Friday, July 29, 2011

Military Snapsbot - Inflatable Armor in World War II

An inflatable dummy tank sits beside a real M4A1 Sherman medium tank in a training exercise. It was critical to mislead the Germans about the actual invasion landing sites for Operation Overlord. The Western Allies came up with a very elaborate deception plan, code-named Operation Fortitude, which created dummy armies, one of which was supposedly headed by Patton. Photo courtesy of the National Archives, from Patton's Third Army in World War II by Michael Green and James D. Brown.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Damage Report - The USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor

Photo courtesy of National Archives, from  
On December 7, 1941, about twenty minutes into the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, an armor-piercing bomb struck the USS Arizona, penetrating four decks before exploding. An immense fire, fed by ammunition and fuel oil, swept through the ship, instantly killing hundreds of men. The Arizona quickly settled to the bottom of the harbor, taking most of the crew of 1,514 with her.

The U.S. Navy reported that the Arizona was struck by eight bombs; however, other studies suggest that she was hit with only four 800-kilogram weapons:

  1. Port side on the antiaircraft deck.
  2. Port side close to outboard so that it probably detonated in the area of the antitorpedo bulkhead.
  3. Turret No. 4, which ricocheted and exploded in the captain’s pantry.
  4. Forward on the starboard side of Turret No. 2.

An archaeological survey in 1987 determined that the bow was nearly severed; the forward armored deck was torn and twisted. One large section was peeled back toward the port bow. Twisted and torn fragments of steel litter the decks. Turret No. 1 was intact, its three fourteen-inch guns trained forward but it has dropped twenty feet into the hull when the ship blew up. Turrets No. 3 and 4 were salvaged to be used as coastal defense guns. The ship contained one and one-half million gallons of fuel oil, which is still being released at a rate of one drop every fifteen seconds. It is said these are the “Tears of the Arizona.”

Monday, July 25, 2011

Military Snapshot - 75mm Pack Howitzer Crew on Tinian

This enterprising Marine 75mm pack howitzer crew broke its weapon down into its four portable components, manpacked them to the heights, reassembled the howitzer, lashed it down so the recoil would not send it tumbling out of control, and repeatedly fired it straight into the open maw of a large cave. This is one of the few documented occasions in which the manpackable pack howitzer was packed over rough terrain by men alone. Official USMC Photo, from Islands of Hell: The U.S. Marines in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945 by Eric Hammel.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Military Snapshot - Covering the USMC Assault Engineers on Roi

On the Japanese-held island of Roi, part of the Marshall Islands, USMC riflemen cover the advance of Marine assault engineers who have been directed to blow up as much of the distant hangar and concrete building as they can. Official USMC Photo, from Tarawa and the Marhsalls: U.S. Marines in World War II by Eric Hammel.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Beyond the Book - Q & A with Dr. Wolfgang Sterner, Panzer Tank Commander

During World War II, Dr. Wolfgang Sterner commanded a variety of German medium tanks from the Pz.Kpfw. III to the Panther. 

In the following interview with Michael Green, author of Panzers At War, Dr. Werner describes his time in service with the Panzertruppen during World War II.
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GREEN: What made you want to be a tanker in the German army? 

STERNER: The story is easy. I wanted to be a tank officer from the very beginning. Instead, I ended up, in spring 1942, as an officer aspirant [cadet] in an infantry unit. Then, to my surprise, nine months later I was transferred to a tank unit. They moved me right away to a field-training unit on the Russian front in the Orel area to Panzer Regiment 33. For the next three months, I received intensive training in tanks and their tactics.

What I did not know at the time was all these preparations were made for the oncoming campaign of what you call the ‘Battle of Kursk.’ We were in the framework of the 9th Army and our division, the 9th Panzer Division, was in the center of the northern attack force, the XXXXVII Panzer Korps. I was commander of a Mark III medium tank with a 50mm long gun, later a Mark IV with the 75mm long gun. Our battalion had around 80 tanks at that time, Mark III and Mark IV.

GREEN: Tell me about the Pz.Kpfw. IV tank. How did it compare to the Soviet T34 medium tank? 

STERNER: The question cannot be answered that easily. The improved Mark IV tank with a long-barrel 75mm gun and extra armor, including side skirts, was a reliable tank, and it was the workhorse of the German army. But, the T34 was still better in several ways. It was much faster. It had tremendous maneuverability under Russian conditions, and the gun on the tank was pretty good, too, but otherwise we were on even terms. We were better because each of our tanks had radio communication so that the tank could be better led. This was very important in a tank battle. With good communications and the proper leadership, you could easily take advantage of the right situation, which the Russians couldn’t do. That was our main advantage over the Russian tanks. Their big advantage was that they usually had many more tanks.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Military Snapshot - Mine Clearing Outside Fallujah

Clearing mines in and around Fallujah was a seemingly never-ending task for U.S. forces. Here, the aftermath of 1,750 pounds of C-4 explosives contained in a mine-clearing line charge (MCLC) can be seen. The explosion could blast a lane sixteen meters wide and one hundred meters long. The MCLC was designed as a means of hastily breaching minefields. Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense, from Operation Phantom Fury: The Assault and Capture of Fallujah, Iraq by Dick Camp.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Aviation Snapshot - Mid-air Refueling of the SR-71 Blackbird

The SR-71 Blackbird participated in many air shows and displays around the world. Two of the most prestigious were the Farnborough and Paris air shows. This shot taken from the tanker boom position shows the SR-71B trainer participating in the annual Oshkosh Experimental Aircraft Association fly-in. It was a great crowd-pleaser! Photo courtesy of Don Emmons, from Flying the SR-71 Blackbird: In the Cockpit on a Secret Operational Mission by Col. Richard H. Graham, USAF (ret.)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Beyond the Book - Q & A with Col. Steve Pisanos, 4th Fighter Group

Retired Colonel Steve N. Pisanos was born in Athens, Greece, and came to America in 1938. Prior to the United States' entry into World War II, Pisanos flew P-51s and Spitfires with the Royal Air Force. He would eventually become an ace while piloting a P-47 with the 4th Fighter Group.

When forced to crash-land in enemy territory in 1944 (while flying a Mustang), he spend six months evading the Germans and fighting with the French Resistance and American Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

In the following interview with Cory Graff, author of P-47 Thunderbolt at War, Pisanos discussed the Thunderbolt.
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GRAFF: I understand the 4th Fighter Group was a bit reluctant to transfer over to the P-47 Thunderbolt after flying the Spitfire in combat. What would you say was the general consensus and mood of your comrades about the switch?

PISANOS: When it was announced that the 4th Fighter Group was going to be re-equipped with the P-47 Thunderbolt, some pilots at Debden Aerodrome felt that maybe we made a mistake leaving the Royal Air Force. But as the days went by, we began to think about the pay in Uncle Sam’s air force, which was mighty good.

And when the P-47s began to arrive and we started to fly the clumsy seven-ton monster, the negative attitude many of us had formed about the Jug began to disappear. Even though the P-47 was twice as heavy as the Spit, and it couldn’t turn or climb as well as the Spit, it could out dive any German or British fighter. It could also fly farther than the Spit.

After we had completed our training (twenty-five to thirty flying hours per pilot to become operational), we had surprisingly discovered that the seven-ton battlewagon of war could fight well against Germany’s fighters at high altitudes, because of the highly effective turbo supercharger. We also learned that we could bounce anything below from our high altitude and get away by zooming up to infinity. We learned to avoid getting mixed up with the German fighters below eighteen thousand feet.

On April 15, 1943, Major Don Blakeslee of the 4th Fighter Group shot down a Fw-190 during a fighter sweep across the Channel, the first enemy aircraft to be shot down by a P-47 Thunderbolt. We hated to see our beloved Spitfires go, but we had now fallen in love with another fighter aircraft, the P-47, which could take us deeper into enemy territory.