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Author Topic: PzLdr History Facts  (Read 7406 times)
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PzLdr
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« Reply #15 on: May 12, 2016, 08:15:01 pm »

It was an operation based on steadily decreasing assets, ordered by a man desperate for the German Navy to win glory before being eclipsed by the Army in BARBAROSSA, commanded by an Admiral opposed to sailing without waiting for reinforcements, and possibly clinically depressed.

The initial concept for the Rhine Exercise arose from the earlier Exercise BERLIN. For over two months, the German battlecruisers SCHARNHORST and GNIESENAU [9x11" guns]had raided commerce in the Atlantic, sinking some 22 ships. The success was muted by their standing orders to avoid engaging convoy heavy escorts, i.e. Battleships or Battlecruisers, which the British, with a surfeit of WW I era ships were able to post to most convoys. SCHARNHORST and GNIESENAU's victims had been either single ships, or ships from a dispersed convoy.

So Grand Admiral Raeder decided on a new plan. He would send a squadron into the Atlantic to commerce raid. From Brest, France, where they had steamed to after BERLIN, the SCHARNHORST and GNIESENAU. From the Baltic, after working up, the heavy cruiser PRINZ EUGEN [8x8" guns], and the battleship BISMARCK [8x 15" guns]. It was Raeder's intent that BISMARCK would engage any enemy battleship with a convoy while the battlecruisers and PRINZ EUGEN went after the merchant ships. And from his point of view, the plan had merit. BISMARCK was the post powerful FAST battleship in Europe. She was heavily armored, weighing some 53,000 tons loaded, but had modern 15" guns superior to anything in the Royal Navy. At a top speed of over 30 knots, she could outrun any battleship in the British Navy, including NELSON and RODNEY [9x 16" guns], but a top speed of 23 knots. The only ship in the Royal Navy capable of catching BISMARCK was H.M.S. HOOD [8x 15" guns], a World War I era battlecruiser, and the largest ship in the fleet.

But occasionally, the plan doesn't take in the variables. SCHARNHORST needed major repairs in Brest, and both she and GNIESENAU suffered bomb damage. the RHINE Exercise, at a stroke was reduced to one battleship and a heavy cruiser.

The fleet commander for the RHINE Exercise was Admiral Guenther Lutjens, who had just returned in March from commanding Exercise Berlin. Lutjens had had a busy war by 1941. He had commanded SCHARNHORST and GNIESENAU in Norway, during the opening of the WESER Exercise. He had commanded them again in Exercise BERLIN. Now he was tasked with yet another commerce raid.

Lutjens balked. He wanted the operation postponed until either the battlecruisers were ready [July], or until BISMARCK's sister ship, TIRPITZ completed her work up [The Captain of BISMARCK, Ernst Lindemann refused to follow the naval tradition of referring to ships as 'she'. He directed that the crew, and always did himself, refer to BISMARCK as "He".

Raeder refused to wait. So on 18 May, 1941, PRINZ EUGEN slipped her berth and steamed west. In the early morning of May 19th, BISMARCK joined her, sailing from Gotenhafen [now Gdynia]. Both ships then proceeded through the Kattegat and Skaggerak, heading for Norway. During the trip, they were spotted by the Swedish cruiser Gotland. the sighting was passed the same day to the British Naval attache, who alerted London. Any hope of surprise was now gone.

The German ships anchored in Bergen Fjord, where they were spotted, and photographed, by a Spitfire reconnaissance plane specifically sent to look for them. While they were there, the weather deteriorated and heavy fog rolled in. Lutjens ordered the flotilla to head out.

Lutjens neither sought advice from, nor brought Lindemann into his plans. He was remote from the crew and officers of BISMARCK. And during the hiatus in Bergen, he did something, or to be more accurate, didn't do something that bordered on the unusual. Although PRINZ EUGEN topped off her fuel bunkers, BISMARCK did not. So BISMARCK was leaving on an operation where he would have to refuel the cruiser from his own fuel supply, and that supply was several hundred, if not more tons low.

LUTJENS had a tanker pre-positioned near the northern tip of Norway. But instead of sailing there, he turned west, taking advantage of the foul weather,intending to run the Denmark Strait, as he had in Exercise BERLIN. It didn't work out the way he'd hoped.

As soon as the Royal Navy's Home Fleet Commander, Admiral John Tovey, got word that two large German warships were in the Skaggerak, he assumed one of them was BISMARCK, and that both of them would be attempting to break into the Atlantic. Since there were at least four different ways to do this, Tovey covered all of them with cruisers, and sent HOOD and one of the new KING GEORGE V class battleships, PRINCE OF WALES [10x 14" guns] to cover the Denmark Strait.

During the night of May 23rd, two British cruisers, NORFOLK and SUFFOLK picked up the German squadron on radar, and visually. In an attempt to deal with them, BISMARCK fired his main guns, knocking out his forward gunnery radar while doing so. At they point the two German ships changed station, with PRINZ EUGEN taking the lead, and BISMARCK following. They were in that formation when, in the lightening skies of pre-dawn, they sighted HOOD and PRINCE OF WALES.

Lutjens had several advantages. The British, coming from the east, were backlit by the rising sun. The German ships, to the west, and with Greenland behind them, were masked by darker skies. The Germans had traveled faster than estimated, so they were a little ahead of the British. Admiral Lancelot Holland, on HOOD, had hoped to cross Lutjens' "T". The Germans would come close to crossing theirs. And then there were the ships. Although, on paper, HOD appeared to be the measure of BISMARCK, she wasn't. BISMARCK's newer 15" rifles could fire three salvos for every two of HOOD's. Her fire control system was much more sophisticated and just plain better. BISMARCK was much more heavily armored, and just as fast [BISMARCK was at least two knots faster than PoW] Additionally, PoW [PRINCE OF WALES] had extremely complex turrets [two with four 14" guns, one with two] and had civilian workmen on board trying to fix them. The ace in the hole, however, was PRINZ EUGEN. Aside from the same advantages [in fire control], she also had her radar working, and more importantly, her layout and silhouette was virtually the same [albeit smaller] than BISMARCK.

That was crucial, because the British, who could only fire their forward guns, opened up on PRINZ EUGEN. BISMARCK was left alone for almost two minutes while they did so. PRINZ EUGEN took HOOD, the lead ship, under fire, and scored hits on the superstructure, and a small gun battery, starting a fire. She also passed her firing data to BISMARCK.

Lutjens was loath to open fire, even though the British had realized their mistake and switched their fire. Declaiming he was about to have his ship shot out from under his ass, LINDEMANN ordered BISMARCK to open fire. At the same time Adm. Holland began turning to avoid plunging fire. As he did BISMARCK's fifth salvo sent a round into the rear powder magazine, the explosion sent a column of fire several hundred feet in the  air, and through the ventilation system to the forward magazines, blowing them as well, HOOD broke in pieces and sunk with her bow up. There were three survivors.

BISMARCK now turned her attention to PoW. PoW suffered heavy damage, one round killing everyone on the bridge, except CPT. Leach. PoW broke off action and left under smoke. She had, however, hit BISMARCK at least four times. And one of those rounds flooded one of BISMARCK's oil bunkers, polluting the fuel, and causing a trail of leaked oil to follow the ship. It was now that Lutjens' decision not to top off in Bergen came back to bite him. To reach France, he had to reduce his top speed to 27 knots. He could no longer outrun British KGV battleships. Lutjens slipped  the cruisers, and Pow that night, detaching PRINZ EUGEN to break out into the Atlantic, and headed for Brest. The Royal Navy pulled ships off convoy duty, and from as far away as Gibralter to join in the hunt. then, on the 25th, Lutjens sent a long, pointless wireless signal to Germany. British intercepts relayed the WRONG position to Tovey. By the time the mistake was realized, it was apparent, absent a miracle, BISMARCK would reach France.

That miracle was Fairey Swordfish double winged, wood and cloth torpedo bombers flying off ARK ROYAL. After an initial mishap, they found and attacked BISMARCK. His radar controlled anti-aircraft guns  couldn't target planes moving that slowly, and one torpedo hit the stern, locking BISMARCK's rudders in a turning position. Additionally, because of the hole, the Bismarck had to steer into the wind, which took her to the British. BISMARCK was doomed.

The final confrontation took place next morning. Tovey had KING GEORGE V [10x 14" guns], RODNEY [9x 16" guns]  several cruisers and destroyers. Both KGV and Rodney scored early hits. BISMARCK fired near RODNEY's bow, but her fire fell off rapidly, as CDR Adelbert Schneider was killed early in the action and the forward turrets were put out of action. The rear turrets soon followed. BISMARCK's entire superstructure was on fire, and Lutjens and Lindemann were both dead, most likely from a shell from RODNEY.

Tovey running low on fuel, and with RODNEY's guns developing mechanical problems from firing at close range, ordered the DORSETSHIRE, a cruiser, to finish BISMARCK off [BISMARCK's colors were still flying]. The two battleships had fired some 400 rounds at BISMARCK. On the German ship, two orders were issued, Scuttle, and abandon ship. Both were obeyed. of a crew of approximately 2,250, a total of 115 were saved [ The British suspended rescue operations when someone thought he saw a U-boat. The RHINE Exercise was over.
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« Reply #16 on: May 13, 2016, 11:43:59 am »

Once again.....thank you Pzldr!
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« Reply #17 on: May 16, 2016, 01:14:43 am »

In April, 1941, Adolf Hitler was forced to invade Greece as a result of the maladroitness of his erstwhile ally, Benito Mussolini. The previous autumn, Mussolini in a fit of pique over Hitler's failure to consult over military operations the Germans had undertaken, and on the fly, with little planning, invaded Greece from Albania. It was a disaster. the Greeks not only drove the Italians back, but the attack allowed the British to send troops into Europe for the first time since 1940 in France.

Hitler who was concerned with British air power being in range of his principal source of oil, the Ploesti oilfields of Romania, and with having nothing interfere with his forthcoming invasion of the Soviet Union ordered troops into Greece from Bulgaria [Operation  MARITA] at the same time he invaded Yugoslavia from Austria and Romania [Operation PUNISHMENT]. By the time the smoke had cleared, the Greek military had surrendered, and the Greek government, along with 30,000 Commonwealth and Greek troops under New Zealand Gen.Bernard Freyburg had evacuated to the island of Crete. The stage was set for the first airborne invasion in history.

The commander of the German Fallschirmjaeger [Airborne] was Luftwaffe General [formerly an Army artilleryman] named Kurt Student. Student had been with the German airborne since its creation in the mid-1930s, and had achieved spectacular successes in the campaign in the West in 1940. German paratroopers had captured vital bridges in the Netherlands at the start of case YELLOW, allowing the 9th Panzer Division to knife quickly into Holland with little delay. 80 German glider borne [also part of the airborne]engineers also landed on the fortress of Eben Emael, the linchpin of the Belgian defense line on the Albert Canal, and using shaped charges for the first time in modern warfare [and a plan supposedly conceived by Hitler himself], captured the fort and 2,500 prisoners.

Operation MERKUR was Student's first operation since 1940, inasmuch as Student had been seriously wounded in the Netherlands in a friendly fire incident with the LEIBSTANDARTE SS ADOLF HITLER. Now recovered from his wounds, he set Operation MERKUR for May 20th.

The plan involved the two major components of Student's airborne forces, the 7th Parachute Division, and the 22d Air Landing division, an army infantry unit assigned to Student's force that was carried in by Junkers  Ju-52 transport planes. There were also army units to be ferried to Crete in a flotilla of small boats, a la the British rescue mission at Dunkirk. There was no German naval presence. Support for the invasion would be all aircraft, with the Luftwaffe flying sorties with some 150 Junkers Ju-87 Stukas, and fighter cover from Messerschmitt Me-109s.

The plan was itself, fairly simple. The 7th Parachute would drop onto the three principal airfields in northern Crete, which when secured, would allow the 22 Air Landing Division to be flown in to augment the attack force, while seaborne infantry would also bolster the Airborne's offensive punch [there was no German armor allocated for the invasion.

Yet even the simplest plan can go awry. In the case of MERKUR, the problems were threefold: First, German intelligence SEVERELY underestimated Allied strength on Crete. Second, the Royal Navy appeared in force, which the Germans did not expect. Third, and most importantly, thanks to Ultra, the British knew the entire German plan, and were ready for them.

Needless to say, the initial drop resulted in severe losses on the part of the German paratroopers [It didn't help that, unlike Allied airborne units,  German paratroopers only jumped with pistols and knives, with all their rifles, machineguns and submachine guns dropped in canister, to be retrieved in the drop zone]. The naval reinforcements fared even worse. It reached the point that the 7th was almost out of reserves, and the 22d couldn't lift off because they had nowhere to land.

And then the Germans got a break. A fairly junior British Army officer withdrew fro a hill overlooking the western most airfield, at Maleme. The Germans immediately occupied the high ground, and controlled the airfield. Almost immediately the 22d Air Landing Division began shuttling in from Greece. With reinforcements, the Germans began to advance east to link up with the other elements of the 7th Parachute, and to the southeast, in pursuit of the Commonwealth troops.

Once again, it appeared a seaborne evacuation might be necessary. But this time it would be all Royal Navy. And this time the Luftwaffe was more than ready. The Royal Navy lost several cruisers and destroyers in evacuating Crete. And as the Germans advanced the evacuation required more speed, more ships, more time on station, and resulted in more sinkings.

Eventually the evacuation was completed. But some 18,000 Commonwealth troops were captured by the Germans, and the island was taken, from the air. A special cuff band "KRETA" was authorized for the German personnel who had participated in the operation [including former heavyweight boxing champion Max Schmeling]. But it was the last hurrah of major German airborne operations. Except for small, usually battalion size operations [Russia, the Ardennes offensive, an SS airborne op in Yugoslavia], Hitler forbade such operations, and used his elite airborne divisions as 'leg' infantry for the rest of the war. To be sure they achieved great things on defense [Monte Casino, Normandy], but they never jumped into glory after Crete.
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« Reply #18 on: May 17, 2016, 10:00:57 am »

It started as an argument between Philip Sheridan, commander of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac, and that Army's commander, George Gordon Meade. Meade was re-purposing his Cavalry to perform as it had in the old days, broken up into sub-units, and assigned to picket, escort and courier duties. Sheridan was having none of it. As the argument increased in loudness and bellicosity, Sheridan declaimed that if Meade would let him loose, he would thrash Confederate Maj. Gen, James Ewell Browning "JEB" Stuart, commander of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. When Meade went tio complain to General in Chief U.S. Grant, and repeated Sheridan's taunt, Grant replied that Sheridan usually did what he said he would, and directed Meade to turn him loose.

The operation began on May 11th. Sheridan led his cavalry, comprising three divisions, and over 10,000 horsemen south by southeast toward Richmond's outer works. They traveled at a leisurely pace, since Sheridan  wanted to give Stuart plenty of time to engage him.

JEB Stuart had had an interesting war. He had led the charge that drove the Union troops back at Bull Run. He had ridden around the Army of the Potomac twice, the first time during the Peninsular campaign, providing Robert E. Lee with the critical intelligence he needed to win the battle. Stuart had assumed command of the Rebel IId Corps at Chancellorsville after Stonewal Jackson's wounding, and conducted the battle on Lee's left until Hooker withdrew.

But all did not go as Stuart hoped. He desperately wanted to be promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General, as all the Corps commanders in the Confederate Army were. He hoped, based on his performance at Chancellorsville, that he would be given command of the IId Corps after Jackson died. Neither of those hopes were realized. Richard S. Ewell was given  IID Corps. To add insult to injury, Lee created a IIId Corps, but gave command to A.P. Hill. Stuart remained with the Cavalry Corps, and with the rank of Major General.

And things got worse from there. On June 9th, 1863, the day after a review of his Corps by Lee at Fleetwood Hill, near Brandy Station, Stuart was surprised by a full scale attack by the Union Cavalry Corps under Union Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton. The battle, the largest Cavalry engagement ever fought in North America. By the end of the day Stuart, with infantry support, held the field. But the Union troopers had ascertained that Lee's army was moving north - to, eventually - Gettysburg. And, more importantly, they had destroyed the myth of invincibility that Stuart and his troopers had held over them since the beginning of the war.

And then came the Gettysburg campaign. Stung, perhaps, by the vitriol in the Southern press over Brandy Station, Stuart construed Lee's typically broad orders with the widest latitude, cut loose, and appeared to try another ride around the Army of the Potomac. It was a fiasco. Tactically, it was a mixed bag. Stuart won some, but he lost some. the newly confident Union Horse hounded him, blocked him, and offered battle at every turn. Operationally, and strategically, Sturart's operations were a failure. While it was true he had left Lee sufficient cavalry to guard his right flank, and prevent Union troops from observing his movement north, Stuart did not leave Lee with sufficient troops to do offensive reconnaissance. Lee had no clue where the Army of the Potomac was until he stumbled into them [ironically enough John Buford's cavalry brigade] at Gettysburg.

Stuart did not arrive until the afternoon of the second day of the battle. He brought with him exhausted men and spent horses. He also brought some 100 wagons he had captured [which had further slowed him]. They turned out to be of great value when Lee had to evacuate his wounded on July 4th.

On July 3d, Stuart was to the left rear of the Union positions riding east. At Runnel's Farm he ran into McGregg's 2d Cavalry Division, and the Michigan Brigade, under newly minted Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer. By the time the smoke cleared, Stuart had been stopped, and then driven from the field.

Stuart admirably covered the retreat from Pennsylvania, skirmishing with, and stopping, Union Cavalry probes. With the rest of Lee's Army, absent a vigorous pursuit by Meade, he went into winter quarters. But now it was Spring. and Phil Sheridan was on the move.

It developed pretty much as Sheridan envisaged. Stuart's command was split. Stuart and at least two brigades rose, at speed to get ahead of the leisurely marching Sheridan, while other regiments, riding behind the Union Cavalry Corps, attacked the rear.

Stuart chose to make his stand at a crossroads near a place in front of the Richmond defenses called Yellow Tavern. He deployed on high ground on two wooded ridgelines, at almost a 90 degree angle, and in front  of the left ridge. The attack opened as a probe, with Custer's brigade in front. Deploying a portion of his brigade to fight on foot [an increasingly common Union tactic, since their Spencer carbines gave each brigade the firepower of a Confederate Infantry division] Custer reconnoitered the ridge on Stuart's right, and then attacked. The battle see-sawed, with Union Cavalry breaking into Stuart's  right. During one of the Rebel counterthrusts, as some of Custer's men were retreating on foot, one fired off a round at a rebel officer he saw sitting on a horse. Then he kept retreating.

The round caught Stuart in the side, and almost knocked him out of the saddle. Despite his furious protests ["I'd rather die than be whipped"- and it turned out both happened], Stuart was taken from the field in an ambulance to a nearby house. He died the next day. Sheridan meandered on, after brushing aside the defense at Yellow Tavern, viewed the Richmond defenses as too formidable for a cavalry attack, and having fulfilled his goal of whipping Stuart, turned west to the Union lines.

Stuart was mourned throughout the South. Lee supposedly wept. In a bitter side note, Stuart's successor as commander of the Cavalry Corps of the Army  of Northern Virginia, finished the war as a Lieutenant General.
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« Reply #19 on: May 25, 2016, 10:44:14 am »

On the morning of May 27th, 1942 SS Obergruppenfuehrer [SS Lt. General] Reinhard Heydrich was in a hurry. The head of the Reichssicherheithauptamt [RSHA], the amalgam of the Reichs Security Police [Gestapo and Criminal Police and the SS SD], and Acting Reichsprotecktor of Bohemia-Moravia [the current Czech Republic], he was due in Berlin to brief Adolf Hitler on affairs in the country he had governed since the previous September. He would never conduct that briefing.

Heydrich had been born into a well to do family in Wilhelmine Germany. His father was a composer, musician and fairly well known opera singer, who had founded the Halle Music Conservatory. Heydrich himself was a talented violinist [he was also a highly rated fencer], and conversant in at least five languages.

Heydrich had joined the German Navy in the mid-1920s, becoming a signals officer, and serving, for a time, under the future Admiral [and rival] Wilhelm Canaris. What looked like a successful Naval career foundered on a weakness for the flesh. Engaged to one young woman, Lina Van Osten, Heydrich became involved with another, who assumed Heydrich intended to marry her. When he didn't offer for her hand, she had a nervous breakdown. Her outraged father, who must have been a man of some substance, went to the head of the German Navy, Grand Admiral Raeder, who ordered a board of inquiry. Heydrich's refusal to take any responsibility, and his attempt to shift the blame to the girl, adversely impacted the Board to the degree that they recommended, and Raeder did, Heydrich's dismissal from the Navy.

So, in 1931, Heydrich with no job, and no acceptable prospects, joined at his wife's urging the NSDAP, and through the offices of a family friend, secured a job interview with Heinrich Himmler, Reichsfuehrer SS. Himmler was looking to establish an SS intelligence service [at the time almost ALL Nazi organizations had an intelligence operation, to spy on 'enemies', and each other]. Himmler, apparently believed Heydrich had been a Naval intelligence officer, and asked him to outline such an organization in some 20 minutes. Heydrich, who enjoyed spy novels did just that. Himmler hired him, and the unholy alliance that would rock Europe was born. So was the Sicherheitsdienst [SD], the SS Security service.

Heydrich rose rapidly from SS Lieutenant to Major in some six months. His organization became, at Hitler's order, the SOLE intelligence agency of the NSDAP. And after the seizure of power, his rise accelerated. When Himmler was made Chief of the Bavarian Police, Heydrich became Chief of their political section [It was here that Heydrich recruited from the ranks the officers: Stoettel, Huber and 'Gestapo' Mueller who would be the RSHA heavyweights]. As Himmler acquired more police forces, Heydrich went along as his deputy, culminating in 1936, when Himmler was named Chief of the German Police. Heydrich then moved to Berlin, assuming command, first of the Gestapo, and then also, of the Criminal Police [in 1940, Heydrich would be chief of INTERPOL], while still maintaining control of the SD.

Heydrich was actively involved in several of the German scandals of the '30s. He helped organize the Night of the Long Knives, falsifying evidence, and directing, with Himmler and Goering, the murder squads in Berlin. He fabricated evidence of homosexuality that was used to force Gen. Fritsch out as commander of the German Army [he was opposed to some of Hitler's plans]. He organized [for the first time] Einsatzkommandos for the Anschluss of Austria, and oversaw arrests and anti-Semitic activities in that country. And he planned, and executed the prevarication that served as Germany's attack on Poland, the Gleiwitz Radio station incident.

Heydrich had a busy war. He deployed a total of five Einsatatzgruppen into Poland to murder the potential leadership of future opposition to the Reich, and Polish Jews. They were so brutal, the military governor of Poland, General Blaskowitz complained all the way up to Hitler. Hitler, perfectly satisfied with Heydrich's mens' performance, pardoned them, and relieved Blaskowitz [who was never promoted again. It was in October, 1939, that the RSHA was established.

Heydrich spent the Spring of 1940, flying an Me 110 in the Norwegian campaign [he was a Reserve major in the Luftwaffe]. Back at his desk, he worked on Jewish policy, and plans for the SS police participation in the forthcoming Russian campaign.

Heydrich sent four Einsatzgruppen into Russia, one each with Army Group North and Center, and two with Army Group South. Heydrich ,himself, flew an Me 109 in the opening stages of Barbarossa, but was shot down behind Russian lines. He was rescued, and forbidden from flying again. By Spring, 1942, the four Einsatzgruppen had murdered about one million people, mostly Jews, Russian commissars and Gypsies in the East, with Heydrich [and Himmler] frequently touring the areas and on-site for some of the executions.

In September, 1941, Heydrich reached his zenith, he was appointed Deputy [and de facto] Reichsprotecktor of  Bohemia-Moravia, replacing Konstantin von Neurath. Bohemia-Moravia was extremely important to the Germans. the Skoda works produced weapons and other military gear for the Germans. A general strike called from 14-21 September had led to Neurath's removal. Heydrich was the result.

Heydrich responded with his usual brutality. Martial law was declared, mass arrests and a number of executions followed. But it wasn't the same old game. Heydrich decided to co-opt the Czechs. He increased worker rations and goods. He gave the Czechs the same 'Strength Through Joy' vacations, social activities, etc., that German workers had [though not to the same degree]. He cracked down on black marketeers [whom the Czechs hated], and conducted public trials and executions of them. And martial law was rescinded, and the arrests went way down. It appeared Heydrich's approach had worked. The Czechs seemed docile [or cowed]. Production increased. By later that fall, Heydrich was able to split his time between Prague and Berlin. By January, 1942, he was hosting the Wannsee conference to plan the industrial slaughter of the Holocaust.

Heydrich's success with the Czechs did not go unnoticed in London, either by the Czech government in exile, nor the British. The British were extremely unhappy with what they perceived to be minimal Czech resistance to the German occupation, and the degree of Czech armament, of the German Army [In 1940, Rommel's 7th Panzer Division was primarily equipped with Czech tanks]. They were pressuring President Benes [note: Since my keyboard doesn't contain Czech accent marks, I'll be doing the best I can] to do something major. To up the ante, the British government had not renounced the Munich Pact, leaving the Czech government in exile to wonder if theuir homeland would be ceded to the Germans when peace came.The British SOE, fighting a rear guard against MI6, wanted to do something spectacular. That 'something spectacular' was the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. In point of fact, SOE planned the attack, and gave it to Benes. The Czechs were to furnish the assassins. SOE would supply logistical support, weapons and transport to Bohemia-Moravia. the Czech underground was neither consulted with, nor informed of, the mission. It appears that both SOE and Benes expected massive German reprisals if the operation succeeded, and both were willing for those reprisals to happen, in the expectation that a mass uprising would result.

The assassins were two volunteers from the Czech Brigade, Josef Gabcik, and Jan Kubis. After training in Britain, they were airdropped in December, 1941. Landing far from their drop zone, they eventually arrived in Prague and spent their time moving from safe house to safe house, and reconnoitering Heydrich's suburban estate, the route from there to Prague, and the roads in Prague to the Prague castle that was Heydrich's headquarters. They found a hairpin turn where Heydrich would have to slow down, and decided that would be the kill zone. Gabcik was equipped with two grenade like bombs. Kubis had a STEN gun. A third man, stationed uphill acted as a lookout.

Heydrich referred to his subjects as 'My Czechs', and apparently believed none would hurt. So he traveled in an open convertible limousine  with just a driver. No escort. No guards. that day, after playing with his two sons, Heydrich left home at ten. Fifteen miles later, the warning signal was given, and Kubis pulled out his STEN as Heydrich came around the corner. Heydrich, seeing Kubis, and assuming he was alone, ordered his driver to stop, while pulling his gun. It was a mistake that would cost Heydrich his life.

Kubis' gun jammed without firing a shot. But Gabcik, unseen, threw one of the bombs. It landed short, to the passenger side rear. the detonation sent horsehair and schrapnel from the seat into Heydrich's back. Gabcik fled from the driver, bicycling downhill. Kubis fled uphill with Heydrich in pursuit, until Heydrich collapsed on the ground. Kubis then got away.

Heydrich was taken to the hospital where, at midnight he was operated on. At first, he seemed to recover, but peritonitis set in. Since the Germans had no access to penicillin, he was doomed. Reinhard Heydrich died on June 4th, at the age of 38 , and received the largest funeral ever conducted in the Third Reich. The storm that Benes and SOE soon followed. The Germans mounted massive raids. It became apparent that the two assassins had been lax regarding their security in the five months before the assassination.The result was that the Germans were able to uproot and effectively destroy the Czech underground, which had begged Benes to call off the operation before the killing. At least 2,000 Czechs lost their lives. Two towns, one being Lidice, were razed. The Holocaust was stepped up, and by 1943, some 2 million Jews had died in "Aktion Reinhardt".
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« Reply #20 on: June 01, 2016, 09:39:26 am »

If the flutter of a butterfly's wings [or lack thereof] can change evolution, the gnat stings of Doolittle Raiders' 16 B-25 bombers on Tokyo, and three other Japanese cities changed the course of World War II. While the physical damage was slight, the psychological damage was great. The enemy [us] had bombed Tokyo - where the Emperor not only lived, but was present during the raid. The 'loss of face' was immense, and required a response; one that would expand the perimeter of Japan's Empire, safeguard the homeland, and, hopefully, bring about the decisive battle that had been the core of Japanese naval doctrine since the 1920s.

The doctrine of the decisive battle had been one of the results of Togo's destruction of the Russian fleet at Tsushima in 1905. Positing the U.S. as its greatest potential enemy and threat, the Imperial Japanese Navy [IJN], developed a strategy that, at its base, assumed a battle with the U.S. fleet in Japanese home waters, with the Japanese victorious. But by Spring, 1942, that battle, in that location did not seem likely. Japan had achieved her initial strategic and operational goals. The U.S. fleet had been downsized, if not neutralized, The western perimeter had been pushed out to the Philippines. the drive south had netted Malaya, Singapore, and the object of the war, the Dutch East Indies and its oil. Japanese armies were clearing Burma, and driving toward India. And now Doolittle.

The Japanese reaction was a plan complex even by Japanese standards. It had more moving parts than a Swiss watch. And as most things the Japanese planned, it involved compromises between the IJN and Imperial Japanese Army [IJA] that did nothing to guarantee the success of the principle objective, lure the U.S Pacific fleet out for the 'decisive battle' at a place of the IJN's choosing, destroy  it, and force the U.S to sue for peace.

The place chosen as the bait was the U.S held island of Midway, roughly halfway between the Hawaiian and Home Islands. the IJN believed the U.S could not afford to let this flyspeck fall to the Japanese without a major effort to save it. This was curious thinking. Midway had no good harbor to anchor a Japanese fleet to threaten Hawaii. It had an airfield, but was beyond air range of Hawaii for most Japanese planes. What it was was an outpost. But the Commander of the Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of Pearl Harbor, fixated on it as the solution to all his problems. Yamamoto, a veteran of Tsushima,who had attended Harvard, traveled extensively in America, and knew about American economic power, had promised in pushing the Pearl Harbor operation that he would run wild for six months, but after that, no guarantees. And by May, 1942, he was feeling the time pressure.

The plan initially called for three separate fleets to converge on Midway. The first to arrive would be the First Air Fleet, the KIDO BUTAI [strike force]. They were to bomb Midway, and destroy U.S aircraft carriers expected to arrive the next day from Hawaii.Next up were the occupation fleet and the main battle fleet [mostly battleships, including the world's largest, IJN YAMATO, Yamamoto's flagship]. For secrecy, all three traveled separately, at distance. The result was each was incapable of supporting any of the others.

That was complex enough. But since the Army was to furnish the troops for the occupation, they had to sign off on the operation. There was a price. The Army wanted to invade Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian islands to protect Japan's northern islands. So a small fleet was assembled to do that. Critically, two IJN light carriers were included in that fleet. Still, on paper, it was a formidable plan, led by a Navy with overwhelming preponderance against its enemy [The U.S had NO battleships, a few cruisers and three (the IJN believed two) carriers available]. But looks could be deceiving.

KIDO BUTAI, either in whole or in part, had been almost continually in operation since Pearl Harbor. Two of her carriers had detached on the return to Japan to support the operations at Wake Island. KAGA had been in Japan for maintenance when KIDO BUTAI raided the Indian Ocean. Parts of First Air Fleet had raided Darwin, Australia. Kido Butai's aircraft were worn out, her air crew tired, and no relief was in sight. Production had stopped on the VAL dive bomber. It would soon stop on the KATE torpedo/horizontal bomber. So replacements were getting problematical. Then came the Coral Sea, and a curious twist in IJN doctrine.

As part of their prelude to Midway, and part of a renewed drive to cut Australia off from America, the Japanese moved into the Solomon Islands, particularly Guadalcanal and Tulagi, and prepared to invade Port Morseby, New Guinea. To support this operation, they detached Carrier Division 5, SHOKAKU and ZUIKAKU, their two newest, and most modern carriers and sent them into the Coral Sea, with an invasion fleet and the light carrier SHOHO. By the time the smoke cleared, SHOHO and the U.S.S LEXINGTON were sunk. U.S.S YORKTOWN was severely damaged, and presumed by the Japanese [erroneously] sunk or sinking; in any case written off for Midway. But SHOKAKU was heavily damaged, and had to return to Japan for repairs. ZUIKAKU, while suffering some minor damage, and taken heavy losses in aircraft, and had landed the aircraft from SHOKAKU for the return to Japan. And that was when the quirk in Japanese doctrine kicked in. The Japanese believed firmly, in training air crew with the ship they would be assigned to.  So when she returned to Japan, ZUIKAKU began to take on new levies of pilots for training, while the largely intact, veteran air contingent of SHOKAKU sat on their thumbs. No effort was made to transfer SHOKAKU's air crews to ZUIKAKU, and no effort was made to repair SHOKAKU ant more than a stately pace. Upshot? ZUIKAKU remained in Japan tied to doctrine and her sister ship when she could have been at Midway with a seasoned air contingent.

KIDO BUTAI [Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo commanding] thus sailed to Midway with only four of her six Pearl Harbor carriers: AKAGI and KAGA [Carrier Division 1], and SORYU and HIRYU [Carrier Division 2], two battleships, several cruisers, and several destroyers. Yamamoto followed some 300 miles behind with the battle fleet, while the invasion fleet approached from the west-southwest.

Unfortunately for the Japanese, Yamamoto's counterpart, Admiral Chester Nimitz knew exactly where the Japanese were going, the general directions their fleets were coming from, a rough idea of their timetable, and even the Aleutians venture. He knew it because he was reading their coded messages, compliments of CMD. Rouchefort's code breakers and a ruse. The Americans originally knew the Japanese were planning to attack "AT". Rouchefort had Midway send a signal in a code he knew the Japanese had broken, saying their water distilling plant was on the fritz. When that information showed up in a Japanese message about "AT", Nimitz had his target.

The Americans had three carriers available to sally to Midway: Two sailed immediately [HORNET and ENTERPRISE], under Admiral Raymond Spruance. YORKTOWN, under [senior] Admiral Jack Fletcher followed soon after. They took position at 'Point Lucky', northeast of Midway well before Nagumo got in range. They moved so fast, they by-passed what would be an IJN submarine reconnaissance screen before it formed, in anticipation of Yamamoto's timetable for the U.S. fleet movements. Additionally, a Japanese plan to fly two long range flying boats to Pirate Frigate Shoals for re-fueling from a sub, before flying on to reconnoiter Pearl Harbor [they had used the same technique to raid it earlier] was scrapped when U.S warships were spotted patrolling the shoal by the submarine. Since he was not told of this failure, Nagumo assumed the carriers were still at Pearl when they were at Point Lucky.

In addition to the carriers, Midway was itself beefed up with B-17s, and a variety of fighter planes and other aircraft. And after the occupation fleet was sighted by a PBY, they flew off the island to attack. Some of the fighters also attempted to stop Nagumo's first wave attack on the island, with some success. They were successful enough that the airstrike commander, JOICHI Tomanaga Radioed Nagumo, requesting a second strike on Midway. Thus began the almost perpetual arming/rearming of the bomber aircraft of the Strike Force, accompanied by jumbled radio messages from Nagumo's air scouts that first reported U.S ships, and then carriers to Nagumo's northeast. Almost at the same time, the Strike force began suffering the intermittent attentions of U.S aircraft, culminating in the Torpdeo bomber attack that left Ensign George Gay in the water, and the rest of the squadron shot down.

A Japanese destroyer, having fallen behind to deal with a U.S submarine, hurried, at top speed to rejoin the fleet. His wake attracted the attention of CMDR. Wade McClusky, who followed him back to KIDO BUTAI. At the same time Leslie's dive bombers also arrived. Below them were three Japanese aircraft carriers, AKAGI, KAGA and SORYU [HIRYU was hidden in a rain squall]. And the Japanese combat air patrol of Zeros was down on the deck, having shot down the last of the torpedo bombers. And the Zeros had proved less than effective, inasmuch as their only really good weapon, their 30mm cannon, needed frequent re-loading, and their machine guns were far too 'light' for shooting down planes.

After an initial mix-up the U.S dive bombers attacked. KAGA was hit by two bombs and burst into flames [munitions and fuel scattered loosely on the flight decks and hangar decks -enclosed on the Japanese carriers- added significantly to the destruction], AKAGI was also a sea of fire. SORYU was soon to sink. It took five minutes for 3/4 of KIDO BUTAI to be rendered hors de combat.

But Nagumo was not completely de-fanged. One carrier remained, HIRYU, and on its bridge was possibly Japan's greatest aircraft carrier Admiral, Tamon Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi immediately launched an airstrike with what he had. They found the recently repaired YORKTOWN, and savaged it. Seeing it in flames, the attack squadron returned to HIRYU convinced they had sunk her. They hadn't. U.S fire control was far superior to its IJN counterpart, and YORKTOWN's fires were brought under control. She was made seaworthy again.

Yamaguchi ordered another strike against what he believed was a single remaining carrier. Joichi Tomanga, the strike commander refused a new plane, although his was damaged to the point it was a one -way mission for him. The Japanese found the Yorktown again, but because the previous damage was no longer discernible, thought she was a second carrier and attacked her again. Tomanaga, never reached her. He was shot down by Jimmy Thach [inventor of the Thach weave]. His compatriots were more successful. YORKTOWN was crippled [She would be sunk, while in tow, by a Japanese submarine].

As they again returned to HIRYU, Yamaguchi ordered them to eat and rest for a short while before resuming operations. That was when HIRYU's luck ran out. The attack blew her bow off, leaving her innards a sea of flames. She sank that night [Yamaguchi went down with his ship]. So by day's end, KIDO BUTAI had ceased to exist as an aircraft strike force. The Japanese lost four carriers sunk, or scuttled, and some 200 plus highly trained aircrew, which considering the self-imposed limitations on their flight training programs, and the length of time it took to train mechanics in a largely  agrarian society, meant their air efficiency would degrade to a point where in two years, the air battle of the Philippines Sea would be referred to by the Americans as the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot". And, except for TAIHO, lost on her maiden voyage [the same battle], Japan never added another full-sized carrier to her fleet [SHINANO aside, as she was used to transport planes, not fight them. And she was sunk on her maiden voyage - by U.S.S ARCHERFISH].

Spruance wisely withdrew as darkness fell, to the east. Yamamoto initially sought to close with his battleships, then thought better and withdrew, after having destroyers torpedo the flaming hulks of AKAGI and KAGA. The next day Spruance again steamed west, and sunk the Jaspanese heavy cruiser MIKUMA, already damaged in a collision with her sister ship IJN MOGAMI. Midway was over.

The Japanese lost over 2,000 seamen, in addition to their ships. They murdered at least three U.S flyers they captured. But their days of running wild were over. But think of the tantalizing 'What ifs?" What if Yamamoto had conceived a far less complicated plan, and sailed one huge fleet to Midway? Would Nimitz have engaged? What if the Japanese had sent SHOKAKU' air arm to sea on ZUIKAKU, increasing Nagumo's air assets by at least 20%, and more importantly, the number of Zeros for CAP? In alike vein, what if the Aleutians operation had been scratched? The two light carriers, between them , carried in the neighborhood of 30 more Zeros. But, we'll never know.

Yamamoto was assassinated by U.S Army Air Corps pilots, flying P-38s, in the following year, while he was on an inspection trip. We knew the route. We were still reading his mail. Nagumo commanded the re-constituted carrier fleet, built around Carrier Division 5 for over a year. He was subsequently relieved and made military governor of Saipan. He committed suicide there in 1944.

Nimitz went on to be one of America's first five stars. Spruance, who should have been, won the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, and would probably have done far better at Leyte Gulf, than the Admiral [who also made 5 stars]with whom he alternated command, William "Bull" Halsey.

And it all started with a pinprick raid by Jimmy Doolittle and his Raiders.
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« Reply #21 on: June 04, 2016, 09:04:32 am »

Churchill's "soft underbelly of Europe" had turned out to be a set of rock hard abs. Having won two arguments in a row with his American Allies, first in invading Sicily, then in sending the British 8th and American 5th armies into Italy, he thought two things. First, he could keep the war effort focused on southern Europe, with hopeful follow up attacks in the Balkans aimed at Poland, and the Greek islands near turkey [in an effort to get the Turks into the war on the Allied side].Second, he hoped to, at a minimum, keep the landing craft earmarked for Anvil-Dragoon [the invasion of Southern France] in the Italian theater[he would succeed to the extent of the landing at Anzio, but no further], and at a maximum, to divert the main war effort from invading northwestern Europe to his Balkans project. Unfortunately for Churchill, he ran into two obstacles, General George C. Marshall, and the Italian campaign he had so vigorously and successfully lobbied for.

George Marshall, and the American high command, had been focused on invading northwest Europe since Hitler's declaration of war on the United States in December, 1941. Marshall had pushed for an invasion in 1942 [replaced by TORCH in North Africa], and in 1943 [replaced by HUSKY [Sicily], and the Italian operation. He refused any further distractions in southern Europe. And for the first time, he got his President to stand firm in spite of Churchill's blandishments.

Nor had the Italian campaign gone well. The Germans had reacted quickly to both the Allied occupation of Sicily, and Italy's defection from the Axis. In Sicily, the Germans had withdrawn the bulk of their troops and equipment by ferry across the Straits of Messina to mainland Italy. In Italy itself, German troops stationed in northern Italy and Germany swept south, disarmed the Italian Army and took control of the entire country, forcing the government to flee south to the Allies.

At that point, Hitler made a fateful choice. Erwin Rommel commanded Army Group 'B' in northern Italy. It appeared he would be given the German command in Italy. His plan was to evacuate the south, and defend north of Rome. Surrendering ground was anathema to Adolf Hitler. And an alternative presented itself. That alternative was Luftwaffe Field Marshal Albert Kesselring.

Kesselring had been overall commander in the South from Rommel's days in Africa. And although he was an air force Field Marshal, Kesselring had been an artilleryman in the German Army before his transfer to the junior service in the 1930s. He was chosen to command in Italy, while Rommel was sent off to inspect the Atlantic Wall, and eventually command the defense in Normandy. It was an inspired choice.

The German defense began well south of Rome,initially against the British moving up Italy's east coast. With a minimum of troops the Germans began to slow the British down. They were aided there, as later elsewhere in Italy, by the terrain. Italy was a defender's dream. The Appennine mountains an north to south dividing the country south of the Po valley almost in half. The rivers tended to run east to west, or west to east across the peninsula. The terrain was mountainous, with a poor road net.

The American 5th Army was to leapfrog up the west coast with an amphibious landing at Salerno, south of Naples. The landings were at the limit of Allied air cover flying from Sicily. Unfortunately for Mark Clark,5th Army commander, Kesselring was anticipating an amphibious assault somewhere where Allied air cover would be available. Of equal misfortune Salerno, like Omaha beach was surrounded by higher ground. And like Omaha beach, German troops were present, in force.

The invasion did not go well. Salerno was subjected to German counterattacks, artillery fire, and heavy Allied losses. Even after the breakout, with 5th Army aligned with 8th Army, but separated by the mountains, and heading up the boot, the campaign was measured in inches, not miles. And then they hit the GUSTAV line.

Kesselring had found possibly the greatest defensive position in Europe, anchored on Monte Cassino. The German command of the heights gave them unimpeded fields of view and fire. The Rapido river,to the Germans right front in front of the foothills, was a formidable obstacle. The result was a series of battles for Monte Cassino, a failed assault across the Rapido, a halting to the Allied advance, re-deployment of 8th Army to its left, the onset of winter and truly horrific weather, and another amphibious landing, this time at Anzio.

Anzio had great potential. For one, it caught the Germans flatfooted. A rapid advance would put 5th Army troops BEHIND the Germans. And Rome was less than 40 miles away.

Unfortunately, to paraphrase Churchill, what they thought was a wildcat being thrown ashore turned out to be a beached whale.The Corps commander, Lucas spent enough time securing the beach to allow Kesselring to react. Soon Lucas was facing sizable German forces, and being shelled by a railroad gun the Alban Hills [Anzio Annie]. And so it became Spring, 1944. Lucas was relieved, and as the weather turned, so did Allied fortunes. Afterattacks by the Free Poles and the French, Monte Cassino, and with it,theGUSTAV line fell. So did several lines behind it. 5th Army then broke out of Anzio. The stage was set for the envelopment and destruction of the majority of German forces in Italy. Enter Mark Wayne Clark.

Mark Clark had been one of the golden boys in George Marshall's little notebook, and had advanced accordingly. He had been Eisenhower's deputy at Plans in the War Department, and his deputy again for TORCH. But Ike had become disenchanted with Clark during Husky, when Clark declined deputying for Patton, or commanding a Corps in 7th Army, preferring the command of the nascent 5th Army, and the potential for promotion that went with it. To say he was ambitious [not a bad thing] was to understate the case. To say he was a glory hound was not far off the mark.

So with Germans before him broken, Germans to his south fleeing north, and American and Allied troops to his south pushing north, the opportunity for a massive encirclement was at hand. So what did Clark do? He basically hung a left and seized Rome [an open city], allowing the German Army to get away and fight another [many another] day.

Rancor against Clark ran wide and deep, especially among the Allied troops. He didn't care. He had liberated the first Axis capital. He had gotten the ink. But the Gods of war can be fickle. Within two days, Clark's personal triumph had been swept from the front page by the Normandy invasion. SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDAE.
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« Reply #22 on: June 05, 2016, 10:52:11 am »

[This thread is dedicated to my father, a humble member of the "Greatest Generation", who on June 6th, 1944, walked ashore at that other beach, UTAH]


By the Spring of 1944, it was obvious that the Western Allies were preparing to invade northwestern Europe, the so-called "Festung Europa". The Germans knew it, but what they didn't know was when, or where. What they couldn't agree on was how to defend against it.

The German command structure was somewhat complicated. The OBERBEFEHLSHABER West was Field Marshal Karl Gerd von Rundstedt. Rundstedt was over 65, and was in terms of longevity, the oldest general in the German Army. He had had an active war - until 1942. He had commanded Army Group South in Poland, Army Group 'A' in France, and Army Group South in the first year of Barbarossa. That had ended when he retreated against orders to the Mius River after giving up Rostov in the winter of 1941. But Hitler recalled him soon after and sent him west.

Facing the Allies in Normandy [where the invasion would actually take place] was Army Group 'B' commanded by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Well behind the beaches was Panzer Group West, commanded by Geyr von Schweppenberg. This armored reserve was NOT under Rommel's command, and while under Rundstedt's could not be moved without Hitler's permission. Rommel's only armor consisted of the 21st Panzer Division, which was in reserve behind Caen.

The peculiar armor arrangement had come about because of a fundamental disagreement between Rundstedt and Rommel. Rundstedt adopted the classic, as it were, position that the Panzers should be kept in reserve and committed to a counterthrust after the Allies had moved inland. But Rundstedt had last commanded combat operations in 1941, when the Luftwaffe still had absolute air supremacy in Russia. In point of fact, Rundstedt had never been in combat in WW II without absolute air supremacy.

Rommel had. And his position was quite clear. Move the armor close behind the beaches, and drive the Allies into the sea, because Allied Air would make sure no units from the rear would get to the beaches quickly, if at all; and that once the beaches were secure, the Allies would not be driven off. Hence Hitler's compromise decision.

To the northeast, along the Pas de Calais, the Germans had the 15th Army, their strongest. It was amply supplied with armor [including 1st SS Panzer Corps], and infantry. The reason? Pas de Calais was the shortest distance between Britain and the Continent, and OKW assumed that was where the invasion would take place, a belief bolstered by Allied deception operations, which created a phantom "First Army Group" [opposite the Pas de Calais] 'commanded' by the very real Lt. General George S. Patton, Jr [returned from his sojourn in the wilderness after the 'slapping incident' in Sicily]. Patton made conspicuous public appearances, dummy radio networks made plenty of calls, Luftwaffe reconnaissance flights [strangely unhindered] saw depot after depot, and field after field of tanks, jeeps, trucks, fuel barrels, etc. [all dummies]. the Germans bit.

But Hitler [and Rommel] sometime by Spring began to re-consider Normandy as a potential landing site. And Rommel being Rommel began to prepare for the possibility. He planted millions of mines, devised beach obstacles which would force invading troops to land at low tide, created "Rommel's Asparagus" [poles connected at the top by wires with booby traps on them to stop airborne landings. He also moved more troops forward, including a crack Infantry division, which he placed , unknown by the Allies, behind what would be OMAHA BEACH.

On the other side of the Channel, the plan was set. Five divisions [up from an initial three] would land under the command of Gen. Bernard Law Montgomery, on five beaches: In the British sector: GOLD, SWORD, and JUNO. In the American sector, the west end of the invasion: OMAHA  and UTAH. American airborne troops would be dropped behind the beaches to sew confusion and block access to the beaches. British glider troops would seize PEGASUS bridge, to deny the Germans attack lanes from the west.

It was at this point that a key Allied advantage, and Dwight Eisenhower's courage came into -play. The Allies were better able to make long range weather predictions than the Germans, having ships far out at sea. So while the Germans predicted bad weather around June 6th, the Allies saw a short window of opportunity. Ike gave the 'Go' order at the same time Rommel was home on leave for his wife's birthday.

The success of the landings varied. Using so-called "funnies" [specially equipped tanks for mines, etc.], the British, Canadians and Free French had a somewhat easier time than the 1st and 29th Infantry Division troops landing at OMAHA BEACH. Those troops, like their fellows the year before at Salerno, found themselves pinned on a beach overlooked by high ground and fortifications largely undamaged by the naval gunfire supporting the landings [Allied bombers had dropped their payloads BEHIND the German positions], and in a murderous crossfire from MG 42s and 34s. The 4th Infantry Division landing at UTAH, landed a mile to a mile and a half EAST of their landing zone. This proved fortunate, for a reception akin to the 1st and 29th's waited for them where they were supposed to land.

German reaction was haphazard and piecemeal. Many of the senior officers had been conducting a kriegsspiel   away from the front, and raced to get back. Erich Marcks, the LXXXIV Corps commander, and Gen. Dollmann, 7th Army commander died at the front. Germany's only real success was 21st Panzer Division's counterattack at Caen, which denied the city [a D-Day objective] to Montgomery for some three weeks [Monty's fabrications about Caen, when discovered by Eisenhower and the Americans began American disenchantment with the prima donna].Rommel returned to Normandy that evening. It was already too late. Panzergruppe West hadn't moved as soon as the alarm was sounded because Hitler was asleep, no one had the stones to wake him, and the Group could not be moved without his consent, When reserves from out of the battle zone were called up, Rommel proved right about the effect of Allied airpower. The 2nd SS Panzer Division, DAS REICH, called up from the Central Massif where it had been hunting guerillas, took 15 days to accomplish a 3 day march.

By nightfall, the beach head was well established, and the various units were linking up. Artificial harbors ["Mulberries"], towed over and sunk off the beaches allowed supplies to move inland unabated [until a storm destroyed on e of the mulberries. But success came at a cost. OMAHA Beach cost several thousand casualties [Bradley contemplated withdrawing from it in the morning]. But the Allies were ashore, and there to stay. Rommel had been right, drive them off the beaches, or fail. the Germans failed. The liberation of western Europe had begun.
   
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« Reply #23 on: June 05, 2016, 01:00:22 pm »

Tomorrow is one of the most important days in our history. Great post PzLdr!
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« Reply #24 on: June 05, 2016, 01:03:50 pm »

Love history. Info in that piece I never knew about. Thank you!
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« Reply #25 on: June 08, 2016, 12:08:45 am »

By June 8th, 1940, the Battle of France had begun its final phase. The British had been driven off the continent to lick their wounds and regroup. And off the coast of Norway, the Royal Navy was engaged in undertaking, and supporting the evacuation of the British and French troops of the Allied Expeditionary Force from Norway, where they had been engaged in a losing campaign with the Wehrmacht since April 9th.

Captain Dalrymple-Doyle, of His Majesty's Ship GLORIOUS, a fleet carrier was a man in a hurry that morning. He was in a hurry to get back to the Royal Navy's anchorage at Scapa Flow, so he could attend the court-martial of a much hated subordinate; a court-martial for which he had preferred the charges.

Given permission by the task force commander, GLORIOUS with two destroyers, detached from the fleet, and headed south. But for a man in a hurry, Dalrymple-Doyle acted in a curious manner. Of a total of six boilers, only two were providing power to the ship, the others being cold. Even more curious, despite the fact he was in the vicinity of Norway, and the Luftwaffe, Dalrymple-Doyle had no combat air patrols up covering his ship.

Bletchley Park, home of the ENIGMA code breakers, picked up German naval signals earlier. Those signals indicated that German heavy warships were lurking near Norway. They included the battlecruisers SCHARNHORST and GNIESENAU [9x11" guns],, and the heavy cruiser ADMIRAL HIPPER [8x8" guns].

SCHARNHORST and GNIESENAU [flying Admiral Wilhelm Marschall's ensign] had been ordered to Norway to attack Allied transports in the Fjords, and prevent the escape of Allied troops. HIPPER was seeking out enemy shipping.

Bletchley passed their intercepts to the Royal Navy, which both disregarded them, and failed to pass them along to their units operating off Norway. That coupled with Dalrymple-Doyle's failure to have all of six boilers fired and no CAP was about to lead to tragedy.

That morning HIPPER stopped, inspected and released a British hospital ship. Later she engaged a British destroyer, H.M.S. GLOWORM. The British ship attacked HIPPER with great ferocity and daring And while Hipper suffered some damage, GLOWORM was sunk [HIPPER's CAPTAIN sent a letter, via the Red Cross, to the Royal Navy recommending GLOWORM's Captain for a posthumous award(Victoria Cross-?) which was then awarded].SCHARNHORST and GNIESENAU further north, spotted smoke on the horizon. It was GLORIOUS and her two destroyers.

The German battlecruisers, GNIESENAU initially leading, increased speed, and closed on GLORIOUS. But it was SCHARNHORST, whose early salvos blew a hole in GLORIOUS' flight deck, that drew first blood. GLORIOUS would be flying no aircraft off her flight deck that day. As the Germans closed the range the destroyers made smoke, launched attacks, and did what they could to protect the carrier. But the Germans split duties. GNIESENAU engaged the destroyers, while SCHARNHORST savaged GLORIOUS, and then they switched off. The result was a foregone conclusion. GLORIOUS slowed, stopped and sank. Dalrymple-Doyle went down with his ship. For the first and only time in World War II, a full sized fleet carrier was sunk by a surface ship. Additionally both destroyers were sunk, but not before damaging SCHARNHORST.

German rescue operations were curtailed when they spotted more smoke to their northeast. At that time, the Germans broke off, and headed to Norway. Eventually they returned to Germany [as did HIPPER] for repairs.

Admiral Marschall received no kudos for his actions. Indeed he was dressed down for failing to follow the orders Grand Admiral Raeder had given him. That dressing down had long term repercussions. German Admirals operating at sea became loath to demonstrate any independence, and Admiral Lutjens' literal adherence to orders in the opening of the Battle of the Denmark Strait might well have led to BISMARCK's sinking, but for the intervention of BISMARCK's Captain, Ernst Lindemann.

From the British view, aside from damage to the German capital ships for the loss of one aircraft carrier and four destroyers, there was one thread of good luck. The Royal Navy never again ignored decrypts from Bletchley Park. In fact, in less than a year, during the hunt for BISMARCK, it was Bletchley Park that told the Royal Navy that the German battleship was heading for Brest. 
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« Reply #26 on: June 10, 2016, 10:54:26 pm »

It is probably, after the battle of Kursk, the most celebrated tank battle, albeit on a MUCH smaller scale, of WW II. And it made of forceful argument that the German practice of quality over quantity was not necessarily the wrong one.

Bernard Law Montgomery had a bone stuck in his throat. And that bone was a city in Normandy, France called Caen. Caen, with its road net and high ground to its north, was a tactical and strategic key to any breakout on the eastern [British side] of the Normandy bridgehead. So important, in fact, that it had been the prime D-Day objective for the British on June 6th itself. Some nine miles or so from the beaches, it appeared easily attainable. And it might have been, but for the intervention of the 21st Panzer. As a result of that action, Caen remained in German hands - except in messages from 21st Army Group [Montgomery] to SHAEF [Eisenhower], where, mirabile dictu, SHAEF got the impression Caen was in British hands.

Efforts to remedy the situation first took an attempt at a double envelopment by 51st Highlander and other units. It failed. So did local probing attacks.

And then, to the British right front [west of Caen], the U.S 1st Infantry Division ["The Big Red One"], pushed the 352d German ID [who they had been fighting since OMAHA Beach] back and opened a corridor that offered Monty a chance to bypass Caen, and cut it off.

The operation was undertaken by the British 7th Armored Division, the famed "Desert Rats" of North Africa. And at first the offensive went extremely well. they took the Germans by surprise, in large part because they were moving along undiscovered by the Germans. When they reached Villers - Bocage, a village full of French civilians, they were welcomed warmly. Reconnaissance units were ordered ahead while elements of the armor and armored infantry halted and, in some cases, stopped for tea. No defensive screen was pushed out, despite the fact that fleeing Germans had been sighted, and the British had been sighted by the Germans. Enter Michael Wittmann.

Michael Wittmann was an SS Obersturmfuehrer [First Lieutenant], commanding 2d Company of the 1st SS Schwere [Heavy] Panzer Battalion, attached to 1st SS Panzer Corps. Wittmann, a veteran of the German Army, had jopined the Waffen SS before the war. He had commanded Sturmgeschutz IIIs in Poland and France, and a Panzer Mark III company in the early stages of BARBAROSSA. By 1942, he was attending the SS Junkerschule [SS Officer Candidate School] at Bad Tolz. By 1943, Wittmann was in command of his first TIGER I, and at Kursk, in 1943, Wittmann [with a gunner of superb ability named Balthazar 'Bobby" Wohl] made his bones big time, destroying  over 30 tanks, and numerous AT guns, trucks, etc.

But now, Wittmann was deployed just to the northwest of Villers - Bocage, with orders to observe the enemy, and hold his position. Realizing the size of the enemy column, and having only five or six TIGERS, Wittmann sent some of the platoon to alert Battalion of the enemy's presence, and to alert 1st Company to his rear. Wittmann then climbed into one of the TIGERS [222?], along with Wohl, and prepared to attack. Allegedly Wohl took in the scene in town and remarked that the British acted as if the war was already won. Supposedly Wittmann responded to the effect that they would show them they were mistaken .And the TIGER moved into the attack.

The TIGER I panzer was an approximately 60 ton behemoth, built around its 88 mm high velocity gun. It carried machine guns in its bow, and on its turret. While not sloped [it was designed in 1936], it carried some 4" of frontal and turret armor, and was fairly heavily armored everywhere but the rear. When first introduced in 1942, it was invulnerable to every tank on the battlefield, and all AT guns. By 1944, there were some solutions [the Joseph Stalin series, and the SHERMAN "Firefly" (an M4 SHERMAN modified by installing a British 17 pounder cannon)]. But aside from that there was NO tank, that could take on a TIGER and survive.

As Wittmann rolled into town, the first two British tanks he encountered were positioned in such a  way that they couldn't see Wittmann. The 88 roared, and both tanks went up in flames. They also blocked the road. Wittmann then rolled down the street, destroying to STUART light tanks, two headquarters tanks [one with a dummy gun, a couple of FIREFLIES, and numerous half tracks, and soft skinned vehicles [trucks, jeeps] with his machine guns. One SHERMAN that got behind him fired two rounds into the rear armor without effect. Wittmann traversed the turret to the rear, and took that Sherman out.

Somewhere in the village, near a store or apothecary, Wittmann was engaged by a 6 pound AT gun. Like Paris with Achilles, the gun struck the most vulnerable place on the TIGER, the track, disabling the German tank. Secure in the knowledge he'd be able to return for his track, Wittmann and the crew locked it up, but didn't destroy it, and returned to the German lines on foot. For Wittmann, Villers - Bocage was over. But not for the British.

Two more of the TIGERS from 2d Company now continued the attack, and were shortly joined by tanks [including MARK IVs - long barreled 75 mm gun]. The British were driven out of town, but held on a nearby ridge, driving back German attacks with heavy losses to the Germans. But, eventually, the British  withdrew from the ridge. Operation GOOD WOOD was over. Villers - Bocage was secured by the Germans. And Caen remained a bone in Monty's throat [his duplicity about his failure to capture Caen on D-Day marked the beginning of the estrangement and lack of trust between Montgomery and SHAEF, but especially between Montgomery and the Americans].

The Germans lost at least 6 TIGERS [most repaired, like Wittmann's] and suffered fairly heavy losses. Wittmann destroyed, by himself, a dozen tanks, and probably more than a dozen other vehicles - all in the space of about 15 minutes. It is considered by many to be the greatest single tank action of World War II. Because aside from the destruction Wittmann wrought, he singlehandedly stalled, and with help, stopped a British offensive.

Wittmann went on to be credited with approximately 142 destroyed enemy tanks, plus several hundred trucks, half tracks and cannons. After Villers-Bocage , he was promoted to SS Hauptsturmfuehrer [Captain]. He was awarded the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves for Villers-Bocage. Wittmann also held the Iron Cross, First and Second Degree, the tank combat badge and the Wounds Badge [the German equivalent to the Purple Heart. Michael Wittmann was killed in combat on August 8th, 1944, while engaging aqt least five or six enemy tanks. He destroyed three, but was in turn destroyed by a SHERMAN FIREFLY. Wittmann's body was not found until well after the war. He is buried in a German military cemetery in France.
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Charlespg
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« Reply #27 on: June 11, 2016, 08:20:43 pm »

What was it that the crews said ?
it took  5 shermans  to knock one tiger
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« Reply #28 on: June 11, 2016, 08:28:56 pm »

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerard_Broadmead_Roope



Quote
       The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS for valour to:?
The late Lieutenant-Commander Gerard Broadmead ROOPE, Royal Navy. On the 8th April, 1940, H.M.S. Glowworm was proceeding alone in heavy weather towards a rendezvous in West Fjord, when she met and engaged two enemy destroyers, scoring at least one hit on them. The enemy broke off the action and headed North, to lead the Glowworm on to his supporting forces. The Commanding Officer, whilst correctly appreciating the intentions of the enemy, at once gave chase. The German heavy cruiser, Admiral Hipper, was sighted closing the Glowworm at high speed and an enemy report was sent which was received by H.M.S. Renown. Because of the heavy sea, the Glowworm could not shadow the enemy and the Commanding Officer therefore decided to attack with torpedoes and then to close in order to inflict as much damage as possible.


 Five torpedoes were fired and later the remaining five, but without success. The Glowworm was badly hit; one gun was out of action and her speed was much reduced, but with the other three guns still firing she closed and rammed the Admiral Hipper. As the Glowworm drew away, she opened fire again and scored one hit at a range of 400 yards. The Glowworm, badly stove in forward and riddled with enemy fire, heeled over to starboard, and the Commanding Officer gave the order to abandon her. Shortly afterwards she capsized and sank. The Admiral Hipper hove to for at least an hour picking up survivors but the loss of life was heavy, only 31 out of the Glowworm's complement of 149 being saved.
Full information concerning this action has only recently been received and the VICTORIA CROSS is bestowed in recognition of the great valour of the Commanding Officer who, after fighting off a superior force of destroyers, sought out and reported a powerful enemy unit, and then fought his ship to the end against overwhelming odds, finally ramming the enemy with supreme coolness and skill.

? Supplement to London Gazette, 6 July 1945 (dated 10 July 1945)[2]             
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« Reply #29 on: June 16, 2016, 12:36:09 am »

By Spring of 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte, late Emperor of the French, escaped his exile on Elba, avoided British naval patrols, and landed on the southern coast of mainland France with the remnant of the imperial guard, some 600 men, he had taken to Elba, with him. He then struck out for Paris, the capitol, and seat of the restored Bourbon king, Louis XVIII. As he proceeded north, first towns, then cities opened their gates to him. First smaller, then larger military units defected to him. By the time he arrived at the Tulliers, and sent Louis packing, almost all of his old generals and Marshals were at his side. Having retaken his throne, Napoleon's problem was keeping it.

Peace feelers went nowhere. The Seventh Alliance, including Britain, Prussia, Russia, Austria and Sweden began organizing and moving their troops toward the French border. The Austrians and Russians were in Germany, and would take some time to reach France. Of more immediate concern, and much closer, were the armies of the Duke of Wellington, composed of British, Dutch and German troops, and the Prussian army of Marshal Blucher, both in Belgium, and close to the French border. Napoleon decided to strike there, hopefully destroy those armies and either force a peace, or fall on the Austrians and Russians thereafter.

Napoleon's Armee du Nord  had several advantages, but several problems as well. Most of his troops, and their commanders were veterans, but not all. The catastrophic losses in horses Napoleon suffered in Russia still haunted his artillery, and especially his cavalry. His cavalry was also hampered by Napoleon's refusal to accept the services of his brother-in-law, Marshal Murat, King of Naples, and the finest cavalry commander of the age; due to Murat's defection during the 1814 campaign.

Another of Napoleon's problems was utilizing the Marshals he had. Napoleon's erstwhile Chief of Staff, Marshal Berthier, had died under mysterious circumstances [either a suicide, or from being pushed off the roof of his residence]. Napoleon appointed Marshal Soult as his successor. Soult was one of Napoleon's finest fighting generals. But he had never held a staff position. Another of Napoleon's premiere combat commanders, if not his best, Marshal Davout, was left to man the Seine defenses. To command the two wings of his Army, he appointed Marshal Michel Ney, and his last appointed Marshal, Grouchy. Now Ney was a fighter par excellence, brave to the pint of foolhardiness. But he was no thinker. Grouchy had been the general commanding the Guard cavalry, but had never commanded mixed arms, nor a Corps, let alone an army wing. And both suffered from an inherent weakness in the Napoleonic command system. Napoleon preferred to personally direct his battles. While his Marshals were perfectly adapted to moving their Corps pursuant to the grand scheme, they were not normally put in the position to independently fight battles out of the Master's presence [Davout and Surrurier were exceptions as was Soult and Massena].

Napoleon opened his campaign with a masterstroke. Wellington had been faked into believing Napoleonj would move against his supply line at Ostend. Instead, having concentrated his troops in secret, he attacked the Prussians at Ligny, and routed them. He then sent Ney to attack the British at Quatre Bras. In one move he had split the two Allied armies. He then sent Grouchy after the Prussians with orders to follow them [and implicitly, keep them away from the battlefield], expecting the Prussian to fall back on their supply bases to the northwest. The Prussians, however, moved in an arc through Wavre, heading in a westerly direction, to join Wellington.

Wellington, having delayed Ney at Quatre Bras, then fell back to a position he had selected during a terrain inspection beforehand, Mont St. Jean - a ridgeline at the place we call Waterloo.

Napoleon, and the left [larger] wing of his army followed. But during the night the army,  line of march, as well as the battlefield were caught in a downpour. Among other things that meant that on June 18th, the French waited until late morning, or early afternoon to start the battle because until then, the ground wasn't firm enough for the French artillery, and Napoleon was using a Grand Batterie of massed cannon, a tactic he had developed to compensate for greener and greener infantry regiments that required attacking in battalion columns for control.

The two immediate objectives of the French were the farms at Hougemont and La Haye Saint. the French took the latter, after severe fighting, but never did take the former. And as the battle developed, it became obvious that the center of the line was the key. As was his wont, Wellington deployed his troops on the rear of the ridge in two lines. This allowed him to screen his troops from French eyes, negate the anticipated artillery bombardment, and hold a longer front with fewer troops. And the French infantry attacks were repulsed [As Wellington later said, "They came at us the same old way. And we beat them back the same old way"].

The battle in the center then evolved into a clash of British cavalry and French cavalry, with the French eventually coming out on top. But then Ney led a series of cavalry charges against the British infantry in squares. As a result, the French cavalry was rendered hors de combat, while the British held.

All this took place out of sight of Napoleon, who remained at his headquarters at the farm named La Belle Alliance [the French name for the battle of Waterloo]. Napoleon was ill that day. He may have been suffering from hemorrhoids, which prevented him from sitting a horse [although he was on one later in the day], or he may have been suffering from some sort of fainting spell. In any case, Ney was fighting WITHOUT his master's supervision. And yet, he was on the verge of success. Wellington's center was almost broken. But when Ney tried to send in reserves, Napoleon finally intervened and cancelled the attack. Although he didn't know it, Napoleon had effectively lost the battle of Waterloo. Because about five miles to the east [three hours marching time], the French and their Emperor sighted the first of streams of Prussians approaching the battlefield. Bonaparte then ordered troops on his right to turn, face and engage this new enemy.

As the mass of Prussians got larger and closer, and the pressure on his right increased, Napoleon began looking for Grouchy. But Grouchy was still doggedly following the rear of the Prussian forces [he would engage and defeat the Prussian rear guard at Wavre, all to no purpose]. When General La Salle, hearing the sounds of battle to the west begged Grouchy to head to the sound of the guns, Grouchy refused, citing his orders to follow the Prussians. Napoleon's refusal to train and encourage initiative in his Marshals was coming home to bite him in the buttocks.

With his right collapsing, and the Prussians joining with the British, Napoleon played his last card, and the battle reached its climax. He sent in the Imperial Guard to attack the British center. the Imperial Guard was the elite military formation in the French Army. They were the Waffen SS, USMC, and the 7th Cav., all rolled into one. They had never failed in battle. Until now. The Guard was driven back, and while tactically it was bad, from the point of view of French Army morale, it was catastrophic. With shouts of "Le Garde recule", the French infantry units began to lose cohesion, dissolve, and flee for their lives [Reserve units of the Guard covered the rout. When called on to surrender in the face of British cannon, one commander was supposed to have declaimed "The Guard knows how to die, but not surrender", or more prosaically, and probably more truthfully, "Merde"]. Prussian cavalry was only too happy to pursue and butcher the fleeing French.

Napoleon sheltered in a Guard square for awhile before fleeing the battlefield. His coach was found later that night. Although Davout urged him to hold out, Napoleon again abdicated. His plans to flee for America were scotched by the British naval blockade. He then petitioned the British crown to live in England. Instead he wound up on the windswept island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic where he died some six years later.

Marshal Ney was arrested in Paris by the returned Louis XVIII. Having not only failed to bring Napoleon to Louis in a cage, as he had promised during Bonaparte's march on Paris, but instead joining him, Ney was court-martialed, and sentenced to death by firing squad. Requests for mercy by Allied commanders and royalty were ignored. One Russian general who witnessed the execution was relieved of duty by the Czar.

With Waterloo, the Age of Napoleon, and the Napoleonic Wars were over. Except for the Crimean War, Europe would be at peace for 99 years.
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You can get more with a smile, a handshake and a gun than you can with a smile and a handshake - Al Capone
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