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In previous History Friday columns and comments I have laid out that a great deal of the institutional and academic histories we have of the Pacific Theater of World War 2 are deeply flawed. These flaws are from both the post WW2 political and budget agendas of those governmental institutions and from the lack of understanding of the significant on-the-ground details by more recent academic and general histories.
Following that theme, this week’s Pacific War History Friday column is the first of several that will deal with the concept of “engineering measurement unit conversion error” as it applied to the fighting in World War 2’s Pacific theater. By “engineering measurement unit conversion error” I mean problems similar to the one that destroyed the 1999 NASA Mars Climate Orbiter. NASA engineers missed an English system to metric system measurement unit conversion which caused the Orbiter to be lost. See this article “The Quick 6: Six Unit Conversion Disasters” for that and other examples.
What does the 1999 NASA Mars Climate Orbiter have to do with the Pacific Theater of WW2? Quite a lot, as it turns out!
It turns out that there were two major “engineering measurement unit conversion error” issues between the US Army and US Navy that affected Radar, gunnery and general topographic map making between the US Military services in the Pacific.
The first issue was that the US Navy used nautical miles while the US Army used statute miles. The way this issue was dealt with was to give performance in a unit of measure both services could agree too — namely yards – for gun performance and for Radars involved with naval fire control, anti-aircraft and coast artillery.
This column has visited established narratives of Pacific war many times to try and validate their worth by “opening the hood” of the “Narrative Car” to see what makes them run. Today’s column does that with the Japanese Kamikaze campaign at Okinawa and rival Invasion of Japan planning in the form of the Japanese “Ketsu-Go Six“ plan — predominantly take from Japanese Monograph No. 85 – and various American “Sphinx Project” reports and the Pacific Theater War Plans for Operation Olympic. Then the column will analyze them via operational realities that are generally missing from even the best end of the Pacific War books like Richard B. Frank’s “Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire.”
The genesis of this column began when I recently read THE ULTIMATE BATTLE, OKINAWA 1945 — The Last Epic Struggle of World War II by Bill Sloan. He made a comment to the effect that the Imperial Japanese high command planned during operation TEN-GO – the Kamikaze plan used during the American Invasion of Okinawa — to include 4,085 aircraft for suicide operations.
One of the unexamined operational factors of the canceled November 1945 Operation Olympic invasion of Japan would have been smoke plumes caused by the planned 1-2 punch of defoliant and napalm fire bombing of Japanese cave positions behind the Kyushu invasion beaches by General MacArthur’s Far Eastern Air Forces, as this 2003 satellite photo of southern California grass fire smoke plumes makes clear.
The ongoing Ukraine crisis and the poor reporting of same have pretty much killed this week’s History Friday column for me, so I will yield to my muse and go with it in providing this background information to the Ukraine Crisis.
1. President Viktor Yanukovych was a tyrant in the pocket of President Putin of Russia. His election in 2010 saw Ukraine turn increasingly into a police state with on-going death squad actions against protestors. Political opponents like Yulia Tymoshenko have been imprisoned and beaten. American National Public Radio has reported for some months on the activities of these Yanukovych aligned death squads going into Ukrainian hospitals to “disappear” wounded protestors getting medical treatment. Tortured bodies of some of them are found days or weeks later. President Viktor Yanukovych utterly honked off the entire non-Russian speaking Ukrainian population through these actions.
2. The Euromaidan movement is not just a grass roots movement. It is a political coalition that is in part a tool of Ukrainian oligarchs that don’t want to go extinct like the Russian oligarchs did under Putin. This means they play rough. And by rough I mean they are forming road blocks and threatening anyone with high end autos on the theory they are Yanukovych supporters.
Likely a good part of the reason that Ukraine police melted away from Yanukovych involved threats to police families and property. There were not enough Eastern and Crimean Ukrainians in the Kiev police units supporting the Berkut to keep it all from melting away
3. The timing of this Euromaidan takeover was no accident. The key development in this crisis was the Ukrainian Military refusing to come out of its barracks to shoot protestors with heavy weapons a la Tiananmen Square. Without the ultimate force sanction of military heavy weapons, President Viktor Yanukovych could not win a forceful confrontation without outside Russian military action. He had to hold on through the Olympics to get it, but he and his inner circle of supporters suffered a classic case of elite collapse of will. Euromaidan and its outside supporters knew that from the get-go. Which brings us to…
4. Euromaidan had outside European help. That help was Polish. See this text and the link below it for the full article:
The Polish government has been funding civil society projects in ex-Soviet countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova, with much of the aid channeled through a fund controlled by Mr Sikorski’s ministry.
Recipients of Polish government money include opposition television stations operating in exile from Belarus, giving Poland influence in a country that, after Ukraine, could be the scene of the next confrontation between Russia and the West.
Such Polish activism arouses suspicion in Moscow, where centuries of rivalry between the two big Slavic powers, Roman Catholic Poland in the West and Orthodox Russia in the East, were marked by repeated wars and invasions in either direction.
In previous columns I have been speaking to the US Navy’s communications style and command imperatives to control those communications, especially radio communications and Ultra code breaking intelligence. Today’s ‘History Friday’ column takes that line of research a step further and tells a tale of two strategic bombing campaigns in the winter of 1945 and of secret weather reports in the hands of the US Navy. The two strategic bombing campaigns were the Japanese “Fusen Bakudan” or “Fu-Go” balloon bomb campaign of November 1944 through April 1945 and the American Oct 1944 – August 1945 B-29 bombing of Japan from the Marianas. Both have official narratives. Very few have compared those narratives in relation to how the US Navy exercised distribution control of its Ultra code breaking intelligence from Japanese weather reports.
This column will compare those rival strategic bombing campaign narratives and show how the US Navy’s distribution of decoded Japanese military weather reports on the high altitude jet stream played a role in both, thereby extending the war, and needlessly killing more USAAF B-29 crews, US Navy picket destroyer sailors at Okinawa and Japanese civilians by American B-29 fire bombing.
This is a National Geographic map of all the documented impacts of Japanese Fusen Bakudan, or “Fu-Go” balloon bombs during the November 1944 – April 1945 Japanese strategic bombing campaign of North America. The “Fu-Go” balloons took advantage of the transpacific upper atmosphere jet stream that Japanese weather balloons had discovered shortly before Pearl Harbor. This same jet stream that delivered “Fu-Go” balloon bombs also heavily disrupted attempts at precision bombing from USAAF B-29s that were based in the Marianas in the winter of 1944-45. Map note — Map by Jerome N. Cookson, National Geographic; source: Dave Tewksbury, Hamilton College.
In my last two columns (See article links here and here) I have been following the thread of the US Navy’s visual and radio communications style and how it affected the US Navy’s night fighting and amphibious styles in the Guadalcanal/Solomons campaigns and during the landing at Tarawa respectively. Today’s column continues that US Navy communications thread and weaves it together with several other threads from previous columns including ones on
• Intra-service politics regarding sea mining in the Pacific War,
• Theater amphibious fighting styles,
• A quirk of in promotion policy in the WW2 US Army’s military culture, and
• The Ultra distribution war between MacArthur and both the Navy & War Department intelligence mandarins
(See links here, here, here and here) so as to tell the story of how the US Navy’s interwar mania for controlling radio communications turned into a huge problem of interservice politics that hurt the war effort in the Pacific.
U.S. Navy Shipboard Radio Room showing WWII RAK/RAL & RAO/RBL receivers along with the LM Freq Meter far upper right and the Scott SLR receiver located just below the order binders. Source: Radio Boulevard Western Historic Radio Museum online at http://www.radioblvd.com/WWII-PostWar%20Hamgear.htm
The US Navy’s fighting style, in the Pacific from Pearl Harbor through Okinawa, was characterized by naval centric “joint” warfare where the Navy was always first among equals and most staff work was done under Adm. Nimitz’s eyes. Where that “First among equals” theater fighting style rubbed the US Army wrong most heavily was with the Navy’s centralized style with radio communications.
In my last column I spoke of the impact of the US Navy’s visual communication style on the night fighting in the Solomons, and how it negatively impacted the “Black Shoe” surface ship officer’s ability to adapt to the radar and radio centered reality of night combat with the Imperial Japanese Navy. This column will explore how this communication style impacted the use of LVTs, or “Landing Vehicle Tracked” at Tarawa, and compare and contrast how that style interacted with how the US Army and US Marine Corps approached fighting with LVTs later in the Pacific War, and what it meant for the future.
The assault on the island of Betio, in the Tarawa atoll, was the worst 76 hours of bloodletting in the history of the USMC. In the words of Colonel Joseph H. Alexander, USMC (Ret):
The final casualty figures for the 2d Marine Division in Operation Galvanic were 997 Marines and 30 sailors (organic medical personnel) dead; 88 Marines missing and presumed dead; and 2,233 Marines and 59 sailors wounded. Total casualties: 3,407. The Guadalcanal campaign had cost a comparable amount of Marine casualties over six months; Tarawa’s losses occurred in a period of 76 hours. Moreover, the ratio of killed to wounded at Tarawa was significantly high, reflecting the savagery of the fighting. The overall proportion of casualties among those Marines engaged in the assault was about 19 percent, a steep but “acceptable” price. But some battalions suffered much higher losses. The 2d Amphibian Tractor Battalion lost over half the command. The battalion also lost all but 35 of the 125 LVT’s employed at Betio.
Two destroyed LVT’s in the Tarawa Lagoon in 1943. They lacked radios and their crews were untrained in US naval visual signals
The Marines lost roughly 333 men killed a day, or 13.25 men killed an hour for every hour for the assault at Betio. And for every man killed, two more fell wounded.
There were a number of reasons for this. The standard narrative speaks to inadequate naval fire support and bombing by the air forces of the Army and Navy, of Betio being surrounded by reefs that cut off the LCVP Higgins boats from the island, save at high tide, and a once in several decades “super neap tide” — where the combination of a strong solar perihelion tide, weak lunar apogean tide plus the expected last-quarter moon neap tide could combine for a no-tide period — that prevented the high tide from rising enough, thus forcing troops to cover hundreds of yards of machine gun and artillery swept shallows just to get to shore.
WW2 saw a huge paradigm shift in the US Navy from battleships to aircraft carriers and from surface warship officers, AKA the Black Shoe wearing “Gun Club,” to naval aviators or the Brown Shoe wearing “Airdales.” Most people see this as an abrupt Pearl Harbor related shift. To some extent that was true, but there is an additional “Detailed Reality” hiding behind this shift that US Army officers familiar with both the 4th Infantry Division Task Force XXI experiments in 1997 and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq will understand all too well. Naval officers in 1942-1945, just like Army officers in 1997-2003 were facing a complete change in their basic mode of communications that were utterly against their professional training, in the heat of combat. Navy officers in 1942-1945 were going from a visual communications with flag semaphore and blinking coded signal lamps on high ship bridges to a radio voice and radar screen in a “Combat Information Center” (CIC) hidden below decks. US Army officers, on the other hand, in 1997-2003 were switching from a radio-audio and paper map battlefield view to digital electronic screens. Both switches of communications caused cognitive dissonance driven poor decisions by their users. However, the difference in final results was driven by the training incentives built into these respective military services promotion policies.
In many ship photographs taken between about 1916 and 1940, there are what appear to be large clocks on the front and rear superstructures or masts. These are actually devices to tell the other ships in the formation at what range that ship is firing at. Together with “Declination Marks” on the sides of turrets; these mechanisms allowed the other ships in the formation, whose view of the target may be obscured by fog, gun smoke or funnel smoke, to have their guns at the proper elevation and bearing when their view becomes unobstructed. This greatly reduced the time needed before they were ready to fire. Source — http://www.patriotfiles.com/forum/showthread.php?t=111568
One of the objectives when I started writing my “History Friday” columns was to improve the public’s understanding about the “cancelled by atomic bomb” November 1945 invasion of Japan. A recurring focal point has been trying to answer the “counterfactual” or “What If” question “How would the American military have fought the Imperial Japanese in November 1945 if the A-bomb failed?” in ways that challenge current academic narratives about the end of World War 2 in the Pacific.
This History Friday column returns to that theme by examining a technology forgotten and a technology familiar and using the combination to challenge the standing academic narrative of “If America invaded Japan in 1945 without the A-bomb, Japan had a chance of winning.” The “Forgotten” is the “Brodie Device” a “cableway” technology for launching and landing small fixed wing aircraft. The “Familiar” are small general aviation planes of the Piper Cub class and television. Early television created in the form of the “Block III” missile guidance seeker of R.C.A.’s WW2 era chief scientist Dr. Vladimir Zworykin. And taken together, they represented the qualitative aspect of the American materialschlacht – battle of material – that was actually on a sharp upward slope in the closing months of WW2. Creating for the cancelled Operation Olympic Invasion of Japan something that looked like a direct ancestor of the 2013 Robert J. Collier Trophy winning MC-12 Liberty. A Hawker Beechcraft King Air “Manned UAV,” which is flying combat missions over Afghanistan today.
This is the Brodie Device in its land based, freighter and LST configurations
The “Brodie Device” was the invention of one Lieutenant, later decorated with the Legion of Merit and promoted Captain, James H Brodie of the USAAF Transportation Corps. Brodie’s day job was redesigning freighters in the Port of New Orleans to carry aircraft to the front. He saw any number of ships with his work torpedoed and sunk by U-boats, and unlike most, he could and did something about it. He designed a cableway device to give his freighters their own Piper Cub air spotters. With much politicking on his part, he was given $10,000 and designed a 7,000 lbs (3,175 kg) cableway launch and landing system that began testing in April 1943. By July 1943 he was pestering transient USAAF pilots to test fly an L-4 “Grasshopper” Piper Cub into his contraption. Finally he found a B-26 pilot, named Maj James D Kemp, with enough bravery and shear craziness to do both a take-off and landing on 3 Sept 1943.
As I opened my previous column, I will state again, one of the strangest experiences doing historical research is following a trail of research on something you think you know, and then suddenly you go down Alice’s rabbit hole and find a “Detailed Reality” that was something completely different. This trip into “Detailed Reality” started as a search for how the US Navy used land based radar to control fighters in World War II (WW2) and turned into a story of institutional power politics between the American government and both its New Zealand and Australian allies. Power politics that resulted in another “convenient lie” from the US Navy, New Zealand and Australian governments being parked on General Douglas Mac Arthur’s post-war reputation.
Radar in WW2 was a classified subject. Some portions of that Pacific theater’s wartime records for radar were declassified at the end of the war as a part of the normal jockeying for post war budgets. The US Navy emphasized, naturally enough, the ship based radars in its institutional history. Land based radars in the Pacific were a different matter. There were numerous US Navy, US Army, US Army Air Force and US Marne Corps radar units in the course of WW2 in the Pacific, and much of their story remained classified through the late 1980s and early 1990s. The failure of many historians to go there after that declassification was a methodological cue for me to follow up that line of investigation to “peer around the established institutional narrative.” The place to start with the land based radar narrative in the Pacific was Guadalcanal. It was here that the US Navy learned to use radar to fight ships at night, and to a lessor extent to use ship mounted radar to direct fighters. The key radar development at Guadalcanal, however, wasn’t either of those. It was the use of radar directed fighters by the “Cactus Air Force” out of Henderson Field in 1942-1943, which birthed all the wartime US Navy Department land-based radar organizations. And both the US Navy and USMC learned much of this trade from radars produced and maintained by the New Zealand Radio Development Laboratory (RDL) scientists and the radar controllers of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
A New Zealand Long Range Air Warning (LRAW) Radar, Alternative broadside aerial on left. Truck with double Yagi ‘assault’ aerial and equipment to the right, in front of radio truck. — Photo Dr R S Unwin from page 11 of “Echos Over The Pacific”
One of the strangest experiences doing historical research is following a trail of research on something you think you know, and then suddenly you go down Alice’s rabbit hole and find a “detailed reality” that was something completely different. So it was researching General Claire Chennault’s ground observer network in World War II (WW2). I went looking for the nuts and bolts organizational creation of an air power genius…and what I found instead was “Claire Lee Chennault — SECRET AGENT MAN!!!”
Then Captain Claire Chennault’s 1933 Ft. Knox air Defense Observer Network. It was so successful in catching bombardment formations that Chennault was black balled by the “Bomber Mafia” of two Air Chiefs of Staff. This network was the basis of a human intelligence network Chennault formed in China despite orders forbidding such a service by China-Burma-India senior US commander General Stilwell. Photo Source: Coast Artillery Journal Mar-Apr 1934, pg. 39
It turns out that Chennault’s anti-aircraft ground observer network evolved in China from 1937 through 1945 from an air-warning network into a full scale human intelligence service. A human intelligence service that was operationally annexed by General William “Wild Bill” Donovan’s Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in the Spring of 1945.
When I started this thread of research, I was looking for a copy of then Captain Chennault’s “THE ROLE OF DEFENSIVE PURSUIT.” The institutional histories of the US Air Force on World War II (WW2) mention the existence of the anti-aircraft ground observer network called for by “THE ROLE OF DEFENSIVE PURSUIT” in China, but not much more. “THE ROLE OF DEFENSIVE PURSUIT” was also mentioned prominently in the first chapter of Paul A. Ludwig’s book “P-51 Mustang: Development of the the Long Range Escort Fighter” which I received as a gift recently, and the author makes the point General Arnold’s Army Air Corps threw out this ground observer network along with the only man in its service that knew the heavy bomber wasn’t invincible. They did so for the heresy of speaking that truth.
The lack of historical coverage of a past military institution in military institutional histories, and the lack of a modern equivalent to tell their stories, are always good cues to go researching. My internet searches to that end yielded both “THE ROLE OF DEFENSIVE PURSUIT” and an article by Bob Bergin titled “Claire Lee Chennault and the Problem of Intelligence in China,” in the June 2010 issue of Studies in Intelligence. What I didn’t expect to happen by reading the article was to fall down Alice’s “rabbit hole” into an espionage wonderland.
When I started writing my “History Friday” columns, one of my objectives was to explore the “military historical narratives” around General Douglas MacArthur, so I could write with a better understanding about the “cancelled by atomic bomb” November 1945 invasion of Japan. One of the least explored aspects of MacArthur’s fighting style was his highly flexible approach to logistics, which he described as “We are doing what we can with what we have.” Logistics being the ability to transport and supply military forces. In describing MacArthur’s flexibility, and poor documentation of same, I wrote previously:
“One of the maddening things about researching General Douglas MacArthur’s fighting style in WW2 was the way he created, used and discarded military institutions, both logistical and intelligence, in the course of his South West Pacific Area (SWPA) operations. Institutions that had little wartime publicity and have no direct organizational descendent to tell their stories in the modern American military.”
The importance of logistics is the reason for the adage, “Amateurs talk tactics while professionals talk logistics.”
Today’s column is the story of one of those many “throw away” logistical institutions. In this case, it was MacArthur’s “human porter logistics” — native workers provided by the Australian and Dutch East Indies colonial authorities — married to the 5th Air Force’s primitive bootleg radio beacon navigation. A mid-20th century great-great-grandfather of today’s Global Positioning System radio beacon satellites.
American and Australian casualties, with Papuan Stretcher Bearers. Men like the ones pictured were key in moving supplies from forward air drop zones to Australian and American troops in New Guinea.
There are 365,000 enrollees in Obamacare thus far. Only 15% of them have paid for their 1st month of healthcare insurance. This means _AT BEST_ less than 55,000 of the 365,000 who have enrolled will have insurance come January 2014.
The individual healthcare market prior to Obamacare was over 7 million people holding policies.
That works out to 0.7% of the individual policy holders that had old pre-Obamacare private health insurance policies, who have renewed their policies under Obamacare, given a 15% payment compliance rate. Remember, that is the _BEST CASE_ It may be as little as 1/3 that compliance number and percentage.
There are less than 30 days for the other 99.3% of the individual healthcare market to get an Obamacare policy.
I wonder what odds Las Vegas bookies would give for an Obamacare paid policy rate 10% of the old individual healthcare market, AKA Obamacare policies for 700,000?
Logistics, the ability to transport and supply military forces, underwrites military strategy. The importance of logistics is the reason for the adage, “Amateurs talk tactics while professionals talk logistics.” These truisms of military affairs are often glossed over by General Douglas MacArthur’s critics — like US Naval Historian Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison — and replaced with talk of MacArthur “Seeking Personal Glory” and taking “Unnecessary Casualties.” This was especially true when it came to MacArthur’s liberation of the Southern Philippines. MacArthur’s Southern Philippines campaign, far from being “unnecessary” and a “strategic dead end,” was a logistical enabler for Operations Olympic and Coronet, the American invasion plans for the islands of Kyushu and Honshu Japan.
MacArthur had been directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to be able to stage through the Philippines 11 divisions by November 1945 and a further 22 by February 1946. The securing of the Southern Philippines would cut off Japanese small boat production there, protected MacArthur’s sea lines of communication filled with small boats and a polyglot freighter fleet from both radar and radio directed Japanese Kamikaze aircraft and suicide boats, and provide the vitally needed Filipino workforce for assembly work and port capacity to support the staging those divisions for the invasion of Japan.
MacArthur’s Southern Philippines Campaign – Source: “Southern Philippines: The US Army Campaigns of World War II” CMH Pub 72-40
To understand the Southern Philippine campaign in historical context, you need to know that MacArthur’s liberation of the Philippines was done in four phases.
1) Sixth Army’s Leyte Campaign
2) Sixth Army’s Mindoro/Luzon Campaign
3) The Eighth Army’s the Leyte-Samar operation (including clearance of the Visayan passages)
4) The Eighth Army’s extended Southern Philippines campaign south of the Visayan passages
The first two phases are not included in the “waste of soldiers” critiques of MacArthur, while the other two usually are. So I will lay out MacArthur’s logistical reasons to pursue those “unnecessary” military operations as the relate to the invasion of Japan. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the focal points in writing this History Friday column has been trying to answer the question “How would the American military have fought the Imperial Japanese in November 1945 had the A-bomb failed?” Today’s column is focusing on an almost unknown aircraft, the Curtis SC-1 Seahawk light patrol seaplane as one of many “reality lives in the detail” changes in material, training and doctrine that the US military was making for the invasion of Japan. Then placing the Seahawk in the wider context of the contrasting US versus Imperial Japanese fighting styles, of American “matériel battle” aka “Materialsclacht” versus Japanese “Samurai spirit.”
Curtis SC-1 Seahawk floatplane — National Archives #80-G-399644
“While only intended to seat the pilot, a bunk was provided in the aft fuselage for rescue or personnel transfer. Two 0.5 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns were fitted in the wings, and two underwing hardpoints allowed carriage of 250 lb (113 kg) bombs or, on the right wing, surface-scan radar. The main float, designed to incorporate a bomb bay, suffered substantial leaks when used in that fashion, and was modified to carry an auxiliary fuel tank.
You can see a nice You Tube video titled “SC-1 SeaHawk Seaplane Fighters in Combat Operations!” at this link:
The Seahawk served the US Navy from 1944 through 1948 and was replaced by helicopters. It is at best a footnote in the most detailed histories of World War 2. It is also a perfect metaphor for the fighting that would have happened, but didn’t, thanks to the ultimate in WW2 Materialsclacht…the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Veterans Day started after World War I as “Armistice Day” commemorating the end of that conflict on the eleventh minute, of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. As time went and wars came one after another, it became the day America commemorated as Veteran’s Day, for those who served under the flag in the military services.
This year, though my memories are on one of the very many who were “They also serve who only stand and wait.” My Grandmother, Dora Zoraida (Rodriguez) Due died on October 30, 2013 at the age of 97 surrounded by her loving family members. She was the Daughter, Wife, Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandmother of soldiers of the American Republic. Men of her life and line have served in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001.
Dora Due, Daughter, Wife, Mother, Grandmother and Great-Grandmother of American Soldiers
““They also serve who only stand and wait.”
My Grandma Dora was such an “Army Woman” that even Spartan women of old would have pulled their hair and gnashed their teeth in envy. At her funeral one of her son-in-laws computed that the men of Dora’s life and line have served 111 continuous years of the 238 and counting existence of the Regular US Army. Truly there was not a day of her 97 year life that Dora did not serve, waiting, under the flag. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the focal points in my writing these History Friday columns has been trying to answer the question “How would the American military have fought the Imperial Japanese in November 1945 if the A-bomb failed?” Today’s column returns to that theme by examining one of many “reality lives in the detail” changes in material, training and doctrine that the US Army was making for the invasion of Japan. This column’s focus is on the use of napalm as a weapon. In reading about napalm as a weapon in World War 2, you see the following (from the Global Security web site) standard narrative explanation and not much more —
Napalm was developed at Harvard University in 1942-43 by a team of chemists led by chemistry professor Louis F. Fieser, who was best known for his research at Harvard University in organic chemistry which led to the synthesis of the hormone cortisone. Napalm was formulated for use in bombs and flame throwers by mixing a powdered aluminium soap of naphthalene with palmitate (a 16-carbon saturated fatty acid) — also known as naphthenic and palmitic acids — hence napalm [another story suggests that the term napalm derives from a recipe of naphtha and palm oil]. Naphthenic acids are corrosives found in crude oil; palmitic acids are fatty acids that occur naturally in coconut oil. On their own, naphthalene and palmitate are relatively harmless substances.
The aluminum soap of naphthenic and palmitic acids turns gasoline into a sticky syrup that carries further from projectors and burns more slowly but at a higher temperature. Mixing the aluminum soap powder with gasoline produced a brownish sticky syrup that burned more slowly than raw gasoline, and hence was much more effective at igniting a target. Compared to previous incendiary weapons, napalm spread further, stuck to the target, burned longer, and was safer to its dispenser because it was dropped and detonated far below the airplane. It was also cheap to manufacture.
There is a lot more to napalm than just that, and you can’t really understand combat after action reports, the detailed reality, of the WW2 Pacific Theater without being aware of the capabilities and limitations of napalm as a weapon. The following list is from my own research over the last few years on the subject of tank-mounted mechanized flamethrowers that were in my last column.
1) Napalm flame fuel was a “Non-Newtonian Fluid” as compared “Newtonian fluids” like water and gasoline. Everyday examples of “Non-Newtonian Fluids” include corn starch and milk gravy, alcohol hand sanitizer, hair gel, and ketchup. This meant that Napalm mixtures acted somewhat like a semi-solid glue when at rest and like fluid under pressure or when aerosolized. For example, if one takes a bottle full of water and a bottle of ketchup, then try to shoot fluids from both through a potted plant to a board behind it. The water will push the plant aside and predominantly move through to the board. The ketchup will stick to the plant, and the resultant flow will have far less will reach the board behind it, let alone hit where it was intended.
This had huge implications in 1943-1944 when fighting in triple canopy jungle, dense undergrowth or in tall Kunai Grass. The South Pacific was noted for all of the above. In thick foliage napalm mixtures fired from flamethrowers stuck to plants rather than pushed past them like a Newtonian fluid. Quite literally, plant vegetation concealment _WAS COVER_ for firing apertures in bunkers of any sort. You also could not do an arcing overhead stream for fear of the plants so disrupting the flow that you would hit some of your own troops.
New Georgia Flamethrower attack using thin flame fuel with little or no napalm — Source: ‘Chemical Corps Monograph No. 4 Portable Flame Thrower Operations in World War II’
Figure 1: This is US Army Signal Corps photo of a Hawaii built Flamethrower of the 713th Flame Tank Battalion on Okinawa. This was the second generation of Hawaii flame tanks used in combat in the Spring of 1945.
To take you there this time, first imagine a weapon who’s range and effectiveness varied from shot to shot. Who’s performance was dependent on the wind. Whether it was raining or it got soaked in salt water. Whether a rubber O-seal held pressure or the connection in which it was placed was properly seated. A weapon who had a two component ammunition, solid and liquid, you had to mix in the field before use. That required the chemicals in the solid component of ammunition to be properly ground to a consistent powder with no trace manufacturing contamination, and that required air and water tight packaging of your ammunition hold up in shipment. Which also required of the liquid batch of ammunition you were using not to have had too much water or alcohol contaminating it. And whose mixed performance rapidly and unpredictably deteriorated within hours to weeks since the manufacture of that batch of ammunition, when you did everything right.
It gets better.
This weapon has an effective range of 10 to 20 yards depending on all of the above, requiring a team of 7-15 other soldiers to cover you, as you move up to use it. Your last live fire training — in fact, any training at all — in using this 70 lb back pack weapon with your team happened more than 30 days before you use it. Which, by the way, has an effective firing time in combat of 8-to-10 seconds, and you as its operator are the enemy’s priority target on the battlefield.
Your mission, your life, and the lives of around you, are depending on this weapon. And worse, for all those problems, it was the only effective weapon you have…when it works.
Those were the facts of life and death for every American portable flame thrower operator in World War 2. It took 18 months of bloody infantry close combat from December 1943 to June 1944, with four increasingly better and more dependable portable flamethrower designs, to work out all those facts.
And it was not until November 1943, with the shatteringly high U.S. Marine casualties during the assault of Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands, that the American military began to seriously entertain fielding a flame throwing tank. Read the rest of this entry »
…and the Obama Administration is having a worse than “Hurricane Katrina” class credibility meltdown unseen in the West since Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s political collapse in July 2008.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made the outrageously untrue statement in Congressional hearings today about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that: ‘The website has never crashed.’
As this Instapundit link makes clear that the split screen between her testimony and objective reality is well into the Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf AKA “Baghdad Bob” territory in terms of “Who are you going to believe, me? Or your lying eyes?”
Previous Pacific War columns on Chicago Boyz have explored all sorts of World War 2 (WW2) narratives. This column, like the earlier “History Friday: MacArthur, JANAC, and the Politics of Military Historical Narrative” column is about exploring a historical narrative that should be there, but is not. One of the issues I have never seen addressed to my satisfaction by either the academic “Diplomatic History” or “Military History” communities were the command style & service coordination issues for the proposed invasion of Kyushu, AKA Operation Olympic. They were going to be huge.
The US Navy’s Central Pacific drive and MacArthur’s South West Pacific Area drive had much different command and communications styles that had to mesh for Operation Olympic (Which was about to be renamed ‘Operation Majestic’ for security reasons as the war ended). While both commands had multiple staff groups working on current operations, future operations and the evaluation of combat reports of past operations for lessons learned _simultaneously_. Adm Nimitz and Gen MacArthur had fundamentally different approaches to running those staffs and this caused conflicts. MacArthur effectively won this “staffing style war” — at a cost to the Olympic planning that will show up in a future column — by staying in Manila rather than moving his headquarters to Guam and forcing the US Navy to come to him to do the planning for Olympic. That however was not the end of the fun and games. It was only the beginning.
Operation Olympic would not only force those two Pacific Theater commands to work together, it would effectively see a third major institutional & service player added to the mix for the first time. The US Army Air Force “Bomber Mafia” in the form of the 20th Air Force and Eighth Air Forces under General Spaatz was to come calling. The “Bomber Mafia” wanted as much of the action as they could get to justify a post-war independent air force and they were not shy in bending the rules or out right lying to achieve their aims, as a detailed examination of the “Operation Starvation” sea mining campaign will made clear. Gamesmanship between the US Army Air Force and the US Navy broke out over the execution of “Operation Starvation” with an eye towards post-war budgets rather than the Invasion of Japan. This competition contributed to the huge Japanese build up on Kyushu by not blocking the smaller wooden hulled Japanese sea traffic moving troops to met the expected American amphibious landing and guaranteed having to repeat the majority of the mining campaign had the war dragged into March 1946.
During the war in the Pacific, 17,875 mines were laid by U.S. aircraft, 7632 defensive mines by surface ships, 3010 offensive mines by surface ships, and an additional 1020 by submarines — Source: Report of Surrender and Occupation of Japan
At the beginning of WW2, The US Army Air Force (USAAF) really didn’t want to do sea mining at all. This was not seen as a “strategic mission” for it’s heavy bombers. MacArthur’s SWPA theater was a perfect example of those bias. General Kenney allowed only a single mine mission with his American B-24 heavy bombers in 1943 using spare aircraft with scratch crews, delivering a total of 24 sea mines. Similarly Admiral Kinkaid, commander of the 7th Fleet, didn’t use any of his PBY Catalina or PV-1 Ventura patrol planes to lay mines. It fell to the PBY patrol planes of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to fill the SWPA mine laying role for MacArthur the whole war. The most strategically important of those Australian mining raids being a really spectacular night time Manila Bay mission done during the Oct. – Dec. 1944 Leyte Campaign, which was supported by one of MacArthur’s “Section 22″ Radio-Countermeasures PBY “Ferret” aircraft.
The US Navy, like the USAAF at the beginning of WW2, was just as disinterested in air-laid sea mining. US Navy Rear Admiral Hoffman in a May 1977 U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings article “Offensive Mine Warfare: A Forgotten Strategy,” described US Navy mine warfare readiness at that time as “pathetic…not much different from that existing at the end of the previous war.” This can be measured by the fact that the total supply of US Navy aerial mines on December 7, 1941 consisted of 200 Navy Mk. 12 magnetic mines, which were based on a German magnetic mine captured by the British, that itself dated from a 1920′s design!
One of the focal points in my writing these History Friday columns has been trying to answer the question “How would the American military have fought the Imperial Japanese in November 1945 if the A-bomb failed?” Today’s column returns to that theme by examining one of many “reality lives in the detail” changes in material, training and doctrine that the US Army was making for the invasion of Japan. Details that have been overlooked by historians of that era, mainly because the people involved really were not interested in their failures being exposed in the historical narrative. The failure I am referring to in this column is “Tentative Specification, Engineering Board Project No. 855, Bulldozer, Rigid, Landing Vehicle, Tracked, LVT Series.” A bulldozer kit that could turn any amphibious tractor or tank into a amphibious bulldozer. And how US Army politics and procurement priorities in developing and deploying this kit denied the US Marine Corps a vital tool that could have easily saved hundreds of lives in the first days of the assault upon Iwo Jima, and rendered a potentially very useful weapon into an obscure footnote in even the most detailed histories of WW2.**
A 1944 Prototype LVT(A)1 with Bulldozer Blade Kit whose further development, and deployment to the Pacific, was delayed by US Army procurement politics.
Theoretically the US Army Corps of Engineers and Ordnance, like all US Army branches, were abolished for the duration of World War 2 (WW2) and their functions were placed inside a “Army Service Force” (ASF). The Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery “Combat Branches” were similarly abolished and moved into the “Army Ground Forces” (AGF). The reality, however, was different. All that really changed for the branch bureaucrats were titles and institutional reporting channels. The US Army Corps of Engineers and Ordnance procurement pretty much existed as before with a lot more money to spend and just as before the combat branches got to comment after projects were “thrown over the wall” between ASF and AGF. This affected many decisions made as pre-war ideas of “bureaucratic turf” were only minimally affected by the additional money. One of these areas of turf war was the development of the M4 Sherman Tankdozer, one of the few armored engineer vehicles or “Funnies” the US Army developed in WW2.
A M4 Sherman Tankdozer in France on August 7, 1944
Secretary of Defense Hagal has recalled most Department of Defense (DoD) civilians back to work Monday. The legal reasons why were in the NY Times Sunday 6 Oct 2013 edition this morning.
The following is the fine print behind the “Mostly” –
“I expect us to be able to significantly reduce — but not eliminate — civilian furloughs under this process,” Mr. Hagel said.
Mr. Hagel warned that “many important activities remain curtailed while the shutdown goes on,” and he cited disruptions across the armed services.
Late Saturday, the Defense Department comptroller, Robert F. Hale, said that Mr. Hagel’s order would recall Pentagon employees who work in health care, family programs, commissaries and training or maintenance.
Additionally, the order will recall to work those civilian Pentagon employees whose jobs, if interrupted, would cause future problems for the military; those categories include contracting, logistics, supply and financial management.
While the numbers have not been finalized, officials estimated that only 10 percent of the furloughed employees would not be recalled, including Defense Department civilian employees who work in auditing, some in legislative and public affairs, and Pentagon employees who service other government agencies.
Most of DCMA will be back to work Monday, as will DFAS, DCAA and DLA.
The DoD Inspector General (I.G.), civilians in the various uniformed Service I.G. offices and DoD civilians involved in things like planning DoD assistance to disaster relief efforts are still going to stay home.
It is a well establish principle when doing historical research that a source is regarded as “more reliable” the closer it was to the actual event, in both time and space. For example, if MacArthur’s chief of air operations General Kenney reported on Leyte Operations on December 1944 in a combat diary, that record is simply closer to the actual event than a statement made about those operations in his memoirs ten years later. Obviously this is not the only factor that decides the reliability of a source, but it is one of the more important. All other things being equal, a researcher should access and weight the former far more than the latter.
What I have found time and again — and written about here in my column — is that most World War 2 (WW2) histories, whether academic or popular histories, don’t bother to evaluate those wartime documents and they repeat the easier to access institutional narrative histories. This is becoming an increasingly problematic approach to history writing as the massive digitization of past primary source records and film material are now readily available outside traditional national archives.
It is in that vein that I am using this column to “lay down a marker” for evaluating US Army Air Force/US Air Force post-war institutional and oral histories using Sphinx Project official project result films from the Critical Past web site video service. The Critical Past web site has taken official government films and packaged them as video and digital photo content for purchase, but has left samples of the video content on-line.
The Sphinx Project was a post-German VE-Day surrender, pre-Japanese VJ-Day surrender US Army crash project to take every weapon and tactic it had to create a uniform combat doctrine template to apply to Japanese “cave warfare tactics” seen in Biak, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. There were several separate Sphinx Project exercises by different parts of the Army. The best known of those exercises were the Army Ground Forces (AGF) exercises at then Camp Hood, (Now Ft. Hood) Texas in June-July 1945 hosted by the Tank Destroyer Command, and the Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) exercises with live lethal chemical agents at the CWS Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah. There were also two other exercises that are less well known by WW2 researchers that I intend to write on in this and future columns. The CWS and the US Army Armored Command’s Medical section did testing with a one-two punch of aircraft delivered defoliant and Napalm at Ft. Knox Kentucky, and the Army Air Force (AAF) did an exercise which was a round of conventional weapon air strikes on the same Dugway Proving Ground caves the CWS used in its lethal chemical tests.
What follows is a listing of the seven videos that were clipped from that AAF test report film with comments on content and their relation to U.S. Army Air Force politics/doctrine.
One of the things that pops up again and again in researching World War 2 (WW2) is how certain “narratives” get established in the historical record. Narratives that often are no where near the ground truth found in primary source documents of the time, but serves the bureaucratic “powers that be” in post-war budget battles. These narrative are repeated over and over again by historians without validating these narrative against either that theater’s original wartime documents or those of other military theaters. That is why I said the following:
“Reality lives in the details. You have to know enough of the details to know what is vital and to be able to use good judgement as to which histories are worthwhile and which are regurgitated pap.
Today’s column will take that “Reality lives in the details” methodology, modify it slightly, as I did in my 12 July 2013 column “History Friday — MacArthur’s Fighter Drop Tanks,” and use it for “Deconstructing the P-51 Mustang Historical Narrative” that emerged from the American strategic bombing campaign in World War 2.
The narrative of the P-51 is how it won the air war over Europe through the accidental combination of private venture American airframe technology and the Merlin engine of the British Spitfire, which was championed by a Anglo-American guerrilla clique of fighter pilots, government bureaucrats and politicians over the anti-British, not invented here, USAAF procurement bureaucracy. Figure one below is the official historical narrative for the P-51 Mustang in a range/performance map.
(NOTE: Left clicking on each figure three times will cause the original image of each figure to appear on your monitor.)
Figure 1: FIGHTER RANGE MAP — from Paul Kennedy’s “Engineers of Victory”
This P-51 versus other fighter range/performance graph comes from page 128 of a chapter titled “How to Win Command The Air” in Paul Kennedy’s recent book “Engineers of Victory.” It from the official victory narrative of the US Army Air Force Heavy Bomber Clique, the so-called “Bomber Mafia.” which was the leadership faction of bomber pilots that controlled the USAAF, lead the fight over Europe and the founded the US Air Force as a separate military service.
You see versions of that chart through out post war institutional histories like Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate’s, six volume “The Army Air Force in World War II,” and more recent works like the 1992 Richard G. Davis biography, “Carl A. Spaatz and the Air War in Europe” (See figure 2 below the fold).
It also happens that, when you drill down to the wartime source documents, the “P-51 narrative” that map represents is a very good example of selectively telling the truth to create a complete fabrication. A fabrication meant to hide those same bomber pilot generals from political accountability for their leadership failures. Roughly 2/3 of all battle deaths the USAAF suffered in WW2 were in Europe during the strategic bombing campaign. It was a statistically true statement to say a U.S. Army combat infantryman in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, from late 1942-to-winter 1944 had a greater chance of surviving combat than a B-17 crewman of the 8th Air Force.
Most of those deaths were demonstrably unnecessary.
The Battle of Britain in 1940 made clear that killing enemy fighter pilots faster than well trained replacements can arrive is how one achieves air superiority. The key innovation that created air superiority over Europe wasn’t the technical and organization triumph that Kennedy describes with the introduction of the P-51 into combat. It was a _doctrinal change_ that allowed the use of existing fighters with droppable auxiliary fuel tanks. Fighters with drop tanks were used in three shifts to cover the bomber formations during a. Penetration of enemy air space, b. At the target area and c. During withdrawal, too which the long range P-51 was added. The three shift fighter escort doctrine allowed USAAF fighters to drop fuel tanks and dog fight for 30 minutes with full engine power with German fighters, while still protecting the bombers. Enemy fighters that attacked American fighters were not attacking US bombers, and enemy pilots dying in such fights did not come back to kill anything.
Recognition of the need for this doctrinal change was only possible after the Bomber Mafia’s Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) approved self-escorting heavy bomber doctrine failed the test of combat during the 14 Oct 1943 Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission over Southern Germany. Read the rest of this entry »
There is a profound moral dimension to the photos and videos coming out of Kenya.
They are showing a multiracial civilization — an up-scale mall is the commercial epitome of modern civilization — under attack with multiracial cops and generally black African military saving multiracial civilians from faceless terrorist barbarians.
There is a huge message about the nature of our terrorist enemy that will resonate with the Western public in much the same way that pictures and video from Sarajevo did in the 1990s vis-a-vis the Serbs.
This Al Shabaab atrocity for publicity and fund raising will cost them and their Islamist co-belligerents far more in the long run.
There are few places in history where you see a stand unto death by western militaries that rivals that of the Spartans at Thermopylae. It takes a very special kind of “morale” and “moral” character for any military unit to fight effectively until killed. In 1973, on the Golan Heights, the IDF Armored Corps did just that.
In western military writings you hear a great deal about Avigdor Kahalani’s 77 Regiment of the 7th Armoured Brigade holding off the Syrians with fewer than 25 tanks and almost no ammunition at the end on the Golan Heights. What you don’t hear about is the 188th (Barak) Brigade, which held the southern Golan Heights and was wiped out, but did the following before it died, from this link:
The Syrian 1st Armored Division was advancing up the route toward the Golan HQ at Nafakh. Colonel Yitzhak Ben-Shoham, the Barak Brigade’s commander, realized his brigade was for all intents and purposes destroyed. He therefore organized and led a small group of surviving tanks in a holding action that slowed the Syrian advance on his HQ for several hours until he and the rest of the defenders were killed. With the brigade commander dead, no reserves in sight and two Syrian brigades advancing toward the Golan HQ–and with some units having bypassed the base on both flanks–the situation could only be described as grave. Lead elements of the Syrian brigades actually reached Nafakh and broke through the base’s southern perimeter. One Syrian T-55 crashed into General Eitan’s HQ, only to be knocked out by the last operational tank in Gringold’s platoon.
At that point, Eitan evacuated his headquarters to an improvised location farther to the north. Those left to defend the base manned two trackless Centurions from the camp repair depot and fired bazookas in a final stand that knocked out several Syrian tanks until those last Israeli tanks were destroyed.
The 188th Barak Brigade was no more.
That was very much a “Thermopylae” any way you cut it. There is a reason the “Valley of Tears” happened in 1973 as it did.