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The American Paratrooper Who Served in the Red Army During World War II.

When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Joseph R. Beyrle enlisted in the US Army and volunteered for the elite paratrooper service.  After completing paratrooper training and training as a demonlitions expert, he was assigned to the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles) with the rank of sergeant. Little did he know where the winds of destiny would blow him. 

His first two missions were secret clandestine operations in which he covertly parachuted into German occupied France wearing bandoliers filled with gold, which he delivered to the French Resistance. On June 6th, 1944 Beyrle participated in the legendary D-Day drop during the Normandy Invasions. When his plane came under heavy fire he was forced to jump early and only 120 meters above the ground. Despite being separated from his unit, Sgt. Beyrle continued his mission, performing acts of sabotage behind enemy lines which resulted in the destruction of two bridges and a power station.  Unfortunatley a few days later he was captured by the Germans when he accidentally stumbled upon a German machine gun nest.  For the next 7 months he was held as a prisoner of war, where he became notorious as an escape artist, making several attempts, two of which were seccessful.  After each attempt, the Germans tortured, starved, and beat him, then transfered him to a different camp.  During his time in German captivity he was shuffled between seven different camps.  After his 7th escape attempt, which was successful except that he accidentally boarded a train for Berlin, the Germans sent him to a camp deep within Poland, with the idea that it’s distance from the Western Front would discourage him from further escape attempts.  Promptly after arriving at the camp in January of 1945, he successfully escaped and made his way to Soviet lines.

After his escape, he came upon the 1st Battalian of the 1st Tank Guards, where he met the famous lady tank commander Captain Aleksandra Samusenko, introducing her with the greeting, “Americansky tovarishch” (American comrade), while handing over a pack of Lucky Strikes. 

Wanting to get back into the war, Bayrle convinced Samusenko to allow him to join the Battalion. Samusenko agreed, and he was appointed a tank machine gunner.  For the next month he would serve with the Red Army, even taking part in the liberation of the POW camp from which he had escaped.  In February of 1945, he was seriously wounded after an attack by a Stuka dive bomber, and was evacuated to a Soviet hospital. During his recuperation, he met none other than the Soviet supreme military commander, Field Marshal Georgy Zhukov. 

 When Bayrle arrived at the US Embassy in Moscow, he learned that he was officially listed as dead, and that his family back home in Muskegon, Michigan had celebrated his funeral.  As it turns out, when he was captured during the Normandy Invasion, his uniforn and dogtags were taken and used by a German infiltration unit.  The German soldier wearing the uniform was unexpectidly killed in September, the corpse being recovered by the Allies and mistakenly identifed as Bayrle’s and buried in France.  Bayrle returned home in April of 1945, married in 1946 (coincidentally in the same church that held his funeral) and lived a happy life raising three children. In 1994 during the 50th Anniversary of D-Day, he was awarded with medals by both US President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin at the White House. He was also personally awarded a specially made presentation AK-47 dedicated to him by Mikhail Kalashnikov.  Joseph “Jumpin’ Joe” Beyrle passed away in 2004 while visiting the paratrooper training grounds in Toccoa, Georgia. He was buried with honors in Arlington National Cemetery.


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Forgotten World War II — The Battle of Lake Khasan

Technically the Battle of Lake Khasan was not a World War II battle, rather one of the many events leading up to WWII in the 1930’s, what I would call part of the World War II era.  After the Japanese occupation of Manchura and parts of China, tensions between the Empire of Japan and Soviet Union began to rise.  One major bone of contention had to do with border disputes. Small skirmishes and incidents between border guards and soldiers became common, and it was clear that a conflict was brewing.  In early 1938 the Japanese Government began to accuse the Soviet Union of tampering with border  markers along the border between China and the Khasansky District.  Fearing that the Japanese were up to no good, the Soviet Red Army began fortifying the high ground west of Lake Khasan, located around 130 km southwest of Vladivostok.  Unfortunately for them, the Japanese intercepted and decoded Soviet messages, and decided to respond in force.

Only July 29th, 1938 around 7,000 troops of the Japanese 19th Division crossed the border and engaged Soviet forces, at one point successfully surrounding and annihilating 300 Soviet soldiers and repelling 300 others.  At first the Soviet defenders were forced to fall back under the onslaught.  However by August 2nd, Soviet reinforcements would begin pouring into the region.  Over the next week around 23,000 Soviet soldiers, 350 tanks, 230 artillery, and 250 aircraft.  With overwhelming force, the Soviets answered with a massive and powerful counterattack.  The Japanese were especially at a disadvantage, with only 37 artillery pieces, no tanks, and no aircraft.  One Japanese artillery officer noted that the Soviets fired more shells in a day than what the Japanese did during the entire battle. 

By August 9th, Japanese forces began to break under the Soviet counterattack.  On August 10th, the Japanese sued for peace, and the fighting stopped on August 11th.  Japanese forces lost 526 men, with another 1,000 wounded.  While the Soviets were victorious, they suffered terrible casualties, with 792 killed, over 3,000 wounded, and 46 tanks destroyed.  Because of the high casualties, the Soviet commander, Vasily Blyukher, was tortured and executed by the NKVD during Stalin’s purges.

The Battle of Lake Khasan would not be the last incident between the Soviets and Japanese. A year later, the Japanese Kwantung Army would attempt a massive full scale invasion of Soviet allied Mongolia.  During the Battle of Khalkin Gol, at least 100,000 men total took part in the battle.  In the end the Soviet Army dealt the Japanese Army a devastating thumping, convincing the Japanese that they should steer clear of further conflict with the Soviet Union.