Famous Bougainville Signal Corps Photo Unraveled – 754th Tank Battalion


From time to time, a certain photo in my collection will call to me from beneath a dusty pile of books and other ephemera; pulling me away from other nocturnal pursuits, I will spend hours slipping down the rabbit hole of internet research.  In tonight’s post I dissect an image I picked up in a large photo grouping from an unidentified Pacific Theater of Operations U.S Army soldier whose estate was broken up on eBay.

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This photo has taken me months to research, with new avenues of potential insight popping up at every twist and turn.  “My” version of the photo includes the portions of the negative’s border which, once deciphered, indicate the photographic unit responsible for the image.  These borders are typically not present on post-war copies of the photo, so this points towards a wartime first-generation version of the photo likely printed overseas. Additionally, later prints of the photo include inclusions and negative abrasions not present in earlier versions.

patch

What does the negative bar tell us?  For one, it gives us the number of the photographic unit responsible for the image.  The first number corresponds to the ID # for the 161st Signal Photographic Company. The 161st, as anticipated, shot still and moving images in the Pacific in WWII, working in tough weather conditions not conducive to normal photographic processing.  Through my exhaustive research, I’ve uncovered additional information about the photo not commonly known on the internet.

 

Commonly ascribed to Guadalcanal, New Guinea and other remote locations, the photo was actually taken in April (hence the 4-44 label on the negative) of 1944 on Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea during the Bougainville Campaign.  Again, commonly ascribed to a Marine unit, the soldiers in the photo are actually of the Company F, 129th Infantry Regiment of the 37th Infantry Division.

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Insignia of the 161st Photo Co.

 

The details of the photo are crisp, clear and perfectly printed with little great use of light, shadows and other atmospheric conditions in the heat of battle.  Bayonets affixed, the solders are scrambling for cover, firing and advancing behind a Sherman tank of the 754th Tank Battalion as it progresses forward through the dense jungle.  The tank at the forefront of the shot is “Lucky Legs II”, clearly a later iteration of a previously destroyed or abandoned armored vehicle. Tank and plane names were commonly derived from hometown sweethearts, pinup magazine, popular songs and movies, or unique creations.

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Notice the play of light….

What isn’t immediately clear is the reason why the star is only partially visible on the turret. Using the power of the internet, I was able to track down a military forum with some information to help……

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Lucky Legs II in action (note star)

Apparently, the tanks were covered in oiled tar to protect from rust during overseas transport.  This includes the stars, which, in this case, was still partially covered in goop during the first counterattack after receiving the M4 mediums in March of 1944.  The above forum post provides a delicious detail, one that would be almost impossible to posit, without the help of a guy who “was there.”

754th TB ($75)

754th Tank Battalion Patch

 

According to research, tanks of this new delivery were equipped with armor plate protecting the driver from shots off the starboard and port sides of the tank.  This raised area was used by tankers of the 754th to paint the tank moniker.  Another example from the same group includes the “Wild Boar.”

 

 

Further distinguising insignia found on the tank include the 3 within a triangle, denoting that the tank was the Platoon Sergeant’s tank; the II adjacent to the triangle in the photo likely indicate that the tank is of the Second Platoon.

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Rear Painted Details

So, we have a tank commanded by the Platoon Sergeant of the 2nd Platoon of a an unknown company of the 754th Tank Battalion.  I can narrow this down only a bit more, but future research and reader commentary should elucidate some of the murky details.

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Back to the previous image of the internet post regarding an angry response by a tanker who fought in Lucky Legs II:

“I said just from the inside of that turret.  That’s my tank, and probably my steel helmet hanging on the back. Because Tony Benardo, and Gus, had theirs inside with them.. I think.”

The same forum post refers to a US Signal Corps film that depicts the tank in question….. I think I found it…..

And if that wasn’t enough… I found more shots from the same photographic series

 

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PortraitsofWar Book Review #1: Panzerwrecks’ Duel in the Mist 2: Leibstandarte During the Ardennes Offensive


One of my favorite current WWII publishers has to be the tag team duo of Lee Archer and Bill Auerbach of Panzerwrecks.  This international dreamnteam has been meticulously researching and compiling books on knocked-out German armor since 2005; focusing on amateur photographs of (often) never-before-seen scenes of German armor moments after destruction by US forces during WWII.

In a world filled with overused and reprinted images, it’s a refreshing relief to open a new copy of Panzerwrecks and see new images of late war German armor with wonderful descriptions.  A balance of tongue-in-cheek humor mixed with meticulous research offers the reader with a book worthy of a well-stocked research library or office coffee table.

 

I recently finished my review copy of Duel in the Mist 2 published by Panzerwrecks and written by Timm Haasler, Roddy MacDougall, Simon Vosters and Hans Weber.  With nearly 700 footnotes (really!), this book is well reseached, cited, and backed up with primary source documentation that includes first hand accounts, after-action reports, photographs and veteran interviews.  A well balanced piece; Duel in the Mist 2 views the initial battles of the Ardennes Offensive through a non-biased lens.  Interviews with US veterans easily mesh with similar accounts from SS veterans.

The superlative collection of wartime images compiled for the book is, by far, the most amazing part of the book.  Images from the deep collections of David Thompson and Stefan De Meyer of AMC, Bill Auerbach, Jeff Tomkinson, Freddy Lemaire, Gerard Gregoire, Eddy Monfort, Tom Fischer and many others supplement the written component.

Artistic representations of German armor were intricically detailed by Simon Vosters, with a special attention to detail regarding camo patterns.  This, combined with actual portraits of the men involved in the battles, provides the reader with an intimate view of WWII not often seen in other publications.

A series of intensive maps follows the progression of the battles using modern day color and figures.  An easy-to-follow chart accompanies each map, allowing the reader to follow the battle with relative ease.  Flipping back and forth between maps is made easier by the 8.5 in by 10.25 in format of the book.  The pages want to be turned!

A special thanks to the guys at Panzerwrecks for providing me with a review copy of Duel in the Mist 2, and a special thanks to Timm Haasler, Roddy MacDougall, Simon Vosters and Hans Weber for their fantastic work.  Keep up the good work, and I hope to review Duel in the Mist 3 by 2014!

 

 

Interested in picking up a copy of Duel in the Mist 2?  Check out Panzerwrecks website for a compendium of top notch WWII material!

 

 

WWII Combat Photography of the 87th Division in Germany – 347th Infantry Regiment


Casual followers of this blog will know that the majority of my slides and photos are mainly portraits and posed scenes, although a few capture moments of combat, the vast majority of WWII snapshots floating around the web were taken at leisure during down-time after combat.  A recent set of photos to come into my possession show an uncommon view of front line fighting.  This is my third set of photos of this type, the other two being from the 99th and 42nd Divisions.  This set comes from a veteran of the 347th Infantry Regiment of the 87th “Golden Acorn” Division.

Russian Slave Laborers Looting

Tanks and Infantry Advance in Schietz

Dead German in Street

Sherman Tanks in Plauen Germany


Captured German Police Helmet

Women in Rubble

 

Captured German Belt

Unit Crest of the 347th

The Runner up for Unit Crest Design

Many more to come!

The Wartime Memoirs of Earl Denzil Reese – 395th Infantry Regiment, 99th Division during WWII


Earl Denzil Reese

Memoir Collection

I recently purchased a mystery grouping of WWII photos off my favorite internet auction site and stumbled across the wonderful story of Earl Reese and his wartime experiences while with the 99th “Checkerboard” Division during WWII.  The full story starts out on a sad note, but I hope to honor Earl and his life achievements by publishing his story here on PortraitsofWar.

Earl Reese ca.1980

After purchasing a grouping of 50+ images from an eBay dealer back in April, I became interested in the details pertaining to the man who took the photos.  He had a knack for writing blurbs on the back of photos, something not many soldiers did at the time.  The content was first rate; the unknown soldier seemed to be in a front line unit that saw a good amount of action.  I contacted the seller in hopes of finding some additional information to help me piece together the identity of the unknown GI.  I’ve done this in the past with varying amounts of success.  Most of the time the seller knows nothing about the photos, or maybe only a first name or general geographical area the fellow was from.  In this case, the seller had a small treasure trove of information about the soldier.

Earl in 1945

After attending an estate sale in Santa Barbara the friendly eBay seller was rummaging around through some paper bins outside and found the life memoirs and photos of Mr.Reese.  Some family member or estate executor threw away the entire life work and memories of Earl!  He generously sent me the complete memoir manuscript and photo collection as a gift.  I plan on digitizing the wartime section of the memoirs, which constitute three or four chapters of the 30+ volume.

Ridin’ Tanks

Crossing the DanubeCombat!

Earl Rides an M8 Greyhound

Germans Surrender on Motorcycles

Ruhr Pocket Battle Rest

In the Ruhr Pocket