Mystery WWII Concentration Camp Liberation – Research Help Needed!


Hey PortraitofWar followers! I recently acquired an incredible grouping of photographs taken by a US soldier during the liberation of a concentration camp/labor camp during the tail end of WWII. There’s not much to go by in terms of identifiable visuals, but there are images of German military officers marching in line to view the bodies, as well as a liberated person in front of a T28E1 US tracked anti-aircraft gun. Additional photographs show an American officer speaking to a line of US soldiers passing before a group of bodies.

 

Any thoughts or ideas? I hope to pass these on to an organization that can present and appreciate them, but I want to identify the material before doing so.

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A liberated prisoner tries on shoes for the first time in years

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The American T28E1

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A German collaborator? Commandant?

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German officers pass through the line

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US officers speak

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US officers speak

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Revolutionary Dreams: Can New England Raise the Spitfire?


As many followers will realize, I only deal with WWI and WWII situations with very limited deviation. In tonight’s case I was bombarded with questions from friends, colleagues and familiars in regards to the raising of the Revolutionary War ship, the Spitfire.

After chatting with the men and women involved in the cultural resource management team,

A gunship that sank during battle more than two centuries ago might finally be resurfaced from the depths of Lake Champlain and put on display.

On Oct. 11, 1776, the British and the United States fought what is considered the first naval battle of the Revolutionary War  — the Battle of Valcour Island.

The U.S. was led by Benedict Arnold, and even though the U.S. lost the actual battle, it ended up being strategic in the long run because the U.S. fleet stalled British plans to advance.

Most of the 16 U.S. ships in the battle sank. About 20 years ago, one of the gunboats in that battle, the Spitfire, was discovered intact on the bottom of Lake Champlain.

VPR spoke to Art Cohn, co-founder of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and principal investigator of the Spitfire since its discovery, about the plan to raise the ship and why people should care about old sunken boats.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. Listen to the full interview above.

VPR: Tell us about the Spitfire. How big was this boat and what shape was it in when you discovered it?

Cohn: “The Spitfire was one of eight ‘Philadelphia-class,’ we call it, gunboats: 54 feet long, three heavy cannon, eight swivel guns [and] a complement of 45 men. It was a classic battleship, small in scale for its times.

“And so it and the other American vessels fought the British at Valcour Island for five and a half hours, and the only reason they stopped was because it got too dark to see each other.

“And so as the British pulled back and blockaded, Benedict Arnold realized he could not sustain the engagement. And so he hatched a plan, very bold: He was going to row his fleet single file, with muffled oars and a shrouded light in the stern of each vessel, and so they could try to sneak past that British blockade that was set up specifically to stop them. And they pulled it off.

“But in the middle of the night, as they rowed south toward the protection of Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence and their guns, it was discovered that two of the gunboats were so badly damaged from the battle that they could not be kept afloat.

“And one of those boats, we now know, was the gunboat Spitfire. It was abandoned by its crew in the middle of the night, went to the bottom perfectly on its bottom with its mast still standing and its bow cannons still in place – which is the way we found it 20 years ago last Tuesday.”

Is there any danger to raising the boat? What are some of the pitfalls?

“I frequently say, ‘Finding the boats is the easiest thing we get to do; managing the boats is complicated.’

“And so as part of that due diligence management plan – so we found this boat, it’s intact on the bottom of Lake Champlain, it’s in a relatively stable environment. Is it OK there? Is that the best place for this boat? If the boat could speak would it say ‘Look, just take a deep breath and let me relax here for another hundred years’ or is there something else going on?

“We know that this boat, even at its great depth, will soon be completely encrusted by quagga mussels. That will ultimately increase the destabilization and degradation of the iron fastenings that hold this boat together.” – Art Cohn, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum co-founder

“And unfortunately we have determined through a separate study, done with the University of Vermont School of Natural Resources, that the mussels that will encrust this boat – it’s not encrusted yet, but looking over to the Great Lakes, which is our little window or crystal ball into the future – we know that this boat, even at its great depth, will soon be completely encrusted by quagga mussels.

“That will ultimately increase the destabilization and degradation of the iron fastenings that hold this boat together. That’s been one of our findings. And not so far into the future, this boat is going to be a pile of lumber on the bottom, not the fabulous archeological time capsule it is for us now.”

What do you propose doing if you’re able to bring up the Spitfire successfully?

“We’re proposing building a ship conservation facility in Burlington, Vermont. That would be where the boat, if it was recovered, would go for its conservation.

“It would stay in that facility for the next 12 to 15 years undergoing this conservation treatment. The public would be invited in to see this; we would have programs and exhibits.

“And we’re also proposing that when the boat was completed, we would transfer the boat to an exhibit facility to be placed on the New York side of the lake for exhibition and interpretation of the Battle of Valcour Island in perpetuity.”

“This boat is a direct and tangible connection to 1776 and the formative moments of this country and this society evolving into the United States of America that it is today.”

How much is it going to cost to recover the Spitfire?

“We estimate over 25 years and with the things that I’ve just mentioned – the two facilities, the staff and everything that would go into this – we are estimating a high budget of $45 million.

“We have done a preliminary economic analysis study to suggest if we spent the money over time in this way, might there be some benefits, economic benefits, to the community. And right now, the strong indication is that if we invested this money in this way, we would not only save this shipwreck – we would create an economic engine for the region.”

Why should put all this time, effort and money into recovering a ship that’s over 200 years old?

“To me, the answer is ‘It’s priceless.’ This boat is a direct and tangible connection to 1776 and the formative moments of this country and this society evolving into the United States of America that it is today.

“How do we understand those principles? How do we get at those things? And I’ve been an advocate for a long time – you know, go back to the source, go back to the time period, read the letters, read the journals, read the reports. And I think it gets us a much better view of the country that has evolved and how we keep those principles alive.”

WWI Elite French Mountain Regiment Poses for a Group Photograph


eBay is a strange way to acquire antique photographs that have captured significant periods of world history. Here at PortaitofWar.com we strive to provide an interesting set of completely politically-disengaged weekly posts to highlight the importance of the first and second world war to a modern audience.

Two weeks ago I took a leap and purchased a photograph of a WWI foreign unit that  I’ve been unable to identify until tonight:

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eBay Listing Buy-it-Now listing

159 ème REGIMENT D’INFANTERIE ALPINE

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The 159th Alpine Infantry Regiment of the French Army

The photograph above depicts a 23 man group of French Chasseur Alpine soldiers with the 159th Infantry Regiment. See below for close up shots:

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The berets and insignia of the 159th

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159th

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Cuff insignia?

Norwich, Vermont Veteran Clinton Gardner’s D-Day Experience


The following post was originally written (not by me) and posted to the Dartmouth Library blog. I’m including the entirety of the post in hopes of spreading the good word about Mr. Gardner and his work during WWII.


On June 6, 1944, Clinton Gardner, Class of 1944, found himself digging a foxhole on Omaha Beach as part of the D-Day invasion of German occupied Europe. The landing area was already strewn with bodies and the Germans were raking the incoming allied forces with artillery and machine gun fire. Gardner, a Lieutenant in the artillery, was not about to move any further inland until the infantry made a hole in the German defenses, and that did not seem to be about to happen.

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Clint’s Battle Damaged M-1 Helmet w/ Hawley Liner

An incoming round suddenly exploded in front of him. His head snapped back and then a curtain of blood blinded him. In his memoir, D-Day and Beyond, Gardner recounts how he stood up and staggered toward two of his fellow officers wiping blood from his eyes. The two officers stared at him in horror. Then he reached up and felt his helmet. There was a gaping hole, large enough that he could get two hands into it. Gingerly he felt around and found that he could feel a soft, mushy surface that he assumed must be his brain. Sick and disoriented though he was, he managed to get his first aid kit out and pour sulfa powder into the hole and then stuff it full of gauze.

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A Letter Home

Unable to walk or speak properly, Gardner watched as his unit packed up and began to move inland, following the infantry who had suddenly begun to advance. The other officers told him that they would send medics back for him. He was soon alone on the beach with a handful of wounded and dying soldiers, all of whom would have been killed by German mortar fire had not a group of British troops happened along. The British moved the wounded Americans up the beach to a sheltered area among some rocks.

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Rutland Herald Article

After 23 hours wounded on the beach, a group of medics finally arrived and moved Gardner and the others to a field hospital in Vierville. There Gardner made the happy discovery that what he had felt through the gash in his helmet was not his brain, but badly lacerated scalp tissue. Though his skull was scarred, it was not broken. Getting the helmet off was another matter: it took three doctors and a fair amount of pulling and twisting as the edges had curled in and were imbedded in his scalp. Eventually Gardner was sent back to England to recover, but that was not the end of the war for him. Later he would find himself being bombed by friendly fire during Battle of the Bulge and still later he would serve as the American Commandant at Buchenwald following its liberation.

Gardner’s helmet remains, to this day, the most damaged helmet whose wearer survived his wounds.

To see Clint Gardner’s helmet or to read his letter home ask for MS-1109. A guide to the collection is available. To read his book, D-Day and Beyond, ask for Alumni G1728.

 

Collecting WWI Portrait Photos – More Than What Meets the Eye


The title idiom of this post is an apt description when it comes to the wild world of collecting World War One photography, and especially portrait/studio shots.

More than meets the eye: A hidden significance, greater than is first apparent, as in This agreement involves more than meets the eye. [Mid-1800s]

The hidden significance, as stated in McGraw Hill’s Diction of American Idioms is what makes pursuing,collecting and  sharing “lost” photos from the world wars so interesting and important to researchers. The individual men and women who lived and breathed the history of our past are often presented as watered-down versions of the average Joe or Jill of their time period. By finding, researching and publishing these photos, I hope to help the public realize that every story is worth telling, irregardless of perceived heroism involved.  In the case of this blog post, I’ve decided to pick a current (May 31st, 2017) eBay auction that will certainly meet the criteria of the Mid-1800s idiom seen above.

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May/June 2017 eBay Auction

I will post auction details  at the conclusion of this blog post, but I wanted to start with a breakdown of why this photograph will sell for hundreds of dollars more than a normal, unidentified U.S. soldier/Marine/sailor from WWI. First, lets see some of the auction details (the seller did a great job of pointing all these out and deserves credit for his research!) that make this a 10/10 snag for the lucky bidder.

What makes this a 10/10 photo for the WWI portrait collector?

  1. Photo aesthetics – The young man in the French studio photo (Carte Postale postcards are French)  is striking a casual pose with the intention of showing off multiple pieces of his uniform/accessories. He’s sporting a bold eagle/globe/anchor (EGA) insignia on his cap, a very nice privately purchased trench watch on his left hand (indicating that he’s right handed), an overseas chevron, wound chevron and a nice set of sergeant stripes on his right sleeve.
  2. Identification – The period inked identification on the bottom right hand corner gives the intrepid researcher a good place to start searching. I own dozens of shots signed in the same manner. Jos L Moody 6th Marines, ex “SS San Juan” is a good jumping off place…
  3. Written content – The back of the postcard gives a vivid description of his service time to a friend who he appears to have some strong connection to. He mentions the occasion of his wounding, his promotion of sergeant “I was made charge of Bombers” as well as an ominous mention of being “bumped off” as well as his pending commission. Further, the reverse tells us that the photo was taken and sent at least two months before the end of the war, being dated September of 1918, and therefor raises it a few notches in desirability.
  4. Research! – The most vital piece of elevating the significance of a photograph is the story behind the photo. What do all the other key elements tell you? In this case we have, with further research, a photograph of a U.S. Marine who was awarded the Silver Star for his actions at Chateat-Thierry. His Silver Star valor award reads:

    By direction of the President, under the provisions of the act of Congress approved July 9, 1918 (Bul. No. 43, W.D., 1918), Corporal Joseph L. Moody, Jr. (MCSN: 92820), United States Marine Corps, is cited by the Commanding General, SECOND Division, American Expeditionary Forces, for gallantry in action and a silver star may be placed upon the ribbon of the Victory Medals awarded him. Corporal Moody distinguished himself while serving with the 79th Company, Sixth Regiment (Marines), 2d Division, American Expeditionary Forces at Chateau-Thierry, France, 6 June – 10 July 1918

    Additionally, he is further mentioned in the unit history for the 6th Marines and some additional info can be gleaned: “The six men above {Moody included} named delivered messages through intense machine gun fire from the front line to their battalion commanders , going and returning with important messages…”

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Postcard back (officer censured)

So where does this leave us? I’ve pointed out all the salient points that make an interesting photo. But my observations don’t need to be valued in any specific way. I enjoy collecting extraordinarily interesting portraits that don’t need to include identification or a “cool story”. On the flip side, a junky shot of a well-identified soldier/Marine/sailor with a cool history won’t make me open my wallet. It’s really about what you want. Go with your gut!

Ok – so here’s my prediction based on my 10+ years of buying/selling/trading WWI portrait photos. This photograph should sell for anywhere between US $175-$275. It may go for much more if someone has Sgt. Moody’s uniform, medals or has a specific affinity for the 79th Marines. I wouldn’t be surprised if it topped $350 on a good day. Tax returns are coming in?

As of  8:00 PM Eastern Time on 5/31/2017 the bid is at $23.49. I will update the post once the auction ends.

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Here’s the address for those of you who have some cash to spend! (Also, $7.75 is a crazy price for shipping!)

http://www.ebay.com/itm/WWI-US-Marine-Silver-Star-Winner-Signed-RPPC-USMC-AEF-79th-CO-2nd-Bn-6th-Mar-/182599306597?hash=item2a83c44d65:g:5LwAAOSwblZZLgWN

Gossip Column

Los Angeles Times, April 16th, 1937

FILM PRODUCER’S EX-WIFE SUES Divorce Action Filed Against Retired Officer Faith Cole MacLean Moody, ;former wife of Douglas Mac- ‘Lean, film producer, yesterday filed suit for divorce from’ Capt Joseph L. Moody, United States Marine Corps, retired, charging , incompatibility. Capt. Moody, a brother-in-law of Helen Wills Moody, tennis star, married Mrs. MacLean in Shanghai in January, 1932, while he was stationed in China as an adjutant in charge of American shore forces during the Sino-Japanese troubles. He now is in theatrical work here. The couple separated March 19, according to the complaint filed by Attorney A. S. Gold- ‘flam. There are no children.

 

eBay Auction Result

Surprisingly enough, my estimate on the final result of the photo sale came in slightly higher than the exact average of my original estimate of $175-$275. Well, maybe it’s not that surprising given that I’ve bid on over 1,000 WWI portrait photos in the past decade….

Here’s the result! – The photo sold for $239.50 plus shipping.

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6/6/2017 Final Price

 

Wounded WWI AEF Chaplain Poses in French Studio – Can We Identify Him?


It is never easy to identify someone from a photograph taken nearly 100 years ago, but it’s even more difficult solely based on obscure details from his/her clothing. In today’s blog post I will focus on a photograph purchased on eBay from a fantastic seller named Colleen ( eBay name: cacdivi) who recently sold me a superb French real photo postcard of an American chaplain posed in a studio during World World I (WWI). Here’s the shot:

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Wounded American Chaplain in WWI

The scene is fairly typical of what was common of the time period: WWI soldiers/sailors/marine/nurses posed in photo studios in far off places in order to document their experiences to send to relatives and friends. In this case, a currently-unidentified US chaplain (see the crucifix on his shoulder and cap?) strikes a chin-up pose for a French photographer. How do we know that the photo was taken in France?

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French Postcard Paper

French postcard paper during WWI almost always contains a central vertical dividing mark with CARTE POSTALE emblazoned across the top. I’ve noted a fair number of varieties likely due to differences in production, but the main bulk of French postcard paper of the period look very similar to the above scan.

 

Dissection of Photographic Context

What are we looking at? I’ve already mentioned that the man posed in the photo is a US chaplain in a French studio during the war. But what details have I been pondering while waiting for the photo to arrive in my mailbox? (Thanks to Colleen – you rock!)

  1. The chaplain has served at least six months in Europe

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    His Left Sleeve (6th Months Overseas Service) Right Sleeve (Wound Chevron)

  2. He was wounded or gassed at least once during his service

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    His Right Sleeve: Wound Chevron

  3. The photo was likely taken during wartime (before the armistice)
  4. He is oddly sporting a mustache and goatee

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    Rarely Seen Facial Hair in WWI

  5. He is wearing an identification bracelet made in France

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    WWI Bracelet Made in France

Why is a photograph of a wounded chaplain posed in a wartime studio worthy of devoting hours of research to? According to a website devoted to military chaplains, the number of wartime chaplains during WWI was incredibly low:

In 1918, Congress passed an act that called for one chaplain for every 1200 officers and enlisted men. Bishop Hayes, in a letter to Cardinal Farley, informs Farley of the current number of chaplains overseas. As of June 1918 there were 301 chaplains in the Army, 30 in the Navy, 7 with the Red Cross, 2 interpreters, and 95 volunteer or Knights of Columbus chaplains.

This photo most likely represents an Army chaplain included in the above June 1918 census: any US chaplain who served at least six months service would’ve been present in France in June of 1918. And to have been wounded or gassed, our unidentified chaplain was likely present during the earlier battles of the US involvement of the war.

Our Chaplain?

Okay, so we know our chaplain was wounded, was photographed at some point in the  spring or summer of 1918 and likely served in an Army division that arrived early (for the Americans). His identity, based on date, is narrowed down to 1 in 301 – a pretty good number when it comes to identifying a photo taken 100 years ago. Also, based on rules, he has to be less than 45 years of age.

But what was required to be a US chaplain in WWI? Before researching this photo I had no idea of the low number of volunteers or the actual requirements for acceptance. My personal photo collection contains a half dozen photos of chaplains, which is a surprisingly high number based on the scarcity of the subject matter. I was lucky to track down a copy of the rules and regs of chaplainhood here: http://archnyarchives.org/2015/11/10/military-chaplains-in-world-war-i/

Official Chaplain Requirements

Requirements for Commissioned Army Chaplaincies

  1. The law provides that no person shall be appointed chaplain in the Army who on the date of appointment is more than forty-five years of age.
  2. Applicants must be a citizen of the United States either by birth or naturalization. Must produce at examination proof of naturalization and must not have been born in enemy alien territory.
  3. Health and eyesight must be in excellent condition; if glasses are worn sight must be at least 12:20 in each eye without glass.
  4. Weight must be proportionate.
  5. Must produce an examination certificate of graduation from an approved College or Seminary which includes collegiate course. If not a graduate candidate must be prepared to stand mental test in general subjects: history, geography, arithmetic. etc.
  6. It is most desirable that each applicant write a letter addressed to the Secretary of War setting forth fully his qualifications such as experience with societies, clubs, dramatic circles, and knowledge of foreign languages. This letter must be be enclosed with application and sent to the Chaplain Bishop.
  7. Formal application must be made on regular blanks made by the War Department. These Blanks should be applied for to the Ordinariate, 142 East 29th Street, New York City.
  8. Must enclose to the Chaplain Bishop a formal letter of permission from his Ordinary.
  9. Must send a small photographic print of himself.
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1918 Chaplain Application Form

 

For now I have a good bit of information to extend my research with. Until then, stay tuned!

 

WWI Portrait Photo – Lt. Carl Wehner, 141st Infantry Regiment, KIA at St. Etienne, France


A recent eBay purchase has lead me down a warren of research avenues that are helping shed light on the American involvement at the bloody fray at St. Etienne during the Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge in October of 1918. The photo depicts Lt. Carl Wehner with the following inscription on the verso:

“141st Inf., 36th Div. Lt. Carl Wehner killed Oct. 8, 1918 by a German sniper.”

It was this writing that pushed me to purchase the photo at a reasonable $25.00 in hopes of researching and fleshing out the life of the young Lieutenant and Wisconsin native who was killed in action only days after his 26th birthday.

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Lt. Carl Wehner in France, 1918

This photo was most likely taken a month or so before his death in October, as he is sporting a 6 month overseas service chevron on his left cuff. August or September would roughly be six months after his arrival from stateside officers training. He was selected to be a Lieutenant with Company K of the 141st Infantry Regiment of the 36th Division – a unit comprised mostly of southern boys from Texas and surrounding states. Having been born in Lincoln, Kansas and spending most of his life in Madison, Wisconsin, he originally enlisted with the 32nd “Red Arrow” Division but elected to train to become an officer. At the time of his enlistment, he lived at 925 West Dayton Street in Madison.

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Carl’s WWI Draft Registration Card

And I was able to find a fascinating account of his death while commanding Company K following the death of his Captain (Source – Entry by RavenHawk)

…It was near St. Etienne, as his captain layed dead, Wehner led his unit forward, until he himself was struck in the head, by enemy gunfire, and killed. One account of the battle (perhaps a little exagerated), said: “Lieutenat Wehner died with three machine gun bullets in his forehead and a smile on his lips as he led Company K of the 141st Infantry over the top after his captain was killed by the fire of the enemy.”….In a letter signed by the Marshall Of France, Commander in Chief of the French Armies of the East, Petain, it was written: “Lt. Wehner displayed audacity and disregard of danger during the operations near St. Etienne. At the head of his men, encouraging them with his skill, he largely contributed to the success of the operations which made it possible to capture all objectives. He was killed at his post of combat.” For his bravery, Wehner was awarded the Croix de Guerre with palm for bravery….As for Wehner’s family, they didn’t find out until after Christmas, that Wehner had been killed, in battle…Wehner’s body was returned to Madison in 1921, and reburied at Forest Hill on 10/21/1921.

WWI Portrait Photo – 102nd Ambulance Company, 26th Division


This photograph is a true mystery for me. I can’t identify the sitter of this photograph even though there is so much information to work with:

  1. He’s identified on the print as Pvt. John Illiano of the 102nd Ambulance Company
  2. He’s sporting a 26th Division uniform with at least 1 1/2 years overseas service
  3. He was one of the first 100,000 US soldiers to enlist (conjecture based on star)
  4. He’s most likely from New England at the time of enlistment
  5. Probably Italian-American

I found a digital scan of this photo on War Relics Forum, a site dedicated to WWII artifact research. The OP of this photo, MD Helmets, doesn’t have any additional information but did claim he/she purchased it from Bay State Militaria back in 2013.

What do you guys think? Any leads?

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102nd Ambulance Company “Mystery Sitter”