HMS Hunter, Sunk During First Battle of Narvik 10 April 1940, Found in One Thousand Feet of Water – Part 15

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USS Iowa in a floating drydock at Manus Island, Ulithi Atoll, 28 December 1944.

You can see the mammoth size of a floating dry-dock big enough to take a battleship. This happens to be an American floating dry-dock big enough to take a the largest size US battleship. The Royal Navy had several floating dry docks which could accommodate battleships and these dry-docks were prime targets.

There was a huge floating dry-dock in Alexandria, Egypt, the main base of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet. This had been towed to Alexandria by the Royal Navy because at one point as many as five Royal Navy battleships were on station there. German and Italian aircraft bombed the port on a regular basis hoping to hit the floating dry-dock but never succeeded in putting it out of action.

From Sailor’s Odyssey: Autobiography of Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope by Admiral of the Fleet Andrew Browne Cunningham, 1st Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope, KT, GCB, OM, DSO and two Bars (7 January 1883 – 12 June 1963):

The Italians, I may say, kept their bombing rigidly to the port. When the Luftwaffe arrived they bombed indiscriminately all over the city, particularly in the Arab quarter teeming with natives and their families.

 

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The 15 inch guns of HMS Warspite bombarding German positions around Caen during the invasion of Normandy. In the beginning years of the war, HMS Warspite was the flagship of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet.

[Source: Sailor’s Odyssey: Autobiography of Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope by Admiral of the Fleet Andrew Browne Cunningham, 1st Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope, KT, GCB, OM, DSO and two Bars (7 January 1883 – 12 June 1963). Images courtesy of Wikipedia and the Imperial War Museum.]

Cat Leads D-Day Invasion

Of course, after yesterday’s post, the cat lovers of the world had to have their moment of glory. Slate decided to fulfill that need by showcasing the role of cats in the US military which is “less publicized – and far more essential to top-secret US military operations.”

Since I’ve discussed World War Two extensively here, the following images caught my eye:

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The CATS program originated during World War II and was instrumental in the invasion of Normandy. Photo illustration by Holly Allen, photograph by STF/AFP/Getty Images.

 

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An upcoming 10-part HBO series will tell the true story of an elite feline unit during World War II and will be directed by Tom Hanks. Photo illustration by Holly Allen.

[Images courtesy of Slate.]

Did The British and Americans Shoot German POWs? Yes.

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Pvt Shanklin 501st PIR (parachute infantry regiment) of the 101st Airborne, in a posed shot in Turqueville, on the road running East out of Sainte Mere Eglise.

(caption and photo identification courtesy of   WW2 talk forum US Airborne at Normandy)

On the Western front, the Germans and the Allies usually observed the major elements of the Geneva Conventions but sometimes the Americans along with British and Commonwealth troops shot German soldiers who were trying to surrender or who had surrendered. But many times in the heat of battle, both sides shot prisoners. We, that is the Americans and the British, did our fair share.

“Our tough first sergeant grabbed me and ordered me to take the SS prisoners behind the church and shoot them…They were too much to guard at this crucial point in the battle. He looked and me and said, “Now!”…I turned to the prisoners sitting on the floor and motioned them outside…I walked them out the door and to the left around the building where I lost no time in firing a round into the back of the man nearest me. Both men dropped instantly…I fired a round into the head of each one…went through the pockets of the dead men. I came up with several tins of sardines, cheese and hard biscuits that I stuffed into my pocket…”

From Visions From A Foxhole: A Rifleman in Patton’s Ghost Corps by William A. Foley, Jr. (This is the best memoir written by a U.S. Infantryman in WW II in the European Theater and I give it five stars.)


The international laws of war in effect during World War Two had been formally codified by the Hague Convention of 1904 and three different Geneva conventions adopted at different times and covering different groups of people including mariners, sick and wounded, prisoners of war and civilians. All of these have been amended many times or have been mostly superseded by the Fourth Geneva Convention, adopted in 1949.

When you watch World War Two movies and the soldiers refer to the “Geneva Convention” they are referring to the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of 1929. (All of these conventions were signed in Geneva, Switzerland as you might imagine).

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The original copy of the first Geneva Convention, the first international treaty of its kind. The official name is the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field”. It was adopted on 22 August 1864

 


 

American paratroopers were trying to advance down a road on D-Day in the face of withering fire from German machine guns. In fighting that morning, the Americans had taken 75 German POWs. They lined them up and forced them to march down the road toward the machine guns ahead of the American paratroopers.
“They (the American officers) were hoping the enemy wouldn’t fire on their own, but it didn’t make any difference to the men on the machine guns, and they opened up, drilling holes in their own comrades in trying to hit the American troopers. The prisoners started screaming, ‘nicht schiessen‘ (don’t shoot) and leaped headfirst for the ditch, and possible escape, so we opened up on them too…before the shooting stopped they were all dead.”

From Currahee: A Screaming Eagle at Normandy by Donald R. Burgett


 

Shortly after the 45th Division hit the beach at Scoglitti, (during the invasion of Sicily) two of its men, a captain and a sergeant, in two separate incidents had lined up and and murdered in cold blood seventy-nine German POWs. When I learned of these appalling incidents I at once reported them to Patton. I do not believe Patton fully grasped the gravity of the matter, or his moral sense had completely deserted him….he told me to tell the two men to certify that the dead men were snipers or had attempted to escape or something…. I, of course, disregarded those absurd instructions and general court martial proceedings were brought against the two men.

From A General’s Life: An Autobiography by General of the Army Omar N. Bradley.

The reference to snipers is interesting. Both sides detested snipers and neither side gave quarter to captured snipers. Apparently, this was an unspoken understanding.

the Normandy invasion “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life…”

“… the German Army was the outstanding fighting force of the Second World War and … could be defeated by Allied soldiers only under the most overwhelmingly favorable conditions.”

Sir Max Hastings writing in his book Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy.

 

US-Soldaten helfen am 06. Juni 1944 am Strandabschnitt Utah Beach nahe Cherbourg in der Normandie einigen Kameraden an Land, deren Landungsboot bei der Invasion gesunken war und die sich mit einem Rettungsboot in Sicherheit bringen konnten. Am 06. Juni 2004 jaehrt sich die Landung der Alliierten Invasionstruppen am D-Day zu einer der entscheidenden Schlachten des 2. Weltkriegs zum 60. Mal. Foto: Weintraub/US-Army/ddp *** Local Caption ***

Members of an American landing party assist troops whose landing craft was sunk by enemy fire off Omaha beach, near Colleville sur Mer, on June 6, 1944. (Photo courtesy of US National Archives)

Like any institution, an army is a reflection of the society which produces it. In Germany, the infantry had always been the dominant arm of the fighting forces. The German Army in World War Two was deeply influenced by the culture and traditions of the Prussian Army. The unitary state of Germany was established under the leadership of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1871 after the Prussians defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71.

The Kingdom of Prussia comprised over 60% of the new German state or empire and the King of Prussia became German Emperor or Kaiser which translates as “Caesar.” Even after leading the Germans to victory, Prussia still did not have the political strength to abolish the other kingdoms which only came into the Empire because they were acknowledged as separate entities within the empire.

Thus, from its creation in 1871 to its collapse in 1918, the German Empire contained within it four kingdoms: Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria and Württemberg. Each had a king and an army and in certain areas their own laws. Confusing? Yes, it was.

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Map of the German Empire showing the many bits and pieces which maintained a certain distinctive place and the four kingdoms which remained completely separate.

 

In Prussia, the army, which was mainly composed of infantry, was the core institution of the Kingdom. In the 1700s it was often said that Prussia was simply an army which controlled a kingdom rather than the other way around.
The best and the brightest went into the infantry and infantry service was seen as a duty to the state. In Prussia, the army was known as “the school of the nation.”

To be an infantry officer in Prussia, and later Imperial Germany, and later in Nazi Germany, was to hold a position of great prestige. And the Prussian (later German) Army always had a much smaller ratio of officers to men than other armies – less than 3% in 1939 compared to more than 8% in the US Army. In the US in World War Two, the smartest men were creamed off for the artillery, air force, staff, and planning leaving the infantry with what was left. The US Army gave an exam to each recruit equivalent to an IQ test and the lowest scoring men were sent to the infantry.

Die Alliierten bringen am 06. Juni 1944 an dem Brueckenkopf am Strandabschnitt Omaha-Beach an der Kueste der Normandie frische Truppen und Nachschub an Land. Am 06. Juni 2004 jaehrt sich die Landung der Alliierten Invasionstruppen am D-Day zu einer der entscheidenden Schlachten des 2. Weltkriegs zum 60. Mal. Foto: US-Army/ddp

D-Day, the invasion of France, June 6, 1944. American craft of all styles at Omaha Beach, Normandy, during the first stages of the Allied invasion. Click to fade to a view of Omaha Beach on May 7, 2014, near Colleville sur Mer, France. (Photo courtesy of US National Archives)

When the American infantry met the German infantry, we were putting the least skilled and least intelligent of our men against their most skilled and most intelligent men. The results can been seen in the campaign for Western Europe. Time and again major Allied attacks were stopped by a handful of decimated German divisions.

 

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A crashed U.S. fighter plane on the waterfront some time after Canadian forces came ashore on a Juno Beach D-Day landing zone in Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, France, in June 1944

Of the ground forces available to American commanders, the US Field Artillery was by far and away the most outstanding arm of of the US Army ground forces. Approximately 2% of artillerymen were killed in action. For American infantry, it was far, far higher. Most infantry units routinely lost half or almost all of their front line or “bayonet strength” every few weeks during heavy fighting. Young infantry officers who had never been in combat rarely survived more than a few weeks.

Because the KIA rate in the Field Artillery was so low, and because these men had scored higher on the aptitude and intelligence tests given by the army, they were put through rigorous technical training to master the complexities of their weaponry. So they knew what they were doing, became highly experienced, and most important, fought together in their same units for most of the war. There is an inestimable value of having experienced troops who have fought together for a long time in your army. It is worth noting that in World War Two, over 50% of men killed in action were killed by artillery and we had more artillery than anyone on the Western front.

In an emergency, perhaps a front line unit in danger of being overrun, an American Army corps, which consisted of three divisions, could immediately muster as many as 400 barrels of artillery, bring them all under one command and fire a “serenade.” This meant that each battery of artillery, no matter where they were, fired in the their own “time on target” so that all 400 artillery shells would arrive at the same place at the same time. You can imagine the effect this had.

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US Army Field Artillery firing in support of ground troops, France 1944.

Unfortunately, the US Army in World War Two treated its infantry worse than any other arm of the service. Men lived on canned food for weeks. In the winter of 44/45, most front-line US infantry did not have winter boots while all the rear services had them. I could go on and on but to read about the suffering the US Infantry in WW II went through just because no one would pay attention is sickening.

 

“the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life…” said the Duke of Wellington after his great victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.