WWII

Patton and the Third Army at Fort Driant

Mark talks with historian Kevin Hymel about General Patton and the Third Army at Fort Driant. After the historic breakout in Normandy and their rapid advance through northern France, the Third Army faced an unexpected obstacle at Fort Driant on the Maginot Line. A seasoned garrison of Wehrmacht troops put up a staunch resistance. Mark and Kevin Hymel discuss the battle and logistics issues that bogged down their progress.

Band of Brothers: Leadership of the 101st Airborne Division

Historian Chris Anderson joins Mark to discuss leadership in the Second World War at various levels. As an expert on Easy Company, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne, Chris highlights Major Dick Winters of Band of Brothers renown.

Civil War New Orleans

Mark talks about New Orleans during the Civil War. General Mansfield Lovell assumes military command of New Orleans and begins to shore up the defenses. He affirms that the threat will come upriver from the Gulf of Mexico, despite Richmond’s insistence that he transfer men and boats north. Construction begins on two super CSA gunboats, the Louisiana and Mississippi, said to surpass anything the Union had.

Union Threat Looms Before New Orleans

In the fall of 1861 morale was good in New Orleans and it spirits remained good into the start of 1862. The Confederates had won a decisive victory near Manassas, Virginia at the end of July where Louisiana’s native son, P.G.T. Beauregard had been the victorious commander and Louisiana boys had done well in the battle. At the end of that September, the citizens were treated to the spectacle of a trainload of captured Yankee prisoners marching under guard through the streets en route to the Orleans Parish prison. The local newspapers played it up to The New Orleans Crescent described the unfortunate captured, ushered through the streets under the curious stares of the local citizens who “behaved with their accustomed order and good breeding.” The Yankees were “a hard looking set.”

And they made reference to the notion that the prisoners might be foreign mercenaries, the Daily Crescent warned citizens and military guard alike to be aware of the arrival of “Hessian prisoners” that were on their way to the city by train. As so often in the South, there was a fear of being overrun by foreigners.

There also was a revival of community service in the area. There were festivals and fairs to raise money for families whose breadwinners were away in military service as well as for the less fortunate citizens. The city also began a free market. Public-spirited civilians made donations, the city provided operating funds and the market distributed food and other necessities to all eligible. The city regulated the system and issued tickets to “families and dependents of volunteers” who currently were in Confederate service or those whose had providers had died in service.

New Orleans was functioning and making things work as well as possible, but the diaphanous demon that festered in the minds of merchants, business people as well as everyday citizens was the blockade. In the country’s major port a chokehold on trade stifled the normal spirit, the joie de vivre for which New Orleans was so well known. The hard fact was that the U.S. fleet was maintaining a close watch on the Head of the Passes at the mouth of the Mississippi.

An enterprising group of businessmen, sparked by a former river captain raised the funds to purchase and convert a large, powerful tugboat into a warship. They had the boat covered with what took on the appearance of an armored turtle shell made of iron “T” train track rails. The locals readily applied the moniker, “The Turtle,” which immediately stuck. Its armor rendered it virtually impregnable and certain northern news organizations noted that it was going to be a terrible scourge once let loose on the American fleet.

This was not to be. In command of the Confederate naval defenses was the elderly, but spirited, Commodore George N. Hollins. The Marylander had a distinguished career with the U.S. Navy beginning with his enlistment as a teenager during the War of 1812, and spanning a series of actions and promotions from the Barbary Coast of Africa to Central America. Hollins commandeered the Manassas, staffed the crew with volunteers from within his fleet and steamed downriver.

Hollins had his squadron assembled and moving toward the passes and the Federal ships at midnight. The Union ships, commanded by Captain John Pope, who had served almost as long as Hollins, had the Confederates outgunned by more than double, fifty-five to little more than twenty. But Hollins did have the advantage of range and was able to surprise Pope.

The surprise was a crash as the Manassas rammed the USS Richmond and left a five-inch hole in the hull below the water line. Before sunrise, Pope had his squadron in a retreat, withdrawing downriver toward the Southwest Pass.

Hollins sent a dispatch that in those pre-dawn hours of 12 October he had “attacked” the blockaders and had been successful with “his little fleet.” He was able to achieve “a complete success,” he said. Hollins gave the people of New Orleans hope when he affirmed, “after a very short struggle, [I was able] to drive them all aground on the southwest bar, except the Preble, which I sunk. I have captured a prize from them, and after I got them fast on the sand I peppered them well. No casualties on our side.”

The Band of Brothers: George Luz and Easy Company

In this episode, guest George Luz, Jr. talks about his father’s experiences in WWII as a soldier in Easy Company, the Band of Brothers. They discuss the training, toil, camaraderie and sacrifices of the men in E Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.

Spring Lineup

Mark gives a preview of some of the historical topics he’ll be discussing and the historians who will join him on History with Mark Bielski for the “Spring Semester.”

Christmas in Wartime – Part II

In this episode, Mark reviews some of the happenings that American and Allied soldiers experienced during WWII. There are a few items from the home front and some from where the fighting occurred, as well as a few segments from POWs.

First, a mention that I forgot to include in the last episode. On Christmas Day 1868, US president Andrew Johnson extended amnesty and a full pardon “to all and to every person who, directly or indirectly, participated in the late insurrection or rebellion.”

The Civil War had ended more than three years before and most of the South was in ruins. In many ways, the country had come out of the war, just as divided as it had been at the start. Reconstruction and occupation were the rules of life in the South. The Radical Republicans who had opposed President Lincoln’s conciliatory tendencies wanted nothing more than further punishment for those who had supported Secession. Andrew Johnson, a staunch Unionist from East Tennessee was both feared and loathed by many Southerners. However, his Attorney General James Speed reminded Johnson of Abraham Lincoln’s planned policy of reunification.

1941 — Japan seized Hong Kong from the British. In 1941 Tokyo confronted the West with its imperialistic, aggressive expansion plans. American military involvement in WWII began with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Immediately following was Japan’s invasion of the British colony of Hong Kong. The battle lasted 18 days, leaving hundreds dead and many wounded or shipped off to POW camps. Japan symbolically announced the British surrender of the colony with a 1941 Christmas Day radio broadcast.

1941 — Free French Admiral Émile Muselier captured Saint Pierre and Miquelon from Vichy control. Soon after France fell to the Nazis, the colonial governor of a few small islands off the coast of Newfoundland started working with the resistance. He disdained the Vichy government—the Nazi’s puppet regime in France. On Christmas Eve, 1941, a small task force under Admiral Émile Muselier stormed the island under the cover of night.They met no resistance and the island’s administrative centers were taken within an hour. This kept the islands from serving as a Nazi outpost deep within Allied territorial waters.

The episode also recounts Christmas in the POW camps and the great work done by the USO (United Service Organizations). We specifically reference two prison camps, Stalag Luft I and Stalag Luft III. Airmen prison camps one and three. For the USO, we cite Bob Hope’s long association and support for our service men and women.

Conspiracy theories: JFK and Pearl Harbor

Mark interviews historian Marty Morgan on “Conspiracy theories: JFK and Pearl Harbor.” They discuss Lee Harvey Oswald, the new JFK documents being released and conspiracy theories that have revolved around the Pearl Harbor attack.

Patton Part II: Post WWII

Historian Kevin Hymel returns for a discussion of General George S. Patton’s post-war governance in Germany and the actual story of his fatal accident and death. The is Part II of a two-part episode.

Preview of Autumn Historians and Topics

Mark Bielski provides information on the background of the historical topics he’ll be discussing and the historians who will join him on History with Mark Bielski this fall.

Ghost Army – Part II

Writer and filmmaker Rick Beyer returns to discuss in further detail the extraordinary deception soldiers better known as the Ghost Army. Rick made the PBS documentary The Ghost Army and co-authored the book, The Ghost Army of World War II.

As we discussed in Part I, the Ghost Army specifically refers to the 23rd HQ Special Troops. They ran series of deception operations so secretive that few of their fellow GIs knew anything about it, and the Army kept it top secret—during the war and for decades afterwards. To put it succinctly, The Ghost Army was about fooling people. Their goal was to make the enemy believe that something is happening even though it is not. Imagine the German soldiers on the front lines thinking there is an armored division moving into position just beyond the woods on their perimeter. Or, Luftwaffe air reconnaissance reporting back to HQ that there were scores of American tanks and aircraft preparing for invasion. Imagine is the key word, because the Ghost Army made it all happen with illusion and trickery.

Rick Beyer produced the PBS special entitled The Ghost Army of WWII, as well as co-authored with Elizabeth Sayles, the book of the same name. It is most likely a story you did not find in your history text books. In the interview, as well as in the film and book, writer and producer, Rick gives us an excellent portrayal of the vital and technologically amazing work this unit produced in WWII. Wizardry is a more than apt term for it and one need not wonder why the U.S. Army kept it under wraps for so long. Especially with the commencement of the Cold War that occurred almost immediately following the German surrender signing.

Rick leads a tour for Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours that traces the steps of the Ghost Army in Europe as well as covering the key battles and operations of which they were a vital part. His next tour is September 2018.

The following maps and images augment the Ghost Army Part II podcast.