All posts in “history lessons”

Preserving History: USNI, Kickstarter and USS Indianapolis


WORLD WAR 2 was really the first multi-media war.  True – photography was present in the American Civil War (or as my late grandma used to call it “The Late Unpleasantness” among some of her milder epithets – but we digress).  Motion pictures were still embryonic and grainy when WWI burst on the scene and so most people’s information of the war came via print — newspapers mostly.  WW2 changed that as along with “traditional” media, a new breed of journalist, the photo-journalist, appeared and significantly added to the wartime narrative via imagery.  Human beings are visual creatures (and some say the male of the species especially so) and while the best of the traditional journalists could still catch you with a compelling story, it was the photo-journals that brought the war home.  In stark black and white or color (Kodachrome™ no less) we were flooded with imagery from the banal to the heart wrenching.  Through the pages of magazines like Look and Life we followed the war from the images of still burning ships in Pearl Harbor, across North Africa with Patton, above Occupied Europe in a Flying Fortress or from the decks of a warship like the USS Indianapolis, the war was in our parlors, soda stands, five-and-dimes and scattered about break rooms at our work places.  From the skyscrapers of New York, to the manufacturing plants outside Detroit to a Nebraska farm, the work of photographers like Edward Steichen (who assembled what came to be perhaps the most famous team of photographers during the war) gave heretofore unprecedented access into a global war supported by those most distant from it.

But it wasn’t just the “name” photographers who set this precedent.  Unheralded unit photographers captured and documented all the details of this massive war effort.  Photographers such as Alfred Joseph Sedivi, ship’s photographer onboard USS Indianapolis were every bit as important as the byline photogs and the story they told gives us today, a window into a piece of America’s history and heritage we might otherwise miss.  Except that today, that history, that noble heritage is literally crumbling away in the ace of the onslaught of time and environment.  The Naval Institute is endeavoring to preserve this heritage though and is working to both preserve and transfer photos to digital form — their first major undertaking in this effort is the preservation of  Sedivi’s work and other rare images from the Indianapolis.  Doing so requires fiscal support and hereto, the Institute is trying something new by funding through Kickstarter.  To quote the Institute:

the Institute has launched a effort to raise the funds needed to restore and digitize all 1,650 photos. With your generous donation, we can ensure that this important collection of photographs will be available for the survivors and their families, as well as historians, the public, and future generations. Once digitized, the collection will be made available for viewing online via the Institute’s website. More information about the photography collection of Alfred Joseph Sedivi in the current issue of Naval History magazine.  $3,000 goal would provide the funds to digitize the entire 1,650 photo collection and preserve the original photos, including preservation materials (archive boxes, poly slides for each photo). The Institute’s stretch goal of $7,000 would enable the purchase of a quality digital camera and copy stand mount allowing for the photo albums to be digitized without being taken apart.  The albums would then be preserved and properly stored in their original and current condition.  If funds raised total $10,000 or more, the Naval Institute will develop a traveling exhibition of the photographs to be displayed at museums and locations across the US. 

It is a worthy endeavor and early success would aid larger and more complex projects in the future.  Head over and read more about it here.  It’s our heritage at stake – let’s see what we can do to preserve it.



Happy Independence Day America!


To our family, friends, fellow Americans and expat friends of the blog around the globe – we wish you all a Happy Independence Day, this 4th of July In The year of Our Lord 2014.
And let us all take time today to reflect on the gift of Liberty and what Freedom has meant for us as a Nation, a People and in our personal lives.

Flightdeck Friday – The Dive Bomber

 As a squadron of U.S. Navy dive bombers, flying at 12,000 feet, closed in on a Japanese target the sky ahead would fill up with bursting anti-aircraft shells as the Japanese defenders ranged in their guns. A high speed run in to 10,000 feet placed the squadron almost two miles high over the target in the 

p-aviation_art13midst of the bursting anti-aircraft fire. The leader signaled attack and rolled over into a vertical two mile dive, followed at 3 second intervals by the 12 planes of the squadron.

As pilot of the seventh plane in the formation Chuck Downey steepened his dive until he hung suspended from his shoulder straps, hands busy of the control stick and throttle, feet working on the rudders. Chuck looked straight down at the six planes below him with their dive flaps deployed. He was aware

“All of a sudden there was a huge flash. Everything blew up in my face about 400 feet in front of me … the whole thing just blew.” The Helldiver in front of Downey had exploded, hit by anti-aircraft fire. It had been flown by Johnny Manchester, a relatively young new pilot nicknamed “School Boy.”of them but did not see them… his eyes was focused on the Japanese warship below him, his target. He was also aware of anti-aircraft shells bursting around him but he did not see them…all that mattered was the target he was lining up in his sights…

“There was nothing there, no airplane, pilot, gunner, bomb, load of gas,” Downey recalls. “It was all just gone, no smoke, no nothing. The whole thing just blew … and I just kept diving through it.” His attention remained focused on his target as he passed through the cloud of fragments clicking like hail against his fuselage. He planted his bomb on the bridge of a Japanese cruiser, his target, and pulled out of his dive low over the water.

Got your interest yet?  If so, head over to a new blog about dive bombing by one of the few surviving Helldiver pilots who flew in the Pacific Theater – LCDR George Walsh, USN-Ret.
And if not — better check your pulse  ;-)

w/r, SJS

Project CADILLAC: AEW and the US Navy (Part Three)


1050L 24 Oct 1944. USS St. LO (CVE  63) is under heavy air attack. After successfully fending off the superior surface force of VADM Takeo Kurita’s Center Force, “Taffy 3” is now defending against a surprise air attack that has lasted some 40 minutes already. One of the features of this attack is the use of suicide attacks.

Marianas Turkey Shoots_w31_41025061
The “Divine Wind” — Kamikazes.


In the midst of battle, St Lo is struck by a plane flown by Lt Yukio Seki. Penetrating the escort carrier’s unarmored flight deck, the plane and its bomb explode in the port hangar bay, igniting a massive fire with secondary explosions. When the bomb and torpedo magazine detonates, St. Lo is engulfed in flames and sinks 30 minutes later. Barely 6 days later, the carriers Franklin and Belleau Wood were struck by suicide aircraft. Both were forced to retire for repair before rejoining the fleet. This emerging threat, kamikaze attacks, were a hint of what was to come as the Fleet closed on the Japanese homeland. The urgency for getting CADILLAC’s capabilities operationally deployed was being underscored by increasing losses in the Pacific…

Development & Production



Recognizing the importance of the CADILLAC system, an early decision was made by the Navy to establish production coincident with its development. To be sure, this imparted significant risk to the program, but in light of its benefits this was deemed acceptable. To facilitate this plan, the project was divided into five parts: shipboard system; airborne system; airborne radar; radar transmitter; and beacons and IFF. So far, what had been brought together was still not much more than a conceptual model – it was time for building actual sets.  Development was undertaken in earnest shortly after approval in May 1944. Using ground-based radar located atop Mt. Cadillac and operating at low power to simulate the APS-20, work on the airborne elements, particularly the relay equipment was well underway. This arrangement allowed prolonged simulation of the air- and ship-board environment, contributing significantly to the shortened development timeline.

Progress was measured in the completion of each of the first 5 developmental sets envisioned. The first set flew in August 1944 – barely 3 months after the approval to begin work was received. Each subsequent system saw incremental improvements over its predecessor with the improvements folded back into the earlier models. By October 1944 a full-fledged demonstration was flown for the benefit of USAAF and USN leaders. These demonstrations consisted of 2 aircraft and 1 shipboard set and were flown out of Bedford Airport (later known as Hanscom AFB), Massachusetts. By all accounts, the demonstration was extremely successful, which boded well for the production units, forty of which had been ordered by the Navy in July 1944.

CADILLAC I Components.

CADILLAC I Components.

As more developmental sets were completed, permanent sites were established in Bedford and MIT (originally scheduled for Brigantine, NJ). The latter was established at MIT for evaluating the system in the heavy interference conditions expected in the operational environment. It was in this environment that the first major problem was uncovered as the system was found to jam itself – interference was so bad that rotational data as transmitted by the double-pulsed coding and passed over the relay link was virtually completely jammed. An extraordinary effort though on the part of the development team led to a triple pulse encoding scheme. With little time to fully test this new set-up (there was considerable rework in the synchronizers, relay receivers and decoders to be accomplished), the third set was packed off to formal Navy trials at the CIC Group Training Center, Brigantine, NJ that started in January 1945 – only two weeks behind schedule

In December, at the height of the crisis over finding a means to address the interference problem, DCNO(Air) disclosed to CADILLAC team leaders the urgency by which their equipment was required to combat the rapidly growing kamikaze threat. Even though CADILAC was already at the top of the Navy’s electronics development requirements, with the increased need, the Navy made available substantial numbers of officers, technicians, draftsmen and even a special air transport system to ease delivery of parts and personnel.

On the production side, a flexible system of generalized target dates were crystallized as designs firmed up, permitting incorporation of changes as experience was gained with the development units. Though this was undoubtedly the least economic process in terms of cost, the brute force development/production method was necessary to make sure delivery of the critical sets in time for the invasion of Japan — anything less than the very high priority CADILLAC carried would have hampered successful completion. Nevertheless, a production schedule was agreed to in June with BuAer that would start deliveries of operational systems with two in February 1945. This was later modified in November for first delivery of 1 set in March 1945 followed by 4 in April and then 8 per month afterwards.

Operational Testing


Not long after starting operational evaluations at Brigantine, more problems were discovered, centered primarily on interference issues in the shipboard environment. Again, most of us today are well aware of the hazards presented by the witches’ brew of RF in the CV environment. Mixtures of high-powered radars operating at different frequencies overlaid with HF, VHF and UHF voice comms provide an extremely challenging environment to develop and deploy a new system, even with the benefit of fifty plus years of experience. Without the benefit of that experience, the roadblocks encountered are not surprising. More modifications were made to the shipboard system with filters to screen out the extraneous radiation. Additionally, as more experience was gained with the APS-20 radar, it was determined that anti-clutter filters were needed to reduce the effect of large clutter discretes (returns) from the sea’s surface in and around the immediate vicinity of the AEW platform (typically out to 20 nm from ownship).  Mounting the antenna above the airframe would have resolved this problem, using the aircraft itself to screen out large clutter returns  within 10-15 nm from the platform, but that was not an option for the Avenger platform.


USS RANGER (CV 4) transiting the Panama Canal, July 1945.

On the West Coast, training in the TBM-3W for pilots and crewmen was performed by the Navy’s Fleet Airborne Electronics Training Unit (FAETU) in preparation for deployment. While the crews were in training, the USS RANGER (CV 4), recently returned from delivering aircraft to allied forces in Casablanca, entered Norfolk Naval Shipyard 17 May 1945 for a six-week overhaul, during which a CIC and the CADILLAC shipboard equipment were installed. Underway again in July, she arrived at North Island on July 25th where she loaded aboard her airwing. This airwing was different from the conventional wing in that it included several developmental concepts; among these were the CADILLAC-configured TBM-3Ws and the Night Air Combat Training Unit from Barber’s Point (NACTUPac). By August 1945 she was in Hawaiian waters conducting final CQ prior to leaving for Japanese waters when the war ended.

With the end of the war, CADILLAC was almost, but not quite completed. While the carrier-based component did not have a chance to prove itself in combat, the utility of carrier-based AEW was so clear and its applications so far ranging in impact that further development and deployment would continue post-war, with deployments on Enterprise and Bunker Hill. In addition to the carrier-based component, a second development was begun under CADILLAC II for a more robust airborne capability. That will be the subject for the next installment.


TBM-3W Data
Wing span: 54.2 ftLength: 41.0 ft
Weight (empty): 11,893 lbs
Weight (max): 14,798 lbs
Max Speed: 260 mph @ 16,450 ft
Cruise: 144 mph
Svc ceiling: 28,500 ft
Range (scout): 845 miles


To Be Continued…



“Air Raid Pearl Harbor. This is Not A Drill.” *

* Telegraph from Patrol Wing Two Headquarters warning of the attack on Pearl Harbor

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives:


Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.



Protests in Ukraine – a ‘Blue’ Revolution?

Quick overview of why the protests in #Ukraine today- (Source: Radio Free Europe)

– Until late November, President Viktor Yanukovych had said he intended to sign a pact with Europe, but backed out after pressure from Moscow. He also refused to allow former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to leave prison for medical care in Germany — a key European demand.
— Early on November 30, riot police broke up a protest encampment in Kyiv’s Independence Square. Video showed police using batons and tear gas and Yanukovych said he was “deeply outraged” by the use of force. European and American officials also condemned the violence.
— Some 10,000 protesters regrouped later in the day, gathering in Kyiv’s Mikhailovska Square.
— The opposition is calling for early elections, a general strike to begin on December 2, and the impeachment and resignation of Yanukovych.
— The protest movement is being called “Euromaidan” (евромайдан), in reference to Kyiv’s Independence Square.


188 Supermarine Spitfire PR.XI PL965 G-MKXI RAC

Flightdeck Friday – Independence Day Edition

Source: Wings Palette -

So yes, it’s not really Friday by the calendar – but that hasn’t stopped us before.  For your consideration an interesting take on this Independence Day of Americans flying a British fighter for recce missions deep into Germany, sans armor (or armour if you please) and guns, loaded with gas and cameras.  Big cameras (for the time).  Airborne photo reconnaissance (part of what we today call imagery intelligence or IMINT) was and still is a vital part of target planning and post-strike analysis.  The more current the imagery, the better the intel support to mission planning – especially if there are any changes to the configuration of defenses around or near the target.  A sudden influx of AAA, for example, might be an indicator that something of particular importance was happening at that site (say VIP visit for example).  Similarly, post-strike bomb damage assessment (BDA) is important to determine the strike’s effectiveness and if a re-visit is warranted.  To be sure, the enemy is likewise aware of this and make adjustments accordingly – whether it is through camouflage and concealment before the strike, or taking measures to make the post-strike damage look more effective than it really was.  The objective then, was to visit the target area as close as possible to the strike window (also without giving away intentions) beforehand and afterwards, close to the last bomb hit.  A premium is put on speed and altitude that enabled the recce aircraft to outpace any fighters trying to intercept it and climb above any flak. In the European theater, there were three primary aircraft of choice for this mission – on the American side, the F-5 Lightning and for the Brits, either the Mosquito or the Spitfire.  The F-5 seemed a natural choice given the range and speed of the big fighter – and when stripped of armor and the guns in the nose replaced by cameras, on paper at least, seemed to have an edge – in theory.

F-5B-1-LO Lightning 42-67332 1

F-5B-1-LO Lightning 42-67332 1 (Source)

Reality, of course is oft times much different than paper (or PPT) exercises.  The Lightning suffered mechanical and aerodynamic issues at the very high altitudes they needed to operate.  Chief among these were limitations placed on the Allison power plants because of high carburetor air temperature (high CAT) owing to the inability of the wing leading edge inter-coolers to sufficiently bring the temperature of the compressed air coming from the turbo-superchargers down to a safe level at high altitude (source).  To a large degree this was a result of the exceptionally clean design of the Lightning and the pre-war specs for the 1,000hp Allisons. The result were restrictions placed on boost depending on altitude for all models of the P-38 through the P-38H.  The F-5As in the ETO, being derived from the P-38G were likewise affected by the limitations.

188 Supermarine Spitfire PR.XI PL965 G-MKXI RAC

188 Supermarine Spitfire PR.XI PL965 G-MKXI RAC (source)

The Spitfire recce aircraft, OTOH didn’t suffer from these limitations.  The Spitfire PR Mark XI was essentially a Mark IX Spitfire interceptor modified for photographic reconnaissance with cameras, a more powerful engine and a larger oil tank in the nose. All guns and armor were removed and the fuel capacity was greatly increased; speed was the unarmed Mark XI’s defense. A total of 471 Mark XIs were built between April 1943 and January 1946. In the Eight Air Force, the 14th Photographic Squadron operated Spitfire Mark XIs from November 1943 to April 1945.  But enough of that — let’s let the narrative of the film fleshout the story:

Great plane & pilot — even greater story.

Supermarine Spitfire Mk XI

DAYTON, Ohio — Supermarine Spitfire Mk XI in the World War II Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (Photo courtesy of Airshow Traveler)

Happy Independence Day everyone!



Book Review: AMERICAN GUN: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms

image002 In every battle there is a moment when the combatants, and the world, seem to catch their breath. It is a fleeting moment, lost in the blink of an eye. But in that same blink, everything changes. Such moments are borne of desperation, of courage, of plain dumb luck. But they are pivotal – for what was before is forever changed afterwards. –Steeljaw Scribe, June 2007

I first wrote those words while analyzing the course of events that took place at Midway, some 65 years ago. Yet the sentiment may be applied across the board where the intersection of decisions made (or not) and actions taken (or not) collide and where a determined individual may be able to change the course of battle – and with it, history. It is a quintessentially American belief with examples woven into the warp and woof of American history.

In his opening chapter of American Gun, author Chris Kyle drops us squarely into a similar scenario – a war that was trending badly for the Colonists who were facing the arrayed might of the British Empire and found them at a crossroads in New York. Lose and the British Army would march to the coast, effectively splitting the northern colonies, the center of industry and mercantile efforts from the agricultural colonies in the south. Split in two, the secessionists could be defeated in detail and the Colonies retained. Win, and that march would be stopped and the French, until now hesitant to pitch in, would provide the necessary support (sea power especially) to ensure defeat for the British and an independent America. But that would turn on this battle.

With the Battle of Saratoga providing the canvas, we are introduced to Sergeant Timothy Murphy, a member of an elite brigade, Morgan’s Rifles, who were noteworthy long distant marksmen. Unlike the rank and file Redcoats or Continental Army (and associated militia) with their emphasis on close order drill and massed fire, Morgan’s group had a different focus and mission – attack the head of the serpent, namely the field leadership who gave the orders and executed close control of deployed ranks. The tool that gave Morgan’s men the ability to carryout this tactic was itself an American icon, the Kentucky long rifle. Descended from the Jaeger rifles of the Old World, but with a New World twist in rifled barrels, excellent balance and, for the time, amazingly light. Bringing to bear his own extensive experience as a SEAL in describing the rifle, its manufacture and employment, in the context of the tactics and effects desired, Kyle presents the reader with an effective and compelling illustration of the first of 10 firearms that are both a reflection of the American experience and emerged at a time of crisis to play a pivotal role in the expansion or protection of that experience.

Subsequent chapters follow in much the same manner – open with a story of someone in combat armed with the firearm of interest, segue to it’s evolutionary path, what effect it had on the conflict at hand and what, if any future generations it may have engendered. Reading American Gun is many respects, like joining a group of professionals sitting around the campfire or in the ready room swapping sea stories about their chosen profession of arms. There is at once an easy informality about it, but the discussion is anything but superficial. The challenge in such an approach, however, is ensuring that those outside the profession are made to feel as welcome as the inner circle – that one isn’t left in the dark outer circle puzzling out the jargon and insider knowledge that permeates these discussions. It is the mark of not just a writer or scribe, but a master storyteller that this is successfully accomplished. Chris Kyle is that kind of storyteller.

Quick Look
Title: American Gun: A History of the US in Ten Firearms
Author: Chris Kyle with William Doyle

Synopsis: Drawing from his unmatched firearms knowledge and combat experience, Kyle chose 10 guns that shaped American history.

Available: 4 Jun 2013 HarperCollins Publisher
Recommendation: Definite Buy – 4.5/5 ★’s 

To be sure, there are some rough spots, because Chris Kyle was taken from us – murdered by someone he was trying to help, back in February 2013 in the midst of writing American Gun. While his co-author, William Doyle, conducted the formal research and background verification, it was Chris’ style and voice, which painted the canvas. Clearly, the book was one that was at once deeply personal as he appears to be getting in touch with his own past and one that unblinkingly places the role of firearms in general and this group of ten most important ones in particular in context.

Completing a project such as that – where the author is deeply and personally enmeshed without being at the end to see through the editing process and ensure a singular voice remains as narrator is extremely difficult and had to have been a challenge to his widow, Taya Kyle. To her credit she understood the importance of this work to Chris and with the help of Jim DeFelice, Chris’ co-author on American Sniper and in concert with William Doyle, completed the book. With this effort though, there are some rough spots in the book where the narrative is repeated or seems to get out of synch and others that leave the reader longing for more. Nothing that would diminish the real value of the work, however and in light of the circumstances behind it, in fact enhances the work. And while I generally skip over introductions and acknowledgements, I strongly urge the reader to pause and reflect on Taya’s compelling Foreword and Chris’ Introduction.

So is the book a buy? Absolutely. If you are a firearms collector and enthusiast like myself (and like myself, may find several of your collection making the list) the book is a compelling read and puts flesh and character to the dry historical guides we typically use when perusing the local gun show or ads in the back of Shotgun News. For those of use with particular leanings to lever rifles of the Winchester and Marlin stripe, the chapters on the Spencer Repeater and Winchester 1873 (widely remarked upon as “The Gun That Won the West”) are very worthwhile. Anyone who has served or had a relative serve can relate to the chapters on the M-1, M1911 and M16. For the non-collector or family historian the vignettes offered of personal struggle and heroism in the face of incredible odds is an uplifting one – and one underscored by some of his personal offerings contemporary and historical.

In Chris’ own words at the end, he writes that the guns were a product of their times – from the individually crafted Kentucky long rifle to the mass-produced M16. That they in and of themselves are no more than a tool used to a particular end and that yes, that end has been evil and good – but that in the end, while there were (and are) indeed terrible missteps and great struggle along the way, these same tools helped us endure and face down the worse evil of our times. And that it wasn’t the guns in and of themselves that did it – but the men and women who stood in the breech and held forth. The guns were the necessary and important part of that struggle.

I know every time now that I may lift my beloved Winchester 1892 to my shoulder or unholster my Korean War veteran father-in-law’s 1911A1 I will think a little more on the historical lineage of those arms and the role they and their relatives played in the founding and preservation of this nation. And each time I will thank Chris for enriching that memory with this work.

“You can get a little fancy talking about guns. You can become a bit starry-eyed about history. You can forget the rough spots. That’ not fair. Real life has been messy, bloody, complicated. Not a straight line.
That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been triumphant, victorious, glorious, and wonderful along the same way. Good has triumphed over evil; we have come to terms with our darker selves. America has won its freedom, preserved it and extended it to others. Guns are not perfect – no model in history has come to market fully finished without flaw. Neither have we. Man and gun have improved together, sometimes with ease, more often with great struggle and sacrifice.” – Chris Kyle, American Gun


Note: HarperCollins provided a pre-release version of American Gun that was used for this review.

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