The Battle of Leyte Gulf

The Battle of Leyte Gulf was a major engagement of the Pacific War during World War II which resulted in the Japanese Navy ceasing all offensive operations for the rest of the conflict. From October 23-26, 1944, American, Australian, and Filipino forces battled against the Empire of Japan for control of the Philippines. Their goal was to cut off the Japanese shipping lanes between their colonies and the mainland, depriving the Empire of oil, rubber, and other raw materials needed for the war effort. American General Douglas MacArthur was also determined to make good on his promise to return to the Philippines two years earlier.

Lead Up to the Battle

By this point in the war, the Japanese had been driven from the Soloman Islands and the Marianas. They attempted to counterattack in the Battle of the Philippine Sea but were devastated, suffering the loss of three carriers and hundreds of aircraft. Now, the Americans were looking to push further into the Pacific by either invading Formosa (Taiwan) or the Philippines. In order to cut off Japanese shipping and provide land bases for strategic bombers to strike Japan’s inner islands, either Formosa or the Philippines had to be captured. Only one of the landmasses was required for the next phase of their plan, and there was much debate over which to pursue.

If successful, both invasion plans would accomplish the goal of providing bases from which to prevent shipping between Japanese colonies and the mainland. Ernest J. King favored invading Formosa and blockading the Philippines. Douglas MacArthur, however, favored the opposite. Ultimately, MacArthur got his way, as the Philippines was American territory lost earlier in the war, and it would be worthwhile to American morale to retake it from the Japanese. Either the Philippines or Formosa would provide the tactical benefit, yet Formosa would not necessarily provide the same morale boost as the Philippines.

The Drums Begin to Sound

Throughout September, Allied planes bombed Japanese positions in the Philippines and conducted recon in preparation for the landing. From their reconnaissance, they learned that Leyte Island was undefended and decided to invade earlier than was originally planned. A diversionary force of carriers was sent to attack Okinawa, Formosa, Luzon, and Pescadores in early October. The Japanese knew what the Allies planned to do, as it was obvious to them. Nevertheless, the diversionary forces prevented Japanese air units from deploying into Leyte Gulf, and the Japanese Navy was left to intervene with little support.

By mid-October, the Allies would strike Leyte by sea, land, and air. Admiral Chester Nimitz provided logistical support with the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Admiral William Halsey led the U.S. Third Fleet which provided cover for General MacArthur to land with the Sixth Army. Vice Admiral Thomas Kincaid led the Seventh Fleet which helped to secure the waters around the landing and prevent Japanese naval intervention. The Seventh Fleet was split into three task forces: Taffy I under Admiral Thomas Sprague, Taffy II under Admiral Felix Stump, and Taffy III under Admiral Clifton Sprague. Task Force 44 was a joint American-Australian naval group under the command of Vice Admiral John Collins which participated in the pre-landing air raids, but was badly damaged and forced to retreat by a kamikaze attack just two days before.

William Halsey, Jr.
Fleet Admiral William Halsey, Jr. would lead the U.S. Third Fleet during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He became known as “Bull” Halsey for his daring attacks which amounted to very little during the battle.

The Japanese Navy was split into three main groups: the Center Force, the Southern Force, and the Northern Force. Admiral Takeo Kurita led the Center Force out of Brunei Bay from aboard the Yamato (“Great Harmony”) – a powerful battleship and the flagship of the Japanese Navy. The Southern Force was separated into two strike groups from two separate bases – the first under Vice Admiral Shōji Nishimura out of Brunei Bay and the second under Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima out of Pescadores. Lastly, the Northern Force was commanded by Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa and deployed from the Japanese home islands. The Japanese had a total of 67 ships involved in the battle opposed to the more than 300 ships of the Allies. The Japanese had a total of 13 capital ships mixed between 6 carriers and 7 battleships. The Allies brought 47 capital ships mixed between 35 carriers and 12 battleships.

Shōji Nishimura
Vice Admiral Shōji Nishimura would share command of the Northern Force during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
The Battle Begins

The first fight of the naval engagement took place when Center Force encountered two American submarines tracking their movements. Admiral Kurita was leading Center Force through the Palawan Passage, oblivious to the threat nearby. The Yamato was able to intercept communications from the submarines and should have been able to evade or destroy them. However, the intercepted communications were ignored and the Americans were able to sink a cruiser and damage another. The Center Force returned to bay after the attack.

Soon after, the battle began in earnest in the Sibuyan Sea. The Center Force under Kurita entered the area early in the morning on October 24th and was spotted by the Third Fleet. The Americans launched 260 planes from the USS Intrepid and the USS Cabot. Using bombs and torpedoes, the first wave of American planes damaged the Nagato, Yamato, Musashi, and Myōkō. The second wave of planes critically damaged the Musashi. Then, the third wave of planes came from the USS Enterprise and the USS Franklin. The third wave also focused on the Musashi, as it was clearly the most vulnerable. Kurita pulled his ships back, leaving the Mushashi to sink.

While the battle raged in the Sibuyan Sea, the Japanese air forces at Luzon did not give up without a fight. They launched a counterattack against the four American carriers from the Third Fleet attacking their airfield, scoring critical damage on two ships. The USS Princeton suffered a major blow from a bomb, killing hundreds of sailors aboard and starting a massive fire aboard the carrier. A cruiser was badly damaged by the fire as it tried to assist in firefighting operations, and the carrier was lost. However, the Americans did prevent the Japanese air forces at Luzon from intervening at Leyte.

In the Surigao Straight, the Southern Force under Nishimura and Shima encountered ships from the U.S. Seventh Fleet. The Southern Force was ordered to maintain radio silence and consequently split into two groups, as they were unable to coordinate their movements as a single group without radio communication. Nishimura’s group was attacked first. The Americans possessed superior targeting technology and opened fire with their torpedoes and guns from outside the range of the Japanese weapon systems. One Japanese battleship – the Fusō – was broken in half and several other ships were damaged. Nishimura tried to retreat, losing more ships in the process. When Shima’s ships arrived, he immediately ordered a retreat after seeing the wreck of the Fusō and believing it to be two separate battleship hulls. In the retreat, one of Shima’s ships accidentally collided with another Japanese vessel and sunk it.

Takeo Kurita
Admiral Takeo Kurita was a brilliant tactician who commanded Center Force during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

The Northern Force under the command of Admiral Ozawa made contact with Admiral Halsey and the U.S. Third Fleet near Cape Engaño. Halsey thought he would be able to wipe out all of the Northern Force and cripple the Japanese Navy with ease. He ordered his ships and planes to pursue, leaving San Bernardino undefended. Halsey believed the Center Force had been routed and was in full retreat, and he ignored information that the Center Force was still operational and moving toward San Bernardino. As Halsey attacked the Northern Force early in the morning of October 25, he received a message from Admiral Kinkaid for urgent assistance. A second message came in from Chester Nimitz back at Peal Harbor from which the radio operator forgot to remove the junk text on the end, leading Halsey to think it was part of the message. It read: “WHERE IS TASK FORCE THIRTY FOUR REPEAT WHERE IS TASK FORCE THIRTY FOUR THE WORLD WONDERS.” Halsey abandoned his attack on the Northern Force, managing only to sink a single cruiser.

Contact Near Samar

With the San Bernardino straight left undefended, the Center Force under Admiral Kurita was able to enter the area near Samar and engage Taffy III. Admiral Kurita thought the carriers of Taffy III were fleet carriers rather than the escort carriers they actually were, and this led him to believe he had the main force of the American fleet in his sights. Admiral Clifton Sprague was in command of Taffy III – a detachment of the U.S. Seventh Fleet comprised of 13 ships. Sprague had 6 escort carriers carrying 30 planes each, 3 destroyers, and 4 destroyer escorts. His planes were only equipped with machines and depth charges for air combat and anti-submarine warfare. They were unprepared to deal with even a single battleship, assuming the San Bernardino straight was still defended by Admiral Halsey and the Third Fleet.

Clifton Sprague
A photo of Clifton Sprague, taken in 1923. He would serve the United States in both WWI and WWII.

Admiral Kurita struck out at Taffy III with his force of 4 battleships, 6 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, and 11 destroyers. It should have been an easy fight for the Japanese, though it would not turn out that way. Once under attack, and realizing the gravity of the situation, Sprague ordered his planes to take off and flee from the battle. The Japanese began targeting the fleeing planes, and the destroyers of Taffy III deployed smoke screens to try and obscure the hostile fire. During this time, the USS Johnston under the command of Lieutenant Commander Ernest E. Evans made a suicide run on one of the Japanese heavy cruisers.

The USS Johnston was a destroyer and would be easily disabled or destroyed if hit by the heavy cruiser’s guns. However, if the destroyer could get close enough without being hit, it could deliver a crippling blow to a heavy cruiser with a torpedo. The USS Johnston managed to avoid enemy fire and get close enough to fire upon the Kumano with its guns and a salvo of torpedos. This split the Kumano in half and took the Suzaya out of the battle as it stopped to assist the Kumano. The USS Johnston was pummeled by Kurita’s battleships, disabling the ship, killing many of its crew, and wounding Evans. However, the USS Johnston managed to limp back towards the rest of Taffy III and Admiral Sprague was emboldened by the daring attack.

Yamato
The Yamato was a Japanese battleship during WWII, and could easily outgun most other ships on the seas at the time.

Sprague then ordered the rest of his destroyers to move in and attack. After restoring electrical power to his ship and receiving medical attention, Evans even ordered the USS Johnston to turn around and rejoin the assault. The destroyers used smoke screens, mobility, and their superior numbers to swarm around the battleships and cruisers under heavy fire, launching salvos of torpedos which made the waters dangerous for the larger ships to navigate without being hit. The American destroyer USS Heermann even got so close to the battleships that the Japanese were unable to fire upon them, but the destroyer could still fire upon the battleships. After several hours of missing and taking chip damage from the smaller vessels, the destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts finally took a direct hit and eventually sank.

Emboldened by the unexpected success against the seemingly superior force, Admiral Sprague ordered all the planes under his command to turn around and attack Kurita’s ships with whatever they had. Despite not possessing any weapons capable of sinking battleships or cruisers, the planes were able to harass the weapon crews aboard the Japanese ships and prevent them from firing effectively. They even managed to disable some of the guns aboard the Japanese vessels. After running out of ammo, some of the American pilots continued to make dry runs on the Japanese ships and scare the gun crews into taking cover.

By this time, the American carriers were so close to the action they became directly involved in the fight. The carriers exchanged gunfire with the battleships in the only recorded instance of an aircraft carrier engaging another surface vessel with its guns. The USS Gambier Bay was sunk and the other carriers received damage. However, by a miraculous stroke of luck, the USS St. Lo managed to strike the magazines of one of the Japanese cruisers with its anti-aircraft guns, causing some damage of note. However, luck would soon seem to be running out for Taffy III.

About six hours after the engagement began, Admiral Kurita was able to bring destroyers into the fight. Attempting to use the same tactics which the American destroyers had used against his capital ships, he sent his destroyers to launch torpedos against the American carriers. Lieutenant Commander Evans ordered the USS Johnston to intercede and soak the hits for the carriers. This worked, but the Johnston was sunk. Evans gave the order to abandon ship, but he was lost during the evacuation, and his body was never recovered. Evans received the Medal of Honor posthumously. The valiant efforts and chaos of the engagement soon after led Kurtia to order a retreat, despite his ships sustaining relatively minor damage and only three of his cruisers being sunk.

dive bombing
The view from an American dive bomber making an attack run during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Upon seeing the Japanese retreat, Admiral Sprague heard one of his sailors yell, “Dammit boys, they’re getting away!” Taffy III received a Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism against a superior enemy. No one would have expected Taffy III to have survived the attack by Center Force. That is why Admiral Halsey was meant to cover them from such an event. Nevertheless, Taffy III not only survived the encounter but forced the superior enemy to retreat.

Significance and Legacy

Due to the efforts of the U.S. Third and Seventh Fleet at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, American troops and Filipino guerillas were able to expel Japanese ground forces from the Philippines without the Japanese Navy intervening. MacArthur led American and Filipino troops to victory in the arduous Battle of Leyte, securing the Philippes as a staging ground for strategic bombers to attack the Japanese home islands. The Japanese Navy was also cut off from oil and other critical materials they sourced from their colonies in the Pacific. The Japanese would be on the defensive for the rest of the war, never again being able to field their navy offensively due to their oil supply being severed. The lopsided victory of Taffy III against Center Force also emboldened many of the Allies to keep hope during the dark and uncertain times.

Historically, the Battle of Leyte Gulf – and the simultaneous Battle of Leyte – also holds significance in the hearts of many due to the stories of heroism, friendship, and self-sacrifice it inspires. Many in the Philippines fought against the Japanese occupation without any hope of relief. The Americans, who left the Philippines as conquerors, returned as liberators. The Australians also came together with the Americans and Filipinos to stand against an enemy that threatened them and many more. A year later, the Mexicans would also join the Allies in the battle against the Empire of Japan as part of the Fifth Air Force and fight in the Battle of Luzon as well. Some reports also claim that Mexican air units were involved as early as the Battle of Leyte.

The Pacific War is an unfortunate blemish on the history and relationship between the United States and Japan. Our two nations were unlikely allies just before, which was part of the reason why the war was a shock to some. Nevertheless, the stories of heroism and bravery from the Pacific War are some of the most profound tales from across all of human history. The efforts of Taffy III against Yamato are of particular note in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The escort group should have been annihilated by the Japanese forces, yet they not only held their own but forced their opponents to retreat.


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Iconic Weapons: Cutlass

The cutlass was a common naval weapon used by sailors, pirates, and marines alike during the Age of Sail. It was a reliable weapon for the man out at sea, but it also saw extensive use on land as an agricultural tool. In the Caribbean region, it saw the most extensive use. Due to its significance, the cutlass is still used in some military dress uniforms to this day.

Design and Use

The cutlass was most likely adapted from the medieval falchion. Swords were not always regulation patterns until late in their use throughout human history, but a cutlass was generally a short, broad sword with either a straight or slightly curved edge. Most were sharpened only on one edge, although some may have had a sharpened false edge. Cutlasses were known for having a lot of hand protection with either a solid cupped hilt or a full basket hilt. Also, cutlasses tended to be made entirely out of metal rather than with wooden hilts, as was common with swords at the time. The all-metal construction made them better for service out at sea where wooden hilts would suffer.

cutlass
Some versions of the cutlass had a straight blade, while others were slightly curved.

The cutlass was known for requiring less training to use than other swords commonly in use at the time. Due to its small size with average blades of around 30 inches or so, it was also easier to use in tight quarters and to move around on a ship with. Larger sabers, backswords, and rapiers which were more commonly used on land at the time would be difficult to use and carry for someone employed on a ship. The cutlass was an excellent weapon for naval service and saw extensive use in boarding actions. In fact, the cutlass was such an effective naval weapon, it remained in use by sailors and marines into the 20th Century. The cutlass made an excellent chopping and slashing weapon with its broad blade, and it could perform thrusts if needed. Its small size also made it ideal to use in combination with a pistol in the other hand.

Legacy of the Cutlass

As the cutlass evolved out of the medieval falchion – a weapon popular for its utility as a tool outside of combat – so too did the cutlass eventually evolve into the machete. The blade continued to be used as an agricultural/utility blade by many peoples around the world, gradually seeing the hand protection removed. A modern machete is essentially a cutlass without a guard. Also, some machetes have even smaller blades today, as a 30-inch blade is not needed for utility purposes. The cutlass in its original form remains in use in some U.S. military dress uniforms.

Today, the cutlass is often seen as synonymous with pirates from the Age of Sail. Indeed, it was famous pirates such as William Kidd and Stede Bonnet who made prolific use of the weapon during that time. As the perfect weapon for a warrior out at sea during the time of early firearms, many cutlasses saw use in navies and private flotillas across the globe.


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Strength Through Grace

This is an ABAB poem inspired by the book of 1 Peter, chapter 5. The chapter calls us to have humility and grace, as pride leads to destruction. Those who are prideful lead careless and self-defeating lives. Humbling ourselves allows us to see the threats assailed against us clearly and allows us to deal with those threats effectively. The chapter also calls us to remain sober, alert, and cautious. We are reminded that threats are always nearby, and any loss of focus could provide the opportunity needed for the enemy to strike a deadly blow against us. Thus, by keeping our minds clear, we put ourselves in a position to see plots and attacks coming against us.


Grace heals our body
Our humility we hath
Keeps us from folly
And keeps us straight on the path
Grace makes fear inert
Sober-minded, we can see
Watchful and alert
Guarded from our foes that be
The Adversary
For victims, he does scour
For those unwary
Seeking souls to devour
We must resist him
Standing firm and strong with grace
Through hardship, we win
Overcoming all we face
All across the world
Others face the same fascade
Our strength is unfurled
Of those who stand firm with God

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Iconic Weapons: Bowie Knife

The Bowie knife is a large knife that was in prominent use throughout the 19th Century in the United States. Its design inspired many knives which would be used throughout the 20th Century and into the modern era. The knife takes its namesake from Jim Bowie and the Vidalia Sandbar Duel which was popularized by its coverage in newspapers, although this duel may have taken place before the creation of the actual Bowie knife.

Design and Use

The design of the Bowie knife is attributed to the prominent blacksmith, James Black. It is a long knife up to 10 or 12 inches long with a clipped point and a crossguard. Some Bowie knifes may be up to 15 inches or longer. It was long enough to be useful at striking the hand in response to an opponent’s attack and cut deep enough to disable the hand. This is thanks to the large belly and heftiness of the Bowie knife, as well as the reach. In the famous Sandbar Duel of September 19, 1827, Jim Bowie used a large knife he was carrying to disembowel an attacker. The “Bowie knife” was not conceived of yet, but this popular fight which received extensive media coverage inspired the later design and use of the Bowie knife.

Bowie knife recreation
A recreation of an original Bowie knife.

The Bowie knife was large enough to be used in a manner close to that of a small sword. However, it was also small enough to avoid being an encumbrance which went beyond its usefulness in the field. At least until further advancements in firearms technology made guns more reliable, the Bowie knife was an effective tool for Americans out on the frontier. It could be used for self-defense, hunting, and general utility. Bowie knives would become so popular they also began to be carried as a status symbol. Their popularity spread to overseas where British companies saw an opportunity to make their own Bowie knives and export them abroad.

Brief History

Some sources indicate the Bowie knife was invented in 1830, and some indicate it arose as late as 1838. Long knives, as well as short swords, of a similar design would also have been in use across the American frontier during the early 1800s. These blades would have been of various design and quality. Prior to the advent of revolvers firing cartridges, swords and knives were still very relevant as primary weapons to use in close combat due to firearms requiring too much time and effort to reload. Even after the ascension of self-loading firearms, and indeed, into the modern era, edged weapons are still used. However, after the Civil War and the increased prominence of cartridges, Bowie knives fell out of use as primary weapons.

Nevertheless, Bowie knives and similar knives inspired by the design continued to be used. Some would argue the iconic KA-BAR is essentially a scaled-down version of the original Bowie design which makes it easier to carry while still being just as effective as the original Bowie knives. It is important to mention that Bowie knives were rather heavy by knife standards, weighing in between 3-5 pounds. For a knife which saw less common use following advancements in firearms technology, this became unnecessarily heavy in the eyes of soldiers, civilians, and hunters alike. Still, the shape of the Bowie knife continues to inspire knife designs to this day, and many modern knives which should probably not be considered “Bowie knives” are labeled as “Bowie-shaped.”

Bowie-inspired knife
A modern custom knife with a blade shape inspired by the historical Bowie design.
Bowie Knives Today

Due to the more recent advent of Bowie knives, many originals are preserved as antiques into the modern era. Some are cheap to acquire, while others can be very expensive. Many antique Bowie knives have engravings of different American phrases and symbols due to their use as status symbols in the Civil War era. As mentioned, the design would continue to be changed and modified into the modern era, mostly being slimmed down to half its original size. The “Bowie” blade shape is now commonly understood to be a knife with a clipped point and a curved belly. Even in a much smaller form, it remains a useful blade shape to this day.


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Heroes From History: Frank Howley

Frank L. Howley was an American brigadier general who served during the Cold War and was crucial in saving West Germany from starvation at the hands of a communist blockade. He was born on February 3, 1903 in Hampton, New Jersey. He formed a successful advertising agency and joined the Officer Reserve Corps in 1932 before being pulled into active duty in 1940. An injury would prevent him from finding his way into a combat role. Instead, Howley would go into the U.S. Military Government and play a pivotal role in the Berlin Airlift of 1945.

Restoring France

The United States entered the events of WWII late in the conflict. Frank Howley was already injured and relegated to a non-combat role by this time, although he did take part in the D-Day invasion as military government and re-established local governments following the expulsion of the German occupiers. Howley was specifically tasked with reforming the French government in Cherboug. With the Germans already expelled by the time Howley’s unit arrived, Howley’s earlier missions were largely uncontested. He helped reconstitute and resupply the local French people during their efforts to reform a government after years of occupation by the Germans.

Howley’s unit was known as A1A1. It was a mixed unit of American, British, and French forces. France had been under German occupation and administration since 1940, and there was much work to be done in removing pro-Nazi officials and re-installing local leaders, as well as keeping them supplied. This mission was successful and took Howley to Paris and eventually Barbizon, France. Here, he prepared a mission to establish a government in Berlin after the Germans had surrendered. Given his experience in removing the fascist government in France and installing a republican government with democratic elections, Howley was trusted with doing the same for the American-administrated region of occupied Germany. However, with the threat of the Soviets looming over all of Europe and East Germany under communist control, this task would prove to be a greater challenge.

Ruins of France in 1945
Much of Europe and Asia was left in ruins following WWII, but the Allies got to work repairing the damage immediately after the surrender of the Axis.
In the Ruins of Berlin

When Howley arrived in Berlin to assist with the reconstitution of government there, he was under a mandate from the Truman administration to work closely with the Soviets and foster an alliance with them. However, the Soviets were already working to expel the Allies from Germany altogether. Howley caught onto this right away and understood that whatever alliance the Allies had with the Soviets would not continue into the post-war era. Howley had to meet regularly with the other commanders of the British, French, and Russian occupation forces. Howley’s informants notified him that General Alexander Kotikov – commander of the Russian occupation – appeared to be making moves to force out the Americans, British, and French sometime soon. For the time being, however, Howley and his unit got to work repairing infrastructure and feeding civilians.

Four Occupation Commanders
Berlin was split between British, American, Russian, and French occupation forces following Germany’s surrender in the Second World War.

Howley wrote in his journal that he came to Berlin under the impression that the Germans would be his enemy on this mission. Nevertheless, with each passing day, it became clearer and clearer to him the Russians would be his true enemy. At first, Howley’s superiors did not listen to his warnings about the Soviet plan to evict the Allies from Berlin. Many still hoped the alliance against the old Axis would last and they refused to give up on the idea, as they were all tired of fighting. Howley was outspoken about the threat from the Russians, however. He trusted his spies and they were telling him that Kotikov had orders direct from Stalin to evict the Allies.

A shadow war of sabotage and subterfuge ensued in the ruins of Berlin between Howley and Kotikov. The Russians made every attempt to undermine the German public’s confidence in the Allies. The goal of the Soviets was to trade one form of socialism for another in Germany in their quest to spread the dark shadow of Marx across the globe. Communist-sympathizing newspapers began to slander Howley, calling him a ‘brute’ and a ‘beast.’ Howley’s family back in the United States also received death threats and harassment by socialist subversives who had infested the American mainland decades prior. The Cold War was already in full swing, although many in the Allies still had not yet come to accept the reality.

The Mask Comes Off

Howley had to contend with his superiors not supporting him for over a year before they came around. Once they did, and the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe was underway, the Soviets decided to take more decisive measures themselves. On June 24, 1948, the Russians began a blockade of Berlin to try and drive the Allies out for good. They shut down the roads and railways into the city and refused any American or British access. However, Howley was determined to keep the Allied presence in the city and immediately proposed flying in supplies to circumvent the blockade. He told his troops “We’ll starve. We’ll eat rats, rather than quit Berlin!”

With the help of General William Tunner directing the airlift, Howley and his forces began the famous Berlin Airlift. Flying supplies out of Tempelhof Airport, they were initially lifting 4,500 tons of food into the city each day. They had flight rotations going around the clock and were sending in close to 500 planes each day. Stalin did not believe an airlift could save the city, so he ordered the blockade to continue through May 12 of the next year. However, the Allies increased the efficiency of their airlift to bring in 12,000 tons of food each day. Eventually, the Soviets realized the blockade was pointless and called it off. Thus, the people of Berlin were saved from communist starvation.

Frank Howley awarded the rank of general
Frank Howley would rise to the rank of general during the Berlin Airlift.
Hope for the Future

While many others around the globe would not be so lucky, the communist-induced famine in Berlin was prevented and the Cold War against socialism was able to continue. Howley’s insistence on standing firm against the evils of socialism in all its forms gave the people of Berlin a fighting chance. In spite of the pressures exerted on him and his family not only from his well-meaning superiors, but also from communist subversives, Howley stood up for what he knew to be right. Howley’s persistence saved the day back then and still serves as an inspiration for those who continue to face the evils of socialism in the modern era. From Howley’s example, we learn to be brave in the face of subversive attacks and death threats against us and our loved ones. In the end, good will triumph over evil, should we just stay true to ourselves through to the very end.

Frank Howley went on to achieve the rank of general. After retiring from military life, he worked on a farm in West Grove, Pennslyvania. He also served as vice chancellor at New York University for a time. Howley passed away at 90 years old on July 30, 1933 in Warrington, Virginia. He had four children: three sons and a daughter.


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Wrathful Rebels Find No Peace

I fell ill over the weekend and just finished recovering. I tried to still post something, but thinking and typing made me dizzy and cross-eyed. So, I had to wait until now to get back into things. As a result of me falling behind, I will be making two posts this week.

Firstly, I decided to write a brief poem while I finish up my post from last week. This is an ABAB poem with 5757 syllables. It is a reflection on Psalm 140. The chapter recounts how wicked men and women devise schemes to go against God and His people, which eventually come back to haunt them. The wicked are a treacherous people who have no loyalty and become their own worst enemies. Due to their inability to stand united, they wicked are inevitably overcome by the righteous.


Evil lurks nearby
Scheming to stir up a war
Darkness in their hearts
Poison dripping from their lips
The righteous rise up
God calls them to fell His foes
Consumed with anger
Evildoers trip themselves
No matter their cries
Evil plans always fall through
The wicked betray
They rebel against the Lord
Allergic to truth
The wicked follow their lies
They walk into doom
Their backs turned against the Lord
Wolves all filled with hate
They rage against righteous men
But to no avail
Wrathful rebels find no peace
Wolves prey on the sheep
Yet the loyal dogs strike back
The wicked wolves flail
The Lord's men jump in the way
The Lord will prevail
His word is eternal truth
The wicked shall fall
Let justice be done on them

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What Is Bravery? – A Haiku Series

What is bravery?
Does bravery make a man?
Can boys be as brave?
Duty calls us all
Paying no heed to the hour
It calls when it must
It calls who it needs
Bravery cares not for age
Duty must be met
Johnny Clem
At the age of 9, Johnny Clem became one of the youngest veterans to serve in the U.S. Army in a combat role.
The young and old go
Into the fray of conflict
To save what remains
The drums of war sound
A nation in great distress
The time is at hand
A time for courage
For righteous souls to rise up
Wherever they are
Johnny Clem in battle
Despite being only a boy, Johnny Clem engaged adults with lethal force during the American Civil War.
What is bravery?
Does it make boys into men?
Some boys are braver

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Iconic Weapons: Gladius Hispaniensis

The gladius Hispaniensis, more commonly referred to as the “gladius” for short, is one of history’s most iconic sword designs. The ancient Romans are well-known for their innovations which perfected the technology of other cultures. The gladius – originally of Spanish design – is a perfect example of this. The Romans adopted the gladius and utilized it to its fullest potential, giving the sword a fearsome reputation around the ancient world which persists to this day.

Variations and Origin

The Roman gladius may be separated into three historical types: the Republican/Fulham, Mainz, and Pompein. The differences between the designs were not so significant, although each was successively shorter than the last. The sword was originally conceived by Spanish tribes of the Iberian Peninsula. The Romans adopted it following the Punic Wars after encountering it in battle and realizing its effectiveness. The gladius eventually replaced the spatha as the weapon of choice for many Roman soldiers who were required to source their own weaponry.

two gladii
The historical gladius was designed to be used in combination with a shield, leaving little room for two hands on the hilt.

The Pompein gladius is reported to have been the most popular variant, as it is the most commonly found at archeological sites. These swords were approximately 60 centimeters in length with blads about 50 centimeters long. The swords were mostly made of iron, but later were made of steel. The hilt was constructed of wood and was often decorated with different types of metal plating. Many officers would have pommels shaped as eagles which could be used to grip the sword with two hands.

Use and Reputation

The gladius was a widely respected and feared weapon among those who found themselves on the receiving end of it. The Romans perfected the use of the gladius by pairing it with the scutum – a large shield. The gladius and scutum would be used in combination to close the distance against opponents with longer blades and pole weapons. With the short blade of the gladius, it was very effective at close range where most battlefield weapons were ineffective due to their longer reach limiting their close-quarters ability. Apart from the Roman Civil Wars which saw soldiers wielding gladii against gladii, the gladius and scutum combination devastated foreign armies all over the world due to the prevalence of long weapons.

The gladius was a hefty sword, weighing an average of 1.5 lbs. It was also quite thick with a 2-inch blade. These qualities made it an excellent chopper, and historians recounted its devastating ability to hack off limbs and heads. It was also adept at thrusting with its double-edged blade coming to a fine point. The short sword was used to stab to the gut and chop at the kneecaps, all with the shield in front to defend. Historians recounted how terrifying the weapon was to face. The gladius and scutum together in the hands of the Romans overcame many conventional armies equipped with long blades and pole weapons, as many soldiers were simply unsure of what to do against the gladius.

1831 French gladius
An 1831-model French infantry sword modeled after the ancient gladius
Legacy of the Gladius

The gladius remains one of the most iconic and popular sword designs to this day. It is also one of the few historical swords which retains some practicality in the modern world. While long swords have fallen out of use due to firearms, there are many situations where short blades are still practical. Although the machete probably takes the top spot as the most common edged weapon still in use today which could arguably be called a sword, a gladius with a two-handed hilt would make a viable alternative. Provided, of course, that one values the double-edged blade which requires more maintenance and care than a single-edged blade.


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Heroes From History: Anthony Wayne

Anthony Wayne was a famous general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War who was later appointed commander in chief of the United States Army by President George Washington. He was born in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania on January 1, 1745. Perhaps Wayne’s most notable accomplishments were his victory at the Battle of Stony Point during the Revolutionary War and his negotiation of the Treaty of Greenville, ending the Northwest Indian War.

Early Life and Service

Prior to the American Revolutionary War, Anthony Wayne was a surveyor. He was known for traveling to Nova Scotia, Canada to record a description of the land and natural resources there. Later, he returned home and founded both a tannery and a farm. Wayne supported independence and regularly advocated for separation from the British Empire. He briefly served in the Pennslyvania legislature prior to being commissioned as a colonel in the Continental Army after the war began.

Anthony Wayne’s early military career was defined by several notable defeats. He was first deployed to assist the future traitor, General Benedict Arnold with his army in Canada. Quebec, the fourteenth colony, refused to sign the Declaration of Independence and remained loyal to the British Empire. During the Battle of Trois-Rivières on June 8, 1776, the troops under Wayne’s command successfully skirmished with British troops in the swampland. Nevertheless, the rest of the American forces were routed and began to scatter. Wayne quickly switched to supporting the American troops during their withdrawal to provide a fighting retreat. Despite the loss of the battle and the failure of the invasion of Canada, Wayne was commended for his efforts during the campaign. He was then put in command of Fort Ticonderoga and promoted to Brigadier General in 1777.

Anthony Wayne commanded forces at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777. Wayne’s forces were tasked with holding the Brandywine River against Hessian troops, and they were successful for a time. However, the German General Wilhelm von Knyphausen eventually managed to flank the Americans and push them back. Wayne again managed to organize a fighting retreat and support the withdrawal. Later that month, Wayne suffered one more defeat during what became known as the Paoli Massacre.

Paoli Massacre
A painting of the Battle of Paoli was commissioned by a British soldier who participated in the battle.

On September 20, George Washington sent Wayne to circle around the enemy and counterattack them from behind. However, either deserters or captured American couriers informed the British of where Wayne and his men were camped. Wayne lost 158 men when attacked by British General “No Flint” Gray. General Gray earned the name for ordering his men to attack the camp only with bayonets and swords, or by using their firearms as clubs. In so doing, they managed to go through the camp without alerting the whole of Wayne’s force. General Wayne requested that he be court-martialed for the Paoli Massacre. He was ultimately acquitted of all charges and commended once again for his leadership, despite the loss of men.

Wayne would quickly be put back into service and take part in the defeat of Continental forces at the Battle of Germantown on October 4, 1777. Wayne’s forces were reportedly putting heavy pressure on the British and pushing them back. However, partway through the battle, Wayne’s troops came under friendly fire. Thinking they were about to be encircled, Wayne ordered a retreat. This cost the Americans their momentum, and ultimately, the battle. Still, Wayne learned much from his early military career. By all accounts, his losses were due to factors outside his control including the overwhelming force of the British Empire’s international coalition and a bit of bad luck.

Learning From Defeat

One of the first major victories of Wayne’s career involved taking over command of General Charles Lee’s troops after he was relieved of command by George Washington at the Battle of Monmouth. Lee was not confident in the Continental Army’s ability to push the British out of New Jersey, and the troops under his command reflected this perspective. When George Washington saw Lee’s troops fleeing from the battle, he removed Lee and split up the general’s forces between the reserve troops under the Marquis de Lafayette and Wayne’s men. Washington then pressed the attack against the British and eventually forced them to retreat to New York. Wayne wished to pursue the British the next morning, but Washington denied that request in favor of giving the troops much-needed rest.

Anthony Wayne
A portrait of Anthony Wayne by Edward Savage.

On July 16, 1779, Wayne was dispatched to recapture the fort at Stony Point which had been taken over by the British. Wayne used the tactic General “No Flint” Gray had used against him during the Paoli Massacre, ordering his troops to advance on the fort using only bayonets. This prevented the whole force from being alerted and putting up a defense. Wayne was shot in the head during the Battle of Stony Point, but he continued to fight and led his troops to victory in spite of the injury. For this, he was awarded a gold medal by Congress. General Wayne’s nickname, “Mad” Anthony, had been catching on for some time now and eventually stuck due to his aggressive reputation. This was due in part to George Washington considering Wayne to be rash and impulsive, yet somehow wildly successful. The name also probably first arose from Wayne ordering one of his spies who was arrested to be lashed as punishment, and rumors spreading that Wayne was “mad” about the arrest.

General Wayne had many more exploits throughout the war. He facilitated more fighting retreats and saved Continental troops which would have been routed without his leadership. Wayne also helped foil Benedict Arnold’s plan to betray the Americans and turn over West Point to the British. Wayne was with George Washington at the Battle of Yorktown where General Cornwallis surrendered and the American Revolutionary War officially came to a close. Wayne achieved the rank of major general before retiring from military service in 1783.

The British Switch to a Proxy War

Legion of the United States
The Legion of the United States at the Battle of Fallen Timbers

After General Cornwallis’s surrender officially ended the conflict with the American rebels, the British Empire continued to mobilize the Native Americans and Canadians against the United States. Intent on toppling the American government from the shadows, they unofficially supplied the Native Americans and Canadians with weapons and supplies using their network of military forts they retained across the American mainland. This led to the formation of the Northwestern Confederacy – an alliance between the Canadians and Native Americans with shadow support from the British Empire. Thus began the Northwest Indian War which saw the Americans lose many battles in the early days.

In 1792, Wayne was brought out of retirement by George Washington and put in command of the U.S. Army. Washington hoped Wayne would turn the conflict around which was going poorly for the Americans, and he would not be disappointed. Wayne spent two years training an army and building forts around the frontier to challenge the British forts. Wayne’s forces came to be known as the “Legion of the United States.” On August 20, 1794, Wayne led the Legion against Native American and Candian troops under the command of Blue Jacket at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Wayne led his troops to a decisive victory, forcing the enemy troops to retreat to Fort Miami.

The Native Americans were not allowed entry to the British fort, and the situation briefly grew tense again when Wayne and his troops arrived. Wayne ordered the British fort to be evacuated, but the British were ready for a fight and refused. Unwilling to push further, Wayne retreated back to Greenville. From there, he began negotiating for a peace treaty with the Northwestern Confederacy. On August 3, 1795, the Native American tribes agreed to surrender and the conflict ended. The Americans took Ohio and parts of the surrounding region. The Northwestern Confederacy was a threat no more.

Pennsylvania Museum of Art
A statue of Anthony Wayne at the Pennsylvania Museum of Art.
Death and Legacy

Anthony Wayne passed away on December 15, 1796. He died from complications with gout. He was originally buried at Fort Presque Isle in Erie, Pennslyvania, but his remains were later moved by his son to his hometown. He was remembered as an impulsive and overly-eager leader, but one whose skill earned him the respect of his peers nonetheless. Mad Anthony Wayne saved numerous American lives throughout his career and played a critical role in ensuring the survival of the young republic he loved so much.


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Skies on Fire

The Battle of Britain was a series of aerial conflicts over Britain from July-September 1940. The German Luftwaffe was tasked with establishing aerial supremacy over Great Britain in preparation for a naval invasion. Adolf Hitler had assumed the British would surrender after their complete evacuation from the European mainland and the capitulation of France. As such, the German army and navy had no plans or preparations for a naval invasion. Only Hermann Göring, Air Marshal of the German Luftwaffe, expressed confidence in attacking Great Britain. With Winston Churchill unwilling to capitulate to German rule of the mainland, it was eventually clear to Hitler that an invasion of Great Britain was necessary to bring hostilities to an end. The only hope for the Germans was to control the air and suppress the British Royal Navy while their troops crossed the channel. As such, the German air force was tasked with suppressing the British Royal Air Force (RAF) to provide safe passage for a vulnerable landing attempt against the superior Royal Navy.

However, things would not go according to plan for the Germans. The British had superior fighter craft and the German attacks were ineffective at thinning out the RAF. Significant casualties were inflicted on the British population as the Germans tried to deteriorate the will of the British people to continue resisting. However, this came at a high cost to German fighters and bombers, resulting in a net loss of equipment. German aircraft were shot down faster than they could be replaced. Unable to reliably down British aircraft, and unable to bomb the population into submission, Hitler eventually called off plans for an invasion of Great Britain and turned instead to invading the Soviet Union. After months of responding to near-constant bombing raids, the RAF outlasted the Luftwaffe and spared the British island from German invasion. Years later, the British coastline would be used to launch Operation Overlord when British, American, and Candian troops would cross the English Channel and turn the tables against the Axis.

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill refused to capitulate to Germany or recognize Hitler’s rule over the European mainland.

Over 1,700 RAF aircraft were destroyed during the Battle of Britain with over 1,500 airmen killed. Nearly 50,000 civilians were killed or wounded by the air raids before the German Luftwaffe backed off. The Germans lost almost 2,000 aircraft and over 2,500 airmen before giving up on the offensive.

From the perspective of the Allies, the Battle of Britain was a dark and somber time. The European mainland was ceded completely to the Germans and Soviets. France was under German occupation. The British had abandoned the mainland. To many, the air raids over Britain seemed to be the beginning of the end. Nevertheless, this was not so. The British RAF held their own against the Luftwaffe until the Germans backed off, bringing the people of the Allies some semblance of hope.

Hermann Göring
Hermann Göring was the leader of the German Air Force during WWII, and the only German military leader with a plan to attack Great Britain.

The world has fallen
Darkness rises over all
Hope begins to fade
Time grinds to halt
The whole world seems to stand still
What will happen next?
A time of monsters
We come to the darkest hour
A time of heroes
German air forces over Britain
The German Luftwaffe attempted to exhaust the British air defenses in preparation for a naval invasion.
Doom is upon us
But the light has not fallen
Brave souls do yet stand
They take to the skies
Demons fly across the sea
And angels meet them
Uncertainty looms
Death rains from skies on fire
People hide below
RAF "Spitfire"
The RAF “Spitfire” was one of the British aircraft which was instrumental in defending against the German air raids.
Flesh and metal grind
The skies fill with flame and blood
With no end in sight
Through struggle they grow
Selfless souls fly into hell
To the stars they go
Their efforts prevail
Day and night, they stay the flame
Taming the dark beast
Civilians in Liverpool
As the air raids dragged on, many British people opted to emerge from their shelters and get on with their lives despite the dangers of the war.
The people hold strong
Across the ages they stand
To meet this moment
The beast wails in pain
Unable to bear the truth
That hope still remains
The beast turns away
Aching from its wounded state
The light still may shine
RAF emblem
The RAF was established in WWI. Their motto translates to, “through adversity to the stars” in Latin.

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All posts by The Pen and Sword are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.