War of Independance: The French Connection: Marquis de Lafayette
The United States was a nation forged in war as the colonists fought for their independence from Britain in the Revolutionary War or War of Independence between September 1, 1774 to September 3, 1783. It was a war in which the French played a significant part in supporting the American colonies, supplying weapons and also the military expertise of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette who served as a major-general in the Continental Army under George Washington.
Wounded during the battle of Brandywine, Lafayette still managed to organize a successful retreat following the British victory. He also served with distinction in the battle of Rhode Island. In the middle of the war he returned to France to negotiate an increase in French support. On his return, he blocked troops led by Conwallis at Yorktown while the armies of Washington and those sent by King Louis XVI under the command of General de Rochambeau, Admiral de Grasse, and Admiral de Latouche de Tréville prepared for battle against the British.
World War 1 (WW1) The French Connection: Escadrille Américaine (Escadrille N.124): French Air Service: Lafayette here we come!
In 1917 when the United States entered the First World War on the Western Front on the side of the Anglo French Allies the men of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) landing in France adopted the slogan "Lafayette here we come!" However even before the formal entry into the war, the Escadrille Américaine (Escadrille N.124) of the French Air Service, the Aéronautique Militaire, composed of American volunteer fighter pilots had been formed on 21 March 1916 and deployed on April 20 in Luxeuil-les-Bains in France. The squadron designation was changed to Escadrille de Lafayette following German objections to the use of the word "American" in the title at a time when the USA was neutral. To many it was known to many simple as the Lafayette Escadrille .
Raoul Lufbery a French-born American citizen, became the squadron's first, and ultimately their highest scoring fighter ace with 16 confirmed victories before the pilots of the squadron were inducted into the United States Army Air Service. Besides being an expert pilot Lufbery a colourful character who had two pet lions "Whiskey" and "Soda". He was killed in action in 1918 and is buried at the Lafayette Memorial du Parc de Garches in Paris.
Before 1917 Americans were in action in the French Foreign Legion and also working as volunteer ambulance drivers. It was as a Legionnaire that in 1916 the American Alan Seeger wrote the iconic war poem:
Rendevouz with Death
"I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.
It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.
God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous."
Seeger had his rendezvous – he was killed in action at Belloy-en-Santerre on July 4, 1916, after being hit several times by machine gun fire. He died cheering on his fellow Legionnaires in a successful attack.
Seven years after his death on Independence Day 4 July, the President of the French Council of State, Raymond Poincaré, dedicated a monument in the Place des États-Unis to the Americans who had volunteered to fight in World War I in the service of France. On either side of the base of the statue by Jean Boucher – a monument and statue financed by public subscription are the words of Seeger a tribute to his fellow American volunteers killed in action.
"They did not pursue worldly rewards; they wanted nothing more than to live without regret, brothers pledged to the honor implicit in living one's own life and dying one's own death. Hail, brothers! Goodbye to you, the exalted dead! To you, we owe two debts of gratitude forever: the glory of having died for France, and the homage due to you in our memories."
In the interval between the War of Independence and the United States' entry into the First World War the country was no stranger to conflict. In fact there had been fighting on American soil as early as 1622 when the first European settlers clashed with the Native Americans in what were to be known as "The Indian Wars". The last recorded action in this long drawn out insurgency campaign was in 1924.
While Europe was devastated by the Napoleonic Wars this conflict spilled across the Atlantic in the War of 1812. Later the USA would be riven by the Civil War between the North and South that lasted from 1861 to 1865. It was during the Civil War that in 1862 Congress in Washington instituted The Medal of Honor – the United States' highest decoration for gallantry. The criteria for the award are that the recipient display are:
"Conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against any enemy of the United States; while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party."
The brief Spanish American war of 1898 gave Cuba its independence and for $20 million the United States acquired Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam. Between 1916-1917 soldiers of the US Army were in Mexico pursuing the troops of the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa and halt his forays into the United States.
World War I
In 1914 the United States Army comprised 98,000 men, of whom some 45,000 were stationed overseas. The Regular Army was backed up by the 27,000 troops in the National Guard. As early as December 1914 General Leonard Wood helped to form the National Security League and began arguing for conscription to increase the size of the US Army. The US President Woodrow Wilson responded to this pressure by increasing the standing army to 140,000 men.
When the USA declared war on Germany in April 1917, Wilson sent the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) under the command of General John Pershing to support the Allies in France.
In the fighting in World War I the price the AEF paid in deaths was modest compared to the losses suffered by Britain, France, Russia or Germany – some 116,708 men were killed in action and 205,690 wounded. The influenza pandemic during the autumn of 1918 took the lives of more than 25,000 men from the AEF while another 360,000 became gravely ill. Other diseases were relatively well controlled through compulsory vaccination. It was a conflict that saw the US Marine Corps in action on European soil – in World War II they would fight exclusively in the Pacific theatre.
By the end of the war, 119 men had been awarded the Medal of Honor for supreme courage 90 from the Army, 21 from the Navy, and eight from the US Marine Corps. Of the men awarded the Medal of Honor for 33 it was a posthumous award. Among the recipients were Sergeant Alvin York, and the fighter ace Edward "Eddy" Rickenbacker while the first US Marine Corps pilot to win the Medal of Honor was Ralph Talbot.
Sergeant Alvin Cullum York (December 13, 1887 – September 2, 1964) is an iconic American hero from World War I. He was born in a two room cabin in Tennessee. As a young man like Audie Murphy took on responsibility for supporting the family from a very early age. A man of deep religious convictions he was troubled by the prospect of serving in the Army and killing.
He won the Medal of Honor on October 8, 1918 leading an attack with only seven men on a German machine gun position they killed 28 German soldiers, captured 32 machine guns and took 132 prisoners. This action occurred during the U.S.-led portion of the Meuse-Argonne offensive, which was part of a broader Allied offensive under the overall command of Marshal Ferdinand Foch to breach the Hindenburg Line.
York himself described the situation that led to the action:.
"The Germans got us, and they got us right smart. They just stopped us dead in our tracks. Their machine guns were up there on the heights overlooing us and well hidden, and we couldn't tell for certain where the terrible heavy fire was coming from... And I'm telling you they were shooting straight. Our boys just went down like the long grass before the mowing machine at home. Our attack just faded out... And there we were, lying down, about halfway across [the valley] and those German machine guns and big shells getting us hard. "
The film "Sergeant York" based on York's diaries directed by Howard Hawks and starring Gary Cooper in the role of York began being screened in the United States in July 1941 five months later the Japanese launched the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 7. The patriotic impact of the film was such that many young men left cinemas to enlist in the US Army as soon as the film was over. In 2008 "Sergeant York" was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
US Marine Corps
Unlike the US Army, the US Marine Corps could draw on a deep pool of experienced officers and NCOs and therefore did not expand as rapidly as the Army. The Corps had entered the war with 511 officers and 13,214 enlisted personnel, and by 11 November 1918 had reached a strength of 2,400 officers and 70,000 men. It was in France that the Marines enhanced their already established reputation with actions like Belleau Wood. It was at the beginning of the attack that Gunnery Sergeant Major Dan Daly gave the Corps one of its iconic quotations. The "Gunny" - a recipient of two Medals of Honor and veteran of the Philippines, Santo Domingo, Haiti, Peking and Vera Cruz, urged the men of the 73rd Machine Gun company forward with the words: "Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?
In a brutal battle that saw attack and counter attack U.S. forces suffered 9,777 casualties, included 1,811 killed. Many are buried in the neighbouring Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. There is no clear information on the number of Germans casualties, although 1,600 were taken prisoner.
The Marines' ferocity and toughness earned them the respect of the Germans, who rated them as "Storm Troopers". The Marines and American media reported that the Germans had nicknamed them "Teufel Hunden" as meaning "Devil Dogs". However like the story that in World War II a German officer had called the US 82nd Airborne Division "Devils in Baggy Pants" these nicknames have a long and unsubstantiated history.
AEF (American Expeditionary Forces: WW1)
By July 1918 there were over a million US soldiers in France. General Pershing deployed US troops in support of the French during the Aisne Offensive in May and at the Marne in June. US troops also took part in the Allied attacks at Le Hamel and at the Canal du Nord. The offensives at St Mihiel in September and Meuse-Argonne in October passed into the annals of American military history.
The Battle of Saint-Mihiel saw the AEF with 14 divisions (550,000 men) and French Army of four divisions (48,000 men) under the command of U.S. General Pershing attacking positions held by the German 5th Army containing 10 divisions. The US Army Air Service the forerunner of the USAF played a significant role in this action.
In two days of fighting the Americans lost 7,000 casualties and the Germans 2,000 dead and 5,500 wounded.
St Mihiel stands out as a well planned all arms battle in which tanks, aircraft, artillery and infantry worked in concert. Interestingly it was the first time that the terms D-Day and H-Hour were employed by the Americans. The triumph of American arms did much to enhance the reputation of the AEF with its French and British Allies.
Afro American Troops in WW1
During World War I few Americans knew that about 200,000 Afro-Americans served in the US Army in Europe, but only 42,000 were classified as combat troops. Completely segregated, they fought alongside the French Army during the war.
World War II
For American servicemen and women who served in the United Kingdom and fought in Europe and North Africa in World War II this was the European Theater of Operations or simple the ETO. To the war weary population of the UK it was a "friendly invasion" though when dressed in their smart uniforms and with bigger wage packets the GIs began to date the local girls British men characterised the Americans as "Over paid, over sexed and over here" to which came the reply that British soldiers were "Under paid, under sexed and under Ike". Ike – General Eisenhower the Supreme Allied Commander upon whose shoulders would be the weight responsibility for launching the D-Day landings in Normandy.
There was always going to be tension between these Allies. To the British the Americans appeared to have arrived late for the war while the Americans saw themselves as saving a floundering Britain from defeat. There was truth in both these assertions but underlying both countries was a determination to see the defeat of a brutal tyranny that had enslaved Europe.
On the other side of the world the US Army had fought a heroic defence of the Philippines – invaded within days of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The long fight across the south west Pacific would see the US Marine Corps on its "island hopping" campaign liberating islands - sometimes tiny atolls – held by suicidally determined Japanese defenders. On the Philippines the US Army would live up to General MacArthur's promise and return to liberate the islands. The war against Japan would finally end on September 2, 1945 with the formal surrender in Tokyo Bay four months after the end of the war in Europe.
USAAF 8th Air Force
Long before the first GI struggled ashore at Omaha on June 6, 1944 the United States' Army Air Force 8th Air Force had been taking the war to Nazi Germany. The first operation launched from newly constructed airfields in East Anglia on 17 Aug 1942, when the 97th Bombardment Group, part of VIII Bomber Command flew 12 B-17Es on the first heavy bomber mission of the war from RAF Polebrook, attacking the Rouen-Sotteville marshalling yards in France. Eventually the USAAF would have squadrons operating from airfields as far west as the New Forest and as far north as Hull but the bulk were concentrated in Norfolk and Suffolk. The USAAF 8th Air Force concentrated on daytime missions over Europe employing a policy of tactical and strategic bombing. The latter hitting targets like the German aircraft industry, oil production and ball bearings factories.
The 8th Air Force made a major contribution to the shortening of the war in Europe but paid a heavy price losing 18,418 aircraft and 23,805 men in the ETO. It is therefore fitting that the American Air Museum is located at Duxford - a former RAF fighter station that was used by USAAF fighters during World War II.
Currently has the largest collection of American combat aircraft outside the United States in the ultra modern American Air Museum designed by Foster and Partners. The collection includes a vintage B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, B-25 Mitchell, P-47 Thunderbolt, and aircraft from the Cold War era such as a B-52 Stratofortress, SR-71 Blackbird and F-4 Phantom, with many suspended from the ceiling as if in flight.
Not far from Duxford is the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial at Madingley The cemetery contains 3,809 headstones, with the remains of 3,812 servicemen including airmen who died over Europe and sailors from North Atlantic convoys. The inscribed Wall of the Missing includes four representative statues of servicemen, sculpted by American artist Wheeler Williams. The wall records the names of 5,127 missing servicemen, most of whom died in the Battle of the Atlantic or in air operations over north west Europe.
Africa and Italy: WW2
American servicemen had been in action in Europe as early as August 1942 when a small, symbolic, force of US Rangers were attached to the British and Canadian troops who landed at Dieppe in Operation Jubilee. They would become the first American soldiers to be killed in action and also the first to take the war to Nazi Germany on land.
On November 8, 1942 in Operation Torch, American forces landed in three location in Morocco and Algeria. In the fighting that followed in February 1943 they would suffer a humiliating defeat in Tunisia at Kasserine Pass but in less than a year in Sicily and Italy US troops and their commanders would demonstrate courage and flexibility.
The airborne and seaborne landings on the Italian island of Sicily in July 1943 code named Husky saw the British and Canadian 8th Army and American 7th Army landing in two locations. A rivalry between the two commanders generals Montgomery and Patton would last through the war in Europe.
By the close of the fighting that ended with the capture of the key Axis evacuation port of Messina the Allies had suffered 24,820 casualties (5,837 killed, 15,683 wounded, 3,326 captured and the Germans around 20,000 casualties while Italian posses were 147,000 of whom many were prisoners. Valuable lessons had been learned that would pay dividends on D-Day about one year later.
The American performance in Sicily showed that they were now an effective and flexible force and the next step would be the invasion of mainland Italy.
This was a three phase operation with troops of the 5th Army under general Mark Clark landing at Salerno on September 9, while six days earlier the 8th Army crossed the Straits of Messina. The 5th Army was held close to the beaches by two German Panzer Corps and it was not until September 16 that it broke out and linked up with the 8th Army.
The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had described Italy as the "soft underbelly" of the German and Italian Axis – for the soldiers the peninsula would be remembered as the "tough old gut".
Heavy fighting on the German Gustav Line with the dominant feature of the monastery of Monte Cassino held the Allies south of Rome and in an attempt to break the impasse Anglo American forces landed at Anzio. They achieved total surprise but once again were held in a beach head. The German 14 th Army under General von Mackensen launched fierce attacks against Anzio and it is appropriate therefore that the American dead of Sicily and Anzio are buried close by at the Sicily-Rome Cemetery and memorial that has the graves of 7,861 of American military war dead and the names of 3,095 who have no known grave.
When the breakthrough came in June 1944 General Clark was keen that the US 5th Army should liberate Rome which they did on June 5, 1944. His moment of personal glory was eclipsed one day later by the news of the D-Day landings.
In Italy fighting would continue to the last months of World War II and it was on April 15, 1945 that Private First Class Sadao Muemori of Company A, 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team that was made up of a Nisei or Japanese Americans would win the posthumous Medal of Honor, for his courage in an action near Seravezza.
Back in August 1944 French and American troops were diverted from Italy as part of Operation Dragoon, the landings along the southern French coast between Toulon and Nice. It was here that a young Audie Murphy who had already seen action in Italy, would win the Distinguished Service Cross action in which he seized a German machine gun and used it against its original owners. His one man assault on the German position was driven by anger at the death of his friend Lattie Tipton – killed by the machine gunners.
As Sergeant York would be a hero of World War I so Audie Murphy would become a hero of the war in Europe. The child of a poor share cropper following Pearl Harbor Murphy had a struggle to enlist in the Army because of his modest height, he then had to push to be posted to the infantry.
However by 1945 he had received a battlefield commission and won the Medal of Honor in fighting The citation for Audie Murphy's Medal of Honor reads:
"Second Lt. Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. 2d Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to a prepared position in a woods, while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him, to his right, one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. 2d Lt. Murphy continued to direct artillery fire, which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2d Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer, which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy.
He was alone and exposed to German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate 2d Lt. Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad that was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards, only to be mowed down by his fire.
He received a leg wound, but ignored it and continued his single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way back to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack, which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he killed or wounded about 50. 2d Lt. Murphy's indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction, and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy's objective"
When asked after the war why he had seized the machine gun and taken on an entire company of German infantry, he replied simply, "They were killing my friends." His picture appeared on the cover of LIFE magazine's July 16, 1945 issue as the "Most Decorated Soldier", and so he became one the most famous and widely regarded as the most decorated American soldier of the war. After the war he became a successful film actor for over two decades, appearing in 44 films. He later had some success as a country music composer. He died in a plane crash in 1971 and was interred, with full military honours in Arlington National Cemetery.
The build up of American troops, vehicles and aircraft that had begun in 1942 came to an end on the night of June-5-6, 1944. The "friendly invasion" was now serious and British, Canadian and American soldiers were about to make the "Second Front" in Europe a reality.
The ideal conditions of tides and moon state would come on two days a month the planners gave those dates in June as the 5th and the 6th. On June 5 the weather conditions were terrible – but there was going to be a window of good weather on June 6. The decision to go or hold for another thirty days rested on the shoulders of the Supreme Allied Commander, 54 year old General Dwight Eisenhower. He took the decision with the simple words "OK let's go" and Operation Overlord – the Normandy landings by sea and air were on.
About 1500 Americans were killed during the initial assault on Omaha and Utah beaches, another 3500 wounded, captured, or missing.
About 210,000 allied soldiers became casualties during the weeks before the "breakout" of and the dash toward Berlin began. Of those, about 37,000 from the allied forces were killed in action during June and July.
Another 16,000 allied aircrew were killed during the same period. It took almost another year before the German army was destroyed, the concentration camps liberated, and victory in Europe. For Americans who had family killed or wounded in the war, in battle or in the camps, June 6 is a special kind of memorial day.
A visit to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France is a moving and powerful reminder of the sacrifice of young American lives paid to liberate Europe.
The cemetery site, at the north end of its half mile access road, covers 172.5 acres and contains the graves of 9,387 men and women, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations. On the Walls of the Missing, in a semicircular garden on the east side of the memorial, are inscribed 1,557 names. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified. The cemetery is located on the site of the temporary American St. Laurent Cemetery above Omaha Beach and was established by the U.S. First Army on June 8, 1944 becoming the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II.
Ardennes 1944 - 1945
On December 16, 1944 under low cloud and over snow covered fields the German Army launched a counter attack that caught the Allies off their guard. Some 1,000 German tanks and assault guns and 250,000 troops of Army Group "B" emerged from the wooded hills of the Belgian Ardennes and crashed through an 85 mile wide front into the the US First Army. Nearly 9,000 US soldiers facing annihilation on the Schnee Eifel were forced to surrender and vehicles, weapons and equipment were abandoned.
But the Americans – sometimes isolated and surrounded showed extraordinary courage and endurance and the assault was slowed and finally halted. The key to the defence was the small Belgian town of Bastogne – for the Germans its capture would allow their men and vehicles to fan out from the road junctions at the core of the town. The men of the 101st Airborne Division – who had already seen action on D-Day and in Operation Market Garden were rushed to the town and held it against repeated German assaults.
The Ardennes that initially appeared to have the makings of a German victory became a costly defeat and by the close of the fighting the Germans had lost about 100,000 men – the Americans 19,000 killed and 47,000 wounded and the British 10,000. It would be the greatest pitched battle fought by the Americans and one in which 45 year old George B. Turner would become the oldest enlisted man in the US Army to win the Medal of Honor.
The Cost and the Courage..
In the months between D-Day and VE Day – Victory in Europe the US Army would lose 12,0824 men and women either killed in action or from wounds received in the fighting, while over 12,000 would be recorded as missing in action. During World War II some 464 men would be awarded the Medal of Honor of whom 324 would be soldiers, 82 US Marines, 57 US Navy personnel and one from the Coast Guard. The gold lettering on the white marble crosses in American Military Cemeteries record the last resting place of the 266 men who received the Medal of Honor as a posthumous award. The American dead from the two world wars are buried in 21 superbly maintained cemeteries across Europe and in North Africa
A jumble of medal ribbons at the back of a drawer, faded photographs of young people in uniform, neatly written entries in a pocket diary, letters tied with ribbon – our parents and grandparents, quietly modest about their war service, have sometimes left us only clues about a time when life was counted by the day and sometimes by the minute...
Television programmes like "Who Do You Think You Are?" and now more particularly "Is there a War Hero in your family?" are making us aware that people we knew as easy going relatives or friends, sometimes as mere teenagers once lived life at the very edge.
To guide us on our own journey of rediscovery about these remarkable lives we have in "Spirit of Remembrance" a unique resource for both research and also guidance across the fields of destruction that shaped these young lives.
Thinker, scholar, writer, soldier and media savvy guerrilla leader, Thomas Edward – universally known simply as TE – Lawrence stands out as a very modern figure in World War I. In Britain he would be celebrated as "Lawrence of Arabia" for his leading political and military role in the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire..
Before the war Lawrence had established a reputation as a scholar and historian. In war he brought to his role as a liaison officer with the Arab tribes an understanding of the hero-figure's psychological impact on contemporary Arab culture.
With "Spirit of Remembrance" there is a unique opportunity to see the wind blasted crags and shifting sands that were the battleground for the Arab Revolt and understand something of the character of this enigmatic and gifted man.
The Cold War and Beyond...