Sunday, August 28, 2016

Battlefield Recovery

Netflix Screen Capture*
It is hard to grasp just how large the Eastern Front in World War II was, not only in terms of square miles, but in terms of the distances involved, the number of troops, tanks, and aircraft involved, the number of casualties, and, often forgotten by many, the devastation inflicted on the civilian population.

Google Maps

The distance from Berlin, the capital of the Reich, to Moscow, the heart of the Soviet Union is slightly over a 1000 miles. The distance from Tallinn (in Estonia) on the Baltic Sea down to Sevastopol (in the Crimea) is 1372 miles. The front covers a massive area. Of the estimated 70 million people who died in World War II, over 30 million died on the Eastern Front. Of those, 13 to 17 million were civilians. The war on that front was so chaotic, so destructive that records were either not kept, were destroyed during the war, or were lost in the chaos which reigned at the end of the war.

One of the TV programs which popped up in my Netflix feed lately was Battlefield Recovery. Looked interesting, so I thought I'd give it a go. The premise is that a team of four guys (one American, three Brits) go to some of the battlefields of the Eastern Front equipped with metal detectors and shovels to see what they could find. (Important note, they do this with the permission and the consent of the local authorities.)

The first episode took place in the Courland peninsula in northwestern Latvia. My first impression was that it was very interesting to see this area in full living color. As most of you know, the bulk of World War II footage is in black and white. Seeing what these places look like now is very interesting. (I also noted that the terrain and the architecture of small town Latvia doesn't look all that different now than it did back then.)

At any rate, as an amateur historian with a huge interest in World War II, especially the Eastern Front, I was very satisfied with the show. Prior to watching the second episode, there are four, I just had to Google it. (Of course.) One reason is that the American, who describes himself as an historian and a military officer, seemed familiar. Well, his name is Craig Gottlieb and I had seen him before, on Pawn Stars. He had served in the Marine Corps and (according to at least one source) had attained the rank of major. He does seem to know his stuff.

What else I discovered rather blew me away. It seems that this program was surrounded by controversy. It had first been announced as a series by the National Geographic channel with the title Nazi War Diggers. No, seriously, you read that correctly. A rather poor choice in my view, but as many book sellers have discovered, include the word "Nazi" in the title and slap a swastika on the cover and your book will fly off the shelves. I'm not sure what that says about our society, I'm sure it's nothing good.

First pulling the show then resurrecting it as Battlefield Recovery didn't seem to slow the hue and cry of the academics and professional whiners though. Here's one quote I found interesting -
National Geographic’s decision followed a vigorous campaign by many archaeologists and military historians, who said that the films were distasteful, and portrayed a lack of respect for those who died in combat situations. Source
After watching the first episode of the series (and the subsequent three episodes all in one day, hey, I'm recovering from surgery, what else have I got to do?) I felt that these "archaeologists and military historians" really need to go get stuffed. What a load of poppycock and nonsense from so-called "professionals" who probably didn't bother to watch the show at all. No doubt all they saw was a clip on National Geographic's website which was, from what I understand, probably in pretty poor taste.

But then again, it seems that National Geographic's standards have fallen a long, long way since their programs that I watched as a kid. Now it's all "global warming" and politically correct bullsh!t. Pardon my French.

I thought the show respectful of the men, women, and children (see episode two, filmed in Poland) who lost their lives in that cataclysm which tore Eastern Europe apart between 1939 and 1945.

They did find bodies in addition to artifacts and, in my estimation, those fallen were treated with far more respect than, let's say, the dead Egyptians filling the British Museum. You know, those dead people collected by "professional" archaeologists. Yeah, you academics, piss off.

Anyhoo, I highly recommend the show. It's on Netflix, might be available elsewhere, but it's good. Poignant, respectful, these men's love of their work comes across very well.


As to why this show is not on the History Channel is anyone's guess. Oh, that's right, the History Channel doesn't really do that "history" thing much anymore, do they?


* Anyone keen to guess what that sign leading into a German bunker translates to in English? Bueller...

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Week That Was

There are times when memories will blaze across our consciousness in much the same way that the sudden flash of a camera will reveal details which had remained hitherto unseen. It could be something one has just read, a smell in the air, a bit of music, perhaps even the way the breeze feels on your face.

There are many triggers, I had one just the other day, it might have been a comment here or over on Facebook, but a long dormant memory was triggered, and it gave me pause.

It was winter in Vermont, in the early 1970s. I was in far northern Vermont this particular night, I won't bore you with the details of why, suffice to say I was there, a stone's throw from the border with Canada sitting in a hospital waiting room.


Across the dimly-lit space there was a small group of people. I cannot remember how many, I do remember someone coming out of the depths of the hospital and going over to them. Heads drooped, sobs were heard. I could guess why. I didn't know any details but I've seen such things in the years since. Someone, a loved one, had slipped the bonds and gone forward to, who knows?

We have our faiths, or lack thereof, which try to explain what lies beyond. But until we get there, we don't, we can't, "know." All we know is that those left behind must learn to deal with the loss of a loved one. We don't truly mourn the dead, we mourn their absence, we mourn our existence without them.



So this is a new thing, a new series maybe. For me this has been an eventful, somewhat physically painful week. I am only just now returning to an even keel. Still lots of holes, I'm a bit down by the bow with a discernible list to port, but I'm alive. I've been repaired and hopefully most of my parts have significant mileage left on them.

While I'd like to be around a lot longer, one never knows. So live life to the fullest I guess (however one defines "fullest" for one's self) and don't sweat the small stuff. Leastways, that works for me. (The Missus Herself worries about everything, no detail is too small, no item is unimportant. She's got this. Which is why I don't worry, she's got it covered, drives her nuts it does. "How can you NOT worry about that?" she will query. My answer is often, "I don't know, I just don't. I do what I can, when I can. If I can't? Oh well.")


Recovery from surgery is a process. Do what the doctor says, do exactly what the nurses say and, barring complications, you will heal. I am healing. It gets better every day, I'm not at 100% and that's annoying, but I'm patient because "what else can I do, but wait." Patience has never been one of my strong suits.


It was an odd week, a lot of rack time, a lot of meds consumed. I am sorely tempted to post a photo of the surgical repair site, but I'll spare you that. As I told Tuna the other day, "I now have a hard point on my belly where I can mount ordnance."

Though how the Hell I could deliver that ordnance using the hardware which came standard with this 1950s era body I don't know. I do know that I possess no organic flight capability. Well, perhaps I should say that I have no way of controlling flight. I fall with the best of them, I just have very little say as to path or as to landing. Gravity gets the most votes.

S0 this is the opening post of what may (or may not) be a weekly thing. Might be semi-sporadic at best, it might evolve into something interesting. Or not. I do what I can, and that's all I can do.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

With Friends Like These...

Hot off the presses: USS Nitze, (DDG-94) harassed by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy fast-attack boats in the Strait of Hormuz (SOH).

Unfortunately, this isn't anything new. The Iranians have been a thorn in the US Navy's side since the Iran-Iraq War. They've upped their saber-rattling over the past ten years or so, mainly in the waters of the SOH, but in the Gulf as well. And we've had to adjust tactics- new pre-planned responses, manning gun mounts during the transit, and bringing online automated 25mm guns and the Blk-1B Close-in-Weapons System: (CIWS) with optical and infra-red sights.

And yes, in case that ship name sounds familiar, it's that Nitze, which you've heard about here before.  Sarge's Son - The Naviguessor - served aboard Nitze as his last ship in the Navy, as a matter of fact, he's a plankowner.

Turns out that was the first of three such incidents in the last two days.

Here's the report on Nitze

And then today, Squall and Tempest:
"Just one day after video emerged of Iranian ships swarming and harassing the USS Nitze, Business Insider has confirmed a separate incident on Wednesday involving the USS Squall, a coastal-patrol ship, in the northern Arabian Gulf."
"Ultimately, Squall resorted to firing three warning shots from their 50-caliber gun, which caused the Iranian vessel to turn away."

I'm not sure why they are being such arse-holes seeing how we just gave them back $400M and signed a very fair (to both sides) Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreement in last year or so. Part of the legacy of Secretaries Clinton and Kerry!

Man, Blogger really needs to come up with a sarcasm font!

What The Heck Is That?

It started with this comment from Robert Grindrod on Juvat's "Audacity" post -
Thank you for this (and all of your) post(s). The Syracuse NY Post Standard (PS) had an article about a some ww2 pilots that received Congressional Gold Medals. One of them, Henry Miklajcyk, ace, who was killed in combat over Germany. 7.5 kills. Some of his story is here: The PS story is here: 
I have a question, however. The PS print version had the photo you can see in the acesofww2 site of the dashing young fighter ace (I wish I had that hair) standing in front of what they labeled as a P47. Only that is not a P47. I think it's a glider. Note the small prop to his left. Is that a "windmill" type appliance? The fuselage is too small. (I remember reading when I was a kid that some pilot said that if he got in trouble he could dodge bullets by running around in the fuselage.) Anyway, can you shed light on the aircraft? Thanks again.
Off went an e-mail to Joe over at Aces Of WW2, perhaps he had the original kicking around. Well, Joe just got back to me, no idea. Didn't have the full version of the photo and there was nothing with the photo to indicate just what sort of aircraft Captain Miklajcyk is standing in front of.

I put the photo on Facebook, thinking perhaps that the legion of aviation enthusiasts I'm acquainted with might have a clue. So far? Nada. About the only thing everyone agrees on is that it's not a P-47 of any make or model. So what can we discern from the aircraft?

Well, it's an early war design, perhaps even 1930s-vintage. I mean, all those rivets! Second of all, it has to be a tail dragger from the angle of the fuselage, also the aircraft is in American service based on the roundel behind Captain Miklajcyk, which (from what I can discern) is this roundel -
US Army Air Forces insignia used until 15 May 1942 (Source)

Now according to Aces of WW2, Captain Miklajcyk received his wings in November of 1942 while assigned to Craig Field in Alabama. So that tells me that this picture was taken in early 1942 while Captain Miklajcyk was still in training. It's possible that this could be later in 1942 or even in 1943 as the next roundel to be used, the following, was adopted in May of 1942 and was used until June of 1943. As this photo was probably (almost certainly) taken at a training base in the United States, during the biggest military build up in our history, I'm quite sure that they might have waited awhile to paint over that red circle in the preceding image.
US Army Air Forces insignia used from May 1942 to June of 1943. (Modified from Source)

Still and all, I'm fairly confident that this picture was taken early in the good captain's career, before he became an ace. Though not new to the flying business, he was new to the military flying business. As a young man preparing to go off to war, having one's picture taken in front of a military aircraft, regardless of type, would be the cool thing to do.

Which leads us back to the original question, just what type of aircraft is that?

I looked at the following elements when making my attempt to ID the aircraft type:
  1. The angle of the fuselage with the ground,
  2. The alignment of the rear windows with the spine of the aircraft,
  3. The odd venturi-looking thing at the right edge of the photo,
  4. The propellor looking thing which seems to extend from the center of the roundel, and
  5. The antennae protruding from the underside of the aircraft.
As I noted above, the way the fuselage angles downwards tells me it's a tail-dragger, not a big thing as many WWII aircraft were tail draggers. But it does eliminate all of the USAAF light and medium bombers which had tricycle landing gear.

The rear windows seem to be flush with the fuselage spine, which led me to discard the BT-15 Vultee as a possibility, (which this source indicates Captain Miklajcyk flew).

BT-15 Vultee (Source)

Right angle, windows look wrong.

As to the venturi-looking "thing" - aircraft have venturi tubes used to provide airflow for air-driven gyroscopic instruments. I've seen extent examples on other aircraft of the period but Google seems to want to find only "venturi tubes" or "World War II aircraft" separately but not together. I'm sure that's what that is the photo, but it does nothing to help me find the bird, only rule some out. (Which right now rules out "most World War II aircraft." Perhaps some silly bugger off camera was holding something there to confuse future aircraft enthusiasts. Well done. It's worked so far!)

Arrow points to the Venturi tube near the cockpit of a D.H.-82 Tiger Moth. (Source)

As all of the examples (damned few) seem to be located near where the instruments would need this air flow, I suspect that there's something in that rear section of fuselage which needs air speed. Which leads me to the propellor-looking thing.

On Facebook I heard suggestions that this was an early Ram Air Turbine (see below) used for emergency power in case of engine failure. It does have the look of an early forties RAT. (Which I'm not sure even existed back then.)

RAT (Source)

Another suggestion was that it was some sort of HF radio antenna. I looked about and could find nothing to support that theory. Digging a little further reinforced the "it's a RAT" theory. Based on this -

Type B Target Towing Winch (Source)

Hey, that looks like our propellor thing, doesn't it?

Now the Type B Target Towing Winch was used in training to learn aerial gunnery. So it makes sense that Craig Field might have a target tug or two for the airmen to learn aerial gunnery. These target tugs would tow a sleeve behind the aircraft (usually well behind the aircraft) for the troops to shoot at.

Sleeve Target (Source)

The winch would be used to stream and then recover the target sleeve. The propellor thing provided power to operate the winch. I'm betting that those back windows are where the sleeve operator sat. The venturi may be to show that operator what the airspeed was. After all, those sleeves produced a lot of drag and could actually stall the aircraft if the crew weren't careful. While that is a surmise on my part, it seems logical.

The antennae on the bottom of the aircraft were no help at all in identifying the bird. Most aircraft had antennae scattered all over (well, they were designed to be in certain places, they weren't simply scattered about) and each model of aircraft might have more (or fewer) antennae than other aircraft of the same make. I could find no extent aircraft of the type I'm interested in with antennae in that particular location.

But do you know how few hits one gets on "World War II aerial target tugs"? Not as many as you'd like. You do find entries on target tugs but those will be along the lines of "Aircraft such-and-such was modified to do that job." Hello! Pictures would be nice. Perhaps it's a subset of WWII aircraft which no one has much interest in. I don't know.

So we're down to target tugs. I found one reference to what the USAAF used. The "source of all knowledge" says "The USAAF used older aircraft such as the TBD Devastator as target tugs. S" Here's what a Devastator looks like -

Three U.S. Navy Douglas TBD-1 Devastators of Torpedo Squadron 2 (VT-2). (S0urce)

While those windows don't look quite like the aircraft in the Captain Miklajcyk photo, they're not that far off. Bear in mind the winch and the venturi tube aren't on these aircraft because they're still being used as torpedo bombers. Still, I suppose it's possible, add the target towing kit, paint 'em up in USAAF livery and we're close, damned close.

The only other candidate I could find was used as a target tug and just about everything about the bird seems to match the Captain Miklajcyk photo. But it's an RAF bird and I could find no reference to the USAAF using these. But what the heck, here's what I'm talking about, the Fairey Firefly.


I mean those windows are nearly a perfect match. Now this extent example is actually a post-war modification to make it a target tug. The other thing about this aircraft is that is wasn't introduced until 1943, so it's foreign, it's brand new in the 1942-1943 time frame which makes it unlikely to be a candidate for the aircraft behind Captain Miklajcyk.

We may not know the type of aircraft behind the man, but we do know who he was. A warrior.

Note the Polish Eagle badge just above the center of his goggles. A man proud of his roots. From all accounts, he was a Hell of a pilot. Thanks for letting us know about him Robert! (And yes, someday we'll nail down the aircraft type in that photo!)


Odds are awfully good that the aircraft behind Captain Miklajcyk is a modified (probably locally) version of the Douglas O-46A. Gotta give it to Joe over at Aces of WW2, I asked if he knew, he didn't, he searched and offered this bird. It matches. Thanks Joe. (A number of readers also tagged this bird as a possibility. I knew I could count on this crowd to ferret out the answer. Well done!)

Douglas O-46A, NMUSAF (Source)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Made It

Juvat sent me this screen shot at around 1049 this morning. He managed to capture the moment in brilliant HD...

Oh, wait a minute, it's a screen shot.

But we're at a million and counting.

Thanks everyone.

What's that? A second million?

Dang, but there's no pleasing some folks.

Back at it.

NMUSAF Response

A few weeks back, I posted about the National Museum of the United States Air Force.  Mrs Juvat and I visited it the first week in July.  It was the first visit for both of us and won't be the last.  If I can keep Sarge from bustin a gut every August, I'm gonna drag him there by his hair if necessary.  Mere words don't describe how Awesome it really is.  That having been said, I did have a bone to pick with them.  

There are 60 Medal of Honor recipients from the USAF and its antecedents.  However, only 59 are included on the two displays of USAF recipients in the Museum and in the Memorial Gardens.  The latest recipient, CMSgt Richard Etchberger is omitted. Chief Etchberger was posthumously awarded the Medal in 2010 for actions that occurred in 1968.  As I got to thinking (always dangerous), I could see a short period of time for the displays and monuments to be planned and corrected, but 6 years?  So, I wrote the director a letter which, while complementing him on the museum, asked the question why was the Chief omitted.  I mailed the letter while I was in Dayton, so it's been a while and I figured I wasn't getting an answer.  But, lo and behold, the answer arrived in the mail last night.

With one modification (which should be obvious), here is their answer.

  Well, Crap! that didn't work, showed on edit and preview last night though! Sorry.

OK, I've worked budgets, I know there's never enough money to get everything done and tough decisions have to be made.  I get that.

(You know a .....But..... is coming right?)

When we were planning the visit, the Museum was trumpeting the grand opening of Building 4.  That event happened the week prior to our visit (I'm not big on crowds).  The new building showcases the Experimental Aircraft Exhibit as well as the Presidential Aircraft (the aircraft that acted as Air Force One over the years).  Both wings were very interesting and enjoyable.

The new building and it's attachment to the rest of the museum were very well done and, because it housed some VERY large aircraft (XB-70), was a large structure.  Read "large structure" as expensive.

So, it seems to me that the Museum could have added a line item to update the Medal of Honor exhibit inside the Museum.  The building had to have been several million.   I can't imagine commissioning a black and white framed drawing of the Chief costing more than, MAYBE, ten grand. The budget probably had 10 times that in contingency funding.

Mr. Stolle says they can't spend Government Funds for the Memorial Garden. OK, I'll accept that at face value.  How much does it cost to carve a couple of lines of letters in a piece of granite?  50K?  Put a deposit box out by the memorial and a sign asking for contributions to add the Last Recipient of the USAF Medal of Honor.  Given what I observed about the audience visiting the Museum, I'd give it a week, maybe 10 days.

Tuna made a comment a while back that we may have seen the last flying related Medal of Honor as UAVs take on more and more aerial missions.  He may be right.  

The point is, and I made it before, the Museum does a great job of showing off famous aircraft.  However, the reason those aircraft are famous is because of the actions of the People associated with those aircraft.  Jimmy Doolittle, Chuck Yeager, Edward Mechenbier, William Pitsenberger, Neel Kearby to mention but a few.  CMSGT Etchberger's name deserves to be included and recognized for what he did.

C'mon, Air Force, you're better than this!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Milestone Approaching

A million views is probably going to happen on Wednesday.

It's excited I am.

Could I have done it without Tuna and Juvat?

Probably not, I may have given it up at some point without those two excellent wingmen to pick up the slack when I wasn't feeling it, when the Muse decided to be elsewhere, or when I've had holes poked in me for medical experiments reasons. Those two guys have been instrumental in keeping the blog going, they've also brought in new readers due to their aviation backgrounds and the ability to string random words together to present a memorable tale.

Last, and certainly not least, there's no way we could have reached this milestone (okay, we're not there yet, but we're close) without the readers and our fellow bloggers who have thrown the occasional link our way. Those folks on the sidebar can share the credit as well.

But without the readers? Milestones would be meaningless.

This is pretty cool. (Just wish Buck was here to see it.)