The Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions." --American Statesman Daniel Webster (1782-1852)

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Discipline in the day of sail

 The Inspiration for this post was a movie...This one, 

 Its a Staple in my DVD collection...
Well I was watching it and I got to wondering exactly how they kept order on a British ship of War, I could go go to the source and ask ,Old NFO he would know, he is from the the time period before he got his aviator wings you know, LOL but anyway I started going down the rabbit hole again....

Clip from the Movie

By the end of the 18th century, the wooden walls of England, as her Navy was so often called, was comprised of one of the largest fleets of ships ever amassed.

These ships needed a strong, willing, and dedicated crew to man them. This meant discipline and lots of it.

Each ship operated as a semi-independent city, with internal hierarchies, justice, and responsibilities. When a sailor broke one of the laws aboard, his punishment was often swift, brutal, and sometimes even fatal.

The simplest reprimands were often denying privileges and rations. Physical punishments were also very common.

Here are three of the most common corporal punishments dished out by 18th and 19th century Royal Navy Law. CANING

The least severe of all, it was usually reserved for boys and Midshipmen. At the time, ship’s boys could range in age from 12-18 years old. They were servants and assisted the older sailors, bringing them food.

They even worked as a “powder monkey”, running gunpowder from the magazine up to their cannon during combat.

Midshipmen, on the other hand, were the most junior officers, tasked with learning the trades of the sailors, as well as leadership and the sciences of navigation, gunnery, and tactics.

A rattan cane, similar to what would be carried by a boatswain, and used for Caning. By No machine-readable author provided. Neitram assumed (based on copyright claims). - No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=520582
A rattan cane, similar to what would be carried by a Boatswain, and used for Caning. 

Usually, they would bend over a cannon, or whatever was closest at hand. They would be whipped with a rattan cane, essentially a thin but stiff piece of reed.

Caning of the Midshipman

The maximum sentence was 12 strokes, enough to hurt for about two weeks. This could be prescribed either as an immediate punishment, for misbehaving in a minor way or come after a more formal hearing, for more troubling cases.

Henry William Baynton, aged 13 years, 6 months, midshipman in the Cleopatra 1780. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons/public domain
Henry William Baynton, aged 13 years, 6 months, a Midshipman in the Cleopatra 1780.

Caning certainly was not a pleasant experience, but it was not the worst the Navy had to offer.

Once they reached 18, more severe punishments could be administered, as after that they would be treated as adults.

Caning has never been officially outlawed but decreased in practice during the 20th century.

A Cabin boy, from 1799. Young boys like this performed many of the simpler tasks on board ship. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons/public domain
A Cabin Boy, from 1799. Young boys like this performed many of the simpler tasks on board ship

Flogging was by far the most common of the three. While flogging was essentially just whipping the offending individual, in the Navy it took on its own traditions and variations

Flogging by the gangway was used for nearly all noncapital offenses. A grating would be rigged upright, and the sailor would have his shirt removed.

He would then have his wrists lashed to the grate, and the Boatswain would proceed to whip him with a Cat O’ Nine Tails. This was a whip made out of 9 strands, with small knots on the end.

A Boatswain in the Royal Navy in the 1820s. An American Boatswain would've looked very similar. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons/public domain
A Boatswain in the Royal Navy in the 1820s. Boatswains were tasked with maintaining discipline and order on board and were tasked with doling out punishment.

This was done in front of the whole crew, following a formal hearing where the sailor could speak up in his defense. It could be used for anything from drunkenness to desertion and was often used preemptively. Captains would issue a slew of floggings just after leaving port, to encourage the men to behave for the rest of the voyage.

There was also running the gauntlet, usually sentenced for theft from a shipmate. The sailor would have to walk slowly through two lines of his shipmates, who would whip him with small multi-tailed whips. This allowed the crew to show their solidarity against theft and effectively ostracized the offending individual.  Often it was worse than the physical pain when in the tight-knit crew of a sailing ship.

Finally, there was flogging around the fleet, for the most severe offenses which did not warrant death. A sailor would be brought into port, and flogged on every Royal Navy ship present.

This was often fatal, and sailors could have been whipped dozens of times by the end of it. Finally outlawed in 1806, flogging as a general practice, though, was not suspended in peacetime until 1881. Even now, it is still technically not completely removed from possible punishments.

The final and obviously most severe punishment was death by hanging at the yard-arm. This was the ultimate punishment for desertion or mutiny against the fleet.

Naval ships could not suffer the possibility of rebellion going unchallenged. The likelihood of death by slow hanging was a real deterrent. Being a capital punishment, sailors could not be sentenced to hanging without an official Court Martial. Here, they were given an opportunity to plead their case in front of a panel of high-ranking officers. If found guilty, their punishment was gruesome.

Their hands and feet would be bound, to prevent any possibility of escape. Then a noose would be placed around their neck.

That line would run through a tackle, or pulley, hanging from the yard-arm (a large pole going across the mast). A team of sailors would then solemnly and slowly haul on that line until the sailor’s body was hanging right below the yard-arm. This was done as a powerful deterrent, and the entire crew was made to watch, and understand what was happening.

The last hanging performed by the Royal Navy was in 1860.

The English weren't the only ones to hang by the yardarm, this American ship, the Somerset, is shown with two offenders hanging off of her mainmast in 1842. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons/public domain
The English were not the only ones to hang by the yardarm, this American ship, the Somerset, is shown with two offenders hanging off of her mainmast in 1842.

The end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century saw some of the most severe punishments from the Royal Navy.

The Navy was larger than it had ever been. The sailors were mostly pressed into service. The Royal Navy needed a way to ensure they would not rebel or refuse their duty. Corporal punishment was viewed as the only effective deterrent for ill-disciplined sailors and boys.

I didn't see keelhauling though in this list....It was not practiced in the American or British Navies, although it is said that the Dutch and the Pirates did make use of that practice although finding concrete evidence of it is daunting.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Tunnel Rats and the tunnels in Vietnam.

 Yesterdays Post got me going down the Rabbit hole again and I decided to do more research in to the Tunnel system.  I had touched upon it yesterday and I decided to explore a bit farther and found more information on the Tunnel system.

I clipped this page from This Source

Click to enlarge

"Bill" an Aussie tunnel rat emerging from a tunnel. Click photo to enlarge. Note the "Australia" badge and the name written on the bush hat. Photo from Vietnam Remembered.

Unofficial motto 

"Non gratum anus rodentum" 

"Not worth a rat's arse" 

or alternatively

"Couldn't Give a Rat's Arse"

This diagram is of a smaller local tunnel system. See  VC Tunnels for it's big brother
Tools of trade for a Tunnel Rat

Knife of type that would be carried


Colt .45 Auto (above)

Smith & Wesson .38 (lower)


Friday 7th of January 1966. The 1st Battalion of the 28th Infantry, itself part of the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Inf Div - "The Big Red One"- was engaged in operation "Crimp". The first search and destroy sweep into the VC held area's Northwest of Saigon. Operation "Crimp" was intended to be a massive strike against the VC in South Vietnam; in and around the Ho Bo woods just west of the Iron triangle.

Even as the men from the 1st Batt 28th Inf touched down on LZ (landing zone) "Jack" they could see their comrades in the 1st Batt 16th Inf were already in trouble and engaging the enemy in small fire fights. The men quickly de-assed their helicopters and moved into the nearby tree line hoping to find, engage, and destroy the VC that had been harassing the soldiers of the 16th Inf.

Just inside the tree line at the edge of a rubber plantation, the men of the 28th discovered a large trench - but no enemy. Where had they gone? How could the VC who had been firing at the men of the 16th Inf just disappear apparently into thin air? As the Batt moved forward it began to find large caches of rice, and enough food to feed a Regiment. As the operation continued, over the next couple of days foxholes, trenches, and caves were discovered. Still no enemy were being engaged in running fire fights, or surrendering, and all the time US casualties were mounting through sustained enemy sniper fire.

By the 10th of January the 28th had reached the banks of the Saigon river. So far during the 3 days of the operation only a couple of brief glimpses of the enemy had been seen. Late in the afternoon of the 10th word came through via the radio that elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the Aussies to the north had made contact with the VC and - found tunnels.

1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, left South Vietnam, having completed almost a full year of combat duty. In leaving, the "diggers" could point with pride to a creditable performance during their stay, highlighted by participation in no fewer than nineteen major operations. Of particular note was an operation conducted in January 1966 which resulted in one of the biggest intelligence coups of the war up to that time. During a sweep of the so-called Iron Triangle, an area near Saigon heavily fortified and controlled by the Viet Cong, the Australian unit discovered a vast complex of tunnels, dug 60 feet deep in some places, which turned out to be a Viet Cong headquarters. In addition to capturing five new Chinese Communist anti-aircraft guns, the Australians discovered 6,000 documents, many revealing names and locations of Viet Cong agents. (from American Report)

The next day the 11th of January the 28th began to retrace it's foot steps. It had finally dawned on the Battalion Commander LTC Robert Haldane what had happened - they had literally walked right over the VC! Searches were begun for the tunnel entrances but nothing much was discovered. By now hot and tired, and waiting for further instructions some of the GIs began to sit down for a quick rest.

Sergeant Stewart Green did the same, but only momentarily, as he suddenly leap to his feet cursing that something had bitten him on the ass. Thinking he'd been stung by a scorpion, or worse, bitten by a snake, Green searched through the layer of dead leaves that covered the area looking for the creature that bitten him. Only to discover it was a nail sticking up from the ground. Upon further careful inspection it was discovered that the nail was part of a small wooden trap door - Haldane's men had found their first tunnel!


Originally the tunnels were started during the war against the French, but which were rapidly expanded upon when the American's arrived. They were constructed by volunteer(!) village labourers using simple hoe's and baskets. The Laterite clay in which the tunnels were dug has a dull reddish appearance and dries rock hard during the dry season. During the wet season it is very soft and much easier to work. Because of the very nature of the Laterite clay's ability to dry rock hard it made a very good (if a somewhat difficult substance to work) soil in which to carve out a tunnel. 

The passages themselves were not cut in dead straight lines, rather they were made with corners that had between a 60 - degree and a 120 - degree angle to them. In other words the corners were constructed with no less than a 60 - degree angle and no more than a 120 - degree angle. This made shooting in a straight line impossible, and helped to deflect explosive blasts from grenades that might be thrown down.

The tunnel systems (where the water table permitted) had several levels, each level was separated by a watertight trap door which would seal the rest of the system against gas, flooding, etc. The trap doors themselves were virtually undetectable and could fool a person into believing that the tunnel finished in a dead end, when in reality it led into a huge system of other passages. These passages would in turn lead to underground ammo dumps, kitchens, air raid shelters, hospitals, store rooms, workshops, latrines, and even theatres for the performances of political plays.

All the tunnel systems had smaller thin (drain pipe sized) ventilation shafts leading from the surface down to the 1st level. These vents were constructed with an oblique angle so as to prevent the monsoon rains flooding the system. Vents were placed so as to face east and the light of a new day, whilst others were placed toward the wind so as to provide a constant cooling draught. Despite these efforts the tunnels were still hot, dark, and claustrophobic, even at the best of times.

The VC also dragged the bodies of their dead comrades underground in order to inter them in temporary graves when it became impossible to bury them above ground due to the presence of American/Australian troops. Once they had been dragged underground they were buried in the foetus position in the tunnel walls and covered with a thin layer of clay.

(an underground man)

The leading scout raised his arm in the village of Long Phuoc
He'd found another tunnel, but who'd go down to look?
The corporal passed the word back, it went back far behind
To let his platoon commander know of his recent find

Then along came this soldier, with mud from head to toe
"Where's the tunnel entrance?" was all he wanted to know
When they showed the soldier, he quickly looked around
And before you could stop him, he'd gone underground

Now he'd been searching on his gut, all that day I bet
Look out for booby traps that good ol' Charlie sets
Then he found the wire, stretched out taut and thin
But he deloused that booby trap, with a safety pin

Then he found the weapons leaning on the wall
There was no disputing he'd found a real big haul
When he finally surfaced, wearing a big grin
He proudly showed the Diggers what he'd found within

Now he'd like to sit down, and roll himself a smoke
But he's been called up forward, by another bloke
So when you see that hat badge, that's like a bursting shell
Remember that this fellow has crawled half way through to hell

And if he's in a bar mate, you buy that bloke a beer
Because Sir, you're drinking with an Aussie Engineer


Originally called "Tunnel Runners" by the 25th Inf Div, and "Ferrets" by the Australian Army, the term "Tunnel Rat" soon became their official accepted name. The US Army soon realized that trying to destroy the tunnels was a short-sighted policy that wasn't going to work. Moreover this was also a loss as the underground networks could yield vital intelligence on the VC in the form of plans and documents.

A chemical officer of the 1st Inf Div, Capt Herbert Thornton a Southerner, was charged with setting up the first tunnel team.

The kind of man that Thornton sought for his tunnel team had to be a special breed. He had to have an even temperament, an inquisitive mind, a lot of common sense (in order to know what to touch and what not to), and to be exceptionally brave.

All of Thornton's men were volunteers, most (not all) were small men of slight build who could squeeze through the tight trap doors and crawl along the narrow passages with relative ease. 

  • No dead tunnel rats were left in a tunnel, dead or wounded they were all dragged out with commo wire, ropes, or by a comrade using a fireman's crawl. 

It was a very stressful, nerve racking job, pushing the rat's mental state to its limits. Crawling through narrow, pitch black tunnels, sometimes for hours looking for a heavily armed enemy who would if he got the drop on you not hesitate to kill you. Occasionally under the strain a mans nerves would break and he'd be dragged from the tunnel screaming and crying. Once this happened he would never be allowed down a tunnel again.

If going down into a tunnel posed a threat, then coming up again could be just as dangerous. Upon emerging from a tunnel a rat would often whistle "Dixie" just to let the troops on the surface know he was on their side. A little guy stripped to the waist and covered in dirt could easily be mistaken (particularly if he was oriental looking) for a VC and shot by his own side.


Going down into a tunnel system was a very risky business fraught with danger. Usually armed only with a pistol or a knife and a flashlight. The tunnel rat would descend into a pitch black, claustrophobic, dank hell, to play a deadly game of hide and seek with the enemy. Carefully probing the floor, sides and roofs of the tunnels became second nature to the tunnel rat as he gently inched and probed his way along. Feeling for wires or tree roots that didn't quite feel right, knowing that anyone of them could detonate a booby trap and blow him to smithereens.

Tunnel entrances were sometimes mined or covered by concealed firing positions. On other occasions an entrance would drop into a punji stake pit which would be covered by two rifle men, one either side. Another way in which the unsuspecting tunnel rat could meet his death was by garrotting him or cutting his throat as he came up through a connecting trapdoor. Besides the booby traps the tunnels also held other nasty surprises. Living along side the VC was a whole plethora of animals which had also made their homes in the dark confines of the tunnels. Bats (the cave dwelling nectar eating bat and the black bearded tomb bat) would use the tunnels as a roosting ground during the daylight hours. 

A tunnel rat crawling through a tight tunnel would wake them from their rest causing them to fly right at him, getting tangled in his hair and running and crawling all over him. Snakes were also encountered underground. Two of the most deadly being the bamboo viper and the Krait. Sometimes the VC would deliberately tether a snake in a tunnel to use it as a sort of natural booby trap.

Scorpions were also used as booby traps, the VC would take boxes of them into the tunnels. The box would be rigged with a trip wire, the tunnel rat tripped the wire and the scorpions would fall on him stinging him in the process. Being stripped to the waist and slowly crawling along on their stomachs also exposed the rats to bites from fire ants that inhabited the underground labyrinths. Other nasties to be encountered in the tunnels were real rats, and spiders like the Giant Crab Spider. Sometimes whole chambers were crawling with a thick black mass of tiny spiders the size of a thumb nail, giving the illusion that the walls were moving!


It was soon discovered early on that to fight in the tunnels the tunnel rat had to do away with most of the infantry mans basic load. In fact the total lack of equipment carried by a rat was a distinct advantage, which greatly increased his chances of survival. The basic tools of the tunnel rat were the knife, the pistol, and a flashlight.

Knife of type that would be carried


Colt .45 Auto

Smith & Wesson .38

The pistols that were carried by the tunnel rats were varied, the .38 Smith and Wesson was a favourite. Other tunnel rats procured their own personal firearms to suit their own needs. One of these was Master Sgt Flo Rivera who acquired and used a 9mm German Luger. The one weapon everyone agreed about was the Colt .45. It was too big, with a silencer it was to cumbersome and when it was fired underground without a silencer its bark was deafening. Making it impossible to hear the enemy.

One of the tunnel rats golden rules was you never fired more than 3 shots underground without reloading, as the VC would know you were out of ammo.

The flashlight was the standard Army issue type and every rat carried one. These were carried in a way so as not to make themselves a nicely illuminated target. If the bulb in the flashlight went it had to be changed. This was practiced so it could be done in pitch darkness by touch alone, and done quickly, lying prone, squatting, or kneeling down. 

Bunker Bomb.

These were made from an ammo can which had a hole drilled in one end. A phosphorus grenade was then taken and unscrewed, the main body of the grenade was placed inside the can. The grenade lever is straightened and fuse is then passed through the drilled hole and screwed back onto the body. Finally the can is filled with napalm or thickened fuel.


Due to the specialised nature of tunnel warfare, priority was placed with ENSURE (Expedited Non-standard Urgent Requirements for Equipment) program for the development of special "Tunnel Exploration kits". Six kits were requested by USARV on the 29th of April 1966, and then passed on to ACTIV (Army Concept Team In Vietnam) on the 7th of August. ACTIV then distributed the six kits, two went to the 1st Inf Div at Di An, a further two were dispatched to the 25th Inf Div at Cu Chi. Of the remaining kits one was given to the 1st Cav at An Khe, whilst the last remaining kit went to the 173rd Airborne Bde at Bien Hoa.

Each kit cost 728 Dollars and consisted of a .38 calibre pistol which was fitted with a suppressor and a spotlight sighting device. This was all carried on a standard pistol belt in a specially designed holster. On the wearers head was a baseball cap which had a miners lamp mounted on it which was switched on and off via a mouth operated bite-switch. At the back of the cap was a bone conduction microphone communication system which was connected to a small ear piece. The power pack for the lamp and a communication wire reel were also hung on the pistol belt, but were situated on the wearers back.

Tests on the exploration kit in Vietnam soon revealed its short comings. The silenced .38 cal pistol was not liked because of its length with the suppressor, and because it lacked balance and was awkward to handle. The special aiming light was found to be unnecessary given the tight confines and short ranges the tunnel rats were operating in. The huge pistol holster was also a failure as it was too big and unwieldy to be used in the tight confines of a tunnel. The head mounted miners lamp fared no better! This was obstructed by the baseball cap's visor and could be shorted out by switch malfunctions rendering it useless. Furthermore the lamp tended to slip down over the wearers eyes. The earpiece part of the communication system was also troublesome as it kept falling out of the wearers ear!

USARV requested 250 tunnel kits on the 21st of March 1967, but because of a mix up in the ordering quantity (500 instead of the original 250) and year end budget problems, immediate funding was slow in coming. Natick labs were not asked to produce the sets until the 30th of September, this situation was further frustrated by problems in the communication equipment for the kits. Eventually the requested 250 sets were delivered to Dover AFB between the 22nd and the 29th of May 1968, and from there immediately flown to Vietnam.

With their patch with it's nonsense Latin motto "Non gratum anus rodentum - Not worth a rats ass" the tunnel rats were among the bravest in Vietnam, doing a job that not many others could, or would care to do.

This I cribbed from several different sources.

These fearless combat engineers descended into the complex Viet Cong tunnels to gather info and disarm bombs — often at the cost of their own lives.

For a soldier during the Vietnam War, one of the most dangerous of obstacles was faced by a select few soldiers known as “tunnel rats.” These unsung heroes of the Vietnam War were American, Australian, and New Zealand soldiers specially trained as combat engineers, who carefully crawled through the cramped Viet Cong underground to perform perilous covert search and destroy missions.

The tunnel rats gently prodded for potentially armed mines in order to disarm them and prayed that they survived with both their legs.

With pistol ready, a G.I. shovels dirt into a tunnel entrance where Viet Cong were believed to be hiding.

Wikimedia Commons

A Network Of Enemy Tunnels

Viet Minh forces initially developed a complex system of underground tunnels to combat the French colonial invasion of Vietnam known as the Cu Chi tunnels. But what began as a fairly rudimentary system of tunnels quickly became a sophisticated labyrinth beneath Vietnam when it was later utilized by the Viet Cong to combat the U.S. and allied forces.

By the onset of the Vietnam war in the 60s, the tunnels included several hospitals, storage facilities, training camps, and barracks. Effective ventilation shafts were later installed which allowed Viet Cong soldiers to remain hidden underground for months at a time.

The tunnels could be destroyed above ground, but often because the tunnels were so complex and snake-like, an above-ground demolition was not enough to dismantle the labyrinth entirely. Someone would have to go down into the tunnels to gather information and better inform their attack. Thus, the tunnel rats came to be.

But the tunnels proved to be an even more mysterious, uncharted area where danger lay around every corner. Besides enemy combatants, the tunnels were decked with booby traps as the Viet Cong knew full well that the American forces would try to use the underground against them.

Viet Cong soldier sits in a tunnel.

Along the tunnels, U-bends had been placed which allowed sections of the tunnels to be flooded and trap a solider. Similarly, entry points were created where poisonous gas could be introduced to kill or render a soldier unconscious.

Less sophisticated traps were also used. Various species of venomous snakes, known to the Vietnamese but not to the outsiders, were dropped into the tunnels.

An American soldier peers into a tunnel’s trap door.

Aside from intentional dangers, there were the natural ones as well. Being underground meant troops were subject to insects, some poisonous like scorpions, and others annoying, like ants. Bats and other creatures used the tunnels as roosts, providing yet another distraction from the task at hand.

The tunnel rats were forced to be creative and often even managed to maneuver around these attacks

Originally called “Tunnel Runners” and later “Ferrets” by the Australian Army, the term eventually morphed into the known “Tunnel Rat.” The rats were comprised of engineering soldiers some of whom were trained at the Australian Army’s School of Military Engineering. Most men were volunteers and tended to be of smaller stature, making it easier to maneuver through the cramped spaces.

But many tunnel rats were devoid of any formal training and though they were sometimes successful in securing intelligence, an enemy hospital, or stores of weapons. However, tunnel rats were responsible for a large portion of weapons successfully seized from the Viet Cong.

Troops often went into the tunnels armed with only an army-issue pistol or revolver, and so the soldiers became ingenious with creating their own weapons. Usually, the weapons of their own devising were sawed-off shotguns and makeshift bayonets. The soldiers also armed themselves with gas masks.

Often when faced with a Viet Cong soldier below ground, tunnel rats had to resort to hand-to-hand combat, as firing a weapon in such a small space could spell disaster for eardrums and the stability of the space around them.

But the tunnel rats’ time underground was to one veteran named Sapper Jim Marrett, “the least of [his] worries.”

In a personal essay for The New York Times, Marrett wrote that as dangerous descending into the tunnels was, “Most of our casualties were aboveground, when we engaged in the other part of our job: finding and disarming mines and booby traps.”

A tunnel rat checks out a possible ventilation shaft.

Marrett reportedly spent weeks in the bush locating and disarming mines, “During that period 36 of us were killed and around 200 were wounded, giving us a casualty rate of 33 percent, high even by Vietnam War standards. One in three of us was either killed or wounded during our tour.”

A soldier pops out of a tunnel trap door to relay information.

Marrett recalled of his company’s tragedies, “…given what we were engaged in, it’s a wonder that number wasn’t higher.”

The tunnel rats were required to use their ingenuity and incredible bravery to fight in an unprecedented form or guerilla warfare the American forces had not yet seen. Indeed, considering the elusive and hidden odds stacked against them, it’s amazing their outcome was not much, much worse.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Fabulous 45 and Vietnam


I shamelessly cribbed this from the American Rifleman magazine.  This caught my interest besides it talking about the mighty 45 and the Tunnel rats of Cu-Chi in Vietnam.  My Dad did as his duties as El-Cid in 25th Infantry Div go into the tunnels in 1968.  He told me one of their tactics before climbing into the tunnel was to throw CS grenades into the tunnel hoping to disorientate "Sir Charles" to allow us to slip into the tunnel before they realized that we were in there.  Another purpose of the CS was to see of any of the CS fumes would waif our from other openings in the area so they would put people on the openings, to see if someone jumped out or they would throw more CS into those openings to further disorient "Sir Charles" because the VC didn't have gas mask and the tear gas would cause major discomfort for the VC and allow the soldiers to close in.  Climbing in the tunnels was risky because the VC would booby-trap the tunnels, my Blogpost I had posted several weeks described some of the booby-traps that the VC would use to "discourage" snoopers.  

I cribbed the following article from "American Rifleman" 

During the close-quarters situations that most infantry engagements occurred in during the Vietnam War, the pistol often took on a more important role than it was intended to fill. Notably, the venerable M1911 pistol became the principal tool of the “Tunnel Rats”. They were the brave men who crawled into enemy bunkers, underground fortifications and tunnel complexes often armed with nothing more than a pistol and a flashlight.

Underground, the big .45 ACP handgun offered firepower that could quickly decide the outcome of a fight in ultra-close quarters. The Tunnel Rats learned to live with the drawbacks of the M1911's blinding flash and deafening muzzle blast within the tight confines of a tunnel.

The entrance to Hell:  A GI of the 25th Infantry checks the entrance to a VC tunnel outside Phu Hoa Dong during Operation Cedar Falls in January, 1967.
The entrance to Hell: A GI of the 25th Infantry checks the entrance to a VC tunnel outside Phu Hoa Dong during Operation Cedar Falls in January, 1967.

Combat narratives from veterans who engaged Viet Cong or North Vietnamese Army units at close range during the war are filled with stories of pistols used effectively. Handguns became a necessary fall-back option when rifles or machine guns jammed or ran out of ammunition. In such desperate engagements, the stopping power of the .45 ACP round was particularly praised as a rapid and reliable solution.

Throughout the long war in Vietnam, a number of soldiers and Marines carried civilian-made sidearms. This was largely in the early years of the war, when regulations regarding personal defense weapons were more relaxed. These weapons were either brought from home or sent to Vietnam by anxious family and friends. 

English to Vietnamese translation:  M16 and M1911 training with ARVN troops with advisors from the 1st CAV at Camp Evans.
English to Vietnamese translation: M16 and M1911 training with ARVN troops with advisors from the 1st CAV at Camp Evans.

Interestingly, there was a particular uptick in the appearance of civilian semi-automatic pistols and revolvers as rumors of malfunctions spread during the force-wide fielding of the M16 rifle. Just like in World War I, World War II and the Korean War, there were never enough M1911 pistols to meet the demand.  American troops believed in, trusted and faithfully carried it on their hip or shoulder whenever and wherever they went into combat.

I was honored when Dale Dye agreed to write descriptions for the images I collected of weapons in action during the Vietnam War.  He is one of America’s finest military historians and a highly qualified storyteller, particularly when it comes to the small arms used in Vietnam. He is also a veteran of the conflict.

Dale Dye served for three tours of duty, with 31 combat actions and receipt of the Bronze Star (with combat “V”) as well as the Purple Heart. Captain Dye has shot, or was shot at with, almost every small arm used in the Vietnam War. He knows all too well about the weapons shown here.

A “Tunnel Rat” of the 25th Infantry Division prepares to enter a VC tunnel near Cu Chi in the Hobo Woods during Operation Cedar Falls in January, 1967.
A “Tunnel Rat” of the 25th Infantry Division prepares to enter a VC tunnel near Cu Chi in the Hobo Woods during Operation Cedar Falls in January, 1967.


A Marine radioman with his M1911 .45 ACP pistol at the ready during a search and clear mission South of Danang.
A Marine radioman with his M1911 .45 ACP pistol at the ready during a search and clear mission South of Danang.

An ARVN soldier covers a Viet Cong prisoner with his M1911 pistol and M1 Garand rifle in 1962.
An ARVN soldier covers a Viet Cong prisoner with his M1911 pistol and M1 Garand rifle in 1962.

One way out: A GI of the 1st Cavalry Division, with M1911 and flashlight in hand, looks for a helping hand out of a VC tunnel complex during Operation Pershing in March, 1967.
One way out: A GI of the 1st Cavalry Division, with M1911 and flashlight in hand, looks for a helping hand out of a VC tunnel complex during Operation Pershing in March, 1967.


A Leatherneck of the 3rd Marine Division at Khe Sanh test fires his issue M1911A1 pistol along the perimeter of that infamous position prior to the 1968 siege.
A Leatherneck of the 3rd Marine Division at Khe Sanh test fires his issue M1911A1 pistol along the perimeter of that infamous position prior to the 1968 siege.


The war underground:  A “Tunnel Rat” descends into a VC tunnel wearing a gas mask while armed with a M1911 pistol and tremendous courage.
The war underground: A “Tunnel Rat” descends into a VC tunnel wearing a gas mask while armed with a M1911 pistol and tremendous courage.


Coming out of a maze of caves and tunnels in the Hobo Woods, a M1911-armed GI of the 25th Infantry Division shows the strain of fighting the underground war in Vietnam. October, 1967.
Coming out of a maze of caves and tunnels in the Hobo Woods, a M1911-armed GI of the 25th Infantry Division shows the strain of fighting the underground war in Vietnam. October, 1967.


A handful of handgun:  A Marine poses with the mighty M1911 during the early days of the Vietnam War.
A handful of handgun: A Marine poses with the mighty M1911 during the early days of the Vietnam War.


Demonstrating the approved Marine positioning for pistol shooting in the prone position.
Demonstrating the approved Marine positioning for pistol shooting in the prone position.


Men of the 1st CAV emerge from searching a warren of caves during Operation Thayer, February 1967.
Men of the 1st CAV emerge from searching a warren of caves during Operation Thayer, February 1967.


A leatherneck of the 3rd Marine Division checking a VC bunker in July. 1968.
A leatherneck of the 3rd Marine Division checking a VC bunker in July. 1968.


On the Bear Cat range: A 9th Infantry Division GI gets in some practice with his M1911A1 pistol in January, 1968.
On the Bear Cat range: A 9th Infantry Division GI gets in some practice with his M1911A1 pistol in January, 1968.


A GI of the 25th Infantry Division at the entrance to a VC tunnel during Operation Atlanta in the Iron Triangle area, December, 1967.
A GI of the 25th Infantry Division at the entrance to a VC tunnel during Operation Atlanta in the Iron Triangle area, December, 1967.


A US Army advisor to the ARVN watches over training exercises in 1965.
A US Army advisor to the ARVN watches over training exercises in 1965.


A Marine examining the entrance to an enemy tunnel complex during the summer of 1968.
A Marine examining the entrance to an enemy tunnel complex during the summer of 1968.


Defense against terrorists:  A US guard checks inbound traffic at the US embassy in Saigon in 1965.
Defense against terrorists: A US guard checks inbound traffic at the US embassy in Saigon in 1965.

I added this clip from "We were Soldier Once and Young" of Sam Elliot Character SGM Plumley Cocking his trusty 45 as the NVA human wave attack was trying to overrun their position.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Franco-Prussian War of 1871 and some background.

I Remembered hearing about the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 when I was reading a book about "Louis Pasteur" and he was embarrassed and angry about how the French had their butts handed to them by the Prussians.  He also visited his son who was wounded fighting the Prussians near Paris if memory serves.   I started doing some research on the cause of the war and down the rabbit hole I went :) 

Throughout the centuries, the European continent has hosted many wars of conflict, laying waste to its countryside, and killing thousands of its citizens. These outbreaks of violence came about over religion, power, and petty disagreements in wars lasting over one-hundred years in some cases. Even though the human suffering was horrific during these battles, warfare was conducted in an almost elementary approach with strategy as an afterthought. This approach begins to change with the founding and successful expansion of the Prussian Empire across central Europe. The Prussians brought new methods and techniques to the art of warfare through its professional application of strategy as a science and an art. The Prussian Empire during the 1871 war with the French was controlled by the then Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck even the Emperor of Prussia referred to Bismarck due to the power arrangements of the empire. Bismarck had the goal of uniting all Germans under one flag and destroying the threat the French posed from the West.


The adversaries of the Prussian Empire were their neighbors to the west; the second French Empire led by the elderly Napoleon III the nephew of Napoleon. The French, up until the late 18th Century relied on its ability in win wars employing strategy called élan. Using this strategy the French believed that they were superior in their ability to mass its infantry on the enemy and win the day. The French believed so much in élan that it led to a false state of security in matters of defense and innovation.

Napoleon III

The concept of strategy or statecraft by using Ends, Ways, and Means shows a clear difference of approach on how both sides tried to impose their will on the other side in both wars. Both the French and the Prussians through some of the elements of Diplomatic,Information, Military, and Economic (DIME) as Statecraft also demonstrate the art and science of strategy. The goals of the Prussian Empire were the unification of all Germans under one flag and turn it forever into a powerhouse of Europe. This was the Ends for Bismarck, the Prussians, and the ultimate objective in Central Europe. Bismarck had been executing his Ends by taking a systemic approach that fell very much in the realm of science, as a strategy leading up to the Battle of 1871, later becoming the Franco-Prussian War. Bismarck‘s strategy as a science gains further creditability with his usage of DIME as a statecraft even before the fighting starts. Bismarck understood the need to apply diplomatic pressure on France, and at the same time, attempt to cast the country as the villain of Europe.
Otto Von Bismark

Bismarck used diplomatic pressure by attempting to put a low nobility German Prince on the vacant Spanish throne. Prince Leopold, a prince from the royal House of Hohenzollern would be the instrument used by Bismarck to execute the diplomatic phase of DIME. If the Prussians could get Leopold on the Spanish throne, they could essentially box the French in on all sides. This action almost created a potential trading block allied to the Prussians. 

On July 2, 1870, that the Spaniards were about to crown Leopold, this led to an outcry in France. The French were caught sleeping to the threat and acted very slowly to recognize the danger being created by Bismarck. Further endangering the French to this maneuver was the fact Napoleon III tried to look the other way and not engage. The citizens of France immediately took to the streets throughout France in protest. This action caused French society to consider this an insult to France leading to the population and political leaders demanding war to protect their honor. French military leaders were also worried about the possible influence that Prussia may be able to bring in Spain with a fellow compatriot of theirs on the throne. The Prussians were truly using diplomatic actions and strategy of science by turning the tables on the French by making them confront the possibility it will be them facing a two front war by boxing them in between Spain and Germany. This action was a stroke of pure genius by Bismarck even before any fighting begins against the French. Bismarck’s actions caused so much pressure on French leadership that Napoleon III looked weak and out touch with reality. The French press and politicians vilified the Emperor for allowing their country to be slighted by Bismarck and the Prussians. 

The Kaiser in response to the fury caused decided to attempt a sort of reconciliation with Napoleon III by sending the French leader a letter offering peace. The crafty old Bismarck intercepted the letter and changed the wording blaming the French for causing upheaval. This letter became famously know as Ems Depesche, Bismarck actions were the information piece of using statecraft in DIME. This aroused nationalist outrage in Germany and France causing the French to declare war on the Prussians. By using the information actions within DIME, Bismarck forced Napoleon III hand.

The Emperor of France looked like fool and a laughing stock in European circles of power because the Prussian got the best of him. Napoleon III realized his position and his country appeared weak and it was his time to try his hand as strategy as a science. Since he did not want a war, he tried to check the Prussians growing power by using back door political moves, and at the same time quiet the growing opposition in the streets of Paris. These secretive moves would be the Emperor’s ends and ways to achieve the ends and ways, on statecraft of diplomatic and, informational actions to further his cause. He first dealt with his critics at home by trying to roll back the powers of the Parliament. When this body of politicians tried to check his moves toward more power, he simply jailed the leaders of the movement. The Catholic

Church was another obstacle in the quest of power by the Emperor and again he jailed Church leaders and drove the rest out of the country. Both groups became targets of an informational campaign to align them with the communist threat, and to show the French people that they were political agents and enemies of the Republic.

With the streets of Paris now cleared, Napoleon attempted to demonstrate his foreign diplomatic prowess by purchasing the Duchy of Luxembourg from the then owner, the King of the Netherlands. With the purchase of the Duchy, the Emperor wanted this land as a buffer from the ever-growing threat of the Prussians. This land grab also put the Prussians at a huge strategic disadvantage by funneling them and their efforts into deadly killing zones once war did begin with the French. 

Bismarck quickly met this challenge by simply putting intense pressure on the Dutch Royals not to sell the Duchy of Luxembourg to the French. The Prussians communicated the danger of selling this land through diplomatic channels by threatening hostilities if the sale took place. The Dutch quickly got the message from the Prussian that their existence might be in jeopardy if the sale took place. Using attempted diplomatic strategy would have been a masterstroke of genius by Napoleon if it could have succeeded. By using this type of strategy, the French leader failed to appreciate the ability of Bismarck to checkmate his moves with his own strategy. Bismarck showed just how cunning he could be by releasing the messages on the possible sale of Luxembourg from the Dutch to the French with revised sentences. The changing and doctoring of the messages showed that Napoleon and the French people are not be trusted in Europe. The Prussians appeared to be the victims of further French aggression, marginalizing their efforts for German unification. With just a few faked sentences and threatening messages added from Bismarck he achieved his prewar Ends, Ways, and Means through information warfare aided by technology.

The disaster caused by the Prussians exposing the attempted sell of the Duchy of Luxembourg caused major domestic problems for Napoleon at home. He had to send Soldiers into the streets of Paris again and have them fire on protestors marching on his palace. The French labor unions and communist parties also did battle with Napoleon’s troops exposing further damage caused by the attempted failed purchase of Luxembourg. These violent uprisings caused a knee jerk response by Napoleon by jailing and exiling thousands of innocent French citizens.

The French people were demanding war, and seeing the chance to look like the bold leader when Napoleon declared war of the Prussians. Napoleon had several goals for his ends, ways, and means to deal for the last time with Prussians. Most important was to look strong, check the growing Prussian Empire, and maybe win a small war. Napoleon attempted to use the strategy of the military inside DIME and was met with disaster due to no planning for the war. The ultimate task for the French would have been to fight a war using the military and to put the citizens on a war footing by using their economic means to attack the Prussians. The French found out it is much easier to chant shout slogans like on to Berlin as a strategy than to execute the mission. 

The French failure in the 1871 War with the Prussians goes back several years without a clear strategy of preparations in the mobilization of its military. The mobilization of armies clearly failed in the realm of strategy as a science. No longer could militaries win wars by just valor and élan, however, this was the approach the French tried to use and failed.

French Soldiers 1871

The French failed to invest in weapons technology and found themselves vastly outgunned and outranged by their enemy even before the battles had begun. The Prussians simply killed the French in the rear areas of the battlefield by using their advanced artillery. There were not any safe areas for the French to regroup, refit and rest during the fighting. They had no safe places except the French capital of Paris to adjust their strategy of art. The distances to the front caused further delays and false starts due to the poor communication nodes that the French failed to update as technology advanced.

The movement of troops to the front lines depended on the railroad first getting them to cantonment areas to form into battle formations. Often times, these areas turned into nothing more than masses of men drinking themselves into a state of drunkenness. Discipline further eroded due to reserve troops arriving with no clear chain of command and lacking training for modern warfare. The French had become little more than a peasant army that was over seven-five percent illiterate as the fighting started. This was due to a system set up previously that allowed a person of means to avoid any responsibility to defend his homeland of France.

French Officer Corp

Just the opposite of the uneducated peasants was a very educated officer corps in France that could have executed to a certain degree the strategy of science and art when deploying to their borders. Like many segments of French society during this time to include Napoleon and French politicians failed to grasp the needs and obligations of modern warfare. They failed to invest in new technologies of the day and adopt strategies that they could achieve. The only true strategy the French used was the need to rush to the border and attack with their faith in Elan. This strategy might have worked in previous war were only valor and fixed bayonets were needed but not in 1871. The French were facing an enemy in the Prussians that adopted a learning approach to execute both phases of science and art in in modern strategy. 

Prussian and Bavarian Soldier 1871

The Prussians took a vastly different approach on how to best execute their strategy of uniting all Germans and to neutralize the threat posed by France. They had become a learning organization that fostered technologies that enabled them to better execute the strategy as a science and art through prewar planning and education. Such advancements as providing medical care, hot meals, and railroads usage allowed the Prussians to see their dreams of a homeland for all Germans become a reality.

Prussian "War Kitchen" as part of a medical train.

Providing something as simple as a hot meal to the troops in war provided a positive outcome on the fighting spirit and morale of the men doing the killing for Prussia. The Prussians knew this due to doing research and promoting strategy as a science by developing mobile kitchens. These kitchens were able to provide returning and arriving troops to the front a hot meal. The kitchens were also mobile enough to follow near to the troops for any major operation. The French had no such things as mobile kitchens to feed their troops on the battlefield. As the French Soldiers learned quickly by starting a fire to warm a meal, it almost certainly invited enemy artillery to attack them in their cantonment areas. Along with hot meals, the Prussians understood the need to have proper medical care for the troops fighting. They were the first in Europe to embrace the concept of marking medical wagons with the now excepted Red Cross emblem signify medical. Military doctors were given complete control of all medical operations when it came to the care of the wounded. The French did none of these actions in regards to medical operations on the battlefield.

Prussian Train Ambulance

Without any true strategy for fighting the Prussians, the French charged to the border without much guidance are even strategy. They learned quickly that it was not logical or even safe to race to the border with just their infantry. These mad dashes to the border allowed for the capture of the city of Saarbrucken for one day by the French. The French had to retreat across the border due to their inability of orders for advancement arriving and the failure to move the strategy as art. They failed to understand the early need for combined arms to wage war and left many troops isolated on the battlefield.

Battle of Sedan and the Humiliation of France.

During the unorganized retreat from the border, the French moved into fortified depots on the false assumption that could reorganize and wage war again. The Prussians quickly demonstrated the art of strategy by encircling these French holdouts and decimating them until surrendering. Napoleon III became one of the thousands of prisoner of war when the fortress town of Sedan fell to the Prussians.
Napoleon III conversing with Otto Von Bismark after his Capture at Sedan.

The result of these failures on the battlefield allowed for Bismarck to dictate the terms of the peace to the French. He quickly moved back into strategy as a science by ensuring that the threat from France would be forever neutralized. This included the partition and loss of the lands Alsace-Lorraine and the demand of payment from the French for the sum of five billion francs.

By successfully demonstrating both the understanding and the need to embrace the strategy of both science and the art phases, the Prussians won the war in 1871. In doing so, they were able to unite all Germans under the new German Empire. Additionally they neutralized the threat from the French to their new German Empire. The lack of strategy for both planning and fighting doomed the French to defeat for many years to come.

    The new German Empire reputation was greatly burnished by the abject humiliation of France and the new country became a force to be reckoned with especially by England who had viewed the defeat of France with some interest and the New German empire started having expansionist goals outside of its borders of Europe and that greatly impacted Great Britain who was at the Zenith of her power and the Germans started building a Navy to challenge the Royal Navy on the High Seas.  The defeat of France indirectly set the seeds of WWI 50 years later.

    This new Blogger interface of sucks...it is a pain to manipulate pictures and import them.*Bleh*