Tuesday, November 20, 2018

B-17 Flak Damage

It is amazing that these planes were able to get back to base.

Friday, November 16, 2018

2nd Infantry Division at Normandy- Omaha Beach -1st Wave.

Exploits of my dad (2nd Infantry (Indian Head) Division) at Normandy  from a 82nd Airborne Division veteran.

This is a true story of George W.Tompkins Sr. by his son George W.Tompkins Jr.(82nd Airborne Division) and a personal note of interest by George Jr. about the British 6th Airborne Division.

When my dad  was still alive he described to me his first 5 or 6 hours on Omaha. They were pinned down by heavy German fire coming from the pillboxes. My dad said most of the guys arriving in the second and third waves were sitting ducks as soon as the gates dropped on the landing craft they were just cut down. He described the water at high tide as being a shade of crimson stained by the blood of fallen Americans. It took a few hours of heavy Naval gunfire to level some of the pillboxes before his unit could advance to the first series of hedgerows. He landed on the beach on June 6th a buck Sergeant.
On the second day he was promoted to 1st Sergeant H Company 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry (Indian Head) Division when his 1st Sergeant was killed in action. He was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with 2 oak leaf clusters, the Purple Heart with 5 oak leaf clusters for his actions and a battle field commission to 2nd Lieutenant during the "Battle of the Bulge".

One story he did tell me was after his unit liberated the village of St.Lo. They captured almost a complete infantry regiment. The Nazi CO was a full Colonel. He kept insisting that he ride in a vehicle instead of having to march along with his men because he was a German officer and demanded to be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention. My father told him twice that only wounded men get to ride, Americans first Germans second. The Colonel insisted one more time so my father shot him in the leg and said OK now you can ride in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

Another interesting story is regarding the British 6th Airborne Division.  It was not until I got to the 82nd that I encountered a very small handful of legit WW2 veterans still on active duty amongst whom was my battalion Sergeant Major Harry S. Tompkins (no relation) but in the Army we used to call the First Sergeant or the Battalion Sergeant Major TOP, an affectionate name for TOP KICK or senior most enlisted man.   I used to call the Sergeant Major POP. He never corrected me and would just smile at me. It was on Harry Tompkins that I saw for the first time a pair of Master Jump wings with 4 stars. The 4 stars were for his 4 combat jumps in WW2, that included Sicily, Salerno, Normandy (St. Mere Eglise), and Nijmegan (Holland.)  I engaged him in a conversation about WW2 and in particular I asked about the British 6th Airborne Division. In the US Army our maximum height for jumping was 20,000 feet and the only way you could go above 20,000 feet was to balloon jump. Of course the US Army does not permit balloon jumping however every year that I was in the 82nd two men from every unit were allowed to go to England to get their British Paratrooper Wings and to balloon jump with the British 6th Airborne perhaps the most notorious allied unit to ever hit France. According to POP you could always tell a British 6th trooper because he usually had no front teeth or was missing an ear. Amazed I inquired to find out that while US troops would exit C-47 aircraft via the two rear doors the British 6th would exit via an escape hatch in the floor near the tail of the aircraft. Most of whom would either knock out their front teeth or catch their ear on the hatch on the way out. POP said they were the craziest bastards he ever fought along side of.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Private Leo Major of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. The bravest Montrealer.

I would like to introduce the bravest Montrealer that I have read about. Born in America to French Canadian parents but grew up in Montreal from age 1.

Private Leo Major of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. On D-Day he captured a German armoured half-track by himself. A few days later, he tangled with SS troops and killed four even though, during the fight, a phosphorus grenade blinded him in his left eye. He refused to be evacuated.

In late Autumn of 1944, as the Canadians advanced toward Antwerp, Belgium, Private Major encountered two Germans, killing one and capturing the other. Instead of returning with his prisoner, the lone Major forced the soldier to take him to to his commanding officer. In the ensuing firefight, he killed three more before the garrison of roughly 100 surrendered. As he escorted them back to Allied lines, SS troops spotted the prisoners, hands on heads, and began firing on their own troops. Major respected regular German Army soldiers as fellow combatants, but after seeing the SS kill several of their own men, he would in future give no quarter when it came to members of the SS. Major kept his prisoners moving and by the time they were safely behind Canadian lines, he had by himself, captured and delivered 93 German soldiers.

By April 13, 1945, the 3rd Canadian Division had approached the Dutch city of Zwolle from the south and needed to determine the extent and location of the occupying German forces. Private Major and his friend Corporal Arsenault volunteered to scout the enemy positions, contact Dutch resistance and return before 6:00 am when the division's artillery would start shelling the city. The two slipped into the city's outskirts after dark, but had already decided to try to save the city from being destroyed. Unfortunately, Arsenault soon ran afoul of an enemy machine gun emplacement and was killed. Enraged, Major picked up his friend's weapon and killed two of the crew while the rest ran off. He helped himself to a third submachine gun, plenty of ammunition and filled a bag with grenades before heading further into the city.

As he approached the town center he spied a soldier in the driver's seat of a German staff car outside a tavern. Major surprised him and forced him inside the pub where he found a German officer conversing with the barkeep. After disarming his new captive, Major, who spoke no German, discovered that the officer spoke fluent French. He told the German that Zwolle was nearly surrounded by an overwhelming force and he was a member of the Canadian advance party that had infiltrated the city with orders to withdraw by 6:00 am when the city would be subjected to a horrific bombardment followed by a massed attack. The officer seemed to understand the situation-- as well as the fact that the war in Europe was in its last weeks-- so Major took a calculated risk and let the men go, hoping they would spread the news of their hopeless position instead of rallying the troops.
For the next several hours, Major prowled the city, firing his weapons and throwing grenades, indeed sounding like an advance party instead of a lone private. On occasion, he got into actual firefights with groups of German soldiers and killed and wounded some. He preferred scaring them off when possible, but several times he escorted groups of eight to ten captives back to the Allied lines before heading back into the city center.

At some point he found the Gestapo headquarters and set fire to it. Later still, he came across Zwolle's SS headquarters which he entered. Inside were eight SS officers who put up a fight. He killed four, but the other four escaped. Major regretted he wasn't able to kill them all.
By 4:00 am, he was not able to find anymore Germans; the enemy garrison had fled westward. Slowly, timidly, some of the city's inhabitants were coaxed outside and Major was able to meet with the resistance, who had to overcome their suspicion of this lone, one-eyed apparition bedecked with three submachine guns. The evidence of the now-quiet city convinced them and they helped Major retrieve his friend's body and return to his regiment by 5:00 am. The artillery barrage was called off and, instead of bombarding and assaulting the city, the Canadians were able to march into Zwolle to the cheers of its inhabitants. Private Leo Major had single-handedly liberated the Dutch city.

He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

After the war ended, Major returned to civilian life in Canada and resumed his job as a pipe fitter. However, when the North Koreans invaded South Korea, he rejoined the army. In November 1951, the 64th Chinese army launched a massive attack and parts of Major's regiment were nearly surrounded. The Lieutenant-Colonel ordered Major and his eighteen scouts to relieve the pressure by counter-attacking the Chinese occupying Hill 227. Equipped with submachine guns and wearing sneakers, they infiltrated the defenders until they were behind them and launched their attack. Taken completely by surprise, the Chinese panicked and the hill was retaken. An hour later, the Chinese counter-attacked and Major was ordered to withdraw. This he refused to do and called in regimental mortar fire almost on his own position. The firing was so intense that the mortar tubes glowed red hot and ultimately became useless, but the hill was held. For three days, hundreds of Chinese tried to dislodge the Canadians, but Majors' scouts repeatedly threw them back until the Canadians were relieved.

Major was awarded his second Distinguished Conduct Medal.

The Dutch citizens of of Zwolle never forgot him. Starting in the 1970s and until his death in 2008, Major periodically returned to Zwolle and was given a hero's welcome each time, cheered by its citizens. The children are taught in school about the one-eyed liberator who saved their city from destruction. He became an honorary citizen of the city in 2005 and has been the subject of news articles and documentaries. When Leo Major died in 2008 at the age of 87 in Montreal, the town hall flag of Zwolle flew at half-mast and townspeople recorded their condolences in a special register. Later that year, the city renamed a street in his honor, Leo Majorlaan (Leo Major Street).

So I would like to Remember this man besides all the other Canadian military who have sacrificed their lives for Canada in all wars.