Operation Raincoat: the Assault on the Bernhardt Line

In early November 1943, the British Eighth Army reached the Gustav Line and the American Fifth Army reached the Bernhardt Line in Italy. The Bernhardt Line was essentially the Gustav Line’s gatehouse in the west that protected the Mignano Gap, the entrance to the Rapido and Gargliano river valleys which formed the Gustav Line’s main line of resistance on the western slopes of the Apennines Mountains. These valleys were dominated by Monte Cairo with its amazing fields of observation and Monte Cassino at the entrance to the Liri Valley. The Gustav and Bernhardt Lines were part of a larger series of extensive German defensive fortifications across Italy called the Winter Line that were intended to prevent the Allies from reaching Rome, 80 miles to the northwest.

Through these extensive fortifications were only three routes up the Italian boot: Route 5, the old Roman Via Valeria, which ran along the Adriatic coast and up which the British steadily pounded until they reached the Gustav Line. Across the Apennine Mtns was Route 7, the old Appian Way along the west coast of Italy but this route was blocked by Germans’ extensive flooding of the Pontine Marshes. And finally Route 6 which was further inland and traveled through the Mignano Gap, into the Liri Valley, and then to Rome. Route 6 was the only realistic route to Rome, and the Germans would make the Allies pay dearly for every meter.

After a two week pause, the US Fifth Army in Italy began, on 1 December 1943, Operation Raincoat – the assault against the Bernhardt Line, which was defended by the tough and experienced 15th Panzergrenadier Division, heavily fortified and determined to hold the Mignano Gap. The Camino hill masses which formed the pillars of the Mignano Gap were the last stop before Monte Cassino, the Liri Valley and the road to Rome.

The US Fifth Army during operation Raincoat was the epitome of the multinational and varied nature of the Allied armies in Italy. Gen Mark Clark’s command consisted of four US Divisions: the active duty soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division, and three National Guard divisions, the 34th from the Midwest, the 45th from Oklahoma, and the 36th from Texas. The Fifth Army also had the British Territorials of the 46th and 56th Divisions from London and the Midlands, the French Expeditionary Corps of French Foreign Legionnaires and French colonials from Morocco, North Africa and West Africa (including the ill-disciplined but very effective Goumiers), the lumberjacks, mountain men, commandos and ranchers from the elite and highly trained American-Canadian 1st Special Service Brigade aka “the Devil’s Brigade”, and even units of the resurgent Royal Italian Army, made up of Italians who actively resisted the Germans upon Italy’s surrender two months before.

The fighting was in the bitterly cold, windy, and rainy Italian winter. Mud covered everything. Allied soldiers struggled and fought up jagged cliffs, and slopes and trails so steep that they were impassable even to pack mules. Supplies were hauled up by rope or on the backs of men crawling through the mud, and the wounded were brought down the mountains the same way. German observation posts saw every movement of the Allied troops below and fire swept every conceivable approach. The fight was as much an engineers’ battle as an infantryman’s. One young engineer wrote,

“These things . . . constitute war and battle: rain and mud, cold and discomfort . . . of digging and of sleepless nights and tiring days, of being afraid and of being hungry, of repairing roads and of building bridges, of being lonely . . . of an endless number of little things…”

Mostly forgotten today, the fighting among the mountains and towns forming the Mignano Gap: Monte Camino, Monte Maggiore, Monte La Difensa, Monte Lungo, and Monte Sammucro and the hellscapes that were the towns of Mignano and San Pietro Infine was the largest land operation by Western Allies so far in the Second World War. Operation Raincoat lasted until mid-January 1944 when the Germans withdrew across the Rapido River. The 46 days the Fifth Army took to advance the 16 miles through the Bernhardt Line to the Liri and Rapido Valleys and the Gustav Line cost the Allies tens of thousands of casualties.

The worst was yet to come.

The Battle of Tuttlingen

France’s victory at the Battle of Rocroi in May 1643 allowed France some operational flexibility on other fronts of the late Thirty Years War. French troops in Franche Comte (the “Free County” of Burgundy, Hapsburg territory and a frequent battleground of the war) could advance into the Holy Roman Empire to prevent Austrian and Catholic League reinforcements for the Army of Flanders, support German princes and electors allied with France, and exert some influence on the Swiss Confederacy which had so far sat out the Thirty Years War in relatively prosperous “heavily armed neutrality.” French marshal Josias von Rantzau, a Dane with a long and complicated history in the French court and commander of French troops in Franche Comte, crossed the Rhine that autumn and was reinforced with troops from Saxe-Weimar. Rantzau, a dandy of the French court and more known for his reckless bravery than any military acumen, immediately went into winter quarters in order to prepare for operations in the spring. The weather in late autumn was unseasonably cold, but the French “Army of Germany” was particularly vulnerable in winter quarters spread out in the villages around the Swabian town of Tuttlingen on the Danube. They were, however, within striking distance of next year’s target, the Electorate of Bavaria.

The Catholic Prince-elector of Bavaria, the venerable Maximillian I, spent the last 25 years in a mostly successful attempt preventing the Hapsburgs from subsuming the Catholic League. Bavaria and other Catholic electors in Germany were especially vulnerable to invasion and furthermore had enough problems internally with brigands (*spit*). He saw the Catholic League as a defensive alliance only, and its forces were not to be sent off wherever the Hapsburgs wished. However, a Franco-Weimarian army just across the border to the west was a threat that couldn’t be ignored. Bavaria had the second largest army in the Holy Roman Empire, but it was still small compared to Rantzau’s. Maximillian placed it in the hands of his extremely capable Lorrainer master of ordinance Franz von Mercy and his second Johann von Werth, one of the foremost Imperial cavalry commanders. Mercy and Werth were one of the conflicts most effective command teams and both of whom urged for an immediate attack on Rantzau’s exposed, unprepared, and dispersed army, no matter the weather.

As Rantzau’s 16,000 troops sat warm around their fires in the houses around Tuttlingen, Mercy and Werth gathered 15,000 troops mostly Lorrainers and Bavarians, but included small contingents of veteran Spanish troops from the Army of Flanders and Imperial troops from Austria. They were taking no chances after the defeat at Rocroi and if Rantzau was going to allow them to concentrate, who were they to not take advantage?

Rantzau’s sins did not end there though. His men were settled into winter quarters and most elements were not within supporting distance of each other. Rantzau assumed he would have sufficient time to assemble. If in the unlikely event that any Imperial army approached, his troops in the town of Möhringen to the northeast should have given ample warning.

However, Mercy and Werth didn’t approach as expected, whether down the Danube from the north east, or from Stuttgart in the north. They cut across the low mountains and lowland lakes and streams of the Upper Palatinate to the south east (i.e. through Hohenfels from east to west).
About mid-afternoon on 24 November 1643, Werth commenced the Battle of Tuttlingen with his assault on the outpost of Mühlingen. Surprise was complete and the French troops in the town were overrun in minutes. The French had no pickets out, few guards, and no pre-arranged assembly points. Rantzau and his senior officers were drunk and playing cards when they heard the first shots: those from Bavarian dragoons who scattered the only alert sentries in Tuttlingen: those of the artillery park. Before French could even hope to assemble any of their units, Mercy had already seized all of their cannon.

Rantzau sent riders out to concentrate his army on Tuttlingen but the regiments were so widely dispersed that the battle was over before it even began. Panicking, the vaunted French cavalry fled west as fast as they could ride. What infantry Rantzau was able to muster was subjected to bombardment by their own cannon turned manned by Bavarians. Weimarian cavalry from Mühlheim attempted come to their aid but were intercepted and destroyed. By nightfall, the resistance in Tuttlingen was surrounded and under merciless shelling.

Rantzau surrendered the next morning and the remaining isolated regiments were subsequently defeated in detail. The Weimarians in particular gave up almost immediately as there was little love for their French commander. That the battle lasted almost all of the next day had more to do with the French disorganization and distance between the cantonment areas than any serious resistance or maneuvering on the battlefield. What remained of France’s Army of Germany routed, and quickly fled back across the Rhine into Alsace.

The stinging defeat at Rocroi had been avenged: Mercy and Werth captured the entirety of the French command, all of the artillery and baggage and 7000 irreplaceable troops. The army of Saxe-Weimar ceased to exist and only a remnant of the French army from Franche Comte was available for the spring. However, there’s a reason we remember Rocroi today and not Tuttlingen. Rocroi had massive strategic effects, Tuttlingen did not. Bavaria gained only a temporary reprieve. Winter was there and the battle could not be immediately exploited. Moreover, Maximillian refused to lead the Catholic League on the offensive for the Hapsburgs in the spring of 1644. In 1645, the French again crossed the Rhine but little strategic gain for either side came from the various defeats and victories that year.

The Battle of Chattanooga

In late September 1863, Union Major General William Roscrans’ Army of the Cumberland invaded Georgia from Tennessee and was decisively defeated at the Battle of Chickamauga. Only the personal leadership of MG George H Thomas, nicknamed the “Rock of Chickamauga” by Ulysses S Grant, prevented the Army of the Cumberland’s total destruction. Rosecrans retreated to Chattanooga, Tennessee where Confederate General Braxton Bragg occupied the heights above the city and prepared to starve out the Union troops.

By November 1863, President Lincoln and General Grant realized that the war would only end with an invasion of the Deep South. The first step, and Gateway to the South, was the strategically vital rail hub of Chattanooga, then under siege by the Confederates. On 23 and 24 November, William Sherman’s Army of Tennessee maneuvered on Bragg’s positions but it was a disaster. The only successful action was Joe Hooker’s fight in Lookout Valley which nearly unhinged the Confederate line. However, Sherman’s troops could not capitalize on the near-success. At the end of the day, the entire army was divided and neither Hooker nor Sherman could support each other. The Union Army was in a terrible predicament the next morning. In desperation, Grant asked Thomas (who replaced Rosecrans as the commander of the previously discounted troops inside Chattanooga) for a supporting attack against the heavily entrenched Missionary Ridge in order to take some pressure off of Sherman. Grant wasn’t expected much from the “demoralized” and “defeated”, albeit fresh, Army of the Cumberland.

On Wednesday afternoon, 25 November 1863, Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland stepped out of the sleepy town of Chattanooga to attack Missionary Ridge. Assaulting the entrenched troops at the end of the long open slope was a tough, nearly suicidal, assignment and they knew it. But to the Army of the Cumberland, the entire Union Army was in this position because of their failure. Now they were given a nearly unheard of second chance.

Their Day of Redemption was at hand.

First at the quick step, then at a double, then in ones and twos they sped up and broke ranks toward the Confederate lines. Soon entire regiments were in a full sprint and fixing bayonets on the run. Thomas’ blue tide swept over the first line of trenches as if they weren’t there. Then it clawed its way up the steep slope toward the second, with soldiers shouting “Chickamauga!” at the top of their lungs. The unstoppable Army of the Cumberland soon took the second trenchline and broke the rebels. Not stopping, they continued over the top of Missionary Ridge and down the far slope. In full view of a flabbergasted Grant and Sherman, Thomas’ soldiers impossibly cleared the ridge of Confederates, which forced Bragg to retreat.

The news of the dramatic victory would reach Washington DC the next day, where President Lincoln was celebrating America’s newest national holiday, the first official Thanksgiving Day.

The Treaty of Easton and Forbes Captures Fort Duquesne

In the early days of the French and Indian War on the Pennsylvania frontier, newly formed Pennsylvania regulars and militia counter raided Ohio Indian villages, while the forts completed in 1757 brought some semblance of security to the frontier. In Philadelphia, the Quakers went on their own “peace offensive” against the Ohio Indians. The official position of the Pennsylvania Assembly was that the land west of the Juniata and East Susquehanna River valleys belonged to the Iroquois Confederation and that the colonists were interlopers. This caused a deadlock in the Assembly about negotiating with the Indians. Israel Pemberton, the Quakers’ leader in the Pennsylvania Assembly, formed the “Friendly Association for Preserving and Regaining Peace with the Indians by Pacific Measures.” The “Friendly Association” took advantage of the lack of French and British traders in some Delaware lands to begin negotiations with Indians desperate for trade goods that weren’t forthcoming because of the war parties. Pemberton brought food and goods in exchange for temporary cease fires among the isolated tribes.

Pemberton’s efforts were rewarded when in 1758, the Ohio Indians, the Iroquois, and peace delegates led by Conrad Weiser from Pennsylvania met in Easton. The Delaware half-king Teedyuscung declared himself the “King of the Delawares” and he took the lead in most of the peace negotiations with the Pennsylvanians on behalf of the Ohio Indians. The Iroquois were neutral in the French and Indian War, and felt that to resume subjugation of Teedyuscung and the Ohio Indians, who had grown beyond their control, peace was needed on the frontier. Until the French and Indian War, the Iroquois ruled over their Ohio Indian subjects, the Delaware, Shawnee, and Monongahela, through the Mingo. The Treaty of Easton in October 1757 resulted in the nullification of the Albany Purchase and an agreement that no colonial would settle the lands beyond the crests of the highest mountains, as implied in the original Lancaster Treaty, but was specified in the Easton Treaty.

Along with the Quaker peace overtures at Easton, Christian Frederick Post, a Moravian missionary who was married to a Delaware woman and was known to most of the Delaware tribes, travelled the Ohio country spreading the news of the conference at Easton. Many of the Ohio Indians seemed to warm to the peace initiatives because Great Lakes Indians were no better overlords than the Iroquois, and the French didn’t seem to want to depart their land either. They were also concerned with Brigadier General John Forbes’ expedition which was just ascending the east slopes of the Allegheny Mountains, building a road and constructing forts along the way. Like the disastrous Braddock expedition the year before, Forbes was tasked with expelling the French from the Ohio Country. Post told the Ohio Indians that as long as the French were in the Upper Ohio Valleys, Forbes would continue and the British would stay.

General John Forbes was a regular British officer sent to the colonies to attempt what had eluded Gen Braddock – seize Fort Duquesne and the French forts below the southern shore of Lake Erie. Fort Duquesne was the primary staging ground for all of the Great Lakes’ Indian raids on the Pennsylvania frontier and served as their “village.” To assist Forbes in this endeavor was the man who would come to epitomize the frontier soldier in Pennsylvania: Colonel Henri Bouquet.

Bouquet was a colorful Swiss mercenary with extensive experience fighting in the Europe and America. He accepted a commission during King George’s War in the 60th “Royal American” Regiment, a regular British regiment recruited specifically to fight in America and easily recognized by their distinctive forest green uniforms. Despite the only surviving portrait of him as a portly cleft chinned gentlemen, Bouquet was a rugged, creative and competent frontier soldier. Bouquet understood the realities of frontier fighting. Although he shared the typical British officer’s disdain of colonial militia, he recognized that militia understood frontier fighting and were better suited to a variety of roles that would cause regulars to be underutilized, such as vanguard, flank and rear guard, and manning fortifications. Moreover, he was quick to see that in the militia there were true frontiersmen sprinkled about. These special individuals could serve as scouts and raiders modeled of Maj. Robert Rogers’ Rangers in New York. Finally, Bouquet knew the potential of regular troops and if trained properly could assume the roles of light fighter and raider as necessary. To this end he encouraged his men to “brown their musket barrels”, doff their bright red uniforms and replace them with “browns and greens”.

Lt. Col. Bouquet’s scouts and rangers found that the best route to Fort Duquesne was not via Fort Cumberland and Virginia in the south, but from Fort Lyttleton in the east. The Pennsylvania militia agreed wholeheartedly, as the route gave them better claim to the Ohio country than the Virginians. The Virginians, led by Lt-Col George Washington, protested vehemently, and even suggested a separate thrust via Cumberland. Forbes, trusting in Bouquet’s assessment, ordered the expedition to assemble at Fort Lyttleton.

As Post and Pemberton were hammering out a peace treaty with Teedyuscung and the Ohio Indians, Forbes’ Expedition was slowly cutting a road over the mountains (Today’s US 22). Forbes periodically stopped and built forts to secure his communications and logistics to the east. These forts, such as Fort Ligonier and Fort Bedford among other smaller outposts, provided a secure place to withdraw in the event of difficulties, safely rest and water the horses, and stockpile provisions. They also provided spots for scouts to return to in a timely manner with information regarding Indian war parties transiting east or returning west. Unfortunately, Forbes became increasingly invalided with “the flux” (probably stomach cancer), and by the time Fort Ligonier was established, he was carried in a litter and Bouquet was the de facto expedition commander.

When Bouquet’s column arrived in the vicinity of Fort Duquesne, he dispatched Maj James Grant with his Highlander regulars and some provincial militia to conduct a reconnaissance in force of the fort. Grant was instructed to withdraw if he encountered any Indians, and ambush the inevitable pursuit. Grant, a British officer in the Braddock mold, advanced in formation with drums pounding and pipes playing. Grant’s column was ambushed and wiped out after torching several of Fort Duquesne’s outlying blockhouses. This was an unfortunate turn of events because at that moment Christian Post was negotiating the withdrawal of all of the Ohio Indians from French service. Had Grant done what he was supposed to do, his men would have survived. Post brought peace belts and the news of the Treaty of Easton to Fort Duquesne’s Ohio Indians. When Bouquet arrived with the main column, he met Post and the Ohio Indians on the way back to their villages. With most of their Ohio Indian “auxiliaries” gone, the Great Lakes’ Indians deserted the French, and with few Indian allies remaining the French withdrew to Fort Venango and burned Fort Duquesne to the ground. As Bouquet and Post approached the ruined fort on 25 November 1758, they were greeted with the scalps, bloody kilts, and mutilated bodies of Grant’s Highlanders.

Lt. Col. Bouquet, the senior capable British officer on the Pennsylvania frontier, had to return to Philadelphia with the incapacitated Forbes and the vast majority of the 5000 man army. He left 200 men under Cpt. Hugh Mercer to hold the Forks of the Ohio that winter, maintain relations with Indians, and keep track of French movements. Like most militia, Hugh Mercer was a recent immigrant, specifically from Scotland, where he was a doctor in the army of the Jacobite Rebellion. However, he was an experienced frontiersman. In the confusion during John Armstrong’s withdrawal from Kittanning in 1757, the wounded Mercer became separated, and it took the tough Scotsman 14 days of living on berries, hiding during the day and traveling at night to reach the safety of one Pennsylvania’s new forts. He received his commission in the militia after that, and became one of Bouquet’s most trusted subordinates, along with Lt.-Col Washington of Virgina, during the construction of Forbes’ Road to the Forks.

Mercers’ first priority after constructing a small fort to shelter his men from the winter weather and French attack, was maintaining the neutrality of the Ohio Indians. He could only do this by continually assuring the Mingo half-kings and Ohio Indian chiefs, such as Shingas and Tamacua, who were instrumental in Post’s peace deal that the British would depart when the French were gone. In December 1758, Mercer called a great council fire with the Ohio Indian chiefs where he stressed that the Treaty of Easton would be honored. He even recruited Iroquois to back his message, who were happy in any attempt to reassert their control over the Ohio Indians. However, as was suspected by the Ohio Indians, the British and their Iroquois allies had no intention of departing the Ohio Country despite the Easton Treaty, (or the later Proclamation of 1763). In the spring of 1759, the Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo looked on with suspicion when Cpt. Henry Gordon, a Royal Engineer, with 200 artificers arrived at the growing village, Pittsburgh, outside of Mercer’s small fort. Gordon had orders to build what became the second largest fort in colonial America, Fort Pitt.

Though the French and Indian War continued for three more years, violence on the Pennsylvania frontier declined dramatically after Bouquet seized the remains of Fort Duquesne and Mercer constructed Fort Pitt.

Bloody Tarawa

Nearing the end of the second year of the Pacific War, through hard fighting, tough decisions, and no small amount of luck, the Allies had survived Japan’s initial onslaught with just their pre-Pearl Harbor militaries, and began rolling back Japanese gains. But by November 1943, the losses at Pearl Harbor were replaced and the American economy was in full wartime production. Ships of all sizes, from the mighty Essex class aircraft carriers to the humble patrol torpedo (PT) boats were rolling off of America’s dry docks. In the Solomon Islands, Adm Halsey’s campaign to isolate Japan’s main base in the South Pacific, Rabaul, was about to come to fruition. On New Guinea, Gen MacArthur’s South West Pacific Area was battling across the island, aimed for his eventual return to the Philippines. Adm Chester Nimitz, who did not have a great working relationship with MacArthur, wanted to use America’s new found material superiority to open up a new front, with the objective of Japan itself. He would cut across the axis and beat MacArthur to Japan. The first target of the new Central Pacific Area was the Tarawa atoll, in the British Gilbert Islands, specifically the island of Betio.

The island of Betio was a small pork chop shaped mass of coral and sand about three miles long and a half mile wide. It was surrounded by a coral reef about 400 meters off shore. On it were 5000 elite Japanese marines of their Special Naval Landing Force, fourteen Type 95 tanks and dozens of coastal artillery pieces and machine guns. Up to this point in the war the Japanese generally would allow the Allies to land and then attack with a furious banzai charge as the Americans were organizing on the beach. Tarawa would be different.

The Japanese knew of Betio’s importance in the central Pacific and spent over a year fortifying the island. Eschewing the wasteful immediate banzai charge against the initial landing, they fought in bunkers and pillboxes while the Marines struggled exposed on the beach and in the heavy surf. Their heavy coastal artillery would sink the support ships while the Japanese marines swept the beaches clear with interlocking fields of fire and pre-sighted artillery and mortars. The tanks would counter attack any breakthrough. The Japanese aim was to transfer to the defense the qualities of surprise, tenacity, focus, and ferocity that made their attacks so formidable. It nearly worked.

The US Second Marine Division would lead Operation Galvanic, the assault on Betio. Over the last year the division recovered, and then were reinforced, refitted, and retrained after its eight month fight on Guadalcanal. At 0610, 20 November 1943, 200 ships of the US Navy shelled and bombed the tiny island to little effect. The Japanese were simply dug Into the coral too deep. At 0900, the initial landing force started toward the beaches and the Japanese finally responded with their coastal artillery which sank or severely damaged several ships. The casualties among the sailors were almost as large as the Marines’ over the next several days. The Marines’ assault unfortunately began 30 minutes late, which allowed the Japanese to get to their fighting positions after the bombardment. Even worse, the assault began during an abnormally low tide.

The “Alligator” amphibious tractors managed to make it over the reef and onto the beach, but the subsequent waves in Higgins boats could not. With the initial wave pinned down behind a sea wall, the follow on waves of Marines were forced to wade in waist deep water 400 meters through intense Japanese fire. The casualties were enormous. The seawall was scant cover and to climb over was to court instant death. Throughout the morning Marines were steadily massacred by the dug in Japanese. But nevertheless, they persisted. Fortunately, the Marines were the product of free men in an open society and had spent the last year living, working, training and fighting together. They didn’t lie there, blame others, and wait for their superiors to do something. The junior leaders would win this fight. Individually and in small groups, they hammered then cracked the Japanese defenses. Corporals, sergeants, and lieutenants chose, in defiance of all logic and safety, to rally what Marines they could, and painstakingly maneuvered to engage the Japanese with flamethrowers, satchel charges, grenades, bayonets, rifle butts, helmets and fists. An observant beachmaster used the abnormally low tide to move supplies and men to the beach underneath the long pier which stretched over the coral reef to the beach. Many contemporary accounts attribute the final breakout to the efforts of a single tank “Colorado” from Red Beach 3, which finally allowed the Marines to move inland.

Over the next 77 hours, 4760 Japanese and 1700 Marines and Sailors were killed, with 2000 more Americans wounded.

The initial outcry in America due to the losses was enormous. However, like the Colorado spewing fire and lead at bunkers overlooking the beach, Nimitz cracked the Japanese outer ring of defenses in the Central Pacific. His subsequent offensives over the next 21 months were like a lance aimed straight at the belly of Japan. Finally, the lessons learned from the landing on Tarawa would be invaluable and used to great effect in subsequent amphibious operations, particularly the landings in the Marshall and Palau Islands, and even Italy and France.

The Invasion of Leros

In September 1943, the British occupied the Italian held Dodecanese Islands in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Germans saw this as an attempt to force neutral Turkey to side with the Allies. In a lightning swift air, ground and naval campaign, the Germans retook most of the islands, including the largest, Rhodes. In spite of Allied air and naval superiority everywhere else in the Mediterranean, the British had 5000 badly needed troops trapped on the island of Leros. Prior to the German offensive, that the Axis could trap Allied troops anywhere in the Mediterranean Sea in late 1943 was considered unfathomable.
The German hold on the area was so secure that several evacuation attempts resulted in severe losses to British aircraft and ships. On 12 November 1943, the Germans landed and captured the entire garrison. The prisoners included the trapped entireties of the Long Range Desert Group, the Special Boat Squadron, and almost all of the veteran, elite, and storied British raiding forces from the campaigns in North Africa and the Aegean.
After the war, the evacuation of the trapped British soldiers on Leros would be the ultimate objective for the protagonists in the Alistair MacLean novel, “The Guns of Navarone” whose ending was much more palatable for American and British audiences. The novel was made into the blockbuster 1961 movie of the same name starring Anthony Quinn, David Niven and Gregory Peck. These fictionalized versions of the events in the Aegean in late 1943 gave a new meaning to the phrase, “Based on a True Story”.

The Cherry Valley Massacre

Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga and France’s entry into the American Revolutionary War forced the British in Quebec and Ontario to adopt a frontier raiding strategy to tie down Continental troops and spoil any potential invasion of Canada that might recover French possessions lost in the French and Indian War. In this endeavor, the British were joined by the bulk of the Iroquois Confederacy, who were promised that if the British won, the Proclamation of 1763 would be enforced which forbade American settlers west of the Appalachian Mountains.
Throughout the summer of 1778, British regulars, loyalist militia and rangers, and Seneca and Mohawk warriors raided American frontier settlements in the Hudson, Mohawk and Delaware River Valleys of New York and the Susquehanna and Allegheny River valleys in Pennsylvania. George Washington could spare few troops for frontier defense and told its inhabitants to make do as best they can with their own militia and a small “stiffening” of Continentals. British raids were met by the time honored American tradition of punitive expeditions. The cycle of raid and expedition continued all summer.
In early July, a mixed force of loyalist John Butler’s Rangers and Seneca warriors under war chief Cornplanter defeated and massacred 300 Patriot militia and a few Continentals in the Wyoming Valley of Northeastern Pennsylvania. The conflicting reports of the Wyoming Valley Massacre saw some civilians taken care of and protected while other reports rendered torture and brutality in excruciating detail. Whatever truly happened in the Wyoming Valley will probably never be known, but what did happen was only sixty Continentals and militia survived, more than a thousand houses were burned to the ground, several forts destroyed and 267 scalps presented to British officials at Fort Niagara, some of women and children. The massacre inflamed the passions of Patriots along the frontier. However, they were attributed not to Butler or Cornplanter but to Joseph Brant, the Mohawk war chief who was not even present at the Battle of Wyoming. A punitive expedition from New York, which included many paroled patriots, destroyed several Mohawk villages in September in retaliation. The violation of the paroles enraged the Seneca who vowed they “would not fight the enemy twice”. Finally Conrplanter and the Seneca warriors were livid that they were also implicated in American papers for the massacre. In October, Walter Butler, John Butler’s son, with two companies of rangers and 50 British regulars, joined forces with Cornplanter and Brant, and 300 Seneca and Mohawk warriors for a raid into the Cherry Valley of Pennsylvania.
Cherry Valley was defended by the 300 Continentals of the 7th Massachusetts Regiment under Col Ichabod Alden. Alden had a palisade built around the village church and meeting house after Brant’s raid on nearby Cobleskill in May. However the settlement was spread out along the length of the Cherry Valley. Alden chose Mayor’s Well’s house, which just happened to be the largest and nicest, for his headquarters, which was over 400 yards from palisaded fort. Most of his officers were quartered nearby. Several Oneida Indians warned Alden of the incoming raid, but he refused to believe them. Cherry Valley was completely unprepared for what befell them. On the evening of 10 November 1778, Butler’s soldiers, rangers, and warriors arrived in the Cherry Valley and immediately identified Alden’s defensive flaws.
After a “cold camp” that night to prevent their fires from alerting the Americans, Butler attacked at dawn and quickly surrounded the fort. A group of Senecas under Little Beard assaulted the headquarters house, and eventually broke in. The vengeful Seneca’s systematically killed all of the inhabitants, including the mayor, his family and the household. The attack on the headquarters rendered the regiment and fort leaderless. Only Aldin’s 2IC survived, and then only by appealing to Butler and Brant as a fellow Freemason. Legend has it that Alden was killed running to the fort, and just before he reached the gates turned to fire his pistol at a pursuing Brant. The pistol misfired, and Brant threw his tomahawk which struck Alden in the forehead.
Butler attempted to storm the fort but failed. However, with the Continentals and militia safely locked inside, his men could take their revenge, especially the rangers and Seneca. Walter Butler was not his father, and couldn’t control his men. Brant was personal friends with many in the valley and knew most of the families there. He attempted to curtail any excesses but was not successful. In a three hour orgy of violence and destruction, the British force put the entire village to the torch and scalped anyone they found, as the leaderless Continentals looked on impotently from the fort. In all, 30 civilians and 30 soldiers were killed, mostly officers around the headquarters, and another 50 combined taken into captivity.
The massacre at Cherry Valley wasn’t nearly as large as its predecessor in the Wyoming Valley, but it had a much more significant impact. The Cherry Valley Massacre was the last straw for George Washington regarding the Iroquois. A stalemate had developed around New York as the main British army under Henry Clinton was safely contained in the city. So Washington authorized a a grand punitive expedition for the spring with a large part of the Continental Army. Unfortunately for the Iroquois, command of the expedition fell to Maj Gen John Sullivan. The energetic Sullivan was one of Washington’s most competent and aggressive generals. With the Oneida and Tuscora Iroquois, Sullivan descended upon the homes of the loyalists and the four tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy that sided with British. Like Sherman’s march through another confederacy four score and six years later, Sullivan cut a swath of destruction through central and western New York. He torched over forty Iroquois villages and defeated every force the Butler family, Cornplanter or Josef Brant sent against him. Though the frontier war would continue in 1780, the power of the Iroquois Confederacy was broken forever and western New York and the Ohio country were permanently open to future American settlement.

The Naval Order of 24 October 1918 and the Kiel Mutiny

By late October 1918, the Allied victories during Hundred Days Offensive tore huge gaps in the Hindenburg Line on the Western Front and the German Army conducted a fighting retreat to shorten their lines and hopefully reestablish a defense. The Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved and with it Germany’s food and oil supply. Morale plummeted among both the military at the front and the civilians at home. Erich von Ludendorff knew he needed to “restore the valor” of the military in order to stop the Allied offensive and gain an acceptable negotiated peace. To convince the retreating German Army that this was truly the “Endkampf” or “Final Battle”, a valiant sacrifice was needed, one worthy of emulation. The German High Seas Fleet would provide that sacrifice.

Without approval by the government (because it would certainly be denied) and despite vehement objections by the Chief of the German Admiralty, Adm Reinhard Scheer, Ludendorff issued the Naval Order of 24 October 1918 to the commander of the High Seas Fleet Adm Franz von Hipper. Hipper was warned of the order two days before and began concentrating the fleet at Schillig Roads off Wilhelmshaven. The concentration itself was break from the norm which didn’t bode well for the sailors.

The High Seas Fleet last saw serious action at the Battle of Jutland two years before and had sortied only three times since then, conspicuously returning to port without engaging any Allied ships each time. After the Battle of Jutland, the High Seas Fleet was no match for the British Grand Fleet, especially after the addition of four American battleships, so it sought to avoid contact with their British adversary. However, that did nothing for the morale of the average German sailor who toiled under bad conditions and ruthless discipline while conditions at home and news from the front grew steadily worse.

Rumors swirled below decks as to the reason for the concentration. On 29 October 1918, the crews’ worst nightmares were confirmed: The German High Seas Fleet was to sortie and engage the British in a decisive battle that could only end with their glorious destruction. That night, several crews of the capital ships at Schillig Roads refused orders to weigh anchor and some began sabotaging equipment and machinery. Sailors on shore leave refused to return to their ships and had to be forcibly returned. Mass insubordination occurred on at least seven ships. It took three days, and loyal sailors from torpedo boats, U-boats and minesweepers, before control was restored. Nevertheless, Admiral Hipper ordered the operation cancelled. Ludendorff was cashiered by the Kaiser when he learned of the Wilhelmshaven mutiny. The most mutinous squadron, the Third Naval Squadron, was ordered to return to Kiel in order to isolate them from the rest of the High Seas Fleet.

Kiel was not an optimal choice for the mutineers’ ships to harbor. Kiel had a long history of socialist and workers’ agitation stemming from the Russian Revolution of the previous year. The addition of the crews of the mutinous ships to the city proved to be the spark needed for open rebellion. Mass demonstrations and riots were organized and soldiers, sailors, and workers’ councils took over the ships and the city. Imprisoned mutineers were freed, but the demands for “Peace and Bread” were not forthcoming. German troops resorted to firing into the protesters which only enflamed the crowds and caused many soldiers to desert and join the mutineers. By 3 November, red flags replaced the Imperial German ensign on the fleet’s masts. On the 4th Kiel was controlled by more than 40,000 workers, sailors, and soldiers and the mutiny had spread back to Wilhelmshaven. That evening, their leaders met at the Kiel Union House and formed a ruling council. The council issued demands for a “social, liberal, and democratic” political system.

The successful Kiel Mutiny inspired countless other mutinies, revolts, and defections on the Western Front and in the town and cities behind the frontlines, and quickly spread as far south Munich by the 7th. On the 9th, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated. Almost immediately, a democratic republic was announced, and 30 minutes later its first vote turned the nascent democratic republic into a socialist republic, which tore the country apart. The German Revolution continued until the Weimar Republic was established in August of 1919. Peace talks with the Allies commenced on the 10th, the day after the Kaiser abdicated, and an armistice ending the fighting began at 11 am on 11 November 1918.

The Kiel Mutiny and the uprisings it inspired gave rise to the “Stab in the back” legend that the German Army was not defeated on the battlefield in the First World War but by civilian agitators at home. German Nationalists and National Socialists promulgated the patently false legend later in the 1920s, which combined with the denouncement of the onerous (to Germans) clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, caused significant political gain for them, leading directly to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Second World War.

Pope John Paul II

Just a little over a month after he was elected Pope of the Catholic Church and sovereign of Vatican City, Pope John Paul I died in his bed on 28 September 1978. Two weeks later on 16 October the Second Papal Conclave of 1978 elected Pope John Paul II after two days of deliberations. Pope John Paul II was the greatest Roman Catholic Pope of the modern age.

Born Karol Wojtyla outside of Krakow, Poland, he was the son of a Polish Army noncommissioned officer and attended university in Krakow where he studied history and languages until the Nazis closed it down in 1939. By 1941, his entire family was killed by the Germans, but Wojkyla survived by taking jobs in factories that got him exempted from the random detention and execution of Polish civilians. He spent his free time studying at an underground seminary while protecting and hiding Polish Jews from the Nazis.

After the war, Wojtyla was ordained a priest and spent the next 30 years in the difficult position of an outspoken Roman Catholic in a country dominated by Communism. His unpretentious demeanor and wise counsel earned him the nickname “Uncle” which his parishioners and peers used until he was elected Pope in 1978, when he took the name John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 500 years, and one of the youngest and healthiest. He had a worldly view that contrasted greatly with previous popes. Pope John Paul II spoke eight languages fluently and was the most widely traveled pope in history. He spent much energy repairing relations with the other world religions and was the first Pope ever to pray in a mosque. Pope John Paul II was not against contraception for health reasons i.e. to prevent the spread of HIV, and routinely affirmed Catholicism’s stance that evolution and creationism are not mutually exclusive. He publicly apologized for many of Roman Catholicism’s historical sins, and the first ever papal email was sent apologizing for the church sex abuse scandals.

Despite this, Pope John Paul II was hated throughout much of the world due to his staunch and outspoken nature against totalitarianism. He specifically decried Apartheid in South Africa, the Mafia in southern Italy, Latin and South American dictators, Socialist Liberation Theology, and was the one of the few world leaders with the courage to call the fighting in Rwanda what it was: genocide. He was a consistent opponent of war in general, but more importantly, Pope John Paul II was the world’s moral leader against Communism.

He survived numerous attempts at humiliation (a favored tactic of socialists) and two actual assassination attempts, one of which was bankrolled by the KGB, due to his voracious anti-communism. His homilies and sermons on the evils of Communism and Socialism gave hope to hundreds of millions of oppressed people around the world, particularly in Eastern Europe. Most historians agree with Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, both of whom said that without Pope John Paul II there would have been no Solidarity, and without Solidarity there would not have been the Fall of the Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall in 1989.

In 2004, Pope John Paul II was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and died in the Vatican on 2 April 2005. On 8 April 2005, four million people packed into Rome, St Peter’s Square, and the Vatican to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II. His funeral is the single largest gathering in the history of Christendom. It was attended by over 90 heads of state, and in a historical anomaly, was attended by the spiritual leaders of 14 of the world’s largest religions, including Islam, Judaism, the various Protestant denominations, and Eastern Orthodoxy. It was the first time the Archbishop of Canterbury attended Catholic Mass since the 16th Century, and the first time the Patriarch attended a papal funeral since the Great Schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches a thousand years before.

He was canonized St. John Paul II on 27 April 2014.

Black Thursday: The Bombers Don’t Always Get Through… Again

On 14 October 1943, the Eighth United States Army Air Force launched Mission 115, the second raid on Schweinfurt, Germany to destroy the production of ball bearings, a key bottle neck in the German wartime economy. Nearly 350 B-17 Flying Fortresses of the US 91st, 92nd, 305th, 306th, 379th Bomb Groups made the raid. Because of the distance to Schweinfurt from their bases in Great Britain, there were no escorting fighters for a portion of the raid.
Like the previous raid on Schweinfurt in August, this was also a disaster. 60 B-17s were shot down by Luftwaffe fighters and flak defenses around the city, 17 more were so damaged they were scrapped, and 125 more were damaged. Most bombs fell on massive sheets of cloth spread on farm fields which were painted to look like factories from the air. Those bombs that did actually hit their targets only disrupted German production of ball bearings for six weeks. On-hand stocks easily kept up with the demand during that time.
The Eighth Air Force was crippled for the next four months and did not resume serious operations until new Merlin-engined P-51 Mustang long range fighters could provide escort to the bombers all the way to the target and back. The idea that a heavy bomber could adequately defend itself against determined defensive fighter attack was found to be wanting, once and for all. Douhet’s theory that bombers could win the war all by themselves exemplified by the quote “the bomber will always get through” was relegated to the dustbin of history… Well, at least until a new shinier version was proposed in 1947… and 1973… and 1999…