Quotulatiousness

December 19, 2014

The Raid On Scarborough – A Failed Attempt at Intimidation I THE GREAT WAR Week 21

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:05

Published on 18 Dec 2014

German admiral Franz von Hipper reluctantly carries out his orders to bomb British coastal towns. And indeed, this attempt to intimidate British civilians only makes them more united. British propaganda gets another opportunity to portray Germans as bloodthirsty and brutal. Meanwhile, the French start a new offensive near Vimy on the Western Front.

December 17, 2014

Ferdinand Foch I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:34

Published on 15 Dec 2014

Ferdinand Foch was one of the most famous Entente generals of World War 1. He already began his military career in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71. Until the end of WW1 he rose to the rank of Commander in Chief of the allied forces. War had always been central to Foch’s life, though neither he nor anyone else really foresaw the size, scope, and horrors of World War One. In this video we’re showing his impressive life.

November 28, 2014

QotD: Sex on the western front, 1914-1918

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

… while the soldiers on other fronts had to make do with the usual assortment of camp followers, local girls and any brothels which survived the operations that brought the lines to that spot, both sides on the Western Front were able to avail themselves of the services of established brothels in the towns near the front on each respective side. Well, the officers could, at least; proper brothels which had existed before the war generally displayed blue lamps, signifying that they were forbidden to enlisted men by military regulations. Lower ranks had to content themselves with makeshift red-lamp facilities, sometimes the new French Bordels Mobiles de Campagne, but more often just commandeered pubs or other buildings whose facilities might consist of little more than, as one soldier reported, “a stretcher, with a very thin sheet and blanket.”

In 1914, Western civilization had not yet sunk into the modern madness of pretending that healthy young men can simply “just say no” to sex without ill effect (or that they should); with rare exception, absolutely nobody in military leadership imagined that they could really stop men from visiting brothels by ordering them not to. Of course, the British tried to anyway; unlike the Germans (who issued the troops both condoms and disinfectant) and the French (who issued entire brothels), British military officials issued only the epigrammatic advice from Lord Kitchener while quietly allowing the troops to visit French brothels under the excuse that they didn’t want to offend their allies and hosts. Since blue lamp facilities were established houses staffed by experienced professionals with a supply of condoms, they had no problem with sexually transmitted disease. The same, however, could not be said for the red lamps, and since the troops were issued neither prophylactics nor proper information, STIs ran rampant. Over 400,000 cases were recorded among British or Commonwealth troops during the course of the war, 150,000 of them on the Western Front alone; altogether roughly 5% of the men were infected at least once, three and a half times the infection rate among French troops and fully seven times the German rate.

By 1915 nurse Ettie Rout persuaded the New Zealand authorities to begin issuing prophylactic kits to their troops, and Canada soon followed suit; Britain’s response was to garnish the pay of soldiers who contracted STIs and treat them in separate, second-rate hospital facilities in order to punish and shame them. Considering that an English Tommy’s pay was a scant one-fifth that of his counterparts from Canada and Australia (sixpence a day vs. two and a half shillings), it’s hardly surprising that infected troops preferred to hide their infections and/or treat them with ineffective patent medicines or folk remedies.

Maggie McNeill, “Red Lamp”, The Honest Courtesan, 2014-11-11.

November 14, 2014

Defend, Don’t Strike! – The Defensive War I THE GREAT WAR Week 16

Filed under: History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:38

Published on 13 Nov 2014

The German army dug in at the Western Front and waited for the next enemy attack at the Eastern Front. Even though the Germans outnumbered their opponents, they barely stand a chance against machine guns in no-man’s-land. But they realize: to defend a position is a lot easier than to attack and conquer. Especially while fighting near Ypres. At the Eastern Front, things are going better for Chief of Staff Ludendorff: he breaks through outstretched Siberian lines. At the same time, Russian soldiers are faced with a new enemy and start the Bergmann Offensive in today’s East-Turkey.

November 9, 2014

A Canadian Mistral (or two)? Not likely say the experts

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:07

Remember those palmy days of summer, when the French helicopter carrier Mistral visited Canadian waters for a joint exercise with the Canadian Army? I half-joking referred to it as Canada “kicking the tires” … but the idea hasn’t gone away completely. In the Ottawa Citizen, David Pugliese reported earlier last week that the International Business Times had run an article about it.

Halifax, Nova Scotia. FS Mistral (L-9013) is an amphibious assault ship, and lead ship of her class. She was commissioned in 2006. She features a landing craft dock, and helicopter facilities. Photo: Halifax Shipping News

Halifax, Nova Scotia. FS Mistral (L-9013) is an amphibious assault ship, and lead ship of her class. She was commissioned in 2006. She features a landing craft dock, and helicopter facilities. Photo: Halifax Shipping News

The deal is worth $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion (different figures are out there) to the French. The Russians are interested in three of the ships. The French haven’t proceeded yet with the sale to Russia because of the situation in Ukraine.

But how probable is it that Canada would buy the Mistral-class ships?

Earlier this year, the Royal Canadian Navy was looking at buying surplus U.S. Navy supply ships. But that is not going to happen, RCN commander Vice Admiral Mark Norman told Defence Watch. What is being examined is the purchase of a commercial oiler (maybe).

The RCN is in dire need of an oiler/supply ship……not, at this point, an amphibious assault ship. So if there is an extra billion dollars or more around, the focus might be on acquiring an oiler/supply fleet to replace the decommissioned AORs.

Mistral-class ships are capable of carrying 16 helicopters, landing barges, up to 70 vehicles and 450 soldiers. They also come equipped with a hospital.

Canadian shipyards could also be expected to oppose such a purchase. There would be little for them (except maybe in-service support) in such an acquisition and they could argue that such a purchase would undermine the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy.

In September, I called the idea of Canada buying the Mistrals as the maritime equivalent of “pie in the sky”, despite a passionate article in the US Naval Institute News pushing the idea. They even showed what a Canadian Mistral would look like:

Mistral-class ship, ‘Sevastopol’ configured as a NATO/Canadian Navy ship. CASR Image

Mistral-class ship, Sevastopol configured as a NATO/Canadian Navy ship. CASR Image

So, on the surface, the idea isn’t likely to go anywhere for practical and economic reasons. But, a couple of days later Pugliese posted another article on the Mistral debate, responding to criticism from University of Ottawa professor Roland Paris:

If the Paris had actually read the articles in question he would have found out that the stories arose not from Hugh Segal’s comments from May but from the fact that the delegation led this week by French President François Hollande to Canada contained a significant contingent of the country’s defence industry representatives, including those from Mistral shipbuilder DCNS. That group included the firm’s diplomatic adviser.

In addition, sources have told Defence Watch that the delegation did indeed try to interest Canada in Mistral-class ships, as well as the FREMM class frigates.

Will they succeed with Mistral? Like I have mentioned a number of times at Defence Watch, including in the posting cited by Paris, the answer is likely no.

[…]

France, over the last two years, has embarked on a significant push into Canada to promote its defence products, particularly in the naval arena. With $35 billion on the table for shipbuilding who can blame them?

There was a specific reason a Mistral-class warship sailed across the Atlantic this summer to take Canadian soldiers on board for amphibious exercises. And it wasn’t about any close relationship between the French and Canadian militaries, although that might have played a minor role.

No, the French are interested in selling. They want to sell Canada warships, warship designs, and naval equipment like that on board the Mistral-class and the FREMM frigates. That is the reason the FREMM ship Aquitaine also visited Canada.

Personally, I’d love to see the RCN acquire a pair of Mistral-class ships, but they would not come cheap, they wouldn’t create a lot of jobs in Nova Scotia, Quebec, or British Columbia (and therefore wouldn’t be useful for gathering votes from those provinces), and they’d require the government to fully equip them … helicopters are extra. And we all know how the Canadian government can’t manage to say the word “helicopter” without wasting millions of dollars, never mind actually buying any.

October 15, 2014

WW1 US Military Railroads in Europe

Filed under: Europe, Military, Railways, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:34

H/T to Roger Henry for the link.

October 11, 2014

“[French] society is corrupted and doesn’t have any moral principles”

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:47

The Guardian‘s Catherine Shoard on the reception Gérard Depardieu received from a “conservative” Russian politician:

Gérard Depardieu’s move to Russia had the effect of making the actor repent sexual activities conducted in Europe, a conservative Kremlin politician has said.

Reacting to the publication of Ça s’est fait comme ça, Depardieu’s memoir in which he discusses stints of employment as a grave robber and a male prostitute, Vitaly Milonov expressed sympathy for the actor.

“It wasn’t easy for him in France,” he told Russian newspaper MK. “There, society is corrupted and doesn’t have any moral principles.”

“I view Gérard’s book as sort of repentance, confession of old sins. Now that he breathed in the purifying air of Mordovia, all that filth left him. He sincerely repents what he was forced to do in his youth in France. He wants to live in a new way, without all that filth.”

October 10, 2014

Russian Mistral-class ships still on schedule for delivery from French shipyard

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:24

In the Guardian, Ariane Chemin reports from the Saint Nazaire dockyard where the Mistral-class helicopter assault ships Vladivostok and Sebastopol are still being readied for transfer to Russian control:

The contract to built the ships was signed by President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011, long before Putin showed any signs of attacking Ukraine, annexing Crimea or encouraging secession by the predominantly Russian-speaking self-styled republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, well before a ground-to-air missile brought down a Malaysia Airlines plane in July. But Hollande has no wish to go back on a contract worth €1.2bn ($1.5bn). At the beginning of September, on the eve of the Nato summit in Wales, Hollande announced France could not go ahead with the Vladivostok’s delivery to Russia, citing Moscow’s actions in eastern Ukraine. However the partial ceasefire in mid-September meant the French permitted the ship to begin its sea trials.

At the Nato headquarters in Brussels, member states are flabbergasted that France should be selling warships to a country that is threatening their security. In Washington Barack Obama is furious too.

Only in Saint Nazaire, Brittany, do they seem happy about the presence of the “Sebass” and “Vladi”, nicknames that reflect the locals’ attachment to their cumbersome guests. Russian sailors arrived at the end of June. They boarded the Smolny, their training ship, at Kronstadt, and it remains moored near the lock gates. Prefabricated huts on the quayside serve as classrooms for the cadets. Nets have been strung along the port side of the Smolny, to stop divers coming too close to the old ship, built in Szczecin, Poland, in 1976. “That thing wouldn’t be seaworthy in a gale,” says a naval veteran on the port.

[…]

In town, the cadets stand out on account of their extreme youth, blond hair and unbranded T-shirts. They buy cigarettes, have a couple of beers in a bar, pick up a six-pack at the supermarket near the shipyard, but avoid anything stronger. “Vodka here is an outrageous price,” says Mykola, a Ukrainian boilermaker building a cruise liner. At Le Skipper, the nearest brasserie, the sailors go online and Skype their girlfriends back home. Krystof, the Polish proprietor, speaks Russian. He acts friendly but there is “never any mention of the boats”. Even over a drink the Sebass and the Vladi are no-go areas when talk in Saint Nazaire turns to politics. The priority is jobs. “Without the shipyard, Saint Nazaire would just be a dilapidated suburb of [nearby seaside resort] La Baule,” says Jean Rolin, a local writer.

One Sunday in September, a small crowd of about 50 demonstrators gathered on the quay at the stern of the Vladivostok, waving Ukrainian flags and sporting badges marked “#No Mistral for Putin”. They were led by Bernard Grua, a businessman from Nantes, who has been campaigning, almost single-handed, against the sale of the assault ships to Moscow. His supporters know the capabilities of the vessel off by heart. A Mistral can carry 750 soldiers, 16 helicopters, Leclerc tanks, amphibious assault and landing craft, they recite. With Google maps they explore, one by one, Ukraine’s strategic ports. “The Germans flattened your town,” says Grua, for the benefit of the people of Saint Nazaire. “But when the Mistrals attack Mariupol, with Made in France written all over them, the people who didn’t protest will count as collaborators.”

October 9, 2014

The lightbulb cartel of 1924 and the birth of “planned obsolescence”

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Markus Krajewski writes about the formation of a multinational industrial cartel shortly after the First World War that helped create the very concept of “planned obsolescence” for (no) fun and (their) profit:

On 23 December 1924, a group of leading international businessmen gathered in Geneva for a meeting that would alter the world for decades to come. Present were top representatives from all the major lightbulb manufacturers, including Germany’s Osram, the Netherlands’ Philips, France’s Compagnie des Lampes, and the United States’ General Electric. As revelers hung Christmas lights elsewhere in the city, the group founded the Phoebus cartel, a supervisory body that would carve up the worldwide incandescent lightbulb market, with each national and regional zone assigned its own manufacturers and production quotas. It was the first cartel in history to enjoy a truly global reach.

The cartel’s grip on the lightbulb market lasted only into the 1930s. Its far more enduring legacy was to engineer a shorter life span for the incandescent lightbulb. By early 1925, this became codified at 1,000 hours for a pear-shaped household bulb, a marked reduction from the 1,500 to 2,000 hours that had previously been common. Cartel members rationalized this approach as a trade-off: Their lightbulbs were of a higher quality, more efficient, and brighter burning than other bulbs. They also cost a lot more. Indeed, all evidence points to the cartel’s being motivated by profits and increased sales, not by what was best for the consumer. In carefully crafting a lightbulb with a relatively short life span, the cartel thus hatched the industrial strategy now known as planned obsolescence.

[…]

How exactly did the cartel pull off this engineering feat? It wasn’t just a matter of making an inferior or sloppy product; anybody could have done that. But to create one that reliably failed after an agreed-upon 1,000 hours took some doing over a number of years. The household lightbulb in 1924 was already technologically sophisticated: The light yield was considerable; the burning time was easily 2,500 hours or more. By striving for something less, the cartel would systematically reverse decades of progress.

The details of this effort have been very slow to emerge. Some facts came to light in the 1940s, when the U.S. government investigated GE and a number of its business partners for anticompetitive practices. Others were uncovered more recently, when I and the German journalist Helmut Höge delved into the corporate archives of Osram in Berlin. Jointly founded in 1920 by three German companies, Osram remains one of the world’s leading makers of all kinds of lighting, including state-of-the-art LEDs. In the archives, we found meticulous correspondence between the cartel’s factories and laboratories, which were researching how to modify the filament and other measures to shorten the life span of their bulbs.

The cartel took its business of shortening the lifetime of bulbs every bit as seriously as earlier researchers had approached their job of lengthening it. Each factory bound by the cartel agreement—and there were hundreds, including GE’s numerous licensees throughout the world—had to regularly send samples of its bulbs to a central testing laboratory in Switzerland. There, the bulbs were thoroughly vetted against cartel standards. If any factory submitted bulbs lasting longer or shorter than the regulated life span for its type, the factory was obliged to pay a fine.

Companies were also fined for exceeding their sales quotas, which were constantly being adjusted. In 1927, for example, Tokyo Electric noted in a memo to the cartel that after shortening the lives of its vacuum and gas-filled lightbulbs, sales had jumped fivefold. “But if the increase in our business resulting from such endeavors directly mean[s] a heavy penalty, it must be a thing out of reason and shall quite discourage us,” the memo stated.

The great Adam Smith, of course, saw this coming in 1776: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” Some things never change.

October 5, 2014

QotD: “What happened to France?”

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

Here we should pause and ask an important question: What happened to France? To that savoir faire? And to French culture? To the country that we all loved enough to make allowances to put up with the casual hauteur and the studied rudeness? Because, after all, this was la belle France, and they could teach us a thing or two. They had something worth sharing.

But when was that? When was the last time you enjoyed, say, a contemporary French film? How many must-see French actors are there? Their most famous actor has now taken out Russian citizenship (and moved to Belgium). Name a living French painter worth the wall space. Name a great French musician. A novelist, apart from Michel Houellebecq — and the French hate him. Their vaunted cuisine has become a moribund tourist performance. Unable to change, terrified of innovation, France has become the Bourbons, who famously forgot nothing and learned nothing.

The language that committees of old academics protect, like maids fussing over a cabinet of bone china, has been ransacked, seduced, and impregnated with bastard usages by movies, pop music, the Internet, and the global need to speak English. And now even some French universities have begun teaching science and computing classes in English, because no one wants to come to France to study them in French.

The pre-eminence of French culture has evaporated, before our very eyes, within a generation. The fear that innovation might damage or detract from their weighty heritage has left it like an angry child, with its eyes closed and its hands over its ears, la-la-la-ing “Je ne regrette rien.” French civilization went from the brilliant clamor of the streets to the musty hush of the museum. Instead of creating, they have dusting.

A. A. Gill, Liberté! Egalité! Fatigué!“, Vanity Fair, 2014-04

September 30, 2014

French restaurant food quality is declining – send in the regulators!

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:07

Tim Harford on the recent French government attempt to “fix” the declining quality of food served in restaurants:

“Each time I visit the city the food gets worse and worse.” Tyler Cowen, economics professor, foodie and author of An Economist Gets Lunch, despairs of Paris. Cowen isn’t the only person to lament the state of French cuisine. This may be why — in a quintessentially French move — the nation’s government has introduced a new law in an attempt to improve standards.

The quixotic law in question is public decree No. 2014-797, more popularly known as the “fait maison” rule, in which restaurants may use a new saucepan-with-a-roof-and-chimney logo on the menu beside any dish that is made on the premises. More accurately, the restaurants must use the saucepan-with-a-roof symbol to denote house-made dishes, but the definition of house-made is rather whimsical, thanks to French legislators.

The entire affair seems unlikely to improve French cuisine but it does provide a nice lesson in practical economics: regulation is a superficially appealing answer to life’s problems but often fails to provide real solutions.

[…]

A third problem is that the regulation may produce unintended consequences. Consider a chef who offers a fresh fruit crumble alongside a selection of factory-made cakes and puddings. By law, he or she must display the fait maison logo beside the crumble, implicitly damning all his or her other dishes. Such chefs might decide to offer no house-made dishes at all, rather than bring unwelcome questions to the forefront of their customers’ minds.

Policymaking is flawed and crude while the world is subtle and unpredictable. That is why regulations are often rigged from the start, are only peripherally related to the real matter of concern and have a tendency to backfire.

September 22, 2014

A Canadian Mistral? What’s the maritime equivalent of “pie in the sky”?

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 17:30

A few months back, the French amphibious assault ship Mistral took part in joint exercises with Canadian troops from the Royal 22e Régiment (the “Van Doos”). I wondered at the time if it might be an opportunity for the RCN to “kick the tires” of the Mistral with an eye to eventually adding that to their theoretical shopping list (if they ever manage to get anything built this decade). At USNI News an opinion piece by Jim Dorschner looks at the benefits to NATO if the RCN leased one of the Mistrals being built for Russia while NATO itself took on the other one:

The September decision by France to withhold delivery of two Mistral-class Landing Platforms Helicopter (LPH) building for Russia is an opportunity for NATO, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and for the French shipbuilding industry and economy. France should not suffer economically for taking a stand against Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine. Rather, NATO, France and Canada can benefit if a little mutually beneficial creativity is applied.

While France desperately wants to complete the two amphibious warships — and get paid for them — NATO and Canada need the capabilities these ships can provide.

For Canada, an LPH would help buttress logistic support for the upcoming Canadian Joint Support Ship (JSS). The replacement to Canada’s fleet oilers originally required a level of expeditionary capabilities which were ultimately not included in the final ship design.

Furthermore, while one of the Russian Mistrals is already undertaking sea trials and the second is scheduled for completion in 2016, the first of three new Queenston-class JSS for the RCN will not even begin building in Vancouver until 2017 or 2018 at best, with delivery by 2019 or 2020.

It was just announced that one of the two the current support ships HMCS Protecteur and the three Tribal-class destroyers HMCS Algonquin, HMCS Athabaskan, and HMCS Iroquois will be withdrawn from service immediately, and the Queenston-class are not going to be built any sooner.

Mistral-class ship, ‘Sevastopol’ configured as a NATO/Canadian Navy ship. CASR Image

Mistral-class ship, Sevastopol configured as a NATO/Canadian Navy ship. CASR Image

A RCN Mistral could operate the full range Canadian helicopters, including CH-148 Cyclones and CH-147F Chinooks. Ideally, Canada should obtain 6-8 additional Cyclones configured for the Commando Helicopter role as part of a financial settlement with Sikorsky over the Maritime Helicopter Program (MHP). Commando Cyclones would be optimized for Special Operations, tactical assault, medical evacuation and utility missions, with troop seats in place of maritime sensors, though retaining the CH-148’s FLIR system.

The make-up of a Tailored Air Group (TAG) for the RCN LPH would depend on the mission. A mix of Commando Cyclones, Griffons and Chinooks for amphibious, SOF, Arctic support and humanitarian operations. Cyclones for maritime security and ASW task forces. Exchange aircrew from the US Marine Corps, the Royal Navy Commando Helicopter Force and the Royal Danish and Norwegian Air Forces should be embedded within the Cyclone squadron forming the core of the TAG. This is critical for building expertise and interoperability among Arctic and NATO partners. By way of building a more direct partnership, Resolute could regularly embark RDAF EH-101 Merlin tactical helicopters and MH-60S Seahawk maritime helicopters.

Not least of the challenges facing the RCN would be manning. Fortunately, Mistral was designed from the beginning to operate with a small crew – just 20 officers, 80 petty officers and 60 sailors.

The foremost challenge for Canada may be convincing the government and the public that obtaining a Mistral LPH for the RCN is sensible and affordable, despite being outside the NSPS construct. Given the challenges now emerging for NATO member states and for Canada itself, the answer is surely a resounding ‘Yes’.

Given the current government’s allergy to spending actual money on military priorities (as opposed to nice-but-cheap uniform changes for photo ops), this grand notion is probably dead in the water with no hopes of success … but it’d be a nice boost for the RCN, and nearly as useful for the Canadian Army and RCAF. But it wouldn’t win key voting blocks in Halifax or Vancouver.

September 10, 2014

Ruining royal reputations – it didn’t start on Fleet Street

Filed under: Europe, History, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

In Maclean’s, Patricia Treble reviews a new book by Jonathan Beckman, called How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair:

Three years before revolutionaries toppled Louis XVI and his Austrian-born wife, Marie Antoinette, France was mesmerized with a different tumult. Cardinal Louis de Rohan, scion of one of the nation’s grandest families, was in court, accused of stealing a famously expensive necklace from jewellers who’d created it. He claimed he’d acted at the behest of the queen, who then reneged on paying for the gaudy 2,800-carat piece. The resultant scandal solidified Marie Antoinette’s reputation for unbounded extravagance.

Yet, as Jonathan Beckman, explains in a masterful new account of the diamond necklace affair, nothing is as it appeared. There are fake royals, forged letters and disappearing gems as well as kidnappings, trysts and even a duel involving poisoned pigs. If the tale was fictional, it would be dismissed as an overwrought fantasy, yet in Beckman’s hands, its machinations unfold as an audacious caper that will enthrall readers much as the original events captivated Europe.

August 23, 2014

Defining the “best tank of World War 2″

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

Nigel Davies revisits one of the perpetual debates among amateur WW2 historians:

Let us start with the issue of tanks from the perspective of propaganda. More rubbish has been written about who had the best tanks during the Second World War than about any other topic to do with that war. Again and again you get supposedly serious historians talking about how the Germans started the Second World War with overwhelming tank superiority; that the Allies were only brought back into the race by the arrival of the Sherman tank; and how German technology leapt ahead again at the end of the Second World War to give them unrivalled vehicles. All these statements are of course completely incorrect.

One of the problems of course, is ‘best tank when, and for what?’

Comparing what was available in 1939/40 to what was being produced in 1945 (say a Panzer III or Matilda II with a Centurion or Stalin), is worse than useless. There is no comparison. Only the Panzer IV was actually produced throughout the war: and the heavily armoured final version of the tank — with a long barrelled 75mm gun capable of taking on almost every tank yet operational in mid 1945 — bore only a passing resemblance to the lightly armoured tank with a short barrelled infantry support gun — of with minimal ability to do more than scratch the paint of a CharB in 1939/40.

SOMUA 35 tank at Bovington Tank Museum (via Wikipedia)

SOMUA 35 tank at Bovington Tank Museum (via Wikipedia)

It’s relatively easy to do a quick measurables test comparing one tank against another: thickness and location of the armour, size and muzzle velocity of the main gun, engine horsepower, road speed, etc., but the very best tank on all of those measurements could still be beaten by an enemy using better combat tactics: the French SOMUA 35 and the British Matilda II were the best tanks in the world in 1939 and 1940 respectively (according to Davies). In spite of the superior measurables, the SOMUA 35 was incredibly limited by having the tank commander also be the gunner and loader and it lacked a radio for communication (and even if they had been so equipped, the already overworked tank commander would have had to be the radio operator, too). The Matilda was designed as an infantry tank, so it was very heavily armoured, but relatively slow and somewhat undergunned (the 40mm main gun only had solid shot for anti-armour use: there was no high explosive round for softer targets).

Matilda II at Yad la-Shiryon Museum (via Wikipedia)

Matilda II at Yad la-Shiryon Museum (via Wikipedia)

The Matilda and its successor the Valentine would probably still the best Allied tanks in the world in early 1941, when they swept Italian forces before them, and several times fought the German African corps to a standstill. The German response to their shocking failures in 1940, had been to upgrade the Panzer III and IV with slightly improved armour, and the short barreled 50 mm gun. But they were still on a losing wicket engaging the British infantry tanks in any sort of close terrain, such as in the siege of Tobruk. Fortunately for Rommel, out in the open terrain of the desert he could deploy his tanks behind screens of high-powered anti-tank guns, which the British tanks lacked the long-range high explosive shells to engage effectively.

It also helped that too many British cavalry officers in the desert war still had a “tally ho!” attitude and were frequently drawn into unsupported tank charges against German or Italian tanks who were able to draw the fast but lightly armoured British cruisers into easy killing range of their anti-tank guns.

M4A1 Sherman tank at Canadian Forces Base Borden (via Wikipedia)

M4A1 Sherman tank at Canadian Forces Base Borden (via Wikipedia)

This is where the myth of the value of the Sherman tank comes from. The Sherman arrived at a time when it’s armour and weapon were on a par with the Panzer III and IV tanks that it was facing. Despite the fact that its 75 mm gun was greatly inferior as an anti-tank weapon to the new British six pounder guns that were starting to equip British tanks, the high explosive shell that the Sherman could fire was incredibly useful for engaging Rommel’s 88 mm guns at long-distance in the flat desert terrain.

For several months, it seemed as though the mechanically reliable Sherman would be a war winner, despite its notable tendency to explode in flames whenever it was hit. (Allied troops refer to it as a Ronson — “lights first time every time”. German troops just referred to it as a “Tommy Cooker”.) But this concept was fantasy, which could be easily demonstrated within a few months, though it took the US government another two years to admit it.

[…]

T-34/85 at musée des blindés de Saumur (via Wikipedia)

T-34/85 at musée des blindés de Saumur (via Wikipedia)

In all of this so far, I have barely mentioned the Russians at all. Their T34 tank was possibly the single most effective of the war, and was the breakthrough that forced everyone else to rethink their designs. So we can say without a shadow of a doubt that the T34 was the best tank of the war for almost two years — from the time of Barbarossa (June 22, 1941) until the appearance of the Panther at Kursk (July 5, 1943). It certainly held this title unchallenged by the Sherman and Churchill tanks that appeared during its reign, and probably by the Tiger as well.

The Tiger is a problem for this sort of discussion, because it re-introduces the concept of ‘what for’ into the debate. The Tiger was a far superior heavy infantry support or assault tank to the T34, but a far inferior battlefield manoeuvre or pursuit tank. In fact the Tiger was so slow and limited in cross country ability, that it was actually more effective as a defensive weapon once the Germans were thrown back on that approach, than it had been for re-igniting their Blitzkreig glory days.

He sums up the post with a league table of “best tanks” for given years and purposes:

Having noted the necessary division between medium cruisers and heavy assault/infantry support tanks however, we can still make a fair summary.

So, in contrast to what many history books and documentaries will tell you, the French had the best tanks in 1939, and the British had the best tanks of 1940 and 1945. Also in contrast to what many history books will tell you, the Shermans effective front-line role can best be defined as the few months between the battle of Alamein, and the arrival of Tiger tanks in Tunisia. All attempts to use it after that in Italy or northern France just demonstrated how pathetic it was in modern engagements. Even the British Firefly version with the 17 pounder, was extremely vulnerable to any German tank. In fact it is amusing to note, that they came into their own for the blitzkrieg across open country in pursuit of the defeated German armies across France; which has a direct parallel to the inferior German tanks pursuing the defeated French in 1940. (The equally inadequate British Cromwell tanks, being significantly faster, were actually still better at this pursuit than the Shermans.) The best tank of the Sherman’s period of functional use, of course being the T34.

So our list of ‘best tanks’ could go something like this.
1939 — Best cruiser – Somua 35, Best support – CharB.
1940 — Best support becomes Matilda II.
1941 — Best cruiser initially Panzer III/IV with short 50mm guns, becomes T34 when Russia enters the war.
1942 — Best support is Tiger.
1943 — Best cruiser is Panther.
1944 — Best support is Tiger II.
1945 — Best ‘all purpose’ is Centurion.

August 19, 2014

The Prime Minister’s statement on the 72nd anniversary of Operation Jubilee

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:51

It was a bloody shambles, but we still remember the bravery and sacrifice of the troops who went ashore at Dieppe in 1942:

On August 19, 1942, nearly 5,000 Canadian troops, along with British and American Allies, undertook a raid on Dieppe to test new equipment, probe the strength of German defences and gain the experience necessary for a larger amphibious assault.

The majority of the forces that attacked that day at five different points along the 16 km front encountered stiff resistance, unexpected obstacles, and a well-entrenched, well-prepared enemy. The Canadians fought on, through machine gun fire, mortar barrages, and sniper and air attacks.

The lessons learned at Dieppe and subsequent landings proved invaluable for the D-Day invasion and were instrumental in saving countless lives on June 6, 1944. Sadly, the Raid on Dieppe came at a steep price for Canadian participants, with 916 making the ultimate sacrifice and 1,900 taken as prisoners of war.

On this solemn day, let us remember the courage and sacrifice of the thousands of Canadians who fought with bravery and determination at Dieppe to free Europe from Nazi tyranny and ensure the peace and freedom that we enjoy today.

Lest we forget.

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