July 22, 2014

What happened to the top universities outside the Anglosphere?

Filed under: Europe, History, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:29

Steve Sailer has an interesting take on the rise of the top universities in the Anglosphere:

The reality is that the top U.S. (and British) universities have been winning the global competition for talent since the middle of the 20th Century. Look at Nobel Prizes. It wasn’t always like this. Go back to the summer of 1914 and the best research universities tended to be German, with other Continental countries in competition.

What happened to bring about Anglo-American dominance of universities?

I’m sure there are many reasons, but I want to fixate on just two. Namely, we won the Big Ones: WWI and WWII. In the postwar era, the losers, such as Germany and Austria (1918 and 1945), Italy (1943) and France (1940) smashed up their great colleges for being epitomizations of anti-democratic elitism.

The Continentals converted their famous universities to open admissions with virtually no tuition: giant lecture halls with a few thousand students taking notes or dozing.

The French government, not being stupid, kept some small, low profile, ultra-elitist Écoles to train the people who actually run France, while trashing grand old names like the Sorbonne. Piketty, for example, did his undergrad at the École normale supérieure, which is immensely prestigious in the right circles in France, but us big dumb Americans hardly know about it because it only has 600 undergrads. And few Tiger Moms in Seoul, Shanghai, or Mumbai care about it either.

For a French culture that believes itself normally superior, this is annoying.

In contrast, the winning Americans poured even more money into Harvard and Yale. When 1968 happened, only CCNY in the U.S. was dumb enough to fall for the reigning ideology rather than just give it lip service. Instead, Harvard devoted ample resources to modeling admissions and perfected a system of affirmative action for buying off complainers (see Robert Klitgaard’s 1985 book Choosing Elites) without damaging Harvard as the prime pipeline to Wall Street.

Similarly, Oxford and Cambridge survived the Socialist governments with elitist prestige largely intact, mostly because Britain, though almost ruined by the expense, was on the winning side in WW I/II. And winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

July 17, 2014

Geddy Lee, wine fan

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:12

I don’t recall a lot of wine references in Rush songs, but perhaps I’m not listening hard enough: Geddy Lee is a huge wine fan and has a recent interview in Terroni Magazine (transcribed by Power Windows).

How long have you been collecting wine?

I was trying to think about that this morning actually, because I knew you’d ask me. I started collecting wine probably in the mid ’80s but not in a serious way. It wasn’t until the late ’80S that I got more serious about it.

I read that you built a modest cellar in your home but your collection quickly outgrew that one so you had to construct a second. Has your collection outgrown your cellar space or is it still hovering at around 5,000 bottles?

I don’t like to talk about how much wine I have [laughing] but I have surpassed that. I also spend a lot of time out of the country so I have wine in those places, too.

Was it love at first sip or was a taste for wine something that you acquired over time?

Well, what happened with me was when I was touring in the late ’70s, we were starting to get a little successful in America and promoters would always ask our manager, “What can I buy the guys and leave in their dressing room?” So Alex, my guitar player/partner, he was always into wine before I was so he would always say, “Great wine. Great Bordeaux.” So we would get these great bottles left for us. He would drink his and I would take all mine home because I wasn’t really fanatical About wine yet and I had a little wine fridge and I kept them safe and sound. At first I acquired a taste for Bordeaux but after many years of trying different wines, I discovered Burgundy and it changed my life, my palate and I completely crossed over to the other side-the pinot side.


I’ve read that you’re an avid traveler. Is sampling locally produced wine, if the country you’re in indeed produces it, import ant to you?

Yes it is. I’ll give you an example: last year my wife and I spent a month in New Zealand. And I’m not a big New World wine fan but seeing as we were going to be there for a month 1 thought, well you know, I should try. So every night I made it a project to try a different pinot noir. I came away from the country with about four or five New Zealand pinots that I absolutely love. It was good for me, helping to lose that French wine snobbishness that I happen to have. New Zealand makes, in my view, the best pinot noir outside of France.

Now bear with me here, but Louis Pasteur once said, “A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world.” And Rush lyrics are famously philosophical. Any chance that you imbibe in wine to help fuel the writing process?

Absolutely not! [Laughing] I imbibe in wine to forget the writing process! I drink coffee to inspire the writing.

July 14, 2014

QotD: Revolutionary formula

Filed under: Europe, History, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:41

Bastille Day! A day to remind ourselves yet again of the age-old formula that Revolution equals Political Inexperience times Zeal times Stupid Theory times Testosterone. Or R = PIZST2, if you prefer.

The French Revolution — in which virtually all the revolutionary leaders were men under 40 — makes the point perfectly. But you can try the same game with revolutions of your own choice, and in the privacy of your home.

Jesse Norman, “Bastille Day! A time to remember the ‘magazine of wisdom’ that was Edmund Burke”, Telegraph, 2014-07-14.

July 6, 2014

Henry II – “from the Devil he came, and to the Devil he will surely go”

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:40

Nicholas Vincent looks at the reign of King Henry II, the founder of the Plantagenet dynasty who died on this day in 1189:

Although in December 1154, Henry was generally recognised as the legitimate claimant to the throne, most notably by the English Church, his accession was fraught with perils. Among the Anglo-Norman aristocracy there were many who saw Henry as an outsider: an Angevin princeling, descended via his father, Count Geoffrey Plantagenet of Anjou, from a dynasty that had long been regarded as the principal rival on Normandy’s southern frontier. King Stephen had left a legitimate son, William Earl Warenne, still living in 1154, and Henry himself had two younger brothers who might well have disputed his claims to succeed to all his family’s lands and titles. Asked some years before to judge Henry’s chances of success, St Bernard of Clairvaux is said to have predicted of Henry that ‘from the Devil he came, and to the Devil he will surely go’.

Yet, from what contemporaries termed ‘the shipwreck’, and modern historians have described as ‘the anarchy’ of Stephen’s reign, Henry II was to emerge as one of England’s, indeed as one of Europe’s, greatest kings. The Plantagenet dynasty that he founded was to occupy the throne of England through to 1399 and the eighth successive generation. Henry himself came to rule over the most extensive collection of lands that had ever been gathered together under an English king – an empire in all but name, that stretched from the Cheviots to the Pyrenees, and from Dublin in the west to the frontiers of Flanders and Burgundy in the east.

In part this empire was the product of dynastic accident. From his mother, Matilda, daughter and sole surviving legitimate child of the last Anglo-Norman King, Henry inherited his claim to rule as king in England and as duke in Normandy. From his father, Geoffrey, he succeeded to rule over Anjou, Maine and the Touraine: the counties of the Loire valley that had previously blocked Anglo-Norman ambitions in the South. Rather than share these inherited spoils with his brothers, Henry seized everything for himself. William, his younger brother, was granted a rich but by no means royal estate. Geoffrey, the third brother, threatened rebellion but was bought off with a shortlived grant of the county of Nantes.

Henry, however, was far more than just a fortunate or crafty elder son. Through his own exertions he greatly expanded his family’s territorial claims. In 1152, two years before obtaining the throne of England, he had married Eleanor, heiress to the duchy of Aquitaine and only a few weeks earlier divorced from her previous husband, the Capetian King Louis VII. As effective ruler of Eleanor’s lands, Henry found himself in possession of a vast estate in south-western France, stretching from the Loire southwards through Poitou and Gascony to the frontiers of Spain. Henry’s marriage to Eleanor was regarded as scandalous even by his own courtiers. She was eleven years older than him and was rumoured to have enjoyed extra-marital affairs not only with her own uncle but with Henry’s father, Geoffrey Plantagenet. By temperament she was as fiery as Henry, and as determined to stake her own claims to rule. As a result, Henry’s domestic life was far from tranquil. From 1173 onwards, Eleanor was to be held under house arrest in England, whilst Henry, to judge by the bastard children that he fathered, had long enjoyed the favours of a series of mistresses. Even so, by his marriage, Henry laid the basis of the later claims made by England’s kings to rule over southern France: claims that were to unite Gascony to the English crown as late as the fifteenth century and which were to play a vital role in the history of Anglo-French relations throughout the Middle Ages and beyond.

July 5, 2014

QotD: Collaborators and their accusers, France 1944

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

The task of filtering the tens of thousands of Frenchmen and women arrested for collaboration in the summer of 1944 proved overwhelming for the nascent administration of de Gaulle’s provisional government. That autumn, there were over 300,000 dossiers still outstanding. In Normandy, prisoners were brought to the camp at Sully near Bayeux by the sécurité militaire, the gendarmerie and sometimes by US military police. There were also large numbers of displaced foreigners, Russians, Italians and Spaniards, who were trying to survive by looting from farms.

The range of charges against French citizens was wide and often vague. They included “supplying the enemy”, “relations with the Germans”, denunciation of members of the Resistance or Allied paratroopers, “an anti-national attitude during the Occupation”, “pro-German activity”, “providing civilian clothes to a German soldier”, “pillaging”, even just “suspicion from a national point of view”. Almost anybody who had encountered the Germans at any stage could be denounced and arrested.

Anthony Beevor, D-Day: The Battle for Normandy, 2009.

June 18, 2014

Is the RCN “kicking the tires” of the Mistral?

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:59

The French navy is visiting Canada’s East coast this week, taking part in Exercise LION MISTRAL. David Pugliese reported on the operation a few days ago:

Approximately 200 Canadian Army soldiers from 5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group in Valcartier, Quebec will take part in Exercise LION MISTRAL alongside members of the French Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force from June 16-23, 2014, in Gaspé, Quebec, according to a news release from the DND.

  • Canadian Army soldiers, primarily from the 1st Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment (1 R22eR), will board The Mistral, the French amphibious assault ship and helicopter carrier in Halifax on June 18; 

  • Canadian Army troops will conduct littoral operations, including running air-land operations and battle procedures, and establishing a helicopter landing site and a beachhead. Ex LION MISTRAL will also feature a humanitarian assistance air evacuation operation that will help train expeditionary forces to respond to humanitarian disasters;

  • Ex LION MISTRAL will culminate in two disembarkation operations on a Gaspé beach on June 20-21 marking the end of the amphibious exercise. In response to a request by the town of Gaspé, the members of the 1 R22eR will also be offering a static display of their vehicles and equipment on June 21;

  • More than 400 French Navy members of The Mistral and 175 of La Fayette will be participating alongside some 200 Canadian soldiers, including 20 engineers from 5 Combat Engineer Regiment from Valcartier;

On Flickr a couple of photos from yesterday, as equipment was being loaded onto Mistral in Halifax:

Members of the 1st Battalion, Royal 22e Regiment load light armored vehicles onboard the French Navy amphibious ship Mistral as part of Exercise LION MISTRAL 2014 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, June 17, 2014. Photo: MCpl Patrick Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera IS2014-3030-06

Members of the 1st Battalion, Royal 22e Regiment load light armored vehicles onboard the French Navy amphibious ship Mistral as part of Exercise LION MISTRAL 2014 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, June 17, 2014.
Photo: MCpl Patrick Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera IS2014-3030-06

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

Additional photos by M/Cpl Blanchard were posted on the Ottawa Citizen website.

June 17, 2014

Not all wines should be cellared

Filed under: Wine — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

At the Wall Street Journal, Will Lyons has some suggestions for wines you can — and should — drink sooner rather than stashing them in your cellar for a far distant future date:

These are styles of wines that aren’t enormously serious, in that they don’t have a huge range of flavors. (A shorthand for this category, suggested by Charles Lea, owner of London fine wine merchant Lea & Sandeman, is “anything you can drink out of an ice bucket,” which includes a variety of reds as well as whites.) That isn’t to deride these wines in any way. It is as legitimate to appreciate an uncomplicated style of white wine, designed to refresh and be sipped without too much thought, as it is to purr enthusiastically over the grandeur of a classed growth Bordeaux. In that vein, let’s celebrate this expression of youth.

The obvious place to start is with white wine, as the vast majority are best drunk within a year of the harvest — although the later bottlings always tend to taste a little better. Sauvignon Blanc, Vinho Verde, Moscato, Pinot Grigio and Picpoul de Pinet are the best candidates for “better when young.”

One wine that is absolutely made for this time of year is France’s Condrieu, made from the Viognier grape. Wine writer Hugh Johnson likened its smell to that of a “garden of unknown flowers.” You can find Viognier now planted all over the world, particularly in Australia and California, and I always find it is best drunk young. Chenin Blanc, dry Riesling and Argentina’s Torrontés can also bypass the cellar, as can almost any rosé.

With red wines, the choices aren’t as obvious. As a rule of thumb, anything heavy with lots of tannin, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo or a heavy Merlot, improves with time in the bottle. Italy’s soft, fruity Dolcetto; straight Beaujolais, by which I mean Nouveau and Beaujolais-Villages (not Cru Beaujolais); and anything made with the Gamay grape are good to go from the off.

June 12, 2014

QotD: Regulating cheese

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Health, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:00

France, for all its faults, has genuinely federalized food: a distinctive cheese every 20 miles down the road. In America, meanwhile, the food nannies are lobbying to pass something called the National Uniformity for Food Act. There’s way too much of that already.

The federalization of food may seem peripheral to national security issues, and the taste of American milk — compared with its French or English or even Québécois equivalents — may seem a small loss. But take almost any area of American life: what’s the more common approach nowadays? The excessive government regulation exemplified by American cheese or the spirit of self-reliance embodied in the Second Amendment? On a whole raft of issues from health care to education the United States is trending in an alarmingly fromage-like direction.

Mark Steyn, “Live Brie or Die!” SteynOnline.com, 2014-03-13

June 7, 2014

Historic WW2 aircraft fly over Juno Beach

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:53

Two Spitfires, a Dakota DC-3, and a Lancaster Bomber conduct a flypast over Juno Beach, France, during commemorative ceremonies of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2014. Photo by Sgt Bern LeBlanc Canadian Army Public Affairs AS2014-0027-002

Two Spitfires, a Dakota DC-3, and a Lancaster Bomber conduct a flypast over Juno Beach, France, during commemorative ceremonies of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2014. Photo by Sgt Bern LeBlanc Canadian Army Public Affairs AS2014-0027-002

“30, 40 or 50 years ago, a year the quality of 2013 Bordeaux would have been a complete disaster”

Filed under: Business, Europe, Wine — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Even in a good year, I don’t have the money to invest in Bordeaux futures, so I rarely bother to read much about them. Even so, I’d heard that the 2013 vintage was not going to be a good one given the weather that year in the region. The price for Bordeaux wines, however, didn’t do the rational thing and drop below previous (good) years: prices went up. The Wine Cellar Insider explains what happened next:

2013 Bordeaux is not the vintage of the century. The growing season, with its cold, damp character made sure of that. 30, 40 or 50 years ago, a year the quality of 2013 Bordeaux would have been a complete disaster.

But that is not what took place with 2013 Bordeaux. With the willingness to sacrifice quantity for quality, the best producers, with the financial ability to do what needed to be done made some fine wine. 2013 Bordeaux is not an exciting, sexy vintage. But having tasted close to 400 different 2013 Bordeaux wines, clearly, there are some nice wines worth drinking.

So, what’s the problem? When it comes to the wine, none. The average scores from the majority of wine writers and critics show the wines at an average of 89/90 Pts for perhaps the top 100 – 200 wines. Clearly, those are the not the scores for a bad vintage.


Had the wines been priced in proportion to consumer demand, while 2013 Bordeaux was never going to be an easy sell, it would not have been an impossible sale. I am all for the open, free market when it comes to pricing. Producers can and should price their wine for what they think the market will bear. But 2013 Bordeaux wines remain unsold. Selling the wines to a negociant is not selling the wine. Merchants need to buy and consumers need to purchase as well for it to be a true sale. For some odd reason, in the great vintages, Bordeaux has a knack for pricing the wines correctly. They might seem expensive to mature collectors that are used to paying lower prices, but for the next generation of wine lovers, the wines seem fairly priced.

I get it. On the one hand, due to the excessive unflattering and at times, unfair press, 2013 Bordeaux was never going to receive a warm reception in the marketplace. Perhaps the price the market was actually willing to pay was unappetizing to the chateau owners. But it would have been nice to see an effort. It is difficult for 2013 Bordeaux to sell through to consumers when other recent, and more successful vintages are available in the market for less money.

Bordeaux map

H/T to Brendan for the link.

June 6, 2014

“Fizzy dishwater” instead of Champagne for the “wine Fuhrer”

Filed under: Europe, History, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:45

Chris Mercer on the various ways the French Champagne producers tried to keep their best wine from being diverted to the use of the Nazis:

By the time the French city of Reims was liberated in August 1944, many Champagne houses and growers had spent four years playing a game of high stakes cat-and-mouse with the local Nazi ‘wine fuhrer’, Otto Klaebisch.

As Julian Hitner writes in a feature published in the July issue of Decanter magazine, it was Klaebisch’s job to keep the Nazi empire topped up with France’s finest Champagnes. At its peak, Klaebisch was demanding 400,000 bottles per week.

In response, many Champenois resorted to subterfuge to try to protect their most precious vintages and cuvees.

As noted in the book Wine & War by Don & Petrie Kladstrup, some built fake walls in their cellar to hide their best stocks, while others intentionally mislabelled bottles.

On more than one occasion, Klaebisch suspected he was being duped. ‘How dare you send us fizzy dishwater?’ he asked 20-year-old Francois Taittinger.

‘Who cares? It’s not as if it’s going to be drunk by anyone who knows anything about Champagne,’ replied the young Taittinger, who was subsequently thrown in prison for several days.

H/T to Brendan for the link.

Mulberries, PLUTO and Hobart’s Funnies

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

Seventy years ago today, the Allies launched Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy by the combined British, American, and Canadian armies. A huge fleet of combat and transport vessels, supported by a large proportion of the United States Army Air Force and the Royal Air Force bomber and fighter aircraft were all deeply involved in making the invasion a success. In addition, perhaps the world’s largest disinformation campaign was being run to keep the German high command unsure of the real time and location of the invasion: the Pas de Calais and the Norwegian coast were also potential invasion targets, forcing the defenders to spread their forces thinner and to keep as many as possible out of reach of the real beaches.

In addition to the operational uncertainty of where to expect the blow, the Germans were also split about how best to conduct the defence: Field Marshal Rommel wanted to rush units to the beach as soon as possible, to defeat the Allies before they got inland. General Geyr von Schweppenburg, commander of Panzer Group West (and Field Marshal von Rundstedt, overall commander in the West), on the other hand, preferred to meet the Allies further inland (not taking the full impact of Allied air superiority into account). On 6 June, the defenders fell between the two philosophies, not being able to mass enough force to stop the invaders in their tracks, but suffering higher casualties in the attempt to move units toward the coast in the teeth of RAF/USAAF attacks.

Operation Overlord (detail) Click to see full-sized image at wwii-info.net

Operation Overlord (detail) Click to see full-sized image at wwii-info.net

The invasion beaches were code-named Utah (4th US Division), Omaha (1st and 29th US divisions), Gold (50th British Division), Juno (3rd Canadian Division), and Sword (3rd British Division). Before the amphibious forces landed, three paratroop divisions were dropped behind the beaches to slow down German response (US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions to the West and Southwest of Utah beach, and the 6th British Airborne to the East of Sword beach).

One thing to note from the map is that there wasn’t a significant port within the invasion zone: the Allies had learned the bitter lessons of attacking a port in August of 1942 and the 2nd Canadian Division had paid in blood for the tuition. This meant a way had to be found to keep getting supplies to the troops after they moved off the beaches, until a functioning port could be secured. The Allied answer was to bring a port with them from England — two of them, actually — one to support the US forces in the West and one to support the British and Canadian forces in the East. These were the Mulberry harbours:

Mulberry harbour aerial view

Think Defence explains how the Mulberry harbour worked:

In the image above these three components are shown.

A; Breakwater to attenuate waves

B; Pier heads at which to load and unload

C; Causeways that connected the pier heads to the beach

Each of the components was given a code word but fundamentally, they were concerned with either providing sheltered water or connecting ships and the beach.

There have been a number of different theories about how the Mulberry name was chosen, the more fanciful ones being completely incorrect.

Brigadier White recalls the moment he received a memo, unclassified, with the heading ‘Artificial Harbours’ and after recovering from the shock of such poor security immediately consulted with the Head of Security at the War Office. The next code, from the big book of code words, was Mulberry, it was that simple.


There were two complete Mulberry harbours, A for American and B for British, each the size of Dover harbour. Once the task of constructed and assembling the components on the South coast of England was complete they were ordered to Normandy on the 6th of June 1944, D-Day, departing on the 7th

Assembling the components was an effort in itself, requiring 600 tugs drawn from all parts of the UK and USA, all under the supervision of the Admiralty Towing Section commanded by Rear Admiral Brind.

Operational security was paramount, the captains of the block ships were told they were going to the Bay of Biscay and a model of the Mulberry harbour and invasion beaches in the headquarters of the Automobile Association at Fanum House was made by toymakers who were confined to the building until well after the invasion.

Unfortunately, the Western harbour was severely damaged in a storm a few weeks after coming into service, so the Eastern Mulberry had to do double duty after that.

Aside from the need to get reinforcements, rations, ammunition and other supplies forward, the Allied armies were highly motorized, and required vast amounts of fuel. Without a port’s specialized unloading facilities, it was assumed that it would be somewhere between difficult and impossible to keep the armies mobile. To address this, PLUTO was developed: Pipe Line Under The Ocean.

A great solution, although as Think Defence points out, it didn’t actually go into service until a few months after D-Day, and was not quite the war-winner the newsreel portrayed:

Second in daring only to the artificial harbors project and provided our main supplies of fuel during the Winter and Spring campaigns.

What also PLUTO did was allow vital tanker tonnage to be deployed to the Far East theatre.

Despite the understandable over exaggeration of the success of PLUTO it should be noted that fuel did not start flowing until September 1944, well after the invasion and on the 4th of October, BAMBI was closed down and operations concentrated on DUMBO after it had delivered a measly 3,300 tonnes, hardly war winning.

Cherbourg was by then receiving tanker supplies direct from the USA.

Major General Sir Percy HobartGetting across the channel was a major undertaking, but getting the troops ashore with enough firepower to break out of the beach defences required more innovation. The British army established a specialized unit to develop and operate vehicles and weapon systems specifically designed for that purpose. Major General Sir Percy Hobart was the commander of the 79th Armoured Division, and he was exactly the right man for the job (being related by marriage to Montgomery may have helped, too, but before taking command he was acting as a corporal in the Home Guard).

Hobart’s unit developed some of the most interesting armoured vehicles (not all of which were brilliant successes) and it’s safe to say that the Allies would have suffered much higher casualties without Hobart’s “Funnies”. In fact, General Eisenhower said as much himself: “Apart from the factor of tactical surprise, the comparatively light casualties which we sustained on all beaches, except OMAHA, were in large measure due to the success of the novel mechanical contrivances which we employed, and to the staggering moral and material effect of the mass of armor landed in the leading waves of the assault. It is doubtful if the assault forces could have firmly established themselves without the assistance of these weapons.” Think Defence has a good summary of many of these odd and interesting vehicles:

Sherman Duplex-Drive tank

Sherman tanks were also converted into amphibious vehicles by the addition of a canvas skirt, propellers and other modifications. These provided vital armoured fire support in the opening phase of the beach assault although a number were lost to the heavy seas when they were launched too far from the beach. It is widely thought that as these losses were particularly heavy on Omaha beach it was this that contributed to the very high losses in that area.

Sherman AVRE Flail tank

Mine clearance was carried out by a number of means but the preferred method was to use rotating chain flails to detonate the mines thus clearing a path the width of the tank. The flails were mounted on the front of the tank and were called Sherman Crabs. A number of Churchill based designs using rollers and ploughs were also employed, although this image shows one mounted on a Sherman.

Churchill AVRE Bobbin tank

The beach surveys had revealed the existence of large patches of clay that would not bear the weight of heavy vehicles and artillery. To overcome this the ‘bobbin’ tanks were used that laid a continuous reinforced canvas mat over the soft ground, thus spreading the load over a wider area.

Canadian paratroopers on D-Day – “he thought we were battle hardened and we were as green as green could be”

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

Lance Corporal John Ross tells the Ottawa Citizen about his D-Day experiences with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion:

“We attacked the strong point; there was an all-night fire fight. We had casualties and the Germans did too. At about 10 o’clock in the morning they surrendered. There were about 30 of us there, 42 Germans surrendered to us. They outnumbered us and they out gunned us,” describes Capt (Ret) John Ross, now 93 years-old recalling his time as a paratrooper who dropped several kilometers inland of Normandy on D-Day.

“We took off on the 5th of June, one day before D-Day. C Company was given the job to go in 30 minutes ahead to clear the drop zone of any enemy and attack the German complex.”

Capt (Ret) Ross served as a Lance Corporal in C Company, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, 3rd Airborne Brigade, 6th British Airborne Division. He was dropped from an Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle, a small two engine paratroop transport aircraft.


When thinking back to his time in Normandy Capt (ret) Ross remembers how Canadian soldiers were thought of as, seasoned warriors.

“I read an excerpt written by a German General after the war. He was in that area that we dropped in and he said that the reason they were overcome was because they faced battle hardened Canadians. I’d like to write a letter to him and say none of those Canadians had ever heard a shot fired in anger; he thought we were battle hardened and we were as green as green could be.”

June 5, 2014

QotD: Churchill, Roosevelt and de Gaulle

Filed under: Europe, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:08

The central problem of relations with de Gaulle stemmed from President Roosevelt’s distrust. Roosevelt saw him as a potential dictator. This view had been encouraged by Admiral Leahy, formerly his ambassador to Marshal Petain in Vichy, as well as several influential Frenchmen in Washington, including Jean Monnet, later seen as the founding father of European unity.

Roosevelt had become so repelled by French politics that in February he suggested changing the plans for the post-war Allied occupation zones in Germany. He wanted the United States to take the northern half of the country, so that it could be resupplied through Hamburg rather than through France. “As I understand it,” Churchill wrote in reply, “your proposal arises from an aversion to undertaking police work in France and a fear that this might involve the stationing of US Forces in France over a long period.”

Roosevelt, and to a lesser extent Churchill, refused to recognize the problems of what de Gaulle himself described as “an insurrectional government”. De Gaulle was not merely trying to assure his own position. He needed to keep the rival factions together to save France from chaos after the liberation, perhaps even civil war. But the lofty and awkward de Gaulle, often to the despair of his own supporters, seemed almost to take a perverse pleasure in biting the American and British hands which fed him. De Gaulle had a totally Franco-centric view of everything. This included a supreme disdain for inconvenient facts, especially anything which might undermine the glory of France. Only de Gaulle could have written a history of the French army and manage to make no mention of the Battle of Waterloo.

Anthony Beevor, D-Day: The Battle for Normandy, 2009.

May 30, 2014

“French spies [are] number two in the world of industrial cyber-espionage”

Filed under: China, Europe, Government, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:11

High praise indeed for French espionage operatives from … former US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates:

Former spy and defense department secretary Robert Gates has identified France as a major cyber-spying threat against the US.

In statements that are bound to raise eyebrows on both sides of the Atlantic, Gates (not Bill) nominated French spies as being number two in the world of industrial cyber-espionage.

“In terms of the most capable, next to the Chinese, are the French – and they’ve been doing it a long time” he says in this interview at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Rather than a precis, The Register will give you some of Gates’s (not Bill) words verbatim, starting just after 21 minutes in the video, when he answers a question about America’s recent indictment of five Chinese military hackers.

“What we have accused the Chinese of doing – stealing American companies’ secrets and technology – is not new, nor is it something that’s done only by the Chinese,” Gates tells the interviewer. “There are probably a dozen or fifteen countries that steal our technology in this way.

“In terms of the most capable, next to the Chinese, are probably the French, and they’ve been doing it a long time.

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