Military History

Military History

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Public Military Records – How to Search For US, British and Canadian Military Service Records Online

by Marcus Rodgers

If you have access to the Internet, then you have a very valuable tool for locating public military service records for the US, Britain and Canada. Often, you can find the records you need absolutely free of charge. Many people are searching for records in an attempt to learn more about their ancestry. Luckily, military records are some of the easiest to locate. You can find a wide variety of records dating all the way back to the Civil War or sometimes even before that if you know where to search.

If you are looking for United States military records, there are plenty of fantastic online resources that can be of assistance. For recent records, try the official us military websites. There are millions of records on this site. Military Locator is another example of a site that can help you find military records. This site is especially helpful if you are looking for contact information about friends or relatives who may be in the military or may have been. Then there are the sites that are best for ancestral searches. The aptly named Ancestry Web is a good choice for finding older military records dating back to the Civil War and even before.

When it comes to British military records, Genealogy dot com is a good place to begin if you’re looking for old records. For recent records, the surprising Cyndislistis a great resource for locating military buddies from Britain and Canada, to name a few locations. Some of the other sites like Military dot com with millions of listings can also help with British and Canadian searches in addition to United States searches.

RootsWeb is a good choice if you’re looking for Canadian military records. In addition, any one of the British or American search sites might also have Canadian information. Military dot com and Military Finder are two good all-purpose sites to check. Whether you are seeking American, British or Canadian military records, you can find the information you need right on the Internet. And, it is usually totally free!

To Search Public Military Service Records Right Now Go to http://PublicRecordsDepot.com/

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World War 2 Stories – What They Can Teach Us About Heroes

by Ronald Standerfer

Every once in a while a book manages to burrow its way into my mind and I can’t make it go away. The Hellish Vortex is that kind of book. It didn’t start out that way. As a matter of fact, when I first looked at the cover I thought, Gee, this is a book about a young fighter pilot in World War II. I was a young fighter pilot back in the dark ages and flew combat in the Vietnam War. This ought to be a fun read. But a funny thing happened on my way to the last chapter. Inexplicably, my whole perspective changed concerning a subject I thought I knew as well as any combat veteran can. Namely; who are heroes and who are not; and how can you tell the difference?

Brigadier General Richard M Baughn (USAF, Retired) is one of those rare authors who can pull a period of World War II history off a dusty book shelf and breathe fresh new life into it. In his latest book, The Hellish Vortex, he describes the air campaign in the European theater between 1943 and 1945, during which waves of American B-17 and B-24 bombers, escorted by P-38, P-40 and P-51 fighters, pounded Germany. In the same narrative, he chronicles the daily lives of the men who flew them. The result is pure magic; a book well worth reading. How did he do it? It’s simple. For one thing, he is a good writer and for another, he flew P-51s in Europe during the same period. As the saying goes, he has been there, done that. It works every time!

The principal character in the book is 2nd Lt. Robb Baines, a nineteen year old fighter pilot who arrives in the U.K. underage and under trained for his new assignment flying P-51s and escorting bombers to Germany. Like most nineteen year olds, Baines, who I suspect is General Baughn’s alter ego, secretly wonders if he is up to the task at hand. But tangling with German ME 109s and ME 110s is dangerous business with no margin for self doubt, as Baines quickly found out. In time, he became a seasoned combat veteran, a confident leader, and a candidate for bigger and better things in what would become the United States Air Force in 1947.

There are several other characters in the book worth mentioning. There is The Colonel, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, the group commander who led his pilots with a calm steady hand; Big John, a sergeant whose well meaning support for the war effort included seducing the wife of a local chicken farmer to get eggs for the pilots’ predawn breakfasts; and Rocco, Baines’ long suffering wing man who lives his life with characteristic gritty, New York City bravado. These characters, and many others like them, add spice to an already well prepared dish. Speaking of spices, there is love, romance and sex in the book as well; but the author is careful not to let these asides draw him off the main theme.

One of the things I like about The Hellish Vortex, is that the author periodically inserted excerpts from a paper entitled The Army Air Forces and 8th Air Force during World War II, purportedly written by Baines while at The Armed Forces Staff College. These asides afford the reader a chance to take a break and look at the big picture. It was there that I learned things I never knew, or had forgotten, about the growth of American air power between World War I and 1947. And it was also there that I read a statistic I still can’t get out of my mind; namely, There were 41,802 airmen killed in a force that never exceeded 100,000 pilots, navigators, bombardiers, and aerial gunners. This grim statistics reinforces something I have always suspected, namely: that it is tempting for warriors to tell their stories loudly, garnering praise and admiration wherever and whenever they can. But the plain truth is that not all warriors are heroes; just as not all heroes are warriors; and those that are, often prefer to speak softly in deference to the heroes that never made it home. It took a simple book, written by a talented, unassuming writer to confirm my suspicion.

You can buy The Hellish Vortex at Amazon.com. It is an excellent read.

Ron Standerfer is a retired Air Force Colonel and fighter pilot who flew 250 combat missions during the Vietnam War. He has written numerous short stories, magazine articles, and blog pieces on military aviation in general, and fighter pilots in specific. During the initial bombing of Baghdad during the Persian Gulf War, he was seen on national TV as a military analyst. His latest novel, The Eagle’s Last Flight, chronicles the life of an Air Force fighter pilot during the Cold War and Vietnam years. Details of this book can be found at http://www.theeagleslastflight.com

His blog, which presents his views and opinions on a variety of subjects can be read at http://www.theeagleslastflight.blogspot.com

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Baron Manfred Von Richthofen, the world’s first Ace

A bit of a mystery shrouds the death of Baron Manfred Von Richthofen (the “Red Baron”) over the Morlancourt Ridge, near the Somme River, on April 21, 1918. Some accounts have him crashing to the ground, others say that while he was shot through the torso, he maintained enough control and presence of mind to land his Fokker Dr I before he died of his wounds. Whatever the exact circumstances, he was hit with a .303 caliber round, which confirms that he was killed by a British Empire troop – whether Australian, British, or Canadian – although the identity of the shooter remains in question to this day.

Officially, credit for the Richthofen kill went to RAF Captain Arthur Brown, who was pursuing him at the time. Later analysis tends to credit an Australian machine gunner on the ground, primarily because of the route traveled by the round. It was determined that it went from low in his right side and slightly behind him, then went up and forward from there, but the most telling fact was that it was found still in Richthofen’s clothing. Had the shot come from Brown’s machine gun, it would not have still been there, since the planes were in close proximity to each other.

Thus both the angle of the wound and the diminished velocity of the bullet indicate that the shot came from the ground, most likely one Sergeant Cedric Popkin of the Australian 24th Machine Gun Company.

Richthofen was born on May 2, 1892. He went into the German army and completed his cavalry cadet training in 1911, but soon after the outbreak of the Great War, he became bored and decided he wanted to fly. He secured a transfer in 1915 and started flight training in October, completing his first solo flight on October 10. Taking the liberty of mounting a machine gun on his Albatros B II reconnaissance plane, he essentially created his own fighter. It wasn’t long before he shot down a French reconnaissance plane, although it wasn’t credited to him.

During one of his many exploits, on November 23, 1916, he shot down and killed Major Lanoe George Hawker, who at the time was the best of the British pilots, one whom Richthofen considered very “big game.” By this time, of course, the Allies were concentrating intensely on going after him. He was causing entirely too much damage and had to be stopped.

With 20 kills in April of 1917, Richthofen brought his total to an unprecedented 52. By this time he had become a fearless as well as a ruthless killer, even shooting Allied pilots trying to escape from their downed planes. This was quite a change from earlier, when he once sent a box of cigars to a British opponent who survived.

Then in July of that year, he took a round that grazed and partially splintered his skull and, because it never healed properly, caused discomfort in the form of severe headaches for the rest of his life. After a period of treatment and recuperation, he returned to the squadron, but he wasn’t at his peak for several weeks.

By September of that year, he had managed to recover somewhat, and raised his kill count to 60. By then he was flying the distinctive red triple-wing Fokker Dr I that he is remembered for today. At the time of his death, he had achieved 80 kills, the highest number for World War I of any country, and in fact Baron Manfred Von Richthofen’s air battle record still stands.

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Operation SHINGLE: D-Day at Anzio

January – 24 May 1944

The Allies landed thirty miles south of Rome on 22 January, surprising the Germans who were confident that they would not attempt an amphibious assault in January, and as a result it took the Germans several days to adjust their positions for a proper defense. But when they had done so, they set the stage for a long, bitter struggle.

General Eisenhower was the ranking Allied commanding officer in the Mediterranean theater, under whom the decision was made in December 1943 to shelve the planned invasion at Anzio. When he left to take command of OVERLORD, control of the Mediterranean passed to the British, who revived the plan for Operation SHINGLE at the urging of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. To Churchill the success of the Mediterranean operation was dependent upon the liberation of Rome, and the key to that was to land an assault at Anzio. One reason was that it was within range of Allied aircraft operating from Naples.

In an instance where egomania played a crucial part in the operation, the eleven nations in the allied forces saw an opportunity to defeat the Germans’ Gustav Line – under the command of Field Marshal Albert Kesselring – by enveloping the German forces. This operation needed for the U.S. Fifth Army under command of General Mark Clark to commit to an easterly drive from Cisterna. But Clark didn’t want the British Eighth Army to get to Rome before him, and his negligence and egotistical maneuver of diverting most of his troops in part caused the mission to fail in its primary objective.

Much controversy surrounds the facts and figures of the Anzio invasion, in that it was so costly and failed to accomplish many of its stated goals. The campaign took four months and Allied casualties totaled almost 30,000, with 4,400 killed and 6,800 missing or captured (German casualties were similar in number). Allied troops were essentially immobile for the four months of the campaign, making very little progress prior to the advance of the Fifth Army to the south. Many thought that Major General John P. Lucas, in charge of the invasion, was considered too cautious whereas a bolder, more strident “Patton-like” approach would have proven more successful.

As much as has been written about the failure of the Anzio invasion, two facts remain. First, Churchill was correct in his opinion that the liberation of Rome was indisputably an important objective as a key to holding Italy. For that reason, the Germans couldn’t turn their back on Southern Italy. Second, German troop reserves as well as materiel and equipment were already drained to a critical point. Having been put on the defensive, Germany couldn’t move the 135,000 troops of their Fourteenth Army out of Italy. The Anzio campaign wasn’t officially over until 24 May 1944, less than two weeks before the Germans were surprised yet again at the beaches of Normandy.

There’s no way to know whether the world would have seen a drastically different outcome had the Germans been able to move those troops and materiel to Normandy in time for D-Day, but it certainly could have made a significant difference in terms of casualties.

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