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“We’ll Start the War From Right Here!”

Monday, June 6th, 2016

JUNE 6, 1944…..72 Years Ago Today….

Seventy-two years ago over 9,000 American men, some hardly older than boys, laid down their lives on the beaches of Normandy in the greatest military operation in the history of the world. The white crosses stand row upon row in Colleville-sur-Mer,  in silent testimony of their supreme sacrifice.

Others who scrambled ashore on bloody Omaha Beach, or who climbed the rocky cliffs of Pointe du Hoc or who parachuted behind enemy lines with the 82nd and 101st Airborne lived to fight their away across France and across the Rhine into the heartland of Germany to break the power of the Third Reich forever. Others who survived the terrible ordeal of D-Day and fought on were not so lucky and did not come home.

Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. at age fifty-six was the oldest man, the highest ranking soldier and the only general officer in the first wave of the Normandy invasion. Roosevelt was seriously ailing and relied on a cane; he had been refused permission to join the landings twice before his superiors finally relented. Roosevelt’s 8th Regiment missed their objective at Utah Beach by a mile. There was no cover from withering German fire or prospect of swift reinforcement. Allied bombardment there had been light and the men had to cross hundreds of yards of beach to engage the enemy. When nervous subordinates asked if they should re-embark, Roosevelt seized the moment:

“We’ll start the war from right here!”

Heedless of enemy fire Roosevelt strode up and down the beach, reorganized units, directed landings and led his men in battle. By the end of the day the 8th Regiment had taken their sector and Roosevelt had earned the Medal of Honor.

He died forty-four days later during the Battle of France, one among many American GIs.

The “Greatest Generation” is receding into history in increasing numbers with each passing year but their deeds are destined to become legend.

Churchill’s oratory, American might

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — some thoughts on Churchill while prepping a post re Cole Bunzel’s new paper ]
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Let’s pre-amble around a bit, before we get to Cole Bunzel‘s important new paper, The Kingdom and the Caliphate: Duel of the Islamic States in my next post: the issue of oratory vs force is significant in its own right.

I’ve just been watching a couple of films about Winston Churchill, and wondering how much of Britain’s survival of the Nazi enemy in World War II was the result of materiel and how much of morale. My father was the gunnery officer of a light cruiser covering the Murmansk convoys, so I appreciate the importance of logistics, both trans-Atlantic and trans-Arctic. But then there’s morale, about which von Clausewitz says:

Essentially, war is fghtiing, for fighting is the only effective principle in the manifold activities designated as war. Fighting, in turn, is a trial of moral and physical forces through the medium of the latter. Naturally moral strength must not be excluded, for psychological forces exert a decisive in?uence on the elements involved in war.

and:

One might say that the physical seem little more than the wooden hilt, while the moral factors are the precious metal, the real weapons, the finely honed blade.

As between the material and the immaterial, then — and notice how the word immaterial has come to have the pejorative meaning, irrelevant — Clausewitz gives greater importance to the immaterial, the psychological.

So — how do we measure the impact of Winston Churchill’s oratory, as a morale-multiplier, to compare it with that of the output of US aircraft factories just prior to and during the war — 100,000 aircraft, I am told, to include “the Army Lockheed P-38 Lightning, P-39 Airacobra, Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, P-47 Thunderbolt, North American P-51 Mustang, Northrop P-61 Black Widow, and the Navy F2A Buffalo, F4F Wildcat, F4U Corsair, and F6F Hellcat fighters.

Against those immense and measurable figures, let us set just three of Churchill’s speeches from the summer of 1940:

Behind us gather a group of shattered states and bludgeoned races: the Czechs, the Poles, the Danes, the Norwegians, the Belgians, the Dutch — upon all of whom a long night of barbarism will descend, unbroken even by a star of hope, unless we conquer, as conquer we must, as conquer we shall.

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, We shall fight on the seas and oceans, We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island whatever the cost may be, We shall fight on the beaches, We shall fight on the landing grounds, We shall fight in the fields and in the streets, We shall fight in the hills; We shall never surrender.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

**

The materiel and the morale, the qantitative and the qualitative, the measurable and the immeasurable — here’s the great koan around which it would seem much of my thought revolves.

In amy next post, I’ll turn to Cole Bunzel’s report for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which triggered these reflections with the words:

Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest places and one-quarter of the world’s known oil reserves

If that isn’t a powerful superposition of the immaterial and material worlds in one short phrase, I don’t know what is.

A Bit of Summer Reading

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

[by J. Scott Shipman]

dead wakestraight to hellGhost Fleet

The Fate of a ManBachCalvin Coolidge

 

Dead Wake, The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

Straight to Hell, True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery and Billion Dollar Deals, by John Lefevre

Ghost Fleet, A Novel of The Next Work War, by P.W. Singer & August Cole

The Fate of a Man, by Mikhail Sholokhov

BACH, Music in the Castle of Heaven, by Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream, by John Derbyshire

The summer of 2015 for me is becoming memorable for the diversity of the books making it into my queue through unexpected circumstances. Larson’s Dead Wake was an surprise gift from a neighbor familiar with my professional pursuits. I read “Wake” in two sittings and it is superb. Larson puts faces on the victims, and highlights the politics from both sides of the Atlantic, to include the German U-boat commander responsible for the sinking. This tragedy reads like a novel and is wicked good.

Last year my son turned me on to the feed of @GSElevator on Twitter. I would have never read this book  had I not become a fan of Mr. Lefevre’s decidedly politically incorrect sense of humor. With over 700k followers on Twitter he created an instant potential market and I bit. Straight to Hell is an entertaining irreverent look at the top of the banking profession, and is not for the faint of heart—and very funny.

Ghost Fleet is one of the most anticipated techno-thrillers in recent memory. Singer and Cole have spun a good yarn of how a future world war between the USA and China/Russia. While the book is a page turner, the authors thankfully sourced their technology assertions in 22 pages of notes! A great resource for a very good book. One could quibble over lack of character development, but this book is driven more by technological wizardry and is a fun and instructive read.

Fate of Man was recommended either at a blog or in blog comments—I don’t remember. This tiny but poignant book (it is more a bound short story) provides the reader with a glimpse of the hardships and sacrifices in Russia post WWII. Torture and suffering on a scale foreign to 99.9% of those living in the modern Western world.

BACH was a birthday gift, and I would like to report I have finished Gardiner’s masterpiece, but that may take some time (I’m at page 330). Gardiner shares insights on JS Bach’s life and music, and while I have over forty Bach recordings in my iTunes account, this lovely book is introducing a massive body of Bach’s cantata work—over 200 and I’m unfamiliar with most. My method has been to read Gardiner’s description of the piece, then find a recording on YouTube. Unfortunately, Gardiner does not discuss one of my all-time favorite Bach Cantatas Ascension Oratorio BWV-11 (the last five minutes are simply divine).

Finally, the Calvin Coolidge book came to me via CDR Salamander in a Facebook thread. As a fan of Coolidge and Derbyshire, I grabbed a copy and I’m glad I did. Derbyshire has written a sweet and insightful story of love, betrayal, and redemption, all the while providing the reader a frightening description of China’s cultural revolution.

My China study continues, adding Edward Rice’s Mao’s Way, along with CAPT Peter Haynes’ Towards a New Maritime Strategy: American Naval Thinking on the Post-Cold War Era—-both are thus far very good. Also thanks to a friend, I recently spent some quality time with the late master naval strategist, Herbert Rosinski’s The Development of Naval Thought. This is my third or fourth pass through a very good little book.  If naval strategy holds any interest, this little book is not to be missed.

Are you reading any unusual titles?

Deadly PT Boat Patrols–a brief review/recommendation

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

[by J. Scott Shipman]

Deadly PT Boat Patrols

Deadly PT Boat Patrols, A History of Task Group 50.1 New Guinea 1942-43, by Allan L. Lawrence, Jr.

Late last fall a good friend suggested that I read Mr. Lawrence’s book. My friend made the connection, and Mr. Lawrence was kind enough to send an autographed copy. I read Deadly PT Boat Patrols over the Christmas break and wanted to share the title with our readers. The book is about his dad and namesake serving in the South Pacific on Motor Torpedo Boats during WWII, but really what Mr. Lawrence has crafted is a richly detailed day-by-day history of not only his father’s service, but the service of his colleagues. And when I say day by day, I mean Lawrence provides the reader with a running diary of Task Group 50.1—how they were formed and made their way to New Guinea.

Mr. Lawrence didn’t set out to write a Task Group history, however. He writes

Originally, this project was intended to be simply a photographic essay focused solely upon the Colt 1911A1 Automatic Pistol used by my father while assigned to Motor Torpedo Division SEVENTEEN in enemy waters off New Guinea. It was intended for submission to be a renowned historical pistol collectors association for inclusion, if found worthy, in their quarterly magazine. As the project unfolded, however, it became apparent that there was sufficient material of an historical nature to expand upon the original theme.

And “expand” Mr. Lawrence has done! Filled with many never before published photographs (many provided by the participants or their families) of both the men and their machines , but also of native populations, Deadly PT Boats offers the reader real insight (often in the words of the participant’s war diaries) into the struggles, dangers, and deprivations suffered and endured by the men who crewed these small fast boats. The book also has some hilarious recollections of these Sailors on liberty and the fun they had together in the midst of a brutal war.

The elder Mr. Lawrence is offered in his own words:

I like to talk about these things to anybody that is interested but you don’t find people that are interested in that kind of stuff. They’re more interested in running around with veterans plates on their cars, ya know?…I never had a dogtag—never was issued a dogtag—they said we were moving too fast. (pages 180-181)

Mr. Lawrence continued on the carnage of PT boat warfare:

It was really a nasty business—a mess, really, but those bastards were vicious, really vicious. And you couldn’t take them as prisoners. [Significant pause] Invariably you’d wind up with two or three dead bodies with their leather harnesses, their knapsacks and canvas all in the screws so you’d screw yourself up because you’d stall your engines out…So you’d come back on one engine the next day cutting the body parts and harness and stuff out from up between the screws and struts, ya know—diving down.” (page 182)

If there is a weakness in Deadly PT Boats it would be the sometimes painful level of detail and the need for a good editorial scrub, but the book is a labor of love, and if read with this in mind Mr. Lawrence takes the reader along side these young men and their lives of frustration and boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror.

Mr. Lawrence brings the reader full circle and provides a “where are they now” or how the main characters ended up after the war. All in all, a good read.

Aficionados of WWII naval history should add Deadly PT Boats to their library as valuable contribution to the genre.

Strongly recommended.

December 1944

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a “zen‘]

On 16 December, 1944, after two prior delays, Adolf Hitler launched his last supreme gamble, Operation Autumn Mist, throwing 200,000 Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS soldiers and 600 tanks into the American front line at the Ardennes, catching the Allies completely by surprise. The 101st Airborne Division, commanded by Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe was surrounded at Bastogne. This led to the legendary exchange between McAuliffe and the local German commander, General of Panzers, Heinrich von Luttwitz:

 

To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne.

The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More German armored units have crossed the river Our near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hompre-Sibret-Tillet. Libramont is in German hands.

There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note.

If this proposal should be rejected one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A. A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours term.

All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the well-known American humanity.

The German Commander.

To which McAuliffe responded:

To the German Commander.

NUTS!

The American Commander

Thus carving a place into history  for himself and the now storied 101st Division.

When I was at Arlington National Cemetery this fall, I watched a bus of honor flight veterans from WWII disembark at the Tomb.  Many of the veterans were frail, even fragile and took the tour in wheelchairs; but others were surprisingly spry and were pushing their comrades along, cheerfully greeting children and shaking hands with other visitors and veterans of other wars much younger than themselves. Most were clad in caps or colorful jackets emblazoned with details of their service and a few wore their medals. For many of these veterans, the trip was undoubtedly a final pilgrimage.

It is common to refer to the men who fought in WWII as “the Greatest Generation”. It is an almost universal expression, but because we forget the sheer enormity of the stakes involved, the sacrifices in blood like a river and the privation and hardship faced by ordinary GI’s, we seldom pause to recall how true that phrase really is.

The 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge is an appropriate time to remember.

 


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