Archive for July, 2008

The Wars of Charlemagne – An Annotated Timeline

Charlemagne is considered the greatest of the Frankish kings. He secured the realm’s borders, subdued rebellious vassal states, and significantly extended the kingdom’s domain. He created the Holy Roman Empire which would dominate much of Europe throughout the Middle Ages. He was the first European emperor since the end of the Roman Empire.

After his father died in September, 768, Charlemagne became ruler of the western half of the Frankish Kingdom. When his brother Carloman died in December of 771, Charlemagne also took control of the eastern half. He immediately began a series of military campaigns which would run without interruption until his death in 812. More


July 31, 2008 at 3:22 am

Confederate Navy Raider Raphael Semmes

USS Alabama SSBN 731

USS Alabama SSBN 731

Get a poster or framed art print of today’s warship, the USS Alabama (SSBN 731), in Puget Sound. Visit the PatriArt Gallery.

Captain Raphael Semmes was one of the Confederacy’s most dashing and celebrated figures. Read a concise but thorough review of Semmes’ Civil War career at the Southern Maryland News

July 26, 2008 at 4:00 am

Helicopter retires after service in Vietnam, Iraq

MH-53 Pave Low helicopter tail number 68-10357 flew its final mission and last flight supporting special operations forces March 28 in Iraq after 38 years of service.

The helicopter was the lead command and control helicopter for a mission to rescue approximately 50 American prisoners of war from the Son Tay prison camp in North Vietnam in 1970, which became a significant event for Air Force special operations.

From Iraq, the MH-53 known as 357 will be transported to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, where it will sit on display in the Cold War Gallery.

“It’s fitting that this aircraft’s last mission was flown in combat before it is placed on permanent display at the museum,” said Lt. Gen. Donald C. Wurster, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command and an MH-53 pilot. “Aircraft 357 led a formation of HH-53 and HH-3 helicopters on a daring raid into North Vietnam to rescue American POWs. Of those five 53s that participated, only tail number 357 is left.”

Historical records indicate 66 prisoners were being held at the Son Tay camp, located 23 miles west of Hanoi.

Although the mission was considered a tactical failure because no prisoners were found at the camp, it was also considered a success because conditions for POWs held in North Vietnam improved after the raid.

Training for the Son Tay raid began in the summer of 1970 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., under the command of Brig. Gen. LeRoy J. Manor, who retired as a lieutenant general. There, an all-volunteer team of Army and Air Force conventional and special operations members planned and practiced flight and ground operations for a rescue mission deep into North Vietnam. The mission was repeatedly rehearsed using a full-sized compound mock-up near Duke Field, known as Auxiliary Airfield No. 3.

For Operation Kingpin, HH-53 357, mission call sign “Apple 1,” was flown by Lt. Col. Warner Britton and carried the operation commander, Army Col. Arthur Simons and his team of Soldiers to the target. 

The crew of “Apple 1” was decorated with an Air Force Cross and four Silver Stars for their role in the raid.

Within 1.5 years of the Son Tay mission, three of the five HH-53s were lost, two in combat operations and one destroyed on the ground in Danang during a rocket attack by the Vietcong. The fourth HH-53 was converted to an MH-53J and flew in a special operations role for many years. It was lost in combat in Afghanistan in 2002.

Although “Apple 1” changed call signs many times since 1970, it continued to fly in operations supporting U.S. national objectives around the globe.

“It is awe inspiring to know people sat in this very seat and created history,” said Col. Brad Webb, 1st Special Operation Wing commander and MH-53 pilot. “I’ve flown this tail number periodically since 1988,” Colonel Webb said. “The closest I came to combat while flying 357 was a combat search and rescue mission for a British aircraft shot down near Gorazde, Bosnia-Herzegovenia in 1994. I also flew it in Kuwait several times under combat support missions for Operation Southern Watch in 2001.”

Inevitably, aircraft age and technology advances.

As a result, the MH-53 Pave Low’s long and distinguished career will soon complete its service to the Air Force. The remaining MH-53s in the Air Force inventory will be retired as they return from combat duty.

Kristina Newton(AFPN)

July 23, 2008 at 3:45 am 1 comment

Naval Historical Center’s New Director Unveils Roadmap for Naval History

The director of naval history unveiled his Roadmap for Naval History to a Historical Center and Naval Historical Foundation audience gathered in the National Museum of the United States Navy’s Cold War Gallery July 15.

Retired Rear Adm. Jay A. DeLoach has been working on the issuing of a Roadmap for Naval History since he assumed the helm of the Naval Historical Center (NHC) in June.

“I have always loved history, and this is a job I have always wanted. At the Naval Academy I wanted to major in history, but the need at the time was for engineers, particularly nuclear engineers, and that is what I became. But my first love has always been history.”

Prior to taking the job of director he conducted vast research, talking with the Navy’s history stakeholders, the leadership of the other services’ historical organizations and key members of the NHC. From this research he developed a 2008 Roadmap for Naval History.

“The central theme of the Roadmap is putting out historical products with a purpose,” said DeLoach.
“These products must be accurate and relevant, world-class history for a 21st century Navy and reflect the Navy’s one message, many voices, philosophy.”

DeLoach believes that the term “naval history” includes both the Navy and Marine Corps and wants closer ties with all the sea services. He also believes the Navy and Marine Corps history customers are the Navy-Marine Corps family, active duty, reserve, civilians, retirees, contractors, families, the U.S. public and the rest of the world.

The Roadmap also calls for greater coordination and outreach by the NHC from the highest levels of the Navy such as the Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations to the deck plate forces such as the fleet and Marines.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, reaffirmed his selection of DeLoach for the job of the director of naval history and the curator of the Navy in a June 25 note.

“I look forward to working with you in making our Navy come alive for the American people and connecting our past with the future. As we discussed, your recommendations regarding how we can open ourselves up will be at the top of my list.”

Jack A. Green (NNS)

July 23, 2008 at 3:41 am

National Museum of United States Navy Acquires Rare Civil War Warship Bell

A bell from the historic Civil War naval vessel USF Merrimack has been put on display at the National Museum of the United States Navy in Washington D.C.

Merrimack, rebuilt as the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia, participated in the famous battle against the Union ironclad Monitor at Hampton Roads on March 8-9, 1862.

The bell was donated to the Navy by Adrian Pearsal, a private collector of nautical antiques. Pearsal had originally contacted the National Geographic Society (NGS) to see if they knew of any educational naval collection that would be interested in receiving the bell. The NGS then put him in touch with Mark Wertheimer, Head of the Curator Branch, Naval Historical Center (NHC)in Washington D.C. Negotiations then opened up in early 2006, culminating in the donation of the Merrimack’s bell to the NHC a year later.

Although it is unclear whether the bell was aboard Merrimack/Virginia during the battle at Hampton Roads, it is known to have been aboard Merrimack before it was scuttled by Union forces upon abandonment of the Norfolk Navy Yard to Confederate forces in 1861.

The bell appears to have suffered severe fire damage and has a large dent that seems to have been caused by a timber falling onto the heated bell during the course of a fire.

This damage led to the question as to whether or not it was on board Virginia during the battle at Hampton Roads. The reason for the confusion is because the ship was scuttled twice, the first time by Union forces, and the second after the battle by the Confederates forces.

Was the bell damaged during the first scuttling and then taken off, or during the second scuttling after the battle? At this time the NHC does not know.

The history of the bell prior to Pearsal’s acquisition of it is murky. After the Civil War it seems to have been acquired by the Grand Army of the Republic, a Civil War veterans organization. It was put on display by them until the 1920s, when it passed into the hands of private collectors.

The acquisition of the bell is important for both the museum and for the Navy overall.

“There are very few artifacts from Merrimack and the battle between Virginia and ironclad Monitor at Hampton Roads and so the acquisition of this bell with the Merrimack’s name on it is very exciting,” said Wertheimer.

The bell is now on display at the museum’s popular Civil War gallery as a long-term attraction.

The battle at Hampton Roads was of national importance as it was the first ever battle between ironclad steam warships. Although the battle between Virginia and Monitor was inconclusive, it did have a significant impact on naval architecture and thus revolutionized naval warfare.

“Hampton Roads was an important time in the Navy’s history as it represented the watershed from wooden hulled ships to iron hulled and armored ships,” said Wertheimer.

Katie Winstanley (NNS)

July 23, 2008 at 3:37 am 1 comment

Oldest B-17 Flying Fortress Now at Air Force Museum

The Swoose, the oldest surviving B-17 Flying Fortress and the only “D” model still in existence, was transferred from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, Ohio. 

Shipment of this unique aircraft from Washington, D.C., is in progress and it is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.

“The early years of World War II were a time of both tragedy and heroism,” said Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Charles D. Metcalf, the museum’s director. “With The Swoose — the only surviving U.S. aircraft from the beginning of the war in the Pacific on Dec. 7, 1941 — the Air Force’s national museum (received) a B-17 that is a veteran of the very first day of the war in the Philippines while assigned to the 19th Bomb Group in the Philippine Islands. This is a great story in our history.”

The bomber, originally nicknamed “Ole Betsy,” flew on the first combat mission in the Philippines only hours after the surprise attack against Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. For the next month, its crew hit back against Japanese invasion forces. Ole Betsy operated over a vast area of the Southwest Pacific, mounting strikes from Australia, the Philippines and Java.

In January 1942, during a bombing mission, enemy fighters damaged Old Betsy. The aircraft was repaired and overhauled with a replacement tail and engines from other B-17s, and a makeshift tail gun was added. Its pilot gave it a new nickname after a popular song of the time about a bird that was half-swan, half-goose –The Swoose.

Later, Gen. George Brett, commander of Allied air forces in the Southwest Pacific, used The Swoose as his personal aircraft to visit forward air bases in the combat zone. On some of these flights, the crew had to man the guns to fend off enemy attack. After it returned to the United States, it received additional modifications and served as a high-speed transport until the end of the war. Its operational retirement marked its service for the entire duration of World War II.

“We are pleased that The Swoose is coming to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force,” said Terry Aitken, the museum’s senior curator. “The transfer between the two federal institutions is a demonstration of good stewardship of our national historic collection. Our museum’s restoration staff will use their experience and expertise being gained from the restoration of the famous Memphis Belle to accurately restore The Swoose, which is so important to our history.”

The Swoose will undergo an extensive and detailed technical inspection. Based on the findings, the museum will determine how to best restore and display the historic aircraft. The extensive restoration is expected to take a number of years.

“The transfer of the B-17D The Swoose to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is the first step in an historic effort to refine our nation’s military aircraft collection,” said Dik Daso, curator of modern military aircraft at the National Air and Space Museum. “After the Air Force’s restoration of the B-17F Memphis Belle is completed and their B-17G Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby moves from Dayton to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles (airport in Washington D.C), the National Air and Space Museum will be able to expand upon the European strategic bombardment story which is vitally important to our collections and curatorial goals. Our collection is enhanced, more aircraft will be on display and the nation will be the beneficiary of thoughtful stewardship that is due these historic fragments of our past.”

Visitors may see both The Swoose and Memphis Belle in the museum’s restoration facility by signing up for a behind the scenes tour held each Friday. Advanced registration is required and interested individuals can find more information by visiting

July 18, 2008 at 3:55 am

History of the US Army Berlin Brigade

Soldiers of the Berlin Brigade and U.S. Command Berlin wore the shoulder sleeve insignia of U.S. Army Europe with a BERLIN tab.

Soldiers of the Berlin Brigade and U.S. Command Berlin wore the shoulder sleeve insignia of U.S. Army Europe with a "BERLIN" tab.

BY Thomas L. Hendrix, U.S. Army Military History Institute
Provided courtesy of the Army Heritage and Education Center.

Fourteen years ago this week, its mission completed, the Berlin Brigade concluded 49 years of U.S. Army service in Berlin. Its last Commander, Colonel Jimmy C. Banks, cased the Brigade’s colors at McNair Barracks, Berlin, on July 12, 1994. The presence of both the President of the United States and the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany highlighted the Brigade’s critical contributions during and following the Cold War. While its Cold War contributions are often-cited, the Brigade’s post-Cold War achievements and transformation have been largely overlooked.

Organized in 1961 from units located in Berlin, the Brigade included infantry, armor, field artillery, engineer, military police, and combat support units. Until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 its mission was to defend Berlin. German reunification in 1990 ended the Cold War and the Brigade’s Berlin-focused missions.

However, the absence of major conflict or threat did not mean U.S. forces in Europe or Berlin were not actively engaged. In fact, the Brigade’s operational tempo and the intensity of its training increased. It executed, for example, no less than five Brigade rotations to the Combat Maneuver Training Center (CMTC) at Hohenfels from 1991 to 1993, even as its soldiers deployed far from Berlin to Africa, Turkey, and Macedonia. Much of the Brigade’s early CMTC training was based on legacy Cold War scenarios: defeat of attacking Warsaw Pact heavy forces.

Following his September 1992 assumption of command, Colonel Jimmy C. Banks, quickly shifted the Brigade’s training and operational focus to real-world missions facing the Army in Europe: contingency operations, forced entry, rapid deployment, humanitarian support, peace enforcement, and peacekeeping. Reduced in size and equipped with specially-equipped “Humvees” (HMMWVs), the Brigade headquarters became more mobile and deployable by air. An airborne command cell ensured command and operational functions for airborne missions. The Brigade secured planning authority for USAREUR’s airborne battalion and developed plans for real-world contingencies. In October 1993, the Brigade exercised demanding contingency, peacekeeping, and enforcement scenarios at CMTC that included the 3rd Battalion, 325th Infantry (Airborne Battalion Combat Team) based in Vicenza, Italy.

Successful short-notice deployments of Brigade military police to Kenya for Operation Provide Relief in 1992 and of Task Force Able Sentry to Macedonia under a United Nations mandate in 1993 validated Colonel Banks’ initiatives and demonstrated the flexibility and responsiveness that a forward-based force provides. The deployment of Task Force Able Sentry to Macedonia in July 1993, for example, was the first that placed U.S. soldiers under United Nations command. It included the in-stride addition of M-113 Armored Personnel Carriers to the Brigade even as deployment preparations were underway. The Brigade’s quiet professionalism resulted in the efficient and rapid deployment of the Task Force in a complex and volatile environment.

As a self-contained combined arms team of infantry, artillery, engineer, military police and combat support units with a deployable and flexible headquarters, well-trained, well-led, and successfully deployed, the Brigade’s organizational and operational transformation in the last years of its service heralded the later development of the Army’s highly successful Brigade Combat Teams.

July 15, 2008 at 3:24 am

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