Letters From Readers -- May 2007 Military History Magazine | HistoryNet

Letters From Readers — May 2007 Military History Magazine

4/19/2007 • MH Issues

Due Credit for Dental Officers
As a former Naval dental officer assigned to a Marine Corps infantry battalion aid station, my eyes were drawn to the image showing Navy corpsmen carrying a casualty of the bombing of the Beirut Marine barracks in 1983 in the frontispiece for “Blowup in Beirut,” in the March issue. The other men in utilities may be Marines or Navy men, but the caption implies that all of the men are Marines when plainly they are not.

I read the article carefully, hoping that the two heroic naval dental officers, Lieutenants James J. Ware and Gilbert U. Bigelow, would be recognized for their critical lifesaving work in organizing the immediate casualty care, triage, casualty evacuation and recovery in the wake of the attack. The dental detachment had been billeted in an outlying hooch and escaped being killed, while the battalion medical officer, Lieutenant Hudson, was killed in the BLT structure along with many of the corpsmen.

Using what they had, local anesthetics to block pain, and directing dental techs and surviving hospital corpsmen, they eased much suffering and saved many lives.

Griffin T. Murphey, D.D.S.
Fort Worth, Texas

Beyond Hardtack
Regarding the recipe for SOS in the “Beyond Hardtack” feature in your March issue: It wasn’t SOS unless it was made of chipped dried beef. During the Depression years before WWII, when I was growing up, chipped beef, gravy and toast was standard breakfast fare. We civilians at that time were too polite to call it SOS.

Ivan L. Pfalser
Caney, Kan.

Early Jack
Regarding Marc Leepson’s “Stars and Stripes and Strife” article in the March edition: There is a picture of the painting by N.C. Wyeth of John Paul Jones hoisting the “Continental colors,” whose canton, Leepson wrote, “contained the Union Jack.” Here is some additional information of histori­cal interest regarding the origin of this Union Jack. Since 1270 the English flag consisted of the red cross on a white background of St. George. In 1603 James VI of Scotland became by inheritance James I of England, and the Scottish diagonal white cross on a blue background of St. Andrew was added, forming the first “Union Jack,” although this was often simply called the “Jack,” likely a diminutive of James, the king. Finally, in 1801, following the Act of Union of Ireland with Britain, the red diagonal cross on a white background of St. Patrick was added, to form the Union Jack in existence to this day. Thus in the American War of Independence, the Redcoats of the era served under the old Jack (see the picture in your article), but in the War of 1812 their flag was the final version of the Union Jack.

Keep those great articles coming!

David B. Clark, M.D.
Barrie, Ontario

Flagships of our Fathers
Reading the January/February feature “Pistols and Ten Paces,” by Janine Peterson: I noticed that the ship attributed to Commodore Stephen Decatur in the Second Barbary War was the 74-gun ship-of-the-line Independence. Decatur’s flagship, however, was the recently constructed heavy frigate Guerriere, under the command of Master Commandant William Lewis. Independence did make an appearance as part of the second American force, as the flagship of Commodore William Bainbridge, under the command of Flag-Captain William Crane.

Caleb Greinke
Kansas City, Mo.

The editors respond: Thanks for correcting the error. Completed in 1814, the same year as Guerriere, Independence was the U.S. Navy’s first ship of the line, carrying as many as ninety 32-pounder guns early in its career as flagship of Bainbridge—an appropriate assignment, since Bainbridge had been instrumental in getting Indepen­dence built. Later having a deck cut down and serving as a 52-gun super frigate, Independence served the Navy in one capacity or another until 1913 and was finally burned in 1915.

Decatur’s squadron, with Guerriere flying his pennant, departed for Algiers on May 20, 1815, capturing the 44-gun frigate Meshuda, flagship of the Algerian fleet, and the 22-gun brig Estedio along the way. Bainbridge’s squadron did not get under way until July 1, and by the time he reached Algiers Decatur had negotiated a treaty with the dey, returning his two ships in exchange for the release of all American and European captives along with a $10,000 indemnity and a pledge of tribute-free passage for all American ships plying the Mediterranean Sea. The dey would later renege on the deal, and the war would continue, but that’s another story.

 

Outgunned?
Regarding the January/February “Perspectives” article by Jon Grinspan about Israel’s dependence on U.S. military hardware: The author states that the Israeli army “didn’t even have a decent rifle” when it fought for independence in 1948 and won the Six-Day War in 1967.

I personally knew a New York arms dealer who sent army halftracks and other equipment to Israel listed on the shipping manifest as farm equipment. He also sent weapons, including U.S. Army rifles firing the .30-06 round. He must have sent a lot, as he was wealthy enough to afford a luxurious apartment overlooking Central Park.

When I was stationed in Germany, I had two Arabs in my company. One told me that when they were defending their village against Irgun, their weapons didn’t have the knockdown power that Irgun weapons had. When one of their fellow villagers was hit, they were out of the fight, because Irgun had U.S. Army rifles. On the other hand, they weren’t as successful in taking Irgun riflemen out of the fight.

Wells B. Lange
Lafayette, Colo.

In Defense of the Trapdoor
I read Roger Pinckney’s “Weaponry” article, about the Springfield Trapdoor rifle, in the March issue with great interest. I reloaded and fired my 10,000th .45-70 cartridge about 10 years ago. Since then, I have certainly surpassed the 20,000 mark. A considerable number were fired with several original Springfield Trapdoor rifles.

The general thrust of your article seems to be that the trapdoor was inaccurate and ineffective. In my experience, I have found them to be extremely well made, reliable, easy to use and very accurate.

I have never had to replace a single part on any of my Trapdoors, each of which is over 100 years old. Pinckney stated the Trapdoor drew enemy fire due to the use of black powder ammunition. The obvious retort is that the ammunition was the problem, not the rifle. The problem was the Army’s failure to use smokeless powder earlier.

There was nothing about the design of the rifle that resulted in problems at Little Bighorn. The problem was the copper cartridges, which were softer than brass and more prone to getting stuck in the chamber during combat. If there was a problem with accuracy, the fault lies with the marksmanship skills of the soldier, not the rifle. Marksmanship was not a priority in the Army until the 1870s.

I concede that a lever gun might have been a better choice for horse-mounted cavalry. However, I will put the Trapdoor up against any of its contemporary arms in terms of quality of construction, accuracy, reliability, simplicity of operation and overall utility.

Joseph G. Sciascia
Juneau, Wis.

Sizing up the Troops
In “Outfoxed and Outfought” by Jason K. Foster, in the January/February issue, there is a statement that Persian King Darius I was the ruler with the biggest army in the world. No one now knows about how big armies were then. The figures may be highly inflated, as there is always the doubt of how to supply such huge armies. Were states dur­ing China’s Warring Period at about the same time reporting similarly huge armies? Has Military History done any size comparisons? All of the figures may have been highly inflated, but then Darius could not be said to have the largest army in the world without being challenged.

Ernie Dei Choon Guan
Singapore

Jason Foster responds: This is an extremely valid question. While the states in the Warring Period in China certainly would have had large armies, this didn’t occur on a wide scale until after 379 bc. The other possibility is India. However, the Mauryan empire (considered India’s first empire), under Chandragupta, did not come into existence until 320 bc.

Herodotus’ assumption of a million men for the Persian army is surely inflated, but most scholars agree the army would have numbered 48,000 professional soldiers. Darius also had the largest empire at the time and pressed subjects from all corners of it into service. Yes, there is the question of how he would supply an army of such size, but one must remember that Lydia (Turkey) was a Persian satrap, and Darius would have taken what he wished from the people. Nevertheless, there is no concrete certainty. Perhaps I should have more correctly referred to the Persian army as the world’s largest standing professional army.

 

Corrections
On P. 69 in the March “Reviews,” reviewer Kenneth P. Czech’s name was misspelled.

In the credit line on P. 55 of the December feature “Spirit of the Samurai,” by John Koster, the book Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy was incorrectly attributed to Edward Behr. The author was in fact the late David Bergamini.

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