A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Battlefield Part II.

by Daniel Russ on September 6, 2011

Napoleon Enters Moscow

 

Soon after Pearl Harbor, American troops were to see their first combat since World War I on the Mediterranean coasts of North Africa. Tunisia became the first battlefields where GIs spilled blood; some of whom still didn’t have the most modern helmets and rifles, some who were still wearing the pan shaped World War I Doughboy helmet and some were carrying the Springfield 1903 bolt action 30.06 as their primary weapon. The heat of North Africa was oppressive, and the flat sandy topography of the desert was mind numbing. Soldiers who grew up in America generally had something to look at whether they lived in a city or by a creek. The North African desert was an empty endless horizon that gave the impression that you were further away from home or home base than you thought. This was probably the same effect the endless sameness of the immense steepes and plains of Western Russia appeared to the Germans who weeks earlier arrived during Operation Barbarossa. The Americans who fought here had not seen action and they fought accordingly.

 

Depositing troops in an amphibious assault landing is tricky. It requires the coordination of all the ships in the strike fleet, and it is somewhat dependent on upon the weather and tides. It begins with the transport of tens of thousands of troops crowded onto sometimes rickety out of mothball freighters turned into transports, and carrying them over tens of thousands of miles across vast and sometimes stormy seas for days at a time. As the fleet approaches the beachheads, the carriers send reconnaissance and attack aircraft to see what kind of greeting troops can expect on the way in and to soften up and targets if need be. Soon thereafter troops climb down net ladders into crowded landing craft pitching in the ocean. The ships they came from and the landing craft they got into were often slick with sweat and urine and vomit.

 

Napolean Faces A Russian Winter

Sometimes the landings were unopposed and sometimes the landings were bloody slaughters. Sometimes the landings went well, and sometimes storms and unpredictable tides sent landing craft into reefs and rocks. Then again sometimes men, laden with over 100 pounds of gear stepped into unseen deep spots and drowned. And sometimes their buddies watched them. It was probably a good idea not to get too close to people in a theater of combat. Combat veterans have written about this very topic extensively. In the most difficult places where combat explodes, you are  not fighting for country or flag or cause; instead you end up fighting for your buddies.

 

Getting to the battlefield cost Napoleon one of his biggest defeats. La Grande Armee marched into Moscow with 450,000 men and returned across the Brezhina River with 40,000. Much of the death was simply the Russian winter. The serfs the French mistreated on the way in destroyed most of his army in the way out. Napoleon was literally run out of the country on his horseback. His men starved or succumbed to pneumonia or typhoid. The cost to American troops of just getting to the battlefield was also rather high. They don’t make movies about the troop transports that slipped beneath the waves in rough seas. They don’t talk about a wooden glider that crashes and killed every raw recruit aboard. But this happens. The price of war is not paid in dollars. The price of war is death.

 

US Troops Descending Netting Ladder In Amphibious Operation

 

 

Source: Wiki, Oxford Companion To Military History, History Channel

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