Tag Archives: ISMM

The Sound of Drums

.The Sound of Drums

The Sound of Drums

Since the beginning of warfare leaders needed to be able to communicate with their troops from a distance. To get their commands heared through the din of battle. during the roar of battle. In many places in the world, the drum has always been one of the most favored methods of battlefield communication.

Drums would be used to men where to gather, and when to attack. When to leave the battlefield and when to curfew had fallen on the camp. From a distance, units could communicate with other to coordinate. Drums would also help the soldiers keep their pace when marching.

Since our military heritage is drawn mainly from European tradition, it is interesting to note that prior to the Crusades, drums were not used in European armies. In fact, when facing off against the forces of Islam, who made heavy use of large kettledrums to command the troops, they found that their horses reacted poorly to the noise to which they had never heard. Early battles were heavily affected by the enemies drums until they grew accustomed.

Returning armies worked the drums into their operations. By the time that the European powers came to the American continent, they found themselves up against indigenous people that had been using drums for communication for thousands of years.

Drums, bugles and other musical instruments found their way into the US military. They only started to fade from use during the Civil War when the telegraph began taking its place in the command and control realm. Eventually, the radio would provide the most direct communication method and the drums fell silent as a battlefield tool.

A Doughboy In The Trenches

Doughboy

A Doughboy In The Trenches

The term doughboy was used for members of the American Expeditionary Force that fought in France during WWI. The name itself though was used long before that. During the Napoleonic wars, a doughboy referred to a fried flour dumpling that was popular among the British in Spain. Eventually, this small cake would evolve into the modern doughnut.

Mexican War

The term doughboy in reference to soldiers, however, started a little after that. During the Mexican – American War (1846-48) the term was used for American infantry and while no one knows for sure where the term came from there are a number of possibilities.

One theory has to do with the environment that the infantry marched through in Mexico. It was dry and very dusty. As they marched mile after mile they became covered head to toe in a fine layer of dust. To some, it looked like they were covered with flour. The cavalry, with no love lost for the infantry, took to calling them doughboys as a derogatory term.  Sounds about right and would fit in with other appellations for American soldiers such as dog face, grunt, joe, etc.

WWI

In the years between the Mexican War and WWI, the name was not used very much though, only becoming popular again when the Americans showed up in France. This time though it may have come from another source. It seems that along with hundreds of thousands of infantry, the Americans also sent the Salvation Army volunteers to support the troops. One of their best-known services for the men was the making of doughnuts. Millions of them that were delivered to the American troops serving on the front-lines. It would not be a huge jump in logic to see French and British troops chiding the Yankees and amount of fried dough they were subject to. Doughboy would not be that much of a leap. (It could also have been used to mock the perceived weakness of the raw and unblooded American troops.)

Whichever theory you want to subscribe to the fact is the term doughboy is one that will always bring to mind the American soldiers in the muddy and dark trenches in France, much like those young men in the picture above.

AH-1 Cobra: Small Package, Big Punch

AH-1 Cobra: Small Package, Big Punch

AH-1 Cobra: Small Package, Big Punch

Above is a decommissioned version of the AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter. One of the workhorses of the Vietnam War.  From 1967 when it first entered service until 1973 over 1,000 of these saw service.  Over that time they accumulated over 1 million hours of operational time.

Their main mission was close fire support of the infantry. They also served as escorts for the troop helicopters and as highly mobile rocket artillery platforms. Basically, they did whatever was needed. During the war, almost 300 were lost due to combat and other incidents.

The Cobra comes in a number of variants that served many different roles and as such. They have seen a lot of action. Starting in Vietnam, then the invasion of Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989. The 1991 Gulf War saw the AH-1 and its variants in action. In they were on the scene in Somalia and again later in 1994 during the armed intervention in Haiti.

In 1999 the US Army officially pulled the AH-1 from active service. They found a home though with NATO and other allies. Over the years they have served a vital role for the US Forest Service, not as gunships, but as firefighting equipment. The AH-1W SuperCobra and AH-1Z Viper still are used by the US Marine Corps.

The AH-1G HueyCobra, the most common one in Vietnam had a maximum speed of 171mph and an effective range of 357 miles. For armament, it depended on the job but could include: 2 7.62 mm miniguns, 2 M129 grenade launchers, rocket pods, and additional minigun pods. Basically, for a small chopper, it packed a heck of a punch.

Lincoln and the Spencer Rifle

Spencer-Lincoln

Lincoln and the Spencer Rifle

Gather round for a story about the indomitable President Lincoln and the famous Spencer rifle.

The popular version of the story tells how on late a Summer day in 1863 Christopher Spencer, the inventor of the Spencer repeating rifle, took his invention to the White House to demonstrate it for the President. On that day out in the backyard of the White House Lincoln took the rifle in his hand and fired seven rounds at a painted target board, hitting it in rapid succession. Duly impressed the story goes that he ordered a large quantity of the rifles on the spot.

That board that he shot at that day is in the picture above having been given to Christopher Spencer as a souvenir.

The Real Story

 

Now for the real story. It turns out that the Spencer rifle was already in service in the Federal Army in small numbers. The Navy Department had heard about it and wanted to order some for their own use. Eventually, the Navy’s request reached the desk of Lincoln who was intrigued and asked for a rifle to evaluate for himself. He received one, and it didn’t work. He took the second one, and it didn’t work. After that, he denied the request for the Navy and went about his business (you know, running a war).

A higher up at the Spencer Company heard about the President’s experience and sent Christopher Spencer to change his mind. Once in front of Lincoln, he had Spencer strip the rifle down. Once reassembled they went out and shot at the board. The same one in the picture above. The rifle worked perfectly this time. Lincoln thanked Spencer and sent him on his way.

The next morning Lincoln went out with his secretary and shot the rifle again and became duly impressed. Eventually, an order was placed and the Spencer became a part of history. So not quite as exciting as the campfire tale that is told, but even the biggest legends have to start somewhere.

 

 

The Iron Cross

The Iron Cross

The Iron Cross

 

The Iron Cross is probably one of the most distinctive military decorations that there has ever been.  Beyond just a commendation it also became part of the identity of the German army in the past and into the present.

Its design can be traced back to the Crusades when the King of Jerusalem gave the Teutonic Order permission to combine their solid black cross to the silver Cross of Jerusalem. The first award as a military decoration goes back to 1813 and the Napoleonic Wars. The Prussian King decided that it would best symbolize courage and strength. The decoration would be used again during the Franco-Prussian War, World War I and World War II.

As a symbol of the German Army it was used during World War I and retired at the end of the war. Only to be brought to the fore again by the Nazis in 1939. Sometimes even adorned with the swastika. After the war, it fell out of favor but was reinstated in 1956 by the West Germans. After reunification, it remains the symbol of the German Army today in various forms.

Interestingly enough, the Iron Cross citation was never revived in Germany post WWII. Though they did reissue the awards won during the war without the Nazi symbols attached to them. There has been somewhat of a movement to reinstate the Iron Cross award. In the meantime, though a new award has been put in place at the same level, The Cross of Honor for Bravery.  Which is more reminiscent in design to an older Prussian medal.

Fort Dearborn or at Least a Model of it…

A Modle of Fort Dearborn

Fort Dearborn or at Least a Model of it…

 

The frontier was a rough place during the colonial era, and after the American Revolution is was even more so. As America started moving West a series of forts were built along strategic points. The forts were built to keep an eye on the natives and British. Over time they quickly became hubs for settlers and merchants that looked to bring civilization to the wild lands.

In 1803 on the shores of Lake Michigan where the Chicago river feeds into a Fort Dearborn was built, named after the Secretary of War, Henry Dearborn. Once the fort was built it did not take long for it to become a thriving center of frontier life. So of course it would become a target.

During the War of 1812, the outpost commander General William Hull looked around and decided that being on the frontier, surrounded by enemies and with help a long way away it would be best to abandon the fort temporarily. A such he ordered an evacuation. Unfortunately in the middle of the evacuation a group of approximately 500 Potawatomi Indians took issue with that and proceeded to attack the evacuees. Killing a good number of them and selling the rest to the British. For good measure they burned down the fort.

The fort was rebuilt in 1816.  It served on and off again to host garrisons during the various Indian uprisings of the era. In 1837 is was turned over to the city and basically decommissioned. Through the years construction, fire and the need for more land has destroyed most traces of the fort. The original placement is still marked in Chicago at the intersection of Wacker Drive and Michigan Ave. The model above shows the first iteration of the fort and is hosted at the Illinois State Military Museum.

 

The Tulacingo Cuirassiers, Mexican Heavy Horse

The Tulacingo Cuirassiers, Mexican Heavy Horse

The Tulacingo Cuirassiers

 

During the Mexican-American War (1846 to 1848) the US forces matched up against a Mexican Army that was on one hand, well-trained professional soldiers and untrained peasants on the other. While outnumbered in almost every battle the US forces were able to dominate almost every battlefield and successfully win their first war on foreign soil.  Winning this war gave the United States most of the Southwest portion of the country.

One of the most colorful units of the Mexican Army was the Tulancing Cuirassiers. They were a heavy cavalry unit that saw action in many battles of the war. The chest piece (or cuirass) and helmet above belonged to one of the soldiers from that unit. In effect these men were tanks. Large, heavily armored and used for smashing into the lines of enemy infantry. Normally they would carry a long sword and two pistols.

Spectacular

The Tulancing Cuirassiers uniform was reportedly something spectacular. The officers (which the piece above probably belonged to) wore a sky-blue coat with crimson cuffs an collars. Their pantaloons were crimson, and most likely had a sky-blue stripe. The helmet made of solid brass with a long black horsetail plume attached. Around the base of the helmet was a band of jaguar skin. They were patterned on the classic French Cuirassier units from the Napoleonic Wars, with a bit of hometown flair.

Snappy Dressers

The piece above is missing some parts and it’s a little hard to imagine what it looked like back in the day. The picture under the display gives you an idea of what the full piece looked like. The gentleman in the middle shows the entire uniform in all its glory. All in all, while not much actual protection on the battlefield, but they certainly made for some snappy dressers.

 

 

 

Mr. Madison’s War and Secession

The War of 1812 is one that many Americans know little about. Sometimes it is seen as a continuation of the American Revolution, sometimes just flat-out forgotten in the recounting of our history. The basic facts are that the United States went to war against Great Britain for a number of years between 1812 and 1815. The causes and reasons for the war are wide and varied and frankly a little embarrassing.  Had communication between the leadership of the two countries been more expedient it possibly could have been avoided. Battles were fought, lost and won by both sides, and in the end it was perhaps at best a draw. However the most interesting part of the conflict was not  fought on land or on sea but in a meeting hall in Hartford Connecticut in 1815.

The war was not popular, especially among the Federalist Party in New England. They saw it as unnecessary and called out President James Madison for being reckless, in their circles it was even referred to as Mr. Madison’s War.  Some of the New England states actively refused to take part, which made the fight against Canada a little hard.  They would not allow their militia to leave their states and when it came time to move into Canada they flat-out refused. Later in the war, as the weight of the British Navy was being felt these states suffered most by the pseudo blockade to the pint were the town of Nantucket declared  themselves neutral in the war.

The Federalists began calling for New England to secede from the union as they felt that the national government was no longer acting in good faith. At one point a secret envoy was even sent to London to discuss the possibility of a separate peace. The movement came to a head in a series of meetings in Hartford between December 15, 1814 and January 5, 1815, known as the Hartford Convention.

During the meeting the Federalists put together a long list of grievances against the Federal government The running theme was states rights and nullification, the ability of a State to opt not to follow Federal law. Issues with balance of power were brought up, the feeling that the Southern states were over represented in the government thanks to the 3/5 clause of the Constitution. Economic issues were brought forward, tariffs and trade that were unfair and unbalanced. While the idea of separating from the union was discussed, the main product of the convention was a number of proposed amendments of the Constitution. While the conversation got heated at times, cooler heads prevailed. What the delegates did not know was that the war they were protesting was actually over, the Treaty of Ghent had been signed by the two parties and was en route to Washington.

The idea of secession would not go away, in fact up until the Civil War the idea of secession, that it was possible and legal had become party of the national conversation. Cloaked in the wording of States Rights, which was a concept that existed long before the South appropriated it as a justification for slavery, the New England states almost beat the Confederacy to the punch nearly two generations earlier.

The picture above shows the uniforms of the regular US Army soldier, in the front, and a typical militia style soldier in the rear.

Patton Would Approve (M60 Patton)

M60 Patton

Patton Would Approve (M60 Patton)

 

That above is an M60 Patton. The M60 and its variants served as the main battle tank for the US Army up until it was finally replaced by the M1A1 Abrams in 1997. Coming into service in 1960 it was manufactured until 1987 with over 15,000 units being built during that time. Of course, there are still numerous units in service not only in the US military but in the military of many countries around the world. The story though is how it came about.

In 1956 the people of Hungary rose up against the Soviet-backed government for a period of several months actually posed a threat to Soviet control. Though not successful the several months that the revolt lasted provided some interesting information. At one point a Soviet T54A tank found itself sitting the front yard of the British Embassy in Budapest.

Not ones to miss an opportunity the British examined the armor and armament of the tank and were impressed. The T54 mounted a 100mm gun, much more powerful than what the NATO forces of the time could muster. Soon the British and Americans were working on 105mm cannons and were looking for chassis to place them on. The US decided that they would use the M48 chassis, with the new 105mm cannon. The new design was christened the 105mm Gun Full Tracked Combat Tank M60. Unofficially it carried over the Patton designation and began a stellar career that stretched across many wars and continents.

Though officially retired in 2005 the US still maintains a number of them in storage. Even more impressive is that some of the special variants. The M728 Combat Engineer Vehicle and the M60AVLB still are in service.

The M60 Machine Gun and Congress

Pictured above is the M60 machine gun. 7.62MM, belt fed, gas operated, air cooled, iron sights and can fire 500-650 rounds per minute. The standard 100 round ammunition belt consists of four ball rounds followed by a tracer round allowing the gunners to “walk” the fire onto the targets.

Since it was officially introduced in 1957 it has served with every branch of the American armed forces and with many countries around the world. Sixty years later it is still being produced even with newer models entering active service.

And it almost never was…

The M60 was based on some of the more popular German WWII machine guns namely the MG42 which in a modified version was seriously considered as the official replacement to the Browning M1918 and M1919A6. But there was a problem. Congress had placed serious restrictions on the army that demanded preference being give in to domestic manufacturers for all contracts. While on the surface this may seem like an effort to stimulate domestic production, the true source of this requirement was out of a desire to not have to pay licensing fees to foreign manufactures, thus saving a buck. This sometimes led to superior weapon designs being left on the table in favor of cheaper, but domestically produced weapons systems.

Luckily it has proven over time to be one to best weapons systems developed and though many different revision have come out during its history the basis of the system has stayed in place. Seriously who could imagine Rambo tearing through the jungle with anything else. All because Congress wanted to save a buck.