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May 20, 1941: The Battle of Crete Begins

May 6, 2021 by | 103 Comments

The Battle of Crete began on May 20, 1941, when German forces began a massive airborne invasion of the Greek island of Crete during WWII. Thousands of German paratroopers (called Fallschirmjäger) landed on Crete, where they encountered tenacious resistance from Greek troops assisted by Allies from Britain, New Zealand, and Australia – and determined Cretan citizens. Though German forces suffered appalling losses on the first day, they later captured a key airfield, allowing a flood of German reinforcements and supplies to arrive. After days of intense fighting, Allied troops retreated to the south coast, where the British Royal Navy evacuated many to Egypt. Those left behind surrendered to Germany on June 1st. The Battle of Crete resulted in a German victory but came at a steep cost. Germany never launched a major airborne mission again.  

German paratroopers land during the Battle of Crete

In April 1941, Germany invaded the Greek mainland. After the fall of mainland Greece, Allied armies moved to Crete to reinforce the garrison on the island. The British Royal Navy dominated the sea, preventing German forces from attempting an amphibious assault on Crete. Germany responded with aerial bombing raids.

Hitler realized that if Allies held on to Crete, it could threaten Axis powers in the Eastern Mediterranean. He approved an invasion plan known as Operation Mercury. It would include 750 glider-borne troops, 10,000 paratroopers, 5,000 airlifted infantry troops, and 7,000 seaborne troops. One of the first goals was to capture Maleme Airfield. This would allow Germany to bring in additional reinforcements and supplies.

Crashed German glider with two of its occupants lying dead (photo from Imperial War Museum)

As Nazi officials planned the invasion, they were unaware that Allies had intercepted German intelligence from decrypted messages from the Enigma machine. Allies knew about Germany’s invasion intentions and began to make defensive preparations.

Record for German soldier killed on Crete

On the morning of May 20th, the invasion began. Allies were ready and waiting as thousands of paratroopers dropped from the skies. They became targets, with many dying before reaching the ground. German losses were huge, and by the end of the first day, it appeared that Allied troops would successfully repel the invasion. However, a series of communication failures and tactical errors allowed Germany to take Maleme Airfield on the second day of fighting, and the tides began to turn in Germany’s favor.

German troops pushed forward with a strong offensive while Allies put up a tenacious defense. Joining Allies was a strong civilian resistance force. The determined civilian defense surprised Germany and later led to brutal reprisals.

After days of punishing losses, Allies retreated across the mountains and towards the south coast. Over the next four nights, the Royal Navy evacuated some 10,500 troops to Egypt. Some of those troops died en route to Egypt during a Luftwaffe attack. On June 1st, most of the remaining soldiers surrendered to Germany. A small minority fled into the mountains and joined the local resistance.

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Crete or other WWII battles, search Fold3® today!

Newly Added Unit History for the 96th Bomb Group!

April 26, 2021 by | 36 Comments

We’re pleased to announce that we’ve added records for the 96th Bomb Group to our archives. The 96th Bomb Group was part of the United States 8th Air Force and flew B-17 Flying Fortresses with a Square-C tail marking. They flew 324 missions across occupied Europe during WWII and received two Distinguished Unit Citations.

413th Bomb Squadron, 96th Bomb Group

During WWII, the US determined that it needed to beef up the Army Air Force in the European Theatre of Operations. The 96th Bomb Group, organized in the summer of 1942, was activated at Army Air Force Base in Salt Lake City. Many of the initial recruits came from Salt Lake City and Boise. Additional members joined the Group, and after training, the 96th was deployed to Europe in three phases.

Crew from the 339th Bomb Squadron

This Unit History contains microfilm from the Air Force Historical Research Agency. Some of the images are of poor quality, but to provide the most accurate and archival record, we’ve included every page of the film. The reels of microfilm are organized by date and include groupings for the squadron, group records, mission reports, and operations reports. You’ll find squadron diaries for the 337th Bomb Squadronthe 338th Bomb Squadron, and the 339th Bomb Squadron. The records also document awards, such as when members of the 413th Bomb Squadron received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

B-17 Bomber “Ole Puss” and crew

This collection also contains details about different bombing missions, like this summary of missions from the 338th Bomb Squadron, crew rosters from the 339th Bomb Squadron, and reports on injuries and fatalities.

The 96th Bomb Group received two Distinguished Unit Citations. The first was awarded for bombing an aircraft factory on August 17, 1943, in Regensburg. They received the second citation for assisting the 45th Bomb Wing in bombing aircraft components factories in Poznan on April 9, 1944. Before the war ended, the 96th Bomb Group lost 938 men, flew 8924 sorties, and lost 206 aircraft.

To learn more about the 96th Bomb Group, search this new collection on Fold3® today!

These Walls Do Talk: Civil War Signatures Discovered Beneath Layers of Wallpaper and Paint

April 15, 2021 by | 135 Comments

In late 1861, Federal troops seized Beaufort, South Carolina, and occupied the city. Homes and other buildings abandoned by fleeing South Carolinians were commandeered. Officials turned 15 buildings into Union hospitals. One hospital was in a home belonging to one of Beaufort’s wealthiest citizens. To pass the time, soldiers doodled pictures and signed their names on the mansion’s plaster walls.

Civil War soldiers’ graffiti covers hospital wall

Over time, layers of wallpaper and paint covered the old plaster. When the home underwent historic preservation, the current owner made a remarkable discovery. The Civil War-era graffiti, now well over a century old, was still intact. Each uncovered signature tells a story. These soldiers were young and old. They came from all walks of life and for a moment in the early 1860s, their paths converged in a Beaufort Union hospital. Here are a few of their stories:

Charles Littleton Drum Corps

Charles H. Littleton served in the Pennsylvania 50th Regiment, Company F. He was born in Petersburg, Pennsylvania, the oldest son of immigrant parents. On September 28, 1861, 15-year-old Charles enlisted as a musician and drummer boy. He was described as 5’6” tall, with fair skin, blue eyes, and light hair. While sailing to Beaufort, 500 soldiers from the 50th were aboard the steamer Winfield Scott when she encountered a gale off the coast of North Carolina. Newspaper reports of the incident describe a mad scramble to toss everything overboard, including guns, knapsacks, and even overcoats. The soldiers frantically bailed water as the masts cracked and water poured in. Somehow, all survived, and Littleton made it to Beaufort.

At some point, Littleton was injured and wound up in the hospital, where he etched his name on the wall. After recovering sufficiently, Littleton reenlisted with the Kentucky 55th Regiment, Company F, in the Drum Corps. He suffered from numerous health issues, possibly tied to his original injury. After the war ended, Littleton married Caroline Able, and she gave birth to their daughter in 1868. Caroline died in 1892, and Littleton’s health challenges continued. By 1910 he was admitted to a Soldier’s Homes for the disabled. On December 12, 1912, Charles Littleton passed away in Marion, Indiana, at age 64. He is buried in the Marion National Cemetery.

James Valentine

James H. Valentine was born June 4, 1839, in Lancashire, England. He immigrated to the United States with his family, settling in Westerly, Rhode Island. On February 11, 1862, Valentine enlisted in the Third Rhode Island, Company A. His regiment was reorganized as The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery at Hilton Head, South Carolina, in December 1861. The regiment saw service in South Carolina and Florida. While serving in South Carolina, Valentine was injured and sent to a Union hospital where he added his name to the hospital wall on June 10, 1862. In a book entitled Shot and Shell: The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, the author describes hospitals in Beaufort.

“Hospitals are essential accompaniments of armies; and we had excellent ones in the Department of the South. Those in Beaufort were large, airy, private residences that had been abandoned by their rebel owners, and were well supplied with stores, medical officers, and attendants.”

Valentine was discharged on February 11, 1865, at Hilton Head. He returned to Westerly where started his career as a house painter. He married Betsey Warren Burdick and in 1910, his census records show that he is living with Betsey and an adopted son. James died May 23, 1915, in South Kingstown, Rhode Island.

Paul Brodie

Paul Brodie was born on February 28, 1839, in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland. Brodie and his family immigrated to the United States and settled in New York. In 1860, Brodie was living with his family and working as a stonecutter when he enlisted as a private in the New York 79th Infantry, Company F, on May 13, 1861. The 79th was comprised primarily of Scottish immigrants. The regiment received permission to wear traditional Scottish-style uniforms which consisted of tartan trousers, Glengarry bonnets, and kilts for military parades. They became known as the 79th Highlanders. By early December 1861, the Highlanders occupied Beaufort. Brodie received several military promotions during the war. He transferred to the Signal Corps and was eventually named Major Brevet. He received commendations for gallant and meritorious service.

In 1863, the newspaper The New South reported that Brodie was aboard the USS Pawnee when Confederate forces opened fire on the ship at close distance. Brodie was injured in the shoulder but continued to mount a defense. This may be the injury that landed Brodie in the hospital in Beaufort where he added his name to the wall. Following the war, Brodie was honorably discharged but stayed in Beaufort. He began a career as a draftsman and architect and continued to work for the government in the Department of the South. Brodie left Beaufort sometime around 1886. In 1888 he married Emma Esher in Philadelphia. They moved to Washington, D.C., where Emma gave birth to their son Ralph Brodie in 1889. Brodie continued to serve in government posts and was active in the G.A.R. He died in 1898 in Washington, D.C. Following his death, newspapers reported legal challenges to his pension benefits. Investigations revealed that Brodie married three times, and never legally divorced his second or third wife. The court ruled that all benefits belonged to his son. Brodie is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Franklin Wise

Franklin Wise was born in France in 1833. He immigrated to America and enlisted in the Pennsylvania 50th, Company F, on April 20, 1861. He listed his occupation as a boatman. His whole company was discharged after three months of service, and Wise reenlisted in the Pennsylvania 50th, Company C. He served in Beaufort, where according to military records, he received a significant wound. During his hospital stay, he added his name to the wall. On January 27, 1863, the surgeon discharged Wise for disability. In 1875, records show Wise still recovering in a soldier’s home in Dayton, Ohio, with no known relatives listed. In 1889, Wise married Elizabeth Ann Hayes in Licking, Ohio. In the 1890 Veteran’s Schedule, Franklin was living in Licking, and in 1891, Elizabeth gave birth to their son. In the 1900 and 1910 census records, Wise no longer lived with his wife and son. Franklin Wise died of pancreatic cancer on February 27, 1916, in Licking, Ohio

John Couhig

John Couhig (also known as John Cowhig) was born about 1835 in Ireland. At age 20, he immigrated to New York, and on May 13, 1861, enlisted as a private in the New York 79th Infantry, Company I (the Highlanders). Early in 1862, his regiment took part in the expedition to Port Royal Ferry. Couhig received an injury and spent time recovering in the hospital. While there, he scrawled “John Couhig Staten Island” on the wall. Couhig was released from the hospital and by September 1862, his regiment traveled to Sharpsburg, Maryland. Couhig participated in the Battle of Antietam and was killed on September 17, 1862. He is buried in the Antietam National Cemetery.

The plaster wall inside the old Union hospital contains many more names. Some are faded beyond recognition, and others contain soldier’s stories just waiting to be rediscovered. To begin your Civil War discoveries, search Fold3® today!

April 12, 1861: The Civil War Begins

April 1, 2021 by | 87 Comments

On April 12, 1861, Confederate troops fired the opening shots of the Civil War at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. This month marks the 160th anniversary of the beginning of the war, the deadliest conflict ever fought on American soil. The Civil War lasted four years and resulted in an estimated 620,000 deaths and 1.5 million casualties. Approximately one in four soldiers that went to war never came back home. This impacted families, communities, and the entire country for generations to come.

Historical photograph of Fort Sumter

The years leading up to the beginning of the Civil War were filled with increasing tensions between northern and southern states. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president by a strictly northern vote. The election was the impetus for southern states, who were already wrangling with the North on issues like slavery, states’ rights, and westward expansion, to begin the process of secession. Four days after the election, South Carolina Senator James Chesnut resigned his Senate seat and began drafting secession documents. Before long, six more states joined South Carolina to form the Confederate States of America on February 8, 1861. That number increased to 11 states after the fall of Fort Sumter. Four border states (Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri) held enslaved persons but remained loyal to the Union.

Exterior view of Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter, originally built as a coastal garrison, was located at the entrance to Charleston Harbor. Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard, from the newly formed Confederate States Army, demanded federal officials turn over the fort. He claimed the fort was located in Confederate territory and thus belonged to the South. The North refused and made attempts to send a ship to resupply the fort. The ship was turned away by Confederate guns.

Tensions grew, and Beauregard finally sent US officials an ultimatum – abandon the fort or face destruction. At 4:30 a.m. on April 12th, some 500 soldiers from the South Carolina Militia opened fire on 80 Federal soldiers inside the fort. The bombardment continued for 34 hours until the afternoon of April 13th, when the garrison commander, Major Robert Anderson, surrendered the fort. Though there were no fatalities on either side during the Battle of Fort Sumter, the conflict marked the beginning of more than 10,000 military engagements that occurred between 1861-1865.

Interior View of Fort Sumter

Fold3® has an extensive collection of Civil War records including:

  • Brady Civil War Photos: The Civil War is considered the first major conflict to be photographed extensively. Mathew Brady led a photography team that captured images of the war using a mobile studio and darkroom. 
  • Civil War Maps: This collection of 2,000 detailed battle maps provides insight into Civil War engagements. Some maps show the placement of regiments and the movement of troops.
  • Civil War “Widows Pensions” Files: Only 20% of Civil War pension files are digitized, but if you are lucky enough to find the pension file for your ancestor, you’ll uncover a treasure trove of information.
  • Civil War Service Records: We have service records for both Union and Confederate troops. These records are organized by state.
  • Service Records for US Colored Troops: Approximately 179,000 Black men served in the US Army and another 19,000 in the US Navy. Despite facing racism and discrimination, the US Colored Troops served with valor and honor. These records are organized by regiment.
  • Southern Claims Approved: After the war, the US government established the Southern Claims Commission. This office accepted petitions for compensation for items taken by Union troops during the war.

In addition to these collections, Fold3 has more than 150 additional collections that contain 43 million Civil War records. Start searching our Civil War collection today on Fold3®.

Bring the Buffalo Soldiers Home

March 22, 2021 by | 112 Comments

The 92nd Infantry Division, also known as Buffalo Soldiers, was the only Black infantry division to see combat in Europe during WWII. They served as part of the U.S. Fifth Army in Italy’s Po Valley and the northern Apennine Mountains, where they helped penetrate the Gothic Line (Germany’s last major line of defense against Allied forces pushing north). The division paid a heavy price, losing an estimated 700 soldiers. To date, 50 soldiers from the 92nd remain unaccounted for, and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) would like to use DNA analysis from surviving family members to identify them. We’re teaming up with the DPAA to help spread the word and track down the families of these fallen soldiers. Let’s honor the sacrifices of the 92nd Infantry Division and help bring them home!

Soldiers from the 92nd Infantry Division

To positively identify the missing members of the 92nd, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) started the “92nd Infantry Project” in 2014. Of the 53 soldiers unidentified at the end of the war, 50 are still unaccounted for. One major obstacle that stands in the way of positive identification is family reference DNA samples.

The 92nd Infantry Division was a segregated division of primarily white officers and Black enlisted soldiers. They fought in WWI, and following the war, the division was deactivated. About 10 months after America entered WWII, the division was reactivated again. Soldiers received training at Fort Huachuca in Arizona before deploying to Italy in July 1944. They saw significant action against German troops with offensive campaigns in the Serchio River Valley and Massa. They participated in Operation Fourth Term in February 1945 and liberated the cities of La Spezia and Genoa in April.

Two soldiers from the 92nd received Medals of Honor, Vernon J. Baker, and John R. Fox. Vernon Baker served in the 380th Infantry Regiment and displayed extraordinary heroism at Castle Aghinolfi in the Apennine Mountains. The Castle was a German strongpoint and Baker and about 25 men were within 250 yards of the ancient fortress when Baker noticed two cylindrical objects pointing out of a slit in the mountain. He crawled up to them and stuck his M-1 rifle into the slit and fired, killing the occupants of the observation post. Next, he came upon a well-camouflaged machine-gun nest and killed both enemy soldiers. Baker’s heroics continued and he destroyed three machine-gun positions, an observation post, a dugout with enemy soldiers, and nine of the enemy. Initially, he was denied the Medal of Honor because the Army refused to award the honor to Black soldiers. Later, he became one of seven Black WWII soldiers that received the Medal of Honor when President Bill Clinton recognized their achievements in 1997.

92nd Infantry Division in the Po Valley

John R. Fox served with the Cannon Company of the 366th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Division.  On December 25, 1944, enemy soldiers dressed in civilian clothes infiltrated the Italian town of Sommocolonia. Fox was serving as a forward observer with the 598th Artillery Battalion and stayed behind when the enemy unleashed a heavy barrage, forcing US troops to withdraw. He remained on the second floor of a house, directing defensive artillery fire. The enemy advanced towards the house as Fox called in adjustments. Realizing that another adjustment might bring fire down upon him, he went ahead and called for artillery fire. Later, after a counterattack, American troops retook the position and found Fox’s body along with the bodies of some 100 German soldiers. His courageous actions at the cost of his own life earned him a posthumous Medal of Honor, also awarded by President Clinton, in 1997.

Baker and Fox represent just two of the heroic soldiers from the 92nd. The DPAA hopes to honor the sacrifice of each unknown soldier from this division. There are currently 51 unknown soldiers buried in the Florence American Cemetery that may be associated with casualties from the 92nd Infantry Division. The Army Casualty Office would like to find family members of the 92nd to request a DNA sample. The task has proven challenging because many families relocated after the war, and surviving family members sometimes distrust the government. The wounds of racial discrimination run deep and are still healing. Identification of unaccounted soldiers can’t correct the injustice but does allow their families, and the country to honor their service and pay tribute to their sacrifice.

Officers examine maps near the Arno River

The Armed Forces Medical Examiner System (AFMES) is the agency charged with collecting the DNA samples. They operate under strict laws that prevent any misconduct, and results are kept in a secure AFMES database. The collected DNA samples are only used to identify fallen heroes.

If you are the family of someone unaccounted for from the 92nd Infantry Division, please contact the Army Casualty Office at (800) 892-2490 to arrange to give a DNA sample. To learn more about the 92nd Infantry Regiment, search Fold3® today.

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

March 1, 2021 by | 74 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 | 128 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!