close air support

All posts tagged close air support

[Tuttle got the outline on the next offensive, and picked his spot on one end of it.]

The next planned action was to be perfectly straight-forward – attack everywhere, all at once, using every mortar, gun, aircraft, tank, howitzer, bazooka, rifle, and knife at hand. “Nothing fancy, just meat and potatoes, and lots of it.” I kept my fork and napkin handy. I expected the dinner bell to ring soon.

Sure enough, before first light an earthquake on par with anything this volcanic island has felt in millennia woke me out of the hole I had taken for the night. Thick waves of bombers had come in from over the water, bombing inland objectives by radar . Some bombs may have fallen short, but I couldn’t confirm the details.

The 3rd Marine Division was working up the coast so it would get ample naval support. Small islands near shore gave up huge mounds of themselves as heavy shells made sure they would not present a hazard. The barrage picked up breadth and intensity as it moved inland.

I watched the bombardment from a small high spot with some of the artillery spotters. The bombardment was to spare the roads ahead, for our own use. Corrections were called backed several times after they watched the making of a large pothole through their specialized telescopes.

The division was established in a prosperous small coastal city northwest of Sendai, where a navigable river met a small harbor and a train line. The Marines were to drive another two miles north to the next such nearly identical town.

What drew me to the Third is what it would do next – nothing. The 3rd Marines would be the first large unit to reach the planned “line of advance.” The line is to run generally northeast from there all the way across Kyushu, about 90 miles. Some number of the combat divisions will dig in there and defend what we took, while bases are prepared to support the invasion of Tokyo itself*.

The Marines met little organized resistance today. The knobby terrain had only a few good roads connecting local villages. The Japanese had well disguised but uncoordinated traps set at most intersections or choke points. As usual, the American advance could not be stopped, nor could it move quickly. Ambulances had no trouble keeping up. They made numerous round trips.

* Naturally, this paragraph could not be published at the time and was not even submitted to wartime censors.

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[Skies cleared and Tuttle watched the attack on Sakura-jima gain a new dimension.]

Each spiny ridge must be taken in turn, but none of them are worth anything in isolation. The sharp top crease offers little safe ground to hold, and both sides can be fired on by the adjacent enemy held faces. There is little cover to use and no chance to dig positions into the bare rock. Every effort forward soaks up a great deal of manpower and firepower.

I was still observing from a high spot overlooking the island’s land bridge when an officer from a 1st Cavalry Division artillery unit joined me. Captain Condon Terry’s guns were somewhere on the shore of the island in front of us. He came back to “watch the show.”

In a slight north Texas drawl the captain told me what to watch for. “This is the only job going anywhere [on Kyushu]. The Army needs that rock taken out; it’s the last thing keeping us from pushing north.” He paused while a dense chevron of attack planes came in low overhead. “Here it is! It’s on now.”

The planes let loose volleys of large and small rockets, each pulling up and turning to the east as it got light. The rockets all impacted some ways up hill from a line of colored smoke being made by American troops. Before the rocket planes were out of sight regular bombers came across the line from the southwest, laying iron bombs into points higher up, including the main volcanic crater. Loose anti-aircraft fire tightened up as the formation passed. The very last plane, of about two dozen older B-17s, poured smoke from the left side for a mile as it slowed down behind the others. It tried to turn with the formation and that wing simply fell off into the bay. The rest of the plane joined it just short of the American held shore.

Captain Terry was still enthusiastic about the display. “That’s going to happen every two hours on the dot, so long as weather holds.” He checked his watch. “They’ll give it another four minutes for smoke to clear then my artillery will start working the hill. Twelve minutes after that, everybody advances, the Marines too.”

As he called it, guns below us barked out fresh ranging shots. I heard louder booms to the left and looked to see Navy destroyers and a couple cruisers in the bay. They were not about to miss this party. “Everything is pre-set and timed out,” the captain continued. “There’s naught for me to do but sit back and watch. An artillery man doesn’t hardly ever get to see his own work!”

Late in the afternoon one of the Navy LSTs which had been used weeks ago as a temporary beach-front hospital ship was moved to a small dock on the southwest corner of Sakura-jima. Army and Marine Corps units had met there this morning, including engineers. The small floating hospital was full to capacity as quickly as it could be loaded. The engineers were still clearing space and setting up a large aid station. Scattered harassing artillery fire reminded the engineers and doctors that their position was still at risk, but it didn’t look like it had been singled out by Japanese spotters.

Our own observation planes several times have caught small boats bringing supplies or reinforcements to the north side of Sakura-jima. Everyone is reminded that taking the island volcano quickly is tantamount to taking it at all.

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[The assault on Sakura-jima began, and Tuttle had a stadium seating view of the action.]

Before dawn I moved up to be with the forward observers for the 8th Cavalry Regiment, which stood ready to move in beside or through the 5th. The weather was clear, and in the dim morning light I could see gunpowder flashes from the mountain as Japanese guns on the dark sides of each sharp ridge took aim on the landing Marines.

Marine close air support planes were up early though, and rockets were soon let loose against any gun that dared light itself up in the shadows. The Marines had slipped a few radio-equipped spotters onto the island overnight, ready to guide in our planes using pre-arranged terrain marks. The part of the bay I can see does not have any Navy ships in it. The wreck of the USS Hazard can still be seen at low tide, where she tried to beach on the south shore of Sakura-jima to save her crew .

The sun rose over the few hills that push into the area occupied by 5th Cav, and Japanese spotters began to find plentiful artillery targets. Whichever guns could fire without inviting immediate response from attack planes made life miserable for the cavalry men. The 5th Cavalry didn’t have far to go to reach the base of Minami proper, where they could find some shelter, but very little heavy equipment made it up with them.

I watched as small groups of men dashed over open lava flats to seek cover in small ravines and depressions. Japanese machine guns had been sighted down most long low spots. Squads pulled back out of them under cover of smoke screens.

The smoke made things difficult for other units. Smoke works well when pulling back or moving sideways, but it blinds men trying to advance. Eventually they must emerge from the smoke, in an uncertain location, and likely in the sights of enemy rifles.

Japanese mortar fire from deep pits was distributed liberally from the mountain down to the shore. Navy fire support could not get down into such positions, and aircraft took risks flying low enough to find them. Attack planes dove against the mountain, playing chicken with the unblinking rock. A few were damaged by ground fire on the way down and didn’t or couldn’t pull up in time.

By last light two battalions of the Army regiment were pressed up tight against the base of Minami-dake. They waited for darkness to move casualties back and bring up more equipment.

Marines on the west plain had made better progress. They landed through a pair of deserted fishing villages and moved over a mile up hill across a lumpy lava plain. The lava field makes an easy approach to the mountain, mechanically, but it offers little cover from enemy fire. They were exposed, though in the morning the dark side of the mountain dared not fire its larger guns into the lingering night that clung to the western face.

By mid morning the Marines had found cover at the base of many bluffs and ridges well inland. They took only ‘ordinary’ casualties for an amphibious assault, but that was better than would be expected for running across a hard surface into the face of a jagged mountain loaded with defenders. By early afternoon progress was halted. Enemy fire made it impossible to move anything across the lava field to the covered positions up front.

The entire afternoon on both sides turned into a machine gun duel. Marine and Army positions were then in small arms range of Japanese positions on the mountain. The front lines were still very thin, so to get other teams up they sprayed the anonymous rocks ahead with rifle and machine gun fire. The Japanese who were not forced into cover by all that shot into the open areas that they knew the Americans had to move through. The entire world as can be seen from here is divided up into many unsavory pie slices, each of them the field of fire of a traversing machine gun. The team who can serve up more slices wins.

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[For this entry Tuttle included part of a printed transcript of a high level Army press briefing from a couple days before.]

Let me back up for a minute to last October, when we lost two hundred ships to the storm. Something had to give. We couldn’t bring in a dozen divisions with what was left. We could have waited another two months, instead of two weeks, for more ships but that would put us into next spring by the time this island is ready to support full-scale bombing of Honshu, for the invasion of Tokyo itself.

Yes, that’s the next target, and the Japs know it. Anybody with a map knows it.

If we can’t land at Yokohama until the summer, we’ll be fighting there into the typhoon season. Plus they just get more time to dig in, making it take even longer. No one wants to be fighting through next winter. So we have to get the job done here quick.

Most of you have been up into the hills with the troops. It’s not tank country, contrary to what some generals drew up back in Australia. Lacking transports to get everyone and everything here at once, we went with everyone. Troops first, tanks later. Most previously fielded tank battalions came along, but none of the new heavies.

Yes, yes, we could have used heavy tanks here and there. But that’s always been the problem with armor – it’s never right where you want it when you want it. Or all the support vehicles couldn’t keep up and the armor can’t keep going for very long. It was debated hard, let me tell you, but it was decided that the infantry could get by with the new field guns you may have noticed. Anyway, the heavy armor is here now, and it’s going to keep coming.

We’re going to clean up the mountains this week. Then we are going to tear right through the central plains, right up to the central forest. These last obstacles [Sakura-jima, Karakuni-dake, and a ridgeline between Karakuni-dake and the marines’ front line] will be surrounded and pulverized.

We didn’t get the air cover we hoped for, with the nutty weather. But now our soldiers are going to bring along their own support!

In the next few days the 11th Airborne Division will be into Miyakonojo, and the 98th will come up to meet it. Then we’ll have all this [mountains east of Miyakonojo] cut off. By then the marines* can converge with the 40th over these rocks [Sakura-jima and Onogara-dake] and the 1st Cav will move around to meet the marines and stitch up [Kagoshima] bay.

* Army press style did not include capitalization of “Marine”.
** [Editor’s note, 2015: It still doesn’t. – sdm]

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[Tuttle wondered what surprises might be offered the Japanese on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.]

Infantry in the field have little use for calendars. The day of the week means nothing to a man who is on the job all seven days no matter what and hasn’t seen Sunday church services in months. Prayers out here are whispered on the schedule of artillery barrages and frontal assaults, not according to the program in a hymnal. The day of the month is immaterial to a soldier who pays no rent, though it should be cheap for accommodations consisting of a muddy hole and half a tent.

Those few here who do still keep track of what day it is recognize this as Pearl Harbor day. December 7th, four long years ago, the mighty Imperial Japanese Navy launched the surprise attack that ultimately brought us here. It would seem fitting for us to present them with an unpleasant surprise today, a little ‘thanks for the memories’ token of appreciation.

But I don’t think there will be any surprises offered in this part of the world. We assaulted this island with a quarter million combat troops, thousands of trucks, and hundreds of tanks over three weeks ago. Our naval guns and army artillery have pulverized in detail thousands of acres of Japanese home territory. I think they know we’re here.

One surprise for them might have been that the Air Corps is operating out of the large airfields in Kanoya, but I’m told that won’t happen until tomorrow. We have been flying ground attack fighters from small improvised strips near the beaches since early on. Engineers get busy on the larger permanent airfields as soon as they are taken, but regular air operations can’t commence until the field is out of enemy artillery range and the threat of night infiltration attacks.

Kanoya has the biggest prize airfield in this area, but it lies in a valley between what a civilian might call ‘beautiful mountain backdrops,’ or the military calls ‘commanding heights.’ Those heights must be cleared of unfriendly sightseers before the field is safe to use.

The 1st Cavalry Division has nearly flushed out the last resistance in the rugged peninsula to the south. The 40th Division believes it has a firm hold on the near sides of the dominating Onogara-dake, a 3600 foot jagged mountain that I imagine will be featured on postcards sold at Kanoya if it ever becomes a civilian airport.

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[Tuttle took this day to catch the reader up on action around Kyushu.]

The 43rd Division is being pulled out, entirely. Its losses of officers and equipment can’t be replenished fast enough to make it worth feeding its idle units until that time comes. Its healthy men will be redistributed to other units, which are thirsty for veteran replacements.

The 1st Cavalry is the one division here to have four regiments, most others switching to three before the war. This may have been a compensation to the division for losing its horses in favor of trucks and scout vehicles. But that compensation is over. The 7th Cavalry Regiment is being split up, too expensive to rebuild while other units are too depleted to function. If it remains an active regiment, it will materialize somewhere back in the States as the regimental colors are presented to a column of new boot camp graduates.

The 40th Division is still being landed, charged with defending the whole middle of the line while everyone else prepares to move back into the mountains around Ariake Bay.

In the west, the Marines did take Kagoshima and Sendai, experiencing tough urban fighting, and attacks by civilians, after a week of slogging through a maze of defended hills. They scarcely hold either city though, as every night and some days heavy artillery from vantage points looking down into the cities hit known key points in each. The 2nd and 3rd Marine divisions hold the Sendai-Kagoshima line, having took in multiple waves of reinforcements to keep the advance going, ten miles in ten days.

South of Kagoshima the 5th Marine Division has been making painful progress down the five mile wide peninsula. It is a ¾ scale model of southern Okinawa, but there is only one Marine division instead of two Marine and two Army divisions working to clear pits and caves and tunnels which defend each other. All of it is in range of Navy guns, and I don’t doubt that it’s quite a show when they light up a stubborn hill. Engineers got to work in earnest on an airfield behind the Marines yesterday, sure that it’s now out of Jap artillery range. It should boost by half the volume of ground support flights they can run on a good day.

South of the Marines, the 77th and 81st infantry divisions made good progress at first, pushing through open flat land west of Kaimon-dake, which was undefended. The small mountain was expected to be a tough fort and the Navy was almost disappointed at not getting to blast at it. The Army divisions are now coming into hilly territory and finding the going considerably slower and more bloody.

In the east around Miyazaki the story has been mixed. In from the beach is a plain almost ten miles deep. American spotters can observe all of it and direct Navy guns on any part quickly. The Japanese did not try to fortify it. Miyazaki itself was largely deserted, save for bands of scared or angry civilians who did not evacuate with the others. Some of them attacked American soldiers in small groups, to limited direct effect but it makes our soldiers ever more wary.

South of Miyazaki the 25th Division did the tough job of taking hills close to the beach, which overlook American camps. There the Japanese did defend, and it was all the 25th could do to take the first line of mountain ridges before digging in to rest. Miyazaki will become the first developed place we really hold on Kyushu. Its port and airfields will be opened up ‘soon.’

Early on the beach head at Miyazaki faced a dress rehearsal of the big counter attack that just finished in Ariake Bay. They figure that parts of “only” two veteran Japanese divisions drove into American lines, supported by about fifty tanks. The attack at Ariake was more than twice as large.

One thing that has everyone surprised is the number of Japanese tanks that have been thrown at us. Intelligence men are optimistic that we’ve already seen most of what they can muster, but when pressed they have to admit they just don’t know for sure. Movement of troops far to the north has been seen by our aircraft when weather permits. When weather does not permit observation, Japanese reinforcements can move without aiding our insight.

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[Tuttle found himself literally in the middle of the long pre-planned great Japanese counter-attack on Kyushu.]

This was no frenzied banzai charge. The Japanese moved quickly, but fought from cover and applied combined arms to reduce our hasty defenses and keep American units moving backward. It was all by the book, right from the latest war college papers* [*I had a lot of time to read on Okinawa].

Progress for the Japanese was terribly expensive. Their vehicles were easy prey to the growing variety of field guns packed by U.S. infantry. Long range naval fire was not an option for us with the Japs intermingled among American forces, but the destroyers which had come in close yesterday had positioned themselves to put direct line-of-sight fire on key roads and passes. In one surreal scene a Japanese tank commander brought his team of four tanks into a side-by-side line just a mile from the beach. They began to fire on the destroyer John C. Butler. The destroyer lined up her 5 inch guns and dueled mano a mano with the armored squadron. The destroyer won.

The latest kamikazes had only a limited impact, but one of their successes was to hit the destroyer Heerman, just once but low near the water line. The Heerman, no stranger to a tough fight, beached herself to keep from sinking and kept up fire support against targets on land.

American planes raged through the sky all day. Many of them went up with oversize rockets built for crushing hardened concrete bunkers deep under many feet of rock. I saw first hand one of those giant rockets slam into a Jap tank, practically re-smelting the entire steel monster, redistributing its constituent elements back into the earth from which they came.

Troops on Japanese trucks soon learned they were also priority targets. They quickly dismounted, by choice or by explosive force. The Japanese attack eventually slowed to a foot soldier’s pace. They kept coming though, merely tightening the focus of the attack. They were driving right through the middle of the 98th Division, the least experienced large unit in the invasion, whether they knew it or not.

My particular platoon of the 98th eventually made it back to a low long hill one mile in from the beach, where the 391st Regiment had regrouped to set up a fighting line. The acting commander, by that point a Lieutenant Colonel, had thought we were long lost and had set up the line without us. We were sent all the way back to the short dikes by the beach – right where we were supposed to have landed – to be the true last line of defense.

Tiny Tim rocket

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[The invasion start found Tuttle in a busy radio room, catching action all around Kyushu from a unique perspective.]

I found one of the radio men, Ensign Gaston Morton, from Stillwater, Minnesota, studiously memorizing the lists of ships from our invasion flotilla and every other squadron and fleet on this job. “There’s a slim chance I would ever need to relay a call for a destroyer on the far side [of Kyushu], and I could look them up in a minute anyway. But the only other thing I could do right now is clean and polish the vacuum tubes on the radio sets. What about you? What do you do when you’re waiting around to start an important job?”

I’m not used to my interview subjects asking back! I told him that, first of all, I don’t recall ever having a particularly important job to do. But if I did, to pass the time waiting for such a job to start, I would probably go interview someone else about his job.

There was very little time left to pass, so Mr. Morris got back to his radio set and I got back to staying out of the way. About 5 am the pre-landing bombardment kicked off, starting with the very big guns. Our shelling of the shore in the previous three days had been done during daylight. Each ship could fix its position by visual cues on land, then work accurately through its scheduled target list. Tonight the moon had set just after midnight. The pre-landing bombardment was done in pitch darkness. It was just a rolling line of thunder with no particular target except the island ahead of us.

I went back and forth between watching the action outside and listening in on radio traffic. Layered groups of fighter planes could be seen weaving a curtain to the north. Boats and amphibious transports were loaded and launched toward control lines throughout the bombardment. The other landing armies were going through the same routine at the same time. Across the island on the eastern shore they were landing on either side of the port city Miyazaki, a straight bit of coastline similar to our objective here around the town of Kushikino. In the southeast they are landing on an ideal bit of long gentle shoreline, inside Ariake Bay. But, the sides of the bay are solid lines of steep bluffs and mountain peaks.

The first serious trouble came from Ariake Bay. Over the sound of our big battleships firing in front of us, my friend Mr. Morris tuned in the Navy frequencies for the bombardment group in Ariake. The pre-invasion bombardment did not have Navy gunships enter the bay until this morning. Army bombers laid several thousands of pounds of bombs per acre all around Ariake that morning, a repeat of what they’d done three days in a row at all the invasion sites.

In a surprising development, the Navy gunships found themselves in a shooting duel with land based guns which were not hit in the earlier bombing, and which chose to reveal themselves today. Calls went out for return fire on each new enemy gun. We see the flash, in the shadows. Target square 99-11, grid S! might be one call. Mr. Morris helped me find a few of them on a copy of the same map.

The Navy had help from ground-attack aircraft under a clear sky, but still lost a cruiser and a destroyer sunk, and other ships damaged. Some number of airplanes were also lost. They had to fly low over enemy held land to make rocket attacks on the back sides of hills.

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Today we conclude this series of specific references behind the details in X-Day: Japan. These are not formal citations, as they are not all root sources and the book is not an academic volume. The use of real historical elements for X-Day: Japan serves to educate the reader about the time, add interest to the story, and honestly it just made the thing easier to write!

November 23, 1945
Jumbo air-to-ground rocket,
airandspace.si.edu

November 27, 1945
1st Cavalry Division,
first-team.us

December 3, 1945
M29 Weasel,
m29cweasel.com

December 8, 1945
M26 Pershing tank next to M4 Sherman tank (models),
warbird-photos.com

December 9, 1945
War Department Technical Manual TM-12-247,
Military Occupational Classification of Enlisted Personnel,
archive.org

December 10, 1945
U.S. Army Center of Military History style guide,
history.army.mil

December 11, 1945
Battle Formations – The Rifle Platoon, for NCOs (1942)
youtube.com

December 21, 1945
Hospitalization and evac plan for Operation Olympic,
Logistic Instructions No. 1 for the Olympic Operation, 25 July 1945
cgsc.cdmhost.com
USS Sanctuary, hospital ship AH-17
navsource.org

December 22, 1945
Russian communists vs Chinese communists,
– Tom Clancy, The Bear and the Dragon
Chiang Kai-shek quote on the communists vs the Japanese,
izquotes.com

December 23, 1945
Sakura-jima and its volcanoes,
photovolcanica.com

December 25, 1945
USS Hazard, minesweeper AM-240 [MUSEUM SHIP],
nps.gov
tripadvisor.com

January 17, 1946
Radiation detection equipment,
national-radiation-instrument-catalog.com

July 18, 1945
PBY-4/5 Catalina flying boat,
pwencycl.kgbudge.com
Consolidated Aircraft plant in San Diego,
sandiegohistory.org
Consolidated Aircraft plant production and products, B-24 and PB4Y-2,
legendsintheirowntime.com
wikipedia.org

December 24, 1945
Pearl Harbor survivors, trapped under USS West Virginia,
nps.gov
community.seattletimes.nwsource.com

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Today we continue letting the reader see some of the specific references behind the details in X-Day: Japan. These are not formal citations, as they are not all root sources and the book is not an academic volume. The use of real historical elements for X-Day: Japan serves to educate the reader about the time, add interest to the story, and honestly it just made the thing easier to write!

August 30, 1945
Purple heart orders and production,
Giangreco, Hell to Pay, p187-193 [hardcover, 2009]

September 10, 1945
Typhoon Ursula,
wikipedia.org

September 17, 1945
Typhoon Ida,
wikipedia.org
navsource.org

September 21, 1945
Antitank Rocket, Methods of Use,
youtube.com

October 10, 1945
Typhoon Louise,
history.navy.mil
danielborgstrom.blogspot.com
navsource.org
glynn.k12.ga.us

October 11, 1945
USS Laffey, destroyer DD-724 [MUSEUM SHIP at Patriot’s Point],
patriotspoint.org

October 28, 1945
Downfall operational plan, 5/28/45, Annex 3 – estimated lift requirements
theblackvault.com

November 6, 1945
Petition to make Ernie Pyle’s house a national landmark,
nps.gov

November 9, 1945
Men lined up waiting to use the head before an assault,
Sledge, With the Old Breed
Surrender rates of Japanese soldiers,
Frank, Downfall, p28-29 and p71-72 [Penguin paperback, 2001]

November 11, 1945
Diagrams of amphibious assault boats,
ww2gyrene.org

November 16, 1945
USS Charette, destroyer DD-581, which had a remarkable career with the Greeks as the Velos,
wikipedia.org
USS Montrose, attack transport APA-212,
nasflmuseum.com

November 17, 1945
Helicopter medevac,
olive-drab.com
airspacemag.com

November 19, 1945
Estimate of Japanese tank strength and tactics,
ibiblio.org/hyperwar

November 20, 1945
USS Sanctuary, hospital ship AH-17,
wikipedia.org
158th RCT, “Bushmasters”
ww2f.com
wikipedia.org

November 21, 1945
USS Athene, attack cargo ship AKA-22,
navsource.org
USS Kidd, destroyer DD-661 [MUSEUM SHIP],
usskidd.com
USS Chester, heavy cruiser CA-27,
ibiblio.org/hyperwar
USS Windham Bay, escort carrier CVE-92,
sites.google.com/site/windhambay
USS Comfort, hospital ship AH-6,
dorriehoward.info/comfort
Blood supply,
Giangreco, Hell to Pay, p139 [hardcover, 2009]
USS Firedrake, Mount Hood class,
wikipedia.org
ibiblio.org/hyperwar
USS Orleck, destroyer DD-886 [MUSEUM SHIP],
orleck.org
USS Guam, Alaska-class,
wikipedia.org
wikipedia.org

November 22, 1945
USS Heerman (DD-532), USS John C. Butler (DE-339), – legends of Taffy-3,
bosamar.com
wikipedia.org
navsource.org
“The outcome is doubtful, but we will do our duty.”
Rear Admiral Robert W. Copeland,
wikipedia.org

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