Monday, January 23, 2023

Museum Review: The National Museum of the United States Army

The National Museum of the United States Army (NMUSA) opened in 2020. There is certainly some competition for history museums in this region, like the Gettysburg Battlefield Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. But I can’t give a higher recommendation than for the NMUSA. I’ve wanted to visit it since it was under construction. It was worth the wait.

First, I liked that the museum was focused solely on the history of the U.S. Army; the unbiased story of the men and women who have served from the first muster of militia in 1636 to our most recent deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are no controversies offered, and no political commentary is displayed. This museum is purely a celebration of the people who answered their country’s call and an educational opportunity for American military history.

When you enter the museum, I recommend that you go to the Army Theater and watch the introductory movie “Of Noble Deeds.” As one of the docents described it, “It will get you in the mode of the museum.” The theater is state-of-the-art. Surround sound and a 360-degree screen. The floor vibrated during battle scenes and I swear there was a blast of cold air blowing down from the ceiling during the segment on the Battle of the Bulge. The movie starts every fifteen minutes, so really, see the movie.

The first floor of the museum holds permanent exhibits that trace the Army’s history. There are seven galleries that each have a different theme. The theme also corresponds to a period of American history. There are plenty of pictures on the museum’s website, but they don’t do these displays justice. It is a total sensory experience of image, light, and sound. There are full-size, real vehicles like a Sherman Tank and a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The displays were so lifelike (particularly the mannequins) that I was reminded of the movie “Night at the Museum.” Do they come to life at night?

If you are going to read every word on every display, you’re going to need a long day. The Special Exhibits area (traveling or temporary exhibits) is on the second floor. We had to save them for another visit, which we are planning for the near future. There is a lot to see. I won’t go over everything in the museum here. Instead, do a deep dive on the NMUSA website.

The NMUSA is located on Fort Belvoir, Virginia, just south of Washington, D.C., and Alexandria. The museum sits on an open part of the base so you do not have to stop at a gate and sign in or show a picture ID. For driving directions, Google Maps took me right to the parking lot. Their address is 1775 Liberty Drive, Fort Belvoir, VA 22060. Parking is free. Entry into the museum is free, but you are asked to secure a timed ticket on the museum’s website. Probably a good idea during the busy tourist season. When you enter the museum, you will be required to go through a screening similar to an airport. See the NMUSA website for a list of items you are prohibited from bringing into the museum.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that there is a nice cafeteria on the first floor of the museum. But if you want other food options, you’ll have to get in your car. The large, well-stocked, gift shop is also great for souvenir tee shirts and hats (I bought a cool new Army sweatshirt). My only criticism of the museum is that they could offer more books in the gift shop.

When you take a vacation to D.C., I realize that there are a lot of sites competing for your time. But if you are a student of American military history, the National Museum of the United States Army needs to be on your itinerary. 





Saturday, January 14, 2023

A Short History of U.S. Navy Aircraft Carriers

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 History of The United States Navy Aircraft Carrier

The USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) cruises
in the Gulf of Tonkin, May 28, 1966.
National Archives
The modern Nimitz-class (CVN-68) aircraft carrier is like a small city with a medium-sized airport on the roof. The combat power carried by the carrier, its air wing, and the other ships in a U.S. aircraft carrier battle group (CVBG) provides the President, in the words of writer Tom Clancy, "presence, influence, and options." The advantage of this power was put more plainly in the words of Senator John C. Stennis, (namesake of the USS John C. Stennis, CVN-74) "there is nothing that compares with it when it comes to deterrence." With nuclear propulsion, jet aircraft that can fly faster than the speed of sound, and weapons that can strike an enemy we can't see with the naked eye, it's hard to believe that the first aircraft took off from a ship less than one hundred years ago.

Early Years

When the Wright brothers made their first powered flight at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903, the United States, like most other world powers, was focused on a battleship navy. In fact, with the launching of the British warship HMS Dreadnought in 1906, a new arms race began, with the superpowers of the day competing to be the first country to take the next step in armament, armor, and propulsion. Yet, forward-thinking individuals saw the airplane as a potential weapon against these armored behemoths. In 1908, aviation pioneer Glenn Curtis laid out a target in the shape of a battleship and proceeded to simulate bombing it. The United States Navy took notice, and when they heard that Germany was attempting to fly aircraft off the deck of a ship, they wanted to try it too.

On November 4, 1910, Eugene Ely, an exhibition pilot who worked for Glenn Curtiss, took off from a wooden platform built over the main deck of the light cruiser Birmingham (CL-2). Ely's plane, a Curtis Pusher, skipped the water once, but the pilot maintained control and landed safely on shore in Norfolk, Virginia. Two months later, Ely landed on a platform built on the quarterdeck of the armored cruiser Pennsylvania (ACR-4) in San Francisco Bay. He had installed hooks on the undercarriage of his aircraft that grabbed several of the twenty-two transverse cables strung over the platform and held by sandbags on either end. Later that year, Ely was asked how long he planned to keep flying. Ely replied, "Oh, I'll do like the rest of them, keep it up until I'm killed." Two weeks later, at the age of 25, Eugene Ely became the 101st pilot to die in an airplane crash, though not while working for the Navy.

In December 1910, the month prior to Ely's "first carrier landing," Glenn Curtiss offered at his own expense "to instruct an officer of the US Navy in the operation and construction of a Curtiss aeroplane." Lieutenant T.G. Ellyson reported to North Island, San Diego, California on December 23, 1910, for training with Curtiss. Four months later Ellyson "graduated flight school" when Curtiss wrote to the Secretary of the Navy that "Lt. Ellyson is now competent to care for and operate Curtiss aeroplanes." In less than eight years since the first powered flight by the Wright brothers, the Navy had demonstrated that it could have an aircraft take off from, and land on, a ship. Although the U.S. Navy would not establish its flying corps until 1916, it had already begun to see the importance that aviation would play in the future.

World War I developed aviation as a war-fighting branch. The war saw the development of mounted guns and the dropping of bombs on enemy targets. However, the American navy used primarily land-based aircraft and a few seaplanes to provide adjustment for naval gunfire and patrolling for submarines. The British took the lead in developing carrier-borne operations during the First World War. By 1914, they had converted the bulk carrier Ark Royal and the light cruiser Furious into aircraft carriers. The U.S. Navy would take the British example and improve upon it. The USS Jupiter (AC-3), a collier or bulk cargo ship for carrying coal, was converted into the USS Langley (CV-1). The Langley was America's first aircraft carrier, launched on March 20, 1920.

The Langley was converted at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in San Francisco Bay and named for Samuel Pierpont Langley, an American aviation pioneer. Langley could operate with 26 aircraft, which was a space design accomplishment considering the size of her hull. She was nicknamed the "covered wagon" by her crew, and over the next two decades, the Langley trained the first generation of navy carrier pilots. She was converted to a seaplane tender (AV-3) in 1937 and the outbreak of World War II found the Langley in the Philippines. On February 27, 1942, the Langley was caught by a Japanese air attack near Java while ferrying aircraft from Australia. The ship was so badly damaged that later she had to be scuttled by her crew.

While the Langley had always been a test and training ship, what the Navy learned from her immediately went into the next generation of carriers, the Lexington-class. Following WWI, the five remaining major naval powers (Great Britain, the United States, Italy, France, and Japan) entered into the world's first arms limitation treaty, the Washington Naval Treaty, in 1922. One aspect of the treaty was to limit the size of future battleships and heavy cruisers. The United States had already laid the keel on two heavy cruisers, the Lexington and the Saratoga, which now could not be finished due to the limits set by the Washington Naval Treaty. Therefore to take advantage of the work already funded, the projects were converted over to carrier designs. The Lexington (CV-2), called the "Gray Lady" or "Lady Lex," was launched on October 3, 1925, and commissioned on December 14, 1927. The Saratoga (CV-3) was nicknamed "Sister Sara" or "Stripe-Stacked Sara" for the vertical stripe painted on her funnel so pilots could tell her from her sister ship. Saratoga was launched on April 7, 1925, and commissioned on November 16, 1927.

World War II Era

At the time of their launching, the Lexington-class aircraft carriers were the largest and fastest naval ships in the world. They could operate up to ninety aircraft, which was twice the number of any British or Japanese carrier afloat. Lexington and Saratoga made the United States Navy the world leader in naval aviation and during the interwar years trained the generation of officers that would win the great naval battles of WWII. The Lexington was sunk during the Battle of the Coral Sea on May 7, 1942. Saratoga survived the war, including the Battle of Midway, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and other campaigns, earning seven battle stars for her WWII service. But at war's end, technology had left Saratoga behind and she was considered a surplus ship. Saratoga was sunk as part of a nuclear test on Bikini Atoll. She is now a destination for recreational divers.

The USS Ranger (CV-4) was the first American aircraft carrier to be built as a carrier from the keel up. The Ranger was the only one its class and smaller than the Lexington-class carriers, but still normally operated with 76 aircraft. Ranger was laid down on September 26, 1931, in Newport News, Virginia, launched on February 25, 1933, and commissioned on June 4, 1934. The Ranger is only one of three American aircraft carriers (along with Saratoga and Enterprise) built before WWII that served and survived the entire war. The USS Ranger spent most of her time in the Atlantic, but trained pilots in night flying in the Pacific at the end of the war. Ranger was sold for scrap and struck from the register on October 19, 1946.

With war on the horizon, the navy took what they had learned from the Lexington-class carriers and the Ranger and developed the Yorktown-class. The USS Yorktown (CV-5) was launched on April 4, 1936, and commissioned on September 30, 1937. The Yorktown was fast at 32 knots cruising, but also carried a complement of 80 aircraft, making it almost as effective a launching platform as the Lexington-class. Two other ships are in the class, the USS Enterprise (CV-6) was commissioned on May 12, 1938, and the USS Hornet (CV-8) was commissioned on October 20, 1941. A scaled-down version of the class, the USS Wasp (CV-7) was built (commissioned in 1939) to use up the allowable tonnage remaining under the Washington Naval Treaty. Due to its size, the Wasp is considered to be a one-ship class. The USS Wasp was sunk during the Guadalcanal Campaign on September 15, 1942. Only one of the three Yorktown-class ships survived the war. The Yorktown was sunk at the Battle of Midway on June 5, 1942. The Hornet was lost at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on October 26, 1942. The USS Enterprise (CV-6), known as the "Big E" or "the Grey Ghost," survived the war, having participated in more major actions (20 battle stars) than any other US ship. Enterprise is probably most famous for launching the sixteen B-25 bombers of the "Doolittle Raid" on Tokyo. CV-6 was scrapped in 1958, but the navy would later honor her name with a new ship.

With the opening salvos of World War II, the United States rushed to lay down the next generation of aircraft carriers. The Essex-class carrier was the most numerous class of carriers with 26 ships being built in both a "short-hull" and "long-hull" version. The long-hull version allowed enough deck space to mount two quadruple 40mm gun mounts. The Essex carried between 90 and 100 aircraft and steamed at 33 knots. The design of the Essex-class allowed for modifications and systems upgrades and hence a few of these carriers lasted until the 1970s. The USS Essex (CV-9) was the fourth ship to bear the name and was commissioned on July 31, 1942. Essex served in the Pacific during WWII and was awarded 13 battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation. Decommissioned after the war, she was brought back as an attack carrier (CVA-9) during the Korean War era earning 4 battle stars and Navy Unit Commendation. The Essex eventually was made into an antisubmarine aircraft carrier (CVS-9) and was the primary recovery ship for the Apollo 7 space mission. Essex was finally decommissioned in 1969.

The Essex had nine sister ships in the short-hull version. The USS Yorktown (CV-10) was commissioned in 1943, decommissioned in 1970, and is now preserved at the Patriot's Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. USS Intrepid (CV-11), also commissioned in 1943, was decommissioned in 1974 and is preserved at the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York. USS Hornet (CV-12) also began service in 1943, was decommissioned in 1970, and now is preserved at the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda, California. The USS Franklin (CV-13) served from 1944 until 1947 and was scrapped in 1966. The USS Lexington (CV-16) was commissioned in 1943 and was not decommissioned until 1991. Lexington is now preserved at the USS Lexington Museum On the Bay in Corpus Christi, Texas. USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) began service in 1943 and was scrapped in 1973. The USS Wasp (CV-18) served from 1943 and was scrapped in 1973. The USS Bennington (CV-20) was commissioned in 1944, decommissioned in 1970, and scrapped in 1994. The USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) was the last of the short-hull Essex-class carriers. She was commissioned in 1944, decommissioned in 1971, and scrapped in 1992.

The sixteen long-hull Essex-class carriers began with the commissioning of the USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) in 1944. Ticonderoga was decommissioned in 1973 and scrapped in 1975. USS Randolph (CV-15) served from 1944 until 1969 and was scrapped in 1975. USS Hancock (CV-19) was also commissioned in 1944, served until January 1976, and was scrapped that same year. The USS Boxer (CV-21) began service in 1945 and was converted to an amphibious assault ship in 1959, before being decommissioned in 1969 and scrapped in 1971. The USS Leyte (CV-32) served from 1942 until 1959 and was scrapped in 1970. USS Kearsarge (CV-33) was commissioned in 1946, decommissioned in 1970, and scrapped in 1974. The USS Oriskany (CV-34) served from 1950 until September 1976. Oriskany was scuttled in the Gulf of Mexico in 2006 to create an artificial reef. USS Reprisal (CV-35) was canceled while under construction in 1945. The partially complete hulk was launched in 1946 and used for explosives tests before being scrapped in 1949. USS Antietam (CV-36) served from 1945 until 1963 and was scrapped in 1974. The USS Princeton (CV-37), also commissioned in 1945, served as an amphibious assault ship from 1959 until decommissioned in 1970, and then scrapped in 1971. The USS Shangri-la (CV-38) served from 1944 until 1971 and was scrapped in 1988. The USS Lake Champlain (CV-39) was commissioned in 1945, decommissioned in 1966, and scrapped in 1972. USS Tarawa (CV-40) was commissioned in 1945, decommissioned in 1960, and sold for scrap in 1968. The USS Valley Forge (CV-45) served from 1946 until January 1970 and was scrapped in 1971. USS Philippine Sea (CV-47) was the last Essex-class carrier to see service. Commissioned in 1946, the Philippine Sea was decommissioned in 1958 and scrapped in 1971. The USS Iwo Jima (CV-46) was canceled during construction in 1945 and scrapped in 1946. Six other long-hull Essex-class carriers (CV-50 through CV-55) were canceled before being named.

In August of 1941, with the direct interest of President Roosevelt, the Navy chose to convert nine cruiser hulls that had been already laid into light aircraft carriers. This was a stop-gap measure to fill the time required to build the first Essex-class carriers. The result was the Independence-class of light aircraft carriers. Beginning with the USS Independence (CVL-22), commissioned in January 1943, this class of aircraft carriers typically carried 24 F6F Hellcat fighters and 9 TBM Avenger torpedo planes. The Independence-class carriers were limited capability ships but served well during the war. Eight of the ships participated in the June 1944 Battle of the Philippine Sea, supplying 40 percent of the American fighters and 36 percent of the torpedo bombers that saw action during the battle. The Independence-class did not see long service after the war like their larger sisters in the Essex-class. The USS Independence was used as a nuclear test target in 1946 and finally scuttled in January 1951. The USS Princeton (CVL-23) was sunk on October 24, 1944, as a result of damage sustained in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24) was transferred to France to serve that country from 1953 to 1960 and then was returned to the United States to be scrapped. The USS Cowpens (CVL-25) was decommissioned in 1947 and scrapped in 1960. The USS Monterey (CVL-26) was decommissioned in 1956 and scrapped in 1971. USS Langley (CVL-27) began service like her sister ships in 1943 and then served the French Navy from 1951 to 1963 before being returned to the United States to be scrapped in 1964. The USS Cabot (CVL-28) was transferred to Spain to serve from 1967 until 1989. Cabot was returned to the United States to be scrapped in 2002. The USS Bataan (CVL-29) was decommissioned in 1954 and scrapped in 1961. The USS San Jacinto (CVL-30) served this country from 1943 until 1947 and was scrapped in 1972.

During the war, American industry also produced nearly one hundred other purpose carriers, not given the numerical designation of "fleet carriers." These smaller ships, designated "escort carriers" (CVE) fulfilled a variety of other duties such as antisubmarine warfare, close air support, amphibious support, and aircraft transportation. These workhorses left the fleet carriers free to face the Japanese navy in the major "carrier battles" of the war.

Post War

Planned and built during WWII, the Midway-class carriers were commissioned too late to serve in the war. This class of aircraft carrier would see a long life of service to the United States and was the last carrier class of the World War II era that took us through the Cold War era, before the construction of the "Super Carriers." The Midway-class of carrier featured armored deck protection; therefore it was a big ship to support the weight. USS Midway (CVB-41), commissioned on September 11, 1945, was the first navy ship built so large that it could not fit through the Panama Canal. The Midway served several deployments to Vietnam and also participated in Operation Desert Storm. She was decommissioned in 1992 and is preserved at the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, California. Midway's sister ships in the class are USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42) and USS Coral Sea (CVB-43). Franklin D. Roosevelt, known by her crew as "Swanky Franky" or just "Rosie," spent most of her career in the Mediterranean as part of the United States Sixth Fleet. The Roosevelt was decommissioned in 1977 and scrapped the following year. Coral Sea served from 1947 until 1990 and was also deployed to the Vietnam War. The Coral Sea was present for the fall of Saigon and responded to the Mayaguez Incident. She had the nickname "Ageless Warrior" for her long service but unfortunately was scrapped in the year 2000. Three other Midway-class carriers were planned (CVB-44, CVB-56, and CVB-57), but were canceled in the post-WWII drawdown of forces.

Like the Independence-class, two light aircraft carriers came out of this "end of war" period. The Saipan-class of light carriers consisted of two ships: the USS Saipan (CVL-48) and the USS Wright (CVL-49). They were based on light cruiser hulls, but unlike the Independence-class, the Saipan-class were built from the keel up as a carrier. The Saipan and the Wright were commissioned in 1946 and 1947, respectively, and were later converted to command and communications ships in the 1950s. Both ships were scrapped in 1980.

Supercarriers

In the years between World War II and the Korean War, defense dollars were tight. A debate raged among American military leaders on whether the best way to defend the United States was to put the majority of our efforts into long-range bombers that could strike with nuclear weapons anywhere in the world or build naval task forces around a new class of "supercarrier" operating with aircraft capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons if the need arose. This of course caused a not-always-so-friendly rivalry between the Air Force and the Navy for precious funding. While this debate was raging, both services strove to modernize their branch of service. On July 29, 1948, President Truman authorized the construction of five new ships in a class of supercarriers, based on the Naval Appropriations act of 1949. The keel of the first of these ships, the USS United States (CVA-58) was laid down on April 18, 1949, at Newport News Drydock and Shipbuilding in Virginia. The ship was designed to conduct nuclear war against the Soviet Union. It would carry 18-24 nuclear-capable bombers and 54 fighter escort aircraft. The cost of the United States alone was estimated to be $190 million.

With limited funds and fierce opposition by both the Air Force and Army leadership, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson canceled the construction of the USS United States on April 23, 1949, just five days after it was started. The funding priority would go to the Air Force and their new project, the B-36 Peacemaker intercontinental bomber. The Navy was livid. Secretary of the Navy John Sullivan immediately resigned. In the months following the decision to cancel the United States, there was a "revolt of the Admirals" where many of the Navy's leadership spoke out publically, many at the cost of their careers. However, the outspoken Admirals did help to bring about congressional hearings into the matters. Subsequent investigations and studies, as well as the protracted, non-nuclear, and limited Korean War, helped to save the United States Navy. In the early 1950s, funds were increased to help modernize existing carriers and plan for future supercarrier projects.

The Forrestal-class was the first supercarriers to see service with the United States Navy. The ships are called "supercarriers" because of the tonnage and the name has been applied to every aircraft carrier since. For example, the USS Forrestal (CV-59) at over 81,000 tons fully loaded is 25% larger than the USS Midway. Although the size and weight of a supercarrier are extraordinary, the Forrestal has a speed of 34 knots and carries a complement of 90 aircraft. Forrestal was commissioned on October 1, 1955, and served until September 1993. Other ships in the class are the USS Saratoga (CV-60), USS Ranger (CV-61), and USS Independence (CV-62). USS Saratoga was active from 1956 until 1994. USS Ranger served from 1957 until July 1993 and USS Independence was in service from 1959 until September 1998. All four Forrestal-class carriers are waiting for disposal.

The Kitty Hawk class of supercarriers brought an incremental improvement over the Forrestal-class. The Kitty Hawk-class has a greater length of a few feet on average, and movement of the elevators to facilitate aircraft movement. Three carriers are in this class. The USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) was commissioned in 1961 and decommissioned in May 2009. Kitty Hawk is being held in reserve status in Bremerton, Washington until 2015. The USS Constellation (CV-64) served from 1961 until 2003 and is awaiting disposal in Bremerton. The USS America (CV-66) was commissioned in 1965 and was decommissioned in 1996. The America was scuttled in 2005 as part of a live-fire test. There was to be a fourth Kitty Hawk-class supercarrier, the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67). However, originally planned as a nuclear ship, then built with conventional propulsion, there were enough design changes that the USS John F. Kennedy is considered to be the only ship in the Kennedy-class. The Kennedy served from 1968 until 2007 and is now on donation hold in Philadelphia.

The Nuclear Navy

The USS Enterprise (CVN-65) is the United States Navy's first nuclear-powered supercarrier and the only ship in the Enterprise-class. Commissioned on November 25, 1961, and still serving, Enterprise is the oldest active US Navy ship, after the wooden frigate USS Constitution. At the time of her launching, the "Big E" was also the heaviest navy ship at 93,284 tons, and the longest carrier at a length of 1,123 feet. Enterprise has an eight-reactor propulsion design, whereas other nuclear carriers only have two. Enterprise's first deployment in 1962 was to serve as a tracking station for the Project Mercury space capsule that took John Glenn on the first orbit of the earth. Only eight months later the Big E was dispatched to serve as part of the naval blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Enterprise has served multiple deployments to Vietnam and hot spots around the globe since. Enterprise launched air strikes against Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in October 2001, making it the first response to the 9/11 attacks. She has had multiple deployments during the Global War on Terror. Enterprise is scheduled for retirement in 2013, which will make 51 years of continuous service to the country, more than any other U.S. aircraft carrier.

Along with the USS Enterprise, the modern American carrier force is made up of the ten ships in the nuclear-powered Nimitz-class. Beginning with the USS Nimitz (CVN-68), nicknamed the "Old Salt" and commissioned in 1975, these supercarriers are the largest afloat at over 100,000 tons. The Nimitz-class is about thirty feet shorter than the Enterprise but can maintain over 30 knots of speed for unlimited range on two nuclear reactors that drive four propeller shafts. They operate a naval air wing of up to 90 aircraft, mostly F/A-18 Hornets. All ten carriers were built by Newport News Shipbuilding Company in Virginia. As of 2010, the Nimitz's home port is at Everett, Washington. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), the "Mighty Ike," was commissioned in October 1977 and calls NS Norfolk, Virginia home. The USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) was commissioned in March 1982 and is homeported in San Diego, California. The Carl Vinson's callsign is "Gold Eagle," but her crew has a lot of other names for her like "Cell Block 70" and the "Carl Prison." But other nicknames show the sailor's pride, like "America's Favorite Carrier" and the "Chuckie V." On November 11th of 2011 (11-11-11), the Carl Vinson played host to the first NCAA basketball game on an aircraft carrier between the University of North Carolina and Michigan State University.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) is known in navy circles as "TR" but her crew likes to call her the "Big Stick." Commissioned in October 1986, the Theodore Roosevelt is homeported at Newport News, Virginia. The USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) was commissioned on Veteran's Day in 1989. Her home port is Everett, Washington. USS George Washington (CVN-73) was commissioned on July 4, 1992, and is homeported in Yokosuka, Japan. The USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) calls Bremerton, Washington home. Stennis was commissioned in December 1995 and carries the nickname of "Johnny Reb." The USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) has the callsign of "Lone Warrior" and the ship's motto is, of course, "the buck stops here." Truman was commissioned in July 1998 and is home based at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), "the Gipper," calls San Diego home. Commissioned in July 2003, the Reagan is the first ship to be named for a former president who was still living at the time. The USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) was the tenth and final Nimitz-class supercarrier to be built. The Bush's callsign is "Avenger" in honor of the TBM Avenger aircraft flown by then Lieutenant Bush during WWII. Commissioned in January 2009, USS George H. W. Bush calls Norfolk, Virginia home.

In the Future

The next generation of supercarriers is already being planned and constructed. The Gerald R. Ford class of aircraft carriers will eventually replace the Nimitz class. The Ford class will look similar in appearance, but the Ford-class will incorporate new technologies that will reduce costs and lower crew requirements. The first in the line will be named the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), after the 38th President of the United States. The Gerald R. Ford's estimated cost is 13.5 billion dollars. The keel was laid down on November 13, 2009, and the Ford is anticipated to join the U.S. Navy's fleet in 2015, replacing the USS Enterprise (CVN-65). In development is the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), scheduled for completion in 2018 and due to replace the USS Nimitz (CVN-68). Also planned is the yet unnamed CVN-80, estimated to be completed in 2021 to replace the Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69).

 View the Index of Unit Histories

For further reading

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

A Short History of the 173rd Airborne Brigade

  View the Index of Unit Histories

"Sky Soldiers"
(Original article written 10-15-12 by Jim Broumley)

The 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team (BCT) is a parachute infantry brigade of the United States Army that is home based in Vicenza, Italy. The "Sky Soldiers" are the United States European Command's conventional airborne strategic response force for Europe. As of June 2006, the 173rd Airborne Brigade was reorganized as part of the Army's modularization process. Since that time, subordinate units of the 173rd BCT consist of the 1/503rd Infantry, 2/503rd Infantry (Airborne), 1/91st Cavalry (Airborne), 4/319th Field Artillery, the 173rd Support Battalion (Airborne), and the 173rd Special Troops Battalion.

The Sky Soldiers can trace their lineage back to the forming of the 173rd Infantry, 87th Division in 1917. The Brigade went to France with the 87th Division but was not involved in any major combat action. The Brigade was demobilized at Camp Dix, New Jersey in January of 1919. Between wars, the 173rd went through a series of reorganizations and re-designations. By the start of World War II, brigades were eliminated from divisions. Therefore in February of 1942, the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 173rd Infantry Brigade was assigned to the 87th Division as the 87th Reconnaissance Troop. The 87th Division was part of Patton's Third Army and the 87th saw extensive combat in Europe including the Battle of the Bulge and the crossing of the Rhine River. The future Sky Soldiers were deactivated again in 1945, at Fort Benning, Georgia. Additionally, two maneuver battalions of the Brigade trace their history to the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment which participated in the taking of Corregidor in the Philippines.

The 173rd ABN BDE earned several nicknames during their training for their noteworthy service during the Vietnam War. The 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate) was activated into the regular army on the island of Okinawa on March 26, 1963. The Brigade was to serve as the quick reaction force for the Pacific Command. Since this unique and aggressive unit was to be ready to insert into Southeast Asian countries as a crisis revealed itself, the unit was known as the "Fire Brigade." Their first commander, Brigadier General Ellis W. Williamson established realistic training throughout the region. Nationalist Chinese (Taiwan) paratroopers gave the 173rd Airborne their nickname of Tien Bing or "Sky Soldiers" due to the number of training jumps conducted on their island.

Our thanks to John "Dutch" Holland, a Vietnam Veteran with Bravo Company, 1/503rd for his recollection of how the 173rd Airborne got the nickname of The Herd:

"The term Herd used with pride by veterans of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. This nickname was coined by Colonel 'Rawhide' Boland of the 1/503rd. Colonel Boland while on leave heard, liked and bought a copy of Frankie Laine's old song Rawhide from the TV series of the same name. The colonel on returning to camp played the song over the PA system during all battalion formations. We as paratroopers had to run to and from all these formations, and with the roads being unpaved kicked, up quit a cloud of dust. One of his staff remarked that we looked like a herd of cattle and you can guess the rest. Colonel Boland was given the name Rawhide and the battalion was referred to as the Herd. The rest of the brigade adopted the name once in Nam and no one is sure when or how that began. Colonel Boland is still alive and kickin' at 88 years of age and still signs his name as 'Rawhide Boland.'"

The 173rd Airborne Brigade was the first Army unit sent to the Republic of South Vietnam. In May of 1965, the majority of the Brigade landed at Bien Hoa Airfield. They found the area frequently battered by enemy raids and shelling attacks. The Sky Soldiers were the first to go into War Zone D to destroy enemy base camps and relieve pressure on the Vietnamese capital. The 173rd was the first to introduce the use of long-range reconnaissance patrols. The Brigade was assigned to II Field Force, Vietnam for their entire service. They fought in the Iron Triangle, a Viet Cong stronghold north of Saigon. In November of 1965, the 173rd took part in Operation Hump, north of Bien Hoa on the outskirts of Saigon. In 1966 they participated in Operation Crimp to root out enemy forces from the Tunnels at Cu Chi.

The 1st and 2nd Battalions, 503rd Infantry were the first Army combat units from the 173rd sent to the Republic of South Vietnam, accompanied by the 3rd Battalion, 319th Artillery. They were supported by the 173rd Support Battalion, 173rd Engineers, E Trp/17th Cavalry, and D Co/16th Armor. The First Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment and the 161st Field Battery of the Royal New Zealand Army were later attached to the Brigade during the first year.

In late August of 1966 the 4th Battalion, 503rd Infantry from Fort Campbell, Kentucky joined the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam. The 3/503rd joined the Brigade at Tuy Hoa in September of 1967. Also joining the Brigade was Company N, 75th Rangers. At its peak strength in Vietnam, the 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate) had nearly 3,000 soldiers assigned.

On February 22, 1967, the 173rd Airborne Brigade took part in Operation Junction City, conducting the only combat parachute jump of the Vietnam War. During some of the toughest fighting of the war, the Sky Soldiers blocked North Vietnamese Army incursions at Dak To during the summer and fall of 1967. This period culminated in the capture of Hill 875. Elements of the brigade conducted an amphibious assault against NVA and VC forces as part of an operation to clear the rice-growing lowlands along the Bong Song littoral.

The Battle of Dak To took a heavy toll on the Brigade and hence they were transferred to the An Khe and Bong Son areas. They saw little action during 1968 while the Brigade was rebuilt. The unit stayed in An Khe until mid-1969. In May 1969 the Brigade conducted Operation Darby Punch II, which was the Sky Soldiers' fiftieth operation in country.

From April 1969 until its withdrawal from Vietnam in 1971, the 173rd Airborne Brigade served in Binh Dinh Province. They participated in four additional operations: Washington Greene, Greene Lightning, Greene Storm, and Green Sure. From April to August 1971 the Sky Soldiers redeployed back to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The unit was deactivated on January 14, 1972.

The Vietnam Veterans of the 173rd Airborne Brigade are deservedly proud of their service with the Sky Soldiers. During just over six years of combat, the 173rd earned 14 campaign streamers and 4 unit citations. The Brigade soldiers were awarded 13 Medals of Honor, 46 Distinguished Service Crosses, 1736 Silver Stars, and over 6,000 Purple Hearts. Sadly, 1736 Sky Soldiers died in Vietnam.

The 173rd Airborne Brigade was reactivated on June 12, 2000, on Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy as the European Command's only conventional airborne strategic response force. On March 26, 2003, the 173rd made the largest combat jump since World War II when the Sky Soldiers landed in the Bashur Drop Zone to open the northern front in support of the invasion of Iraq. The jump forced Iraqi defenses to commit forces to the area making it safer for swift progress to Baghdad by other U.S. forces. In March 2004 the Sky Soldiers returned from combat operations in Iraq.

After doing its part in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 173rd Airborne Brigade began its second deployment in three years in the spring of 2005. This time the Sky Soldiers deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Global War on Terror. The Brigade returned to Italy in March 2006.

The 173rd Airborne Brigade was re-designated the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) on October 11, 2006. This was a significant change as the "Combat Team" designation signifies the ability of the Brigade to deploy its forces and sustain itself with its newly integrated support teams. While most of the Brigade remains in Vicenza, Italy, three battalions have been organized in Bamberg, Germany, and another in Schweinfurt, Germany until additional facilities are constructed in Vicenza.

In the spring of 2007, the 173rd ABCT again deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom as Task Force Bayonet. This was their first deployment as a fully transformed Brigade Combat Team. The 173rd Airborne BCT officially relieved the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division on June 6, 2007. They participated in various operations with the objective of ensuring security and subduing insurgents in the mountainous regions along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan near the Hindu Kush. During a 15-month deployment, the brigade ran over 9,000 patrols in the region. Author and journalist Sebastian Junger's book, "War," is about this deployment. Junger and photographer Tim Hetherington were embedded with Battle Company and after the deployment produced the documentary "Restrepo."

In July of 2008, about two weeks before the end of the deployment, about 200 Taliban insurgents attacked a position near the village of Wanat in Waygal district defended by the second platoon of Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne). At one point the Taliban, attacking the remote base from the nearby village and adjoining farmland, broke through the American's defensive lines. The paratroopers drove off the attackers with the assistance of artillery and air support. It is estimated that between 21 and 52 insurgents were killed and another 20 to 40 wounded. However, what became known as the Battle of Wanat resulted in the deaths of nine paratroopers killed in action and twenty-seven wounded. This was the largest number of American combat deaths in a single battle since the beginning of U.S. operations in Afghanistan in 2001.

The 173rd Airborne Brigade's deployment ended in July and all Sky Soldiers were back at home base by August 2008. Thirty-nine soldiers from the brigade were killed during the '07-'08 deployment. On June 14, 2009, the 173rd Airborne BCT was notified that they would again deploy to Afghanistan. The Sky Soldiers deployed to the provinces of Logar and Wardak, Afghanistan in November 2009. The 1st and 2nd Battalions, 503rd Infantry Regiment saw extensive action in the eastern part of the brigade's area of operations while the 1/91st Cavalry worked to transform western Logar province into a secure environment. The Sky Soldiers returned to Europe in November 2010.

The 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team deployed to Afghanistan once more in July 2012, replacing the 3rd IBCT, 1st Armored Division, Task Force Bulldog. The Sky Soldiers are operating yet again in Logar and Wardak provinces.

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Monday, December 12, 2022

A Summary History of the 25th Infantry Division

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"Tropic Lightning"
(Original article written 5/9/08 by Jim Broumley)

The U.S. Army's 25th Infantry Division, nicknamed "Tropic Lightning," is headquartered at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and is assigned to the Pacific Command. The Division of nearly 17,000 soldiers stationed in Hawaii, at Fort Wainwright and Fort Richardson, Alaska, focuses primarily on training for low-intensity conflicts throughout the Pacific region. However, the 25th ID is fully involved in the Global War on Terror and deploys units in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq. The Tropical Lightning Division underwent the Army's modular re-organization in 2006. The 25th Infantry Division now has four Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) and an Aviation Brigade. The 1st and 2nd BCTs have fielded the Stryker combat vehicle, and the 4th BCT is Airborne qualified.

The division's shoulder patch, a lightning bolt superimposed on a taro leaf, was formally adopted in 1943. The colors of gold and red were those of the late Hawaiian monarchy. While soldiers over the years have jokingly nicknamed the patch the "Electric Chili Pepper" or the "Electric Strawberry," in 1953, the nickname "Tropic Lightning" was officially adopted.

In 1921, the United States Army formed the Hawaiian Division to protect the islands and our growing interests in the Pacific region. On October 1, 1941, the Hawaiian Division was split to create the 24th and 25th Infantry Divisions. The 25th Infantry Division was stationed at Schofield Barracks, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. The Division was just over two months old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and thrust the United States into World War Two. After the attack, the Division moved into beach defensive positions, preparing to defend Honolulu from invasion.

The division continued in its role as protector of Oahu until November 1942, when they were ordered into action against the Japanese in the Solomon Islands. On November 25th the Division moved to Guadalcanal. The 25th Infantry Division took part in some of the most bitter fighting in the Pacific Theater. By February 5, 1943, organized enemy resistance had ended on Guadalcanal. A period of garrison duty followed until July. Due to their superior performance during the operation, the 25th Infantry Division earned its nickname: "Tropic Lightning."

Beginning July 21st the Tropic Lightning participated in the seizure of the islands of New Georgia, Vella LaVella, Sasavele, and Kolombangara. The Solomons Campaign ended in August of 1943. The Division was sent to New Zealand for rest and training, with the last elements arriving on December 5th. The soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division then moved to New Caledonia on 8 February 1944 to prepare for the invasion of the Philippines.

On January 11, 1945, the 25th Infantry Division landed on Luzon, entering the fight for the liberation of the Philippine Islands. The Division met stiff resistance from the Japanese as it drove across the central plain of Luzon. Beginning on February 21, 1945, the Tropic Lightning attacked Japanese forces in the Caraballo Mountains in order to secure the left flank of the Sixth Army as it drove for Manila. The 25th Infantry Division fought its way from hill to hill until the key Balete Pass fell to the Division on May 13, 1945. The Tropic Lightning Division was relieved on June 30, 1945. The 25th Infantry Division had suffered the most casualties of any division of the Sixth Army in its amazing 165 days of continuous combat. The 25th Infantry Division participated in four campaigns of the Pacific Theater: Central Pacific, Guadalcanal, Northern Solomons, and Luzon. Six Tropic Lightning soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Division was in Tarlac on the island of Luzon in the Philippines when the Japanese surrendered. On September 20, 1945, the Tropic Lightning began moving to Japan to act as occupation forces. The 25th Infantry Division remained on occupation duty for the next five years until called upon again to serve their country. This time the fight would be on the Korean Peninsula.

The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when the North Korean People's Army crossed the 38th Parallel in an unprovoked attack on the Republic of South Korea. Under United Nations orders, the 25th Infantry Division was deployed to Korea from 5-18 July 1950. Upon arrival, they successfully completed their first mission of blocking the approaches to the port city of Pusan. After weeks of bitter fighting, the division was able to break out from the Pusan area in September 1950 along with U.S. and United Nations forces to link with U.S. Marines who landed at the city of Inchon. Most of Korea was liberated and North Korean forces were driven to the Yalu River, when Chinese forces joined the fight in November 1950. The 25th Infantry Division and allied forces were driven south once again. A permanent battle line was established south of Osan. The division began retaking lost territory in January 1951. By February 10, 1951, the city of Inchon and Kimpo Air Base were recaptured. The Division next participated in Operation Ripper, which drove the enemy north of the Han River. The spring of 1951 continued with successful Operations Dauntless, Detonate, and Piledriver. These offensive operations enhanced the United Nations' position in negotiating an end to the fighting. Peace talks began in the summer of 1951. Unfortunately, the Chinese and North Koreans were not ready to settle. A stalemated, trench warfare situation continued with patrolling and defensive actions for the next two years. On occasion, fierce battles were fought as enemy forces tried to break the main line of resistance. From May to July of 1953, a heavy Chinese assault was thrown at the Tropic Lightning's section of the line that guarded the approaches to Seoul. The 25th Infantry Division repulsed this attack and protected the South Korean capital. The 25th was placed in reserve status in July. The Korean War ended on July 27, 1953, when an armistice took effect.

The 25th Infantry Division had spent 37 months in combat during the Korean War. The Division received two South Korean Presidential Unit Citations and was credited with participation in all ten Korean War campaigns. Fourteen Tropic Lightning soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor. By October 1954, the division had returned home to Hawaii after a 12-year absence.

In response to a request from the U.S. Military Assistance Command in Vietnam, the Division sent 100 helicopter door-gunners to the Republic of South Vietnam in early 1963. By August 1965, further Division involvement in the coming Vietnam Conflict included the deployment of Company C, 65th Engineer Battalion, to South Vietnam to assist in the construction of port facilities at Cam Ranh Bay.

In December 1965, the Tropic Lightning Division deployed to South Vietnam in force. In a massive airlift, the 3rd Brigade deployed to the central highlands at Pleiku, while the rest of the division was transported by sea. Operation Blue Light was the largest and longest airlift of personnel and cargo into a combat zone in military history before Operation Desert Shield. The Command Group of the division had established their base in Cu Chi district, 20 miles northwest of the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon. By April 1966, the entire division had arrived in country and was ready to strike the enemy.

During the period from the summer of 1966 to the spring of 1967, the 25th Division was the largest division in Vietnam with four brigades under its command, the division's 1st and 2nd Brigades as well as the 3rd Brigade, 4th Division and the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. During 1966 and 1967 the division engaged in operations to destroy communist forces within their Area of Responsibility while engaging in humanitarian missions to support the Vietnamese people. In the fall of 1966, the division took part in Operation Attleboro, which was the largest unit operation of the war at that time. The fierce fighting during this operation resulted in the defeat of the 9th Viet Cong Division. The lessons learned were successfully applied by the Tropic Lightning in Operations Cedar Falls and Junction City conducted in War Zone C in early 1967.

From 1966 to 1970, the Division fought the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong north and west of Saigon. In late January 1968, enemy forces began a major offensive during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. During the 1968 Tet Offensive, the 25th Infantry Division stopped the Viet Cong attempts to seize Tan Son Nhut airfield and participated in the defense of Saigon.

The Vietnamization of the war, the turning over of fighting roles to South Vietnamese forces, and the withdrawals of U.S. forces began in 1969. In April 1970 the division took part in operation Bold Lancer, which took the Vietnam War into neighboring Cambodia to destroy enemy sanctuaries previously immune from attack. In this operation, the division confiscated thousands of tons of supplies and hundreds of weapons. This incursion crippled the Cambodian-based efforts against American units and allowed the South Vietnamese time to prepare to take over the war.

By late December 1970, elements of the 25th Infantry Division were able to begin redeployment to Schofield Barracks. The 2nd Brigade was the last element of the Tropic Lightning Division to depart Vietnam. It arrived at Schofield Barracks in the early days of May 1971. The 25th Infantry Division served for 1,716 days in Vietnam, receiving participation credit for twelve Vietnam campaigns and being twice awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm. Eight Tropic Lightning units were awarded Presidential Unit Citations and eleven received Valorous Unit Awards. Twenty-one Tropic Lightning soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor.

The face of the 25th Infantry Division changed in 1985 when it was selected to change into a light infantry formation. By 1 October 1986, the division had lost its heavy equipment and gained the designation of 25th Infantry Division (Light). The four primary characteristics of this new light infantry division were: mission flexibility, rapid deployment, and combat readiness at 100 percent strength with a Pacific Basin orientation.

The 25th Infantry Division would see its first major deployment as a Light Infantry Division in January 1995 when the 2nd and 3rd Brigades were sent to Haiti as part of Operation Uphold Democracy. The division became a critical element in the stabilization and reconstitution of Haiti, providing security and rebuilding the infrastructure. The division's mission was officially completed in March 1995; however, the final contingent of Tropic Lightning soldiers stayed until June. From April to September 2002, the 25th Infantry Division (Light) continued its peacekeeping mission into the 21st Century as 1,000 Tropic Lightning soldiers took part in operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina. As part of Stabilization Force XI, division troops took part in mine-clearing operations, reconstruction, and the destruction of weapons turned in by civilians.

The 25th Infantry Division did not participate as a whole in Operation Desert Storm due to the division being earmarked for Pacific contingencies. However, during the Gulf War, one platoon each from Companies A, B, and C, 4th Battalion, 27th Infantry, "Wolfhounds" deployed to Saudi Arabia in January 1991. These Tropic Lightning soldiers were scheduled to be replacement squads in the ground campaign; however, after observing their thoroughly outstanding performance in desert warfare training, the Assistant Commander of the Third U.S. Army asked for them to become the security force for the Army's Forward Headquarters. In that role, the Wolfhound platoons were alerted and attacked with Third Army (Forward) into Kuwait City on February 26. Company A's platoon was separated from the other Wolfhounds following that battle to accompany General H. Norman Schwarzkopf into Iraq on March 1, 1991, and provided security at the truce signing. The three platoons returned to Schofield Barracks without casualties on March 20, 1991.

The Army's evaluation of Desert Storm recognized the need for a rapidly deployable organization that could fill the operational gap between initially deployed light forces, which lack staying power, and the slower deploying heavy armored forces. Originally known as the Interim Brigade Combat Team it is now known as the Stryker Brigade Combat Team. It is an infantry brigade mounted on some three hundred Stryker, 19-ton wheeled armored vehicles in ten different configurations with significant upgrades in firepower and capable of being transported in C-130 aircraft.

The transformation began in 1999 with the conversion of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division at Fort Lewis to a Stryker Brigade. In the spring of 2002 the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division began to reorganize from a light infantry brigade to the Stryker configuration. The conversion of the 2nd Brigade to a Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT) began in 2005. By late 2007 the brigade had received its full complement of Stryker vehicles and became combat certified.

In July 2005, a 4th Brigade was added to the 25th Infantry Division as an airborne brigade stationed in Fort Richardson, Alaska. It deployed in October 2006 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In January 2006 the 25th Infantry Division (light) was redesignated as the 25th Infantry Division. The "light" segment of the name was dropped to reflect the changes the force underwent during the Stryker and modular force transformations.

The 25th Infantry Division was called on to support of the Global War on Terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan in July 2003 to prepare for deployment in 2004. This deployment would mark the first time the division deployed as a whole outside the Pacific region.

The 2nd Brigade Combat Team deployed to Iraq in January 2004. The brigade was stationed outside the city of Kirkuk where they engaged in peacekeeping operations and nation-building projects. The "Warrior" Brigade fought and destroyed insurgent forces in various cities and towns including Najaf, Huwijah, Samarra, and Kirkuk. The high point of the 2nd Brigade deployment was their support of the first free elections held in Iraq in over 50 years. After over a year away from home, the 2nd BCT had returned to Schofield Barracks by March 2005.

Tropic Lightning deployed an impressive force to assist in the stabilization of Afghanistan. The 3rd Brigade Combat Team, Division Artillery, and units of the Division's Aviation Brigade deployed in March 2004. Soldiers of the "Bronco" brigade, "Tropic Thunder", and "Wings of Lightning" engaged in combat operations against Al-Qaida and remnants of the former Taliban regime while helping to rebuild a country ravaged by decades of war. During operations Lightning Resolve and Lightning Freedom, Tropic Lightning units supported the first-ever democratic elections in Afghanistan. All units of Tropic Lightning deployed to Afghanistan returned home to Hawaii by June 2005.

In September 2005, the 25th Infantry Division was ordered to deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08. The Division Headquarters, with the 3rd IBCT, and 25th CAB deployed to Multinational Division-North in Iraq for a 15-month tour. During the months of July and August, the Division moved its personnel and equipment through Kuwait into Iraq. The Mission Assumption Day ceremony was held on September 13, 2006. The Division was already deep into the war as Task Force Lightning. Task Force Lightning included units from the 1st Cavalry Division, 2nd and 4th Infantry Divisions, the 82nd Airborne Division, 25th CAB, 3rd IBCT, National Guard and Reserve units, with a strength of 23,000 Soldiers. The size of Task Force Lightning's Area of Operations was roughly the size of Pennsylvania and included over 10 million people spread through six provinces.

The efforts of Task Force Lightning during Operation Iraqi Freedom VI brought incredible results: a dramatic reduction in attacks, tribal groups working with the government, better trained and capable Iraqi Security Forces, and a once emboldened enemy beaten back. The Division returned to Hawaii in October 2007.

The high standards set by the 25th Infantry Division in its conduct of combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq effectively demonstrates the division motto "Ready to Strike, Anytime Anywhere" and such traditional high standards set by the Tropic Lightning in four wars will continue in its current and future deployments in the Global War On Terror.

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Monday, December 5, 2022

A Summary History of the XVIII (18th) Airborne Corps

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XVIII Airborne Corps "Sky Dragons"
(Original article written 6/26/08 by Jim Broumley)

The XVIII Airborne Corps is the corps size element of the United States Army designed for rapid deployment anywhere in the world. Referred to as "America's Contingency Corps," it is the largest warfighting organization in the U.S. Army. It is headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and controls approximately 88,000 soldiers.

Currently assigned to the Eighteenth Corps are the 3rd Infantry Division, 10th Mountain, 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, XVIII Airborne Corps Artillery, the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, the 108th Air Defense Artillery, the 18th Aviation Brigade, the 229th Aviation Regiment, the 20th Engineer Brigade, the 525 Military Intelligence Brigade, the 16th Military Police Brigade, the 35th Signal Brigade, the 1st Corps Support Command, the 44th Medical Brigade, the 18th Finance Group, the 18th Personnel Group, and the Dragon Brigade.

The XVIII Airborne Corps was originally activated as the II Armored Corps on January 17, 1942. When the armored corps concept proved unnecessary, the unit was re-designated as the XVIII Corps at the Presidio of Monterey, California on October 9, 1943. The current XVIII Airborne Corps celebrates its birthday on August 25, 1944, when the blue airborne tab was added. On that day in Orbourne, St. George, England, the XVIII Airborne Corps assumed command of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. Within a month the Corps sent their divisions on a combat jump in the Netherlands for Operation Market Garden.

After the Battle of the Bulge, all airborne units in the U.S. Army were placed under the command of the XVIII Airborne Corps. The Corps planned and executed Operation Varsity, the crossing of the Rhine River into Germany, which included the 17th Airborne Division and the British 6th Airborne Division. The Sky Dragons were returned to the United States in June of 1945 and deactivated at Camp Campbell, Kentucky on October 15, 1945.

The XVIII Airborne Corps was reactivated at Fort Bragg, North Carolina on May 21, 1951, as part of the army buildup for Korea and the Cold War. Ever since, the XVIII Airborne Corps has been the primary strategic response force for the United States. The Corps and its various subordinate units have participated in over a dozen major operations in both combat and humanitarian roles.

During Operation Power Pack the Corps deployed to the Dominican Republic on April 30, 1965. The Sky Dragons served as the headquarters for U.S. forces sent to restore law and order, prevent a communist takeover of the country, and protect American lives. For Operation Urgent Fury, which began on October 25, 1983, the XVIII Airborne Corps invaded the island nation of Grenada. The Corps provided the bulk of land forces sent to rescue medical students and other stranded Americans. In this operation, the Corps participated with our Caribbean allies in an international peacekeeping effort.

During Operation Just Cause, the invasion of Panama on December 20, 1989, the XVIII Airborne Corps was placed in operational command of Joint Task Force South. The Operation simultaneously struck twenty-seven targets and conducted town night parachute assaults to seize critical terrain. Operation Just Cause set the stage for a freely elected government to be established in the country.

Operation Desert Shield began on August 9, 1990. The XVIII Airborne Corps rapidly deployed to Saudi Arabia as the first ground force in theater to spearhead efforts to deter aggression and assist in the defense of friendly nations. This was the largest deployment of American troops since WWII. The Persian Gulf War started with Operation Desert Storm in February of 1991. The Sky Dragons were responsible for covering VII Corps' northern flank. The XVIII Airborne Corp launched the first ground assault into Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division and the attached French 6th Light Armored Division. The largest, and farthest, air assault in history was conducted by the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). A mounted attack was also made by the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) and the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. In less than 100 hours the XVIII Airborne Corps had effectively sealed off the occupying Iraqi Army and destroyed major elements of the elite Republican Guard.

During the 1990s the XVIII Airborne Corps deployed countless Corps soldiers to more than twenty-seven countries that include Bosnia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Haiti. They have also directed countless Joint Exercises that involve all of the services.

The XVIII Airborne Corps' most recent deployments have been in support of America's Global War on Terrorism, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. From January 2005 through January 2006, the Corps was deployed to Baghdad, where it served as the Multi-National-Corps-Iraq. The Sky Dragons deployed again to Iraq in November of 2007.

The XVIII Airborne Corps is superbly trained in tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war. They are capable of exercising the nation's ability to conduct strategic forced entry operations anywhere in the world on 18 hours' notice. Those soldiers and veterans who have worn the Sky Dragon shoulder patch are a proud group of men and women who truly served their country on the cutting edge.

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Monday, November 28, 2022

The Brazilian Expeditionary Force During WWII

Brazil’s Contribution to the Allies in World War II

I read an article recently in Military History Magazine about the Brazilian Expeditionary Force in World War II. Realizing that I am rather “America-centric” in my reading, this opened my eyes to the contribution of Allied nations other than “The Big Three” Allied countries of the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the United States.

Brazilian troops, newly arrived at Naples, Italy from
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. July 16, 1944. National Archives
Since the war began in 1939, the United States made ever-increasing overtures to Latin American nations to ally themselves with the countries fighting fascism. However, Brazil would become the only South American country to send troops into combat. Of course, this alignment was in Brazil’s best interest. The Atlantic is at its narrowest point between the coasts of Brazil and Africa. Brazil’s government knew that the United States would require air and naval bases for a safer and shorter route to get troops and supplies to Europe. A military alliance would also turn into a trading partnership that would give Brazil an advantage over its South American neighbors.

Initially, Brazil tried to maintain a neutral status. But after contracting for American bases to be built in Brazil, they severed diplomatic relations with Germany, Japan, and Italy on January 28, 1942. As a result Axis submarines began to target Brazilian merchant shipping. U-boats sunk 13 Brazilian merchant ships by July, killing 600. Brazil declared war on Germany and Italy on August 22, 1942.

The Brazilian Navy participated in the Battle of the Atlantic, escorting a total of 614 convoys. They sank a total of twelve submarines (11 German and 1 Italian) along their coast. Brazil lost a total of 36 ships, including merchant vessels, and losing approximately 1600 crewmen, both navy and civilian.

Shoulder sleeve insignia of 1st EID
Once war was declared, Brazil began to organize an expeditionary force to send to the European Theater. The country was woefully unprepared for war and the United States contributed to their training. However, political disagreements over the size, use, and command of the force delayed their deployment for two years. The first troops of the Brazilian 1st Expeditionary Infantry Division (1st EID) departed for Italy in July 1944. Before the end of the war, over 25,000 Brazilian soldiers would serve in Italy.

The 1st EID was assigned to the US IV Corps of General Mark Clark’s US Fifth Army. They fought alongside African American soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division and Japanese Americans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Although under American command, one could argue that the Fifth Army was a multi-national force. British units consisted of commonwealth and colonial forces from New Zealand, Canada, India, Nepal, Palestine, South Africa, Rhodesia, and various African colonies. Free French forces were comprised of Senegalese, Moroccans, and Algerians. Soldiers from occupied countries such as Poland, Greece, and Czechoslovakia were also part of the Fifth Army, as well as anti-fascist Italians.

The 1st EID wore a shoulder patch that has a caricature of a snake smoking a pipe. It was inspired by a saying in Brazil during their training that, translated from Portuguese meant “it’s more likely that a snake will smoke a pipe before the Brazilian Expeditionary Force would go to the front and fight.” The soldiers embraced this put down and came up with the motto “The snake will smoke.” The patch is the result of that and it gave them their nickname: “The Smoking Snakes.”

The 1st EID fought as part of the Fifth Army in northern Italy until the end of the war in May 1945. During their time in combat, the Brazilians took over 20,500 prisoners. They lost 948 men killed in action. For a rundown of their combat operations, read the article “The Boys from Brazil” by Jerome A. Long in the Winter 2023 issue of Military History magazine.

2nd Lt. Jorge E.P. Taborda, from Rio de Janeiro, a pilot
with the First Brazilian Fighter Squadron serving in Italy.
National Archives Photo. 
The Brazilian Air Force also made a significant contribution to the war effort. The 1st Squadron of the Brazilian 1st Fighter Aviation Group trained at US bases in Panama and was designated operational in May 1944. They participated in the defense of the Canal Zone until they deployed to Italy in September 1944. They flew the P-47 Thunderbolt, attached as a squadron of the US Air Force 350th Fighter Group. Most of their missions were supporting ground units. Unlike the ground element of the BEF, the aviators were not going to get any replacement pilots. Out of the 48 operational pilots that deployed with the squadron, 22 were lost: five were killed by anti-aircraft fire, eight others were shot down over enemy territory, six were medically grounded and three more were killed in accidents. In their cumulative 5,465 combat flight hours, the 1st Fighter Squadron amassed an impressive record of damage to the enemy.

Of course we are drawn to the history of our own country. But I think the takeaway here is that we need to acknowledge that the Second World War was definitely a world war. By my count, there were 21 combatant nations joining the Americans, the British, and the Soviets on the Allied side of the war. Not to mention the four former Axis nations that swapped sides and joined the Allies later in the war (Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, and Finland.) Who knows? Maybe knowing the contribution of a WWII ally will change how we view our foreign relations today.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

A Summary History of the 1st Cavalry Division

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"The First Team"
(Original article written 5/12/08 by Jim Broumley)

The 1st Cavalry Division, the "First Team," is a heavy armored division assigned to the U.S. Army's III Corps. The First Team is the largest division in the United States Army with nearly 17,000 soldiers assigned. Their home base is Fort Hood, Texas but 1st Cavalry Division troopers have fought around the world pursuing the Division's motto of "Live the Legend."

The 1st Cavalry was established as a permanent division with its own Table of Organization and Equipment on April 4, 1921. However, the 1st Cavalry Division was formed out of the 1st Cavalry Regiment that was designated when the Army made "Cavalry" an official branch in 1855. Furthermore, the 1st Cavalry Regiment can trace its lineage to the First Regiment of Dragoons which existed as early as 1833. The 1st, 7th, 8th, and 10th Cavalry Regiments, who would form the future "First Team," participated in major battles of the Civil War, the Indian Wars, the Spanish American War, and the Punitive Expedition to Mexico.

The First World War proved that armored vehicles and aircraft would be the weapons of the future. But when the First Team was activated in 1921, these machines were still not reliable enough for the harsh conditions encountered patrolling the Mexican border. When the Division first assembled for maneuvers at Camp Marfa, Texas in the fall of 1923, the troopers still rode horses. The First Cavalry Division added its first aerial assets in October of 1928 with the assignment of the 1st Observation Squadron, Air Force. The next month began the arrival of armored vehicles with the 1st Armored Car Squadron. The 1st Cavalry Division continued throughout the 1930s to patrol the border, field new equipment, improve their home base at Fort Bliss, near El Paso, Texas, and prepare for the war to come.

Although the First Team was born out of the need for large horse-cavalry formations, by 1940 many officers of the Army thought the horse was outdated. The reason the Army continued to maintain a unit of horse cavalry was the concern for the defense of the Southwest United States. The less-than-ideal terrain of the Southwest during these years included rocky hills, deserts, and a lack of good road networks. Mounted cavalry would be ideal to defend this terrain since horses could move through it faster than wheeled vehicles. Also, cavalry in the 20th Century usually fought dismounted and the 1st Cavalry Division would be supported by their own artillery and armor. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the United States was thrown into World War II, the first wartime mission of the 1st Cavalry Division was to continue surveillance of the Mexican border.

In May of 1942, over twelve hundred troopers from the First Team were assigned as cadre for the organization of the 91st Infantry Division at Camp White, Oregon. By the end of 1942, the 1st Armored Car Squadron, the 62nd Armored Field Artillery, and the 161st Engineers had left the Division for the European Theater. The remainder of the Division continued to train with their mix of machines and horses. By 1943 the threat to our southern border had diminished and the 1st Cavalry Division was alerted for an overseas assignment in February. The cavalrymen, however reluctantly, turned in their horses and saddles. By July the bulk of the Division was on troop ships bound for Australia and the Pacific Theater.

The remainder of 1943 was used for training and organizational training in Australia. As a side note of military history, the 1st Cavalry Division had Native American "Code Talkers." Like the more famous Navajo Code Talkers who served with the Marine Corps, the radio platoon of the 302nd Reconnaissance Troop recruited, at the direction of General MacArthur, Lakota and Dakota Indians who used their Sioux language to communicate with other Divisional Headquarters troops. The Japanese never broke this "code." In January 1944, the First Team moved out to stage in New Guinea for their first combat action.

On February 27, 1944, the Division sailed from New Guinea to "island hop" through the Japanese-held island chain of the Admiralties. The first landing occurred on the morning of February 29th on the island of Los Negros. On March 15th the First Team landed on Manus Island. By May 18th the Admiralty Islands campaign was officially over. The 1st Cavalry Division had killed over 3,300 Japanese soldiers while suffering only 290 killed in action, 977 wounded, and 4 troopers missing in action.

By October 20, 1944, the 1st Cavalry Division was landing on Leyte Island as part of MacArthur's return to the Philippines. The Leyte Campaign wrapped up at the end of December and on January 26, 1945, the First Team was on board convoys headed for Luzon to continue the recapture of the Philippines. On February 3rd elements of the 1st Cavalry won the race to the Philippine capital of Manila. There they had the honor of capturing the capitol building before retreating Japanese troops could burn it and also rescuing almost 4,000 civilian prisoners being held at an internment camp at Santo Tomas University. The fight for Manila was hard and the 37th Infantry Division joined the First Team on February 5th to take on the Japanese holding the western side of the city. At that time, Manila was a city of 800,000 residents and one of the largest in Southeast Asia. It took until March 3, 1945, to end organized enemy resistance in Manila.

By June 30th the fighting on Luzon was declared completed and the Division began training for its part in the invasion of the Japanese mainland. The invasion, dubbed Operation Olympic was set for November 1, 1945. However, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the subsequent surrender of Japan ended that surely costly mission. On September 5, 1945, elements of the 1st Cavalry Division moved into Tokyo, the first official movement of troops into the Japanese capital.

Easy duty as occupation troops in Japan was suddenly interrupted on the morning of June 25, 1950, when North Korea invaded the Republic of Korea to the south. The United States, determined to support their South Korean allies, immediately sent troops from the 24th Infantry Division. To bolster the low-strength units of the peacetime army, the 24th deployed with many members of the 1st Cavalry Division. Also, A Company, 71st Heavy Tank Battalion, which was previously part of the First Team, deployed to Korea attached to the 24th Infantry Division. The remainder of the 1st Cavalry Division landed at Pohangdong, Korea on July 18th to join American and South Korean forces in holding the "Pusan Perimeter." After weeks of bloody fighting in the hilly terrain, the perimeter held. On September 15th General MacArthur launched the famous Inchon Landing in Korea. The 1st Cavalry Division broke out of the Pusan Perimeter and started fighting north to join the United Nations forces coming inland from Inchon. During this offensive, Task Force Lynch comprised of units from the 1st Cavalry Division led the Pusan Perimeter Breakout covering over 106 miles through enemy territory to link up with the 7th Infantry Division coming from Inchon. On October 9th the First Team crossed the 38th Parallel into North Korea and on October 17th was the first unit into the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

It started to look like the Korean War was coming to a close. The second week of October 1950 found the North Korean Army pushed into a pocket on the Yalu River, North Korea's border with China. However, the tables turned on the United Nations Forces on October 14th when Communist Chinese Forces entered the war on the side of the North Koreans. Eventually, China would commit approximately 780,000 troops to the fight. During the remaining weeks of 1950, U.N. Forces, including the 1st Cavalry Division were pushed back below the 38th Parallel. In the onslaught of Chinese Communist Forces, the 8th Cavalry Regiment of the First Team was surrounded near the North Korean town of Unsan while fighting to hold approach routes to the south. In what became known as the Battle of Unsan, elements of the 1st and 2nd Battalions broke through the Chinese roadblocks. But the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division was destroyed as a fighting unit. More than 600 troops were lost making this the most painful episode in the long history of the 1st Cavalry Division.

In 1951 the United Nations forces fought their way back to the 38th Parallel and the 1st Cavalry Division was an integral part of that effort. By the end of the year, it was time for a rest. The 1st Cavalry Division was replaced in the line by the 45th Infantry Division of the Oklahoma National Guard. The last elements of the First Team were redeployed to Japan in mid-January 1952, after eighteen months of almost continuous combat. In Japan, the 1st Cavalry Division was tasked with occupation duty, the defense of the Japanese Island of Hokkaido, and preparing Regimental-size combat teams for sixty-day tours on the line in Korea. Elements of the Division continued to serve in the stalemated Korean conflict until the war was over in July 1953.

Occupation duty ended on August 29, 1957, when, in accordance with a treaty signed by both Japan and the United States, defense of the Japanese mainland was turned over to the Japanese Defense Forces and all U.S. ground forces were removed. The 1st Cavalry Division was ordered to move its colors once again to Korea. The Division continued to serve overseas as part of the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. During this period the First Team went through reorganizations and fielded new equipment, all while patrolling the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separated North and South Korea. The Division also began to field helicopters in the spring of 1963 and train in airmobile tactics. In July of 1965, the First Team was reorganized as the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) and officially activated at Fort Benning, Georgia out of personnel from the 11th Air Assault Division (Test). Their duties in Korea were turned over to the 2nd Infantry Division, and one month later the First Team was en route to Vietnam.

In August of 1965 an advance party of the First Team flew into Nha Trang, Vietnam. The combat force of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) arrived by Military Sea Transport by mid-September. By September 19th, elements of the First Team were already engaging the enemy in Operation Gibraltar with the 101st Airborne.

The 1st Cavalry Division's first major operation was the Pleiku Campaign, in which the Division conducted 35 days of continuous airmobile operations. The opening battle of the campaign was the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley. The operation took place between November 14 and November 18, 1965, and involved the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 7th Cavalry with the 1st Battalion of the 5th Cavalry going against more than three North Vietnamese Regiments and a Viet Cong Battalion. The battle was the subject of the book We Were Soldiers Once…And Young by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (Ret.) and journalist Joseph L. Galloway and then depicted by the 2002 movie We Were Soldiers starring Mel Gibson.

The First Team seemed to be everywhere in Vietnam. Most of 1967 was spent conducting Operation Pershing in the II Corps Area. During the Tet Offensive of 1968, the Division was in the I Corps Tactical Zone and was involved in recapturing Quang Tri and Hue. In March of 1968, the Division moved to relieve Marine units at the besieged combat base of Khe Sanh in Operation Pegasus. The First Team worked in the Ashau Valley during April and May of 1968, then in the fall moved to the III Corps Tactical Zone northwest of Saigon. In May of 1970, the 1st Cavalry Division participated in the incursion into Cambodia.

The 1st Cavalry Division withdrew from Cambodia on June 29, 1970. After that, the Division remained in a "defensive posture" as offensive combat operations were turned over to South Vietnamese forces and the withdrawal of U.S. forces continued. The majority of the Division was withdrawn from Vietnam on April 29, 1971, but the Third Brigade stayed until June 29, 1972, making the 1st Cavalry Division one of the final two ground combat units to leave the country and the longest-serving Division in the Vietnam War. Before moving to their new home at Fort Hood, Texas, the First Team sacrificed 5,444 troopers killed and 26,592 wounded in Vietnam.

As Vietnam ended and the Cold War heated up, the need for a deployable armored force became more apparent. By 1975, the 1st Cavalry Division was equipped as a heavy armored division and assigned to III Corps at Fort Hood. During the remainder of the Cold War, units of the First Team participated in rotations to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, and REFORGER exercises in West Germany.

The First Team was well prepared to participate in the first conflict to use U.S. armor forces in significant numbers since World War II: the Gulf War that consisted of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-91. The 1st Cavalry Division was deployed with the two brigades it had assigned at the time and operated as the VII Corps reserve armor force. During the days leading up to the kickoff of the ground war, units of the Division probed the enemy defenses. The "100-Hour War" was over so quickly that the First Team only engaged in the last few hours of the conflict. However, their deep thrust into enemy territory destroyed elements of five Iraqi divisions.

Since the Gulf War, the First Team has conducted multiple exercises in Kuwait and in October of 1998 deployed for a year-long peacekeeping mission in the Balkans. The 1st Cavalry Division as a whole did not participate in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Although many of its subordinate units did deploy because of the need for special skills. However, the Division did deploy as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in early 2004. The First Team operated in Baghdad and included subordinate units from the Louisiana, Arkansas, and Washington National Guard during their deployment. The Division returned home in April of 2005 after losing 168 soldiers killed and approximately 1,500 wounded. The 1st Cavalry Division departed again for Baghdad in November of 2006 for a 15-month deployment.

The 1st Cavalry Division has earned its nickname as America's First Team by being the first military unit to accomplish many great things. They were the first unit into Tokyo, the first into North Korea, the first in Vietnam and Cambodia, and the first heavy armored division into Iraq. The Division's motto is "Live the Legend," and when a 1st Cavalry Trooper is on parade, they proudly recall the name of the old Irish marching tune that has become synonymous with the cavalry, "Garry Owen!"

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