7.92 mm MG 34 or MG 42 machine gun mounted at the front of the open compartment, above and behind the driver. A second machine gun could be mounted at the rear on an anti-aircraft mount.

When comparing the M3 with the German Sdkfz.251 halftrack, you will find both of similar size, speed and weight, but the M3 had over 20% more internal capacity due to its boxy hull shape. The 251 halftrack was more thickly armored, and the armor was angled to derive the best protection possible. But, due to the greater horsepower from the US vehicle’s engine, and the powered front axle, the M3 was a greatly superior vehicle for cross-country travel. Unfortunately, both vehicles were lacking in over-head protection, a problem that plagued occupants throughout WWII.