We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France


Military Classics Seminar Series

Last Tuesday, I attended a seminar session that’s part of the Military Classics Seminar series. The MCS is now in it’s 57th year and, shockingly, this is the first I’ve heard of it. They meet on the 2nd Tuesday of every month from September to June at the Fort Myer Officer’s Club for a dinner, a speech about a book (or a pair of books) and discussion. For my first meeting, the topic was David Ulbrich’s book, Preparing for Victory: Thomas Holcomb and the Making of the Modern Marine Corps, 1936–1943, published by the Naval Institute Press, and the speaker was Dr Charles Neimeyer of the Marine Corps University.

It was a fantastic event. The group contains many retired military officers and historians – so, exactly the people who are interested in what I and the readers of this blog are interested in. They are quite friendly to first timers, so don’t hesitate to attend. They do have a website, but the skinny is, send an email about a week in advance to Eric Joyce at this e-mail address militaryclassics@gmail.com and bring your $35 when you arrive on the second floor for cocktails at 5:30pm, dinner, the book talk and discussion. Expect to finish around 9:00pm and bring a few dollars for the open bar and a few for the book raffle (I won a book on Holcomb’s battalion, 2/6, in WWI).

I’ve been looking for a group of like-minded individuals interested in the broad expanse of military history for quite some time. So, I’ve found a home!

This year’s schedule:

October 21, 2014

Gian Gentile, Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency. New York: The New Press, 2011.

Speaker: David Ucko, Associate Professor at the College of International Security Affairs, National Defense University

November 18, 2014

Dual selection: Max Hastings, Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War. New York: Knopf, 2013; and Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August (1962).

Speaker: Dr. Thomas Parker, George Washington University

January 20, 2015

Steven L. Rearden, Council of War: A History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1942–1991. Washington, D.C.: Joint History Office, 2012.

Speaker: Walter S. Poole, OSD Historical Office

February 17, 2015

Rick Atkinson, The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944–1945, vol. 3 of The Liberation Trilogy. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2013.

Speaker: David W. Hogan, Jr., US Army Center of Military History

March 17, 2015

Richard Kohn, Eagle and Sword: The Beginnings of the Military Establishment in America (1975) (Free Press, paper, 1985). [reviewed 1980]

Speaker: Eliot Cohen, Robert E. Osgood Professor of Strategic Studies, The Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University

April 21, 2015

Edward N. Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: From the First Century A.D. to the Third. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976. [reviewed 1978]

Speaker: Arthur M. Eckstein, Professor of History and Distinguished Scholar-Teacher, University of Maryland, College Park

May 19, 2015

Luigi Albertini, The Origins of the War of 1914. London; New York, Oxford University Press, 1952-57.

Speaker: Tom Julian, Independent Historian

June 16, 2015

Tracy Barrett Kittredge, Naval Lessons of the Great War. Garden City: Doubleday, Page & Co. 1921.

Speaker: Mark Mandeles, President, The J. de Bloch Group

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Another perspective on Herbert Sobel
11 September 2014, 19:40
Filed under: Band of Brothers, Officers | Tags: , ,

Marcus Brotherton wrote a nice blog post that reveals more of the truth about Herbert Sobel, the man, to add to the image many people have of him from the HBO series. I tend to agree with Marcus and many of the veterans that Captain Sobel truly shaped Easy Company in a positive way, but, based on what else I’ve read, it was better that he didn’t lead the company in combat. His methods may not have been the right ones, but they ended up producing a highly effective unit.



Visiting the battle box at Montelimar

As I’ve said many times, there is no substitute for walking the ground. Looking at maps, reading unit/battle/campaign histories, or even using my new favorite tool, my tablet, never give you the same understanding as actually being on the ground where the fight took place.

We’re over in France and this time we’ve come to the south. This has given me an opportunity to walk the ground at Montelimar. Before we arrived, I’d contacted retired French Army Colonel Pierre Balliot to see if he could recommend a guide. He volunteered himself, driving 200+ kilometers to show us the ‘battle box’. The Colonel has written a marvelous book, of which I now possess a signed copy, entitled La Drome dans la Guerre: La bataille de Montelimar, which details the battle. So, my wife, our friend Tom and I got a half-day tour of the 20 km by 20 km ‘battle box’ in which Task Force Butler, the 36th Infantry Division and French partisans attempted to block the escape of 130,000 men of the German Army from southern France.

The battle of Montelimar had the same goal as the sealing of the Falaise Pocket in Normandy, trapping an entire Army Group. So, for me, the Battle of Montelimar is the most important action of the campaign.

Walking the ground here, you get a far better sense of why they chose the ground they did, what worked and what did not. The first thing to note is the height of the high ground. While the tablet and Google maps did point out the value of Hill 300, it gave no real sense of the true height or the slope. Somehow, I thought of 300 feet when I read about the Hill. It’s 300 meters or about 1000 feet. The slope is also extreme, making it difficult to dislodge any defenders. The Hill is so tall and long that it completely shields any troops coming up the Rhone valley through that choke point from observation or attack from the east. While there is plenty of high ground north of this, none overlooks such a tight passage as this. Thus, it comes as no surprise that there was tremendous fighting at La Coucourde, where the main road, Route Nationale 7, emerges from behind Hill 300 and where General Truscott had directed General Dahlquist to ‘put the cork in the bottle’, entrapping so many Germans.

Dahlquist and Butler faced many challenges here. The terrain that provided such an opportunity was itself a great challenge. The mountains restricted movement, inhibited communication, and provided endless opportunities for ambush. The narrow roads were difficult for armored vehicles and the slopes a great challenge as well. The vast distance from the landing beaches made resupply slow and the lack of sufficient transport compounded that.

The rivers helped, but not nearly as much as one would think when looking at the map. Walking the ground at the same time of the year, you see how low they are, how much vegetation would conceal movement and how challenging defending along those lines would be. Looking out from Dahlquist’s headquarters you see how broad a front he needed to defend.

Dahlquist himself may have been a part of the problem, never seeming to move fast enough for Truscott’s taste – Truscott flew to his headquarters twice during this campaign to hasten him along.

The few troops that reached the fight first shocked the Germans, but a few hundred men, even at strategic points, can only do so much to stop an Army Group.



Mattis on reading

There’s no mistaking the respect of the Marines for many of their Generals and high in the pantheon must be General James N. Mattis. Back in 2004, “a colleague wrote to him asking about the ‘importance of reading and military history for officers,’ many of whom found themselves ‘too busy to read.'” Mattis responded in an email that has since gone viral. Mattis continues the grand tradition of well-read Marine officers who also excel in combat, following the example of none other than Chesty Puller, who carried a copy of Douglas Southall Freeman’s “Lee’s Lieutenants” with him in the Pacific. In his email, he dispenses with those who think there is nothing to learn for the modern warrior from books:

For all the “4th Generation of War” intellectuals running around today saying that the nature of war has fundamentally changed, the tactics are wholly new, etc, I must respectfully say … “Not really”: Alex the Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq, and our leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying (studying, vice just reading) the men who have gone before us.

Unfortunately, Mattis had been planning on retiring this year. Evidence of the regard in which he is held are two hilarious articles posted on the military satire site, The Duffel Blog: Chaos: General James Mattis Announced As Next Commandant Of Marine Corps and James Mattis Retires To Search For Ancient Artifact.
At the Iwo Jima Alumni Association‘s annual reunion, Mattis spoke and I asked him if he’d ever had the chance to visit Iwo Jima or other Pacific battlefields with veterans of WWII. While he had done so on Okinawa, he’s not been to Iwo Jima. Mattis’ retirement may enable him to make that trip during the 70th anniversary of the battle with the IJAA. It might be the last trip authorized by Japan, as it may be the last trip involving veterans of the battle.


Program for 2013 Operation Dragoon Event

For information on the 2014 event, see our 6th Army Group website.

For the last few years, the Society of the 3rd Infantry Division, Outpost Europe, has hosted an Operation Dragoon commemoration and seminar. It’s always a fantastic event. We are honored that many veterans attend and provide their insights and remembrances. There will be a few veterans I’ve never met as well as others I will be overjoyed to see again. It’s truly an event not to be missed.

THIS EVENT IS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Operation Dragoon – The “Forgotten D-Day”
The Allied Landings in Southern France and the Southern France Campaign
15 August 1944-14 September 1944

Outpost Europe, Society of the 3rd Infantry Division
The Army Historical Foundation
The Embassy of France to the United States

When: 8-11 August 2013 (Thursday-Sunday)

8 August: 1 to 3 PM – registration; 5 to 8 PM – historical seminar
9 August: 9 AM to 5 PM – historical seminars and veterans’ remembrances
10 August: 8:30 to 1200 AM – ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery; 5 to 9:30 PM – Banquet
11 August: 8:30 to 11 AM – historical seminars

Where: Sheraton National Hotel, 900 South Orme Street, Arlington, VA 22204

Who: Veterans of the 6th Army Group; 7th Army; 6th Corps; 3rd, 36th, and 45th Infantry Divisions; 1st Allied Airborne Task Force – 517th Parachute Infantry Regimental Combat Team (including Anti-Tank Company/442nd Infantry Regiment, 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, 4463rd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, 550th Airborne Infantry Battalion, 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, and the 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade (UK)); 1st Special Service Force; US Army Air Corps; US Navy, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine; the OSS; and veterans from the participant allied nations of France, Poland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Greece, and Canada who served in the supporting Air Forces and Navy; and their friends and families, as well as anyone interested in World War II history.

Why: To honor the veterans of the Forgotten D-Day, to preserve history, to educate the public, and to pass on the torch of their proud legacy.

Room Reservations: Price – $95 per night, one day prior to event and one day after. Reservations: 1-888-627-8210
Reservation Group Name: Operation Dragoon
Cut off date for reservations: Friday, 21 July 2013

Point of Contact: Monika Stoy, President, Outpost Europe, Society of the 3rd Infantry Division, timmoni15@yahoo.com, RSVP by 30 June 2013

REGISTRATION: Event registration – $30. Banquet – $40. (Free for Dragoon Vets)

Shuttle to/from airport provided by hotel, so no rental car required.

THIS EVENT IS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC



Weekend Wanderings: Mid-December 2012

It’s been a while since I’d posted a Weekend Wanderings, so let me share some of the interesting things I’ve found of late:



Dahlquist: A first evaluation

In my continued research for our WWII seminars, I’d picked up a copy of Franz Steidl’s Lost Battalions, which details the encirclement of the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment just prior to the Battle for the Colmar Pocket. Steidl explains the events leading up to the “losing” of the battalion, making sure that the reader gets a sense of the complexity of the fight of the 36th Infantry Division in the Vosges. He also provides information on a German battalion that was similarly “lost” in the same area, allowing us more insight by seeing both sides.

Steidl has extensively interviewed members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the storied Japanese-American unit that fought to relieve 1/141 when it was trapped, so his book provides excellent detail on their role. It also shaped his original view of General John E. Dahlquist. Many soldiers and historians felt that Dahlquist over-used the 442nd in that fight and some speculated that it was because they were Japanese.

In my initial view of Dahlquist, he seemed a pretty unremarkable man for someone who was awarded a 4th star in 1954. He’d served in the Army since the close of the First World War, attending and teaching in various Army schools. He even authored an Army manual on the machinegun before serving on theatre staff in 1942. Nonetheless, little stood out about him, except a photo of him chatting amiably with Goering after the 36th had captured him. Dahlquist generated quite the controversy with Goering. That photo didn’t look like a captor and his captive, but, rather, two equals conversing. When Goering had been brought to Dahlquist, the General had dismissed his translator, as he spoke fluent German, so perhaps it is what it looked like.

I’d read previously how decimated the 442nd had been in the Vosges and the animosity some of them held for the General. Steidl’s work does reveal how hard Dahlquist pushed them. They were most certainly over-used, but looking at the 36th’s fight, it seems that all of the organic battalions of the 36th were over-used.

The Division had been in the fight since 15 August 1944, without relief. At Montelimar, elements of the Division tried to stop the escape of two German Divisions and elements from every other unit fleeing southern France. The 36th suffered mightily in that fight, though it did inflict many casualties and capture many troops. As it fought north, the Germans took advantage of every piece of terrain, keeping the door open for others to retreat. When the 36th hit the Vosges Mountains, the fight transitioned from some kind of chase into a slugging match. The Germans felt their were fighting on their home ground and the Alsatian towns in the area have a distinctively German look and feel to them. Dahlquist began pleading with higher command for some kind of relief, but there was none.

Steidl recounts multiple instances of Dahlquist coming out to the front lines and one instance of him leading an individual platoon into combat. Personal bravery and a commitment to the fight were not qualities that Dahlquist lacked. His Division was stretched and he was being pushed by higher command to keep moving forward in spite of it.

More than once, Dahlquist seems to have over-extended his Division. At Montelimar, his regiments went in piecemeal, with the 143rd accidentally heading north instead of west to Montelimar, requiring them to loop back west. The Lost Battalion (1/141) pushed beyond the range of its supports. At Sigolsheim, he again had units cut off – they fought until they were forced to surrender. How much of these instances can be blamed on Dahlquist remains to be seen. Shortages of supplies and troops, coupled with aggressiveness, certainly contributed.

Looking at his post-war career, Dahlquist certainly must have impressed the right people and, in war time, that’s usually the sign of a darn good officer. For me, the book is still out on Dahlquist, but he’s far from the enigmatic cypher that I’d first imagined.




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