Quotulatiousness

December 8, 2014

The Luftwaffe attack at Bari in 1943

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Patrick K. O’Donnell discusses one of the Luftwaffe‘s most deadly attacks and why most people have never heard of it:

Americans remember December 7 as Pearl Harbor Day, but most Americans have never even heard of the “Little Pearl Harbor,” which occurred in Bari Harbor, Italy, on December 2, 1943. More than 100 Luftwaffe bombers mounted a surprise attack on Allied ships moored in the harbor. Their bombs sank or rendered inoperable 28 of these ships. Nearly a thousand Allied troops were killed or wounded. along with hundreds of civilians.

Unbeknownst to those in the port, one of the ships carried liquid death in its belly. The American freighter John Harvey was secretly carrying mustard agent, in violation of international agreements that banned its use. President Franklin Roosevelt had covertly ordered the shipment of 100 tons of mustard agent to Italy for retaliation in the event that the Germans used chemical warfare against the Allied troops. The incident was covered up and remained a secret for decades.

When the German bombs hit the John Harvey, the ship’s hold immediately exploded with devastating violence, killing all those who knew about the mustard [gas]. Deadly liquid and gas flew high into the air and then slowly settled back down into the harbor, coating everything and everyone in the vicinity. Casualties would mount over the coming days and weeks as the agent slowly and painfully claimed the lives of many who had survived the initial attack.

Mustard gas was one of the nastiest relics of the attempts to break the trench lines during the First World War. Wikipedia says:

The sulfur mustards, or sulphur mustards, commonly known as mustard gas, are a class of related cytotoxic and vesicant chemical warfare agents with the ability to form large blisters on the exposed skin and in the lungs. Pure sulfur mustards are colorless, viscous liquids at room temperature. When used in impure form, such as warfare agents, they are usually yellow-brown in color and have an odor resembling mustard plants, garlic, or horseradish, hence the name. Mustard gas was originally assigned the name LOST, after the scientists Wilhelm Lommel and Wilhelm Steinkopf, who developed a method for the large-scale production of mustard gas for the Imperial German Army in 1916.

Mustard agents are regulated under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Three classes of chemicals are monitored under this Convention, with sulfur and nitrogen mustard grouped in Schedule 1, as substances with no use other than in chemical warfare. Mustard agents could be deployed on the battlefield by means of artillery shells, aerial bombs, rockets, or by spraying from warplanes.

November 11, 2014

In memoriam

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

A simple recognition of some of our family members who served in the First and Second World Wars:

The Great War

  • A Poppy is to RememberPrivate William Penman, Scots Guards, died 1915 at Le Touret, age 25
    (Elizabeth’s great uncle)
  • Private David Buller, Highland Light Infantry, died 1915 at Loos, age 35
    (Elizabeth’s great grandfather)
  • Private Walter Porteous, Northumberland Fusiliers, died 1917 at Passchendaele, age 18
    (my great uncle)
  • Corporal John Mulholland, Royal Tank Corps, died 1918 at Harbonnieres, age 24
    (Elizabeth’s great uncle)

The Second World War

  • Flying Officer Richard Porteous, RAF, survived the defeat in Malaya and lived through the war
    (my great uncle)
  • Able Seaman John Penman, RN, served in the Defensively Equipped Merchant fleet on the Murmansk Run (and other convoy routes), lived through the war
    (Elizabeth’s father)
  • Private Archie Black (commissioned after the war and retired as a Major), Gordon Highlanders, captured at Singapore (aged 15) and survived a Japanese POW camp
    (Elizabeth’s uncle)
  • Elizabeth Buller, “Lumberjill” in the Women’s Land Army in Scotland through the war.
    (Elizabeth’s mother)
  • Trooper Leslie Taplan Russon, 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, died at Tobruk, 19 December, 1942 (aged 23).
    A recently discovered relative. Leslie was my father’s first cousin, once removed (and therefore my first cousin, twice removed).

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD Canadian Army Medical Corps (1872-1918)

October 15, 2014

NORAD

Filed under: Cancon, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:05

From the RCAF website:

If you’ve watched action, drama or even science fiction movies and TV shows over the past 50 years, chances are pretty good that you’ve at least heard of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

Often, it’s depicted as a massive operations room with radar screens, uniformed personnel manning various stations and star-studded generals directing all the action. Every Christmas Eve, it’s the means by which millions of children get regular reports on Santa’s progress as he journeys around the world.

Outside of pop culture, however, NORAD is a real military entity. But what is it, and what do we really know about it? More importantly for Canadians, what impact does it have on Canada?

While NORAD is often depicted in film and television as an American entity, it is in fact a joint United States-Canada defence partnership charged with aerospace warning and control for both countries. What this means is that NORAD detects and advises both governments about airborne threats to North America (aerospace warning) and takes action to deter and defend against those threats (aerospace control).

“What it comes down to, essentially, is that Canada and the U.S. have airspace over our respective territories, and we should be in control of who enters it and how they conduct themselves in it,” explained Colonel Patrick Carpentier, the Canadian deputy commander of the Alaskan NORAD Region.

NORAD’s commander is directly and equally responsible to both the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Canada. While it’s no secret that Canada and the U.S. enjoy a very close alliance, NORAD is truly unique in the world — no other two countries have an arrangement quite like it.

October 1, 2014

German Air Force pushed “to the very limits of its capacities”

Filed under: Europe, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:22

German magazine Der Spiegel reports on the sad state of readiness in the German military:

Last week, a single person pushed Germany’s air force to the very limits of its capacities: Ursula von der Leyen, the country’s defense minister. Von der Leyen requested that two Transall military transport aircraft with missile defense systems be transferred to Amman, the Jordanian capital. The defense minister and a pool of reporters then flew for eight hours on Thursday morning in one of the aircraft to Erbil in Iraq’s Kurdish region. Back in Germany, the military had but a single additional Transall at its disposal.

After her arrival in Erbil, von der Leyen proceeded to the palace of the Kurdish regional government’s president. Her visit was to be concurrent with the delivery of German weapons, intended to aid the Kurds in their fight against Islamic State jihadists. Unfortunately, the machine guns and bazookas got stuck in Germany and the trainers in Bulgaria because of a dearth of available aircraft. One had been grounded because of a massive fuel leak. What could have been a shining moment for the minister instead turned into an embarrassing failure underscoring the miserable state of many of the Bundeswehr‘s most important weapons systems.

[…]

Against that backdrop and pressure from the international community, the ramshackle state of the Bundeswehr is no laughing matter in Berlin. At the moment, if Germany’s allies were to ask it to step up its participation in deployments in the Baltic states or Iraq, for example, Chancellor Merkel would likely have to politely pass, creating a highly embarrassing situation for the country. For the moment, though, most pressure related to the Bundeswehr‘s ailments has been directed at von der Leyen. Her critics argue that she has pursued a foreign and security policy vision that goes beyond the Bundeswehr‘s actual capabilities. Now she faces additional criticism that she tried to play down the military’s problems to members of parliament even though senior officials in her ministry were well aware of major shortcomings in the armed forces.

“Contrary to her own list of needed equipment, she created the impression in parliament that anything that could drive, fly or float was capable of full deployment,” said Rainer Arnold, the defense policy spokesman for the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). “But we members of parliament will not be taken for idiots.”

The defense minister hasn’t exactly been blind-sided by the criticism either — she’s known about the problems since before entering office almost a year ago. On Friday, she summoned the heads of the German army, navy and air force as well as the Inspector General of the Bundeswehr to her office for five hours of questioning, much of it centering on events in parliament last Wednesday.

H/T to Mark Collins for the link.

September 20, 2014

Russian air activity rises significantly

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, Europe, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:14

It may just be a co-incidence (or it may be that these intrusions happen all the time but are only occasionally reported), but I fired up my Twitter client this morning, these entries were almost consecutive in my Military list:

Update: CNN talks to a White House military representative about the US and Canadian intercepts.

Two Alaskan-based F-22 fighter jets intercepted two Russian IL-78 refueling tankers, two Russian Mig-31 fighter jets and two Russian Bear long-range bombers, a statement from NORAD said. The Russian planes flew in a loop and returned toward Russia.

Two Canadian CF-18 fighter jets intercepted two Russian Bear long-range bombers in the Beaufort Sea, the statement said.

Though the planes did not enter sovereign territory, the statement said, they did enter the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone west of Alaska and the Canadian ADIZ, according to a statement.

The ADIZ is a zone of airspace which extends approximately 200 miles from the coastline and is mainly within international airspace, according to the statement. The outer limits of the ADIZ go beyond U.S. sovereign air space.

September 3, 2014

Britain’s shrinking armed forces

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:30

The Secretary of State for Defence was asked in Parliament for a breakdown of the members of the British army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. The detailed reply shows some significant changes:

Royal Navy/Royal Marines

Year Total, all ranks
2010 38,730
2011 37,660
2012 35,540
2013 33,960
2014 33,330

Army

Year Total, all ranks
2010 108,920
2011 106,240
2012 104,250
2013 99,730
2014 91,070

Royal Air Force

Year Total, all ranks
2010 44,050
2011 42,460
2012 40,000
2013 37,030
2014 35,230

This may be the only part of British government spending that would actually meet the definition of “austerity”. For reference, the Canadian Armed Forces have about 43,500 regulars across the Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Navy, and Royal Canadian Air Force.

June 26, 2014

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – Canadian government puts F-35 decision on hold (again)

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:53

In the Globe and Mail, Steven Chase reports on the on-again, off-again, [on-again, off-again, …] federal government decision on replacing our current RCAF fighters:

The Harper government is pressing pause on a decision to buy new jet fighters, including whether to purchase Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II without holding a competition, because it feels ministers need more information on other options before selecting a course of action.

There will be no decision this month on the next step — whether to hold a competition for a new plane or purchase the F-35 outright — and it is very unlikely anything will be announced even by mid-July, The Globe and Mail has learned.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper removed the item from the agenda of a recent meeting of cabinet’s priorities and planning committee to give ministers more time to deliberate and gather information, people familiar with the matter say. Priorities and planning is the main cabinet committee that provides strategic direction.

Sources say the government feels it’s being rushed and pressured by the Canadian Armed Forces and parts of the civil service to purchase the F-35 without a competition. The government, which took a serious credibility hit in 2012 over its poor management of the procurement process, is now concerned only one fully fleshed-out option has been presented for review and that it resembled a decision to be ratified rather than a well-developed option.

H/T to Paul Wells, who put it rather well:

June 21, 2014

New Zealand’s Defense Capability Plan

Filed under: Military, Pacific — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:05

At The Diplomat, Ankit Panda reports on the recent Defense Capability Plan (DCP) released by the New Zealand government:

The DCP emphasizes enhancing the NZDF’s “proficiency at joint operations and growing its combat, combat support and combat service support capabilities.” The shortest term goal for the NZDF as explained in the DCF is to achieve Joint Taskforce Capability by 2015. In the medium term, by 2020, the NZDF will focus on enhancing its combat capability. According to the DCP, the NZDF will be charged with:

  • defending New Zealand’s sovereignty;
  • discharging [New Zealand’s] obligations as an effective ally of Australia;
  • contributing to and, where necessary, leading peace and security operations in the South Pacific;
  • making a credible contribution in support of peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region;
  • protecting New Zealand’s wider interests by contributing to international peace and security, and the international rule of law;
  • contributing to whole of Government efforts to monitor the international strategic environment; and
  • being prepared to respond to sudden shifts and other disjunctions in the strategic environment.

The DCP sets out some of New Zealand’s longer term procurement concerns. The country will have to replace its aging C-130H and Boeing 757 fleets “in the early 2020s.” Additionally, ANZAC frigates and the highly versatile P-3K2 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft “will also reach the end of their service life in the 2020s.”

The DCP can be read here.

June 7, 2014

China’s Taiwan military end-game options

Filed under: China, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:14

At Business Insider, Armin Rosen examines what might happen if China decided to resolve the status of Taiwan by military force:

War from the air. The entire island sits within range of Chinese surface to air and short-range ballistic missile systems:

Taiwan Strait SAM and SRBM coverage

Taiwan Strait SAM and SRBM coverage

Constant air attacks could “degrade Taiwan’s defenses, neutralize Taiwan’s leadership, or break the Taiwan people’s will to fight.”

A full-scale invasion. Chinese military thinkers have published numerous texts thinking through the realities of an amphibious landing in Taiwan. One, entitled the Joint Island Landing Campaign, “envisions a complex operation relying on coordinated, interlocking campaigns for logistics, air, and naval support, and electronic warfare.”

The report doesn’t think that an invasion is necessarily within China’s current capabilities, and notes that China is mindful of the international scorn that such aggression would invite. But China could seize smaller inhabited Islands that Taiwan claims. And the country maintains numerous military assets in and around the Strait:

PLA forces in Nanjing

PLA forces in Nanjing

PLA forces in Guangzhou

PLA forces in Guangzhou

And if China establishes a beach head, it would enjoy a substantial manpower advantage over the Taiwanese military: China has 400,000 troops positioned around the Strait, compared to 130,000 total combat soldiers in Taiwan’s standing army.

April 19, 2014

The Doolittle Raid, 18 April 1942

Filed under: History, Japan, Military, Pacific, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:35

I was busy with away-from-the-computer stuff yesterday, so I didn’t see this post until today:

Brig. Gen. James Doolittle poses beside an Air Corps recruiting poster that alludes to his bombing raid on Japan in April 1942. (c) 1943

Brig. Gen. James Doolittle poses beside an Air Corps recruiting poster that alludes to his bombing raid on Japan in April 1942. (c) 1943

Less than 19 weeks after the U.S. Navy was attacked at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the American military struck back. On April 18, 1942 – 72 years ago today – sixteen Army Air Force bombers launched from a Navy aircraft carrier to attack the enemy’s homeland.

Led by Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, the raid was launched from USS Hornet, commanded by Capt. Marc Mitscher and escorted by ships under the command of Vice Adm. “Bull” Halsey aboard his flagship, USS Enterprise.

The extraordinary joint Doolittle Raid showed Imperial Japan’s military leaders their vulnerability and America’s resolve.

The raid also demonstrated innovation, courage and resilience.

The five-man B-25 crews trained relentlessly prior to their mission, with specialized training led by Navy flight instructor Lt. Henry F. Miller. The Army Air Force made ingenious modifications so the bombers could have extra fuel but less weight.

Pilots, all volunteers, needed to be extremely fearless, taking off in their huge planes from a short flight deck. On rough seas they launched in bitter cold, 75-knot winds and foam-flecked spray, as Sailors aboard recalled.

Doolittle, as his team’s leader, took off first. His success inspired the other pilots just as their entire mission would inspire the nation – putting action to the nationwide words of resolve heard throughout the world: “Remember Pearl Harbor!”

[…]

An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV 8) at the start of the raid, April 18, 1942. Note men watching from the signal lamp platform at right. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives – Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives)

An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV 8) at the start of the raid, April 18, 1942. Note men watching from the signal lamp platform at right. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives – Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives)

Seven Doolittle Raiders were killed in the mission: Two drowned and a third was killed by the fall after bailing out; eight were captured by the Japanese. Three of the eight POWs were executed Oct. 15, 1942, and another died of malnutrition Dec. 1, 1943. The surviving four POWs were released in August 1945.

The Raiders who landed in China were assisted by American missionary Rev. John M. Birch, whose contacts within Japanese-occupied China helped the Raiders to escape. Afterward, Birch was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army Air Force, continuing his work as a missionary while gathering intelligence on the Japanese. He was killed Aug. 25, 1945, at the age of 27, during a confrontation with Chinese Communists. The John Birch Society honors Birch, a recipient of both the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Service Medal.

Even though the Doolittle Raiders bombed Tokyo, it was the Chinese who suffered the most from the raid. Furious the Chinese nationalists were protecting the Americans, the Japanese retaliated against several coastal cities suspected of harboring the Americans, killing an estimated 250,000 Chinese citizens.

Doolittle was so convinced his mission had been a failure, he was convinced he would face a court-martial upon his return to the United States. Instead, he was promoted to general, skipping the rank of colonel. He and all of his Raiders were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Mitscher served in a variety of command leadership positions for the rest of World War II, earning the rank of admiral and title as Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

March 24, 2014

The Great Escape (with bonus Canadian content)

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 16:06

It was 70 years ago today that the “Great Escape” from Stalag Luft III took place:

March 22, 2014

Night Bombers, 1943

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Published on 30 Dec 2012

A unique record of the nightly air raids made on Germany during World War II. Archive colour footage from No. 1 Group, Royal Air Force operating Avro Lancaster bombers, in action, winter 1943. In the winter of 1943, RAF Bomber Command was sending massive raids almost every night into the heart of Germany. This is the story of one of them, an attack on Berlin. Although certain scenes had to be re-created for technical reasons, make no mistake, the raid is a real one and there are no actors.

Made by Air Commodore H.I. Cozens while station commander at Hemswell. This is the Only known colour record of the Bomber Command during WWII documenting a bombing raid targeting Berlin.

Another great find from the folks at Think Defence.

March 21, 2014

The Dambusters Raid – Full Documentary

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Published on 20 Apr 2013

On May 17th, 1943 the Royal Air Force carried out one of the most remarkable raids ever undertaken by any aircrew. On that night a squadron of Lancaster heavy bombers flew at low level across a blacked out Europe, towards the four great dams that delivered water and power to the German industrial heartland of the Ruhr. The aircrews had been trained for months to carry out this most daring and courageous of raids. Against a storm of anti-aircraft fire, they calmly flew their bombers in across the reservoirs, holding a specific height and speed, to deliver their strange cylindrical bouncing bombs, to explode against the face of the dams, and blow great holes in them. The factories of the Ruhr were crippled. 1300 German civilians died, and 53 aircrew were lost. For the very first time this programme explores both sides of a raid that has become an epic in the history of World War 2.

H/T to Think Defence for the link.

February 24, 2014

Argentina reported to be increasing military spending

Filed under: Americas, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:09

The Argentine government has announced it will be increasing spending on their armed forces by a third in the coming year. While this report in the Daily Express takes it seriously, it fails to account for the overall sorry state of the Argentinian economy … it’s not clear if there’s any actual money to be allocated to the military:

Buenos Aires will acquire military hardware including fighter aircraft, ­anti-aircraft weapons and specialised radar, as well as beefing up its special forces.

The news comes months before drilling for oil ­begins in earnest off the Falkland Islands, provoking ­Argentina’s struggling President Cristina ­Fernandez de ­Kirchner.

Last month she created a new cabinet post of Secretary for the Malvinas, her country’s name for the Falklands.

Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has refused to confirm that Britain would retake the Falklands if they were overrun by enemy forces.

The extra cash means Argentina will ­increase defence spending by 33.4 per cent this year, the biggest rise in its history. It will include £750million for 32 ­procurement and modernisation programmes.

They will include medium tanks and transport aircraft and the refurbishment of warships and submarines. The shopping list also ­includes Israeli air ­defence systems, naval assault craft, rocket systems, helicopters and a drone project.

As reported earlier this month, the economy is suffering from an inflation rate estimated to be in the 70% range, the government has expropriated private pensions and foreign-owned companies, and is unable to borrow significant amounts of money internationally due to their 2002 debt default. Announcing extra money for the military may well be the economic version of Baghdad Bob’s sabre-rattling press conferences … just for show.

On the other hand, military adventurism is a hallowed tradition for authoritarian regimes to tamp down domestic criticism and rally public opinion. Being seen to threaten the British in the Falkland Islands still polls well in Buenos Aires.

February 8, 2014

QotD: The defence ministry

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Humour, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:14

The problem of the Ministry of Defence is that in peace time the three armed forces have no one on whom to vent their warlike instincts except the cabinet or each other.

Jonathan Lynn, “Yes Minister Series: Quotes from the dialogue”, JonathanLynn.com

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