Category Archives: Artillery

Salvage

An interesting and informative look at the truly herculean effort sometimes overlooked in the epic that was World War II.

Salvaging and reclaiming tanks and vehicles destroyed in combat was sometimes a disturbingly gruesome task, as the late Belton Cooper wrote so eloquently about.   But the salvage effort was truly impressive, and saved the cost of manufacture, transport, and time to supply the gigantic American arsenal in Europe and the Pacific with the spare parts needed to keep fighting.

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Marine Corps Gazette: Why Women Do Not Belong in the U.S. Infantry

Beach activity at Da Nang, Vietnam during landing of United States Marines of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade in March of 1965

Superb article from Captain Lauren Serrano in the Marine Corps Gazette.  She will undoubtedly become the target of feminists in and out of the Armed Forces as some sort of traitor to womanhood, much as Captain Kate Petronio has been.  But she is right as rain.  As was Captain Petronio.

Captain Serrano explores far more than the mere physical obstacles to women in the Infantry.   She tells an age-old immutable truth about young warriors:

Having women in an infantry unit will disrupt the infantry’s identity, motivational tactics, and camaraderie. The average infantryman is in his late teens or early twenties. At that age, men are raging with hormones and are easily distracted by women and sex. Infantry leaders feed on the testosterone and masculinity of young men to increase morale and motivation and encourage the warrior ethos. Few jobs are as physically and emotionally demanding as the infantry, so to keep Marines focused, the infantry operates in a cult-like brotherhood. The infantry is the one place where young men are able to focus solely on being a warrior without the distraction of women or political correctness. They can fart, burp, tell raunchy jokes, walk around naked, swap sex stories, wrestle, and simply be young men together.  …this is the exact kind of atmosphere that promotes unit cohesion and the brotherly bond that is invaluable. This bond is an essential element in both garrison and combat environments. Ask any 0311 what encourages him to keep training or fighting in combat when he thinks he can go no further, and he will respond, “My brothers to my right and left.” No matter how masculine a woman is, she is still female and simply does not mesh with the infantry brotherhood.

Well-stated, and spot-on.  A great article, well worth the read.

Semper Fidelis, Skipper.  You have the moral courage to speak an unpopular truth, for the greatest good of Corps and Country.  But for more Officers, men and women, especially senior ones, to have such a backbone.

 

H/T GPBW

 

 

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Fort Columbia- An Endicott Period Fort

You may have heard me mention Fort Casey on Whidbey Island. Fort Casey was one of many seacoast artillery installations built during the “Endicott period” around the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.

The series of forts erected varied in numbers and types of batteries installed, and in number and size of guns, as well. But they were also all built to virtually identical layouts, at least as far as individual gun emplacements. Further, the rest of each fort featured virtually identical officers quarters, barracks, messing facilities and other support structures.  Working from common components, if you will, helped speed up construction.

There are on the West Coast really only five major port areas that call for significant defenses: San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Columbia River, and Puget Sound. Each of these areas became home to several Endicott period fortifications. Ft. Casey was one of a trio of major seacoast artillery forts guarding Puget Sound, with other smaller batteries in support throughout the Sound.

Similarly, at the mouth of the Columbia River, three major seacoast forts stood guard. Ft. Stevens, Ft. Canby, and Ft. Columbia.  Stevens and Canby were rebuilt as Endicott forts upon older obsolete works. Ft. Columbia was new construction. All three forts are now part of the state and national parks systems in Oregon and Washington.

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Facia Georgius: Guadalcanal From The Marines’ Perspective

Below is a re-posting of a blog piece I wrote for USNI in August of 2011.  A bonus is a spirited exchange between the author of the blog (yours truly) and Jim Hornfischer.   Few elements of the Navy-Marine Corps rivalry engender as much emotion as the Marines’ utter contempt for Frank Jack Fletcher.  In fact, I had a long and enjoyable conversation with a RADM a couple weekends ago about the very incident described below, and he was entirely in agreement with my assessment of Fletcher’s blunder.   As the 72nd anniversary of the beginning of the epic struggle for the Solomons approaches, I suggest Hornfischer’s books highly.  Despite our differences regarding Fletcher, his books are a must-read to a serious historian of the Pacific War.  And he portrays brilliantly how thin the line was between success and failure in the struggle for the Solomons.  

The medal above is the “George Medal”, which was an unofficial award commemorating the early struggles of the Marines on Guadalcanal. The image depicts, legend has it, the sleeve of Frank Jack Fletcher, with his hand dropping a hot potato onto the Marines ashore. The inscription is “Facia Georgius“. “Let George do It”.

Let me state that, in my opinion, James D. Hornfischer is unquestionably one of the finest writers of Naval history in the last half-century. His books, especially Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, are iconic works that tell superbly the tales of the US Navy in the Second World War in the Pacific. However, during a recent episode of MIDRATS, Mr. Hornfischer’s assertions about the US Marines’ history of the Guadalcanal campaign are entirely incorrect. The issue at hand in those assertions is the decision of Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher to depart the Guadalcanal area on the morning of 9 August 1942, after just two days of supporting the amphibious operations ashore.

Fletcher was concerned with the risk to his carriers, Saratoga, Wasp, and Enterprise, by having them tied to support of operations ashore. While understandable, what Fletcher refused to acknowledge was that with amphibious operations, once the landing takes place and forces are ashore, a commander is all in, and must support the forces ashore. The landings by the Marines were the entire reason for having Task Force 61 in the waters of the Solomons. Admiral Turner (commanding the amphibious task force, TF 62) and First Marine Division Commander General A. A. Vandegrift argued the point heatedly in a conference aboard Saratoga, but to no avail.

Chapter 5 of the splendid History of the First Marine Division, “The Old Breed” (Infantry Journal Press, 1949), begins:

The feeling of expendability is difficult to define. It is loneliness, it is a feeling of being abandoned, and it is something more, too: it is as if events over which you have no control have put a ridiculously low price tag on your life.

When word got around Guadalcanal in the second week of August that the Navy had taken off and left the Marines, the feeling of expendability became a factor in the battle.

“I know I had a feeling” says a man who was there, “and I think a lot of others felt the same way, that we’d never get off that damned island alive. Nobody said this out loud at the time. I was afraid to say it for fear it’s come true”.

“But”, says a Captain, “there was an awful lot of talk about Bataan.”

Even the greenest Second Lieutenant in the Division knew enough to understand that an amphibious operation cannot be sustained without Naval support.

The Guadalcanal Campaign, the official historical monograph published by the USMC History Division, is somewhat more matter-of-fact, but still states:

The withdrawal of the supply ships, therefore, was, from a troop standpoint, little short of a catastrophe, but Admiral Turner’s decision was not changed.

And sums up the situation of the Marines ashore this way:

The withdrawal of the transports had left the Marine forces with only a part of their initially scanty supplies ashore. Ammunition supply was adequate, but the situation in the matter of food was serious. Even with the acquisition of a considerable stock of rice and canned food from the captured Japanese area, supplies were so short that it was necessary on 12 August to begin a program of two meals per day. There was a similar shortage of defensive material, barbed wire (of which only 18 spools were landed), and entrenching tools and sand-bags.

The most serious shortage of all, however, from the point of view of the engineers who were charged with the completion of the airfield, was that of specialized equipment necessary for the task. No power shovels had been landed, nor dump trucks.

So, on 9 August 1942, the day Admiral Fletcher departs with his warships of TF 61, and the cargo vessels of Admiral Turner’s Amphibious TF 62, the Marines of the First Marine Division are ashore. But not all of them. Vandegrift’s reserve, the 2nd Marines, is still embarked. Those that are ashore have barely 96 hours of ammunition. They are short of food. The enemy strength and disposition is largely unknown. Their lifeline, the airstrip, is not yet repaired and has no aircraft. They are all but defenseless against the frequent Japanese air strikes.

Vandegrift and his staff had agreed to come ashore with an initial load plan that represented significantly less than their minimum requirement due to constraints on cargo space, with the promise that the Navy would surge supplies to them. Now, most of even that small amount was out of reach of his Marines, headed to sea in Turner’s cargo holds, as the latter was forced to withdraw when Admiral Fletcher’s warships departed.

But for three absolutely miraculous occurrences in the fortunes of war, the Guadalcanal landings might have been a disaster comparable to the loss of the Philippines just a few months before.

The first occurrence is that the Japanese commander, caught off guard, underestimate both the strength of the landing force (believing only a few thousand ashore), and the fighting spirit of the Marines, and did not move decisively to reinforce the small garrison on Guadalcanal with elements of the 17th Army that were available. (A single reinforced battalion of the 28th Regiment, about 1,100 Japanese, was given the mission of re-taking the island.)

The second was the fortuitous capture, with slight damage, of a single bulldozer, which the Marines used to maximum effect to complete a 2,700 foot airstrip on the Lunga plain. Without that stroke of luck, several weeks likely would have passed before any aircraft could have operated out of Henderson Field.

The third near-miracle was the capture of large stores of Japanese canned fish and rice, which becomes a staple of the Marines’ diet in the absence of rations still in the holds of the Navy ships.

Meanwhile, the arduous task of building of bunkers and of obstacles to defend the Marine positions and the all-important airfield, was done by hand in the searing jungle heat. The Marines, short of wire and sandbags, improvised as best as possible. By the time the 2nd Marines arrived (22 August) and additional supplies were landed, the Marines had been engaged in a number of short, sharp fights with the Japanese, the first of dozens and hundreds of bloody slugging matches in the rotting heat of the jungle on Guadalcanal.

The fight for Guadalcanal has been well-documented, and by the time last of the First Marine Division embarked for good from the island, the Division had suffered nearly 700 killed, 1,300 wounded, and more than 8,000 sick with malaria and other jungle diseases. For veterans of that time on Guadalcanal, men who didn’t have our perspective of inevitable victory either on Guadalcanal or in the Solomons, their resentment of (at the time) the US Navy and of Admiral Fletcher (which persists to this day) is entirely warranted.

Fletcher’s departure with his carriers, claiming the need to fuel (“always fueling”, wrote Morrison) was an exceedingly poorly considered move. His decision to do so infuriated Admiral Turner, commanding TF 62, who understood that his ships and their cargo were they keys to survival for the Marines ashore. While Fletcher’s aircraft carriers were precious commodities, his decision to minimize risk to those units had the effect of placing the entire of Operation Watchtower in considerable danger of failure. The lack of supplies and support which the Marines ashore endured in the opening weeks of the fight for Guadalcanal negated Vandegrift’s plans for immediate offensive operations (with an expanded airfield) to clear the island, left them all but defenseless to Japanese air and naval forces, and prolonged what became a protracted and savage fight under unspeakably miserable conditions.

In his efforts to protect his carriers, Fletcher inexcusably risked something even more precious and irreplaceable. The only trained and equipped amphibious force that the United States had in the entire Pacific. The loss of the carriers would have had severe operational implications, but defeat on Guadalcanal, resulting in an evacuation, or worse, capitulation, would have been strategic disaster.

Attempts at “reassessment” of Fletcher’s decision to pull support for the Marines on Guadalcanal, and justifying that decision six decades hence as “prudent”, are exercises in revisionism mixed with ample doses of 20/20 hindsight. The Marines’ bitterness at Fletcher is well-placed. Asserting differently dismisses the situation the Marines faced in mid-August of 1942 vis a vis the enemy as well as their own logistics. The Marines would gain a new respect for the Navy once Fletcher and the overmatched and timid Ghormley are replaced, the latter by the legendary William F. Halsey, who immediately visited Vandegrift and the Marines on Guadalcanal. Halsey’s “battle-mindedness” and promise of the support of the Navy was a refreshing and comforting change from his predecessor, and was immediately reflected in the morale of the Marines ashore.

Mr. Hornfischer’s goal in his exploration of Naval history, to put himself (and his reader) in the shoes of the commander, is extremely admirable. He would be remiss, however, if the sets of shoes he places himself in do not include the muddy boondockers of a First Division Marine on Guadalcanal. Were Mr. Hornfischer able to interview the First Marine Division veterans of Guadalcanal forty years ago, he would have gotten their perspective on those weeks without Navy support, expressed in the most colorful of language. Which needs no revision.

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Interesting comments from the esteemed author, James D. Hornfischer:

I’m delighted to find this colloquy unfolding in this reputable forum between such well-informed service professionals.

As I tried fervently to convey in NEPTUNE’S INFERNO, I’m sympathetic to the plight of the Guadalcanal Marines who were forced to persevere without air cover or full provisions for a period of time that they could not know at the time. Doing their business under these conditions, they were gallant and resourceful as ever. They are entitled not only to their pride, but also their chagrin. The question is whether the study of this history should end there. Is their heat-of-the-moment rage sufficient to serve as the final word on Frank Jack Fletcher and the Navy’s performance in the campaign? This question pretty well answers itself in the asking.

The blogger labels as revisionist any assessment of Fletcher that does not comport with the partisan, Corps-centric assessments formulated during and immediately after the war and abetted by Samuel Eliot Morison (and never rebutted by Fletcher himself).

The Marines’ resentment of Frank Jack Fletcher was well placed in its day. Our burden today is to see it in light of everything else we know about the complex circumstances that attended the campaign. Most of these, of course, were invisible from the beach. In NEPTUNE’S INFERNO I tried to thread that needle without resorting to the kind of interservice partisanship that characterizes many of the Corps-centric accounts of the campaign.

Admiral Nimitz instructed his commanders at all times to operate under the guiding star of “calculated risk,” that is, to weigh the potential benefits of an action against its potential costs and drawbacks. In choosing how long to expose the Pacific’s only three carriers in direct support of the Guadalcanal landings, Admiral Fletcher determined how much risk he was willing to accept in the opening act of Operation Watchtower. He informed his colleagues in advance of the operation and his decision was extensively debated in advance.

Today, it’s all over but the shouting. History bears out the wisdom of his determination. The Marines were left without carrier air support from the carriers’ withdrawal on August 9 until August 20, when the USS Long Island delivered the body of the Cactus Air Force. The consequences of those eleven days of exposure turned out, happily, to be negligible. The Japanese did nothing to seriously threaten the U.S. position on Guadalcanal during that time. The carriers returned in time to fight the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. (His conduct of the battle demonstrated the sincerity of his caution; he ordered one of his three carriers, the Wasp, out of the battle area to refuel.) Fighting with one hand behind his back, so to speak, he used the Enterprise and Saratoga to deflect the Japanese push. He saved his fleet for that moment and the others that followed. One could well speculate that had he left his carriers near Guadalcanal continuously from August 7, they might have been struck, making the close victory of Eastern Solomons impossible and imperiling the Marine position even more seriously.

This, much like Marine partisans’ complaints of “inexcusable risks to the landing force,” is a fruitless exercise in speculation. It’s only proper to damn Fletcher—or say the “risk” he took was “inexcusable”—by assuming an alternate universe of events where his decisions led to disaster. That’s when you ask the question Why and cast the arrows of judgment at the perpetrators.

It seems reasonable to judge the final wisdom of a particular risk by looking at the results that flowed from it. If we do that, there is no compelling basis for labeling Admiral Fletcher anything other than a winner.

As events actually unfolded, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons marked the beginning of the Navy’s sustained commitment to fight in defense of the Marine position on Guadalcanal, risking its most valuable assets the whole way through. By the time it was over, the Navy had fought seven major naval actions in which its KIA outnumbered infantry KIA by a factor of nearly 3 to 1.

It is entirely coherent to sympathize with the authentic anger of the Marines on Cactus, and simultaneously recognize the balance of merit favoring Admiral Fletcher’s controversial decision. The Marines lacked air cover for eleven days, and a large portion of their supplies, and suffered the bracing uncertainty how long those circumstances would attend.

By the time it was over, the three-to-one KIA ratio stood starkly apparent to anyone who was watching, and victory absolves all sins. General Vandegrift remembered the November 13 deaths of Admirals Scott and Callaghan with his famous dispatch “lifting our battered helmets in deepest appreciation.” To wallow in the bile of interservice partisanship, from a tendentious evaluation of a fragment of events, in spite of the actual outcome of history, is little more than a parlor game that negates the final judgment of the 1st MarDiv commander himself regarding the performance of the fleet. Nearly 70 years after events, we can do better than that.

*********************************************

And response from the “blogger”:

The questioning of Admiral Fletcher’s decision to remove the carriers of TF 61 from supporting the Marines ashore at Guadalcanal is far more than “a fruitless exercise in speculation”, or “bile of interservice partisanship”.

To assert that because the Japanese failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity to interdict the US drive into the Solomons and bring about a potentially crippling strategic setback, the decision Fletcher made to withdraw was correct is to assert that “all’s well that ends well”. Such is a singularly dangerous approach to the study of military history, as it goes great lengths toward the already-prevalent tendency to believe that the winners have little to learn from an ultimately successful outcome.

In any amphibious operation, support from the sea is critical to success, irrespective of the service executing the amphibious assault. Nimitz’ concept of “calculated risk” is in no way sufficient to excuse the willful passing of initiative to the enemy in the very place that was the US main effort at the time in the Pacific. Fletcher left Vandegrift without the forces and supplies to execute his plan ashore, in fact with barely enough to defend a thin perimeter against an enemy whose strength and disposition was largely unknown. That the enemy did not seize that initiative is to our eternal good fortune. We have several bloody examples of what happened in amphibious operations when the initial advantage of the initiative is allowed to pass. At Anzio seventeen months later, Army General Lucas dithered in his beachhead while Kesselring acted, reinforcing the threatened area as fast as he could with every available formation at his disposal. The result was a costly slugging match against what was by then an enemy well prepared to meet the breakout. We should be grateful that Hyakutake was no Kesselring.

It remains speculation, as well, whether Fletcher represented truthfully to Ghormley that both General Vandegrift and Admiral Turner had stated that 96 hours was the time required for full unloading of the transports. Both had done so, and had argued vehemently against Fletcher’s decision while aboard Saratoga.

No, this debate is not “partisan service” anything. Initiative is among the most precious commodities on the battlefield, to be surrendered only at dear cost. Fletcher did so, or rather forced Vandegrift ashore to do so, but the Japanese did not take it. He was, as were the Marines ashore, fortunate in the extreme.

As stated above, the Marines by and large came to respect greatly the efforts of the Navy in the waters around Guadalcanal. It has been a subject of intense study on my part, and worthy of the highest of admiration for the bravery and tenacity of the American Sailor. However, the anger of the Marines and their contempt for Fletcher is understandable. The loss of the transports and the Division reserve crippled the commander ashore, and prevented the undertaking of immediate offensive operations that could have cleared the island before Japanese reinforcements arrived in significant numbers. Instead, Guadalcanal became a protracted and bloody fight on the island and in the surrounding waters that ended only with the evacuation of the Japanese survivors in early 1943.

Fletcher’s decision should be recognized for what it was, a major tactical blunder that could have had severe strategic consequences. That he, and his boss, Ghormley, were removed from command, speaks volumes. That is true, seventy years or seven hundred years after the battle.

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‘Some damn fool thing in the Balkans”

Postcard_for_the_assassination_of_Archduke_Franz_Ferdinand_in_SarajevoGavrilloprincip

Today marks the centennial of one of Western society’s most improbably momentous events.  It was on June 28th, 1914 that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, the Countess Sophie of Hohenberg, were assassinated in the street of the Bosnian city of Sarajevo.  The events of that day, the failed bombing at the bridge, the missed attempt on the road, the wrong turn by the Archduke’s driver, the opportunity for another attempt on the Archduke’s life, are well-known.  The motives of the assassin, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip, and his Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia), a group supported by the infamous Black Hand, are well-documented and, to the serious student of Balkan history, quite familiar.

What is nearly impossible to understand, despite the volumes upon volumes of historical analysis and the (now) generally agreed-upon portrayal of events, is HOW the assassination of an Archduke, the heir to a throne whose sitting monarch despised him, and whom he in turn despised, could be the triggering event that led to the greatest blood-letting cataclysm in Western history.   There are superb pieces of research and analysis, among them Christopher Clark’s 2012 masterpiece The Sleepwalkers, and DJ Goodspeed’s The German Wars (1965), that provide detailed explanations of the diplomatic and military decisions that took Europe from a century of relative peace into a devastating conflict more profoundly destructive than the Thirty Years’ War.   Even with that,  a historian can often do little more than shake one’s head incredulously at the sequence of decisions and miscalculations that would pit the great nations against one another for four bloody years.

I offer, in no particular order, some of the factors which led to what can be described as the least necessary of wars.

A notable mediocrity amongst the foreign ministers of the belligerents, to include England’s Edward Grey, who failed to understand that England’s real interests were in a balance of European power, and not in France’s desire to avenge the humiliation of 1871.  There was Count Berthold of Austria-Hungary, whose distinct lack of subtlety in his demands to Serbia inflamed Russia (who held dreams of being the protector of “pan-Serbism” in the Balkans).   Russia’s Sazonov, a duplicitous and dishonest schemer who collaborated with France’s Poincaré to virtually guarantee war with Germany.  France’s revolving door of Foreign Ministers, none effective, that included René Viviani during what became known as the July Crisis.  Wilhelmine Germany’s Gottlieb von Jagow, whose terrible miscalculation of the Austria-Serbia crisis proved so tragic.

Detached and often delusional monarchs, whose laissez-faire approaches to their respective nation’s diplomatic postures during the critical weeks following the assassination allowed the respective foreign ministers mentioned above, along with military chiefs of those countries, to dictate rather than execute their nation’s foreign policies.  Emperor Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary only briefly interrupted his vacation after the assassination, and was largely absent from the seat of power in Vienna during most of the July Crisis.  When he did return, he was somewhat shocked at the harsh terms of the ultimatum to Serbia, crafted by his own Foreign Minister and Chief of Staff.  Tsar Nicholas in Russia was absent for crucial meetings between French President Poincaré and his own “war party” of Sazonov and War Minister Sukhomlinov, during which it is presumed Russia agreed to war with Germany should she intervene in the Austria-Serbia crisis.  Even the mercurial and impetuous Kaiser Wilhelm, whose envy of the Royal Navy (and subsequent Naval Race with Britain) and imperial desires were perceived by the British as threats to the Empire, was strangely passive during the playing out of the events of July 1914, limiting himself to making marginal notes in the diplomatic messages until the specter of a wider continental war elicited desperation.   The one exception as head of state is the aforementioned Raymond Poincaré, the French President, whose actively malignant role included agitating for the long-desired war of revanche with Germany, and enlisting the Russians to assist France in that effort.

The international order built so carefully by Bismarck in the later decades of the 19th Century was rendered topsy-turvy, with illogical alliances and unlikely enmities that cooler analysis and more competent diplomacy might have gone great lengths to remedy.   Britain had far more in common with Germany than with her traditional antagonist, France.  Germany had been to war with Austria in 1866, when it wrested away the German states from Vienna (and from the very same Franz Josef) to, eventually, in 1871, Berlin.  Kaiser Wilhelm and Tzar Nicholas, cousins (along with George V) and grandsons of Victoria, had warm personal relations, and many more reasons to cooperate over the breakup of European Turkey than to be in conflict.  England, for her part, had been the traditional guardian of the European balance of power before inexplicably abandoning that role in an informal (but in the end, very binding) alliance with France.

To the events of July 1914, technological development and industrialization would be a determinant of not just tactics and doctrine, but also would be a major factor in the shaping and executing of Grand Strategy for the countries embroiled in the crisis.   The mobilization of an army in the industrial age entailed a great deal of preparation, and once executed, left little to no room for equivocation.  To do so would be to throw the proverbial spanner in the works, causing upheaval, delays, and the real spectre of being unprepared and in the midst of deploying when war came.  Thus, when the decisions in the respective governments for mobilization came, war was all but inevitable.  Interestingly, the last continental power to order mobilization was Imperial Germany.  Wilhelm, with the prospect of war looming, had tried desperately to apply the brakes to the rapidly accelerating events.   That German war plans calling for the rapid defeat of France to avoid a two-front war were what impelled the German Army to violate Belgian neutrality is one of the tragic ironies of all history.  It was the invasion of Belgium which, in the end, made inevitable British intervention against Germany, preventing the very victory over France sought by the Germans, and all but ensuring their slow strangulation at the hands of the Royal Navy which they had so antagonized with the Naval Race in the previous two decades.

Of the battlefields themselves, much has been said.  The warning signs of what modern war would be had been plentiful for anyone who cared to see.  Dating to the American Civil War, the increasingly deadly weapons of the Industrial Age had made their presence felt.  Britain, certainly, had experience against an enemy armed with modern metallic cartridge rifles in South Africa, and had employed modern machine guns against its empire’s foes at places like Omdurman and Cape Colony.   Envisioning what being on the other side of the Maxim Gun would entail should not have been beyond imagination for the British Army’s Officer corps.  Modern breech-loading rapid-fire artillery, with recoil systems which eliminated the need to re-position guns after firing, had been in military inventories for more than two decades.  The battlefield tactics of 1914, a full generation behind those technological developments, were an invitation to the subsequent slaughter that ensued, resulting in the profligate wastage of much of the youth of Europe.   The names of the Somme, Verdun, Gallipoli, Jutland, Ypres, Loos, Caporetto, Tannenberg, Passchendaele, and the Isonzo all evoke images of privation and death without purpose, and rightly or wrongly, of incompetent and criminally obtuse military leadership.

The effect of the unprecedented butchery on the psyche of Western civilization is still being felt.  The old order in much of Europe, political as well as social, collapsed utterly.  The confidence in the enlightened nature of Man, of his scientific mastery, and his cultural education, was shattered forever.  Monarchies in Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Germany fell, replaced mostly by the anarchy of revolution.  In the wake of that revolution, spurred in great measure by the War to End All Wars, came the Bolsheviks and National Socialists who would ensure that the horrors of 1914-18 would be just a precursor to the bloodiest of centuries.

However implausible it may seem (and all the more implausible with closer analysis), the impetus for the Great War and all that followed occurred one hundred years ago today, when bullets from a sickly and tubercular young assassin’s pistol ended the lives of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife on a Sarajevo street.  The warnings of Bismarck in the 1878 Congress of Berlin to not allow Europe to devolve into general war over “some damned fool thing in the Balkans” went, in the end, unheeded.

 

 

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Today is ANZAC Day

anzac hat

Today is the 25th of April.  It is ANZAC Day, commemorating the 99th anniversary of the landings of 31,000 men of The Australian Division, and the Australian-New Zealand Division (reinforced with two batteries of mountain guns) on the crescent-shaped portion of beach known as Ari Burnu, forever after known as Anzac Cove.

 gallipolilanding

The ANZAC landing began before dawn on 25 April 1915, and was initially unopposed,  By mid-morning, however, Turkish troops under LtCol Mustapha Kemal had reacted strongly and taken the landing beaches and the precariously shallow Dominion positions under rifle, machine gun, and artillery fire.  Unable to move forward, and hanging onto hillside rocks and scrapes, ANZAC Commander MajGen Sir William Birdwood asked to have the beach-head evacuated.

Anzac-Periscope_rifle_gallipoli_1915-3fab43c3

The Royal Navy argued that such an evacuation, particularly under fire, was impractical.   So Birdwood was ordered to stay, with the advice given by General Sir Ian Hamilton to “dig, dig, dig!”.  It is from this message, many conclude, that the ANZACs became known as the “diggers”.    Despite herculean efforts and near-suicidal courage, including the tragically costly landings at Sulva Bay in August of 1915, the stalemate was never broken.  Unable to advance, with no evacuation possible, the ANZACs remained locked in their initial positions, enduring conditions even more horrendous than those on the Western Front, until finally pulled out as a part of the general evacuation of the Gallipoli Operation in December of 1915.

ch4_3-2

ANZAC Day has become a day of remembrance for all Australian and New Zealand war dead, but remains especially poignant for the nearly 13,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers who gave their lives in the foothills of the Bari Sair Mountains, in the eight months of hell on Earth that was Anzac Cove.

At the going down of the sun,

and in the morning,

we will remember them.

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Hidden Treasure

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It can be found in the most unlikely of places.  This haul of pure naval gold came from the little book library that I found next to the gift shop aboard USS Midway in my sojourn to San Diego for the West Conference.  I saw a sign for “book sale”, which, except for “free ammo”, is most likely to make me stop every time.  I was allowed to go into the spaces that had the books for sale, and found this’n.  I decided to have a little fun with the docent who was running the sale.  When I asked “How much?”, he told me “Ten dollars.”  I worked up my most indignant expression, and said “TEN DOLLARS!  That’s highway robbery!  I won’t pay it!” at the same time I slipped a twenty to his elderly assistant, and gave him a wink.   He was a bit flummoxed, but the old fella gave me a smile.  I asked that they keep the change as a donation, which they were truly grateful for.

Anyway, inside the large, musty-smelling book that had likely not been opened in decades, there is to be found a veritable treasure of naval history.  From the advertisements at the beginning pages from famous firms such as Thornycroft, Hawker-Siddeley, Vickers-Amstrong Ship Repair and Shipbuilding, Bofors, Decca Radars, Edo Sonar, etc, to the line drawings of nearly every class of major combatant in commission in 1964, the book is simply fascinating.

What is first noticeable is that a great percentage of the world’s warships in 1964 still consisted of American and British-built vessels from the Second World War and the years immediately preceding.   Former Royal Navy aircraft carriers were the centerpieces of the navies of India, Canada, France, Holland, Australia (star-crossed Melbourne was a Colossus-class CV) and even Argentina and Brazil.   US-built ships comprise major units of almost every Western Bloc navy in 1964.  The ubiquitous Fletchers, of which nearly one hundred were transferred,  served worldwide, and remained the most powerful units of many Western navies into the 1990s.   But there were other classes, destroyer escorts, patrol frigates, minesweepers, and an untold number of LSTs, LCTs, LCIs, Liberty and Victory ships, tankers, and auxiliaries of all descriptions, under the flags of their new owners.   Half a dozen Brooklyn-class light cruisers went south in the 1950s, to the South American navies of Chile, Argentina, and Brazil.  (General Belgrano, sunk by a British torpedo in the Falklands War, was ex-USS Phoenix CL-46).  A surprising number of the pre-war Benson and Gleaves-class destroyers remained in naval inventories, including that of the United States Navy (35).   A large contingent of Balao and Gato-class diesel fleet subs also remained in service around the world, with images showing streamlined conning towers, and almost always sans the deck guns.

Nowhere is there a ship profile of a battleship.  By 1964, Britain had scrapped the King George Vs, and beautiful HMS Vanguard.   France had decommissioned Jean Bart, and though Richelieu was supposedly not decommissioned until 1967, she is not included.  The United States had disposed of the North Carolinas and the South Dakotas some years before, and only the four Iowas remained.  They are listed in the front of the US Navy section, but not as commissioned warships, and they are also not featured.   Turkey’s ancient Yavuz, the ex-German World War I battlecruiser Goeben, had not yet been scrapped (it would be in 1971), but apparently was awaiting disposal and not in commission.

The 1964-65 edition of Jane’s contains some really interesting pictures and facts. And definitely some oddities.

There is a launching photo for USS America (CV-66), and “artist’s conceptions” of the Brooke and Knox-class frigates, which were then rated as destroyer escorts.  In 1964, the largest warship in the Taiwanese Navy (Republic of China) was an ex-Japanese destroyer that had been re-armed with US 5″/38 open single mounts in the late 1950s.  The People’s Republic of China also had at least one ex-Japanese destroyer in service, along with the half-sisters to the ill-fated USS Panay, formerly USS Guam and USS Tutulia, which had been captured by the Japanese in 1941 and turned over to China at the end of the war.  The PRC also retained at least one river gunboat which had been built at the turn of the century.

Italy’s navy included two wartime-construction (1943) destroyers that had been badly damaged, repaired, and commissioned in the late 1940s.  The eye-catching feature of the photos of the San Giorgios is the Mk 38 5″/38 twin mountings of the type mounted on the US Sumners and Gearings.

A couple other oddities that I never would have known but for this book.  In the 1950s, West Germany salvaged one Type XXI and two Type XXIII U-boats, sunk in the Baltic in 1945, reconditioned them, and commissioned them.  While the Type XXI was an experimentation platform, apparently the two Type XXIII boats (ex-U-2365 and U-2367) became operational boats.    The Israeli frigate Haifa had been a British wartime Hunt-class frigate, sold to the Egyptian Navy, and captured by Israeli forces in Haifa in the 1956 war.

The Indian Navy was made up largely of ex-Royal Navy warships, understandably enough.  But one in 1964 was particularly significant.  The Indian light cruiser Delhi had been HMS Achilles, famous for its role as a unit of Commodore Harwood’s squadron in chasing the German panzerschiff KMS Graf Spee in the Battle of the River Plate in December, 1939.

There is much more contained in the pages of this old and forgotten edition.  This book is an absolute treasure trove of naval history.   And was a most unexpected find.    I have unleashed my inner geek!

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