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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 »
(I’m off to a book event today – the Christmas Market, or Weihnachtsmarkt, at the conference center in New Braunfels, for the launch of The Quivera Trail. In the mean time, another thrilling frontier adventure. The details and the quotes are taken from Walter Prescott Webb’s history of the Rangers, which is so powerfully testosterone-laden that I have to keep it sectioned between a couple of … milder-themed books which have a sedating effect.)
After the debacle of the Civil War, the Texas Rangers barely existed as an entity – either in Indian-fighting, or law-enforcing. The Federal government would not countenance the organization of armed bodies of volunteers for any purpose. Combating Indians or cross-border bandits was the business of the regular Army; interested semi-amateurs need not apply. But a Reconstruction-Republican governor, E. J. Davis, did institute a state police force in 1870, the existence of which was lauded as necessary for the preservation of law and order – such as it was. The state police under Davis was relatively short-lived and unadorned by laurels during its brief term, being dissolved at the end of his administration – but one of their officers had such a sterling reputation that when the Texas Rangers were formally reorganized, he was charged with heading one of the two divisions. One was the Frontier Battalion, dedicated to the Ranger’s traditional mission of fighting hostile Indians. The other – the Special Force – was charged with generally upholding law and order, shortly to become the Ranger’s modern raison d’être. Leander Harvey McNelly served for only a brief time in the interim of the change from Indian fighting to upholding law and order – but his leadership inspired many of those Rangers who took note of his personal example to heart. 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.
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 »
How to make sense of radical Islamic terrorism? This violence is barbaric – but it is not senseless. When you understand the society from which savagery has sprung, the cold logic behind these attacks becomes all too apparent. Part II of a series originally posted at the Scholar’s Stage; Part I is here. How do you save a civilization from implosion? Modernization has never been pretty. It destroyedChristendom before the growth revolution picked up steam and left the European subcontinent in disorder for two centuries more. The collapse of the Chinese imperial order and the traditional family that supported it was a cataclysmic string oftragedies that left tens of millions dead. Now it is the Ummah‘s turn to walk through the threshing ground of modernity. Traditional Islamic civilization does not need to fear spectacular cultural or political collapse. These are the after shocks of a more mundane type of destruction. Explains social anthropologist extraordinaire Emmanuel Todd:
SPIEGEL: Monsieur Todd, in the middle of the Cold War, in the days of Leonid Brezhnev, you predicted the collapse of the Soviet system. In 2002, you described the economic and imperial erosion of the United States, a global superpower. And, four years ago, you and your colleague Youssef Courbage predicted the unavoidable revolution in the Arab world. Are you clairvoyant? Todd: The academic as fortune-teller — a tempting idea. But Courbage and I merely analyzed the reasons for a possible — or let’s say likely — revolution in the Arab world, an inexorable change, which could also have unfolded as a gradual evolution. Our work was like that of geologists who compile the signs of an imminent earthquake or volcanic eruption. But when exactly the eruption takes place, and its form and severity — these things cannot be predicted in an exact way. SPIEGEL: On what indicators do you base your probability calculation?
Todd: Mainly on three factors: the rapid increase in literacy, particularly among women, a falling birthrate and a significant decline in the widespread custom of endogamy, or marriage between first cousins. This shows that the Arab societies were on a path toward cultural and mental modernization, in the course of which the individual becomes much more important as an autonomous entity. SPIEGEL: And what is the consequence? Todd: That this development ends with the transformation of the political system, a spreading wave of democratization and the conversion of subjects into citizens. Although this follows a global trend, it can take some time. (emphasis added).
Monsieur Todd explains the fall of the old order from the heights of the ivory tower. He can collect data dispassionately and pronounce revolutions from afar. Those closer to the upheaval are not granted such liberties. For them the death of civilization is an intensely personal affair. To understand their view–and how it can lead to radical terrorism–we must see the disintegration of their society as they do.Read the rest of this entry »
How to make sense of radical Islamic terrorism? This violence is barbaric – but it is not senseless. When you understand the society from which savagery has sprung, the cold logic behind these attacks becomes all too apparent.
“In Western news-making and opinion-forming circles, there’s a palpable reluctance to talk about the most noteworthy thing about modern Islamist violence: its barbarism, its graphic lack of moral restraint. This goes beyond the BBC’s yellow reluctance to deploy the T-word – terrorism – in relation to the bloody assault on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya at the weekend. Across the commentating board, people are sheepish about pointing out the historically unique lunacy of Islamist violence and its utter detachment from any recognisable moral universe or human values. We have to talk about this barbarism; we have to appreciate how new and unusual it is, how different it is even from the terrorism of the 1970s or of the early twentieth century. We owe it to the victims of these assaults, and to the principle of honest and frank political debate, to face up to the unhinged, morally unanchored nature of Islamist violence in the 21st century.” 
I applaud Mr. O’Niell’s frankness. Islamic terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab are savage, barbaric, and evil. Period. They should be seen by all and denounced by all as the monstrous brutes that they have become. Civilization has a pale; this lies beyond it. But stating this is not enough. We cannot simply name a man a monster — we must try to understand why so many men want to be monsters in the first place. O’Niell is less helpful here:
“Time and again, one reads about Islamist attacks that seem to defy not only the most basic of humanity’s moral strictures but also political and even guerrilla logic…. consider the attack on Westgate in Kenya, where both the old and the young, black and white, male and female were targeted. With no clear stated aims from the people who carried the attack out, and no logic to their strange and brutal behaviour, Westgate had more in common with those mass mall and school shootings that are occasionally carried out by disturbed people in the West than it did with the political violence of yesteryear.” 
There are problems with this line of thought. In his zeal to denounce Islamic terrorism O’Niell makes two errors: 1) He assumes that indiscriminate slaughter of ‘the young and old, black and white, male and female’ is a ‘new and unusual’ development in human history and 2) that the sheer barbarity of these acts ‘defy logic.’ Perhaps the Khwarazmians also thought the slaughter they witnessed was something new under the sun:
“The Mongols now entered the town and drove all the inhabitants, nobles and commoners, out on to the plain. For four days and nights the people continued to come out of the town; the Mongols detained them all, separating the women ﬁom the men. Alas! How many peri-like ones did they drag from the bosom: of their husbands! How many sisters did they separate from their brothers! How many parents were distraught at the ravishment of their virgin daughters! The Mongols ordered that, apart from four hundred artisans whom they speciﬁed and selected from amongst the men and some children, girls and boys, whom they bore into captivity, the whole population, including the women and children, should be killed, and no one, whether woman or man, be spared. The people of Merv were then distributed among the soldiers and levies, and, in short, to each man was allotted the execution of three or four hundred persons.” 
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 expert who does acknowledge a paradigmatic shift and posits a powerful explanatory model for the behavior of what he terms “the new revolutionaries” is Dr Neville Bolt of the War Studies Department of King’s College, London and author of The Violent Image: Insurgent Propaganda and the New Revolutionaries. Taking a constructivist view of irregular military conflict as the means by which insurgents weave an enduring political narrative of mythic power and shape historical memory, Bolt eschews some cherished strategic tenets of realists and Clausewitzians. The ecology of social media, powered by decentralised, instant communication platforms and the breakdown of formerly autarkic or regulated polities under the corrosive effects of capitalist market expansion, have been, in Bolt’s view, strategic game changers “creating room to maneuver” in a new “cognitive battlespace” for “complex insurgencies”. Violent “Propaganda of the Deed”, once the nihilistic signature of 19th century Anarchist-terrorist groups like the People’s Will, has reemerged in the 21stcentury’s continuous media attention environment as a critical tool for insurgents to compress time and space through “…a dramatic crisis that must be provoked”.
As a book The Violent Image sits at the very verge of war and politics where ideas become weapons and serve as a catalyst for turning grievance into physical aggression and violence. Running two hundred and sixty-nine heavily footnoted pages and an extensive bibliography that demonstrates Bolt’s impressive depth of research. While Bolt at times slips into academic style, for the most part his prose is clear, forceful and therefore useful and accessible to the practitioner or policy maker. Particularly for the latter, are Bolt’s investigations into violent action by modern terrorists as a metaphor impacting time (thus, decision cycles) across a multiplicity of audiences. This capacity for harvesting strategic effect from terrorist events was something lacking in the 19th and early 20thcentury followers of Bakunin and Lenin (in his dalliances with terrorism); or in Bolt’s view, the anarchists “failed to evoke a coherent understanding in the population” or a “sustained message”.
(This is a rerun, with minor edits, of a post from 2012)
This month marks the 51st anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world dangerously close to thermonuclear war.
Last year I read Rockets and People, the totally fascinating memoir of Soviet rocket developer Boris Chertok, which I’m still hoping to get around to reviewing one of these days.
Chertok’s career encompassed both military and space-exploration projects, and in late October 1962 he was focused on preparations for launching a Mars probe. On the morning of Oct 27, he was awakened by “a strange uneasiness.” After a quick breakfast, he headed for the missile assembly building, known as the MIK.
At the gatehouse, there was usually a lone soldier on duty who would give my pass a cursory glance. Now suddenly I saw a group of soldiers wielding sub-machine guns, and they thoroughly scrutinized my pass. Finally they admitted me to the facility grounds and there, to my surprise, I again saw sub-machine-gun-wielding soldiers who had climbed up the fire escape to the roof of the MIK. Other groups of soldiers in full combat gear, even wearing gas masks, were running about the periphery of the secure area. When I stopped in at the MIK, I immediately saw that the “duty” R-7A combat missile, which had always been covered and standing up against the wall, which we had always ignored, was uncovered.
Chertok was greeted by his friend Colonel Kirillov, who was in charge of this launch facility. Kirollov did not greet Chertok with his usual genial smile, but with a “somber, melancholy expression.”
Without releasing my hand that I’d extended for our handshake, he quietly said: “Boris Yevseyevich, I have something of urgent importance I must tell you”…We went into his office on the second floor. Here, visibly upset, Kirillov told me: “Last night I was summoned to headquarters to see the chief of the [Tyura-Tam] firing range. The chiefs of the directorates and commanders of the troop units were gathered there. We were told that the firing range must be brought into a state of battle readiness immediately. Due to the events in Cuba, air attacks, bombardment, and even U.S. airborne assaults are possible. All Air Defense Troops assets have already been put into combat readiness. Flights of our transport airplanes are forbidden. All facilities and launch sites have been put under heightened security. Highway transport is drastically restricted. But most important—I received the order to open an envelope that has been stored in a special safe and to act in accordance with its contents. According to the order, I must immediately prepare the duty combat missile at the engineering facility and mate the warhead located in a special depot, roll the missile out to the launch site, position it, test it, fuel it, aim it, and wait for a special launch command. All of this has already been executed at Site No. 31. I have also given all the necessary commands here at Site No. 2. Therefore, the crews have been removed from the Mars shot and shifted over to preparation of the combat missile. The nosecone and warhead will be delivered here in 2 hours.
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
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.
Marc Sasseville and Heather Penney were F-16 pilots with an Air National Guard squadron. Their order was to bring down Flight 93 before the terrorists in control of it could create another disaster on the scale of the World Trade Center…but their aircraft were configured for training, with no live ammunition and no missiles. A video interview with Major Penney here
Joseph Fouché writes about how the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in March 2001, and the murder of Ahmed Shah Masood on September 9 of that year, prefigured the 9/11 attacks.
On September 11, 2005, Rare Kate didn’t go to church. Follow the link to find out why. In my original post linking this, I said “What if American and British religious leaders had responded the depradations of Naziism in the spirit of this liturgy? Actually, some of them did. The impact on preparedness was certainly malign, and the people who took such positions certainly bear a share of moral resposibility for the deaths and devastation that took place. Ditto for those who are behaving in a similar way today.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an important leader of the anti-Nazi resistance in Germany (executed in 1945), wrote the following:
Today there are once more saints and villains. Instead of the uniform grayness of the rainy day, we have the black storm cloud and the brilliant lightning flash. Outlines stand out with exaggerated sharpness. Shakespeare’s characters walk among us. The villain and the saint emerge from primeval depths and by their appearannce they tear open the infernal or the divine abyss from which they come and enable us to see for a moment into mysteries of which we had never dreamed.
I was reminded of the above passage by something Cara Ellison said in a 2009 post about 9/11:
I guess I thought they were all gone, those types of monsters, stranded on reels of black and white film.
The refusal on the part of many individuals to face the seriousness of the radical Islamist threat to out civilization stems in significant part, I feel certain, from a desire to avoid the uncomfortable and even dangerous kind of clarity that Bonhoeffer was talking about.
Stephen J. Rosen has written a smart piece on how Obama forced AIPAC to back his planned military action against the Syrian regime. It’s titled “Pushed on the Bandwagon,” and he makes a strong case. Of course, AIPAC views action on Syria as a kind of proxy for action against Iran, and assumes that the former will make the latter more likely when push comes to shove. In fact, bopping Assad may well be a substitute for action against Iran: Obama hopes that by a relatively cheap shot at Syria, he’ll restore enough credibility to restrain Israel vis-à-vis Iran. Alas, a cheap shot won’t restrain Iran, and may even impel it to push its nuke plans forward. Israel has to face reality: it may or may not be a post-American world, but it’s a post-American Middle East. (And if the military operation goes badly it could be post-AIPAC, too.)
The Rosen piece is here. It’s worth reading, particularly for the reminder of how Obama operates politically (there are no appeals to principle; it’s all about arm twisting, threats and domestic political considerations).
Kramer’s interpretation is persuasive. Obama probably wants to use a weak attack on Syria, or preferably mere talk about Syria if he can get away with it, as a substitute for rather than a prelude to doing anything about Iran’s nuclear program. Syria is Iran’s puppet and if Obama were serious he’d be going after the mullahs. Instead he appears to be running out the clock until they have nukes, while also doing his best to degrade our military in order to lock in our impotence for the foreseeable future. (J. E. Dyer discusses our current weakness in detail: here, here and here.)
Whatever the course of Obama’s political career going forward, we are probably going to pay dearly for his ineptitude and anti-American malice.
Mr. Obama being the President has not prevented the lefties from protesting. It took a lot of provocation to get them out in force, but Mr. Obama has reached the tipping point with the full time protest community.
Glad they have principles.
It is weird to be in agreement with them.
I don’t like their style, but they are right about this one.
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 themes that has developed, and that I intend to explore in this and future columns, is that the “military historical narrative” of World War 2 (WW2) has roughly the same relationship with historical truth that “Gerrymandering” of political district boundaries has to do with US Constitution driven 10-year census redistricting. The objective of both is incumbent protection of the most powerful poltical factions with safe districts, at the expense of accountability to voters, with a secondary objective being the punishment of those who do not stick to the party line. Where I have found this most blatantly is with the 1943-1947 Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee or (JANAC), which you can find at this link:
Cover from Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee Report — NAVEXOS P 468
Where JANAC drew it’s “gerrymander line” after WW2 was at ships and craft of below 500 tons of displacement. This had a huge effect on on the historical record of WW2 and particularly on MacArthur’s South West Pacific Area and the Southern Pacific theater prior to the start of the Central Pacific Campaign at Tarawa. In other words, the entire Operation Cartwheel offensive of 1943-1944.
Operation Cartwheel Encirclement 1943-1944
Here is a simple logistical thumbnail of why that is the case:
1) One large Japanese powered barge below 500 tons could supply a 6,300 man Imperial Japanese Army independent regiment for a day.
2) Three large Japanese powered barges below 500 tons could supply a triangular Imperial Japanese Army infantry division for a day.
3) Fifty large Japanese powered barges below 500 tons could supply a triangular Imperial Japanese Army infantry division at a distance of 300 miles.
4) There were 250 such barges shuttling between Rabaul and northern New Guinea in late August 1943.
5) During the month of September 1943 MacArthur’s Fifth Air Force destroyed 90 of those barges.
Because those barges were all 499 tons or less displacement, JANAC stripped that data from the US Military historical narrative as if they did not exist. Read the rest of this entry »
By showing that Obama’s America is unable and unwilling to keep its promises, Putin has widened the leadership void in the Middle East—as a prelude to filling it himself. By helping to clear Iran’s path to a bomb, Putin positions himself as Iran’s most powerful ally—while paradoxically gaining greater leverage with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States, who would much rather negotiate with Russia than with Iran, their sworn enemy. While the Americans were heading out of the Middle East, and the Chinese were too busy with their own internal debates about the future of their economy and society, Putin saw that something valuable had been abandoned on the world stage, and he took it. For the price of 1,000 dead civilians in Damascus, he has gained great power status in the oil-rich Middle East. Iran, for its part, gets the bomb, which isn’t great news for anyone, but was probably going to happen anyway.
[. . .]
Only time will tell whose evil is worse—Putin’s or Obama’s. While Putin delights in using the old-school KGB playbook to consolidate his one-man rule, and to expose the empty moral posturing of the West, Obama believes that he can talk his way into a workable accommodation between his own sense of morality and global reality. But the lesson of Obama’s fig leaf is that it is better to be honest about what we are doing in the world and why. If Putin baited a trap for the United States in Damascus, it was Obama who walked right into it. If Obama had stood up and declared that the United States had no vital interest in Syria but would stop Iran from getting nukes—and would prosecute the authors of the nerve-gas attack at The Hague—then Putin would have been trapped. The same would have been true if Obama had said nothing and blown up two or three of Assad’s palaces. But he did neither. Sometimes, well-meaning lies and political spin can be just as deadly, in the end, as nerve gas.
(This is a post from long ago in the NCOBrief archives, which I have pulled out and reworked several times on this particular anniversary, but still relevant, especially with the Syrian situation hanging over us like a nightmare come to daylight.)
A Sunday September morning, on one of those mild and gorgeous fall days, when the leaves are just starting to turn, but the last of the summer flowers still linger, and the days are warm, yet everyone grabs hold of those last few golden days, knowing how short they are of duration under the coming Doom of winter.
And there is another Doom besides the changing of the seasons on this morning, a Doom that has been building inescapable by treaty obligation for the last two days, clear to the politically savvy for the last two weeks— since the two old political opposites-and-enemies inexplicably signed an alliance— deferred by a humiliating stand-down and betrayal of the trusting two years since, a doom apparent to the far-sighted for nearly a decade. The armies are marching, the jackals bidden to follow after the conqueror, a country betrayed and dismembered, the crack cavalry troops of an army rated as superior to the American Army as it existed then charging against tanks, their ancient and historic cities reduced to rubble – and by obligation and treaty, the Allies are brought to face a brutal reality. That after two decades of peace, after four years of war that countenanced the slaughter of a significant portion of a generation, that left small towns across Europe and Great Britain decimated and plastered with sad memorials carved with endless lists of names, acres of crosses and desolation, sacrifice and grief, for which no one could afterwards give a really good reason, a decade of pledging Never Again – war is come upon them, however much they would wish and hope and pray otherwise. Reservists had been called to active duty, children had been evacuated en mass from the crowded city center, and Neville Chamberlain, who had been given a choice between war and dishonor, chosen dishonor and now had to go before the nation on radio and announce the coming of war: Read the rest of this entry »
On year ago President Obama declared “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”Chemical weapons have been used. Some suggest that America will lose “credibility” if she does not honor the president’s promise and respond with military force. One wonders what kind of ‘credibility’ they are thinking of.
“You know,” he says, ”I think Americans are liars.”
She replied with a chortle. “How many have you met? I think I am honest enough.”
“You know I did not mean you. I was actually thinking about your government.”
“If it makes you feel any better, I think most important people in the U.S. government are liars too. It comes with the job description. But if you don’t mind me asking, what brought you to the same conclusion?”
His was a hollow laugh. “That is just it. You all think your politicians are liars but then America turns around and lectures the rest of the world on how great America’s government is and how we should all be like you. I am no fan of my government, but at least I acknowledge what kind of government my people have.”
“You are thinking about it the wrong way. If the American people want liars in charge, then liars there will be. The beauty of democracy is that if those liars don’t do what the people want then they get kicked out and new liars are put in.”
“Liars either way.”
“Oh I don’t care what a politician says. I care about what a politician does. All politicians will say this thing or that thing to justify their actions. What matters is if those actions are for his people or against them. This is why I love the U.S. Constitution. By design it keeps power out of one man’s hands. It forces politicians to take normal citizens seriously. It makes it very hard for one clique or class to impose its rule on the rest.”
“That is it. That is the lie. This idea that the United States government is “of the people” and “by the people” – that is the lie every American repeats. I am tired of it.”Read the rest of this entry »
(This post is a rerun, updated to include a link to Sheila O’Malley’s extensive coverage of this topic)
On September 1, 1939, Germany launched a massive assault on Poland, thereby igniting the Second World War.
Britain and France were both bound by treaty to come to Poland’s assistance. On September 2, Neville Chamberlain’s government sent a message to Germany proposing that hostilities should cease and that there should be an immediate conference among Britain, France, Poland, Germany, and Italy..and that the British government would be bound to take action unless German forces were withdrawn from Poland. “If the German Government should agree to withdraw their forces, then His Majesty’s Government would be willing to regard the position as being the same as it was before the German forces crossed the Polish frontier.”
According to General Edward Spears, who was then a member of Parliament, the assembly had been expecting a declaration of war. Few were happy with this temporizing by the Chamberlain government. Spears describes the scene:
Arthur Greenwood got up, tall, lanky, his dank, fair hair hanging to either side of his forehead. He swayed a little as he clutched at the box in front of him and gazed through his glasses at Chamberlain sitting opposite him, bolt-upright as usual. There was a moment’s silence, then something very astonishing happened.
Leo Amery, sitting in the corner seat of the third bench below the gangway on the government side, voiced in three words his own pent-up anguish and fury, as well as the repudiation by the whole House of a policy of surrender. Standing up he shouted across to Greenwood: “Speak for England!” It was clear that this great patriot sought at this crucial moment to proclaim that no loyalty had any meaning if it was in conflict with the country’s honour. What in effect he said was: “The Prime Minister has not spoken for Britain, then let the socialists do so. Let the lead go to anyone who will.” That shout was a cry of defiance. It meant that the house and the country would neither surrender nor accept a leader who might be prepared to trifle with the nation’s pledged word.
In April 1945 the US Army’s 27th Infantry Division launched an attack against the Kakuza Ridge position held by the Imperial Japanese Army on Okinawa with the 193rd Tank Battalions 30 thirty tanks, self-propelled assault guns, and attached armored flame throwers from the 713th Flame Tank Battalion. When the battle was over, 22 of the 30 armored fighting had been destroyed in a coordinated ambush by Japanese anti-tank guns, artillery, mortars and suicide close assault teams. Among the dead was the battalion commander of the 193rd, on whom blame was laid for attacking without American infantry in close support. This battle is referenced in almost every narrative account of Okinawa as proof of the tougher defenses American soldiers and marines would face in an invasion of Japan.
This is a M4 Sherman Tank after striking an aircraft bomb land mine in front of Kakuza Ridge
It turns out that while this particular narrative has a great deal of truth, it isn’t the whole truth and hides the most important one. In a photo film negative image of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s comment that “In war, The Truth must have a bodyguard of lies,” This narrative has a huge lie buried in a bodyguard of truth.
The most important truth of this battle was that American troops suffered a technological surprise. The Japanese were listening to the SCR-300, SCR-500 and SCR-600 series frequency modulated (FM) radios of American infsntry, tanks and artillery forward observers at Kakuza Ridge (and other battles through out the Pacific in 1945) with Japanese Type 94 (1934) Mark 6 walkie-talkie radio that was issued to every Japanese infantry battalion.