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July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme

July 1, 2019 by | 82 Comments

The Battle of the Somme, also known as the Somme Offensive, was the first great offensive of WWI and one of the bloodiest battles in history. It was fought July 1 – November 18, 1916, along a 25-mile front near the Somme River in France. The first two weeks of the Battle of the Somme are known as the Battle of Albert. On the first day of the Battle of Albert, British forces sustained 57,000 casualties with more than 19,000 deaths. It was the deadliest one-day loss in British military history. The losses of the first day were a precursor of what was to come in the following months.

Trench Warfare During the Battle of Somme

During 1914-1915, with Allied forces bogged down in a stalemate of trench warfare, plans were made for a big push on the Western Front. The British and French agreed to launch a joint offensive, but the Germans struck first with an attack on Verdun requiring all available French reserves for defenses. The British would need to lead the joint offensive and relieve pressure on French troops. The area along the Somme River was chosen because it was the meeting place of British and French troops.

The Battle of Albert was the first major battle of Britain’s new and inexperienced volunteer army. A wave of patriotism had spurred thousands to enlist in Pals battalions in 1914-1915. Pals battalions were made up of family, friends, and co-workers from the same community. After training, many of those battalions would see their first combat experience at Somme.

For a week leading up to the offensive, British forces carpeted Germany’s strong defensive lines with 1.6 million shells. They also planted explosive mines under enemy strongpoints. The bombardment was less than effective, and the depth of German trenches meant that German soldiers were more or less protected from the onslaught. That combined with inexperienced troops, faulty shells, and a shortage of guns left British troops vulnerable. German forces had constructed formidable trenches protected by machine gun positions and bands of barbed wire to protect the line from attack.

British 8-inch Howitzer Mk V used during the Battle of Albert

On the morning of July 1st, British forces began the attack north of the river. At the same time, the French attacked from the south. German defenses had not been sufficiently neutralized and as densely packed British troops entered no-man’s land many were mowed down by machine gun fire. French troops faced lighter opposition and made deeper advances, but overall the day was a failure. Allies gained just three square miles of territory and the intense offensive would go on another four months.

Mechanics dismantle an Albatros C.III 2-seat biplane brought down during the Battle of Somme

The Battle of the Somme relied on methods of modern warfare including aircraft, heavy artillery, machine guns, mortars, spray chemical weapons, and flamethrowers. The very first tanks were used in the Battle of the Somme on September 15, 1916.

When the Battle of the Somme finally ended on November 18, 1916, more than a million soldiers from the British, German, and French armies were wounded or killed. The casualty rate for Pals battalions meant that individual communities experienced significant losses. Would you like to learn more about the Battle of the Somme and other World War I battles? Search Fold3 today!

New Naval Records on Fold3!

June 24, 2019 by | 19 Comments

We have added a new collection of naval records to our archives! The Navy Officers’ Letters 1802-1884 is a collection of letters to the Secretary of the Navy from officers assigned to naval ships, stations, and Navy bureaus.

The letters contain routine personnel matters such as duty assignments, leave or furloughs, desertions, resignations, court-martials, and other administrative issues. The collection is organized by year and then alphabetically by sender. The letters offer a glimpse into military history and provide valuable genealogical records for ancestors that served in the Navy.

The USS Chesapeake is captured by the HMS Shannon

During the War of 1812, the USS Chesapeake was captured by British forces in a battle with hundreds of casualties including the death of Captain James Lawrence. Surviving soldiers were taken prisoner and sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia. George Budd penned this letter while imprisoned in Halifax, “The unfortunate death of Captain James Lawrence and Lieutenant Augustus C. Ludlow has rendered it my duty to inform you of the capture of the late United States Frigate Chesapeake.” Budd detailed the battle in his correspondence.

In this letter dated just two weeks after the Civil War began, US Navy Gunner James D. Borton from Gallipolis, Ohio, writes, “The excited state of the country, and my desire to be actively employed prompt me to write to you respectfully requesting that I may be ordered to some vessel as soon as possible.”

In 1862 during the Civil War, the USS Westfield participated in a blockade and assault on the city of Galveston. In early January 1863, a Confederate attack caused her to run aground on a sandbar. Rather than be captured, her crew destroyed the ship. In this letter, the Westfield’s paymaster struggled to organize payroll for the sailors who’d served on the ship because so many records were destroyed. “All their accounts can be made up, but all other matters are in a confused state, and it will take some time for me to ascertain whether I can do anything with them.”

Also contained in this collection are letters that document historical accomplishments of the era. This letter dated January 23, 1847, to President James K. Polk, announced the inaugural launch of the steamer mail ship Washington. It reads, “I have the honor to inform your Excellency that the Washington, the first mail steamer, will be launched on Saturday, the 30th of January at 9:00 A.M. It would afford the undersigned as well the builder of this noble ship much satisfaction if your Excellency will honor the occasion of putting afloat the first sea steamer with your presence.”  The Washington carried letters across the Atlantic to Europe.

Letter to President James K. Polk

Get started searching this new collection of naval records today!

World War II Nose Art

June 5, 2019 by | 59 Comments

During WWII, members of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) flew countless missions in aircraft adorned with art on the fuselage. Although not specifically sanctioned by military officials, the practice of painting and personalizing aircraft was widely popular and seen as a way to boost morale. The images were painted both by hired professionals and enlisted soldiers who were amateur artists. The paintings were usually found near the nose of the aircraft and are known as nose art.

Bomber crews developed tight bonds with one another and with their aircraft. Everyone knew the dangers of bombing runs, and each mission brought the possibility that it could be the last. Nose art was a safe way to bring a bit of levity and comradery to the stresses of war. These paintings often featured good luck images, names of loved ones or towns back home, pin-up girls, and cartoon characters.

We’ve searched our photo archives to bring you just a few examples of nose art from WWII:

Crew members of Consolidated B-24 “Little Joe,” participated in the bombing mission over Balikpapan, Borneo
The coming monsoon season in the India-Burma Theater doesn’t worry the crew of “Calamity Jane”
The lead crew on a bombing mission to Hamburg, Germany pose beside their B-17 Flying Fortress, “The 8 Ball”
Crew of the “Rangoon Rambler” in India
Crew of the 323rd Bomb Squadron, 91st Bomb Group in front of their B-17 Flying Fortress “Stric Nine”
The combat crew of the 93rd Bomb Group “Exterminator,” a Consolidated B-24 Liberator
The “Meat Hound” B-17 Flying Fortress
Crew poses in front of “Celhalopdos,” a Consolidated B-24 Liberator
Lead Crew on a bombing mission to Beaumont, France pose beside “Knock-Out Dropper,” a B-17 Flying Fortress

Cpl. Ruby I. Newell was selected as the most beautiful WAC in England in a contest sponsored by the Stars and Stripes. She stands beside “Ruby’s Raiders,” a B-17 Flying Fortress named in her honor.
The crew of the 95th Bomb Group by their B-17, “Diana,” in England

In addition to nose art, many WWII aircraft were painted with icons that symbolized missions. We’ve created a US WWII Mission Symbols key to help you decipher their meanings.

Do you want to see more examples of nose art or learn more about the crews that flew those planes? Search our WWII Photo Collection today!

D-Day 75th Anniversary!

May 31, 2019 by | 73 Comments

June 6, 2019, marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France. Codenamed Operation Overlord, D-Day was one of the largest military invasions by air, land, and sea in the history of warfare. It involved 5,000 ships, 11,000 airplanes and more than 155,000 Allied forces who landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of German-occupied France. More than 4,000 Allied soldiers died on the day of the invasion. The bold operation resulted in the liberation of France by late summer and a complete victory by Allied forces the following year.

Of the 16 million Americans who served during WWII, the US Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that less than 400,000 are still living, with 348 veterans dying each day. To honor the service and sacrifice of those veterans, Fold3 is teaming up with to allow free access to their newspaper archives from June 6-9. Search for your ancestor’s military records on Fold3, then search for their story on! There are remarkable D-Day stories like that of Navy Seaman Carl Arnold Boedecker.

Boedecker served aboard the destroyer USS Rich when it struck a mine and sunk in the ice-cold English Channel during the Normandy invasion. For 24 hours, Boedecker stayed afloat until a passing LST fished him out of the water during a recovery mission. A naval chaplain administered Boedecker his last rites when he noticed he was still breathing. He was transported to an English hospital where doctors amputated his frozen leg and set his shattered jaw. Later he was transferred to Chelsea Naval Hospital in Boston where doctors determined his second foot also required amputation.

Boedecker’s father, Alfred G. Boedecker, was determined to find the medical corpsman who saved his son’s life. All he knew was that he was from Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Alfred Boedecker contacted the Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce and with the help of newspapers and publicity, discovered that Ray L. Tinkel provided the aid that saved his son.

Doctors treated Carl Boedecker at naval hospitals and fitted him with prosthetic limbs. After being discharged, Carl worked as a journalist and later owned and operated a book store. He passed away in 2016.

Another heroic story is that of 22-year-old John Norbert Murphy. Murphy came ashore on the beaches of Normandy the morning of June 6,1944. He was a radioman and soon set up ship-to-shore communications so officers could direct the movement of troops and materials. The beach was under intense shell and machine-gun fire. At 7:00 p.m. that night, Murphy and two other men huddled in a foxhole when a German 88-mm shell landed directly in their hole and exploded. Murphy was killed instantly. Fellow soldiers described his final hours, “I saw him just before he came ashore here. He wasn’t worried. He never talked much except about his girl, Dolly, back in Kansas City, and his Dad.” Murphy’s family learned his fate about a month later when a family friend found his dog tags wired to a stake in a fresh mound of dirt in the American Cemetery in France. 

American soldiers recover the dead after D-Day

Is there a story about your veteran ancestor in the newspaper? Search their military records on Fold3 and then search to find their story.

Shot Down Over France

May 14, 2019 by | 86 Comments

On May 29, 1943, 1st Lt. Theodore “Ted” Melvin Peterson was shot down near St. Quay-Portrieux in German-occupied France. He was rescued by brave villagers and the French resistance, spent two months making his way across France, and then hiked 11 days over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain and freedom. In a remarkable twist of fate, Peterson and his rescuers would meet again in an emotional reunion 33 years later.

Theodore “Ted” Melvin Peterson

A member of the 8th Army Air Corps, 379th Bomb Group and 526th Bomb Squadron, Peterson was based out of Kimbolton Airbase near London. On the afternoon of May 29th, Peterson and his crew received mission orders. They were to fly their B-17 “Flying Fortress” and bomb the submarine pens at St. Nazaire. As they approached the French coastline, a volley of German anti-aircraft fire riddled Peterson’s plane, blowing a large hole in the wing. Several engines caught fire and they were losing altitude. Peterson ordered everyone to bail out.

As captain, Peterson was the last man out, and just 1,000 feet off the ground when he donned a parachute and jumped. “The ride to the ground took about 30 seconds. I landed by a small tree in an open field. I quickly pulled out my pocket knife and cut the shroud line. One of the procedures in attempting to escape from enemy territory is to destroy the evidence that you have landed,” said Peterson. The plane crashed into the bay moments after Peterson bailed out.

The Germans saw Peterson’s chute descending and were speeding towards his position when villagers quickly came to his rescue. They escorted him to a quiet, wooded ravine. “I had a few moments to contemplate my position. I remember being alone on my knees thanking my Father in Heaven for my life being spared,” he said. Villagers brought him a change of clothes and guided him to the center of a tall wheat field where they directed him to lie down and hide.

As darkness fell, Peterson heard the snapping twigs of someone approaching. To his surprise, a small boy about 2-years-old emerged from the wheat. He presented Peterson with a gift – a rose and a handkerchief. To the French, Peterson was a hero. The boy snuggled up next to Peterson and fell asleep.

Over the next two months, with the aid of the French underground, Peterson made his way to Paris and across France. By August, he arrived at the foothills of the Pyrenees. For 11 days, often without food or water, he was guided over the snow-packed mountains. Finally, on August 16, 1943, he made his way to Barcelona and hitched a ride on a Royal Air Force plane back to England. Peterson had become the 69th Allied aviator to escape occupied France.

Peterson’s French Identification Papers

The passing of time and the trauma of war dimmed some of Peterson’s memories. He’d returned home with the rose and the handkerchief as mementos from the war and kept them carefully stored, but had forgotten where he received them. In 1976, Peterson and his family returned to St. Quay-Portrieux. With the help of local people familiar with the Resistance, Peterson attempted to identify significant landmarks, specifically the field where he landed. Finally, at a loss, the Petersons’ pulled their car to the side of the road and got out to reevaluate. They hailed a passing truck to ask for assistance. The driver got out of the truck and immediately threw his arms around Ted in recognition, despite the many years. He said, “Do you remember my little brother, Gilbert? He came out to visit you in the field the day you were shot down. He fell asleep next to you and we searched frantically for him all night long! Did you get the rose and handkerchief my mother sent for you?” A sudden spark of memory flooded over Peterson as he remembered the boy presenting him with the gift. The two men embraced with tears streaming down both of their cheeks.

Peterson and his wife Ann in front of monument created from the propeller of his plane

As a tribute to young aviators like Peterson, the village of St. Quay-Portrieux salvaged the propeller of Peterson’s plane from the ocean floor and restored it to stand as a monument to Peterson and others who came to save France.

To learn more about WWII and aviators like Peterson, Search Fold3 today.

New States Added to WWII Draft Registration Card Collection!

April 24, 2019 by | 12 Comments

We’ve updated our WWII Draft Registration Card collection and added records from Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Washington! We now have Draft Registration Cards from 38 states or regions in this collection!

There were seven draft registration periods in the United States for World War II service. The first draft registration was held on October 16, 1940—before the United States had entered the war. Men ages 21—36 were required to register at their local draft board. The second draft registration was also held prior to the American entrance into the war, on July 1, 1941. This registration was for men who had turned 21 since the previous registration date nine months earlier.

The third (February 16, 1942) and fifth (June 30, 1942) registration periods expanded the ages required to register; the age ranges for the third were extended to 20–21 and 35–44, while the fifth extended them to ages 18–20. The sixth registration (December 10–31, 1942) was for men who had turned 18 since the fifth registration six months prior. There was also a seventh registration, known as the “Extra Registration,” from November 16 to December 31, 1943, which was for American men ages 18–44 who were living abroad.

The cards from the fourth registration (April 27, 1942; for men ages 45–64) are not included in the WWII Draft Registration Cards but in Fold3’s WWII “Old Man’s Draft” Registration Cards collection.

Information on the WWII Draft Registration Cards may include the man’s name, address, telephone number, age, place of birth, country of citizenship, name and address of the person who will always know the registrant’s address, employer’s name, place of employment, and a description of the registrant.

Pictured below is the draft card for Army Pfc. Clifford M. Mills. He served in the 319th Glider Field Artillery Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division. In September 1944, Mills was reported MIA in the vicinity of Wyler and Zyfflich, Germany. For more than 75 years, his remains were unaccounted for until January 2019, when they were identified in Belgium. He was returned to his hometown and buried in Troy, Indiana

Search our Fold3 WWII Draft Registration Card collection today!

May 15, 1862: The Battle of Drewry’s Bluff

April 22, 2019 by | 74 Comments

On May 15, 1862, the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff, also known as the Battle of Fort Darling, was fought between Union and Confederate forces at a sharp bend on the James River near Richmond, Virginia. Union forces were stationed aboard warships in the river and Confederate forces were high on a fortified bluff.

Richmond was the Confederate capital and vulnerable to attack by the Union Army on land, and by the Union Navy through the navigable James River. In March 1862, Confederate Captain Augustus H. Drewry ordered the construction of fortifications and the installation of large guns on his property, which was on a 90-foot bluff above the James River, and just seven miles from Richmond.

C.S.S. Virginia

Early in May, Norfolk fell to Union forces and the Confederate ship C.S.S. Virginia, took refuge to avoid capture. This left the James River at Hampton Roads exposed and open to Union warships. At Drewry’s Bluff, Confederate forces filled the river with underwater obstructions including debris, sunken steamers, and pilings to prevent Union ships from reaching Richmond. Then they took up defensive positions in the fort and along the banks.

A detachment of Naval vessels took advantage of the open waterway and made a push for Richmond. The USS Monitor and USS Galena, and gunboats Aroostook, Port Royal, and Naugatuck steamed up the James River. As they approached the bend at Drewry’s Bluff, they encountered the obstacles and anchored just below the fort. The Galena opened fire and the Confederates responded. Armor piercing shots penetrated the Galena causing extensive damage. The Monitor’s armor was much thicker, allowing for the shots to ricochet off, but her rotating guns were not able to raise at an angle high enough to fire on the fort. The gunboats encountered problems too. The Port Royal was hit below the water line and the Naugatuck’s gun burst. For more than three hours of intense fire, the Galena took the brunt of the attack.

USS Monitor

U.S. Marine John F. Mackie was aboard the Galena and watched as one by one, the naval gun crew was either wounded or killed. Mackie commanded a dozen Marines on the gun deck and led his men to take over operation of the guns. For his “gallant conduct and services,” President Abraham Lincoln later bestowed the Medal of Honor upon Mackie. He is the first marine to receive that honor.

With Galena’s ammunition running low, the Union fleet eventually retreated. Union troops counted 27 casualties, including 14 dead. Confederate casualties were 15, with seven dead. The Confederates successfully prevented the Union Navy from reaching Richmond. To learn more about the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff and other Civil War battles, search Fold3 today!