Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Boots to Bombsights and back to Boots again !

Howard Florey's father won a massive government contact to supply boots to Australia's Reserve Army in the run up to World War One.

(Under the circumstances, how could he also spare his only son to actually wear one of those pairs of boots?)

Boots, along with shovels, were a big part of World War One, as millions of infantry armed with rifles and shovels were the key to a nation's continued survival and its hopes of ultimate victory.

But by 1940, low tech boots were so yesterday (along with the riflemen who wore them), as high tech bombsights - the Norden in particular - were seen as the key to survival.

In the US military, the infantry were the leftovers after all the other sections of the Army, along with the Navy and Marines, cherry-picked the best and the brightest.

By 1943, a survey revealed that not only were the MOS 745s (the frontline riflemen) less educated and less skilled than anyone else in the entire Military, they were also smaller and lighter.

Remember, these are the guys we all expected to pack on 75 pounds in extra gear and ammo and then run up hill full tilt under enemy fire, with only a millimeter of cotton twill to protect them !

Meanwhile, late in 1943, the rear echlon thumb suckers in Washington finally realized two very important things:

(1) The ultra modern Norden, together with the bomber attached to it, was as useless as a senior Congressman's mouth, when it came to actually making Germany surrender.

 It was going to take old fashioned boots and shovels - lots of them - actually astride German soil, to make the Krauts to quit.

(2) There weren't enough infantry riflemen, period - let along top grade riflemen - to do the job. And as the wet, cold Fall 1943 campaign up the Italian Boot revealed, even the American boot wasn't up to the game.

Tens of thousands of the infantrymen already in desperately short supply in Italy were out of action, in hospitals with non-battlefield conditions.

Yes, some were in hospitals to be cured of VD ( much of it self- inflicted to get them out of the never-ending American meatgrinder system of Divisional combat - far worse than anything any army experienced in WWI).

This was well publicized - blaming the victim, in effect.

Less well known was the tens of thousands of foot soldiers in hospital with Trench Foot, produced by poor quality American footwear for wet winter combat conditions .

The nation that later boasted it was the first to put a pair of boots on the Moon, had more problems putting proper boots on its frontline dogfaces in WWII.

Less attention to making the plump perfect Norden mechanical bombsight and a bit more attention making better boot uppers might have been a better application of the vaunted American knowhow.

Perhaps Howard Florey should have given up penicillin and taken up his dad's trade, if he really wanted to aid America....

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