Sherman Firefly

The Sherman Firefly was a tank used by the United Kingdom and some Commonwealth and Allied armoured formations in the Second World War. 

It was based on the US M4 Sherman, but fitted with the powerful 3-inch (76.2 mm) calibre British 17-pounder anti-tank gun as its main weapon. 

Originally conceived as a stopgap until future British tank designs came into service, the Sherman Firefly became the most common vehicle mounting the 17-pounder in the war.

During the war, the British Army made extensive use of Sherman tanks. 

Though they expected to have their own tank models developed soon, the previously rejected idea of mounting the 17-pounder in the existing Sherman was eventually accepted, despite initial government resistance. 

This proved fortunate, as both the Cruiser Mk VIII Challenger and Cruiser Mk VIII Cromwell tank designs experienced difficulties and delays.

After the difficult problem of getting such a large gun to fit in the Sherman’s turret was solved, the Firefly was put into production in early 1944, in time to equip Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s 21st Army Group for the Normandy landings. 

It soon became highly valued, as its gun could almost always penetrate the armour of the Panther and Tiger tanks it faced in Normandy, something no other British Army tank could reliably do at that time. 

In recognition of this, German tank and anti-tank gun crews were instructed to attack Fireflies first. 

Because the Firefly had a visibly longer barrel, crews tried to camouflage it so the tank would look like a normal 75 mm-gun Sherman from a distance. 

Between 2,100 and 2,200 were manufactured before production wound down in 1945.

Horses of World War 2

Horses in World War II were used by the belligerent nations for transportation of troops, artillerymateriel, and, to a lesser extent, in mobile cavalry troops. 

The role of horses for each nation depended on its military strategy and state of economy and was most pronounced in the German and Soviet Armies. 

Over the course of the war, both Germany and the Soviet Union employed more than six million horses.

Most British regular cavalry regiments were mechanised between 1928 and the outbreak of World War II

The United States retained a single horse cavalry regiment stationed in the Philippines, and the German Army retained a single brigade. 

The French Army of 1939–1940 blended horse regiments into their mobile divisions, and the Soviet Army of 1941 had thirteen cavalry divisions. 

The ItalianJapanesePolish and Romanian armies employed substantial cavalry formations.

Horse-drawn transportation was most important for Germany, as it was relatively lacking in natural oil resources. Infantry and horse-drawn artillery formed the bulk of the German Army throughout the war; only one fifth of the Army belonged to mobile panzer and mechanized divisions. 


Each German infantry division employed thousands of horses and thousands of men taking care of them. Despite losses of horses to enemy action, exposure and disease, Germany maintained a steady supply of work and saddle horses until 1945. 

Cavalry in the German Army and the Waffen-SS gradually increased in size, peaking at six cavalry divisions in February 1945.

The Red Army was substantially motorized from 1939 to 1941 but lost most of its war equipment in Operation Barbarossa

The losses were temporarily remedied by forming masses of mounted infantry, which were used as strike forces in the Battle of Moscow

Heavy casualties and a shortage of horses soon compelled the Soviets to reduce the number of cavalry divisions. 

As tank production and Allied supplies made up for the losses of 1941, the cavalry was merged with tank units, forming more effective strike groups. 

From 1943 to 1944, cavalry gradually became the mobile infantry component of the tank armies. By the end of the war, Soviet cavalry had been reduced to its prewar strength. 

The logistical role of horses in the Red Army was not as high as it was in the German Army because of Soviet domestic oil reserves and US truck supplies.

Smoky the Yorkshire Terrier

Smoky (c. 1943 – 21 February 1957), a Yorkshire Terrier, was a famous war dog who served in World War II. She weighed only 4 pounds (1.8 kg) and stood 7 inches (180 mm) tall. 

Smoky is credited with beginning a renewal of interest in the once-obscure Yorkshire Terrier breed.

In February 1944, Smoky was found by an American soldier in an abandoned foxhole in the New Guinea jungle. She was already a young adult Yorkie (fully grown). The soldiers initially thought the small dog belonged to the Japanese, but after taking her to a nearby prisoner-of-war camp they realized she did not understand commands in Japanese or English. Another GI then sold Smoky to Corporal William A. Wynne of Cleveland, Ohio, for two Australian pounds (equal to $6.44 at that time)—the price paid to the seller so he could return to his poker game.[2][3]

World War II

For the next two years, Smoky back-packed through the rest of the war and accompanied Wynne on combat flights in the Pacific

She faced adverse circumstances, living in the New Guinea jungle and Rock Islands, suffering the primitive conditions of tents in equatorial heat and humidity. 

Throughout her service, Smoky slept in Wynne’s tent on a blanket made from a green felt card table cover; she shared Wynne’s C-rations and an occasional can of Spam. Unlike the “official” war dogs of World War II, Smoky had access to neither veterinary medicine nor a balanced diet formulated especially for dogs.

Despite this, Smoky was never ill. 

She even ran on coral for four months without developing any of the paw ailments that plagued some war dogs.

As described by Wynne, “Smoky Served in the South Pacific with the 5th Air Force26th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron and flew 12 air/sea rescue and photo reconnaissance missions.”

On those flights, Smoky spent long hours dangling in a soldier’s pack near machine guns used to ward off enemy fighters.

 Smoky was credited with twelve combat missions and awarded eight battle stars.[6] She survived 150 air raids on New Guinea and made it through a typhoon at Okinawa.

Smoky even parachuted from 30 feet (9.1 m) in the air, out of a tree, using a parachute made just for her. 

Wynne credited Smoky with saving his life by warning him of incoming shells on an LST (transport ship), calling her an “angel from a foxhole.” 

As the ship deck was booming and vibrating from anti-aircraft gunnery, Smoky guided Wynne to duck the fire that hit eight men standing next to them.

In the down time, Smoky learned numerous tricks, which she performed for the entertainment of troops with Special Services and in hospitals from Australia to Korea According to Wynne, Smoky taught him as much as he taught her, and she developed a repertoire beyond that of any dog of her day.

 In 1944, Yank Down Under magazine named Smoky the “Champion Mascot in the Southwest Pacific Area.”

Smoky’s tricks enabled her to become a hero in her own right by helping engineers to build an airbase at Lingayen GulfLuzon, a crucial airfield for Allied war planes

Early in the Luzon campaign, the Signal Corps needed to run a telegraph wire through a 70-foot-long (21 m) pipe that was 8 inches (200 mm) in diameter. 

Soil had sifted through the corrugated sections at the pipe joinings, filling as much as half of the pipe, giving Smoky only four inches of headway in some places. As Wynne himself told the story when he appeared on NBC-TV after World War II:

“I tied a string (tied to the wire) to Smoky’s collar and ran to the other end of the culvert . . . (Smoky) made a few steps in and then ran back. `
Come, Smoky,’ I said sharply, and she started through again. 
When she was about 10 feet in, the string caught up and she looked over her shoulder as much as to say `what’s holding us up there?’ 
The string loosened from the snag and she came on again. 
By now the dust was rising from the shuffle of her paws as she crawled through the dirt and mold and I could no longer see her. 
I called and pleaded, not knowing for certain whether she was coming or not. At last, about 20 feet away, I saw two little amber eyes and heard a faint whimpering sound . . . at 15 feet away, she broke into a run. 
We were so happy at Smoky’s success that we patted and praised her for a full five minutes.”

Smoky’s work saved approximately 250 ground crewmen from having to move around and keep operational 40 United States fighters and reconnaissance planes, while a construction detail dug up the taxiway, placing the men and the planes in danger from enemy bombings

What would have been a dangerous three-day digging task to place the wire was instead completed in minutes.

After the war

When they arrived home from the war, Wynne and Smoky were featured in a page one story with photographs in the Cleveland Press on December 7, 1945.

Smoky soon became a national sensation. 

Over the next 10 years, Smoky and Wynne travelled to Hollywood and all over the world to perform demonstrations of her remarkable skills, which included walking a tightrope while blindfolded.

 She appeared with Wynne on some of the earliest TV shows in the Cleveland area, including a show of their own on Cleveland’s WKYC Channel 3 called Castles in the Air, featuring some of Smoky’s unbelievable tricks.

 Smoky performed in 42 live-television shows without ever repeating a trick. 

Smoky and Wynne were also very popular entertainers at the veterans’ hospitals.

According to Wynne, “after the war Smoky entertained millions during late 1940s and early 1950s.”

On February 21, 1957, “Corporal” Smoky died unexpectedly at the approximate age of 14.

Wynne and his family buried Smoky in a World War II .30 caliber ammo box in the Cleveland Metroparks, Rocky River Reservation in Lakewood, Ohio.

Nearly 50 years later, on Veterans Day, November 11, 2005, a bronze life-size sculpture, by Susan Bahary, of Smoky sitting in a GI helmet, atop a two-ton blue granite base, was unveiled there.

It is placed above the very spot that Smoky was laid at her final resting place.

This monument is dedicated to “Smoky, the Yorkie Doodle Dandy, and the Dogs of All Wars”

Elephants of World War 2

With the advent of gunpowder warfare in the late 15th century, the balance of advantage for war elephants on the battlefield began to change. 

While muskets had limited impact on elephants, which could withstand numerous volleys,[ cannon fire was a different matter entirely – an animal could easily be knocked down by a single shot. 

With elephants still being used to carry commanders on the battlefield, they became even more tempting targets for enemy artillery.

Nonetheless, in south-east Asia the use of elephants on the battlefield continued up until the end of the 19th century. 

One of the major difficulties in the region was terrain, and elephants could cross difficult terrain in many cases more easily than horse cavalry. 

Burmese forces used war elephants during the Battle of Danubyu during the First Anglo-Burmese War, where they were easily repulsed by Congreve rockets deployed by British forces

The Siamese Army continued utilising war elephants armed with jingals up until the Franco-Siamese War of 1893, while the Vietnamese used them in battle as late as 1885, during the Sino-French War

During the mid to late 19th century, British forces in India possessed specialised elephant batteries to haul large siege artillery pieces over ground unsuitable for oxen.

Into the 20th century, military elephants were used for non-combat purposes in the Second World War, particularly because the animals could perform tasks in regions that were problematic for motor vehicles. 

Sir William Slim, commander of the XIVth Army wrote about elephants in his introduction to Elephant Bill: “They built hundreds of bridges for us, they helped to build and launch more ships for us than Helen ever did for Greece. 

Without them our retreat from Burma would have been even more arduous and our advance to its liberation slower and more difficult.” Military elephants were used as late as the Vietnam War.

Elephants are now more valuable to many armies in failing states for their ivory than as transport, and many thousands of elephants have died during civil conflicts due to poaching

They are classed as a pack animal in a U.S. Special Forces field manual issued as recently as 2004, but their use by U.S. personnel is discouraged because elephants are endangered.

 The last recorded use of elephants in war occurred in 1987 when Iraq was alleged to have used them to transport heavy weaponry for use in Kirkuk.

A scene from the 1857 Indian Rebellion (note the sharpshooter on the elephant).

There were many military purposes for which elephants could be used. In battle, war elephants were usually deployed in the centre of the line, where they could be useful to prevent a charge or to conduct one of their own. 

Their sheer size and their terrifying appearance made them valued heavy cavalry. 

Off the battlefield they could carry heavy materiel, and with a top speed of approximately 30 km/h (20 mph) provided a useful means of transport, before mechanized vehicles rendered them mostly obsolete.

The elephant Citranand attacking another, called Udiya, during the Mughal campaign against the rebel forces of Khan Zaman and Bahadur Khan in 1567

In addition to charging, elephants could provide a safe and stable platform for archers to shoot arrows in the middle of the battlefield, from which more targets could be seen and engaged. The driver, called a mahout, was responsible for controlling the animal, who often also carried weapons himself, like a chisel-blade and a hammer. 

Elephants were sometimes further enhanced with their own weaponry and armour as well. 

In India and Sri Lanka, heavy iron chains with steel balls at the end were tied to their trunks, which the animals were trained to swirl menacingly and with great skill. 

Numerous cultures designed specialized armour for elephants, like tusk swords and a protective tower on their backs, called howdahs

The late sixteenth century saw the introduction of culverinsjingals and rockets against elephants, innovations that would ultimately drive these animals out of active service on the battlefield.

Besides the dawn of more efficient means of transportation and weaponry, war elephants also had clear tactical weaknesses that lead to their eventual retirement. 

After sustaining painful wounds, or when their driver was killed, elephants had the tendency to panic, often causing them to run amok indiscriminately, making casualties on either side. 

Experienced Roman infantrymen often tried to sever their trunks, causing instant distress, and hopefully leading the elephant to flee back into its own lines. 

Fast skirmishers armed with javelins were also used by the Romans to drive them away, as well as flaming objects or a stout line of pikes, such as Triarii

Other methods for disrupting elephant units in classical antiquity was the deployment of war pigs

Ancient writers believed that elephants could be “scared by the smallest squeal of a pig”. 

Some warlords however, interpreted this expression literally. 

At the siege of Megara during the Diadochi wars for example, the Megarians reportedly poured oil on a herd of pigs, set them alight, and drove them towards the enemy’s massed war elephants, which subsequently bolted in terror.

The value of war elephants in battle remains a contested issue. In the 19th century, it was fashionable to contrast the western, Roman focus on infantry and discipline with the eastern, exotic use of war elephants that relied merely on fear to defeat their enemy. 

One writer commented that war elephants “have been found to be skittish and easily alarmed by unfamiliar sounds and for this reason they were found prone to break ranks and flee”. 

Nonetheless, the continued use of war elephants for several thousand years attests to their enduring value to the historical battlefield commander.


Wojtek the soldier bear

n the spring of 1942 the newly formed Anders’ Army left the Soviet Union for Iran, accompanied by thousands of Polish civilians who had been deported to the Soviet Union following the 1939 Soviet invasion of eastern Poland

At a railroad station in Hamadan, Iran, on 8 April 1942, Polish soldiers encountered a young Iranian boy who had found a bear cub whose mother had been shot by hunters. 

One of the civilian refugees in their midst, eighteen-year-old Irena (Inka) Bokiewicz, the great-niece of General Bolesław Wieniawa-Długoszowski, was very taken with the cub. 

She prompted Lieutenant Anatol Tarnowiecki to buy the young bear, which spent the next three months in a Polish refugee camp established near Tehran, principally under Irena’s care. 

In August, the bear was donated to the 2nd Transport Company, which later became the 22nd Artillery Supply Company, and he was named Wojtek by the soldiers. 

The name Wojtek is the nicknamediminutive form, or hypocorism of “Wojciech” (Happy Warrior), an old Slavic name still common in Poland.

 

Wojtek play-wrestling with a Polish soldier

Wojtek initially had problems swallowing and was fed condensed milk from an old vodka bottle. He was subsequently given fruit, marmalade, honey, and syrup, and was often rewarded with beer, which became his favourite drink. 

He later also enjoyed smoking (or eating) cigarettes, as well as drinking coffee in the mornings. He also would sleep with the other soldiers if they were ever cold in the night.[ He enjoyed wrestling with the soldiers and was taught to salute when greeted. 

He became an attraction for soldiers and civilians alike, and soon became an unofficial mascot to all the units stationed nearby. 

With the 22nd Company, he moved to Iraq, and then through Syria, Palestine, and Egypt.

Wojtek copied the other soldiers, drinking beer, smoking and even marching alongside them on his hind legs because he saw them do so. Wojtek had his own caregiver, assigned to look after him. The cub grew up while on campaign, and by the time of the Battle of Monte Cassino he weighed 200 pounds (14 st; 91 kg).

Private Wojtek

 

Wojtek with artillery shell: Emblem of 22nd Artillery Supply Company

From Egypt, the Polish II Corps was reassigned to fight alongside the British Eighth Army in the Italian campaign. Regulations for the British transport ship, which was to carry them to Italy, forbade mascot and pet animals. 

To get around this restriction, Wojtek was officially drafted into the Polish Army as a private and listed among the soldiers of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company. Henryk Zacharewicz and Dymitr Szawlugo were assigned as his caretakers.

 

A standard 25-pounder ammunition crate, which held four shells

As an enlisted soldier with his own paybook, rank, and serial number, he lived with the other men in tents or in a special wooden crate, which was transported by truck. 

During the Battle of Monte Cassino, Wojtek helped his unit to convey ammunition by carrying 100-pound (45 kg) crates of 25-pound artillery shells, never dropping any of them. 

While this story generated controversy over its accuracy, at least one account exists of a British soldier recalling seeing a bear carrying crates of ammo. 

The bear mimicked the soldiers: when he saw the men lifting crates, he copied them. Wojtek carried boxes that normally required 4 men, which he would stack onto a truck or other ammunition boxes. 

This service at Monte Cassino earned him promotion to the rank of corporal. In recognition of Wojtek’s popularity, a depiction of a bear carrying an artillery shell was adopted as the official emblem of the 22nd Company.[6]


 

Wojtek in Britain after the war

After the end of World War II in 1945, Wojtek was transported to BerwickshireScotland, with the rest of the 22nd Company. 

They were stationed at Winfield Airfield on Sunwick Farm, near the village of Hutton, Scottish Borders. Wojtek soon became popular among local civilians and the press, and the Polish-Scottish Association made him an honorary member.

Following demobilisation on 15 November 1947, Wojtek was given to Edinburgh Zoo, where he spent the rest of his life, often visited by journalists and former Polish soldiers, some of whom tossed cigarettes for him to eat, as he did during his time in the army. 

Media attention contributed to Wojtek’s popularity. He was a frequent guest on BBC television’s Blue Peter programme for children.

Wojtek died in December 1963, at the age of 21. At the time of his death he weighed nearly 35 stone (490 lb; 220 kg), and was over 6 feet (1.8 m) tall.