FOLLY OF COMMAND ON TRIANGLE HILL

“Attack on Triangle Hill” (Military History, January/February 2006) omitted some relevant facts. First, then-Lieutenant Peter R. Johnson’s unit was the 3rd Platoon of the 388th Chemical Company. Second, Maj. Gen. Wayne Carleton Smith’s command of the 7th Infantry Division was short-lived because he repeatedly stated, “I don’t care if it costs a deuce load of dog tags, they’re gonna take that damn hill!” Another of his quirks involved a two-lane road just in front of the main line of resistance, the sole access for trucks, jeeps and ambulances. Under constant Chinese mortar fire, it was a 1,100-yard dash with pedal to the metal and hope for the best, but Smith ordered military police out to enforce the posted speed limit and check trip tickets. This was in a combat area where the first 1,000 men who tried to capture Hill 598 sent 784 back down the hill on stretchers or in body bags. When the casualty figures for his eight battalions he committed to the battle came in, he was relieved of command. The folly of command, unfortunately, embraces every war.

G. Daniel Walker

Calipatria, Calif.

SCOTS AT MOORE’S CREEK

Thank you for the outstanding article on the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge in the January/February 2006 issue. It deals with one of the most interesting incidents in an underreported theater of the Revolutionary War. Author Peter Johnston was most thorough, but perhaps a few sidelights might be added. For one thing, the Highlanders who came to the Cape Fear region, largely from Argyll, had mostly done so from 1730 and were Gaelic speaking. It is true that they lacked an understanding of the basic issues, but they had signed loyalty oaths to the British Crown before being allowed to leave Scotland after the 1745 Battle of Culloden or on arrival in North Carolina, and as tribal Highlanders they felt bound by such oaths. Earlier arrivals were English-speaking and largely sided with the Continental Congress.

Another factor in the Highlanders’ choice of loyalty was their association of the American rebellion with the Virginians they saw in the backcountry. Perhaps rougher, more disreputable elements tend to gravitate to boundaries, and the Scots didn’t like what they saw. The Highlanders were also tribal Presbyterians who disliked the feudal, state-sponsored Episcopalian, class-structured, predominantly English Virginians.

“Peter” (Patrick) Blue was the piper for the MacDonalds at the battle and would be the one shown in the Gil Cohen painting on P. 31. He was later involved in the famous Tory Piney Bottom Wagon Raid and was wounded in Patriot reprisal attacks on Loyalist farms.

John Blue

President, St. Andrew’s Society

Plano, Texas

“The Last Highland Charge” by Peter R. Johnston was an interesting look at an American Revolutionary War event in North Carolina. It was not, however, so strange that the Highlanders chose to support their sovereign after the Jacobite troubles. They were not attacking the institution in 1745, but simply wished to replace King George II of Hanover with Prince Charles Edward Stewart. Therefore their support for the monarchy a generation later should not be so surprising. The author suggests that had the Highlanders been in America for a longer period of time, they might have been more open to the Patriot cause. That is speculation at best, and wishful thinking at worst. As Mr. Johnston is writing a history of the Revolution in North Carolina, it is to be hoped that he will avoid the usual pro-Rebel bias and treat the Patriots and their Loyalist fellow Americans objectively.

Peter W. Johnson

Ontario, Canada

FINNISH WINTER TRAINING

I read with great interest your article on the Russo-Finnish War (“Snow and Slaughter at Suomussalmi,” by John HughesWilson, in the January/February 2006 issue). I can add a postscript to it. In January and February 1956 as a lieutenant I attended the Winter Military Mountaineering Course at Camp Hale, near Leadville, Colo. Among the instructors were a number of Finnish officers. It was said that after the Finnish capitulation in March 1940, a corps commander, chief of staff and a number of his division commanders went to the United States and enlisted as sergeants. In 1956 they were majors and captains. Several went with the 8th Infantry Division when it rotated to Germany. By 1958, one served as an infantry battalion executive officer and another was the division intelligence officer.

I remember them quite clearly (and painfully) as they drove us without letup through waist-deep snow in an assault formation. They taught us field fortifications using “icecrete,” and much of our equipment was of Finnish design. This included the akio, a sled pulled by five of us on skis; the mountain stove; and perhaps the arctic tent. They were a remarkable group—tough and uncompromising.

Also, regarding whether to make a stand or not: Consider the American defense of the Philippines in 1942. Although initially flawed, the tenacious and heroic defense of Bataan and Corregidor delayed the Japanese thrust to Australia until the United States could move troops and supplies to counter it.

I have enjoyed your magazine from the beginning.

Lt. Col. John H. Woodyard

U.S. Army (ret.)

Loganville, Ga.

PREDECEASED

In the “Perspectives” story on the Corps of Canadian Voyageurs during the War of 1812 in the January/February 2006 issue, the author states that Lieutenant Pierre Rottote, who fell at St. Regis, Lower Canada, on October 23, 1812, was “the first British officer killed in the war.” I think not. The lieutenant was predeceased by Brig. Gen. Sir Isaac Brock, the hero of Upper Canada, and his aide-de-camp Lt. Col. John McDonnell, each of whom died leading a charge at the Battle of Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812.

Tom W. Brooks

Gravenhurst, Ontario, Canada

KOREAN BOWMEN

Regarding the December 2005 Weaponry” department story on composite bows, the illustration was identified as showing “Chinese archers practicing.” That illustration was, in fact, made by Kim Hong Do, a Korean master painter of the 18th century. The people depicted in the painting are wearing traditional Korean clothing (han-bok), and the apparent teacher is wearing a kat (one of many designs of hats made of hair from a horse’s tail that could signify rank or marital status, among other things). Koreans have long been known for their skill in archery, and further evidence of this is given every four years at the summer Olympics.

John L. Bernard

New Orleans, La.

IRISH TROUBLES

As a longtime subscriber to your excellent publication, I’d like to comment on the “Intrigue” article about 14 Intelligence Company, which appeared in your January/ February 2006 issue. Michael Westaway McCue’s statement that members of that unit were chosen any more for their capacity to withstand physiological pressure than members of the Special Air Service is not correct. All of the qualifications listed for inclusion in 14 Company are standard requirements for the SAS; 14 Company differed only in its specialized surveillance training.

Paul Oram was not an officer but a sergeant, and I got to know him during the Irish Republican Army operations. Proof of his rank is the fact that he was awarded the Military Medal. Had he been an officer, he would have received the Military Cross. That ridiculous system, which existed for centuries in the British armed forces, was eliminated in recent years, and now the same decorations and awards are given to all, regardless of their rank.

A backup car, containing two members of the SAS, was immediately behind Sergeant Oram’s vehicle at the time of the attack on May 28, 1981, and accounted for the death of the IRA terrorists involved, George McBrearty and Charles Maguire. Oram was killed on February 21, 1984, while on a reconnaissance patrol at Dunloy, near Ballymoney, County Antrim.

Usually the British authorities keep quiet about intelligence matters and never reveal details of 14 Company personnel or members of the SAS, but on occasion it is to the British advantage to let a little information out. Such occasions are rare, however, and unlike with the CIA, leaks are not a problem in British intelligence, nor do they encourage ex-members of the armed services to write memoirs.

Colonel John Saxon, SAS (ret.)

Palm Springs, Fla.

Concerning the January/February 2006 “Intrigue” on British military intelligence counterinsurgency strategy in Northern Ireland, the only thing they have to be proud of is their ability to manipulate their true role in the conflict over the past 30 years. Fourteen Company operatives Captain Tony Ball and his second-in-command, then-Lieutenant Robert Nairac, have been linked to the worst single day of the “Troubles,” the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974, which claimed 34 innocent lives. See Yorkshire Television’s First Tuesday program of July 6, 1993, which states that both were part of the conspiracy in the preparation of the bombs. Ex-British intelligence officers appeared on the program, stating that at that time in Northern Ireland British intelligence ran the Loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force death squad, and that the UVF did not have the capability to manufacture the sophisticated timing devices used to trigger the bombs. Many reputable authors and historians, such as Mark Urban, Tim Pat Coogan, Fred Holroyd et al., have conclusively linked British intelligence agencies to the training, arming and manipulation of the Loyalist death squads in Northern Ireland.

Sean Ryan

Auburn, N.Y.

The editor responds: One other correction brought to our attention is that Captain Robert Nairac was never a member of the SAS, but a Guards officer seconded as a regional special forces liaison officer after limited special training. British sources generally attribute his capture and death to overconfidence, stemming from a mixture of combat fatigue and lack of supervision by his superiors at a time of intense activity in the province.

 

Originally published in the June 2006 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.