Friday, November 16, 2012

Sergeant Murphy's Laws of Combat

(As compiled by The Military Philosopher)

The important things are very simple.

The simple things are very hard.

If it’s stupid but it works, it ain’t stupid.

The MP corollary: If it’s lethal or it just works, it ain’t “obsolete” just because your grandfather used it.

Both sides believe they are about to lose; they are both right.

You can win without fighting, but it’s a lot tougher to do when the enemy does not cooperate.

Professionals are reliable and predictable, but the world is full of amateurs.

Radio communications will fail as soon as you need something desperately.

All things being equal, the side with the simplest uniforms wins.

No combat-ready unit has ever passed inspection.

No inspection-ready unit has ever passed combat.

It is easier to expend material in combat then to fill out Graves Registration forms after.

If a private tells you he’s done something, go check it out. If a lieutenant tells you he’s done something on his own, got fix it.

Don’t’ look conspicuous, it draws fire.

Try to look unimportant, they may be low on ammo.

Anything you do can get you shot, including doing nothing.

Never draw fire, it irritates everyone around you.

Teamwork is essential; it gives them other people to shoot at.

If the enemy is in range, so are you.

Tracers work both ways.

Suppressive fire won’t.

Incoming fire has the right of way.

Friendly fire isn’t.

The only thing more accurate than incoming enemy fire is incoming friendly fire.

If you are short of everything except enemy, you are in combat.

If your attack is going really well, it’s an ambush.

The enemy diversion you are ignoring is the main attack.

The enemy will still be able to see you when you can’t see him.

The easy way is always mined.

When in doubt, empty the magazine.

Ammo is cheap compared to your life.

The law of the bayonet says the man with the bullet wins.

Never share a foxhole with anyone braver than you are.

When you have secured an area, don’t forget to tell the enemy.

Make it too tough for the enemy to get in, and you can’t get out.

The only terrain you truly control is the ground you’re standing on.

If your present site is tactically perfect, prepare to move out.

If command says you’re staying overnight, prepare to move out.

Your weapon was made by the lowest bidder.

All five-second grenade fuzes detonate in three seconds.

The bursting radius of a hand grenade is your jumping range plus 1 foot.

If you can’t remember, the claymore is pointed at you.

Any mandated “improvements” to existing equipment will result in twice as much down time for that equipment.

If you make it weigh half as much, the troops will need twice as many.

All-weather close air support doesn’t fly in bad weather.

Precision bombing can be depended upon to be accurate to within plus/minus one mile.

B-52/C-130 cluster bombing is very, very accurate. The bombs always hit the ground.

If you are forward of your position, the artillery will be short.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Patton Writes About the Bulge - Lieutenant Patton, That Is

I don't normally take up this page with my book reviews. There are plenty of other venues for that and you can find my reviews on and sometimes on my FaceBook pages. I picked up this book because it had a tank on the cover. There are far fewer war novels written in the U.S. about tanks than there are submarines or fighter pilots. The UK does far better by its tankers in the fiction world than we do, I blame that on Tom Clancy. But this book caught my interest because its author, Oliver B. Patton, was a Class of 1944 West Point graduate and career Army officer, retiring with the rank of Brigadier General. During the Battle of the Bulge, he was a lieutenant in command of a rifle platoon in the hard-luck 106th Infantry Division, much of which was overrun and destroyed in the initial German attack of that Battle. Lieutenant Patton was badly wounded and captured by German forces. He spent the rest of the war as a German PoW, in either German hospitals or prisoner-of-war camps.

“The Silent Snow” is the last of five historical novels he wrote after his retirement from the Army, the other four all set on the American frontier. This is not the story of the Battered Bastards of Bastogne or a paean to General George S. Patton’s Third Army tankers. Instead, this is the story of a lieutenant, separated from his unit in the 106th Infantry Division as it is being overrun in the unexpected German assault. As such it draws heavily upon the author’s experiences in the original battle, though his principal character spends much of the book evading capture as the war rages on in the Ardennes Forest battlefield. Patton’s own story is available online for those interested in it at

Patton presents a workmanlike narrative told in a clear readable style. The story told here is not a full-up war novel, but an account of what happens (or happened) to the men and women who experienced this portion of the Second World War. The book benefits greatly as it reflects Patton’s personal experiences, offering the reader both familiar and some surprising aspects of what was one of the greatest battles fought by U.S. forces during the war. Patton also makes clear the degree to which the American forces were a citizen-army made up of average Americans who wanted most of all to go come again but knew that that road ran through Berlin as they said.

Patton would go on to serve in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars and was wounded again in Korea. He served as assistant chief of staff for XXIV Corps in Vietnam and as Assistant Chief of Staff for Army intelligence at the Pentagon in the late 1960s. He received three Purple Hearts and three Bronze stars during his active military service. His writing career began in retirement. Upon his death in 2002 he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
There are not that many works of war fiction that can claim to be authored by an actual veteran of the battle or conflict being written about. For that reason alone, The Silent Snow is worth reading for the general reader interested in the stories surrounding the Battle of the Bulge. It should also interest to scholars examining the historiography of the battle and the nature and evolution of its numerous literary offspring.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Monumental and Apparently Overlooked Memorial from Gloversville, New York

Last August, I was driving my mother around New York’s Mohawk Valley area while we pursued some leads for our family genealogy. But the most exciting find of the trip was this outstanding Civil War memorial in Gloversville, New York. I had to stop the car, investigate, and take photographs.

My wife and I have long made an informal study of what we call “our glorious fallens” – the war memorials erected by communities across the US, Canada, the UK, Russia, etc. – in which a community remembers and salutes those of its members who have gone to war. The monument in Gloversville ranks as one of the top five that we have found though it appears to have escaped wider notice in spite of its obvious quality.

The monument features three figures of soldiers – a central standard bearer, and two flankers. The one on the standard bearer’s right is on one knee and alert to the signs and sounds of battle, but the left, the man has apparently been hit and is slumping to the ground and his left hand clutching at his sack coat. This is remarkable grouping for the overwhelming majority of town/city Civil War memorials feature only one figure.

The monument itself was disappointingly short on information with regard to the sculptor, the sponsor(s), and even the date upon which it was erected and/or dedicated. Its principal inscription reads:


The only lead was the markings to indicate that it had been cast at the Gorham Foundry – manufacturers of the work of numerous famous and less well known artists from the US and abroad. The National Gallery of American Art in Washington DC has microfilm copies of the records from the Gorham company and I was able to spend an unfortunately fruitless afternoon looking for further information there.

James Morrison, of the Gloversville Historian’s Office, sent me a copy of the story of the monument from The Morning Herald of July 12, 1917 which offered a few more bits of information. Governor Whitman of New York led the array of dignitaries present for the dedication of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Monument Square in the community of Gloversville, New York, though the occasion was marred by poor weather. Ironically, given the name, the memorial features only the three soldiers discussed above.

The only indications as to sponsorship were references to the memorial being a gift from the citizens of the city to its veterans, and to a General Committee apparently responsible for the project’s realization. Also present was the former Commander of the New York Grand Army of the Republic General Loud, and representatives of the local Ansel Denison Post, G.A.R. But again, the article gave no name for the sculptor and no definitive statement regarding the identity of the memorial’s sponsor.

So I am sharing my photos and what information I have on this splendid monument in the hopes that perhaps collectively we can illuminate the mystery and provide the recognition that this monument deserves. My next leads would appear to be in the City Records of Gloversville and possibly in the surviving records of the G.A.R. Ansel Denison Post.