May 18, 2017

World of Warships – HMS Hood

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 17 May 2017

Look up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No don’t be silly, it’s HMS Hood. Bugger off with your Superman jokes, Jingles.

May 16, 2017

The Virtual Lorenz machine

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

At The Register, Gareth Corfield discusses the new virtual coding device simulating the WW2 German Lorenz cipher machine:

The National Museum of Computing has put an emulation of an “unbreakable” Second World War German cipher machine online for world+dog to admire.

The Virtual Lorenz machine has been launched in honour of WW2 codebreaker Bill Tutte, the man who broke the crypto used in the twelve-rotor cipher machine.

As The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) puts it, Tutte’s work “shortened the conflict” – even though he had never even seen the cipher machine or its crypto scheme, the breaking of which the museum added was “the greatest intellectual feat of the war”.

TNMOC unveiled the Virtual Lorenz today to celebrate Tutte’s 100th birthday. Built by computing chap Martin Gillow, the simulation accurately reproduces the whirring of the cipher wheels (you might want to turn it down as the “background whirr” is a little too realistic).

The BBC profiled the “gifted mathematician” a few years ago, highlighting how the Lorenz machine whose secrets Tutte cracked was “several degrees more advanced than Enigma”, the cipher famously cracked by Tutte’s colleague Alan Turing. Tutte cracked the Lorenz in about six months, reverse-engineering its workings by reading intercepted Lorenz messages. When the Allies wanted to fool Hitler into believing the D-Day landings would take place in a false location, our ability to read Lorenz was critical for confirming that the ruse had worked – saving thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen’s lives.


The Virtual Lorenz can be found here. Word to the wise – it’s not on an HTTPS site, so if you’re hoping to use it to thwart GCHQ, you might want to think again.

May 9, 2017

Historical ingratitude

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

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, D.J. Webb asks what Europe — individual European nations, not the EU — owe to Britain:

I do believe that historical perspective is important, and that we should deal with other nations on the basis of historical memory. For example, we recall in our dealings with Greece and Italy that these countries have been of vital importance to the historical development of civilization in Europe, and at a long remove, we should be cognizant of the cultural and economic advantages bestowed on the Roman province of Britannia by the Romans. At a minimum, they evoke in us a residual affection. Of course, as history recedes, the ability of these countries to demand a special status owing to their illustrious history has to decline too. But some recognition of the achievements of the most glorious nations and what they have done for all of European civilization is in order.

Britain is a special country — we are told in the media and in the schools today that this is not the case — but a cursory reading of history shows that we are of vital importance to Europe. Economically, we gave the world the industrial revolution and capitalism. Politically, democracy and human rights (even where absurdly misinterpreted) are among our gifts to the world. Culturally, literature, drama and film are among the arts to which we have made great contributions that remain to this day part of the canon of world literature. Scientifically, Europe looks to us for having provided electricity, railways, automobiles, planes, computers, the telephone, television and the Internet. It is not an exaggeration to state that the prosperity of the whole of Europe, and indeed of every country in the world, comes on the back our our ancestors’ — and not their ancestors’ — achievements. English children should grow up with a knowledge of and pride in this.

Geopolitically, we have always sought to prevent combinations on the Continent, and stood against the Habsburgs and Imperial Spain, Napoleonic France, the Kaiser’s Germany and Nazi Germany. We also made an outsized contribution in the Cold War. Numerous European countries owe their freedom to us. I do not deny that historical memory works both ways. Maybe — I say this for the purpose of discussion — the prominence of Polish airmen in the Battle of Britain provides us with good reason to take, if possible and where facilitated by Poland’s own foreign policy, a pro-Polish view of modern international affairs, and if we need immigrants going forward, we could well consider prioritising Poland, as well as Czechs, Belgians, Frenchmen, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders, all represented in the Battle of Britain. However, there is no other European country that can lay claim to being the author of European freedom. True, Russian blood was expended to an immense degree in the defeat of Germany, but many European countries will be mindful that Russia was ultimately engaged in its own war of imperial conquest of Eastern Europe.

We are special, and do deserve recognition in Europe. Yet we get none. Or less than none, as all 27 EU countries have agreed to try to punish Britain for asserting its sovereignty. Would Luxembourg be free today without Britain? Jean-Claude Junker’s treatment of Britain is disgusting from a Luxembourgeois national. Does he not know that Luxemburgers huddled round the wireless in the 1940s listening to the World Service, hoping or praying that Britain or America would come to their salvation? I cannot abide the continental Europeans who refuse to acknowledge this. They will end up making an enemy of Britain, with long-term consequences.

It’s time to realise that the European nations we liberated were not worth it. They turned out to be ingrates. We need to face up to this. We wasted the lives of our servicemen for nothing. Who would wage war to liberate Belgium now?

May 2, 2017

Tank Chats #8 Renault FT-17

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

Published on 4 Aug 2015

The eight in a series of short films about some of the vehicles in our collection presented by The Tank Museum’s historian David Fletcher MBE.

Conceived by General Jean-Baptiste Estienne and manufactured under the control of the Renault Company this was the world’s first mass-produced tank, 3800 being built in all.

They went into action for the first time on 31 May 1918 near Ploissy-Chazelle and proved very successful when they were used in numbers. British forces used a few Renaults as liaison vehicles while the United States Army used them in combat and copied the design.

April 16, 2017

QotD: The fascination of Hitler and Nazi Germany

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

This morning I read Marina Fontaine’s review of Downfall (http://marinafontaine.blogspot.com/2017/03/netflix-review-downfall.html), yes, including mention of that scene, the one that’s been recaptioned several gazillion times, some with more humor than others. In the review, she asks why the fascination? What is it with the Nazis and Hitler?

I have a theory. It is purely mine, based on reading a metric crap-ton about all manner of things (and don’t ask me for cites because this stuff has stewed so long in the back of my head I no longer remember where I originally read whatever triggered any particular piece. You can get most of the raw facts off Wikipedia). It is also a very broad generalization. Coming years will determine whether or not it is correct in the big picture. I’m not optimistic (I hope I’ve got this horribly wrong. I fear I haven’t).

Okay. So.

The ongoing fascination with Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Simply put, it’s the most well-documented and acknowledged demonstration of the allure of evil and how easy it is for a more or less civilized people to descend into utter brutality. As such, it holds an unclean fascination not helped by uniforms that were designed to look good as well as be practical (or by the simple fact that evil, when done effectively, is sexy. Because it is invariably power, and untrammeled power at that. We’re human. Power attracts and corrupts us. The wiser among us acknowledge this so we can fight the effect).

The various Communist regimes can be dismissed as “not counting” because to the minds of those who do the dismissing, Russia, China, North Korea, and Eastern Europe “weren’t civilized”, and so Communism/Socialism would work just fine implemented by civilized people (they usually point to one of the Nordic nations when they do this). These same people are a big part of why the wrong lesson keeps being drawn from Nazi Germany.

The problem was not nationalism. It was not even the disgusting racial laws. Those laws could never have been passed, much less enforced, without the one big thing Socialism, Communism, and yes, Nazism have in common.

The supremacy of the state.


That bare listing of facts accounts for the rise of Hitler, but not the continuing notion that the Nazis were conservative (only if you define ‘conservative’ as ‘nationalist’). That one comes from two sources. One was Soviet propaganda aimed at making Communist and Nazi ideologies seem much more distinct than they actually were. The other was Allied propaganda aimed at much the same thing. It wouldn’t do, after all, to have people realize they were allied with a dictator every bit as vile as Hitler.

So in American and British media, the evil of the Nazis was played up, while the evil of the Communists was minimized where it couldn’t be silenced altogether. The Communist plants and fellow-travelers in both nations helped.

They were – and are – almost the same. Both demand an all-powerful state. The state determines who is deserving and provides for the deserving. The state dehumanizes the undeserving prior to eliminating them. The state determines the direction of industry (in the case of the Nazis, by requiring business owners to support the regime where the Communists took over the businesses). The state cares for you – but if you’re no use to the state, your care will be an unmarked grave in a prison camp/work camp/concentration camp/gulag. All hail the state.

Kate Paulk, “The Ease of Evil”, guest-posting at According to Hoyt, 2017-03-21.

April 15, 2017

Tank Chats #6 Vickers Light MKVI B

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

Published on 5 Jun 2015

The first mass-produced British tank.

Being, in terms of numbers, the most significant British tank at the outbreak of war, the Mark VIB saw service with the British Expeditionary Force in France, the Eighth Army in North Africa and in various subsidiary theatres. As a reconnaissance vehicle it was satisfactory, as a fighting tank quite useless since armour protection was minimal and the armament ineffective against enemy tanks.

April 9, 2017

Tank Chats #5 Lanchester Armoured Car

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

Published on 7 May 2015

Lanchester Armoured Cars were produced by the The Lanchester Company at the request of the War Office, during late 1920’s and 30’s.

The long chassis was fitted with a large armoured body that mounted two machine guns in a turret as well as a third, optional, hull mounted gun. The Lanchesters turned out to be much too big for reconnaissance duties and were almost impossible to turn around on the narrow roads found in Britain at that time. Only 39 cars were issued.

April 6, 2017

American “isolationism” between the wars

Filed under: Americas, China, Europe, History, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Reason‘s Jesse Walker linked to this article by Andrew Bacevich which helps to debunk the routine description of US foreign policy between the first and second world wars as “isolationism”:

… McCain is worried about the direction of world events, with Russian provocations offering but one concern among many. Patterson shares McCain’s apprehensions, compounded by what he sees as a revival of “the isolationism in Europe and America that precipitated World War II.”

Now as an explanation for the origins of the war of 1939-1945, American “isolationism” is as familiar as the sweet-and-sour pork featured at your local Chinese takeout joint. Its authenticity is equally dubious. Yet Patterson’s assertion has this virtue: It captures in less than a sentence a prime obstacle to instituting a realistic, fact-based approach to foreign policy.

In truth, isolationism is to history what fake news is to journalism. The oft-repeated claim that in the 1920s and 1930s the United States raised the drawbridges, stuck its head in the sand, and turned its back on the world is not only misleading, but also unhelpful. Citing a penchant for isolationism as a defect afflicting the American character is like suggesting that members of Congress suffer from a lack of self-esteem. The charge just doesn’t square with the facts, no matter how often repeated.

Here, by way of illustrating some of those relevant facts, is a partial list of places beyond the boundaries of North America, where the United States stationed military forces during the interval between the two world wars: China, the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, Panama, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. That’s not counting the U.S. Marine occupations of Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic during a portion of this period. Choose whatever term you like to describe the U.S military posture during this era — incoherent comes to mind — but isolationism doesn’t fill the bill.

As for Patterson’s suggestion that the behavior of the United States “precipitated” World War II, the claim is simply laughable. World War I precipitated World War II, or more specifically the European malaise resulting from the bloodletting of 1914-1918, compounded by the Bolshevik Revolution and the spread of fascism, and further exacerbated by profoundly shortsighted policies pursued by Great Britain and France. Throw into the mix the Great Depression, Japanese imperial ambitions, and the diabolical plotting of Adolf Hitler and his henchmen, and you have the makings of a catastrophe. Some few observers foresaw that catastrophe, but preventing it lay well beyond the ability of the United States, even if U.S. leaders had been clairvoyant.

March 30, 2017

How Germany’s Victories weakened the Japanese in World War 2

Filed under: China, Europe, Germany, History, Japan, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 24 Mar 2017

This video gives you a short glimpse on how the war in Europe had a detrimental effect on the Japanese Economy.

Military History Visualized provides a series of short narrative and visual presentations like documentaries based on academic literature or sometimes primary sources. Videos are intended as introduction to military history, but also contain a lot of details for history buffs. Since the aim is to keep the episodes short and comprehensive some details are often cut.

March 24, 2017

David Fletcher’s Tank Chats #2: The Carden Loyd Carrier

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

Published on 27 Feb 2015

The second in a series of short films about some of the vehicles in our collection presented by The Tank Museum’s historian David Fletcher MBE.

The Carden Loyd Carrier or tankette: Designed by Sir John Carden and Captain Vivian Loyd this was a low cost, two-man Machine-Gun Carrier for infantry use. The company was taken over by Vickers-Armstrong in 1927 and the vehicle was mass-produced for the British Army in addition to a thriving export trade. Unpopular with the infantry, they were used mostly by the Royal Tank Corps as embryonic light tanks in the reconnaissance role.

March 6, 2017

David Fletcher’s Tank Chats #1: The A13 Cruiser

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

Published on 13 Feb 2015

The first in a series of short films about some of the vehicles in our collection presented by The Tank Museum’s historian David Fletcher MBE.

The A13 was the first British tank to have Christie Suspension. With a top speed of 40 miles per hour, it was much faster than the German Panzers, and had one of the best guns of its time. Despite this, many were lost in the battle for France in 1940. They fared better in the desert when their speed enabled them to cut off and defeat a huge Italian Army at Beda Fomm in Libya.

February 11, 2017

QotD: The Nazi Final Solution in Denmark and Bulgaria

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

… most nations of Central and Eastern Europe were occupied by or allied with Germany during this period. The Nazis made it clear that deporting their Jews to the concentration camps in Nazi territory was a condition for continued good relations; a serious threat, when bad relations could turn a protectorate-type situation into an outright invasion and occupation.

Pride of place goes to Denmark and Bulgaria, both of which resisted all Nazi demands despite the Germans having almost complete power over them. Most people have heard the legend of how, when the Germans ordered that all Jews must wear gold stars, the King of Denmark said he would wear one too. These kinds of actions weren’t just symbolic; without cooperation from the Gentile population and common knowledge of who was or wasn’t Jewish, the Nazis had no good way to round people up for concentration camps. Nothing happened until 1943, when Himmler became so annoyed that he sent his personal agent Rolf Gunther to clean things up. Gunther tried hard but found the going impossible. Danish police refused to go door-to-door rounding up Jews, and when Gunther imported police from Germany, the Danes told them that they couldn’t break into apartments or else they would arrest them for breaking and entering. Then the Danish police tipped off Danish Jews not to open their doors to knocks since those might be German police. When it became clear that the Nazis weren’t going to accept any more delays, Danish fishermen offered to ferry Jews to neutral Sweden for free. In the end the Nazis only got a few hundred Danish Jews, and the Danish government made such a “fuss” (Arendt’s word) about them that the Nazis agreed to send them all to Theresienstadt, their less-murderous-than-usual camp, and let Red Cross observers in to make sure they were treated well. In the end, only 48 Danish Jews died in the entire Holocaust.

Bulgaria’s resistance was less immediately heroic, and looked less like the king proudly proclaiming his identity with oppressed people everywhere than with the whole government just dragging their feet so long that nothing got done. Eichmann sent an agent named Theodor Dannecker to get them moving, but as per Arendt:

    not until about six months later did they take the first step in the direction of “radical” measures – the introduction of the Jewish badge. For the Nazis, even this turned out to be a great disappointment. In the first place, as they dutifully reported, the badge was only a “very little star”; second, most Jews simply did not wear it; and, third, those who did wear it received “so many manifestations of sympathy from the misled population that they actually are proud of their sign” – as Walter Schellenberg, Chief of Counterintelligence in the R.S.H.A., wrote in an S.D. report transmitted to the Foreign Office in November, 1942. Whereupon the Bulgarian government revoked the decree. Under great German pressure, the Bulgarian government finally decided to expel all Jews from Sofia to rural areas, but this measure was definitely not what the Germans demanded, since it dispersed the Jews instead of concentrating them.

The Bulgarians continued their policy of vaguely agreeing in principle to Nazi demands and then doing nothing, all the way until the Russians invaded and the time of danger was over. The result was that not a single Bulgarian Jew died in the Holocaust.

Scott Alexander, “Book review: Eichmann in Jerusalem”, Slate Star Codex, 2017-01-30.

January 26, 2017

Autarky is not the answer

Filed under: Economics, History, Japan, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Warren Meyer on the idiocy of Trump’s economic nationalist notions:

Think about the corollary of Trump’s economic nationalism, particularly if everyone followed this same approach. If one skews all the rules and taxes and prohibitions so everything must be sourced domestically, then if a country does not have some particular resource or skill domestically, it is out of luck. No domestic rare earth metals? Sorry.

But governments and powerful people seldom calmly accept that something they critically need is not available. They will be tempted to go and take it. The worst, most violent empire building of the last 100-150 years has occurred when countries have pursued economic nationalism. Think of the colonialism of the late 19th century. Today we happily trade with South Africa and other countries for valuable resources, but in that time of economic nationalism, if a country wanted access to these resources, it felt it had to control the land and the people. Hitler in the 1930’s wanted to make Germany self-sufficient in agricultural goods and certain other resources, and the only way to do that was to go and grab other people’s land and resources.

The best example of all of this phenomenon is, I think, Japan in the 1930’s. Japan felt that it was resource poor and under Trump’s theory of economic nationalism, it felt it had to control oil and other resources it did not have domestically. So it plotted to go take it. When the US instituted a trade embargo in these very goods to punish Japan’s aggressiveness in China, it just accelerated Japan’s thinking in this area, convincing it for good it had to control these resources, and it was soon invading the oil-rich islands of what is now Indonesia. This example is all the more telling because Japan actually found true prosperity after the war when it traded peacefully for these resources. Unfortunately, it adopted economic nationalism, via MITI, of another form and helped manage themselves into a 20-year recession, but that is another trade-related story for another day.

January 3, 2017

QotD: The “best” tank

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

I actually just finished a book that will be out in May next year called Armored Champion which is a general look at tank warfare in World War 2 that puts it into a broader context. One of the things I did in the new book Armored Champion is try to distinguish between what I call “tankers choice” and “commanders choice.” And what I mean by that is the tankers choice is what the tanker wants, the individual tank crew wants. The individual tank crew obviously wants a tank that is extremely powerful, very well armored, had a very powerful gun. So if you compare a Tiger or a Panther or a Sherman, the tanker is going to want the most powerful tank available. The commanders choice is very different, because the commander wants combat power. And combat power doesn’t necessarily come from the best technology because in many cases the best technology has issues.

So the Tiger during World War 2 cost the Germans something in the neighborhood of 300,000 Reich marks. You can buy a Stug III assault gun for about 70,000 Reich marks or a Panzer IV tank for about 100,000 Reich marks. So in other words you can get three Panzer IV tanks for every Tiger that you buy. And on top of it, the Tiger, because it was so big it was extremely unreliable. Things like the Stug III and Panzer IV had about double the reliability of Tiger. So if you’re a German senior commander, it’s an open question whether you want a force built up entirely of Tigers because they are unreliable and expensive so you are not going to get a lot of them. You’re going to get a lot more Panzer IV or Stug III vehicles for your Reich marks. So in that book I’m trying to compare those type of issues. And you know, that comes up with the Sherman. One reason there is 11,000 US tanks and tank destroyers In Germany in April 1945 is because the US decided to concentrate on a tank that was extremely reliable and relatively economical to build. And I don’t think anyone would claim that the Sherman was the best tank from the perspective of the tank crew, it didn’t have the best armor, it didn’t have the best gun, but from commanders perspective it was an excellent weapon. There were just lots and lots of them, so they gave the commander a lot of battlefield power. That can’t be said for a lot of the better German tanks because they simply were too expensive to be built in large numbers and they weren’t reliable enough, you couldn’t count on them. So it depends on the perspective that you are looking at it from.

“Interview with Steven Zaloga”, Tank and AFV News, 2015-01-27.

December 22, 2016

QotD: “History provides lessons for the present, not spoilers for the future”

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

The other issue with historical analogy is that it ignores, well, history. Before World War I, an alliance system had never resulted in such catastrophic outcomes. The very fact of the war — the knowledge every actor in the drama now carries — changes the calculation every player makes. In 1914, no one knew something like the Great War, with its destructive, devastating results, could happen. Now, everyone does.

We are in a season rife with historical analogy, with many Americans glancing fretfully toward Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, drawing on the experience of those decades to illuminate this one. But historical analogies can often obscure rather than enlighten, assert rather than explain. Easy historical analogies lead us to think we understand more about the world and the future than we do.

The truth is, we don’t know what will happen next, nor the best way to respond. History provides lessons for the present, not spoilers for the future. As such, it should inform our understanding, not dictate it. Those who fail to learn from the past may be doomed to repeat it, but those who over-learn are doomed, as well.

Nicole Hemmer, “The Ankara shooting isn’t 1914. And historical analogies can often lead us astray”, Washington Post, 2016-12-20.

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