I often describe myself as slightly paranoid, which then seems to make others think I have some sort of philological issues. I don’t believe I am being “watched” for example. That would, in my opinion, suggest that I hold some degree of celebrity in my mind; this would also, if it were the case, indicate that I think that I am somehow a fellow of above average interest to others. I must admit that if I were any less interesting people would fall asleep during a hand shake with me. Perhaps what I should say is that I strive to be more careful than average when it comes to making purchases and in believing everything I am told. Purchases such as left-handed baseball bats and non-flammable candles may be easy enough to avoid. However I have lost count of all of the collectables I have purchased and then a few days later wondered how I could have made such unwise choices. A few examples of what I allude to are, prices being far too high or items that really didn’t fit into my collecting themes.
The problem of knowing when you are being told something other than the truth can at times be difficult. There are some physical signs which must not be taken on individual basis, such as someone rubbing their nose or excessive blinking of the eyes. These so-called signs, on their own, can be explained away as having nothing to do with attempted deceit. Collectively such signs, along with other indications may be used, in law enforcement as an example, to accept the statement or doubt what you are being told.
The most difficult “stories” to determine their truthfulness is when the person telling the story actually believes it to be the truth. This and the manner in which the story is delivered and the interpretation of what has been said may end in one doubting the story as being the truth. Two examples come to mind. If you hear someone say that smoking can be bad for you and you need to take measures to avoid smoking, you may think of someone inhaling smoke from a cigarette, which fits the caution; or something else. If you are standing too close to your BBQ and your clothing is starting to smoke then surely you need to take measures (stepping back) to avoid bursting into flames. My second, and last example, comes from the television comedy, Saturday Night Live (SNL) that first appeared in 1975 which is famous for their rather juvenile humour appealing to the adolescent mind. I became rather old and stuffy about 40 years ago and therefore stopped watching SNL. One of the sketches involved a group of people telling an individual on a beach that “You can’t look at the sun too long”. Most of us would take this as a warning and realize staring at the sun could be detrimental to your vision and not misinterpret this as you can’t get over the majesty of the sun, for example. Of course the poor fellow being advised took the first interpretation with disastrous results.
No, my retelling of this story is not very funny however, as has been said, “You had to be there to see it”.
One of the stories that has floated around guns shows and places where people interested in military history gather, at least here in Canada, is the topic of this blog. Yes, I know it has taken me a long time to get to the point...as usual. Why say something in a couple of dozen words when a plethora of paragraphs can achieve the same results? That’s a rhetorical question of course.
The story is that one can turn an FN FAL C1,or C1A1, rifle from a semi-automatic to a full automatic weapon by inserting a piece of match book in the correct place in the internal workings. This I have always held as being complete garbage. Any of those reading this who have served in the Canadian Armed Forces in the past and used the FN FAL C1 and the FN C2 please hold off on your hate mail until the end of this blog.
The Canadians used the FN FAL C1, a semi-automatic battle rife with the 7.62X51mm NATO round from 1953, being the first to officially adopt the FN FAL, until 1984 when it was replaced by the 5.56x45mm NATO C7 rifle and the C8 carbine both based on the American US AR-15. The British and Commonwealth Nations used the same rifle as Canada but called it the L1A1. I have read that the rifle was commonly known as the FAL however in my area of Ontario at least, we refer to it as simply the “FN”.
Here’s where the claim of using the FN C1, inserting a piece of match book to turn it into an automatic weapon, becomes argument. In each case where this has come up in the past I have tried to delve more deeply into this claim by asking if the service person is saying that with the insertion of a matchbook into the FN C1 they have changed it from a battle rifle (semi-automatic) into an assault rifle (full auto). Without exception the answer is “yes”. The problem in my mind, I have just recently discovered, is not whether you can modify an FN C1 with a foreign object to malfunction and discharge the weapon in rapid succession but have you actually “changed” this battle rifle into an assault rifle. A basic definition of an assault rifle is that it is a carbine sized firearm using a large capacity magazine capable of sustained full automatic fire. The FN FAL, even fitted with a large capacity magazine, falls short of being an assault rifle on two of the most important requirements that I have stated, even with the matchbook modification.
To all of the servicemen in my past who have engaged me in this argument, and there have been quite a few, I apologize. You are correct in that you can make an FN FAL C1 malfunction to fire several rounds in rapid, automatic-like, succession. On the other hand I would offer the suggestion that this could be done with almost any semi-automatic rifle.
On the other hand (you knew there would be an “on the other hand”) to all servicemen in my past who have engaged me in argument you failed miserably in qualifying your claim fully. You did not, I must repeat, did not, change this battle rifle into an assault rifle, and especially to one fellow who claimed to have changed the FN FAL C1 into the C2A1, the squad automatic weapon (SAW), as the C2 has a much more robust barrel to withstand the heat generated by sustained rapid fire. Some of our members might note that they have seen an FN FAL C1 with a selective fire option and you would be correct. There were some FN FAL C1 rifles fitted with the selective fire option and used only by the Royal Canadian Navy to give boarding parties the option of a full automatic weapon without the weight of the C2A1.
In past blogs I have managed to attempt to prove and at times disprove some claims. I’ve disproved some claims about the Battle of Crecy and the crossbow. We then proved the capabilities of the crossbow in experiments that were undertaken with minor casualties. These experiments also brought to light that during an apology for a range mishap the suggestion that, “It is only a cat”, is best left unsaid.
I think we successively supported claims regarding the possibility of an accidental discharge of the STEN gun. Now we have supported the claim that the FN FAL C1 can be made to fire with the insertion of a foreign object; yet without actually fully admitting that I was wrong.
It’s a win, win situation!
I will continue with my version of paranoia and look for myths that I can prove or disprove, while being on guard against my own poor purchase decisions.
The post has just arrived and I need to close now and open the shipment of prefabricated postholes I purchased on eBay.
Seriously? No, really...seriously?
A dry dusty street in the Middle East, a group of soldiers is milling around and suddenly one soldier shouts, “RPG! Take cover!” Just then a rocket propelled grenade steaks past, leaving a smoke trail behind, to explode on a vehicle completely destroying it. Typical movie scene and total garbage. From what I can tell a fired RPG travels at around 15 feet every 1/10 of a second, which makes the 3 some odd seconds for the soldier (actor) to deliver his line more than a little ridiculous. Not being a military man I can only go by videos of the firing of a live RPG and in my eyes it would seem the weapon’s trigger is depressed and seemingly instantaneously the target explodes. The other thing most movies and documentaries miss the mark with it the smoke trail. Movie rockets are fired, many times, attached to a wire, strung from the supposed location of the shooter to the target. The weight of the rocket deflects the wire and the resulting, so very important, smoke trail dips toward the ground then rises up just prior to striking the target. Details such as these, or rather the lack of attention to details drives me insane (I know, it was a short trip).
Another thing that really gets my goat (ok, I don’t have a goat, possibly because something already “got it”) is the need for documentaries to explain the length or weight in relation to other objects. “The rocket was as tall as three Empire State Buildings stacked one on top of the other”; quite a common comparison. I really doesn’t do much for me, not having ever visited the Empire State Building. Besides, the Empire State Building is 381 M tall; or is it? Yes, it could be said that it is 381 m tall unless you are measuring to the very tallest tip then it is 443 m tall; a difference of 61m. And if the rocket in question is as tall as three Empire State Buildings then which measurement were they referring to; it could vary by 183m.!
You could argue that the documentary was written for American audiences and that all American know how tall the Empire State Building is. However, if it were written for a Canadian audience and they said the rocket was a tall as three CN Towers (located in Toronto) then that would make all the difference. No, not really as I don’t know how tall the CN Tower is while I sit on my couch avoiding any form of exercise other than having yet another coffee. The CN Tower by the way is 553m tall, and if you were to have enough coffees then your heart rate would increase giving you a cardio vascular workout without ever finding the need to travel to Toronto to check out the tower; I’m just saying...
Supposing I am standing at either the Empire State Building or the CN Tower, or even the Eiffel Tower (at 301m. tall) the idea of two additional structures one on top of the other is pretty well unimaginable. I don’t even think you could see the top of a “pile” of Empire State Building as it would be 1,143m. In height... or would that be 1,329m.? Either of which would give King Kong a nose bleed.
Another ridiculous measurement is those given in the number of elephants. What the hell does that even mean? African elephants or Asian elephants? African elephants weight an average of 1,048kg. more than Asia elephants. If ten elephants of weight can vary by 10,048kg. this means the weight measurement could vary by two extra elephants! I mean, it is difficult enough to locate and get ten elephants together on some giant weigh scale and now, according to the potential for variance, I will need an extra two elephants standing by just in case I need them? This is as mindless as simply saying, “Gee Jimmy that (object) is really, really heavy; a lot more than your Daddy can lift, that’s for sure”. Just give the height or the weight, any other means of description is pointless and makes me wonder if the documentary producers even know the correct measurement in the first place; unlike me I guess they don’t have the internet.
I was watching a documentary about an American air craft carrier the other evening and the commentator said that the ship was so many football fields in length. Yep, here we go again. American football fields are 91.4m long and Canadian ones are 100m. Wait a minute, what about those who will confuse “real” football with soccer. The length of a football pitch according to FIFA is 100-110m. Just to be clear the documentary was about the Nimitz-class carrier which is 333m long (1,092 feet). Just how many elephants it weights I don’t know.
Myth Busting, Part 1
I do hope no one will feel like I am being condescending with the way I have written this blog. My intention was to treat the reader like a fellow GMIC member and therefore more like a friend than a stranger. With this in mind treat the following in the manner in which it is intended and that is as a conversation between friends.
Myth Busters, a popular television program takes popular myths and “puts them to the test” and awards a rating of “Confirmed”, “Plausible” or “Busted”. The show often concludes with something from the episode being blown to oblivion. This is NOT one of those blogs. We are prohibited from the use of explosive devices here in cyberspace as the resulting shock wave may cause damage to sensitive computer components. Besides, you know if we started with lower grade controlled explosives it would only be a matter of time when someone from here at the Home Office would ramp it up to a thermo nuclear device and the magnetic pulse would undo all of Nick’s hard work getting the new server up and running smoothly.
What I thought we’d take a look at is some of the commonly or uncommonly held beliefs, or myths, in the fields of collecting and within history itself. Let’s start with collecting and specifically the myth that collecting anything, short of precious metals, is an investment. First let me state that I am not economist or investment banker and my opinions are based on a good number of years of experience and observation. Further, unlike many who will wax prophetic, I base my observations and resulting conclusions not on my mistakes in life but mainly on a few successes. That should be somewhat of a refreshing change from, “don’t do what I’ve done”, (break into the music and lyrics from “The House of the Rising Sun”), to here’s what I found works and the mistakes of others.
Collecting, and we will stick to militaria, should only involve disposable income. Disposable income is the money you have left over after all the bills are paid and an appropriate amount has been invested (at least 10% of your income) into non-collectables investments. For most people the concept of personal disposable income is more myth than reality. If you have a mortgage, or more than one, or if you owe money for a vehicle or two, and after the bills are paid you have little to no money left over I can pretty well tell you that you DO NOT (yes I am shouting here) you DO NOT have disposable income. If you are working two or more jobs to make ends meet... you may have guessed it...you don’t have true disposable income. Working yourself to death just so you can collect is a whole new set of problems – seek help. The credit card is not a form of disposable income either and certainly should never be used to finance a collection.
I’ve often read or even heard first hand that a person is collecting as an investment. An investment? Perhaps that person should look up the definition of an investment. The last time I checked our investment portfolio and spoke with our investments banker there were no options for investing in collectables. Hmm, should that perhaps be telling us something? It’s a little like the myth of the ninja; if there had been ninjas as portrayed in films and books wouldn’t there be authentic ninja swords being offered for sale. Ninja swords NOT made in China that is. The clues are there just look for them...oh yes; they’re ninjas so I suppose their artifacts would also be invisible. I knew I should have used zombies as an example!
It is a really a stupid thing to tell your wife that the purchase of the latest sword, firearm or medal etc. is a good investment. She’s really not that dumb, or at least there will be a day of awakening when she realizes that the so called investment won’t bring in much more the 25 cents on the dollar of “investment”. Think I’m mistaken? Seriously, speak with an established dealer and see what he or she is willing to pay for your collection. You will be most unpleasantly surprised; likely as not the offer will fall between 15 to 20 cents on the dollar. That doesn’t mean you will realize $1.20 for every dollar “invested” but rather 20 cents, period.
I recently sold a geological collection that took fifty years to amass, though I have not been seriously collecting for the past decade. I offered it to a dealer at 25 cents on the dollar and at first he was hesitant, until he actually viewed what I had. He usually pays the 15 to 20 cents on the dollar for collections but much of my collection was no longer available on the market due to many countries deeming the specimens as national treasures. They are illegal to collect at the source now but previously collected specimens may be bought and sold. I did manage to break even on some of the specimens I collected decades ago but for the most part I let them go “cheaply”. Could I have sold them one piece at a time and realized more in the long run? Sure, however, considering it took three trips with his van, packed floor to ceiling and wall to wall, in order to ship them to his warehouse, I would have to live to be 175 years old in order to sell the collection off piece meal. Most large militaria collections fall under the same category.
I’ve heard of collectors claiming to keep their collection in a safety deposit box in the bank due to the value. Ok, so you have purchased, as a source of investment, and rather than enjoying the collection it is hidden away in the bank. What do you have, $20,000 tucked away in the bank vault, on which you need to pay a fee? So in the end you might realize $4,000 to $5.000 dollars in total when you sell? If that was going to put your child through university, I think little “bonzo” will be out looking for a job to foot the costs of schooling. Here’s a tip. Let the kid work his (or her) way through university; this will accomplish a couple of things. It will keep them focused on the goal and not on the parties. Plus they will have a better chance of a useful degree rather than a Masters in Norse Mythology and Interpretive Ancient Babylonian Folk Dancing if they are working to pay for their own education. Yep, I’m a cold hearted bastard.
Here’s a thought. Once the last child has graduated you can give them all cheques for the amount of their initial student loan, provided you can afford it, and haven’t “invested” in cornering the market on WWI Polish Victory Medals.
I hope that those reading this blog are indeed in a position that they have their youth and have true disposable income now. It took me a long time and a lot of work. I also hope that you are collecting because it makes you happy and you have kept the investing myths out of the hobby.
Next time I won’t be so preachy and we’ll discuss some of the myths attached to history and the artifacts themselves.
Winston Churchill, Desert Warrior
Part Four: The North African Campaign.
There was so little time to rejoice at his appointment as Prime Minister on 10 May, 1940 with that same day being the fall of France to the Germans, a month later on 10 June Italy declaring war on Britain followed by the Battle of Britain on10 July. It must have seemed that the world was celebrating his appointment by promptly falling apart; it makes one wonder if Churchill was starting the dread the 10th of each month. Unlike so many other politicians of his day and especially those of our modern era Churchill was not simply a man of rhetoric but a man of action, more than capable of cashing the cheques his mouth had written in the pre-war era. At times his hubris may have led him to make decisions that would later be condemned by his critics but the time for hesitation was over. I am reminded of the old saying that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. Hitler was to find out, in time, that Churchill was the man to light that candle and when he did it was with a flame thrower.
I covered the Battle of Britain in last month’s entry of this series even though chronologically the North Africa Campaign started a full month earlier. This was done in an attempt to avoid appearing as if we were jumping around from one place to another and giving the story a bit better flow albeit at the risk of anachronism.
In earlier installments of this series we talked about Churchill’s fear of creating a static war like that of the Great War by attacking the Germans head to head somewhere in Europe. To use the word “fear” when speaking of Winston Churchill is unfair and, I believe, quite inaccurate. To decide that driving up a mountain road in winter may be too dangerous then waiting until spring, taking a safer route to achieve the same goal is not the action of a coward but the actions of a sane and calculating person. Churchill would later write of his feelings during the war as his only true fear was that of the U-boat menace. Churchill much preferred the re-invasion of Norway over the direct confrontation in Europe and held onto this argument even as the preparations of D-day were being prepared.
Of all the campaigns of the War perhaps the actions in the deserts of North Africa brought into the spot light of history the most notable and near-mythic personalities of the century. The names, Alexander, Auchinleck, Eisenhower, Patton, Rommel and Kesselring, to name just a few, would become household words from one end of the glob to another. The North Africa Campaign would perhaps be the beginning of Churchill being seen as one of the many rather than the main player in the war.
The declaration of war by Italy upon both France and Britain was not any great surprise considering her alliance with Germany and the German declaration or war. This was not the first aggressive act by Italy against a target in Africa as they had attacked Abyssinia (Ethiopia) on 3 October 1935. If you recall, earlier in this series, the League of Nations did nothing to assist Abyssinia and by May of 1936 Italy had virtually defeated the forces of Abyssinia and Emperor Haile Selassie went into exile, living at Fairfield House in Bath, England. He returned to the capital, Addis Ababa, as Emperor on 5 May, 1941 after the withdrawal of the Italian forces from Abyssinia.
Churchill was facing a great deal of pressure from the Soviets to undertake a second front in Europe at this time; a proposition that Churchill did not favour as we have made mention numerous times. He preferred smaller confrontations that brought much needed victories to bolster the British peoples’ resolve. Time and time again he fought against a second front in France, even after the entry of America into the war. His arguments ranged from not having enough landing craft to the lack of training of the allied troops in attacking a well defended “Fortress Europe”. Statistics show that there was more than enough landing craft in England at this time to support an invasion. While the argument of the allied troops being unprepared may be debatable the fact that by D-Day the German defences were much stronger is an undeniable reality. Churchill’s reluctance to launch an invasion against the Germans in Europe held D-day up for at least a year. One cannot but speculate the additional cost in life this hesitation cost the allies. In the resent past, here in the West, historians would have us think that Britain was alone against Germany at this time. I have somewhat even suggested this earlier in this series. The fact is that Britain had a potentially very powerful ally in the form of the Soviet Union. Churchill distrusted the Soviets and was in no hurry to commit troops to a second front, which did nothing to endure the West to Stalin. One of the tactics Churchill did support whole heartedly was the use of the SOE (Special Operations Executive) in clandestine raids within Europe. His idea was, to use his words, “set Europe ablaze”. Churchill was a proponent of learning from history and drew his ideas from his time spend fighting the Boers in South Africa. He noted the success of the Boer commando raids and wanted to employ the same tactics in Europe to disrupt the Germans and deny as much materials of war as possible through sabotage. While these operations did achieve in bringing in valuable intelligence as well as causing a good deal of mayhem critics have pointed out that the cost in lives through German reprisals was appalling. One of the greatest examples of the costs of these operations is the assignation of SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhardt Heydrich on 27 May 1942 by Czech SOE operatives. The assignation resulted in the extermination of 192 men, 50 women and 88 children from the Czech town of Lidice. Even given the balance sheets of war one has to ask whether the removal of one high ranking Nazi official was worth the cost; our generation is fortunate to have the luxury of such debates.
Another criticism of the SOE was that it kept competent military leaders from leading their troops in the field due to their preoccupation with sabotage. While the above two examples may be fuel for debate as they are based on personal observation and conclusions the one cold hard fact is that not one of the sixty-six German divisions stationed in France on D-Day was committed to internal security. [John Keegan, Churchill (London: Weidenfeld and Nicoloson), 2002 pg. 128]. Keegan goes on to state that things in Southern Europe were much worse. “Greece and Yugoslavia were ravaged by reprisals and by the civil wars that resistance provoked ...The consequences of encouraging resistance in Yugoslavia and Greece were socially and politically disastrous; they persist to this day.” [Ibid.]
Another discussion that was directly linked to the North Africa Campaign was the disastrous Dieppe raid, 19 August 1942. For over half a century the facts about the raid on Dieppe were kept from the public. Speculation as to the purpose ranged from the reasonable to the realm of those who find conspiracy in everything from the cause of the death of Tutankhamen to the truth about the Moon Landing. Resent evidence has shown that this was a “pinch raid”, that is to say a raid to steal something, in this case the German Enigma machine. The British had been making some progress in breaking the enemy code when the Germans decided to add an additional rotor wheel which made all of the work by British decoders nearly useless.
Captured intelligence revealed that the German U-boats were poised to enter into the Mediterranean. Rommel was about to begin his second offensive (21 January 1942) and the threat of the U-boats was considerable to the supply of the Allied troops in North Africa. While the raid was unsuccessful it would seem that the true nature of the “pinch raid” was as unclear to the Germans as it was to the British and Canadians who took part in it; at least this allowed the British code breakers to continue on deciphering the Enigma machine, working in secret.
We are getting ahead of the story so we’ll back up a bit. The war in North Africa went quite well for the British troops and the Italians soon found that taking on the British Empire was going to be no where as easy as their Abyssinian Campaign of 1935. The North Africa Campaign started on 10 June 1940 and nine months later, by 7 February 1941, what was left of the Italian 10th Army had surrendered. Churchill favoured smaller campaigns that would return positive results and, as we have discussed, took the attention away from a landing on the European continent. Campaigns, even successful ones, all have one thing in common; men and materiel wear out and need replacing. Even though this was not taking place the British were on the verge of victory. A victory in North Africa at this time would have prevented the commander of the newly formed German Afrika Korps, Lieutenant-General Erwin Rommel, from even landing. Unfortunately Churchill snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by his next tactical decision based on political obligation to Greece.
Italy and Greece were at war with one another since Italy invaded Greece on 28 October 1940. At first the Greek Army held the Italians at bay; that is until Italy requested assistance from her ally Germany. Churchill has been criticized for his decision of 9 February, 1941, to pull experienced troops out of North Africa in order to strengthen the Greek defence of their country from the combined forces of Italy and Germany. This decision greatly weakened the British presence in North Africa and while the men transferred to Greece were replaced by fresh troops, these new troops were not battle hardened such as were the men they were replacing. This decision on the part of Churchill, despite his generals’ protests, not only allowed the Italians to receive much needed reinforcements set the victory in North Africa back by two years; with the loss of countless more lives. In addition to this the number of troops transferred to the Greek conflict was insufficient to prevent the inevitable defeat of Greece and then Crete.
Was this an unforgivable blunder on the part of Churchill, or was there more to the decision than whim, which seems to be the suggestion by many historians less supportive of Churchill than this author. What is conveniently overlooked by Churchill’s critics is the Declaration of 1939 that in the event of a threat to the independence of Greece or Romania that the British would take all actions possible to come to their defence. It must be remembered that at this time America was being “romanced” by Churchill to enter the war on the allied side. Even though it was a moral decision that had to be made to defend Romania and Greece it would not have bode well in the view of the United States had Britain simply turned her back on these allies in need. It may have also led the public to believe that Britain had returned to the Chamberlain era of looking only to her own immediate needs (the avoidance of another war) at the expense of those with whom she had claimed alliance. The failure of Italy to take Greece in a timely manner and the need for German intervention may have had far reaching consequences in the German plans for the invasion of Russia. Hitler blamed the failure of Operation Barbarossa on the delays for that campaign due to Italy’s failure to conquer Greece without the aid of German troops. [Kershaw, Ian, 2007, Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World 1940-1941, pg. 178]
With Greece and Romania now firmly in German hands one would assume the writing on the wall of history would be a portent of doom for the British in North Africa. However like most graffiti on any wall promising, “For a good time call Betty”, often proves erroneous, history would once again record that famous Churchillian luck that I am so fond of mentioning. Code breaking of the German transmissions had experienced a breakthrough and now the Allies could monitor the movements of supply transport in the Mediterranean. It has been estimated that up to 60% of Axis shipping was destroyed due to the breaking of their code. [Kingsly, Sir Harry “The Influence of ULTRA in the Second World War”]
To make things worse for the Germans the Allies, under the command of General Eisenhower, landed in Morocco and Algeria on 8 November 1942. This opened up what the Germans have been taught to be avoided at all costs, a second front.
The lack of supply, the strengthened allied forces, new materiel plus the requirement of fighting on two fronts spelled doom for the Afrika Korps and victory for the allies, and Churchill, of course. It should be mentioned that as of 22 June 1941 (almost a year and a half before the fall of North Africa) German military planning had turned its attention from North Africa to Russia.
I think we need to take a minute to look at the decision by Hitler to commence operation Barbarossa even though history books point out that his generals advised against it, much as Churchill’s generals advised against the British involvement in Greece at the possible expense of North Africa. Churchill based his decision on ethics, but what about Hitler and his decision to invade Russia and open up that dreaded second front. Part of the problem stems for history written just after the Second World War where any suggestion to the contrary regarding Hitler being a megalomaniac, a raving monster incapable of making sound decisions was frowned upon. This would be much like making a statement, soon after 911, that the attack on the World Trade Centre involved incredible planning and co-ordination. This type of statement, no matter how little actual praise was intended toward the instigators would be met with distain by a shocked and disillusioned public; much as is any suggestion of intellect being involved in the decision to invade Russia in 1941.
In 1940 a war broke out between Finland and the Soviet Union called the Winter War (a subject for a later article) in which it appeared that small Finland had held out against the Goliath, Russia. While basically true in the beginning the exploits of the Finnish military certainly were partially a matter of myth generated by the media and the free world’s need to believe it was so. The free world was not the only ones watching what was unfolding in Finland; Hitler was also following this conflict with great interest. He came to the conclusion that Russia was so ill prepared that a small well armed, trained and dedicated army could stop the Russian juggernaut in its tracks. If Finland could do this then Russia had no chance against Germany’s war machine. [Speer, Albert, Inside the Third Reich, New York, 1970, pg. 169]
While it was true that Hitler’s generals advised against a second front and cited Napoleon’s mistake, however, they were basing their advice on information that was 130 years old while Hitler was basing his decisions on information (albeit erroneous) that was most current.
It wasn’t just Hitler who noticed the Finnish/Soviet war of 1940; Joseph Stalin also showed interest in it and the reasons his troops faired so poorly, at least at the onset of the war. His analysis of the conflict led him to revamp the strategy and reporting structure of the Red Army. Lessons from the Winter War may have attributed to later Soviet successes that assured their victories from Stalingrad to Berlin.
Now with North Africa in Allied hands Churchill convinced the political and military leaders to invade Sicily and then Italy, the “soft under belly of Europe”. The one thing I quickly found out as a young man interviewing Italian Campaign veterans, for my own interest, was that you never mentioned the “soft under belly of Europe” to them, lest you were assaulted with a long lecture filled with colourful and abusive metaphors. The implications of that phrase was, to the veterans’ point of view, that the Italian Campaign was something much easier than it actually was.
This is the last installment in this series on Winston Churchill and I do hope that I presented his story during these troubled times in a fair manner. It is my opinion that the Italian Campaign, D-Day Invasion, the Conquest of Europe and the Japanese conflict are all too large to deal with within an article about one particular leader. I also feel that from the onset of WWII until the entrance of the Americans the war was mainly a British and Commonwealth show with Winston Churchill at the forefront of events. After North Africa it became an international affair with Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union all making decisions rather than everything being in the hands on one leader.
We’ve taken a look at the man, Winston Churchill, and his decisions from the years leading up to the Second World War and through to the North African Campaign and made mention of his less than successful Balkans Campaign of World War One. All in all I find it difficult to hang the blame entirely on Churchill for the Gallipoli disaster simply because a decision was made and executed, then found lacking. This is a matter of record. Also a matter of record is that the British and colonial Generals and leaders involved continued with the campaign for an additional eight months after Churchill was removed from his position of Lord of the Admiralty. Some blame must be attributed to those who continued with the disaster once it had been deemed that success was impossible. True, Churchill was the First Lord of the Admiralty during the plan to “force the Straights” of the Dardanelles, however the plan was devised by Churchill AND Kitchener. This was to be a naval action as no land forces were available for a landing. The attack on 15 February, 1915 failed, as we all know. As to the landings at Gallipoli are concerned, the plan was devised by General Sir Ivan Hamilton and Vice Admiral Sir John de’Robeck in March, 1915 and approved by Kitchener. Churchill offered his support. It should be noted that no one in authority objected to this plan. It could very well be argued that Churchill was in favour of the plan based the approval by that military genius, Kitchener. To criticize Churchill for making decisions of a military nature against the advice of his generals then turn around and criticize him when he did take their advice, albeit a mistake, shows a certain degree of obscurantism on the part of his critics.
We’ve read where Churchill’s actions actually delayed the D-Day invasion at least for a year. The result being that the Germans were better prepared by the time of the invasion than they would have been a year earlier. Well, to that I would say, “Bravo for perfect hindsight’, which is a wonderful tool for criticising those who had an impossible job to do in a world gone mad. In the interpretation of history we need to be mindful not to fall into the trap of “presentism”; that is to say looking at events from the past through the eyes of the present and judging those events by today’s values and concepts.
We can lay blame for the bombing of German cities, for whatever purpose, on “Bomber” Harris or Winston Churchill. However, true to western propaganda, we are left with the impression that Britain was completely alone at the beginning of the war; which is not completely true. The first bombing raid on Berlin by the British was 25 August 1940; however by 8 August 1941 the Soviet Union had also joined in the bombing of Berlin. Regardless of one’s opinion of the bombing of German cities it was not Britain alone involved in these attacks. As many veterans have reminded me, “It was war!”
The one point I would like to leave you with is this. After the fall of France and in spite of many of the British public and political leaders, who were suggesting capitulation, it was Winton Churchill who rallied England to stand and fight. Had Hitler not been stopped at the English Channel what was to be the combined military might of the British, her Commonwealth and the United States would not have had the staging point provided by the United Kingdom to launch the D-Day invasion. With no second front to worry him Hitler would have been free to attack Russia with the full might of the German armed forces. The prospect of such a scenario is most sobering indeed. Churchill stopped Hitler at the channel and that fact alone may have saved the world.
Thank you for bearing with me over the past few months and thank you for all of your constructive comments, they are always greatly appreciated.
Members need to be aware that over the next few weeks there will be some major upgrades taking place on the forum. The most important changes are in relation to user log on. Some users may be using a different logon name to their display name. As of the upgrade users MUST log on with their public display name and not their log on name as this will no longer work.
Other changes relate to the style and as well as some structural changes.
I will try to keep forum down times to a minimum. But to achieve this there may be some periodic changes in style and display, so please do not be overly worried if things look a bit strange from time to time.
â€œThe Battle of France is over, I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.â€ â€“ Winston Churchill, 18 June, 1940.
In writing about Winston Churchill I often have found myself writing about the history of the Second World War itself rather than just about the man. In a way, I suppose, that is unavoidable as the story of Winston Churchill from 1939 to 1945 is about the War and the War about Winston Churchill. It would not be a stretch to even suggest that Winston Churchill was the personification of Britain itself for much of the world during this time period.
A most interesting point is that Churchill actually named the Battle of Britain a little less than a month before the battle actually took place, starting on 10 July, 1940. One should probably not be surprised that of all leaders throughout the history of warfare it would be Winston Churchill to name the battle beforehand. Was this due to intuition or that Churchillian Luck again? I would put it at 80% intuition; however that is open to opinion and debate. Historians tend to compartmentalise history into neat linear easy to follow stories due to the complexity of the events of the Second World War. I believe this has been done so often that most people tend to think that one event takes place and then by some convenient coincidence the next follows comfortably on the heels of the other. As we know this is seldom the case and the Second World War was no exception to the general rule. The North African Campaign, as an example, started on 10 June, 1940, one month before the Battle of Britain. The Russians entered Romania in June of 1940 to take back the province of Bessarabia which put the Soviet forces alarmingly close to the Romanian oil fields so important to Germany. This triggered an action on the part of Germany in 1941 that had a profound effect on the North African Campaign as we will see later.
As we have read Churchill wanted to avoid a head to head clash with the German Army on the continent. This was now a moot point as there were more Germans in France at this time than at a Bavarian Oktoberfest. To recap, Churchill, and Chamberlain, agreed that a naval blockage and aerial bombardment by the RAF would bring Hitler and his army to their knees. This would serve to avoid the war of attrition brought about by the trench warfare of the Great War. Both Britain and France thought any future wars would be static and fought from fixed positions and not the fluid warfare of the Blitzkrieg that they had just experienced. The Maginot Line was perhaps the best example of this common held, though erroneous, belief. What is not generally known is that Churchill actually lacked confidence in the British Armyâ€™s ability to meet and even hold their own against the German Army. While this sounds scandalous and perhaps even impertinent of me to say I think we need to realize that the size of the British Army was greatly reduced after World War One in favour of a large navy and air force. Added to this the material was not very modern compared with Germanyâ€™s and what they did have was, to a great degree, left behind on the beaches of Dunkirk. The situation in the aftermath of Dunkirk was that the British Army as a whole was not up to the task of an invasion. However, this is and was not to say that the individual British soldier was less than willing and capable of any challenge put before them; it was a matter of numbers and material.
In order for Germany to invade England (Operation Sea Lion) they first needed control of the skies over Britain requiring the elimination of the Royal Air Force. An attempted amphibious invasion of England without the elimination of the RAF would mean that the Germans would be attempting the crossing while being attacked by the RAF and the Royal Navy, not to mention the shore batteries of costal artillery. Two factors were against the Germans using their navy as support for Operation Sea Lion, one known and one still to be realized. The first, and known, factor was that the loss of so many ships during the British invasion of Norway left the Germans short of necessary naval support. The second point was that larger battle ships are fairly easy targets for bombers. While both sides were aware of this the magnitude of this fact was not brought to the forefront of military thinking until the great sea battles in the Pacific Theater between the American and Imperial Japanese Navies, much later in the War.
The Battle of Britain was to turn out to be the first major campaign fought entirely by air forces and involved the largest and most sustained aerial bombing campaign to that date. The initial targets of the Luftwaffe were coastal shipping convoys and shipping centers such as Portsmouth. It was later that the Luftwaffe shifted their concentration on RAF airfields then aircraft factories and other such infrastructure. Much late, as we will see, the German bombing targeted areas of political significance including the employment of terror bombing strategies, (as an example, the London Blitz). As stated earlier, the British put emphasis on bombers, (due to the naval blockade and bombing strategies before the War); therefore the German concentration on bombing the airfields and aircraft factories put a great strain on fighter command. Up until this time Fighter Command was operating at full capacity and without any reserve fighters to replace those lost through battle and wear and tear.
Things were looking bad for Fighter Command and Britain in general at this time. It was desperate enough that a significant number of the British population and politicians favoured a negotiated peace with Hitler. Churchill and a majority of his cabinet refused to even consider negotiations with the Germans. Churchill gave the following speech on 4 June 1940; I think it is appropriate that we review it here to give some insight into his determination and resolve.
â€œWe shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in Godâ€™s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.â€
On 24 August, 1940 Churchillâ€™s luck would once again serve him well when a German bomber accidently dropped bombs on London. Churchill grasped the opportunity handed him and ordered the bombing of Berlin. He calculated, correctly it turns out, that the bombing of the German capital would enrage Hitler and he would order his bombers away from RAF targets to the cities of England. A terrible choice had to be made but the saving of the RAF form destruction would mean the salvation of the Nation itself. It was from this point on that the Germans were at a disadvantage in the battle. The Luftwaffe was at a disadvantage from the start which was offset by the British lack of reserve fighters. The disadvantage was in the German strategic use of their bombers. Up until the Battle of Britain bombers were used to support ground troops and this worked very well. The whole â€œmachineâ€ was run on the theory of fighter/bomber/ground forces supporting one another. During the Battle of Britain they were faced with the use of radar giving their position away to the RAF, this included their fighter escorts. With no ground support to take out the radar stations the German fliers were in a very vulnerable position. While the London Blitz continued until May 1941 the failure of the Luftwaffe to break the RAF led to the postponement and finally the cancellation of Operation Sea Lion.
The London Blitz was the one event, perhaps above all others, was the making of the image of Churchill. His tours through the bombed out areas of the City, famous hat and coat, cigar in one hand and the two fingers held up in the form of the â€œV for victory and numerous photo opportunities catapulted him to world celebrity. The Battle of Britain itself was the turning point of the whole war, though this was not recognized at the time. Up until Hitler lost the Battle of Britain he had not suffered a significant defeat. This is not to come as much of a surprise as the vast majority of his victories, up to this point, had almost been gifts; in some cases bloodless campaigns. This is where the Germans were stopped and from this point forward, with exceptions, the course of the war would go against the Nazis. Even the great battles such as Stalingrad, which has been held up as breaking the German military might, it was the Battle of Britain that showed both the world and the Germans themselves that Hitler was not invincible and a determined nation could indeed make a difference.
Winston Churchill summed it up well in his Battle of Britain speech, â€œIf the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts a thousand years, men will say, â€˜This was their finest hourâ€™â€.
Why canâ€™t we discuss politics on the GMIC? It all has to do with ketchup.
Today my dear wife, Linda, wanted me to go into the City to exchange something or other; I wasnâ€™t listening because I didnâ€™t really want to go. Knowing this she suggested that we stop for breakfast in our small town first. She is a wise woman as she knows my fondness for breakfast meat, not to mention over-easy eggs. This would make me both cheap and easy. I would have been the most popular girl in school had I been born a female.
During breakfast I decided I required a small bit of ketchup for the sausages and in picking up the full bottle I realized that talking politics on the forum was just like what was about to take place. To be clear I am not clairvoyant, just a creature of habit and one who will repeat mistakes with an alarming regularity. The ketchup (or catsup if you prefer) bottles are always full at our local restaurant, the â€œOld Country Restaurantâ€ or O.C. as we locals refer to it. We live in New Hamburg so we often meet up with friends at the O.C in N.H. Itâ€™s a small town thing.
Now for the political discussion comparison; one starts out gently patting the bottom of the bottle in an exercise in futility hopping that by some miracle the contents will flow out easily. When that doesnâ€™t happen we all do the same thing, hit the bottle harder. Perhaps you bounce the neck of the bottle on your finger but the next step is always the same â€“ apply more force. You might see if there is a knife by your plate, which has yet to be used and therefore clean, in order to insert in into the bottle. Thus producing an air space allowing the ketchupâ€™s release from the effects of the bottleâ€™s vacuum. Once in a while this works but most of the time all you end up with for your efforts is a knife covered with the red sauce all the way up the blade and well onto the handle. Now youâ€™re getting a little hot under the collar, but still in control of your inner rage against the physics of a vacuum and Mother Nature herself fort having invented the dammed tomato in the first place. The bottle is now firmly grasped in your left hand and you start to strike the bottom of the bottle with the heel of your clenched right hand. Still nothing! At this point with your spouse showing signs of somewhere between embarrassment and disgust you lose all control. Beating the hell out of the bottle, uttering muffled statements that may or may not cross the line into blasphemy, while everyone in the restaurant looks on wide eyed. â€œYes lady you heard me correctly now get over it and piss off!â€ you think as you notice that kindly eighty year old lady looking your way in shock. Youâ€™ve come to the point where you are committed, you will be the master of this bottle and its contents; this is the hill upon which you are will to die! You committed all of your resources and now it is you or the bottle, â€œNo quarter, youâ€™re going down you glass vessel from the lowest bowels of Hell itself!!!!!â€ RAGE, unadulterated rage!
Then without warning it happens, like some sort of demonic orgasm or an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, the red thick sauce finally burst forward covering the largest area of your plate with half an inch of ketchup. The whole place is looking on witnessing your triumph yet missing the point entirely that you were victorious and your manhood is once again verified. Needless to say the trip, to the city and back, was very quiet indeed. Oh yes, hereâ€™s tip. If you find yourself in one of these situations where the silence emulating from your significant other is almost â€œdeafeningâ€ do not; I repeat, do not, turn on the radio.
And this, my friends, is why we canâ€™t discuss politics on the forum.
Firstly, apologies for the unsolicited email. I was researching the attached and came across a blog on this site dating back to 24 March 2006.
As you will see from the attached, I have some aerial photographs from WW1 and have previously researched them. What interested me was a discussion concerning an " Ernst Kempfer" and my photos were taken by him. A posting by “Rick Research” on 25th March 2006 @ 06.04 states Kempfers’ unit as Feld Fliger Abteilung 9, this is clearly visible on the reverse of the photos.
I enjoyed reading the postings on 7th May 2006 @ 18.25 where it detailed Kempfers’ “war life” and stated amongst other facts that he was awarded a number of medals including the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd class.
As an off chance, I don’t suppose anyone would have any further details on Kempfer or would have any idea of the photos true financial worth?
New Year's Day is a time for reflection. One cannot help but wonder what thoughts went through the minds of the Kaiser's Gunners as the New Year opened on 1 January 1915. Or what were the thoughts of their comrades in the Austro-Hungarian artillery or of the allied gunners pouring counterfire down on German positions. The Centenary of the First World War in the second half of 2014 was marked publicly by solemn ceremonies and reflective discussion. But from my opinion it still was a bit subdued. Of course, the crises of the day rightfully are the priority; not to mention the day-to-day grind of simply making one's way in this complicated world. Who has time to remember the troubles of 100 years ago? What significance do bits and baubles of leftover metal, enamel, ribbon, canvas, steel or leather have today? Since so few pieces of personal documents have survived, surely they cannot be of any significance.
But to serious collectors like those of us here at GMIC, these things do matter. Sometimes I think we collect - and remember - both the heroic and the mundane (not only of the First World War, but from all the periods in which we find our collecting interest), with the simple hope that one day, we too will be remembered. History is often looked down upon by many (especially school children and students) as just old things and dead people in a book. Okay, well maybe as just old things and dead people on a Wikipedia web page. They fail to see that post cards from a soldier in the trench were the Twitter feed of today. They fail to see that hand-written diaries are the equivalent of a Facebook page. More importantly, they fail to see that history is around them every day: in the news, in their neighborhood, in their neighbors' lives, and in their own lives. Students understandably question why they should learn about people, places, and events in the past; we as "historians" and "teachers" have failed to show them relevancy. As a collective society, we must inspire each other to have a natural curiosity and awareness about the past so that we see how it affects the present. Perhaps then, armed with this knowledge, we can become active participants in shaping a better future for our communities, both locally and globally. This is why I believe the discussion we had earlier on GMIC about the causes of the First World War was so important.
And this also is why these bits and baubles we collect are so important. They are tangible. They are a spark for curiosity. As collectors, I do believe that we serve a larger purpose of preserving history. One trend that continued in 2014 is especially troubling: the closing of brick-and-mortar museums. The scaling back in the scope of the Royal Artillery Museum "Firepower" in Woolwich, England due to budget issues announced in May 2014 is only one example. (Unfortunately, this trend started long ago in the United States with the scraping of the US Army Ordnance Museum in 2007.) It is perhaps inevitable. Reflecting on my own collecting past of 2014, I too scaled back due to budget. In 2014, I continued in earnest my transition from a lucrative consulting career to a career in education, with its corresponding scale back in remuneration. Consequently, my largest single collecting purchase in 2014 cost less than $100; a 1914 Mons Star to a Royal Artillery Gunner. It did not cost a great deal, but it means a great deal to me in terms of my current collecting motivation - history. I did not previously have a 1914 Star in my collection; adding one in 2014 seemed most appropriate. I have yet to research the medal; nonetheless, that brings me to my next reflection and moves this rambling tome on to its next phase - resolution.
I didn’t collect much in 2014; I only added 10 new regiments in my effort to collect something representing every Imperial German artillery regiments. On the other hand, I researched more of the history behind my items. While quite basic, I enjoyed researching and writing the first four articles in the series “Artillery of the First World War” for GMIC Articles: Germany, France, Belgium, and Russia. I also wrote a special edition, “The Royal Artillery at Mons” and a piece on the “Königlich Bayerisches 12. Feldartillerie-Regiment (12. bFAR).” An article on the effect of large scale artillery bombardments in the First World War is in very rough draft. So, I resolve to spend less money on stuff and more time on research and writing in 2015. I am certain that The Chancellor of the Household Exchequer will ensure I keep this resolution! Like many of us, my collection rambles outside the boundaries of my main focus on artillery in the First World War. So, I also resolve to liquidate some of the more far-flung pieces; of course, if I can construe even the slightest connection to artillery, it will stay. The Chancellor may have to intervene to enforce rigor and discipline in the culling process.
Realizing that one well-aimed shot can be more effective than several hundred tons of high explosive, I will wrap up this New Year's missive with one simple challenge: share your collecting reflections and resolutions for 2015.
Most of my points and comments are easily confirmed by the reader, either from books or from the internet, therefore I have not bothered to make a lot of citations regarding them. Some points, I feel, are not that well known so in those cases I have included references within square brackets.
For Winston Churchill the year 1939 could arguably be seen as the lowest point in his political career. However, with Germany marching into Austria and then Czechoslovakia, the British Nation started to wake up to the harsh reality of the situation in Europe; a situation Churchill had been warning about for years. It would seem that prior to this time everyone was almost going out of their way to ignore him. As a case in point, when Chamberlain took office as Prime Minister he refused to take Churchill with him because he feared that Churchill would dominate the House and make speeches supporting his ideas resulting in no one else having the chance to speak at all. In another incident Churchill proposed that the RAF should engage in “shuttle bombing”, which involved taking off from Britain, bombing German targets and then landing in Poland. Groups of bombers that would be then stationed in Poland would reverse the process so that there would be on going bombing of Germany from both the east and the west. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain would have nothing to do with this proposal. The newspapers said that he (Chamberlain) should bring the First Lord of the Admiralty (Churchill) into his cabinet. Churchill was a warrior who knew about aerial bombardment – bring him in. Chamberlain didn’t want Churchill in. [Human Smoke, Nicholas Baker, pg. 127, as reported in the New York Times, August 23, 1939]. Before the year was out Germany would invade Poland and Britain and France would declare war on Germany, bringing about the fall of Chamberlain and launching Churchill into the lime light.
This was a time in the history of the Second World War were nothing seems to have been taking place if you go by what is presented by most television documentaries. True, there was a time when all of Europe was holding its breath “waiting for the other shoe to drop”, but in reality the nations involved were a beehive of activity.
Norway, a neutral nation, was being watched by Germany with envious eyes for her ice-free port of Narvik. Germany relied on iron ore from Sweden for steel production and the only prime winter (ice-free) port for them to ship the iron ore to Germany was in Norway. As early as 8 April, 1939 Churchill instructed the Royal Navy to mine the Norwegian waters. This was planned provoke the German Navy into engaging the British and thereby allow the Royal Navy to destroy the German Navy.
Here we need to back up just a little to the time when Germany invaded Poland and the British and French declared war. Both sides were now poised for combat not unlike two heavy weight prize fighters waiting for the bell to ring announcing the start of the conflict. Waiting, waiting but nothing happened; no bell was rung no shell was fired. Instead the RAF dropped leaflets containing propaganda over the German lines. The Germans set up loud speakers, sometimes within sight of the allied forces, and broadcast their rendition of “The Capitulation Waltz” (aka propaganda). Churchill termed this the “Twilight War”; we know it better, at least here in North America, as the “Phony War”. This “Twilight War” was waged, or more accurately “not” waged, from September 1939 until May 1940. In a speech on January 27, 1940, Churchill would remark that what he often wondered was why England had as yet not been bombed from the air. Also during this speech he asked, “Ought we, instead of demonstrating the power of our Air Force by dropping leaflets all over Germany, to having dropped bombs?” [Churchill, Complete Speeches, vol. 6, pg.6187-88]. It is interesting that Churchill’s opinion that the correct option was that Britain should have taken the offensive was later supported by German General Siegfried Westphal. He said, “If the French had attacked in force in September 1939 the German Army could have only held out for one to two weeks.” At the time Britain and France had 110 Divisions in the field while Germany had only 23 Divisions. As a side note, the first Canadian troops arrived in England during this time period; Britain’s forces were on the increase.
It is here that I would like to remind the reader that both Chamberlain and Churchill wanted to avoid a land war in Europe as the memories of the First World War and its horrors were still fresh in the minds of their citizens. A clash, somewhere in France would quite possibly end up in a trench warfare stalemate similar to1914-18. This being the established facts I find it interesting indeed that Churchill should say later that Britain and France should have undertaken an action that was completely against what he, and France, believed in and, in fact enforced, at the time. Perhaps this was Churchill’s way of admitting that he had been wrong about avoiding a head on clash with the German Army on the continent in 1939.
One of the areas that Churchill thought as an alternative to Europe in which to engage the Germans was in the north, in particular, Norway. The British realized earlier that Norway and especially the port of Narvik was important to Germany due to the year around ice-free waters. This was necessary, as has been mentioned for the shipment of Swedish iron ore to Germany. Britain had already sewn the waters with mines and now it seemed appropriate, to Churchill, to actually invade and secure the country itself. Chamberlain opposed this plan as he feared it would widen the war and in essence it was illegal. Churchill countered this opposition with the reasoning that if they succeeded it would deprive the Germans of the much needed iron ore and perhaps provoke them into making a rash move that would spell disaster for the Germans. The German admirals had debated the consequences of the loss of Norway. They felt that the war could very well be lost if the British were to seize Norway and in particular the port of Narvik.
As many secrets are prone to do the Churchill proposal leaked to the press; not in any great detail but enough to alert the German government to the, now, real threat. The Norwegian Government protested strongly to what amounted to a breach of international law by the British. It was March 1940 when Vidkun Quisling, the former War Minister for Norway, approached Hitler in regard to setting up a puppet government under the Germans. Up until this point there were no plans by Germany to invade Norway, of course this now changed.
I have read several accounts of this action over the years. Modern supporters of Churchill write that Britain had decided to come to the rescue of “poor little Norway” in peril of being over-run by German forces. Those who tend to be less enthusiastic about the man will write something to the effect, “despite Norway’s status as a neutral nation Churchill ignored that and planed an invasion”. I have also read that the British intercepted a German communiqué which informed them that the Germans were planning to invade Denmark and Norway. This is one of those times where I tend to believe all of the above, as in a sense they are all one and the same. The only difference is in the method the writer would like to use in order to lead you into thinking along the same lines as him or her. The one point that is clear, at least to me, is that Norway did indeed protest the laying of the mines in Norwegian waters [as reported in the New York Times, April 9, 1940]. The invasion of 11 April, 1940, on the other hand took place much too quickly to have offered the luxury of a diplomatic protest. The small British and French force landed around midnight but were totally unprepared to carry on the fight, lacking such things as mules for transport and even snowshoes necessary for moving through deep snow. The German air force hammered the allied invasion forcing them to retreat. As far as the ground troop actions were concerned this was a complete disaster; however the Royal Navy managed to inflict a crippling blow to the German Navy. The result was that Germany captured Norway, which lasted until 8 May, 1945; however they lost control of the Atlantic.
The plan was completely Churchill’s yet true to “Churchillian luck” the blame fell squarely on Chamberlain. Perhaps this lack of blame was the cause of Churchill’s obsession to recapture the port of Narvik. “Here it is we must fight and preserve on the largest scale possible”, he wrote to one of his naval commanders on 28 April, 1940. “He wanted to divert troops there from all over the place”, General Ironside noted in his diary. “He is so like a child in many ways. He tires of a thing, and then wants to hear no more of it. It is most extraordinary how mercurial he is.” [Edmond Ironside, Time Unguarded pg.278]
On 10 May, 1940 Churchill becomes Prime Minster with little time to celebrate as on that same day, eight months after Britain and France declared war on Germany, Hitler ordered his troops into Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg and France, ending the “Twilight War”. France soon surrenders and Hitler turned his thoughts toward an invasion of Russia, which may have been one of the saving graces for the British and surviving French forces in France concerning what was about to unfold at the coastal towns of Calais and Dunkirk.
I think it worthy to note that the German advance was not without stiff resistance from the French troops stationed in the fortresses of the Maginot Line. This line of fortresses was built to stop the advance of any future German attack and we often hear that the Germans quickly destroyed these and moved on toward Dunkirk. I suppose this has been done to get back to the British story of the evacuation rather than an attempted to make the French Army’s resistance appear weak or half-hearted. Many French soldiers fought to the death attempting to hold back the German onslaught. It is true that some French strong points were knocked out more or less easily, however some proved impossible to destroy, at least in the timely fashion needed and were by-passed.
The Germans defeated the Maginot Line due to the lack of coordination between the French troops in the fortresses and those in the field. For the most part the individual fortresses fought in isolation against overwhelming odds. Another weakness was the lack of French anti-aircraft artillery. The one saving grace for the French was that the German dive bombers had a 60% rate in missing the fortresses completely. While the French were overwhelmed and surrendered many of the main fortresses remained intact and capable of continuing to fight. These were only surrendered after being ordered to do so by French General Georges one week after the French Army surrendered; and then only under protest by the officers commanding these fortresses. [“Maginot Line 1940” –M. Romanych & M. Rupp]
The relentless drive by the German troops through France left the British and French allies bottled up in a corridor to the sea by German Army Group B, to the east and Army Group A to the west. The allies fought a withdrawing action to the coastal town of Dunkirk while to the west the mainly British Garrison in Calais was under siege by the German forces. The garrison at Calais was to be sacrificed in order to buy time for the forces at Dunkirk to be evacuated. Churchill had written to the garrison commander, “Have greatest possible admiration for your splendid stand. Evacuation will not, repeat not, take place, and craft required for above purpose are to return to Dover.” [Churchill, Their Finest Hour, pg. 79-82]. Churchill’s critics have called him a “killer of men”; however any wartime leader must make decisions that are less than desirable. Even the greatest of generals throughout history were “killers of men”, including their own men, due to the choices that the times dictated that they must make.
Meanwhile the German forces outside Dunkirk were given an order to “stand down” for three days. It is unclear as to where this order originated; however, it is usually assumed it came from Hitler himself, the reasons have never been clear. Regardless of where the order came from, or even why, what it provided was time for the allied troops to prepare for evacuation. It has also been debated as to whether the sacrifice of the troops at Calais had any positive bearing on the evacuation of Dunkirk. The one thing that cannot be debated is that the holding action at Calais tied up a whole Panzer Division that otherwise may have been deployed at Dunkirk.
Another aspect that is missing in the documentaries and in most books on the subject is in regard to the German Navy. We know that the German Army and Air Force were employed in this action but where was the German Navy. One would think that this arm of the German forces would have or should have played a decisive role in preventing the evacuation of 192,000 allied personnel, 144,000 being British, by 4 June 1940. The answer is actually pretty clear; remember Narvik and the Battle of Norway? Churchill’s failure on land was a success on the seas with the German Navy in no shape to interfere with the Dunkirk evacuation. In addition to this 250,000 German troops were stationed in Norway for the duration of the war to assure there would be no further attempts to invade. A quarter of a million German troops taken out of the equation by Churchill’s fortunate blunder (Churchillian luck).
On 18 June, 1940 Churchill said, “The Battle of France is over, I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.” It did, less than a month later on 10 July, 1940.
Wishing all members a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year over the coming holiday period. There are quite a few changes on the horizon for GMIC in 2015, so thank you for continuing to support the forum over the last 12 months and I am looking forward to the coming year.
30392 Trooper John Northfield was in the 21st Cheshire Company, 2nd Battalion Imperial Yeomanry. I have accessed his discharge papers via Ancestry.com, but are any other details available. I'm intrigued because he was a pastry chef by trade and to my knowledge had never ridden a horse.
History, especially military history, is ripe with myth and legend in regard to politics, battles and war leaders. Myths such as “Germany almost won the Second World War”, which is pure nonsense and a topic for another blog at a later date, or the myth that Winston Churchill alone won the War abound, especially in the post War era. Most of the Churchill myth was generated by his own six volume “History of the Second World War” which did little to dissuade readers such as myself from including him from our personal list of the ten greatest people in modern history. So why, considering that I hold him is such high esteem, would I suggest such a thing? Or better yet why, if I am correct, would he shape his historical account to reflect anything but the bare, and therefore true, facts? As I have been harping on about for quite some time, you need to consider the times when events took place, or in this case when he wrote his accounts. Many of the war leaders of that time were still alive, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, then President of the United States; Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union; Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, KG, GCB, DSO, PC; Admiral of the Fleet Lord Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, KG, GCB, DM, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO, DSO, PC, FRS to name but a few. Being the consummate politician it would behove Churchill to keep in mind the reputations of these powerful men and leaders of their nations; men whom Churchill would continue to interact with during the Cold War period. In perhaps guarding the good names of his fellow post War leaders he may have inadvertently left himself in a more positive light than he might have otherwise intended. Regardless of this being the case or not let’s look at the Winston Churchill of the 1938 to 1941 period and see what conclusions can be reached.
I have chosen these dates for the main reason that often we, who are influenced by British history, tend to view history from that perspective. As an example we tend to see the Second World War as being won by Britain and her allies, rather than looking at it in view of the deciding factors from 1942 to 1945 and the countries that were able to contribute the men and material to assure victory. This would place the “tipping of the scales factor” in the favour of the United States and the Soviet Union as to who actually won the Second World War. This is not to belittle Britain and her Empire and their contributions; however, victory over Germany, Italy and Imperial Japan would hardly have been possible without the Americans and Soviets. Again this is a topic onto itself and needs to be debated another time.
Up until the entrance of the United States into the War after the attack on Pearl Harbor (or “Harbour” for the correct English spelling), 7 December, 1941the only thing between Hitler and his complete dominance of the whole of Europe was the tenacity and defiance of the British people and their war-time leader Winston Churchill.
As a young man of twenty five years of age he was engaged as a reporter for the London Morning Post covering the Boer War, in 1899. An armoured train that he was a passenger on was derailed by a contingent of one the Boer commandos and because he was considered to have taken too great a role in the engagement he was taken prisoner. He was not a prisoner for very long before he managed to escape and lead the Boers on quite a chase before reaching safety in British held territory. The reward offered by the Boer government, for his capture, amounted to less than the cost of a bottle of Scotch; after all he was just a newspaper reporter, however the whole adventure was stuff of legend. Churchill always held the Boers and their armies, known as commandos, in the highest esteem and their lightening fast, hit and run tactics would leave a lasting impression on him, as we will see later.
During the Great War Churchill served as First Lord of the Admiralty which was a governmental appointment. During this time he devised a plan to basically take the Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, out of the War in 1915 by “Forcing the Straights” in the Dardanelles. This turned out to be a British naval disaster as the Turks had the straights set with underwater mines and the passage well defended by shore batteries. A land operation at Gallipoli was also coordinated at this time and met with equal or greater disastrous results with horrendous losses by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). The blame for this failure was set squarely on Churchill’s shoulders even though he was not alone in the planning of the action. Much as Chamberlain, in the early years leading up to the Second World War, Churchill became the scapegoat for the actions of those who were complicit in the “crime”. The generals involved in the fiasco, caused by their hesitation during the action and their lack of planning beforehand, were left almost blame free. Churchill was removed as First Lord of the Admiralty and took leave of the government and accepted an appointment as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers. His service at the front was a significant factor in many of his attitudes toward waging war affecting his decisions concerning the German threat during the 1930s as we will discuss a little later.
It is interesting that as First Lord of the Admiralty Churchill supported the idea of using aircraft in the attack on the Dardanelles; planning to have aircraft launched from Arc Royal to bomb land based defences. This planned coordinated attack by naval, air and land forces never took place, however it is interesting that he saw the value of air support as early as 1915. While we are on the topic of Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty it should be mentioned that he was also quite instrumental in the development of the tank. Both of these weapons, ship launched air support and army tanks, were to see wide spread use in the next great conflict of 1939/45.
During the inter-war years Churchill once again entered politics winning a seat in Parliament, placing him and Chamberlain in the same political arena. Chamberlain was met with applause when he took his seat in Parliament while Churchill was met with near silence in the House upon his arrival. The blame for the catastrophe of the Dardanelles had followed him like a spectre into his post war political career. It is interesting that both Churchill and Chamberlain held many of the same views at this time. Both men harboured a hatred of Communism and therefore the Soviet Union. This hatred, on the part of Churchill, would delay any diplomatic ties leading to an alliance with the Soviets and causing distrust between the two which would last well past the end of the Second World War. Stalin, fearing he had no potential ally in British, formed a non aggression pact with Hitler which resulted in the two nations attacking Poland later on in 1939 and dividing the Polish Nation between them.
Both Churchill and Chamberlain believed that the answer to any military aggression on the part of Germany could be dealt with by maintaining a very strong navy. With the use of a naval blockage along with air support (bombing) Germany would not be able to sustain any prolonged aggression, therefore a large and well armed army was not seen as necessary. One of the aspects of a naval blockade, that seems to have missed their consideration, is that large battleships make great targets for bombers.
Both men also remembered the horrors of the Great War, Churchill having experienced the War firsthand, and wanted to avoid the repeat of trench warfare. The idea of a blockade supported by extensive bombing seemed to be the logical and most sensible alternative. This belief of bombing the enemy into submission would lead the allies into a program of aggressive bombing against German cities during World War Two, led by Sir Arthur Harris, GCB, OBE, AFC. Sir Arthur Harris was known to the press as “Bomber Harris” and to the RAF as “Butcher Harris” for his aggressive campaign. It is questionable whether the bombing of German cities had the desired effect as the German bombing of London, as we know, only served to toughen the resolve of the British people; a nation already determined to hold out and win at all costs.
Not to get ahead of ourselves in this discussion we should back up a bit to the “era of appeasement” for which Neville Chamberlain was to become best known in the history books. Prior to the attack on Poland in 1939 by both Germany and the Soviet Union there was the “gift” of Czechoslovakia in 1938 by Britain in an attempt to avoid what was soon to turn out to be the unavoidable. Czechoslovakia, at the time, was a well defended country with natural barriers, fortresses, a well disciplined army along with tanks and a formidable air force. It is interesting that one of the best light machine guns of the Second World War, the .303 Cal. British Bren Gun, was developed from the 7.9mm Czech ZB26 LMG. It has been argued, and I believe successfully, that had Czechoslovakia not been conceded to Hitler and allowed to resist the German invasion and the combined forces of Britain and France been employed on what would be a second front that the war could have been ended in 1938. While the British army was not large nor especially well armed, at the time, the combination of the Czechs on a German Eastern Front and the Anglo-Franco forces forming a combined force on their Western Front Hitler would have been forced to at least back off. Certainly Stalin would not have allied with Germany as he had already taken half of Poland the previous year and would have seen the democratic countries of what would have been a triple alliance against Germany as the lesser of two evils. Hitler had been riding a political and popularity high in Germany due mainly to his ability to gain territory for Germany without the need for another large war. If a humiliation such as would have occurred by his backing down or worse, for him, a military defeat may have ended his career then and there. Even if there had been a stalemate, which was the fear if any land based actions were undertaken, a soft landing on the coast of France to supply the front would have been a lot less costly than the hard landing provided by “Fortress Europe” on D-Day.
We can speculate all we would like; the historical facts are that there was no military intervention by the British or the French. The French had a false sense of security behind their Maginot Line of “impregnable” fortresses and the British held onto the idea of the naval blockade scenario. I often wonder if the French or the British for that matter, upon seeing the news reels showing the empty fortresses of Czechoslovakia being viewed by their new German owners thought about the possibility of the Maginot Line suffering a similar fate.
Regardless of how the French viewed the possible fate of their own fortresses one thing was certain, that the British people cheered Chamberlain in the streets for his placation of Hitler. A lone voice of protest went almost unheard in the sea of enthusiasm over avoiding war at such a low cost, to the British at least. Winston Churchill was appalled, once again, at the appeasement policy of the Chamberlain government and possibly even more appalled at the general public acceptance of these acts. It would seem that protest was about all that Churchill was offering, as no alternate action plan was ever brought forward. The reliance upon a naval blockade and the bombing of the enemy by the air force almost precludes that Germany would almost have to reach the coast before any blockade and bombing could take place. By this scenario it would seem that Churchill counted on Hitler to invade France, proving Chamberlain wrong and, putting him in a position of being the only person to have seen the truth. As I have mentioned before, Churchill was not the only person in all of Britain who was opposed to the Appeasement Policy, however, he was the only person to be openly against these acts. Had Hitler not invaded Poland in 1939, which resulted in Britain and France declaring war on Germany, Churchill may well have gone down in history as the most ignored man of his time.
In Part two we’ll take a look at Churchill from 1939 until the American entrance into the War in 1941.
Can anyone tell me please? Is there any particular significance to the words "CassinoStar" in metal, attached to the medal ribbon. From the issue number on the obverse of the medal it would appear that it was issued to a member of the 11th Signals (Polish). Wladyslaw Najduch
Not too long ago a close friend, a man I both respect and admire, offered the suggestion that politeness was the most acceptable hypocrisy. Following our friendly debate on this point of view I thanked him for providing such a provocative subject upon which to ponder; later that evening I removed him from my Christmas card list.
It occurred to me, as I later revisited the subject of politeness and hypocrisy in my mind, that politeness and diplomacy are conjoined twins of the same philosophy, interchangeable and indistinguishable one from the other. Not to digress too far; I do believe that if I were to be able to choose any profession in another time period it would be the Diplomatic Corps in the Victorian era as I am not unfamiliar with diplomacy (a.k.a. hypocrisy). As is often the case one line of thought triggers another and this was no different as I soon started to consider the subject of how popular history has treated Neville Chamberlain and his attempts to avoid what turned out to be the unavoidable Second World War. I have used the term popular history to indicate that history can be divided into several categories. These being, propaganda; history manipulated for the masses in order to shape their opinions to match the current powers, popular history; history that may or may not be accurate but is held as true due to past propaganda (see the first example) and remains accepted until someone delves into the facts and reports them, and lastly, the true historical facts.
This following recitation is both opinionated and derivative and therefore freely open to debate, so, as they say, lets have at it. I wont bother to reference the work of others in regard to quotes with a citation because these are easily found in biographies and on the internet.
I think it best to look first, not at the times when Mr. Chamberlain has undeservingly gained his negative reputation but rather take a moment to review the powers of a Prime Minister. To think that the Prime Minister on his own has the sole power to declare war on another sovereign nation and thereby commit his countrys population to invade another nation is naive, to say the least.
While the Prime Minister is the leader of the political party in power he is still bound by procedure. If the PM were to table a motion so outrageous as to be against the will of his party and the motion was defeated then the opposition party could, and probably would, demand a vote of no-confidence. If the vote passed in favour of the opposition the government would fall and an election would be held. I must assume, due to lack of knowledge, that the American Government is structured in much the same way. I do stand to be corrected on this or any point of view I hold. This fact of Parliamentary procedure alone dictates that a PM should not be held solely responsible for the actions of the governing party or majority of the publics will and wishes.
Next we need to look at the time period itself. Much has been written about the economic and personal devastation brought on by the Great War. The desire for peace at any cost was a commonly held desire, even for the vast majority of the German people during the early years of the Nazi Party and I would hazard to say even through the build up to the outbreak of hostilities between Germany and what would become known as the allies. Certainly there was a feeling of euphoria in Germany as Hitler regained lost territories, rejuvenated the economy and generated a fanatical level of national pride. In other words the majority of the population on either side was not prepared to enter into another worldwide conflict as had been experienced a mere twenty five years prior. Into this atmosphere of avoidance of conflict Mr. Chamberlain was tasked to carry out the will of the people.
Following the will of the people in those times Mr. Chamberlain was driven to assure that the youth of Britain and her Empire would never again be led like sheep to the slaughter of the battlefield. I would challenge anyone, without the benefit of hindsight, to find fault in that conviction. If we are to hold Mr. Chamberlain solely responsible for the failure of diplomacy and therefore the outbreak of WWII then we need to look at other examples from the same time period.
On February 24, 1933 the League of Nations adopted a report blaming the Government of Imperial Japan for events in Manchuria (Manchukuo). In response to this action the Japanese representative, Yosuke Matsuoka, delivered a speech claiming that Manchuria belonged to Japan and they would not entertain any motion that they withdraw from what was, in their view, territory that was theirs by right; then walked out never to return. What was the action taken by the League of Nations to Mr. Matsuokas rejection of the report? Virtually nothing. Their lack of action, possibly a result of their failure to foresee any such actions by a fellow member nation and insufficient plans for a military intervention, caused hundreds of thousands of Chinese men, women and childrens death. Perhaps it was felt by the Western delegates that it was on the other side of the world and it didnt really affect their own people. However, there were British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealanders, Indian and Americans who would be caught up in the onslaught of Imperial Japanese aggression. A good number, far too many, would lose their lives both in the battles and afterwards during their imprisonment as Prisoners of War.
January 3, 1935, Abyssinia (Ethiopia) appealed to the League of Nations to intervene between Abyssinia and Italy, who had invaded Abyssinia. Article X of the Leagues charter forbids any member nation from invading the territories of another member. The Leagues response was to place an arms trade embargo on both countries. Italy had built up her armed forces in the years leading up to this crises and therefore was unaffected by the embargo. Abyssinia, on the other hand, was ill equipped to carry on a modern armed conflict and was therefore greatly handicapped by the Leagues actions. On May 2 1936 Haile Selassie was forced into exile and on May 5, after the capture of the capital of Addis Ababa by Italy, the sanctions placed on the two countries were withdrawn. Emperor Haile Selassie himself appeared before the League to plead their nations case on June 7, 1937, after Italy defeated the forces of Abyssinia. Even without the Leagues help Italy was only able to control three quarters of Abyssinia due to the continued guerrilla campaign carried on against the invaders.
These are two examples of the avoidance of war at any costs that permeated the thinking of the time. Yet the image that is often portrayed is that of Mr. Chamberlain holding up a white piece of paper and assuring the people of England that I believe it is peace for our time is the one used to express his and only his failure and ineptitude at preventing war.
If we look at the failure of the League of Nations in the two examples noted as compared to Mr. Chamberlains attempts to prevent war it reveals an interesting statistic. Very few people had lost their lives in Europe up to the time of the outbreak of WWII. True people had died, there is no doubt about that, however, the real cost in lives of civilians up to that time was unknown. The impending horrors of the extermination camps was still not a known fact, though in hindsight we can say that it should have , and perhaps was, suspected by all of the leaders of free Europe. What was known to the League of Nations was the murder of thousands of Chinese civilians as well as the slaughter of the Abyssinian troops using primitive weapons to combat modern military hardware and a nation, Italy, equipped with an effective air force, Abyssinia having none. Yet time and time again we are shown that photo of Mr. Chamberlain and the white sheet of paper as an example of failed diplomacy. I would put it to you, the reader, that 63 members of the League of Nations (42 nations founded the League in 1920) plus the number of human casualties caused by their failure to maintain peace is miniscule when compared to the one man blamed for the failure to placate Germany.
It is much easier to cheer on and lead a dedicated and enraged crowd bound and bent on wreaking havoc on an enemy than it is to stand up in front of a potential protagonist and attempt to calm the situation and work toward for peace. This is not to diminish the achievements of Mr. Winston Churchill in any way as he was a great war leader and was and is respected throughout the whole world, and well he should be. Having said that it is a lot easier to wave the flag, make stirring speeches to a nation, and even to the world as a whole when your audience is on the same page as you. I doubt Mr. Churchill ever missed a photo opportunity in his life (carefully staged as they may have been), while Mr. Chamberlain will forever be remembered for holding up that white piece of paper not unlike a flag of surrender.
In one of his last addresses to Parliament Mr. Chamberlain said,
Everything that I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life has crashed into ruins. There is only one thing left for me to do; that is to devote what strength and power I have to forward the victory of the cause for which we have sacrificed so much.
Neville Chamberlain passed away on the 9th of November, 1940 never to know whether the evil he had attempted to protect his nation from would ultimately be stopped or not. On November 12th Mr. Winston Churchill stated in his eulogy of Mr. Chamberlain,
Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capability and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as what is called the verdict of history is concerned.
March 18, 1869
November 9, 1940
1 Other than quotes this blog consists of my opinions
2 Quotations have been freely borrowed from different sources easily verified by the reader.
3 Citation = a clever way to make my article appear to be much more scholarly than it warrants on its
own merits. Besides a citation is only a reference to someone elses work which may or may not be either original or accurate.
4 The term his is to be taken as meaning either male or female and is not meant to be gender specific.
5 There are exceptions to this and an election is not necessarily a foregone conclusion
6 I use the term Great War as at that time we had not yet started numbering our World Wars, fortunately after number 2 it was decided that perhaps world wars were not that great an idea after all and dropped the numbering system.
After a lengthy delay in finishing the piece, the fourth article in the series Artillery in the First World War has now been published.
Artillery in the First World War: Russia – The Tsar’s Cannons
Summertime distractions on the Chesapeake have given way to requisite autumn maintenance tasks in the garden; cleaning out dead foliage from the flower beds, raking leaves, putting away the kayak, preparing the house for the onslaught of Nor'easters. While there is much to be done, this time of year also brings a lot of rain. And rainy days are made for research. A couple wet days in a row gave me just the time I needed to finish writing the Russian piece. Part of the challenge in writing this article was finding sufficient detailed resources in English, particularly regarding the period between the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905 and the start of the First World War. This challenge reinforces one of my main purposes for writing these articles in the first place - that is to bring together scattered nuggets of gold into single ingot.
Interestingly, several New York Times articles of the period painted a very optimistic image of Russian artillery and its expected performance in the coming war. Perhaps that was born of optimism for a future ally against what was becoming increasingly seen as a vile enemy in Germany.
"Russia's New Army"
"Will Try Our Siege Guns"
"Russian Guns Deadly"
This article shows the reality was somewhat different. Perhaps the benefit of hindsight and analysis after the war allows reality to be clearly seen.
Either way, taken together here, both the view of contemporary news articles or the view of historical reflection, hopefully represent a useful ingot in the treasury of information regarding Artillery in the First World War.
Special issues regarding artillery at the Battle of the Marne and the Battle of Tannenberg are planned next in the series, as well as starting work on the "Kaiserlich und Königlich" artillery of Austria-Hungary.
It's been raining all day, hindering my efforts to get some last standing chores completed in the garden before the onset of winter makes all horticulture efforts moot. Now in the evening, the rain continues to fall, and there is nothing more fruitful to do on a dreary day and evening than to get to some of that long neglected research. Edgar Allan Poe, one of America's great poets, is buried in Baltimore, not far up the Chesapeake Bay from my current abode. And the opening of his poem, The Raven, is an apt sub-title for my labor. “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore..."
But unlike Poe, I have the internet rather than some "curious volume of forgotten lore." Google really is a wonderful tool. Just when you think you've found everything there is to find on a particular topic, a random search using some old familiar terms yields something you've not seen before. Finding these nuggets is exactly why I've started to write articles (and begin work on a website); there is so much information out there and I hope to smelt many of the nuggets into valuable ingots.
So, what did I find this time you ask... Before you cry "nevermore..."
On the History channel's website, I found a show called "Museum's Secrets." The premise is this: "Recent productions include three seasons of the international hit TV series Museum Secrets, filmed at the great museums of the world and now broadcast in 50 countries."
And like Poe could not ignore the Raven, I could not ignore a video focusing on the Imperial War Museum entitled: "Neutralizing the Kaiser's Guns"
I won't steal all of its thunder (did you like how I slipped in another dreary rainy metaphor in there?); but it's about British sound-ranging efforts to locate German artillery. It's inventor even won a Nobel Prize for physics.
So, literature, history, and science all here on GMIC. Nick should be awarding diplomas.
PS: Just in case you want to read the entire poem: The Raven
After a year of retirement and after more landscaping projects completed than any one person of any age could expect to be done in one summer I am ready for a rest. I’m looking forward to the first frost and then the first heavy snowfall. With my snow blower back from the maintenance shop and binoculars in hand I await that first snowflake’s appearance like a cat ready to pounce on an unsuspecting mouse, or a WWII British Costal Defense Watcher scanning the skies for enemy planes. One task, now taken care of, was the packing up of the patio umbrella back into its case in which it was stored when we purchased it. The case is made of a very tough Nylon mesh with a large reinforced loop from which it can be hung up for storage in the garage or shed. Taking into account the price we paid for this giant bumbershoot we should proudly display it on the living room wall. Considering how my dear wife vetoed my plans for a rather large moose head in that same area I don’t suppose there is much chance of the umbrella being displayed there either. That was not really the perplexing issue with the umbrella as it turned out. The problem was one of displacement, or that is how I saw it. The case was a lot smaller than the umbrella, for some reason. It came out of this mesh “sock” so it seemed a matter of simple physics that it should be able to be returned as the volume of both the space and the object had not changed since we made the purchase in the spring. Having come to the end of my patience I decided to apply the following formula for displacement as a function of velocity and time:
The above is just another way to say I lost my temper and tried to give the umbrella the “bum’s rush” into the bag. It didn’t work. Starting over again and more slowly and calmly working the bag over the umbrella an inch at a time I managed to learn two things. First that slow and steady usually prevails over the Attila the Hun approach. Secondly I have learned to appreciate the dining difficulties of the Giant Anaconda (Eunectes murinus) especially if it were attempting to ingest a Volks Wagon Beetle (Das Auto insectus).
Perhaps the one activity that I look forward most to, when the weather places me on virtual “house arrest”, is returning to writing more informative articles and posts for the forum. Over the spring/summer season I have managed to acquire several nice additions to the collection some with a good deal of rarity associated to them. Writing blogs is an enjoyable pastime that I fit into my day piecemeal, as time permits, but they tend to lack much in the way of informative material. My series, “Collecting the Periphery” , which I intend to continue with, was an attempt to inform and educate the reader in regard to items that were associated to the military aspect of collecting, yet slightly on the fringe. Other blogs were simply my observations and peculiar slant on the world in which I live both in reality and in my imagination (such as News from the Home Office). Therefore in an attempt to both inform and educate the reader and at the same time keep this issue of the “News from the Home Office” as trivial as possible I’ll now discuss the title of this blog.
The Perfect Darth Vader Voice
James Earl Jones made the voice of the Star Wars antagonist, Darth Vader, iconic not only to the movie itself but to the very essence of Sci-Fi villainy. As a bit of Star War trivia, “Luke, I am your father”, was never in any of the movies, but has become acceptable as such by many of the uninitiated into the world of the science fiction aficionado. You may lack the deep voice of Mr. Jones but here are a few tricks that may amuse some, ok, maybe one of your friends or at least get puzzled looks from your grand daughters if they are under 8 years old such as mine. Find a Pringles Potato Chip tube or a mailing tube with one end, or bottom, still on. Place the open end over the open end, and breathe heavily through your mouth into the tube. Don’t forget that the inhale and exhale are equally as important here. Exhale forcefully and inhale more forcefully but not as long in duration as you exhale. Now in your deepest voice say the erroneous phrase, “Luke I am your father” into the tube. Use this phrase as it is the most recognized and will also irritate the die-hard Star Wars fans within ear-shot. Here’s the most important part, a trade secret of the annoying nerds who love to imitate Darth Vader. Pronounce each word as if the individual word was on a pedestal. Also emphasize the vowels. For example (note the letters in bold), “Luke...I...am...your...father”.
Note: If you are a single male this probably won’t help you find a woman. If on the other hand it does...marry that gal; she’s perfect.
Never let it be said that you can’t learn something and get dating advice at the same time on the GMIC.
My great-grandfather served in the Serbian infantry during the Great War. Although I have seen his picture in uniform, I am interested in discovering sources of components of the uniform, or of uniforms for sale (original or reproduction.
The third article in the series Artillery in the First World War has now been published.
Artillery in the First World War: Belgium’s Artillery and the Battle of Liege, 1914
The Tsar's Cannons, the Russian entry to the series, is still in rough draft and likely will be delayed further. Summer on the Bay is full of distractions; kayaking, fishing, crabbing, barbeques, beer drinking, gardening. And those are only the things I put on my "to-do list". Of course, the Commander-in-Chief (aka wife) is free to edit, amend, re-write, add, delete or otherwise re-prioritize my daily activities. (For further reading on this postulate see Brian Wolfe's News From The Home Office What Women Don't Know (About Men). Make coffee first.)
I have also been diverted by researching individual German artillery regiments (See my partner blog series: Imperial German Artillery Regiments). The good news about this is it gives me a smoke screen for searching internet auction and sales sites. Case in point:
Herself says "Why are you looking at that auction site? I thought we agreed that buying militaria wasn't a budget priority right now." *arms crossed, scowling*
Himself says: "Oh, I'm not buying. I'm researching another article." *quickly pulling up the rough draft document, avoiding eye contact* "Of course, if an unusual item pops up, I can always dip into the beer budget."
Herself says: "I'm going for a manicure." *eyes rolling*
So, you see, writing these articles serves multiple purposes. Give it a try. Oh, and keep posting in "Me and My Beer" thread; it's nice to see how the rest of the world lives.
Originally I was going to write a blog titled “What I know About Women”; forty five minutes passed and the screen was just as vacant as my sixth-coffee-caffeine-induced-comatose stare. It was at this time that I realized I had exhausted the full extent of my knowledge in that field of research. True, a title such as “What I Know About Women” followed by a blank page would not only be quite humorous but at the same time sadly accurate. Lesser men would have been deterred by this revelation from continuing along these lines of exploration into the human condition but not yours truly. No, I simply decided to write about “What Women Know About Men”. Ha! Much easier I said to myself and poured yet another cup of coffee. By this time I had the shakes from a little too much caffeine so after wiping up the spilled coffee and the bottom of the wet cup (see, men can be trained my wife would love to interject here) thereby eliminating the coffee ring on the desk, I continued. The subject, what women know about men, would have to withstand the scrutiny of any scientific paper in order to be taken seriously. Under that condition I would, of course, have discount what women “think” they know about men as we all know that they almost always miss the point, well a man’s point; which would be the subject of this thesis after all. Let me ponder this for a moment...
More blank screen, more coffee, can no long see straight, bright spots of light in front of my eyes. Brain stuck on “I Got You Babe” over and over. Oh, my God I’m in the movie “Ground Hog Day”. Need sleep, mind clearer in the morning.
Ah, the next morning and a revelation.
I poured myself the first coffee of the day, no I learned nothing from the previously evening, and sat down in front of my computer and typed the title of this month’s blog, What Women Don’t Understand (About Men) .
Even in my youth I realized that women were incapable, for the most part, of understanding men. For example most women don’t “get” the Three Stooges”. Understanding the Three Stooges is much like understanding the principals of Zen Buddhism. To understand either concept one must stop looking and allow Zen or Stoogeness to wash over you and then you can become one with the Stoogeness. Simple? Right? Obviously not according to any women I’ve known and the few unwary enough to accept my proposal of marriage. The other area of entertainment seemingly beyond the acceptance of their gender is Dr. Who. What’s there not to get about Dr. Who? I’ve been a Whoist, as they now call the fans of the good time lord, for decades and “getting it” has never really entered into my mind. The greatest part about Dr. Who is the exchange between a male Dr. Who fan and his girlfriend, or his wife. It’s usually best to have either one or the other. If that is not your situation then it is definitely best the two don’t ever meet. She asks, “What do you see in Dr. Who? To which you reply, “What?” She repeats “Who”. You say, “What are you talking about?” “Who” she replies, to which you say “You; I said what are you talking about”. Usually this results in her telling you to never mind, it no longer matters, knowing this could go on all night... with luck.
When it comes to attending gun and militaria shows they seem to be completely lost. Women can’t understand why men will get up at 04:30 on a Sunday morning, drive to their buddy’s house and then travel several hours to stand in line in order to be the first through the door of the show all in a blinding snow storm. Especially when she can’t get you out of bed in time to drive to her mother’s, on Mother’s Day, for dinner with her family. Ok, that one should be self-evident.
Most of this month’s blog was arrived at due to the renovations to my new office. Women seem to think that you should sweep and wash the floor and dust down the walls of an empty room before you start to bring in large cabinets. What’s with that? The cabinets are going to cover much of the floor and even the walls so who’s going to see if the floor was dusty before the cabinets went in? Then there’s the crazy idea that you should repair all of the nail holes and small damages to the walls and repaint. Don’t they realize that’s why you frame all of those huge photos, prints and documents? They’re great for covering up these so called defects. You can choose the correct width of framed picture in accordance to the spacing of the damage to the wall. It’s brilliant!
I’ll wrap this blog up with the one question that no man would seldom dignify with an answer, though I shall not shy away from doing so here. Question: “Why would you need a beer fridge in your office”?
Garrison: Landau (In der Pfalz) Established: 1 October 1901 Brigade: 3. Königlich Bayerische Feldartillerie-Brigade Division: 3. Königlich Bayerische Division
Kaserne 12. bFAR Landau
One of twelve active field artillery regiments of the Bavarian Army, 12. bFAR was formed in October 1901 from the III. Abteilung and the 6. Fahrenden Batterie of the Königlich Bayerisches 2. Feldartillerie-Regiment „Horn“ as well as two newly organized Fahrenden Batterien at Würzburg, Bayern. Prior to mobilization in August 1914, 12. bFAR, was garrisoned at Landau in der Pfalz, in southwestern Germany. The Regiment was subordinate to the 3. Königlich Bayerische Feldartillerie-Brigade / 3. Königlich Bayerische Division.
After mobilization, 12. bFAR remained with the redesignated 3. Bayerische Infanterie-Division throughout the war; thus earning the same campaign credits as the Division. First World War Campaigns 3. Bayerische Infanterie-Division:
The I. Abteilung 12. bFAR was armed with the 7.7cm Feldkanone (FK 96 n/A); II. Abteilung was armed with the 10.5cm leichte Feldhaubitze 98/09. In February 1916, two guns from each of the 1., 2., and 3. Batterie, were given up to form the 21. Feldartillerie-Regiment. In January 1917, 12. bFAR was enlarged with a III. Abteilung. The Stab, 7., 8., and 9. Batterie of the III. Abteilung initially fell under the command of the III. Armeekorps for training. Training was completed at the Truppenübungsplatz Thimougies in Belgium in February 1917 and the new battalion joined the Regiment in the field.
At mobilization, the 3. Bayerische Infanterie-Division was part of Kronprinz Rupprecht von Bayern’s 6. Armee. The 6. Armee was central to the bitter fighting in Alsace-Lorraine during the Battle of the Frontiers at the beginning of the war. Official German reports for August 1914 set casualty figures in the 6. Armee at 34,598, with the number of dead at 11,476. (Herwig) One of those dead was Kanonier Alois Plinganser of 5. Batt. 12. bFAR, who was killed on 24 August 1914. After holding off the French offensive in the south, 6. Armee counter-attacked on 20 August with the objective of capturing terrain south of Nancy, known as the Gap of Charmes. After initial success, the 6. Armee’s attack stalled on 24 August just east of Bayon; the French 1st and 2nd Armies counter-attacked, pushing the line back to its 14 August positions. On 24 August 1914, 12. bFAR and Kanonier Plinganser’s 5. Batterie were located at Remenoville, right in the center the brutal back and forth fighting. Early on 24 August, 3. Bayerische Infanterie-Division was given the task to open the route from Mont to Blainville; 12. bFAR was attached to the 5. b. Infantrie Brigade on the right side of the avenue of attack for this task. By early afternoon, 12. bFAR had taken up a position on Hill 251, north of Blainville, but without the 5. Batterie. The 5. Batt 12. bFAR had been fixed in its previous position by enemy artillery fire and was not able to move until the next morning (the morning of 24 August) when it took up a position south of Lamath. Infantry regiments of the 3. Bayerische Infanterie-Division continued a slow advance from Blainville toward Remenoville, supported by its own artillery, but under heavy counter-fire from French artillery. Progress was made kilometer by kilometer and by 6pm on 24 August, elements of the Division were outside Remenoville. However, during this advance, II. Abteilung 12. bFAR came under heavy French artillery fire near Franconville, a few kilometers north of Remenoville. The heaviest casualties were suffered by 5. Batt 12. bFAR. II. Abteilung 12. bFAR finally arrived at Remenoville by 7pm in the evening. Almost immediately, the German troops at Remenoville came under heavy French artillery fire and infantry attacks. By dawn on 25 August, Remenoville was in flames and the front line between German and French forces was just outside the village. Kanonier Plinganser, however, had not lived to see that dawn.
The Battle of the Charmes Gap, August 1914
Line of German Attack on 24 August
12. bFAR positions Remenoville, 24 August
Line of French Counterattack on 25 August
With the end of the war in November 1918, the III. Abteilung was dissolved, with the 7. Batterie being completely disbanded, the 8. Batterie moving to I. Abteilung, and 9. Batterie moving to II. Abteilung. The Regiment was demobilized at Ebermannstadt on 18 December 1918 and dissolved in January 1919. Elements of the Regiment became part of Frei- or Volkswehr-Batterie Zacherl, later Heyl; later these elements became 3. Batterie Reichswehr-Artillerie-Regiment 23. In August 1921, this unit became 3. Batterie des 7. (Bayerisches) Artillerie-Regiments garrisoned in Würzburg. The tradition of 12. bFAR was taken up in the Wehrmacht by the II. Abteilung des Artillerieregiments 33 in Landau und later by Artillerieregiment 69 in Mannheim.
Kraus, Jürgen. Handbuch der Verbände und Truppen des deutschen Heeres 1914-1918. Teil IX: Feldartillerie. Band 1. Vienna: Verlag Militaria, 2007. Web (Wikipedia Deutschland). 24 August 2014
Herwig, Holger H. The Marne, 1914. New York: Random House. 2009. Print.
“Les batailles de Lorraine.” n.p. n.d. chtimiste.com/batailles1418/lorraine.htm Web. 24 August 2014
“Pierre’s Photo Impressions of the Western Front.” n.p. n.d. pierreswesternfront.punt.nl/content/2012/10/als-lorraine-gap-of-charmes Web. 24 August 2014
The Prussian and spolei. “Kgl. Bayer. 12. Feldartillerie-Regiment info needed.” GMIC.co.uk Web. 24 August 2014
My intention was to publish this entry yesterday on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Mons. However, as Robert Burns wrote, "The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley." That applies to combat operations plans as well. No plan survives enemy contact. This special issue of Artillery in the First World War will also further delay publishing "Artillery in the First World War: Russia – The Tsar’s Cannons." In the meantime, another special issue has already been submitted for publication, "Artillery in the First World War: Special Issue – Belgium’s Artillery and the Battle of Liege, 1914." Hopefully, you will be reading that entry very soon. In the meantime, here is a short piece on Britian's Royal Artillery and the Battle of Mons.
So, much has already been discussed and published regarding the British Army during the First World War, especially the British Expeditionary Force’s first battle at Mons in August 1914, that any short article about the Royal Artillery during the First World War would be profoundly superficial. Nevertheless, a modest purpose of this GMIC article series on Artillery in the First World War is to encourage further reading and discussion on the topic; thus, a short refresher on the Royal Artillery’s role at Mons seems to be in order on this 100th anniversary.
Royal Artillery Gunner
The British Expeditionary Force first landed in France on 9 August 1914 and by the Battle of Mons numbered four infantry divisions and five cavalry brigades. (Two additional divisions would arrive by the end of August.) Each infantry division had three field artillery brigades equipped with 54 18-pounder guns, one field howitzer brigade with 18 4.5 in howitzers, and one heavy artillery battery with 4 60-pounder guns. Each cavalry brigade had one battery of Royal Horse Artillery; each battery being equipped with 6 13-pounder field guns, for a total of 30 13-pounders.
1st Cavalry Division (4 brigades): D Battery, E Battery, I Battery, J Battery, RHA 5th Cavalry Brigade (independent): L Battery, RHA
The Battle of Mons was part of a larger campaign later called the Battle of the Frontiers, the result of France implementing its Plan XVII and Britain deploying the BEF in response to Germany’s violation of Belgian neutrality. After conquering the fortresses of Liege and Namur, the German Army continued its advance toward France in accordance with the Schlieffen Plan. Generaloberst Alexander von Kluck’s 1. Armee advanced toward the French border and encountered the BEF near the Belgian town of Mons. The BEF had taken up positions along the Mons–Condé Canal in order to delay the advance of the 1. Armee and protect the left flank of the French Army as it prepared to meet the oncoming German assault. While the canal provided a useful obstacle for defensive positions, some British accounts after the war related that the surrounding terrain was difficult from an artillery perspective. There were some good locations for siting batteries on the high ground south of the canal, but for the most part along the line, artillery officers had difficulty in finding suitable positions for batteries or even for single guns, as well as in finding proper positions for observation posts. At the time, artillery tactics dictated pushing the field batteries or gun sections as close as possible to the infantry positions to provide supporting defensive fire, and to keep the mass of the artillery, including the heavy battery, on the flanks, where the guns could cover all the open ground and prevent a turning movement.
The BEF first engaged the 1. Armee on 22 August in a cavalry skirmish that also included an exchange of artillery fire. The 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards, along with E Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, exchanged fire with the German Kürassier-Regiment Königin (Pommersches) Nr.2. No. 4 Gun, E Btry, RHA earned the honor of firing the first British artillery round of the First World War in the vicinity of Bray, along the Mons- Charleroi road. Additionally, on 22 August, two RFA batteries of the British I. Corps came under fire from German batteries of the 17. Infantrie Division, causing some of the first British casualties of the war.
Ordnance QF 13-pounder Light Gun; No. 4 Gun, E Btry, RHA – Imperial War Museum (Wikipedia)
On 23 August shortly before 9a.m., German field guns took up positions on the high ground north of the canal and began heavy shelling of the British line. Battery after battery from from 1. Armee moved forward and joined the barrage; the Germans gradually achieved almost a 2:1 advantage in artillery during the battle. Throughout the day, German infantry regiments attacked the British line with direct support from their own field artillery. The British infantry stubbornly resisted the attacks with equally effective close support from its Royal Field Artillery batteries. At one point during the battle, Grenadier-Regiment Prinz Karl von Preußen (2. Brandenburgisches) Nr. 12 from the 5. Infantrie Division, supported by up to five batteries of field artillery, pushed hard against positions of the 1st West Kent and 2nd King’s Own Scottish Borderers Regiments. The 120th Battery, RFA, had significant effect in support; however, the battery was eventually forced to withdraw with the loss of two guns, abandoned in their exposed position on the canal at St. Ghislain. Further along the line, 107th Battery, RFA, provided equally effective fire in support of a company of 4th Royal Fusiliers defending the Nimy Bridge, largely due to the accuracy of artillery observers entrenched with the infantry. Eventually, the BEF was forced to withdraw from its positions; Royal Artillery batteries up and down the line gallantly covered the deliberate withdrawal of their infantry brothers. Supporting the rearguard action of the 2nd South Lancashire and 1st Lincolnshire Regiments near Ciply/Frameries, 109th Battery, RFA provided devastating fire which helped break the assault of three German regiments of the 6. Infantrie Division. Reportedly, 37th Battery, RFA, fired its howitzers “as if they were machine guns.” (Lomas) Despite giving up terrain, Mons can be considered a tactical success for the BEF, especially in terms of artillery support to the infantry. Up and down the British line in the defense, as well as during the withdrawal, the action of the Royal Artillery at Mons provided a text book study of field artillery in close support of infantry.
Works Cited: The vignettes and histories related in these articles have been compiled from various sources found on the internet, as well as many published references. They are meant only to provide a snapshot and encourage further research of artillery in the First World War. Any inaccuracies, misquotes, or dropped citations are unintentional and if brought to my attention, will be corrected immediately.
Chandler, David and Ian Beckett. Ed. The Oxford History of the British Army. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Web. 23 August 2014.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. The British Campaign in France and Flanders 1914. New York: George H. Doran, Co., 1918. Web (CGSC.edu). 23 August 2014.
Edmonds, James E. The Battle of Mons: Military Operations France and Belgium 1914. New York: Macmillan, 1933. Web. 23 August 2014. Hamilton, Ernest W. The First Seven Divisions: Being a Detailed Account of the Fighting from Mons to Ypres. Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, 1916. eBook. 24 August 2014.
Lomas, David. Mons 1914: The BEF’s Tactical Triumph. London: Osprey, 2014. Web. 24 August 2014.
I am urgently looking for a detailed high resolution image of a Colonial Cyprus Police Badge. This is on behalf of a charity who are placing a memorial in Northern Cyprus this year to recognise those Police Officers killed during the Cyprus conflict. If anyone can supply a high resolution image (attached is a low resolution image which is not sufficiently detailed) it would be appreciated as this is needed to assist with the cutting of the memorial stone.
Image taken for reference from http://www.hamwichouse.com/