Category: World War II

Youngest Serviceman in World War II – Calvin Graham

GrahamCalvin Graham – the youngest serviceman in World War II – was only 12 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  He did not wait a year or two before joining the service; no by May of 1942, he had enlisted in the US Navy.   Some speculate the deaths of his cousins inspired him to join.  He began shaving at the age of 11 to assist with passing himself off as older and had some friends of his parents forge his parent’s signature.

Due to the need for enlisted men, the petty officers at boot camp were not concerned with anyone’s age.  Graham was therefore able to successfully complete the course.  A fellow seaman later told the Chicago Tribune that the Navy had already suffered a high number of casualties and were desperate to build up its crew.

Uss_south_dakota_bbGraham first served on the USS South Dakota (BB-57) where he experienced the intense fighting first hand.  He assisted in fire control during the Battle of Guadalcanal.  During that time, he suffered a number of wounds, including burns and having his front teeth were knocked out.  However, Graham didn’t let his injuries stop him.  The New York Times later reported that despite his injuries, he continued to assist the wounded.  The Smithsonian Magazine wrote that according to Graham, he would remove belts from the dead and use them as tourniquets for the wounded.  He is also reported to have given the wounded cigarettes and stayed up all night encouraging them.  As a result of his actions during this time, he received both the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

However, within the year, Graham’s mother would reveal his age.  He was sent to the brig for three months and all his medals were revoked.  He would have served remained in the brig longer, but was released when his sister threatened to contact the newspapers.  In May of 1943, one year after he enlisted, he received a dishonorable discharge.  This caused him to also lose his disability benefits.

At age 17, Graham enlisted with the US Marine Corps.  Three years later though he broke his back when he fell from a pier, thus ending his service career.  Even though his service as a Marine would qualify him as a veteran, Calvin Graham still spent the balance of his life fighting for both medical benefits and a clean service record.  It wasn’t until 1978 that he finally received his honorable discharge.  At this time, all his medals – with the exception of the Purple Heart – were reinstated.

In 1988, his story was brought to the public via the television movie, Too Young the Hero.  This prompted President Reagan to grant Graham full disability benefits.  As a result, he received $4,917 increase in his back pay, $18,000 to cover past medical bills  (though he was required to provide medical receipts).  Unfortunately so much time had passed that many of the doctors he had seen had already passed away and many of the bills had been lost.  As a result, he only received $2,100 of the original $18,000.

Purple HeartDespite his rights to the movie amounting to $50,000, after ½ the money went to two agents and another 20% went to a writer of an unpublished book about him, his total – before taxes – only amounted to $15,000.

Graham died of heart failure in November of 1992.  Two years later, his Purple Heart was reinstated and presented to his widow.  And with the intervention of both President Carter and then President Clinton, Calvin Leon Graham, the youngest serviceman in World War II, was recognized as receiving not only the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, but also the National Defense Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with bronze Battle Star device and the WWII Victory Medal.

Norden Bombsight

The Armed Forces History Museum in Largo, FL has an original, full-size Norden Bombsight on display in the museum. 

Development

Development of the Norden Bombisight began with the U.S. Navy’s desire to secure a system was capable of bombing ships that would fall outside the range of their defensive guns.   About the same time, the U.S. Army had undertaken a similar project.  The Bombsight became one of the military’s top secret and closely guarded projects of WW II.  The intricacy of this instrument allowed a more accurate timing as to when it was necessary to drop a bomb in order to accurately hit the target below.

The B-17 Flying Fortress was the aircraft the Army chose for the Norden, feeling it was the most capable aircraft to insure the success of this top secret bombsight.  Later variations of the B-17 were designed to allow the Norden Bombsight to take over the controls of the plane and actually fly the aircraft.   The known accuracy of the Norden was said to have been successful enough to hit a 100 foot circle at 21,000 feet – which is approximately 4 miles high.  However, test results proved to be more successful than actual bombing missions.

Top Secret Device

The secrecy of the Norden Bombsight meant the sight would not be loaded into the aircraft until just prior to take-off.  Before loading, the sight would be covered from view and brought to the plane using armed guards.  Once the mission was completed and the plane returned, the sight would once again be covered and armed guards would safely escort it back to “the Bomb Vault”.  All bombardiers using the Norden had to take an oath to protect this highly classified instrument, even if it meant their life.  In the event of an emergency landing in enemy territory, they were instructed to shoot the sight’s most critical instruments in order to disable it.  The military felt this did not destroy the sight enough should it fall into enemy hands, which lead to the installation of a thermite grenade making it possible to create a heat reaction capable of melting the Norden into a useless pile of metal.

By the end of the war, the secrecy of the sight was downgraded with the first public display occurring in 1944.  The most famous mission for the Norden Bombsight occurred on August 6, 1945, when the sight was used in the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.   The legacy of the Norden bombsight did not end there.  At the onset of the Korean War, aircraft from WWII that had been left intact were once again called into service.   At the onset of the Vietnam War, the USAF once again would turn to the Norden Bombsight, but this time, WWII technicians were needed to bring them back to operational status.

Today’s Top Ten Armies (Military Powers) in the World

This list of Top Ten Armies (Military Powers) in the world is subjective at best.  Unless you looked at specific aspects and judged based on that criteria alone, the list cannot be definitive.  One can look at a nation’s defense budget or the size of their enlisted members, or combine the two.  Another area for consideration is the amount of armor a nation has inventoried including tanks, helicopters, aircraft and ships.  This top ten took in a little of all of that, but it is still one perspective looking at the Armies around the world.  Input and educational pieces on other armies not listed here, or any additional information that may have been omitted, are welcomed.

Before listing the top ten, one country fell just short of making the list, but certainly deserves to be mentioned – North Korea.  They not only have one of the largest Special Forces in the world – 120,000 members – they have a very large inventory of armor.

10.  Pakistan

Pakistan is known for their good upper leadership.  Founded in 1947, their three branches of service totals more than 600,000 people – all volunteers.  They have close Pakistan Aircraftties to the militaries of the US and China.  Pakistan’s budget of over $5 billion is smaller than all the other top ten militaries, but it does exceed the overall defense budget of a number of other countries around the world.  While Pakistan has about the same number of naval craft as the United Kingdom (see below), they have more aircraft and helicopters and an incredible total of 9,000 tanks and armored vehicles.  They have assisted the United States in their War on Terrorism by fighting the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and along their own borders.

9.  United Kingdom  

British Forces include three branches of service, – the navy, the army and the air force. Below are some figures for the United Kingdom – the figures presented could vary slightly:

  • British HelicopterActive Military (including army, navy and air force) – 197,700
  • Reserve – 212,000
  • Paramilitary – 152,000
  • Aircraft and Helicopters – 1,800
  • Tanks and Armored Vehicles – 5,500

Despite having one of the smallest numbers of active military, the militaries of the United Kingdom are a sustainable force and their SAS is among the world’s top Special Forces.  Britain is a steadfast ally of the U.S.

8.  Iran

Iran militaryIran has one of the best small forces in the world.  Half of this countries government’s income goes towards defense.  Their modern day military was first founded in 1923 and currently boasts over 500,000 active members.  In addition, its defense budget of $10 billion has allowed more aircraft than the US and UK combined and almost the same amount of aircraft and helicopters as China, a country with a much larger force and budget.

7.  Turkey

Turkey militaryTurkey’s Army dates back over 2,000 years.  Their modern day militaries were not established though until 1920.  Turkey has over 600,000 members in its military forces and its budget is close to $19 billion.  This country comes in fourth for the total number of tanks and armored vehicles – 11,000 plus.  All Turkish males – once they reach 20 years of age – are required to serve in the military.  There are very few exceptions to this requirement.

6.  Germany 

Germany's Leopard IIMuch of Germany’s notable military history began with the rise of Hitler.  They were responsible for the start of WWII when they invaded Poland.  When the war was over, the country divided and the West German Army was formed.  It wasn’t until the 1990s the country reunited.  Currently, Germany has more than 200,000 active military members who are well-trained and well-equipped.  Germany boasts of one of the best tanks in the world – the Leopard II.

5.  France

France's MilitaryFrance’s military does not have the reputation as a super power, but its numbers would say differently.  Their military totals over 360,000 members spread throughout their navy, air force and paramilitary branches.  All three branches are very well rounded, but many feel their navy is bar far their strongest branch.  France’s defense budget comes in just over $58 billion.  Despite this impressive budget, it still has the smallest number of aircraft and helicopters than any other country on this list.

4.  India

India has a more advanced Air Force and very-well trained Special Forces.  They have four branches of military and also additional paramilitary units.  Their active military India's militaryhas more than 1.3 million members.  India has an additional 2.1 million in reserves and their paramilitary has 1.3 million members.  In all, India has more than 4.7 million total members.

Despite their large number of service members, India’s aircraft and helicopter and tank and armored vehicle totals put them only in the center of the list of countries listed here and they do have the smallest naval craft fleet.  Some estimates of nuclear warheads in India’s possession go as high as 80.

 

3.  Russia

This former superpower still has a large amount of equipment in its military inventory.  They have well over 1.2 million active military members and an additional 750,000 in Russian Militarythe reserve.  Their paramilitary total comes in at around 5,000.  The total military budget for Russia is in excess of $64 billion.  Only two countries have a higher military budget than Russia – the United States and China.

The current known Russian force was first founded in 1992, but Russia’s military history dates back to as early as 863.  Between the ages of 18 and 27, all male Russians are drafted into the country’s service for a period of 12 months.  A few exceptions, such as being a student or the parent of two or more children, serve as exemptions to this otherwise steadfast rule.

Russia is known to have the largest number of nuclear warheads on hand, but most of them are not active.

2.  China

Founded in 1927, the People’s Liberation Army of China has more than 2.3 million China's militaryactive service members in its military making it the largest active force in the world. With a reserve of 800,00 and a paramilitary of 1.5 million, in all, China has more than 4.5 million military members.   China’s defense budget of $129 billion is continually increasing each year by an average of 12 to 15%.  This total makes it the second largest defense budget in the world – second only to the United States.  China is believed to house as many as 240 nuclear warheads.

1.  United States

The US military has history dating back to 1775 when it first formed forces (Continental Army) to fight in the Revolutionary War.  The US Army has been involved in every major world war as well as the Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War and the Global War on Terrorism.

United States militaryThe defense budget for the United States is more than the combined totals of the previous nine countries coming in at over $689 billion.  The US has just over 1.4 million active military members, another 1.4 million reserve members and 11,000 in its paramilitary.  The US ranks second behind Russia in the total number of warheads, but it does have the largest number of active warheads.  The United States leads in the overall aircraft and helicopters – 21,000 – but is just barely ahead of China with its total of tanks and armored vehicles.  The United States also has an impressive 12 aircraft carriers in its fleet.

This list of today’s top ten armies (military powers) in the world, certainly sheds light on the overall power of these nations given their impressive numbers in members, equipment and budget.

Five Top Tank Commanders of WW II

The five top tank commanders of World War II are not listed necessarily because of their number of kills.  They are instead remembered for a number of different reasons.  The top five commander list is presented in alphabetical order along with a brief description of their noted accomplishment(s).

Step close and get a sense of the strength of the cold metal on AFHMs authentic, fully restored, fully operational battle tanks, which are prominently displayed throughout the museum.  Get a sense of the combat they endured throughout their service.  Take a moment, put yourself in the turret – feel the power, feel the fear, feel the pride.

Lt. Colonel Creighton Abrams – Top WWII Tank Commander for the United States – Using M4 Sherman tanks, Abrams and his crew are credited with destroying an estimated 50 German armed fighting vehicles.  Abrams military career continued on through the Korean War and Vietnam War.  The XM1 – a US Army main battle tank was named the M1 Abrams in honor of Creighton Abrams.  Abrams reached the rank of Four Star General before retiring in 1974.

General Heinz GuderianGeneral Heinz Guderian – Germany’s father of armored blitzkrieg – Guderian is known for heavily utilizing the blitzkrieg strategy during World War II, a strategy which greatly assisted with Germany’s successful invasion of Poland in 1939.

 

Sgt. Kurt Knispel – Germany’s WWII Top Tank Ace – Not only was Sgt. Knispel Germany’s top tank ace, he is credited with being the top tank ace in history.  He began as a tank loader and eventually became a gunner and then a commander.  His official kill record stands at 168.   His most remarkable kill was a hit he made on a T-34 tank almost two miles away.

Major General Stanislaw MaczekMajor General Stanislaw Maczek – Superior Polish armed forces field commander – Maczek led armored units in World War II from its onset in 1939 until it ended in 1945.  He played several key roles in the war, including the capturing of Wilhelmshaven in May, 1945.

 

Captain Michael Wittmann – Led Germany’s most lethal tank attack of WWII – Captain Wittmann’s kill record includes 138 tanks, 132 antitank guns and a countless number of vehicles.  He is most famous for an attack in June of 1944, when he devastated as many as 14 tanks, 2 antitank guns and 15 additional vehicles a 15 minute time frame.

World War II saw the rise of many great commanders in all areas of the war.  With continual advancements in tank designs, tank commanders were constantly challenged, but many, such as these five top WWII tank commanders listed above, rose to the occasion and left an indelible mark on history.

WWII’s Top Ten Aircraft

A number of variants can be used when determining the top ten aircraft from WWII.  While it would be difficult to get a general consensus of an absolute single list, below are ten that certainly are worthy of their place in the World War II history books.  The list is presented in alphabetical order.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress –

An authentic Norden bombsight is on display at the Armed Forces History Museum in Largo, FL –

The B-17 Flying Fortress is a well-known aircraft from WWII is best remembered for the strategic bombing missions over Germany focusing on industrial and military targets.  The Norden bombsight (which was top secret during World War II) was used on these missions to ensure accurate hits of the intended targets.  The B-17 could fly higher than any other aircraft of its time and, even though it was a bomber, the plane was equipped to properly defend itself.  The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress dropped more bombs than any other aircraft during WWII.  It dropped more bombs over Germany than all other bombers combined.

Focke-Wulf Fw-190 – This single-engine German aircraft from WWII is referred to as one of the top fighters of all times.  The Fw-190 made a significant impact in the skies over Europe and was feared by many of its counterparts.  The versatility of the aircraft allowed the German Air Force Luftwaffe to use it as a fighter, fighter-bomber and as an anti-tank aircraft.

 Ilyushin-2 Shturmovik – This WWII Russian aircraft is known for its incredible record in destroying enemy tanks, which earned its reputation as  the #1 anti-tank aircraft in the world.  The Ilyushin-2 Shturmovik also maintains the record as the highest manufactured aircraft design in aviation history.  Stalin considered this aircraft crucial to the Soviet military.

 

Junkers 87 Stuka – This two-seater aircraft, flown by the Luftwaffe, was known for both its dive bombing capabilities and its successful anti-tank capabilities.  One Luftwaffe ace alone destroyed well over 500 Russian tanks with the Stuka.   The downside of the Stuka was its lack of maneuverability and defensive armament; as a result, it required a heavy escort of fighters to successfully complete its missions.

Messerschmitt Bf-109 – The Bf-109 is often described as one of the greatest fighter aircrafts in aviation history.  The earlier developed Bf-109 was developed as an interceptor and would eventually be modified to be used as a bomber escort, a ground-attack aircraft and a reconnaissance aircraft. This distinguished aircraft, flown by the German Luftwaffe, served on all European fronts of World War II and was considered their single, most important aircraft fighter.

Messerschmitt 262 – Though this aircraft did not receive flight status until late in the war, its design actually began before WWII.  The Messerschmitt 262 was introduced in April of 1944 and was considered an advanced aircraft by WWII standards.  However, its overall impact on the war itself was minimal.  The design of the Messerschmitt 262 was used by German scientists in future prototypes, which were being created at that time with speeds up to Mach-1.  Because of its late introduction into the war, few of the original aircraft were manufactured.

Mitsubishi A6M Zero – Though originally perceived by the Americans as an inferior fighter, the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero proved itself a worthy match.  The Zero became a dominant fighter aircraft during the first two years of the Pacific theater and was known for its maneuverability and long range.  Along with its firepower, the A6M remained unmatched until the American carrier-based fighter F6F Hellcat came into service.  The A6M retains its title as one of the most agile aircraft ever manufactured.

North American P-51 Mustang – The USA’s P-51 Mustang, a long-range fighter and fighter-bomber, was introduced in 1942.  The aircraft was used throughout World War II, and pilots of the P-51 Mustang are said to have shot down over 4,900 enemy aircraft.  The performance of this aircraft is responsible for regaining air superiority, which up until the P-51, was believed to have been dominated by the Luftwaffe.  Many consider this P-52 Mustang the top fighter of World War II.

Supermarine Spitfire – A historical combat aircraft, the WWII British Supermarine Spitfire was a fighter aircraft which served in all combat theaters of WWII.  Used by the RAF (Royal Air Force) and other Allied countries, the Spitfire was the only fighter aircraft Britain produced throughout the war.  This single-seat aircraft saw action in the European, Pacific and other theaters of WWII and was known for its high victory to loss ratio.  Many consider this WWII Supermarine Spitfire one of the greatest fighters of all time.

 

Vought F4U Corsair – The F4U Corsair was known for its air supremacy during WWII in the Pacific theater.  Used as both a carrier fighter and a ground attack aircraft, the F4U outclassed the Japanese Zero.  Japanese pilots actually considered the Corsair to be one of the most formidable American fighters of WWII.  Due to its high speed capabilities and its maneuverability, this spectacular aircraft continued in service into the Korean War serving mainly as a fighter-bomber.

With the number of WWII aircraft and variations produced throughout this time period, the top ten aircraft of WWII is most probably best viewed through the eyes of the reader.  Aircraft should be judged based on their classification, kill ratio, total production, longest operating and other categories within aircraft statistics.  Any one – or combination – of the above aircraft on this list would certainly be a part of any other list compiled of top ten aircraft from World War II.

WW II King Tiger Tank

One of the most feared weapons of World War II, the King Tiger Tank (also known as Tiger Tank II) donned an almost impenetrable front armor.  Produced by Henschel, the King Tiger was introduced into action on the Eastern Front in May of 1944.  This tank design housed a crew of five.  The main gun specification of the King Tiger was to be a variation of the 88mm anti-aircraft gun, capable of destroying enemy tanks from a great distance.  The velocity of this gun was about 1000m a second when firing an amour piercing round.   The gun’s accuracy allowed it to pierce 150mm of metal armor even if the tank’s position was more than 2 kilometers away from the intended target.  The shell’s ability to travel at about 2200m in an estimated 2.2 seconds (and sometimes even faster) meant this tank had the capability to destroy enemy tanks from a distance, keeping the Tiger out of enemy range.

The King Tiger Tank was not without its problems. Underpowered like many of the World War II heavy tanks, the engines consumed a lot of fuel at a time when it was in short supply for the Germans. The shortage was a direct result of the allies’ bombing the German fuel tanks. The fuel consumption problem was exacerbated at the Battle of the Bulge. Here, the Tigers first appeared to do quite well, but subsequently, they literally ran out of fuel. Soldiers were forced to abandon their tanks and walk back to their lines.

In addition, despite an order to manufacture 1500 King Tiger Tanks, production was greatly hindered due to the allies’ bombing of the factories. Other problems encountered by the Tiger series included their track system, leaking seals and gaskets, and the overburdened drivetrain initially developed for a lighter vehicle. The double radius steering gear was also known for being prone to failure.

By the end of World War II, tanks were finally being developed that, at long last, surpassed the Tiger. Today, the only operable example of the infamous King Tiger from WWII (including the production turret) is on display in the Musée des Blindés, Saumur, France and is accessible to the public.

OVERVIEW OF WORLD WAR II

Introduction

World War II was a global conflict involving most of the worlds’ nations and over 100 million military personnel worldwide.  The war, divided into the Allies and the Axis, is known as the deadliest conflict in the history of the human race.  The war began on September 1, 1939 when Germany and Slovakia attacked Poland.  By September 3rd, France, Britain and other countries from the commonwealth openly declared war on Germany.  For the next six years a war like no other, involving all the major powers of the world, would ensue throughout various theaters.

The Armed Forces History Museum in Largo, FL features several dioramas relating to WWII.  These WWII dioramas feature tanks, halftracks, vehicles and an extensive collection of WWII memorabilia.  Audio also accompanies various displays within the dioramas.  The Pearl Harbor diorama features original film footage from the WWII attack.  Click on the link below for more information on these and other dioramas and displays featured at the museum.

AFHM Interactive Museum Map

The United States Enters WWII

The United States became involved in WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  The bombing was in retaliation for the United States refusing to trade items Japan desperately needed to assist them in their war with China.  The attack at Pearl Harbor claimed over 2,000 lives.  A total of eight battleships were either damaged or destroyed severely impacting the Pacific Fleet.   It was the only battle that took place on American soil.  The United States entered the war and began fighting on two fronts – Europe and the Pacific.

In addition to the bombing at Pearl Harbor, several other encounters throughout the war would more than earn their place in the history books.  The Battle of the Bulge, Battle of Normandy and the Battle of Iwo Jima are just a few of the historical conflicts that remain at the forefront of WWII battles.

America’s Home Front 

WWII vintage posterYoung men in the United States signed up by the thousands for military duty.  Patriotism was at an all-time high.  The war was in the fore front of everyone’s mind.  All citizens became involved in the war at some level.  Military themed posters were distributed throughout the United States encouraging the conservation of the resources needed by the military to fight a successful war.  Rubber, oil, gasoline, coffee and many other day-to-day items were being curtailed and food was being rationed.  Automobile production ceased beginning in February of 1943 in order to use the manufacturing plants to produce items needed for the war.  Women entered the work force to assist with making these much needed items.

 

Battleships, Tanks and Aircraft

The United States and several other countries had several fleets of battleships involved in the various theaters of the war.  Battleships proved to be a dominant force throughout the World War II.  However, by the end of the war the advancement of the aircraft carrier with offensive weapons and air guided missiles, the construction of battleships had all but come to an end.

A huge demand for aircraft existed during WWII.  Countries continued massive production runs and were constantly evaluating performance and safety with practicality and firepower making adjustments to meet and exceed the air power of the enemy.  Several aircraft rightfully earned their place as being synonymous with WWII.  The B17 Flying Fortress, the P51 Mustang, the P40 Warhawk and the British Spitfire just to name a few.  Advancements made throughout this time period were staggering and set the pace for future prototypes and continued advancement in military aircraft.

Tanks and military vehicles played a large role in World War II.  Variations of both continued to roll off the assembly line due to the continual changes required in design to meet the ever changing demands of the opponent.  Tanks were initially used as a means of infantry support but by the end of the war, tanks had become the dominant force on the battlefield.

Step close and get a sense of the strength of the cold metal on AFHMs authentic, fully restored, fully operational battle tanks, which are prominently displayed throughout the museum.  Get a sense of the combat they endured throughout their service.  Take a moment, put yourself in the turret – feel the power, feel the fear, feel the pride. 

WWII M16 HalftrackMilitary vehicles were used throughout the war for transporting troops, carrying infantry, artillery and anti-aircraft weaponry.  Halftracks were popular due to their versatility.  They were equipped with regular wheels on the front of the vehicle, which allowed for easier steering, but the back of the halftrack had caterpillar tracks.  These would help with propelling the vehicle merging the benefits of the cross-country abilities of the tank with the easier handling of a wheeled vehicle.

 

Summary

World War II holds a tremendous amount of history in the advancement of military weapons and tactics.  These advancements were spawned through necessity, but even the simpler aspects of WWII hold a tremendous amount of respect.  Trench art continued to be a favorite past time of the men in World War II and the once hand dittoed dog tags were now being produced by machine.   World War II, along with its many memories and memorabilia, was a time like no other – before or since.

To this day, World War II memorabilia continues to be highly sought after by collectors of all levels.  The uniqueness and rarity of the item is only super seceded by the amount of respect and patriotism that penetrated the hearts and souls of all Americans during World War II.

Colonel Leonard T. Schroeder – 30 Years Service and First Man on Normandy Beach

Display Case WSThe Armed Forces History Museum in Largo, FL is proud to have a display case dedicated to Colonel Leonard T. Schroeder with the boots, equipment and uniform Schroeder was wearing that infamous day in World War II when he became the first man to step foot on Normandy Beach.  Other items are featured in additional display cases throughout the museum.   The case above has a number of additional items  also generously donated by Colonel Schroeder.  His voice can be heard narrating his D-Day experience by visitors as they through the AFHM’s D-Day Diorama.

 Leonard T. Schroeder Early Years

Born in Maryland on July 16, 1918, Leonard T. Schroeder would enter the United States Army in 1941 and serve the next 30 years – retiring as Colonel.  Throughout his military

Leonard T. Schroeder as captain during WWII

Leonard T. Schroeder

history, Schroeder would be remembered for a number of achievements, but his most infamous moment was when he made history as the first man to step foot on Normandy Beach during the D-Day Invasion.

His military interest began after high school when his full athletic scholarship took him to the University of Maryland where he enrolled in ROTC – Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.  Upon graduation in 1941, Schroeder was commissioned a second lieutenant of the United States Army and assigned to the 4th Infantry Division.  He was stationed at Camp Gordon (close to Augusta, GA) until September of 1943, at which time, his division was sent to Florida.  While in Florida, the 4th Infantry Division would begin training for assault landings using various amphibious crafts.  They completed their training in January of 1944 and were then sent to the south of England.  Here, they continued to practice in preparation of the Normandy Landings.

D-Day Invasion – June 6, 1944

On June 6, 1944 – the day of the D-Day Invasion – Schroeder, a 25-year old captain, was in command of 219 men in Company F – a part of the 2nd Battalion, the 8th Infantry Regiment and the 4th Infantry Division.  It was the 8th Infantry Regiment that received the orders to make the first landing on Utah Beach.

The night before the landings on a ship (USS Barnett) from England to France, the men listened to General Eisenhower – Supreme Allied Commander – as he encouraged the troops in his radio address:  ‘Together, we shall achieve victory.’  Later, the commanders were called together by Lt. Col. MacNeely – the 2nd Battalion commander – to the

Troops coming ashore in Normandy

Troops coming ashore in Normandy

quarters of Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.  Here they received their final briefing prior to the invasion.  Afterwards, the officers shook hands and wished each other well.  Lt. Col. MacNeely approached Schroeder (nicknamed ‘Moose’), put his arm around his shoulder and told him to “Give ‘em hell!”  Schroeder replied:  “Well, colonel, I’ll see you on the beach!”

Roosevelt requested Schroeder take him in his boat and get him to the shore.  At the time, Roosevelt was not in the best of health.  On June 6, 1944 at 2:30 in the morning, Schroeder and his company left the USS Barnett and boarded their landing craft.  Before making that journey, Schroeder wrote to his wife and told her where he was and talked about his mission.  He also expressed how much he loved her.  Later that morning at 6:28, Schroeder’s unit – two minutes ahead of schedule – was the first of 20 landing crafts to come ashore on Utah Beach.  Schroeder and his boat of 22 men (including Roosevelt) were the first to reach the beach and Schroeder became the first American soldier to set foot on the beaches of Normandy that day.  He had Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. at his side.

Due to rough waters in the English Channel, close to 80% of the men on the boat were sick and as they neared the shore, the Allies were still shelling their intended destination.  As Schroeder left the landing craft, he kept his pistol above the water as he waded in the last 100 yards.  The soldiers all met enemy fire, underwater mines, barbed wire and even trenches.  Schroeder’s mission was to move five miles inland and liberate a local village.  The march would end with half his men dead and Schroeder himself shot.  The two wounds he received in his left arm required hospitalization in England and eventually in South Carolina.   The severity of the wounds almost forced an amputation of Schroeder’s arm.

When later asked, Schroeder said he was too frightened to think about much of anything, let alone being the first man ashore.  He would be become known as ‘the first

GI to invade Europe’.  Schroeder would receive several awards and decorations as a result of his actions, including a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart as a result of his actions throughout World War II.

After the war, Schroeder stayed in the Army as a career officer.  In his 30 years of active duty he saw combat – in addition to WWII – in Korea and Vietnam.  His overseas assignments would take him to England, Turkey and Greece; and in the United States, he was stationed at Ft. Knox, KY and Ft. Meade, MD, which was close to his childhood home.

Life After Retirement

Schroeder retired a full colonel from the United States Army in 1971.  He and his wife

Colonel Schroeder later in life

Colonel Schroeder later in life

Margaret (with whom he had three children) moved to Largo, FL.  On June 6, 1994 – the 50 year anniversary of the D-Day Landings – Retired Colonel Schroeder was honored in Normandy.  He was featured on a French television broadcast and featured on the cover of the June 2, 1994 French magazine VSD along with an article written about his life and his D-Day experience.  Just prior to his May 26, 2009 death, Schroeder recollected his 30 years in the service and said he still missed the comradery and the family-like brotherhood he experienced with the US Army.

Colonel Leonard T. Schroeder will always be remembered for being the first man to step foot on Utah Beach during the D-Day Landings of World War II.

WWII Women’s Army Air Corps

The WWII Women’s Army Air Corps was implemented in 1942 through joint efforts of various Army bureaus.  Coordinating it all was Lt. Col. Gilman Mudgett.   When the expected 11,000 women turned into 150,000 (throughout WWII), Mudgett’s initial plans had to be revised.

The Beginning

Initially, 800 women joined the WAAC and began their basic training.  The Army published a training manual in order to set physical standard requirements for these women.  The manual pointed out the woman needed to be ready to replace the men – to be prepared to take over.

Besides the nurses, the WAACS were the first women to serve in the US Army.  With the shortage of men, it was necessary for the Army to impose a new policy which supported women serving in uniform.  The majority of the women who served remained stateside; however, some were sent abroad to Europe, North Africa and New Guinea.  Two weeks after the Normandy Invasion, WACS landed on the beach to further assist the Army.

 

Opposition and Support

While some men vehemently opposed women serving in uniform, others – like General Douglas MacArthur – were supportive of women in the service.  General MacArthur is said to have referred to the women as some of his best soldiers.  Others who supported women in this new role felt the women were better disciplined, worked harder and complained less.  General Dwight D. Eisenhower also recognized their contribution to the war stating, “their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit and determination are immeasurable.”

Current Day

In 1978, the WAAC branch was dispersed and each branch was converted into the Military Occupational Specialty in which it worked.  This put women – for the first time – side by side serving in the same unit as the men, quite a contrast from their 1942 beginning.  The WWII Women’s Army Air Corps is one of the organizations from this era which opened the door for women’s role in the service.

U.S. Army’s Youngest General – Mark W. Clark

Mark Clark

Mark Wayne Clark in 1943

U.S. Army’s youngest General, Mark W. Clark, is thought by many to be one of the best U.S. Generals of World War II.  His service career started in April of 1917 as a graduate of West Point Academy.  He was appointed as a 2nd lieutenant of Infantry but rose quickly in rank with the rapid escalation of the United States involvement in WWI.    By August of that same year, he was already a captain.

More Promotions for Clark

During WWI, Clark served in France with the US 11th Infantry.  As a result of the serious shrapnel wounds he received, he was transferred General Staff Headquarters of the First US Army and then eventually began serving with the Third Army in Germany.

Following World War I, General Marshall took note of Clark’s capabilities.  From 1921 – 24, Clark served in the office of the Secretary of War as an aide.  The following year (1925), he finished his professional officer’s course at the Infantry School.  From there, Clark began serving as a staff officer with the 30th Infantry in San Francisco.  He then went to the Indiana National Guard where he served as a training instructor.  It was during this time he received a promotion to Major (January, 1933).

Duties from 1935 through 1940

  • 1935-36:  Deputy commander of Civilian Conservation Corps in Omaha, NE
  • 1935:  Tour at Command and General Staff School
  • 1937:  Tour at Army War College
  • 1940:  Chosen to instruct at Army War College

While at the Army War College, Clark was promoted to lieutenant colonel.  In August of 1941, Clark received a two grade promotion to brigadier general.  As the US Army was gearing up for possible entry into WWII, Brigadier General Clark served as Assistant Chief of Staff at General Headquarters for the US Army located in Washington, DC.

Clark in WWII

Clark made significant advances during the early stages of World War II:

  • January, 1942:  Served as Deputy Chief of Staff Army Ground Forces
  • May, 1942:  Chief of Staff Army Ground Forces
  • June, 1942:  Sent to England as command general of II Corps
  • July, 1942:  Became Commanding General – Army Forces European Theater of Operations
  • August 1942:  Deputy commander in chief of Allied Forces in N. African Theater  

Clark was involved in the planning and directing of Operation Torch – the invasion plan for North Africa.  He was taken into N. Africa by a British submarine – the Seraph.  He arrived several weeks prior to the invasion in an effort to negotiate the surrender and ask for the cooperation of the Vichy French, which took place in October of 1942.

In November of 1942, shortly after the conclusion of the negotiations, Clark received a promotion to lieutenant general.  He was eventually made commanding general of the newly formed overseas field army – the US Fifth Army.  His task was to train the unit for

Clark on USS Ancon - landings at Salerno, Italy - September 1943

Clark on USS Ancon

an assault on Italy.  The invasion was scheduled for September of 1943 and known as ‘Operation Avalanche’.  However, it was reported by some British historians that Clark almost failed when he landed at Salerno, citing poor planning on his part.

Also in question was his bombing of the Abbey of Monte Cassino in February of 1944.  Though Clark gave the order, it was in fact based on direct orders he received from his superiors.    During the Battle of the Winter Line, Clark’s conduct of operation once again came under scrutiny based on evidence which suggested he was motivated by the fame that would most certainly result from entering Rome as a ‘conqueror’.

Though Rome was liberated, it resulted in Clark failing to exploit a gap in German positions, which allowed a large number of German forces to escape and strengthen the area that was to become known as the Gothic Line.   Though thanked by Pope Pius XII, others felt Clark’s action were best described as irresponsible and insubordinate.

Clark:  1944 – 1947

In December of 1944, Clark was given command of the Allied ground troops stationed in Italy.  They were given the name – 15th Army Group.  And in March of 1945, Clark received his promotion to General.  As the war neared an end, Clark found himself as Commander of Allied Forces in Italy and eventually US High Commissioner of Austria.  In 1947, Clark would serve as deputy to the US Secretary of State.  He assisted in negotiating the Austrian Treaty and upon returning home in June of 1947, he took command of the Sixth Army, whose headquarters were in San Francisco.  Two years later, Clark became chief of Army Field Forces.

 Later Years

In May of 1952, Clark succeeded General Ridgway as commander of the United Nations Command.  After retiring from the US Army, he served as president of the prestigious military college – the Citadel – from 1954 to 1965.  Clark’s military career spanned 24 years, during which time he rose through the ranks rapidly.  Some feel it was due in part to his association with General George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower.

Along with his impressive rank at such a young age, Clark accumulated a number of awards and decorations including the Distinguished Service Cross, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, WWI and WWII Victory Medals and the Korean Service Medal, just to name a few.

Though some of his military career may be considered controversial, no doubt, General Clark, the youngest U.S. Army General, and his service left an indelible mark on the history of the United States military.