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March 2-4, 1943: The Battle of the Bismarck Sea

March 1, 2021 by | 34 Comments

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea occurred March 2-4, 1943, when planes from the U.S. Fifth Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) attacked a convoy of Japanese ships carrying troops and supplies to Lae, New Guinea. The bombing campaign ended with the destruction of four Japanese destroyers, eight Japanese troop transport ships, 102 Japanese fighter planes, and some 3,000 enemy soldiers.

Japanese ship is crippled after Allied bomb strike

To shore up their defenses in the Southwest Pacific, the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters made plans to send a convoy of ships from Rabaul, New Britain to Lae in New Guinea. The convoy would deliver troops, supplies, and aircraft fuel to New Guinea. The convoy also presented a threat to Australia, putting it at risk for a future Japanese invasion.

Allies monitoring Japanese radio messages intercepted and decrypted information about the convoy, and they began to plan an attack. The plan of attack called for long-range heavy bombers from the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF), followed by anti-shipping aircraft from the RAAF and the USAAF once the enemy was within range. These planes would attack at medium, low, and sometimes very low (mast height) elevation.

Japanese ship burns during Battle of the Bismarck Sea

Reconnaissance planes began sweeping the South Pacific, and on March 1, they spotted a concentration of enemy ships near Rabaul. Bad weather hampered reconnaissance but on the morning of March 2nd, the weather cleared, and aircrews spotted the convoy.

The attack started with a wave of B-17s dropping 1,000 lb. bombs. Crews reported successful hits with ships burning and explosions. Japanese destroyers plucked survivors out of the water. Ships that were not disabled continued churning towards New Guinea, and on the morning of March 3rd, the convoy was in striking range of the entire Allied forces.  

A formation of Allied planes assembled over Cape Ward Hunt and attacked the convoy in three waves. The first wave involved Flying Fortresses that attacked from medium altitude, followed quickly by RAAF Beaufighters that dived to mast level, bombing and strafing the ships with machine gunfire. The third wave of bombers concentrated on sinking the ships. On March 4th, the US Navy sent patrol torpedo boats and aircraft to mop-up the operation. They engaged a Japanese sub trying to pick up survivors in the water.

Allied aircraft attack Japanese ship

The attacks sunk all eight Japanese troop transport ships, and four of the eight destroyers. Of the 6,900 Japanese troops headed to Lae, only 1,200 made it. Destroyers and submarines rescued another 2,700 and returned them to Rabaul. In a controversial move, Allies patrolled the waters for several days, strafing survivors in lifeboats. This was later justified as necessary to prevent the enemy from coming ashore.

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea was a devastating loss for Japan. Allied losses numbered four aircraft and 13 airmen. General Douglas MacArthur called it “the decisive aerial engagement of the war in the Southwest Pacific.” To learn more about the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, search Fold3 today!

Military Yearbook Collection, 1900-2011

February 23, 2021 by | 105 Comments

When researching military history, one often overlooked source is military yearbooks. Before embarking into military service, every member of the US Armed Forces received specialized training in camps, bases, and training facilities, across the country. All branches of the US military have published yearbooks. Graduates could purchase them when they completed training. Much like a high school yearbook, military yearbooks contain names, photographs, and details from a serviceman or servicewoman’s training. Fold3 has a collection of 108 military yearbooks. They contain more than 157,000 indexed names and nearly 17,000 images. These yearbooks date from 1900-2011. Here are some examples of what you might find in this collection.

Advanced Flying School, Army Air Forces (1943): Based in Phoenix, the yearbook for the Class of 1943 Aviation Cadets at Luke Field includes indexed photographs of the cadets, information about their training, recreation, and details about Chinese pilots that trained alongside them. After graduation, some of these cadets would make the ultimate sacrifice for their country. One example is Peter A. Boele. After leaving Luke Field, he was assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing, 55th Fighter Squadron. On May 25, 1944, 2nd Lt. Boele was shot down near the Netherlands and crashed into the sea. His yearbook photograph is on a page with 13 other cadets – nearly half of whom died while serving their country.

Citizens Military Training Camp (1923): Between the years 1921-1940, the military held training camps that allowed men to obtain basic military training without an obligation for active duty. This yearbook is from the Citizens Military Training Camp (CMTC) at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. In 1923, 25,000 men attended a CMTC where they trained in physical fitness, good citizenship, and the importance of serving in a time of need. This yearbook contains rosters, photographs, and histories.

US Army Training Center, Infantry (1969): Some soldiers fighting in Vietnam first attended Basic Training at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. From the moment of arrival, soldiers underwent rigorous physical and weapons training, drills, and inspections. The specialized training helped our fighting forces prepare for jungle warfare in Vietnam. This yearbook contains indexed photographs and a history of a soldier’s time spent at Fort Bragg.  

US Coast Guard Academy (1925): Located in New London, Connecticut, the Coast Guard Academy helped prepare future Coast Guard Officers. Particularly noteworthy in this yearbook is the collection of photographs and biographies for those attending the academy.

Explore our Military Yearbook Collection on Fold3. If you have a military yearbook or Unit History that you would like to donate to this collection, please contact us at [email protected]. We can digitize your book and return it to you undamaged. Help us preserve these important military records and make them available for others to explore free of charge. See our entire collection of military records on Fold3 today!  

The WWII Parachute Wedding Dress

February 17, 2021 by | 90 Comments

During WWII, resourceful brides all over the country demonstrated ingenuity, creativity, and support for the war effort by making wedding gowns out of parachutes. Fabric for bridal gowns was hard to come by, and brides learned to make do – or do without. Meanwhile, parachute makers were held to stringent standards, and if a parachute was rejected for any reason, the white nylon or silk fabric became surplus. Many brides used that surplus fabric for wedding gowns. This is the story of one WWII bride and her parachute wedding dress.

Janet Gleason

In the summer of 1942, the Navy established WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). WAVES aimed to free up men for sea duty by replacing them with enlisted women for onshore jobs. Twenty-year-old Janet Gleason from Massachusetts decided to join the WAVES. She was assigned to Joint Fort Dix Army Air Force Base in New Jersey, where she served as a Parachute Rigger Second Class.

That same summer, Idaho native Reo Arland Casper, 19, registered for the draft. Shortly after, he enlisted in the US Marines and was admitted into an elite Marine paratrooper training school. Paramarines were required to pass a strict fitness test, with 40% failing the training course. They were also prohibited from marrying. Reo was sent to Fort Dix for special training and eventually promoted to Sergeant.

Reo Arland Casper

During training, Paramarines shared the classroom with Navy WAVES. One day, during a class where students learned to fold and pack a parachute, Janet caught Reo’s eye.

The two struck up a friendship. Reo and Janet enjoyed long walks in Central Park and concerts at Radio City Music Hall. Before long, they fell in love. Reo had completed his training and was preparing to head overseas. Before graduation, he had to complete one final jump, and Janet carefully packed his chute. Reo received orders and prepared to ship out. Before leaving, he asked for Janet’s hand in marriage. They planned to wed as soon as the war was over.

Reo and Janet faithfully wrote letters and looked forward to reuniting one day. Janet’s commanding officer knew that she could not afford a wedding dress and gave her a Japanese silk parachute. The beautiful silk was the perfect fabric for a wedding gown.

Janet designed and sewed her wedding dress and then carefully packed it away, waiting for the war to end. That day finally came when Reo returned to the United States for official discharge in California on October 19, 1945. He and Janet made arrangements to reunite in his hometown in Idaho. Janet boarded a train, and after three years, the two were finally together again.

As wedding plans got underway, the couple encountered challenges when Reo’s mother objected to the wedding. She was concerned about the couple’s religious differences. Unwilling to be deterred, Reo and Janet traveled to Dillon, Montana, where they eloped on October 31, 1945. At last, Janet was able to wear the wedding gown that she meticulously designed and sewed from a parachute.

Reo and Janet were married for 58 years. She passed away in 2004 and Reo, one year later in 2005. The parachute wedding gown that Janet made is now part of the Hutchings Museum collection. To see more items from this collection, or to learn more about WWII, search Fold3.com today.

February 20, 1864: The Battle of Olustee

February 2, 2021 by | 96 Comments

On February 20, 1864, the Battle of Olustee (also known as the Battle of Ocean Pond) was fought in Baker County, Florida. It was the largest battle of the Civil War fought in Florida and involved more than 10,000 soldiers, including three regiments of US Colored Troops. When the five-hour fight was over, Confederate forces claimed victory, and Union soldiers retreated to Jacksonville, where some remained until the war ended 14 months later.

Historic lithograph depicting the advance of the 8th US Colored Troops

In late 1863, during President Abraham Lincoln’s campaign for a second term in office, Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. With several Confederate states under Federal control and needing to reorganize their governments, the President hoped the Proclamation would unify a country at war. It allowed states with at least 10% of eligible voters willing to pledge allegiance to the United States to rejoin the Union.

Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction

To secure enough loyalty oaths in Florida and form a government in time to send delegates to the 1864 party convention, Gen. Quincy Gilmore, commander of the Union Department of the South, dispatched Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour to Jacksonville. He hoped a Union incursion could cut Confederate supply lines, disrupt rail service, and recruit additional Black soldiers for the Union Army.

Seymour and his troops landed at Jacksonville on February 7th and secured the town. From there, they sent raiders inland, facing little resistance. On February 20th, 5,500 Union forces advanced toward Lake City, assuming they would only face small Florida militias. Instead, they encountered Confederate Brig. Gen. Joseph Finnegan’s 5,000 forces entrenched in open pine woods near Olustee railroad station. Finnegan had chosen an area with strong natural defenses, including Ocean Pond to the north, an impassable swamp to the south, with a narrow dry passage in between.

Joseph Finnegan

Advancing with Union troops were three regiments of Black soldiers – the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the 35th US Colored Troops, and the 8th US Colored Troops. Fighting broke out, and the intense battle raged for five hours until the Union line finally broke. Union soldiers retreated. There were some 1,800 Union casualties and 946 Confederate casualties. In proportion to the number of soldiers fighting, it was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.

Among those wounded was Corp. James H. Gooding from the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Gooding, an educated freedman, enlisted on February 14, 1863, just days after the recruiting office opened in his hometown. He had written an eloquent letter to President Abraham Lincoln in September 1863, denouncing that Black soldiers received $10 per month from which $3 was automatically deducted for clothing, while white soldiers received $13 per month with no clothing allowance withdrawn.

Grave of Corp. James H. Gooding

Gooding’s comrades thought his wound fatal and sent word of his death home. In reality, Gooding was wounded and taken captive. He was sent to Andersonville, where he died in July 1864 – one month after Congress passed a law granting equal pay to Black soldiers.

As a result of the Battle of Olustee, Confederate troops remained in control of Florida’s interior for the rest of the war, and Union troops were sent scampering back in Jacksonville. If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Olustee, search Fold3 today!

New United Kingdom WWI Pension Records Added!

January 26, 2021 by | 16 Comments

We are happy to announce our new collection of UK, WWI Pension Ledgers and Index Cards dated 1914-1923. This collection provides details of military and military-related personnel who filed for a pension following WWI. When a soldier was killed in the war, his widow and/or other dependents were also entitled to pension benefits. This collection may also contain records for fallen soldiers who were unmarried and had other next-of-kin apply for benefits.

The collection is divided into Mercantile Marine Index Cards, Naval Pensions Ledger, Pension Record Cards, and PRC Ledgers.

Mercantile Marine Index Cards contain details on pensions awarded for death or injury to a seaman on a British ship, like this one for Boatswain William Alfred Belanger. He drowned when the S.S. Van Stirum was torpedoed on Christmas Day in 1915. The index card lists his widow’s name and address, along with the date and the cause of his death.

Naval Pensions Ledger records provide details of military and military-related personnel who filed for a pension if injured or killed. This ledger also contains details about their widow, dependents, or next of kin if unmarried without children. In this example, we see the Pension Ledger for William J. Barnes. It provides the name and birthdates of his wife and their three children.

Pension Records Cards are particularly valuable for providing details on soldier’s dependents. This card for Albert Head, who went missing before being declared dead, lists his wife and four children and even includes details about when his widow remarried.

PRC Ledgers relate to British servicemen and does not extend to Empire/Commonwealth soldiers who would have received pensions from their own governments. These ledgers provide information on the types of wounds and injuries received during the war. In this example, William Tarn served in the Royal Air Force and suffered “Delusional Insanity” as a result of his service in the Great War.

Start Exploring this new collection of UK records on Fold3 today!

The Stories Behind the Stars: Uncovering Personal Stories of the WWII Fallen

January 19, 2021 by | 43 Comments

During the post-WWII era, many young boys entertained themselves playing army games. Ten-year-old Don Milne was more interested in learning about real soldiers. He devoured books about Patton, Churchill, McArthur, and Eisenhower. He particularly loved learning about ordinary Americans who served their country in extraordinary ways. Often called the Greatest Generation, Don was touched by heroic stories of the WWII fallen.

Don Milne

Don grew up and embarked on a 37-year career in the banking industry, but his love of military history continued. In 2016, he started a blog, and each day on his lunch break, he researched and wrote the story of a fallen WWII soldier. Before long, he had accumulated 1,300 stories and 1.5 million views on his blog! It seems that Don’s efforts struck a chord with others.

In 2019, Don lost his longtime job at the bank. He decided to take a leap of faith and focus full-time on research and writing. The Stories Behind the Stars (SBTS) was born. When a WWII soldier died, their family received a Gold Star Service Flag. More than 400,000 US service members died during the war, and Don wants each one remembered. To do that, he needs our help!

Today more than 700 volunteers from 49 states and 12 other countries are helping to document these stories. SBTS provides free training for anyone willing to participate. Their goal is to document every soldier lost in WWII before 2025 (the 80th anniversary of the end of the war). In about the time it takes to watch a movie, you can research and write the story of one of WWII’s fallen. Fold3 has teamed up with SBTS and will host these stories on our Fold3 Memorials, where they are preserved and available to view free of charge. Records from Fold3, Ancestry®, and Newspapers.com™ can all be attached to provide rich detail and add to the narrative. Here is an example of a completed Memorial.

One volunteer described his involvement in SBTS as “interesting and rewarding.” John Schlatter has written more than 100 stories and says that his respect for these soldiers and their families has grown immeasurably. Although John has a background in writing, he stressed that anyone can participate. “Anyone can tell a story,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. Even if you make a mistake, the families of these soldiers are just grateful that someone has remembered them.” John recalled connecting with a woman whose father died a week before she was born. Never having known her dad, she expressed gratitude for John’s efforts in remembering him.  “Thank you,” she said, “for this gift to our family.”

In addition to preserving each soldier’s story, SBTS has big plans for the future. Don envisions a day where visitors to war memorials or cemeteries can use a smartphone app SBTS is developing. The app would allow you to scan the name on a headstone and get an immediate link to that soldier’s story. He has several volunteers helping with open-source app development and database management but would welcome more help.

Would you like to get involved? Visit www.storiesbehindthestars.org to learn more. See more Memorials honoring WWII fallen soldiers on Fold3 today.

January 19, 1862: Battle of Mill Springs

January 4, 2021 by | 52 Comments

On January 19, 1862, Union troops experienced their first significant Civil War victory during the Battle of Mill Springs in Kentucky. The battle, also known as the Battle of Logan’s Cross-Roads (in Union terminology), and the Battle of Fishing Creek (in Confederate terminology), occurred in Pulaski and Wayne Counties near present-day Nancy, Kentucky. It resulted in Union troops breaking through the Confederate defensive line and opening access into Middle Tennessee.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Kentucky declared neutrality, refusing to align with either the North or the South. By late 1861, the Confederacy had established a long defensive line, running from Cumberland Gap across the southern part of Kentucky to the Mississippi River. After a failed attempt by the Confederacy to take control of the state, Kentucky threw out its neutral status and aligned with the Union. Abraham Lincoln, a Kentucky native, was reputed to have said, I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.” 

Confederate Brig. Gen. Felix K. Zollicoffer

In November 1861, Confederate Brig. Gen. Felix Zollicoffer wanted to extend the Confederate strategic defensive line by moving north and establishing his winter headquarters near Mill Springs. He hoped to shore up defenses to prevent Union troops from advancing into Middle Tennessee.

At about the same time, Union Brig. Gen. George H. Thomas was advancing towards Somerset, Kentucky (about eight miles from Mill Springs) with roughly 4,400 Union soldiers. His goal was to rendezvous with reinforcements and push the Confederates out of Kentucky.

Union Brig. Gen. George H. Thomas

Hoping to attack before reinforcements arrived, General George B. Crittenden, area commander for the Confederate army, ordered Zollicoffer and roughly 5,900 Confederate troops to advance. They started marching towards Logan’s Cross-Roads just after midnight on January 19th. Heavy rain, deep mud, and cold temperatures made the six-hour journey difficult.

At 6:00 a.m. on January 19th, with driving rain, dense fog, and limited visibility, Confederate forces attacked. Fighting was fierce and the weather added to the chaos. The Confederates achieved early success but were repelled by Union forces who had far superior weapons. During a lull in the fighting, Zollicoffer approached a Union company. Assuming they were his men, he ordered them to cease their fire. Union troops recognized his Confederate officer’s uniform and shot and killed him.

After the loss of their leader, Confederate troops became disorganized and fell back from the center of their line. As Union troops surged forward, the Confederates were defeated and forced to retreat across the Cumberland River.

The Union victory at Mill Springs resulted in an estimated 262 Union casualties (including 55 killed) and 552 Confederate casualties (including 148 killed). The battle created the first break in the Confederate defensive line that would ultimately lead to Union operations in Tennessee and Mississippi. To learn more about the Battle of Mill Springs and other Civil War battles, search Fold3 today!