Tales of the Gatling
Believe it or not when Dr. Richard Gatling received the patent for his Gatling gun in 1862 he did so thinking that it would lead to smaller armies and thus fewer deaths. He truly underestimated the human condition. We’ve all seen pictures of the Gatling guns and are familiar with their looks. The one pictured above is an 1883 model that saw duty with the Illinois National Guard during the Spanish-American War.
The round cartridge at the top carried 104 rounds of .45 caliber ammunition that would be fed through the ten barrels at a potential rate of 350 rounds per minute. They could certainly lay down a heck of a field of fire. The problem was they were heavy and needed the carriage to be moved from place to place.
Two stories about Gatling guns sort of give you a good overview of their usefulness. During the Spanish-American War, a battery of four Gatling guns was used with great effectiveness during the charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba. Three of them were swivel mounted and could pretty much rake the Spanish lines. During that one battle, the three guns fired over 18,000 rounds of ammunition and helped the Americans win the day.
A few years earlier in 1876 General George Custer of the US 7th Cavalry took his troops on a punitive expedition against the natives in the hills of South Dakota. It did not end well for them. The US troops were very, very outnumbered and figured that superior technology and tactics would win the day. The big problem, perhaps, was that they left behind several Gatling guns that had been tasked to them.
The Gatling was heavy and slow and though they could have provided overbearing firepower to Custer and his men, he decided they would just slow his horses down. He deployed without them. Who knows what difference if any those guns would have made during the battle?
When you think of WWI German troops you probably imagine them wearing helmets like those above. (C’com we all spend time thinking about WWI German soldiers, don’t pretend you don’t.) That style helmet is known as a pickelhaube. Which literally translates to “pickaxe bonnet”. It was a staple of the Prussian military and made its way in the German military and many of their civil services.
Originally designed in 1842 by King Frederick William IV of Prussia, it was based on a style that the Russian army had recently adopted That was based on the old French Napoleonic cuirassier helmet. The spike at the top was originally used to hold a plume of horsehair as these were primarily used in cavalry units.
At the start of WWI in 1914, the Germans manufactured their helmets out of leather. As the war went on the stocks of leather dwindled and versions of the helmet started being made out of everything from thin sheets of metal to pressurized felt. Even paper. None of which offered great protection. By 1915, materials aside, the biggest problem with the pickelhaube was the actual spike itself. A new model was developed with a detachable spike. When on the front lines the spike would be removed.
In 1916 the Germans started issuing a new model steel helmet that provided a lot more protection for the head from shell fragments. Yes, steel proved better protection than felt and paper. Who knew? With the fall for the German Empire in 1918, the fancy version of the helmet was demoted to ceremonial uses. Many countries and organizations have some form of pickelhaube in use today.
The M102 Howitzer
Coming into service in 1964 and still in use today by the National Guard the M102 105MM Howitzer is an incredible piece of artillery.
She can fire off 3 to 10 rounds per minute and can throw a 33lb projectile from 7 to almost 10 miles down range. The firing platform can be lowered and allows the piece a 360′ range of motion. She has seen service with the US Army in every conflict from the Vietnam War forward. The M102 is still in use by many of our allies around the world.
That all sounds cool, but what makes this piece something special? Well, it was light enough that it could be towed by a regular two-ton truck. It could be manhandled into position. If it is needed someplace a truck could not go it was light enough to be delivered by helicopter. Oh, it could also be parachuted in. Basically, there was nowhere this gun could not be effective.
Not cool enough? OK, how about this. The US Air Force used a modified version of the M102 in their AC-130 Gunships. That’s right, not only can it be carried and dropped from the air, but it can be fired from the air!
The one in the picture has not fired for a while but you can get the sense of how small and compact these guns were. Even seven miles away it sure would be tough to be on the business end of one of these.
The Titans of Appomattox
They had met before, back in the Mexican War where both men distinguished themselves. Robert E. Lee had been the engineer that seemed to be everywhere at once. Ulysses S. Grant led men into the fray numerous times during the conflict. At the meeting above Grant actually mentioned the shared service. Lee remembered and for a moment they were just two old soldiers. Not commanders of opposing armies. With the events of the Civil War, these two men would be exorbitantly linked through history. Their meeting at Appomattox would start the process of healing the country.
Lee wore his last dress uniform a son of the Southern aristocracy he believed in always looking his best, especially for important occasions and on April 9th, 1861 the occasion was the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. he had led them through victory after victory, but in the end, the army had been ground into the dust. He had no choice.
Gran arrived at Appomattox Courthouse in a mud-splattered field uniform. He was not one for pomp and in their field preferred to be comfortable rather than pretty. Grant was a man with a past but he had the ability to lead which was something that President Lincoln desperately needed out of him. In the final campaigns of the war, Grant used the Unions advantage in manpower and resources to pound Lee and his army at every chance, eventually overwhelming them. the cost was great and each life weighed on Grant. As he prepared to accept Lee’s surrender though he had to have felt vindicated.
There was no outward hostility between the two warriors. Grant set the terms for the surrender, which were generous. Lee agreed to ask only for one change, that his men be allowed to keep their horses. Grant did not amend the terms but insured Lee that his men would not stop any of the Confederates from keeping what was theirs. He also provided the defeated army with 25,000 rations once Lee mentioned that his men had not eaten for days.
It was a quiet day when contrasted to how the war had started. Had either of these armies been commanded by other men, by lesser men, who knows what the cost would have been? Then and there between these two titans, the path to peace and reconciliation had begun
The Cost of 1812
The War of 1812 was an interesting war. The United States was not quite ready to fight but declared war anyway. The British were busy against Napoleon in Europe, so fought the first half as an afterthought. The Natives involved pretty much knew that no matter who won they would be the losers.
When the war started in June 1812 the land forces of the United States numbered approximately 7,000 men that would face off against 5,200 British soldiers in the New World. By the end of the war, the US would field over 35,000 men including close to half a million militiamen. The British would put over 48,000 men in the field, another ten thousand Provincial regulars and four thousand militia. As far as Natives, the American allies provided at least 125 Choctaw Indians and scores from other tribes, the British could count on over ten thousand warriors.
In almost two and half years of fighting the Americans invaded Canada, the British invaded the United States. Both sides won and lost at sea but neither gained much ground. With the “final” defeat of Napoleon in 1814, the British found themselves in a position to put their full weight into the war. Not long after both sides had enough fighting and a treaty was agreed on.
Almost 15,000 US soldiers died from combat and disease. The British lost about 7,000. In the end, no borders changed, no grievances were resolved and things went back to pretty much the way it was before the war.
Oh and the natives? They continued to fight the Americans and without the support of the British, did not fare well. The last hope for the Natives pretty much ended with the end of the War of 1812. Now they were all that stood between the people of the United States and their Manifest Destiny.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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 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.