Quotulatiousness

August 21, 2015

Allocating the blame for “Operation Jubilee”

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

In a BBC post from a few years back, Julian Thompson looks at the Dieppe raid:

On 19 August 1942, a disastrous seaborne raid was launched by Allied forces on the German-occupied French port of Dieppe. Why was such a raid ever undertaken? Because, with Germany operating deep in the Soviet Union, the Russians were urging the Allies to relieve the pressure on them by opening a second front in north-west Europe.

At the same time the British Chief of Combined Operations, Rear Admiral Louis Mountbatten, was agitating for a practical trial beach landing, against real opposition, for his troops. In the face of this pressure, Churchill decided that Operation Rutter, a ‘hit and run’ raid on Dieppe, should go ahead.

[…]

Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff — the heads of the Navy, Army and Air Force, who met daily to discuss strategy and advise Churchill — were responsible for this disastrous misjudgement. But, because no written record exists of the Chiefs of Staff approving the raid in its final form, it has sometimes been suggested that it was really Mountbatten who remounted it without authorisation. This is almost certainly nonsense.

The Chiefs of Staff disliked Mountbatten, regarding him as an upstart foisted on them by Churchill, so any unauthorised action on his part would have given them the ammunition to recommend his removal. Since Mountbatten was not removed, and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Sir Alan Brooke, in his frank and detailed diary, makes no mention of his having exceeded his authority, it seems unlikely that Mountbatten can be accused of mounting the raid without authority.

General Brooke was in the Middle East from 1 August 1942, returning on the 24th, after the event. This was unfortunate, for, as the most forceful and intelligent of the Chiefs of Staff, had he been in Britain in the days preceding the raid, he might have persuaded Churchill to call it off.

Much has been said since about the fact that the Dieppe raid was a necessary precursor to the great amphibious operations that were to follow, in terms of the lessons learned and experience gained. Mountbatten pursued that line all his life. But as Chief of Combined Operations, he did bear some of the responsibility for mounting the operation, so one can only comment, ‘he would say that, wouldn’t he?’

The disaster did point up the need for much heavier firepower in future raids. It was recognised that this should include aerial bombardment, special arrangements to be made for land armour, and intimate fire support right up to the moment when troops crossed the waterline (the most dangerous place on the beach) and closed with their objectives.

However, it did not need a debacle like Dieppe to learn these lessons. As judged by General Sir Leslie Hollis — secretary to the Chiefs of Staff Committee and deputy head of the Military Wing of the War Cabinet with direct access to Churchill — the operation was a complete failure, and the many lives that were sacrificed in attempting it were lost with no tangible result.

July 13, 2015

Japan’s cross-dressing WW2 spy in China

Filed under: China, History, Japan — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In The Diplomat, Stephen Joyce reviews Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army, a recent book by Phyllis Birnbaum:

Divisive figures often make the most compelling biographical subjects; and Kawashima Yoshiko is no exception. During her life and in death opinions have varied markedly. Loathed by the Chinese as a traitor, extolled by the Japanese for her talents as a spy, more recently she has even become a heroine to the LGBT community.

In Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army, Phyllis Birnbaum provides a measured assessment of the fascinating rise and fall of this erratic, narcissistic, cross-dressing, bisexual princess.

Born in 1907 as Aisin Gioro Xianyu, Kawashima Yoshiko was the 14th daughter of Prince Su of the Qing imperial family. Soon after the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912, she was unwillingly sent to Japan to be adopted by family friend Kawashima Naniwa.

Her formative teenage years were spent in Matsumoto being educated in Japanese language and culture. It was not the happiest of upbringings. An attempted suicide and sexual assault by her new father are noted as potentially life-defining events but are hard to verify. Whatever the root cause of her discontent, in 1925 she shaved her head and started wearing men’s clothes.

In 1927 she married a Mongolian prince in a politically convenient union that quickly failed and Yoshiko soon travelled to China to pursue her dream of a honorable return to power for the Qing dynasty, beginning with Manchuria and Outer Mongolia.

With Japan increasingly active in China she soon found herself a raison d’etre: a spy in the service of the Japanese. Several incidents define her status as a spy; all are shrouded in mystery.

[…]

Although it would be hard to argue that she had a major influence over the key events of her time, Kawashima Yoshiko is a superb subject for biography and should interest all lovers of Asian history. And despite living her life in the public and media glare her essential mysteriousness remains—even in death. Did the Chinese Nationalist government execute her (as Kim Bai Fai) in 1948 or, as some would have it, did she escape and live out her last days quiet obscurity? Birnbaum concludes that the latter outcome is questionable, to say the least. Assuming she was indeed executed, her memoirs reveal a wry acceptance of her ultimate fate, despite her life aims lying in tatters.

The sheer wealth of material — autobiographies, Yoshiko’s letters, interviews, press reports, sensationalist magazine articles and official documents — with which to write a biography to some extent serves to cloud rather than illuminate the life of Yoshiko Kawashima. Much like her futile efforts to restore the Qing dynasty in China, any attempt to firmly pin down her real life story and true character seems destined to fail.

July 7, 2015

World of Warships open beta

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

I’ve been keeping an eye on World of Warships, if only due to the renderings of the various ships (as a kid, I used to love the diagrams of ships in publications like Purnell’s History of the Second World War). I doubt I have the time to play the game very much, but I’ll probably sign up for the open beta which began last week.

At Massively Overpowered, MJ Guthrie talks to the developers:

Immersion. That’s not a word you often hear associated with lobby-based PvP games. But in the case of World of Warships, the third title in Wargaming’s WWII-era trilogy, it’s more than just fitting; it’s defining. Although not a battle simulation, WoWS offers a genuinely immersive experience thanks to the historical authenticity and the level of detail in both the audio and visual departments. You’ve heard the devil is in the details? Well that’s where the immersion is, too. And now that open beta has started, more players are finally able to dive in and experience this for themselves.

To learn more about how the development team achieved such a high level of immersion, I went to the source: I visited Wargaming’s headquarters in St. Petersburg and talked with the devs who create everything you see and hear in the game. And after watching the creation process in action, I appreciated the ambiance all the more when I jumped in for a hands-on in the closed beta.

Accuracy must take second place to what the players say they want, however:

Sounds really start to shine through once you turn the music down. Although the game’s smart music slider suppresses it when you fire, try clicking it off sometime to focus on the many ambient sounds. Tohtash said that the team has already added “about 3,000″ different sounds to the game. Players will actually hear different metallic sounds from the engines and hulls when the ships change speeds and from the guns when they fire. Engines have four different sound elements (engine, turbine, resonance, and post effects), and guns have three (attack, body, and echo or tail), which combine with recoil, load, and double echo. Using the various elements, the team took care to make different caliber of guns have different sounds. On top of all the types of sounds is the fact that they are positional, changing depending on what view players are in. If your camera is too close to the gun, you will get ringing in your ears after the shot!

Artillery sounds in World of Warships are something that diverges from historical accuracy. The team has access to reference videos, but focus groups have not wanted the more accurate gunfire sounds; they favor big booming ones. Tohtash admitted that actual sounds alone are a bit dry, but once effects such as implementing the bass and the full range of frequencies are added in, the sound is richer and fuller.

July 3, 2015

QotD: “US tankers were notorious for identifying everything as a Tiger tank”

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

When you read unit accounts, whether it’s the actual unit after action reports or the published books, everyone talks about Tiger tanks. But in looking at it in both German records and US records, I’ve only found three instances in all the fighting from Normandy to 1945 where the US encountered Tigers. And by Tigers I mean Tiger 1, the type of tank we saw in the film [Fury]. I’m not talking King Tigers, the strange thing is that the US Army encountered King Tigers far more often than Tigers. That’s partly because there weren’t a lot of Tigers left by 1944, production ends in August 1944. There were not a lot of Tigers in Normandy, they were mostly in the British sector, the British saw a lot of Tigers. Part of the issue is that US tankers were notorious for identifying everything as a Tiger tank, everything from Stug III assault guns to Panzer IV and Panthers and Tigers.

There was one incident in August of 1944 where 3rd Armored division ran into three Tigers that were damaged and being pulled back on a train, they shot them up with an anti-aircraft half-track. And then there was a single Tiger company up in the Bulge that was involved in some fighting. And then there was one short set of instances in April 1945, right around the period of the film, where there was a small isolated Tiger unit that actually got engaged with one of the new US M26 Pershing tank units. They knocked out a Pershing and then in turn that Tiger was knocked out and the Pershing tanks knocked out another King Tiger over the following days. So I found three verifiable instances of Tigers encountering, or having skirmishes with US troops in 1944-45. So it was very uncommon. It definitely could have happened, there are certainly lots of gaps in the historical record both on the German side and the US side. I think the idea that the US encountered a lot of Tigers during WW2 is simply due to the tendency of the US troops to call all German tanks Tigers. It’s the same thing on the artillery side. Every time US troops are fired upon, it’s an 88, whether it’s a 75mm Pak 40 anti-tank gun, a real 88, a 105mm field howitzer, they were all called 88’s.

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

June 27, 2015

American literacy and the unanticipated boost that was World War 2

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

Terry Teachout makes the unusual claim that it was the Second World War that “made America literate”:

It’s said that two things about war are insufficiently appreciated by those who, like me, have not known it first-hand: 1) It is, when not terrifying, mostly dull, and 2) it is, like all human enterprises, subject to the operation of the law of unintended consequences. Few aspects of World War II better illustrate both of these points than the Armed Services Editions publishing project. Between 1943 and 1947, the U.S. Army and Navy distributed some 123 million newly printed paperback copies of 1,322 different books to American servicemen around the world. These volumes, which were given out for free, were specifically intended to entertain the soldiers and sailors to whom they were distributed, and by all accounts they did so spectacularly well. But they also transformed America’s literary culture in ways that their wartime publishers only partly foresaw — some of which continue to be felt, albeit in an attenuated fashion, to this day.

[…]

Thus, the Armed Services Editions, which were published by a civilian organization called the Council on Books in Wartime — compact, oblong, two-column-wide paperbacks that were designed to slip easily into the pockets of a uniform. They were sold to the military for six cents per volume. Since books were regarded by the U.S. government as “weapons in the war of ideas,” the military specified that nothing would be published that might “give aid and comfort to the enemy, or which may be detrimental to our own war effort,” or that was not in accord with “the spirit of American democracy.” Still, it was the Council on Books in Wartime, not the military, that chose the titles, and while a few of the longer ones were abridged, none were censored.

The first ASEs were shipped in September of 1943. About 155,000 crates of books were subsequently distributed each month. Each crate contained between 30 and 50 new titles that fell into one of the following categories:

  • Mysteries, thrillers, and Western novels by such popular writers as Max Brand, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, W.R. Burnett, Erle Stanley Gardner, Zane Grey, Ernest Haycox, and Luke Short.
  • Bestselling “blockbuster” novels, such as Henry Bellamann’s Kings Row, Edna Ferber’s So Big, Charles Jackson’s The Lost Weekend, Kenneth Roberts’s Northwest Passage, and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, many of which had been or would soon be turned into movies.
  • Collections by humorists and writers of light verse, including five titles by Robert Benchley, six by James Thurber, and three by Ogden Nash.
  • War-themed books like Bill Mauldin’s Up Front and Ernie Pyle’s Brave Men.
  • Biographies, histories, memoirs, and other nonfiction titles, including Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians, Virgil Thomson’s The State of Music, and Carl Van Doren’s Benjamin Franklin.
  • Classic novels and poetry, some easily accessible (David Copperfield, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), others less so (Moby-Dick, Vanity Fair).
  • A modest but not exiguous complement of “serious” modern novels, short stories, poetry, and plays, most of them representative of then-current mainstream taste (Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop, Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men) but some of which were decidedly recherché (Max Beerbohm’s Seven Men, Christopher Isherwood’s Prater Violet)

As this list suggests, the ASEs were intended to please a broadly popular audience. But even the bestsellers tended to be more elevated in tone than their present-day counterparts (Somerset Maugham was represented by five novels, John P. Marquand by six). And it was taken for granted that each crate of books would always contain two or three genuinely challenging titles. The first series of ASEs, for instance, included Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, Herman Melville’s Typee, and H.L. Mencken’s Heathen Days. Such books were “sold” to skeptical readers with enticing flap copy, as in the case of the ASE edition of The Great Gatsby: “Its pages are filled with masterly realism, melodramatic action, searing irony, and swift romance…Here is a story that is American to the core.”

In any case, it scarcely mattered what the Council on Books in Wartime printed, for all of the ASEs were hugely popular among servicemen, so much so that they were frequently torn into pieces so that they could be shared more easily. A.J. Liebling, who covered the war in Europe for the New Yorker, even saw them on the beaches of Normandy after D-Day. “These little books are a great thing,” a Brooklyn infantryman told him. “They take you away.”

June 25, 2015

Building A WW2 Tank: A Defense Report On Film – 1941 Educational Documentary

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

Published on 20 Jun 2015

Activities at the Chrysler Tank Arsenal in Detroit. Wheel suspension units are milled, wheels ground, gun mount gears cut, armor plate put through a punch press and drill, sprocket gears cut by an arc torch, gears heat treated and immersed in oil baths, armor plate hydraulically riveted, the tanks assembled, armament installed, and the tanks lifted from the assembly line by cranes. The tanks are tested at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

June 8, 2015

QotD: German troops on the Atlantic Wall

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

Formations transferred from the eastern front, especially Waffen-SS divisions, believed that the soldiers garrisoned in France had become soft. “They had done nothing but live well and send things home,” commented one general. “France is a dangerous country, with its wine, women and pleasant climate.” The troops of the 319th Infanterie-Division on the Channel Islands were even thought to have gone native from mixing with the essentially English population. They received the nickname of the “King’s Own German Grenadiers”. Ordinary soldiers, however, soon called it “the Canada Division”, because Hitler’s refusal to redeploy them meant that they were likely to end up in Canadian prisoner of war camps.

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

June 7, 2015

QotD: Air power on D-Day

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

Allied fighter-bombers continued to attack not only front-line positions, but also any supply trucks coming up behind with food, ammunition and fuel. The almost total absence of the Luftwaffe to contest the enemy’s air supremacy continued to provoke anger among German troops, although they often resorted to black humour. “If you can see silver aircraft, they are American,” went one joke. “If you can see khaki planes, they are British, and if you can’t see any planes, then they’re German.” The other version of this went, “If British planes appear, we duck. If American planes come over, everyone ducks. And if the Luftwaffe appears, nobody ducks.” American forces had a different problem. Their trigger-happy soldiers were always opening fire at aircraft despite orders not to because they were far more likely to be shooting at an Allied plane than an enemy one.

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

June 6, 2015

QotD: Getting ashore on D-Day

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

At 04.30 hours on the Prince Baudouin, the waiting soldiers heard the call: “Rangers, man your boats!” On other landing ships there was a good deal of chaos getting the men into the landing craft. Some infantrymen were so scared of the sea that they had inflated their life jackets on board ship and then could not get through the hatches. As they lined up on deck, an officer in the 1st Division noticed that one man was not wearing his steel helmet. “Get your damn helmet on,” he told him. But the soldier had won so much in a high card game that his helmet was a third full. He had no choice. “The hell with it,” he said, and emptied it like a bucket on the deck. Coins rolled all over the place. Many soldiers had their field dressings taped to their helmet; others attached a pack of cigarettes wrapped in cellophane.

Those with heavy equipment, such as radios and flame-throwers which weighed 100 pounds, had great difficulty descending the scramble nets into the landing craft. It was a dangerous process in any case, with the small craft rising and falling and bouncing against the side of the ship. Several men broke ankles or legs when they mistimed their jump or were caught between the rail and the ship’s side. It was easier for those lowered in landing craft from davits, but a battalion headquarters group of the 29th Infantry Division experienced an inauspicious start a little later when their assault craft was lowered from the British ship Empire Javelin. The davits jammed, leaving them for thirty minutes right under the ship’s heads. “During this half-hour,” Major Dallas recorded, “the bowels of the ship’s company made the most of an opportunity which Englishmen have sought since 1776.” Nobody inside the ship could hear their yells of protest. “We cursed, we cried and we laughed, but it kept coming. When we started for shore, we were all covered with shit.”

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

May 17, 2015

The Yasukuni Shrine is part of the reason Japan can’t apologize for their historical aggressions

Filed under: Asia, History, Japan, Pacific — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At The Diplomat, J. Kevin Baird looks at Japan’s continued resistance to examining their own military and diplomatic history after the First World War:

Japan faces the expectations of its friends and neighbors to express itself on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will formulate and express those words. In doing so, he faces a dilemma. The focus of that dilemma is Yasukuni Shrine and what it speaks to regarding Japan’s view of the Pacific War. Will Japan demonstrate contrition in seeking atonement, or does it aim for exoneration by rehabilitating its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere motivations for the Pacific War? Histories yet to be may hinge on that choice.

[…]

In 2014, Shinzo Abe rejected the idea of Japan emulating Germany’s actions, citing differing political contexts for postwar Europe versus Asia. He implied the quest for European unification somehow mandated the German approach. A divided and adversarial East Asia, it seems, made Japanese attempts at atonement futile or counterproductive. That argument may be made, but it skirts the core issue of Japan’s stance, more deeply dividing the region and entrenching adversarial national relationships. Abe and his advisors surely understand this. Japan’s ability to shape regional and world affairs, as it is fully capable of doing and aspires to do, hinges upon how it is perceived by the community of nations, especially those of East Asia. Abandoning the ideal of reconciliation over its wartime actions cannot be an option on the Japan table. What strategy for realizing their ambition is at work? It may not be contrition and atonement.

German artist Hans Haacke wrote, “Museums are managers of consciousness. They give us an interpretation of history, of how we view the world and locate ourselves in it. They are, if you want to put it in positive terms, great educational institutions. If you want to put it in negative terms, they are propaganda machines.” A museum and shrine in Tokyo may bring Abe’s strategic posture on reconciliation into sharper focus. Yushukan Museum stands on the grounds of Yasukuni Shrine. Therein is locomotive C5631, identified as the first to trundle down the Thai-Burma rail line, where more than 100,000 forced laborers and prisoners of war died in its construction.

A memorial to Indian jurist Radhabinod Pal also stands on the grounds of Yasukuni Shrine – a member of the International War Tribunal for the Far East panel of judges, he wrote of the Class A war criminals, “I would hold that every one of the accused must be found not guilty of every one of the charges in the indictment and should be acquitted on all those charges.” Pal considered the Pacific War provoked by the Americans and the war tribunals a sham. He stood utterly alone in this dissent among his 11 peer judges, but Japanese nationalists hold his views as authoritative and see Pal as a heroic figure. In 1968, Japan secretly enshrined 1,068 executed war criminals at Yasukuni as divine martyrs. Like those who did not survive the war, the executed soldiers had nobly sacrificed their lives in defense of the Japanese motherland against European Imperialism. The museum explains this defensive nature of the Pacific War. Abe and many other prominent Japanese statesmen regularly pay homage to those men.

May 11, 2015

After 74 years, the remains of HMS Urge discovered off the Libyan coast

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

In The Telegraph a report on the discovery of a Royal Navy submarine wreck from 1942:

British U class submarine HMS URGE underway. (via Wikipedia)

British U class submarine HMS Urge underway. (via Wikipedia)

A Royal Navy submarine paid for by a town holding dances and whist drives is believed to have been discovered more than 70 years after it vanished during the Second World War.

The British submarine HMS Urge was paid for by the townspeople of Bridgend, South Wales, but sunk without trace in the Mediterranean in 1942.

It disappeared while making a voyage from the island of Malta to the Egyptian city of Alexandria – and families of the 29 crew and 10 passengers never knew what happened.

For more than 70 years, its resting place has remained a mystery. But a 76-year-old scuba diver claims he has discovered its wreck 160ft (50m) below the waves off the Libyan coast.

HMS Urge sonar image

May 10, 2015

In the Netherlands, 1945, nobody “swaggered”

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

David Warren on the task of the First Canadian Army after liberating The Netherlands:

It wasn’t only the liberation, but what our boys did after, in that devastated country. The Netherlands — but Canadians call her “Holland” — had suffered proportionally more than any other country the Wehrmacht had crushed and occupied, and would continue to suffer — famine — after their final defeat. The bastards blew the dikes to slow our allied advance. Breached, the lands flooded; … deaths heaped on deaths.

Victory is sweet, but there was no swagger, from the Dutch still mired in Hell.

And memorably, neither from our boys, who had liberated them. They didn’t swagger. Instead, they set down their guns and their helmets and went to work — spontaneously, voluntarily, on the enormous task of repair; of fixing the dikes and clearing the farms of salt-mud and debris. Of breaking the stones, and smoothing the roads, and shifting the rubble. The food bags, too, were starting to arrive, from Canada and the States — the tins and boxes; the cigarettes and medical supplies; and the candy, for the little children.

This wasn’t the Marshall Plan. It was three years before that. The Royal Canadian Air Force was dropping food from the sky, as fast as it could. (Our pilots read, “Thank you Canadians!” on rooftops.) Crates and drums were being discharged through the busted ports, wheat and flour from our Prairies. Yet thousands were still perishing from hunger.

And more: all the stuff sent by unorganized people, to wherever they thought it would do some good; to Germany as well as Holland; to wherever people must be desperate and starving. And back home our boys’ own families were throwing themselves into action, packing and shipping; and slipping in the letters of love and encouragement to strangers and new friends over the sea.

We were already hand-in-glove with the Dutch, from sheltering their royal family in exile. The magnificent Queen Wilhelmina, scourge of politicians (Churchill called her “the only real man” among all the exiled governors in London), no longer speaking in the nights, through the radio. For she had returned, to a rapturous welcome. And now, too, their little princess — Margriet Francisca — born in Ottawa Civic Hospital, in a maternity ward that had been declared Dutch sovereign territory for the occasion.

Every year, the tulips still come from Holland to decorate our Parliament Hill. And Dutch kids are still taught in school how to sing, “O Canada.”

April 23, 2015

Kicking Neville Chamberlain while he’s dead

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Poor old Neville … he’s become such a byword for failure that they’re even comparing Barack Obama to Chamberlain. This is hardly fair to either party:

One of the hardest things to do in history is to read history in context, shutting out our foreknowledge of what is going to happen — knowledge the players at the time did not have.

Apparently Neville Chamberlain is back in the public discourse, again raised from the dead as the boogeyman to scare us away from any insufficiently militaristic approach to international affairs.

There is no doubt that Neville Chamberlain sold out the Czechs at Munich, and the Munich agreement was shown to be a fraud on Hitler’s part when he invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia just months later. In retrospect, we can weep at the lost opportunity as we now know, but no one knew then, that Hitler’s generals planned a coup against him that was undermined by the Munich agreement.

But all that being said, let’s not forget the historic context. World War I was a cataclysm for England and Europe. It was probably the worst thing to happen to Europe since the black death. And many learned folks at the time felt that this disaster had been avoidable (and many historians today might agree). They felt that there had been too much rush to war, and too little diplomacy. If someone like Britain had been more aggressive in dragging all the parties to the bargaining table in 1914, perhaps a European-wide war could have been avoided or at least contained to the Balkans.

If you’ve read my Origins of WW1 posts, you’ll probably agree that Britain alone could not have averted the First World War, although they could have stayed out of the war (which would probably have guaranteed a German victory by 1916). Unlike the attitudes in 1914, few Europeans wanted any kind of war in the late 1930s, having learned too well what the casualties of modern war could be. The idea that Chamberlain and Édouard Daladier could somehow have deterred Hitler requires an amazing lack of awareness of the political realities in Britain and France at the time … and of the state of the respective armed forces of the two nations. Neither politician could have survived the reaction if they’d forced Hitler’s hand … which might well have served Hitler’s purposes just as well as the “scrap of paper” did in the end.

In a postscript, Warren also points out that FDR could just as easily take the place of Neville Chamberlain for his own “sell out” of Poland and the rest of what became the Warsaw Pact “allies”:

Years ago in my youth I used to excoriate FDR for caving into Stalin at Yalta, specifically in giving away most of Eastern Europe. I still wish he hadn’t given his moral authority and approval to the move, but even if we stood on the table and screamed at Stalin in opposition, what were we going to do? Was there any appetite for extending the war? Zero. That is what folks who oppose the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan get wrong in suggesting there were alternatives. All those alternatives involved a longer war and more American deaths which no one wanted.

April 20, 2015

Twice-nuked aircraft carrier sunk 80 km from San Francisco

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

If you’d ever wondered what happened to the ships that were used in the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests, here’s one that might surprise you:

The sonar image with oranges color tones (lower) shows an outline of a possible airplane in the forward aircraft elevator hatch opening. Credit: NOAA, Boeing, and Coda Octopus

The sonar image with oranges color tones (lower) shows an outline of a possible airplane in the forward aircraft elevator hatch opening. Credit: NOAA, Boeing, and Coda Octopus

The Independence (CVL-22) was commissioned as cruiser, but adapted to become a light carrier as the demands of the Pacific war made mobile air power desirable. The ship served in the Pacific from November 1943 to August 1945, but by 1946 was deemed fit for duty as a test vessel at an atomic bomb test near Bikini Atoll. Independence was stationed less than half a mile from ground zero on a July 1st test, survived that ordeal without sinking so was nuked again on the 25th.

The US Navy then brought the vessel back to San Francisco to assess the damage, and to try nuclear decontamination techniques. By 1951 Independence was felt to be at risk of sinking, so with a colossal radioactive carcass not the sort of thing one wants near a major city it was sunk.

And so the Independence passed into history, its fate largely forgotten … until the NOAA decided to embark on a mission to “to locate, map and study historic shipwrecks in Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and nearby waters.” As part of that effort, Independence was found “in 2,600 feet of water off California’s Farallon Islands”, which one can find here, at what looks to be a distance of about 80kms from San Francisco.

April 16, 2015

An alliance of monsters – Hitler and Stalin, 1939-1941

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

In The New York Review of Books, John Lukacs reviews a new book from Roger Moorhouse documenting the brief alliance between the Nazi and Soviet regimes:

In the vast literature about Stalin and Hitler during World War II, little is said about their being allies for twenty-two months. That is more than an odd chapter in the history of that war, and its meaning deserves more attention than it has received.

Two factors were involved in this neglect. One was that after Hitler chose to conquer Russia he did not succeed; Stalin emerged as one of the supreme victors of World War II. The other was the Western Powers’ relative lack of interest in Eastern Europe. Yet the war broke out in 1939 because of Eastern Europe, as a result of the British (and French) decision to oppose the German conquest of Poland. The political earthquake of the Nazi–Soviet Pact of August 23, 1939, nine days before the outbreak of war on September 1, did not deter Britain and France from declaring war on Germany upon its invasion of Poland. This is one of the few—very few—decisions in their favor at the time. That they were reluctant in the months that followed to wage war seriously against Germany is another story.

Three quarters of a century have now passed since 1939. A fair amount has been written about the Nazi–Soviet Pact since then, mostly by Eastern European writers and historians. The Devil’s Alliance is a good account by the British historian Roger Moorhouse of what the pact meant for Hitler and Stalin—and, worse, for its victims. Perhaps the book’s most valuable part deals with the immediate consequences of the pact in 1939. Before then, obviously and stridently, Nazism and communism were outright enemies. From the very beginning of his political rise Hitler described Judaism and communism as his principal enemies. Stalin, by that time, was less of an ideologue. Like Hitler, he was a nationalist; he had little interest in international communism.

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