The “Bazooka”, and Its Evolution, in Photos

H/T War History OnLine.

In 1942, the use of tanks in World War II was a threat to infantry soldiers mostly because of the tanks’ impenetrable armor and lethal armaments. This required a weapon powerful enough to take out an armored tank, and subsequently led to the development of the shaped charge anti-tank hand grenade, effective against vehicle armor 2.4″ thick.

However, it weighed 3.5 pounds, which is quite heavy to throw by hand. So another idea arose: a device that could deliver such a grenade from a distance, at an adequate velocity to exceed the range of a hand-thrown grenade, also with high accuracy.

An early RPG-40 anti-tank hand grenade at Great Patriotic War museum in Smolensk. By Vitaly V. Kuzmin CC BY-SA 4.0
An early RPG-40 anti-tank hand grenade at Great Patriotic War museum in Smolensk. By Vitaly V. Kuzmin CC BY-SA 4.0

Lieutenant Edward Uhl of the U.S. Army was tasked with creating a delivery system for an M10 shaped charge grenade capable of stopping German tanks. To do this, the Lieutenant created a small rocket, but still needed to find a way to protect an operator from rocket exhaust while aiming the weapon. According to Lieutenant Uhl, he stumbled on a tube that happened to be the same size as the grenade, and that’s when he had the idea for a rocket grenade launcher.

During the testing of the rocket launcher, it performed well in aiming and firing effectively, so that all senior officers present were impressed. Major General Barnes, Chief of Research and Engineering in the U.S. Ordnance Department humorously commented, “It sure looks like Bob Burns’ Bazooka.”

Bazooka soon became the generic name for the grenade launcher. The variants were the M1 and M1A1 Bazookas which were 4.5 feet in length and could penetrate up to 3″ armor, the M9 and M9A1 which were 5 feet long and could penetrate up to 4″ armor, and the M20 and M65 which could penetrate up to 11″ armor.

The M1 Bazooka with M6A1 and M6A3 rocket. By Carl MalamudCC BY 2.0
The M1 Bazooka with M6A1 and M6A3 rocket. By Carl MalamudCC BY 2.0

The premier versions of the M1 launcher and the M6 rocket were first used in November 1942 in North Africa, but did not play a vital role in combat. This was partly because military personnel were not provided with information on how to use the weapon, and mostly because the M6 rocket was highly unreliable.

By May 1943, no report of the weapon actually stopping a tank had been received, so further use was suspended. The M1A1 launcher with the M6A1 rocket was then introduced and used in combat by U.S. forces.

A U.S. soldier fires an M9 bazooka at a German machine gun nest, Lucca 1944.
A U.S. soldier fires an M9 bazooka at a German machine gun nest, Lucca 1944.

The M1A1 stopped four medium German tanks and a Tiger I heavy tank–however, it had a huge backblast which exposed the shooter’s position.

In late 1943, the M9 Bazooka was introduced with an improved M6A3 rocket, but its effect didn’t last long as the Germans improved the armor of their tanks, making penetration a Herculean task.

A German StuG III with “Schürzen” armor skirts By Bundesarchiv Bild CC-BY-SA 3.0
A German StuG III with “Schürzen” armor skirts By Bundesarchiv Bild CC-BY-SA 3.0

The end of World War II saw the Bazooka design changing to be like the German-designed Bazooka, and led to the development of the M20 Super-Bazooka. This Bazooka had a higher range and penetration capability.

It was also operated by two people, and could fire as many as six shots per minute. Budget cuts made the mass production of the M20 impossible, so soldiers in the Korean War were armed only with the M9 and M9A1 Bazookas, which proved to be very effective against Soviet tanks.

German Anti-tank guns; High Fortress, Salzburg, Austria. By Andrew Bossi CC BY-SA 2.5
German Anti-tank guns; High Fortress, Salzburg, Austria. By Andrew Bossi CC BY-SA 2.5

The Vietnam War marked the gradual replacement of the M20 with the more effective M67 Recoilless rifle and M72 LAW rocket.

M67 recoilless rifle
M67 recoilless rifle
M72 demonstration at Fort Benning, Georgia in the 1960s
M72 demonstration at Fort Benning, Georgia in the 1960s
US soldiers during the Korean War
US soldiers during the Korean War
101st Engineers near Wiltz, Luxembourg during Battle of the Bulge
101st Engineers near Wiltz, Luxembourg during Battle of the Bulge
A soldier preparing to fire the FGR-17 Viper, an American one-man disposable antitank rocket.
A soldier preparing to fire the FGR-17 Viper, an American one-man disposable antitank rocket.
Person holding a M6 rocket for a bazooka
Person holding a M6 rocket for a bazooka
Indonesian Navy bazooka
Indonesian Navy bazooka
A US soldier holding a Bazooka. Overloon War Museum. By Johan Fredriksson CC BY-SA 3.0
A US soldier holding a Bazooka. Overloon War Museum. By Johan Fredriksson CC BY-SA 3.0
Shoulder-launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon a modern day bazooka
Shoulder-launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon a modern day bazooka
American soldier with Bazooka of 80th Infantry Division near Wiltz
American soldier with Bazooka of 80th Infantry Division near Wiltz
Special Security Forces Bazooka. By Qrmoo3 CC BY-SA 4.0
Special Security Forces Bazooka. By Qrmoo3 CC BY-SA 4.0
Marines with a bazooka and machine gun set up a security post against possible tank counter-attack
Marines with a bazooka and machine gun set up a security post against possible tank counter-attack
Displaying the bazooka which knocked out four Japanese light tanks are bazooka men PFC Lauren N. Kahn, left, and PFC Lewis M.
Displaying the bazooka which knocked out four Japanese light tanks are bazooka men PFC Lauren N. Kahn, left, and PFC Lewis M.
M20 super bazooka. By Tomás Del Coro CC BY-SA 2.0
M20 super bazooka. By Tomás Del Coro CC BY-SA 2.0
“Marine riflemen in background stand by while their 3.5 bazooka man puts a round into a Communist position down the hill. This action took place in mopping-up operations in Korea.
“Marine riflemen in background stand by while their 3.5 bazooka man puts a round into a Communist position down the hill. This action took place in mopping-up operations in Korea.

George ‘Speedy’ Gaspard, And The Original Special Forces

H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. George “Speedy” Gaspard to say you had an extraordinary life would be an understatement.

Born in the summer of 1926 George Gaspard was to become a pioneering career soldier, breaking new ground in battlefield tactics and earning many decorations for service to his country. He first signed up with the Marine Corps in 1944 and soon found himself in the WWII Pacific Theatre fighting the enemy in Okinawa, as part of the 6th Marine Division.

 

He later joined the Army in 1951 and volunteered for the 10th Special Forces Group, a new unit born of the need for innovative ways of conducting warfare. Gaspard was part of the first group to graduate from the fledgling Special Forces training program.

George ‘Speedy’ Gaspard served in WWII, the Korean War, and in Vietnam.
George ‘Speedy’ Gaspard served in WWII, the Korean War, and in Vietnam.

From then on Gaspard built upon a reputation for fearlessness, running cross-border secret operations throughout the Korean war, which was really just the proving ground for techniques he deployed to great effect during his tours of duty in Vietnam. In Korea Gaspard ran a team of four enlisted American soldiers and up to eighty anti-communist South Korean agents, supported by Chinese intelligence operatives, gathering information on North Korean troop movements and other enemy activities.

US forces in the icy conditions of Korea witness a large detonation.
US forces in the icy conditions of Korea witness a large detonation.

Gaspard was awarded the Silver and Bronze stars for combat actions in 1953 and late in 1954 he arrived at the 77th Special Forces group as a guerrilla warfare instructor for the Psychological Warfare School’s Special Forces Department before he was discharged three years later.

After a stint at the Pentagon in the Special Warfare Department Gaspard he was recalled to active duty. In 1962 he was sent to Fort Bragg attached to the 5th Special Forces group. From here he was dispatched to Vietnam, to a Special Forces camp at Dak Pek in Kontum Province, the first of his seven tours in the country.

In 1985 he was instrumental in successful negotiations to allow the mountain dwelling Montagnard people safe passage to join the South Vietnamese Army. The Montagnard name came from the time of French colonial rule in the region.

In 1966 Gaspard was promoted to the rank of Major and in 1967 returned to Vietnam to direct the Military Assistance Command Vietnam, Studies and Observations Group (MACVSOG) in the Strata program until 1968.

Strata was developed to streamline and clean up intelligence gathering activities that had previously been dogged by poor quality information and the activities of double agents. Gaspard’s new focus was on short-term gathering of intelligence from close cross-border sources. He had an all-Vietnamese team, a Road-Watch and Target-Acquisition group, who would be deployed and recovered for re-use time and again.

Gaspard went in to extract two wounded agents in an emergency when they had been surrounded by the enemy, saving lives and earning an Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross for Heroism and a Purple Heart.

Gaspard served with distinction in the Vietnam War (Not Gaspard in the image).
Gaspard served with distinction in the Vietnam War (Not Gaspard in the image).

But it did not all go Gaspard’s way. A colleague he knew as Francois was unmasked as a spy some twenty-five years after the war ended, receiving top military honours from Hanoi’s government. ‘There’s no question that he hurt SOG operations,’ Gaspard said later in an interview, but it did not diminish his pride in the overall success rate of the Strata teams.

Having served in three major US wars George ‘Speedy’ Gaspard retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1973. His list of decorations is impressive and numbers more than fifty including medals from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.

In his retirement Gaspard continued to serve his country as part of the South Carolina State Guard where he attained the rank of Brigadier General and was appointed Chief of Staff. He was a member of multiple military groups including the American Legion and Sons of Confederacy.

At Fort Benning, Georgia, Gaspard was inducted into the Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame in 1991, in recognition of his service in three wars and his continual development of the understanding of innovative and disruptive forms of war in inhospitable and difficult terrain. In 2010 he was further honoured as a Distinguished Member of the Special Forces Regiment.

Gaspard died on January 30th, 2018 and laid to rest in Jacksonville, Florida.

 

Irish Troops & The Medal of Honor

H/T War History OnLine.

 An estimated 2,021 of those Medals of Honor have gone to Irish American recipients.           

McCloughan was awarded the Medal of Honor for distinguished actions as a combat medic assigned to Company C, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 196th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, during the Vietnam War near Don Que, Vietnam, from May 13 to 15, 1969. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alicia Brand)

19 men have so far been awarded the medal twice, and of these, five were born in Ireland.

On July 31, 2017, during a concise but poignant White House ceremony, President Donald Trump hosted the first Medal of Honor presentation of his administration. It was in this event that the most recent Irish American to receive America’s most prestigious military decoration emerged.

“I know I speak for everyone here when I say we are in awe of your actions and your bravery,” the President said, referring to the recipient, who stood stoically just a few feet from him

James C. McCloughan, aged 73 and a retired high school teacher, received the Medal of Honor for “acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty” as an Army medic 48 years earlier near Tam Ky and Nui Yon Hill during the Vietnam War.

During the 48 hour period of close combat, then-23 year old McCloughan repeatedly jumped into the rain of gunfire to save his comrades, getting injured on numerous occasions, and ignoring direct orders to stop going into the Kill Zone.

McCloughan in front of the 22nd Replacement Bn Snack Bar in 1969

With his recognition and award, McCloughan did not become simply the latest Irish American to receive the Medal. His award also drew attention to one of the fascinating facts about the Medal of Honor: a disproportionate number of its recipients have Irish roots.

The most distinguished military honor of the United States of America, created during the Civil War and first awarded in 1863, the Medal of Honor has been awarded 3,525 times to date. Indeed, this is a rather minute percentage of the millions of people that have served the US in combat, and it illustrates how sparingly the Medal of Honor gets awarded.

Acting Secretary of the U.S. Army Robert M. Speer presents a citation to former Spc. 5 James C. McCloughan during the Medal of Honor Induction Ceremony at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., Aug. 1, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alicia Brand)

Out of this pint-sized percentage, an estimated 2,021 of those Medals of Honor have gone to Irish American recipients.

That’s a staggering 57 percent.

Although the award is only meant for personnel of the US Armed Forces, US citizenship is not always a prerequisite to serving in the US military. As a result, thirty-three countries are represented in over 500 foreign-born recipients of the Medal of Honor. This may not come so much as a surprise, but out of these foreign-born recipients, 257 are Irish-born, representing about half of the people in this category.

Even better, 19 men have so far won the medal twice, and of these, five were born in Ireland: Henry Hogan, John Laverty, John Cooper, John King, and Patrick Mullen. Also among these 19 double medal recipients are three Irish Americans: Daniel Daly, John McCloy, and John Joseph Kelly.

McCloughan receiving the Medal of Honor from President Donald Trump on 31 July 2017

The first Irish American to receive the Medal of Honor was Private Michael Madden for his heroism during the Civil War. He swam with a wounded comrade, while under heavy enemy fire, to successfully take the injured soldier across to a branch of the Potomac to the safety of the Union lines.

Undoubtedly, one of the most remarkable Irish recipients of the Medal of Honor is Michael Dougherty of Falcarragh in County Donegal, Ireland, who fought in the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry of the Union Army during the Civil War. 

He received the Medal of Honor for leading a charge against a hidden Confederate detachment at Jefferson, Virginia, foiling what would have led to the flanking of the Union forces, and preventing a potential loss of about 2,500 lives.

President Donald J. Trump presents the Medal of Honor to Specialist Five James C. McCloughan.July 31, 2017 (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

Dougherty was captured along with 126 others from his unit. He spent 23 months in prison, ultimately arriving at the dreaded Andersonville POW camp in Georgia. Dougherty was the sole survivor from his unit, but he was reduced to a mere skeleton, “more dead than alive.”

He managed to get aboard the steamship Sultana which had over 2,000 people aboard, six times its acceptable capacity. As the ship dragged on across the Mississippi, its boilers exploded and the ship was ripped apart, with its passengers getting flung into the river. Only 900 managed to survive the incident, and among these was Dougherty, who somehow managed to swim to a small island before help came.

James C. McCloughan, the recipient of the Medal of Honor, poses for a portrait with the medal in the Army portrait studio at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., Aug. 1, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Monica King)

Amazed by his impeccable story of bravery and survival, John J. Concannon referred to him as “Super Survivor” Michael Dougherty in his article for the website The Wild Geese.

Whether it is inherently Irish traits or just coincidence that explains why the Medal of Honor list is dominated by Irish blood, this fact has become something in which the Irish can’t help but revel. In a bid to explain why the Irish have dominated the Medal of Honor list, James McCloughan made reference to Irish history and culture.

A plaque bears former U.S. Army Spc. 5 James C. McCloughan’s name during his Medal of Honor Induction Ceremony at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., Aug. 1, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alicia Brand)

“If you go back to the culture of the Irish you know we’ve been fighting each other and fighting the Scottish and so on and so forth for years and years and years,” he said.

According to him, his own family has a military history that dates all the way back to the Picts, who lived in Scotland in the early medieval period.

“You learn to stick up for your rights and the rights of others,” said the Vietnam War veteran. “When you go into the service, maybe you are thinking about serving your country but I’m going to tell you what once you get there you [are] just worried about surviving and then helping as many of your brothers survive as possible.”

The Zippo Lighter: An Icon Of The Vietnam War

H/T War History OnLine.

Vintage Vietnam War Era Zippo Cigarette Lighter Dated 70-71-72 with Map of Vietnam. Photo: Joe Haupt / CC BY-SA 2.0

“We the unwilling, led by the unqualified, to kill the unfortunate, die for the ungrateful” stands out as a particularly moving slogan on a Zippo.

After an American M1 combat helmet with an ace of spades tucked into the strap and “Born To Kill” emblazoned on it, probably the next most iconic cultural image associated with the Vietnam War is a Zippo lighter engraved with a tragic, humorous, aggressive, patriotic, or rebellious slogan.

Many such engraved Zippos have survived the war’s end and often trade hands between collectors for large sums of money. The images and slogans engraved onto these instantly recognizable lighters can give one a poignant look inside the minds and lives of the young men who served, fought, and died so far from home.

Zippo lighters have a long history of being associated with the American military. When America entered the Second World War after Pearl Harbor, the Zippo company stopped selling their lighters to the consumer market and instead dedicated the entirety of their lighter production to the United States military.

Zippo plant, c. 1930–1945

The Zippo method of manufacture was also affected by the United States’ entry into WWII. Because of the need to divert raw materials to wartime production of armaments, Zippo lighters manufactured for US military personnel during the war were made with steel covered with a black crackle finish.

However, Zippo lighters attained a uniquely iconic status among US troops during the Vietnam War.

These lighters were carried by almost every American serviceman involved in the conflict, and it was during this time that some of the most interesting and sometimes sentimental customizations of these lighters emerged. Many of the slogans and images emblazoned on them have themselves become quintessential images of the war.

Vintage Vietnam War Era Zippo Cigarette Lighter Dated 70-71-72. Photo: Joe Haupt / CC BY-SA 2.0

Many of the slogans reflect the views of career servicemen, who had already been serving in the military prior to the conflict and would continue to do so after it ended. They were men who were proud to serve and believed strongly in the cause they were fighting for.

For such servicemen, slogans were kept to a minimum; if they got their Zippo lighters engraved, it would usually be with their unit’s name, badge, or motto, or else something patriotic.

The Vietnam War was one of the first, however, to see mass public opposition to the conflict back home. There was huge social upheaval going on in the United States in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s: the Civil Rights movement, the Beat Generation and Hippy movements, the rebellion of rock ‘n’ roll, and a growing, vocal anti-war movement.

Consequently, the Vietnam War became more and more unpopular as the years dragged on.

Republic of Vietnam – a member of U.S. Navy SEAL team uses caution as he watches for any movement in the thickly wooded area along a stream. October 1968.

While many young men volunteered to fight in the war, others – often from the working class and various minority communities – were unwillingly drafted and forced to fight in a war they had no interest in. It is from this latter class of young men that many of the most poignant slogans on Zippo lighters come.

Mỹ Tho, Vietnam. A Viet Cong base camp being burned down. In the foreground is Private First Class Raymond Rumpa, St Paul, Minnesota, C Company, 3rd Battalion, 47th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division, with a 45-pound 90 mm recoilless rifle. April 1968.

“We the unwilling, led by the unqualified, to kill the unfortunate, die for the ungrateful,” stands out as a particularly moving slogan on a Zippo – which was probably the most ubiquitously-owned item by American troops. They were purchased either at Post Exchanges or on the black market.

Others reflect a young serviceman’s journey from neophyte to killer: “35 kills, if you are recovering my body, f**k you!”

Some simply reflect the relief of surviving combat with one’s life intact: “You have never lived ‘till you’ve almost died. For those who fight for it, life has a flavour the protected will never know.”

Vintage Zippo Cigarette Lighter. Photo: Joe Haupt / CC BY-SA 2.0

Others reflect a dark sense of humor, which is a useful tool in a situation where one’s life could be snuffed out at any time: “bury me face down so the world can kiss my a**” or “a sucking chest wound is nature’s way of telling you you’ve been ambushed.”

There was a lot of artwork too – plenty of images of nude women, which is not too surprising given that these were young men generally isolated from female company. There were also other images that were popular at the time such as the peace symbol, maps of Vietnam, marijuana leaves, and the character Snoopy from the comic strip Peanuts.

Navy Zippo lighter.

Aside from being tiny art canvases on which US troops could display their true sentiments about the war, Zippo lighters also proved to be tremendously useful in many other ways.

For one thing, they were almost universally guaranteed to provide a flame, whatever the conditions. This could mean the difference between having a light in the darkness, having a cold meal or a hot one, or lighting what could be your last ever cigarette before heading into a battle you may not come out of alive.

Napalm application during the Vietnam War

Zippo lighters also served as weapons accessories, in a sense. Their ever-dependable flames were used to set fire to the huts of Vietcong hideouts as well as the houses or villages of suspected Vietcong supporters in search and destroy missions that troops nicknamed “Zippo raids.”

Zippos were also often used to ignite napalm from flame-throwing M-132 armored personnel carriers and M-67 tanks if the electronic ignition failed.

These engraved Zippo lighters from the Vietnam War have become such popular collectors’ items that a number of books have been written about them. A booming market in fake Zippos purporting to be genuine items used by US servicemen exploded in Vietnam in the decades following the war.

Those genuine items that have survived, though, remain a touching and moving window, decades later, into the lives and minds of those who served and died in the Vietnam War.