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B. Wolfe's discussions on collecting.

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Brian Wolfe

This Blog Could Save Your Life...well...maybe

 

Ever notice that as you age you start to feel a lot more run down, tired, listless and perhaps even slightly depressed, though not really a depression per se.  Is getting through the day becoming harder and harder and staying focused has become a challenge.  Well, here’s some really good news for those experiencing those symptoms mentioned above.  You may be suffering from a lack of iron and other essential metals in your system.  After a good deal of research we here at the Home Office have developed a cure aimed at many of us here at GMIC and others worldwide. 

 

With this in mind we (my wife and I) started on an experiment, which is not the first time here on the “News from the Home Office” blog, to cure the above mentioned symptoms with an increase in iron and other very important metals.  To begin with, just over a year ago, I purchased a 2000 GMC Sierra 4X4 truck.  This was one of those once in a life-time “barn finds” in excellent condition and owned by a car collector who had stored it in a climate controlled facility. 

 

Once we had arranged the purchase the work started, even though it was in almost pristine condition.  The body was stripped down to the frame, then rebuilt, and the engine, a small block V8 (4.8 litre), and drive train completely rebuilt, with the help of a good friend of mine who happens to be a retired auto mechanic.  Any of the body parts that did show signs of deterioration were discarded and a new replacement piece was purchased from the GMC dealer and installed. The only section that was actually replaced was the box side on the driver’s side, known here as the “salt side”.   All parts such as brakes, rear axles, and exhaust system were discarded and new top of the line parts installed.  The interior was in almost showroom condition so that took no work at all.  The whole truck was painted black, which was the original colour with new black rims and large-lug truck tires just to make her look “bad”.  To date I have invested around the $18,000.00 mark for what is essentially a vehicle that looks like it did the day it rolled off the assembly line, though the parts you can’t see have all been upgraded.  There is absolutely no body fillers in this vehicle; it is all original steel parts.

 

I have always wanted to rebuild a truck but could never afford a classic so when this came up for sale my dear wife agreed that I should “jump on it”.  At my age a “once in a life time deal” is actually that!

The process from start to finish took over a year and while it was fun I would not want to do it again.  I did learn a lot, one of the most interesting things I learned was that mechanical and vehicle restoration takes a lot of time and seems to involve a lot of foul language.

 

In addition to this project my interest in British military swords has been revitalized and along with the infusion of the new/old iron (truck) I feel middle aged again. Ok, so when I am in my truck I do feel like one of the cool kids.

 

So when you are feeling low and just seem to be dragging yourself through your day add some iron to your life.  Medals, firearms, swords etc, also counts.  After all it’s not just collecting it’s a matter of your continued good health.

 

 

Regards

Brian

 

Disclaimer:

Caution, this is not a substitute for real medical advice and I do not provide marital counselling in the event you follow my suggestions.

 

 

 

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Brian Wolfe

Remembrance Day – Protocols – Comments

 

November 11 is Remembrance Day here in Canada, a day where we remember and honour those who have and are serving their country.  During this time we, like people in many countries around the world, wear a poppy in honour of the fallen and those who served and still serve in our armed forces. 

 

I felt it timely to post the protocols here in Canada for the wearing of the poppy and welcome the members to add anything regarding this practise in their own country.

 

1.   Do not change the pin, not for a safety pin to prevent loss and not using a flag pin in place of the original. If you would like to prevent the loss of your poppy, as often happens, let me suggest that you take a piece of wide elastic or rubber band, fold it in half and pierce it with the pin.  When you pin the poppy on take this piece of rubber band install it on the pin, sliding it up to the closest possible point where it cannot be seen and your poppy will be secure.

2.   Wear the poppy on the left lapel. No lapel? Then wear it on the left side (same side as your heart, unless you are an alien from outer space then you are on your own).

3.   Wear the poppy from the last Friday of October until the end of the day on November 11. You can wear your poppy respectfully at other times such as funerals of veterans or official ceremonies.  Some wear it all year around stating, when challenged, that they remember their service people all year and not just on Nov.11.  For the most part I call B.S. on this statement.  I’ve seen poppies worn on greasy dirty old hats and you know that the poppy, being as dirty as the hat, that no thought was given to its significance once it was originally placed there. On your hat in the middle of your forehead is not on the left lapel, Buddy.  Before anyone replies with a scathing message let me just say ahead of time, “Yes, you are one of the few who honours our soldiers every day you get out of bed and before you say your nighty nights to your loved ones every night.  You are in no way feeling indignant and self-righteous and you do not wear the poppy to let others know how sanctimonious you are”.  Yep. I’m a bastard.  There I hope I saved someone a little time.

4.   Anyone who is honoring our veterans can, and should, wear a poppy.

5.   How many can you wear?  I would have said 1, until I saw a photo of Queen Elizabeth wearing several at a ceremony and checked the Canadian protocols, which I am sure, would echo the British protocols.  Besides if Her Royal Majesty wears more than 1 poppy then it just can’t be wrong. Is my monarchism showing?

6.   How to dispose of your poppy. You can leave it at the memorial or cenotaph at the end of the day on the 11th.  Many will leave them on the cenotaph after the service, commencing at 11 o’clock, as a sign of respect. This has always been a problem for me the few times I have not attended the services. Like worn out Canadian flags I tend to place them in a box and store them away as I just can’t seem to bring myself to tossing them out.  I feel it is an insult to those I just honoured, but that just how I feel.  

 

Whatever you do with your poppy at the end of the day, DO NOT reuse them!

 

A number of years ago when I attended my first Remembrance Day ceremonies, in full uniform, which included the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Regional Police Services and the Fire Department I recall standing at attention while they played The Last Post.  My eyes started to well up with tears, which is odd as I am not known to show emotion.  I was wishing I could hold them back when I strained my eyes to my left (we were at attention remember) and next to me was an RCMP officer who must have stood 6 foot 4.  Tears were streaming down his face; there went any chance of me remaining my usual stoic self. 

 

If you are able please attend the Remembrance Day services in your area, it means a lot to those who have and are giving so much for us.

Regards

Brian

 

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Brian Wolfe

 

Lately in the Books and Films section of this forum there have been discussions of the current movie, “Dieppe”, and the inaccuracies found by some of the members.  My first impulse was to make a list if all of the movies that I could remember back to the days of my youth and before where accuracy was obviously not an issue.  I soon realized that most would not relate to such movies as “Lives of the Bengal Lancers”, 1935 staring Gary Cooper; “Gunga Din”, 1939 staring Cary Grant; “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, 1968 with Trevor Howard (one of my favorite movies); or even “Waterloo”, 1970 with Rod Steiger.  Many of these won numerous awards yet are riddled with inaccuracies. 

 

I looked to more resent movies such as “The Blue Max”, though it was in 1966 staring George Peppard.  In one scene of the German trenches it shows the soldiers awaiting the order to go over the top while holding British Number 4 Rifles first produced in the 1930’s equipped with the Number 9 Mk 1 bayonet.  This was the short bladed No, 5 (jungle carbine) bayonet blade welded to a socket similar to the 4 Mk 1 or 2 spike bayonet. These bayonets did not appear until after WWII, possibly around 1950.

 

  “Saving Private Ryan”, 1998 starring Tom Hanks.  A movie many World War Two veterans claimed was the most accurate depiction of conditions on the beach on D-Day.  If you are yet to see this film then do so if for no other reason than the landing scenes.  I suspect that if someone were to put out a remake with double the gun fire the same vets would proclaim it an even more accurate portrayal. Perhaps they would be correct.  I was really getting into this movie until Tom Hanks’ character disabled a German Tiger tank (if my memory serves) by firing his Thompson machine gun into the viewing port of the tank and killing the crew. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!  That must have been the only German tank to be without its very thick protective glass in the viewing port.  I need to research German tanks to see is they were actually using a periscope-style viewing device or not.  Either way, good for you Captain John Miller (Hanks), too bad the rest of the allies didn’t know this trick; could have saved a lot of lives.

 

“Zulu”, 1964 starring Michael Caine, is another of my all time favorite movies.  My biggest complaint about this movie, aside from the medals worn by Colour Sergeant Borne, was the presence of a female in the movie.  What were they trying to accomplish?  Appeal to the female movie viewer?  You could have marched unicorns barfing rainbows and pooping bunnies across the screen and it would have still missed the female market! 

 

“Zulu Dawn”, 1979 featuring Bob Hoskins, Peter O’Toole and Burt Lancaster.  Another of my favorite movies.  I listed Burt Lancaster because if this movie was not flawed enough Burt Lancaster cast as being Irish is an insult.  His Irish accent is so bad it should be recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records. His range of emotion is slim to none and slim just left the room.  In one scene there is a line of what appears to be dismounted cavalry or perhaps artillery men using the Martini Henry Carbine.  The problem is that in some cases they are using what would appear to be the Martini-Metford carbine. The Martini-Metford did not appear before the 1890’s and the Battle of Isandlwana took place in 1879.

 

Certainly bad acting has ruined many movies.  Charlton Heston comes to mind in such movies as “55 Days at Peking”, 1963 and “Khartoum”, 1966. Even now I have to remind myself that Moses was at neither location or in the movie.  Heston is another “one trick pony” of an actor in my opinion. 

 

If I were going to nominate resent  movies on bad plot and worse acting the two top would be “Inglourious Basterds”, 2009 and “Fury”, 2014, both starring Brad Pitt; usually one of my favourite action movie actors.  The first one, overlooking the misspelled title, is a romp through some sort of fantasy Nazi-like world with lots of violence.  Better to go watch “Zombieland”, 2009 with Woody Harrelson.  There is just as much adventure and history is not insulted.  Is it true Mr. Harrelson is moving to Canada as soon as we legalize weed? Hmmm.

 

Then there is “Fury”.  One of the best movies showing tanks in action bar none, however after one gets past the great tank scenes the rest is an insult to both the American and German soldiers.  The Germans are shown, in one scene, as marching down a dark road singing a song more like an army of Orks from Lord of the Rings.  Then they decide to destroy a disabled M4 Sherman with mostly small arms rather than the Panzerfaust carried by several soldiers.  Once the German casualty rate keeps going up it looks like the German commanding officer simply turns and walks away. Was he late for Oktoberfest or going to a BYOP party (Bring Your Own Panzerfaust) since the soldiers carrying the panzerfausts seemed to leave before or just after the officer.  Yet the German privates ,poor “basterds” (that was for you, Tarantino) keep attacking the tank with small arms.

 

So the question stands, is accuracy in movies necessary?  Of course it is!  People who make movies and those acting in them are awarded all sorts of acclaim, provided the movie makes a lot of money.  Unless it was one of those Cannes Film Festival Best Foreign Film award things then it is hard to tell what they are trying to say or portray.  I’ll just say it, if I wanted to read sub-titles I would have bought the book. 

 

Let’s look at a book and the movie about the same topic.  “How Can Man Die Better, The Secrets of Isandlwana Revealed” by Lieutenant Colonel Mike Snook verses “Zulu Dawn”, original story and screen play by Cy Enfield.  The book sets out the preliminary history that led up to the battle as does the movie, though less clearly.  Remember the movie had only 113 min. to make its point where the book had 302 pages.  Even so the movie could have been clearer.  All in all after you read the book you have an excellent knowledge of what happened as compared to the movie where you saw a large battle after a long and drawn out succession of scenes that only served to display the actors talents, or lack of talent in the case of a certain American actor trying to talk with an Irish accent (you know who I mean).  The impact of the movie battle was, of course, more poignant than the book due to live action and a sound tract.  Before I go any further it has probably come to you as it has to me that it depends upon what you are looking for in a historical drama.  It is difficult to pit action against the historical accuracy of a well written book. 

 

It is my position that movie producers need to spend more attention to accuracy in story line as well as in the accoutrements that go along with a historically based film.  If all you are going to do is to produce an adventure loosely based on an historical event then you have simply churned out an adventure fantasy.  Even Game of Thrones is based on the War of the Roses, or so I have read; I don’t see it but that’s what I’ve read.  Rather than turn out a flawed historical farce then they should keep making films such as “Avatar”, 2009, staring...oh, who cares, it’s only a dammed fantasy movie anyway.

 

I suppose the greatest benefit to historically based films made today with all of their flaws is to give people like us a challenge to point out all of those flaws.  I’ve been told that others also viewing said move are less than accepting when we voice our disapproval.  Don’t be too concerned, they just lack a need for accuracy and attention to detail.  Best you drive home after the movie, we wouldn’t want them to have to concentrate too hard on the finer details of road safety.

 

Regards

Brian

 

PS: Yes, that mention of “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” earlier was a movie title reference from Tina Fey’s, 2016 movie.  That title is quite appropriate as I wanted to say “WTF” after I watched this time (wasting) bomb.

 

 

 

Brian Wolfe

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.

 

Ever vigilant

 

Regards

Brian

 

 

 

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Brian Wolfe

PBSDD

In our ongoing effort to improve world security we, here at the Home Office, have been working on a new project with the working name of the Political B*ll Sh*t Detection Device, or the PBSDD.  So far we have experienced a great deal of what seems to be one malfunction after another.  Every time we get the device in seemingly working order we direct it at the Parliamentary Channel and the darn thing begins to make a very high pitched scream, starts to smoke and then shuts down completely.  Taking it to a local gun show and using it near some of the dealer’s tables had the same effect.  Pointing it at the GMIC web site seems to prompt no reaction at all, hmmm, strange indeed. We are continuing to attempt to correct these malfunctions and will report back to you when the proto-type device is functioning at peak performance.  Thank you for your patience.

 

Ah, if only I had such a device when I was in my younger years. However, it would seem that age has some benefits, not necessarily wisdom I am sorry to report.  The benefits of which I speak is the ability to detect the lies and misinformation we often refer to as b*ll sh*t.  I do not like using an asterisk in place of letters however in so-called polite society that seems to be the norm.  Interesting that we can still “write” an offensive word as long as we somewhat disguise it.  Somehow b*ll sh*t is less offensive than the actual words “bull ”; it really has always astounded me, but then hypocrisy often has that effect.  I do digress, blaming it on the mental meandering of age.

 

When I was very young the only source of military history came from the men who were there, service men from the Boer War, WWI, WWII and Korea. The vast amount of oral history centered mainly around putting one over on the RSM, leaves spent at pubs and the monotony of military life in general. This certainly mimicked the saying that military service, especially during times of war, was 90% monotony and 10% sheer terror.  However my first point is not in regard to stories spun by the veterans but what I was told in regard to medals.  Remember there was no internet, dealers close by or even very many books available on the topic, not in my area of Canada at least.  The medals awarded by the Canadians and British as well to a lesser extent the Americans was a topic well covered by my unintentional mentors but those awarded to the “other side” was less well covered.  The Germans, I was told, only gave out the Iron Cross, and they did so by the bushel basket. The Japanese on the other hand never gave out medals to the common soldier reserving the few awarded to the generals and politicians.  It didn’t take long for that young novice collector to discover the Royal Canadian Legion was not the place to glean information on the topic of phaleristics. Too bad we didn’t have access to the internet and especially the GMIC website back then, but then who would want a smart ass kid telling those who had “been there, done that” that they were wrong.  I was lucky they allowed my in with my father as it was and no they would never serve alcohol to a minor, but the stories went down just as smoothly with a Coca-Cola.

 

Some of the other myths that have “made their rounds” have to do with firearms, in this case particularly the Sten gun.  I have been meaning to write an article, in the proper section, on the STEN and feature the examples from my own collection but time never seems to accommodate my good intentions. We’ve all heard how the sten could go off without warning and empty a clip of 9mm before one could react, putting everyone in the squad in danger.  No doubt this has some basis in truth as any weapon with one in the pipe, so-to-speak, and the safety off has the potential for discharge.  I think most of the accidental discharges had more to do with having the finger on the trigger and either a every nervous soldier or due to the transport vehicle hitting a bump in the road making the STEN jump upwards engaging that finger on the trigger.  It should be noted that “one in the pipe” or a round in the chamber does not apply to the STEN it was the bolt itself that must be cocked, then once released by suppressing the trigger advances and picks up the round injects it into the chamber, firing it and blowing the bolt back to repeat the cycle.  In other words if you did have a round in the chamber, cocked the bolt then fired the bolt would still pick up a round from the clip but then slam it against the rear of the round already in the chamber. If the bolt was in the cocked position then one would only need to pull the bolt back a bit farther move the cocking handle straight upward locking it in place. True the bolt could be jarred out of the safe position but this is true with any firearm so I would say it is a poor argument just pertaining to the STEN. Another way the STEN could be accidently fired, according to the sources I consider myth perpetuators, is that the bolt in closed position could fire if the stock was jammed to the floor of the truck or the ground with enough force to move the bolt rearward starting the firing cycle.  First of all the soldier would have to neglect to push the cocking lever through the chamber wall by way of the drilled hold used to secure the bolt.  Let us say this has not been done so the bolt can move, not being locked closed.  I have a Mk. II and a Mk. III in the collection as well as the Mk, V so I decided to attempt to cause the bolt to move to the rear enough to pick up a round and start the firing cycle.  The Mk. V bolt is fixed in closed position but both the Mk. II and III specimens are in working condition, except for the ability to discharge a round as per Canadian Law.  I slammed the butt of the weapons on a board in my shop and the bolt traveled downwards (or backward) possibly far enough to start the firing cycle. I could not actually measure the amount of travel nor could I say whether this would have been enough to pick up a round from the clip and then cause the round to fire or not. Let me say that I would not rule out the possibility of an accidental discharge, given this scenario.  Even so this would only fire a single round, unless the operator has held the trigger back.

Again I will say that the above is possible but only because the operator failed to secure the bolt in the closed position not because the STEN was a poor design.

 

The myth I have a problem with and one that was conveyed to me by the very soldier who supposedly preformed this maneuver.

 

This supposedly happened in France just after D-day and involved a squad approaching a farm house occupied by several German soldiers.  These Canadians manage to sneak up on the farm house and observed, through a window, a couple of high ranking German officers and several lower ranks inside the house. Apparently this was at night as the room was lit from within allowing the allies full view. It seems that there are no words in the German language for “picket duty” or “sentry duty” as none had been posted.  You would think that after going through WWI the German military would have invented such words or commands; makes one wonder if this contributed to their defeat. Our dauntless hero was out of grenades so he cocked his STEN and threw it through the window. When it hit the floor it discharged and didn’t stop firing until it emptied the clip, all 32 rounds, killing everyone inside.  One shudders to imagine what would have happened had the STEN not discharged.  Possibly a quick witted German soldier would have scooped it up and threw it back out the window, followed by a couple of MP40s just for good measure. One can imagine whole engagements where the air was full of MP40s and STEN guns being tossed by opposing sides. It is interesting that first of all, this veteran never held a rank above Private, the STEN being usually carried by the NCOs and above. Some exceptions were made for those soldiers where a rifle was too cumbersome such as transport drivers, commandos etc. Another interesting point was that everyone in the patrol was out of grenades yet the story never involved prior engagements with the enemy. The final evidence that the story is just that, a story, is that the story teller was in a non-combatant role throughout the war. However, this too was an important function and the fact that he indeed did serve as a volunteer in France, going in just after D-day, commands our respect.

 

As my wife, an avid knitter likes to say, “You have to love a good yarn”.

 

Regards

Brian

 

Brian Wolfe

Strange Creatures, These Collectors

 

It seems that I, like many of you, have been a collector for most of my life.  Starting as a child, to be clear, I “started” as an infant, and should have written that it seemed that I started “collecting” as a child.  Back on point; I was one of those odd little buggers who, for the most part, kept the original boxes that had contained my new toys.  Cap pistols were among my favourite toys and again that’s the same as most of us, at least most of us who were boys; though there is nothing wrong with girls having toy firearms.  Note the added political correctness after-thought.  It would be quite debatable to insist that I was a collector much before the age of sixteen, when I purposely ordered an Enfield WWII spike bayonet, the No. 4 Mk II* for a grand total of .99 cents, plus shipping form International Firearms in Montreal with the express intention of starting a collection.  Could that really be over half a century ago? Now there’s cause for reflection. 

 

Anyone who has been with the GMIC for any number of years has read about the extent to which some (many?) collectors will go to secure that “once in a lifetime” piece.  I have lost track at how many times I have told my wife that a pending purchase was a “once in a lifetime” find.  I seem to have, she’s reflected on many occasions, more “lifetimes” than a cat.  Yes, she is most droll. 

 

On March 26 there was a gun show at Orangeville Ontario, about 1½ hours drive from here, that my friends Brian, Mike and I were attending.  At the show a dealer, with whom I have had a long standing relationship, offered me a British Police painted truncheon from the rein of William IV (1830-37). I was short of funds and asked if he would hold it until I could find a cash machine, of which there was none at the show site, meaning I would have to go into the city to locate one or at least a bank branch with such a machine.  I am not a fan of the ATM as I can’t help feeling that it is somehow akin to gambling, one of these times the machine will win, I am sure.  The dealer insisted that I take the truncheon and pay him the next time we meet.  This is not the first time he has made that offer as it is not the first time I was short on funds with no ATM on site.  We have a long standing joke between us in that I will not take him up on that offer as one never knows if one will be run over by a bus, so-to-speak, before the debt can be paid.  This has become such a common joke between us that he ends emails to me with “Watch out for busses” in place of “Regards”.  This has, I am sure, puzzled other show attendees when he says that to me when we part company at the shows.  While at this same show I found a 1912 pattern British Officer’s Cavalry Officer’s sabre for sale at the table of another dealer.  I did not make the purchase as, you will recall, I was short of cash.  I told Brian and Mike about it and had to listen to Brian’s lecture on how I could have borrowed the cash from him for both items.  I do not like borrowing money from friends even less than using one of those infernal ATMs.  I had decided that if the sabre was available at the next gun show, this time in Jerseyville Ontario on April 9, which is about an hour’s drive from here, that I would negotiate a price for the sabre.  To be clear, the truncheon would not be available at the next show and I would have to wait to secure it until the next Orangeville show on May 7.

 

Time flies when you are having fun, they say; however when you are waiting for a treasure to be available for your collection, time takes the bus, a slow bus! Finally the show date arrived and we all set out much earlier than we would have normally to assure we were through the door in quick time and the sabre would be mine.

 

Horror, oh the humanity of it all, the dealer and my sabre had decided not to attend this show.  Had the Collecting Gods forsaken me?  Was this some sort of punishment for evil deeds long past and if so what deeds?  True there was that incident from when I was a kid involving a lit illegal Roman candle firework that fell over, a garden shed, an open door and a gas can.  In my defence and as I pointed out to my father there were no witness to the alleged explosion; none that were over the age of majority that was. So really it was simple hear say that I was anywhere near this unfortunate set of coincidences, and therefore inadmissible as evidence.  It surely couldn’t be that small bit of misadventure and besides I was the injured party in that I served a period of grounding for an offence that the prosecution (aka parents) failed to prove, due to lack of evidence, and then denied me an appeal process.  Regardless of the reasons I was now doomed to wait until the next Orangeville show of May 7; a total of a month and a half. The longest month and a half of all time which includes time waiting for the next season of Game of Thrones. 

 

Alarm set for 04:30 in anticipation for Sunday morning and the Orangeville show, and then in the middle of the night I was hit by one of the worst cases of the flu I have ever experienced.  By morning I was in a terrible condition running a high fever, among other symptoms that were also “running”.  At 05:00 Brian and Mike arrived and I was not in any shape for the hour and a half drive to the show.  I arranged for Brian to pay the dealer who had the truncheon put away for me and bring it back and also to negotiate a price for the sword with the other dealer.  I knew the asking price, which at this point I was more than willing to pay and therefore knew how much cash to send and so like the Ringwraiths sent by the Dark Lord Sauron (Lord of the Rings) away Brian and Mike went on their quest.  This was actually a better idea than had I been able to attend the show as I am one of the poorest price negotiators you will ever meet and Brian one of the best.  If I were to negotiate the price I would probably end up paying more than the asking price and think I had made the deal of a lifetime.  You would really like playing poker with me as if I am excited about an item, as would have been the case here, you can read it all over my face.  It turns out that Brian indeed negotiated a better price for the sword and would have secured an even better settlement had another attendee at the show not said, part way through the negotiations, that if he (Brian) did not take the sword that this new “player” would.  That was actually very rude, not only because there was an active negotiation taking place but it is not polite conduct to interrupt any conversation between two people.  Not that I care about the price, as I have said I would have gladly paid the asking price, but there is an ethical and proper manner which society needs to maintain, otherwise we are no better than the beasts of the field.  I suppose this makes my earlier point regarding the extent to which collectors will go to assure the procurement of an item. The bottom line, and the only point, is that the sword was now mine, mine I tells you (insert maniacal laughter here). 

 

I would estimate now that at or around (police speak) 11:00 hours I vaguely remember what sounded like Brian’s voice in the distance, through a fog of fever, talking to Linda in our kitchen.  The next time I was conscious was around 1700 hours (5:00 PM).  I shuffled out into the strong day light of the kitchen from my dark abyss of illness (me feeling quite sorry for myself) to see what Brian and Mike were able to secure for the collection.  It was then that I saw the treasures they had brought, the sabre and the truncheon still waiting on the kitchen table where they left them. I totally reject the story Linda likes to tell as to how, like Smeagol aka Gollum (Lord of the Ring reference again), I clutched these treasures mumbling references to myself in the plural and calling the truncheon and sabre “my precious”.  Further to this I did not, and I must emphasise, I did not, scurry back to bed with “our precious”, this is a conspiracy-style story that seems to have already made its way thought the whole family; one that will no doubt be repeated at every family gathering for years.  I have found that one never wants this family to “get one up on you”, not that I don’t deserve it, however, turn about is not, I repeat not, fair play when it happens to me.

 

While it may have seemed at the beginning of this blog I was going to criticise the extent that some collectors will go in order to secure yet another treasure; this is not the case.  Had Brian and Mike not been able to attend the show I would have grabbed several sick bags and drove the hour and a half each way even if it had risked my very life.  Considering that I have, in the past, driven two hours to a gun show in a blinding snow storm this would have been nothing that would have surprised my family. 

 

Am I crazy, as one of my friends has suggested. No I’m not crazy, just one of those strange creatures...a collector.

 

Regards

Brian

 

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Brian Wolfe

 

 

This is not the blog I had in mind for this month as may be evidenced by the lateness of its submission.  I usually have several ideas in the works with most needing more research and fact checking.  No doubt this surprised you since I almost never state references or even sources for my blog content.  My reasons are as uncomplicated as I like to think I am.  I do not aspire to be held up as an expert or even an authority on history or the collecting of historical artifacts.  I have never thought the amassing of large quantities of items qualifies me as anything much above an organized and selective hoarder.  There are, believe it or not, 212 drawers in the collection room which contains our medals collection and I assure you this doesn’t qualify me as an expert.  I use the term “our” when referring to the collection as my wife has added many specimens over the years, mostly from the Victorian era. Therefore, the collection is not “mine” alone and therefore the use of the term “our”.  Sorry to disappoint those of you who may be trying to psychoanalyse me; I have no other personalities, not that “they” have told me about, at least.  You’ll notice from the photo below that I am still working on the drawer labels. Oh, I see, Brian decided to ramble along for several paragraphs and attempt to pass it off as a legitimate blog. No, I tried that, in a manner of speaking, during my mid-term French examination in my first year of high school, I took all of the French phrases and words I could remember, arranged them into sentence-like strings and hopped for the best; it didn’t work.  On my final French examination, the questions of which were totally in French, I simply wrote, “I don’t read French, therefore I am unable to complete this exam.  Considering you, as the teacher, have never spoken a word of English during the year I must assume you will also be unable to read this note”, and signed the bottom.  I dropped French the next year, but picked up a working knowledge of Canadian French, the only true French a real Canadian should speak (check out any restaurant in Ottawa) during my years with a French Canadian construction crew.  I’ll bet Madame what’s her name would be surprised, perhaps a little shocked, at some of the language I learned on the job.  Viva Quebec!

 

 

Now back to the title of this blog.  It is a reference to the closing scene from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and the warehouse where the Ark was finally sent for storage.  Indiana Jones, (you remember), that’s the theme music that plays in your head as you enter a military collectables show; or does that just happen to me?  Anyway, as I was working on the blog for April’s edition I needed some reference material and a really nice picture I purchase about a year ago, but where was it.  I looked through every drawer and cabinet here in the office (aka the “Home Office”) with no luck.  Where did I put the darn thing?  I know it is not in the collection room as I don’t store such items there, only a few reference books and they are all in order and accounted for. 

 

 

It has been said that everyone has three lives; one that the public sees, one that the family sees and a third one, possibly the real you, that only you see.  I too have a dark side, a horrible little secret that I am about to share for the first time.  Not even in my past did I reveal this to the “shrink” during my evaluation; whom I might add found me quite normal, in fact he wrote in his evaluation that I am A.B.Normal, so there.  We have two large storage areas in our basement where, years ago, I started to store those items that I had no real place to keep them, papers, research material, pictures books and some collectables.  In the beginning I would mark “Bankers boxes” with “Brian’s Stuff” and store them away.  After a time I would mark subsequent boxes as “Brian”, then simply “B” and more recently I left the new boxes without markings as I am the only one to use these areas.  With doors closed it was a case of mind over matter, that is to say, I didn’t mind and it really didn’t matter.  So the image I have so carefully crafted as an organized and regimented person has been a sham all along. 

 

 

So far I have been unable to find that picture I was looking for though I have just begun looking through the items in storage.  So far, along with several photos of military themes I have found a Special Constabulary medal in the original addressed box and a WWI named trio, but no picture.  Be assured the if I happen to run onto the Holy Grail or the lost Ark of the Covenant I will be sure to let you know.

 

 

Regards

Brian

 

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Brian Wolfe

Change

As time passes I find things that were considered common place have changed while I was distracted by life in general.  At one time I would question why I was here and what my purpose for being was.  In other words, I was questioning my existence and place in the universe.  This, of course, was a deep philosophical question. Today as I age I find the question remains the same but seems to arise every time I enter another room.  Now no longer a deep philosophical question it has become a matter of, “I know that I was looking for something when I entered the office, but I’ll be dammed if I can remember what it was.”  The other day I returned from picking up some groceries and said something regarding the cashier to the effect that “the girl at the store was checking me out and...” In the early part of my life this beginning of the statement might have raised an eyebrow by my wife as to why a girl was checking me out.  Now days such accidental double meaning statements go unnoticed as she knows no “girl” in her right mind would bother to “check me out”.  In a way today is a lot less stressful albeit much harder on my male ego.  On Family Day (a holiday here in Ontario in February) I walked into the living room and simply inquired as to what the day’s weather was like.  A conversation starter; nothing more.  Four of the six daughters and sons-in-law took out their

I-phones and announced the state of the present weather even though a glance out of the front window would have given them the same information; how things have changed. I am definitely not a big fan of change, finding comfort in the familiar, and the linear.

 

When I was a youth I liked to visit the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) as often as possible.  There I could lose myself in row upon row of displayed items from Archaeopteryx to Zacanthoides, Archeology to Zoology.  Fossils and dinosaurs displayed row upon row all ever so neat and carefully labeled.  The Ancient Roman section had tables in two rows on which was displayed hundreds if not thousands of coins mounted on slanted bases and covered with what would best be described as  long glass tent-shaped panes of glass in frames which resembled table mounted green houses.  Again row after row all neatly labeled.  I used to like the section with animals all prepared to the highest level of the art of taxidermy and the Indigenous Peoples exhibit displayed with their tools and in a setting that looked like their camp sites.  I’m sure these were artistically made mannequins though I told my brother that they were indeed real stuffed people. To this I added that I saw a sign stating that they were looking for an example of a “little brother” to stuff and I had entered his name as a candidate.  I recall this led to several sleepless nights for him and my mother, and no end of satisfaction for me.  My poor mother; I must have been an intolerable child.

 

This was my world, at least when I could arrange to be there as it was several hours from the town where I was doomed to reside.  It’s located in a cultural wasteland where academia was routed out and burned at the stake for the witchcraft it was.  Of course this was simply the observations of a child to his surroundings.  As an adult, looking back through the haze of time, I realize that no one actually routed out academia to burn at the stake; they would have much more likely thrown the concept into a burlap bag and drowned it in the river followed by crazed dancing around a huge bonfire. 

 

However I do digress; a privilege claimed by and reserved for the elderly. 

 

A number of years had passed from my last visit to the ROM caused by marriage and raising a family and other less worthwhile activities.  When I once again paid a visit to my former sanctuary the place had undergone a transformation.  I suppose that I should have not been surprised as I too have not remained the same person I had been decades before.  In place of the neat rows placed in displays one room adjoining another in a manner not unlike some series of above ground catacombs was something I was not prepared to see.  It now looked like a department store-front with displays akin to the talents of a window dresser.  In one large case there was exhibited medieval armour alongside an example of textiles from the Ming Dynasty, on the floor of the display rested a large skull of a carnivore from the Cretaceous Period and to add insult to injury a pair of muskets rested against the skull. If Father Time had cleaned out his basement then this could very well be the dumpster into which he was depositing his junk.

 

It was evident that what has happened is that they are now catering to a different target audience.  Being situated on the campus of the University of Toronto they most likely were geared in the past to the academia of the University both staff and students.  Now they are aiming at a wider market and with that new direction they need to entertain as much and possibly more than just educate.  I don’t have a real problem with this except at times I think the museums have gone from the idea of the grey haired old professor haunting the galleries to Sponge Bob Square Pants leading the children in a song about passing wind. 

 

I suppose this had to come to pass considering the government cut backs in every facet of society where they used to fund these organizations.  The bottom line is now foremost, through necessity; accountants and bean counters before curators.  Are these organizations really turning into profit mongers I pondered and if so, what effect do they have on today’s youth.

 

My last visit to the ROM, after my initial shock, didn’t seem as much like an alien environment as it had initially.  Perhaps it was change itself that was bothering me, clouding my perception and rational.  While in the paleontology section my wife and I witnessed something that nearly brought me to tears of elation.  There a little girl with her parents was looking at a display of trilobites when she said, “Look, a Greenops boothi and there’s a Phacops rana.  Did you know that in Latin rana means frog?”  I wanted to ask if this kid might be up for adoption!  Perhaps things hadn’t changed all that much after all.  There were still little nerds in attendance and the old geezers haunting the galleries were still there, except now that old geezer it was me.  So the need to pay attention to the bottom line has caused museums to be profit mongers through necessity but still educators through desire.  While the asymmetrical displays of specimens and the seeming helter skelter of topics made more sense this time, when I got home I went straight to the study, made some more labels and realigned my medals into even straighter lines than before.  Museums may still be places of education and surrounded by chaos but my world remains regimented and linear. 

 

Somehow there is comfort in that.

 

Regards

Brian

 

Brian Wolfe

The Battle of Crecy conclusion:

As we discussed in my last blog the Battle of Crecy was a disaster for the French and an undeniable victory for the English.  For the English it could be said that they had fought a flawless battle.  Just how badly did the French suffer in this defeat?  It has been said that they were unable to support Calais when the English laid siege to the city following their victory at Crecy.  On the face of it this sounds reasonable, just having been crushed by the English.  However, when you look at this siege a little closer you find that the English laid siege to Calais for a full year. It really brings home the realization just how badly the French had suffered. 

It would be wrong to assume that the English longbow was the only factor in the French defeat.  On the other hand it would be just as wrong to underestimate its value. All through this engagement English arrows rained down on the hapless French.  The English also had the high ground and were in a position where the French could not outflank them.  Added to this there were trenches, pits, sharpened steaks and rows of caltrops strewn out in front of the English defences.  Caltrops were multi-spiked devices that were thrown out in rows, much like modern day minefields.  These were effective in stopping mounted knights and cavalry.  If you think of a horse’s hoof being like your fingernail.  A horse actually runs on the tip of a modified digit, or finger, with the nail being thick to provide a tough resilient material on which the horse walks and runs.  A caltrop is designed to puncture the soft part of the horse’s foot not protected by the hoof.  This would be the same as you taking a needle and, if it were possible, pick the end of the finger nail, no real problem.  Now move the needle back to the soft fleshy part of the finger and you may very well discover words you would never use in front of Mom. 

The English also had cannon, which were huge and cumbersome to move, but none the less delivered salvo after salvo of iron balls into the Genoese crossbow men, mounted knights and anyone else unfortunate enough to be in their way.  Even if the cannon balls of the day were unable to penetrate full plate armour of that period the blunt force trauma would kill as easily as if the knight had been shot by a modern firearm.  To make my point using a modern example, think of the bullet resistant vest worn by police officers.  NOT bullet “proof” as is often the term used but merely bullet “resistant”.  While the vests will withstand the impact of a .357 handgun projectile a high power rifle bullet will zip right through them, and the wearer. Just to add a little more about bullet resistant vests, they are NOT puncture proof or even resistant for that matter.  A demonstration during my training brought this point home (no pun intended).  A vest placed over two supports, leaving the section between the supports unsupported was struck with a stick pen, like a Bic brand ball point pen, and it passed straight through.  The lesson learned was simple enough; the vest is no substitute for caution.  Fact – complacency kills.

Back to my point about blunt force trauma; a blast from a .357 pistol round may be stopped by the vest but you will be knocked off your feet, suffer sever bruising, perhaps broken ribs and if the bullet hits just right it could stop your heart.  So the point of French knights wearing full plate armour is rather moot when it comes to cannon balls at any velocity.

Another factor which made English victory easily was that the French did not co-ordinate their different sections, such as mounted armoured knights, foot soldiers or light cavalry.  Instead each group attacked pretty much as the individual commanders saw fit.  This allowed the English to move out and deal with each component as it was offered for annihilation rather than each French component being supported by other ranks.

I have one more factor to propose; a theory of my own and not one gleaned for the work of others.  Medieval battles fall into one of two categories; open field and siege.  The open field battles, such as the English fought against the Scots, was a fluid movement style of warfare.  Siege warfare was fought with one side behind the walls of fortified cities or castles, while the other side encamped around the fortification and used a combination of probing for weakness in the defences and starvation of the inhabitants.  At Crecy the English had created a fortified position albeit without stone and mortar; while the French had arrived with the intention of attacking in a more open field, or fluid, style attack.  As we have discussed this was impossible due to the terrain and heavy defences offered by the English.  The French certainly had the superior numbers required for a sit and wait siege style campaign yet threw away their forces piecemeal.  We were to see a similar tactic used over and over again by the French and later their allies during the First World War.  Wave after wave was thrown against heavily fortified positions.  This is not to insinuate this is a French trait as all combatants, including the later entry into the war by the United States, followed this strategy.  It was not until around 1917 that tactics changed, but that is not a topic for this blog.  Had the French realized that they were using the wrong tactics against a position that was, in essence, needing a more static siege style, then tactically withdrew to more favourable terrain things might have been much different.  Could have, should have...didn’t.

The Experiment

Construction:

I followed the basic design as closely as possible to examples of original light to medium crossbows of the 1300s. I did substitute professionally made steel prods (bows) in place of composite or wooden prods of the period.  This decision was made for several reasons, the least of all not being safety.  A broken prod while under draw of 150 pounds can launch the broken end into the side of your head and or face with deadly consequences. Steel prods are safer and besides after several attempts at making wooden prods, all ending in dismal failure I gave in and ordered steel prods.  The other factor was that the experiment had little to nothing to do with shooting the crossbow as much as removing the string without the use of special tools as sited in almost all accounts of the Battle of Crecy.  I also used modern string, polyester, for the same safety concerns.  Again I was not interested in whether the string, when wet, would stretch or not, but rather could I get it off the prod.  Another point I doubted was the claim in almost all accounts of the Battle that the bow strings could not be adjusted once they stretched.  Construction of the bowstring was identical to the original in everything including the jig I used to build up the ¼ inch thick bow string. My first attempt looked good but was too short.  Once I had the correct length I used a secondary colour to give the end connectors and the middle area where the string and bolt (arrow) met a little added style.  The stirrup at the front of the stock (or “tiller”) and the tickler (trigger) were both made for me by an armour maker who lives a few miles from my home.  This gave the finished product a very authentic look and feel, which is what I was going for. The nut (the revolving catch for the string) was made of mild steel at a local machine shop; again a safety issue.  The stock itself is made of white oak and the total weight of the finished crossbow is 11.2 pounds, the draw weight is 150 pounds with a 7 inch draw.  This draw is right at the maximum suggested by the prod manufacturer which I felt was within safety parameters.

 

The range we set up for testing our crossbows was at 50 yards, which we found out was far too close especially when we initially over shot the target. To be honest neither Brian nor I had as much faith in our bows as they proved to warrant. A search for our missed bolts showed a range of 80 yards; perhaps the bolts we were unable to locate reached even farther distances.  We both found that hand drawing the string was exhausting after an hour.  We finally used the system of hooks on a length of leather fastened to our belts to draw the string.  This involved bending over; attaching the hooks to the string and then standing straight this pulled the string back to engage the nut.  This method was used in the 1300s so met the criteria for authenticity. Even with this mechanical advantage we were exhausted well before we had enough fun with our new weapons so we have met several times since to play William Tell; anyone for an apple?

 

The Results:

I was not concerned with distance or accuracy for the purpose of the experiment however, I was impressed with both.  Getting the correct range was our biggest problem but as far as the right/left issues we mastered that very quickly.  To my way of thinking this upholds the theory that even village idiots can be taught to fire a crossbow with a reasonable degree of accuracy in a fairly short length of time. We found that the length of the tickler (trigger) gave a great deal of mechanical advantage and allowed the bow to fire with very little pressure.  Considering the power of these bows and the shocking ease of launching the bolt (arrow) one needs to be as respectful toward them as a modern firearm.  Think of a high powered rifle with a “hair trigger” and no trigger guard; deadly.  One of the things we discovered, which I have never encountered in research material, was concerning the length of the tickler.  Once the bolt is fired the nut spins and if you let go of the tickler right away the weight of this lever will engage the hut so as to be ready for the next loading procedure.  In essence the long ticklers serve two purposes, one to allow ease of launching the bolt and secondly reengage the nut to allow fast reloading.

 

Removing and Adjusting the String:

Here is what we discovered.  First of all we decided that with the assistance of Brian’s son, Mike we would see if three grown men (two of us retired old guys) could take the string off and put is back on easily.  Remember at the Battle of Crecy there were 2,000 Genoese, all of whom were proficient with the use and care of their crossbows.  By placing the butt of the crossbow on the ground and Brian and I standing with the side of our foot against the tiller and grasping the prod end on our side then pushing down, Mike could take the sting off and replace it with no problem what-so-ever.  We tried this with two people and while a bit more difficult it was by no means impossible.  So what about a one man effort?  Let’s say that the Genoese were self-serving jerks and refused to help one another; perhaps they were all jerks or just had a death with, I don’t know but let’s look at a one man effort.  To string a longbow, and I have done this, you place the outside of the bow against the outside of your left foot with the bow behind your right leg.  With the string attached to the lower tip of the bow bend the top of the bow toward you and attach the string. 

 

So what about a crossbow? Palace the crossbow with one tip on the ground in a position much like you would find if you were using a pick axe to dig a hole. With one foot against the back of the lower arm of the prod push toward the ground. With the right hand  on the back of the upper arm pull upward and at the same time use the stock like a pick axe handle and push down with your left hand.  This takes the weight off the right hand a bit allowing you to slip the string off the prod. To replace the string simply repeat the exercise but replace rather than remove the string.  What if the string had gotten wet in the first place, how would you adjust (shorten) a stretched string?  We now know you could remove the string so simply twist the string one of two turns and, Robert’s your father’s brother, you have a proper length string.

 

After nearly a thousand dollars of investment, hundreds of hours of research construction and testing over the course of two years I can confidently say that the history books and documentaries have it wrong on this point.  Proof positive and you read it first right here on the Gentleman’s Military Interest Club.

 

Regards

Brian

 

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Brian Wolfe

Often when I start to write what is supposed to be a serious article and I get into the research I find that suddenly I start to doubt my original viewpoint. 

I was researching into the Battle of Crecy, 26 August 1346 with the intention of writing a piece on the event when I found a good deal of contradictory opinions and sketchy so-called facts.  It is not my intention to hammer on and on about these opinions but as an example I found one source as stating the number of Genoese Crossbowmen mercenaries being at 5,000 and another at 15,000.  I can over look a few hundred or even a couple of thousand but not a difference that equals three times greater or lesser.  Interestingly enough King Edward III set sail from Portsmouth with a fleet of 750 ships and 15,000 men on 11July 1346. Perhaps this is where the confusion came from in one of my sources.  Another source doubts the capability of the city of Genoa to be able to provide even 5, 000 mercenaries, though we’ll accept that number for now. As you can see right away I started to doubt my sources.

 

My viewpoint has always been that the British longbow was far superior to the crossbow of the same era, as in the case of this battle in 1346.  Spoiler alert!  I still hold to my original hypothesis that the longbow was superior but not as it was based on the information I have always held as accurate. 

 

A quick overview of the Battle of Crecy as it pertains to the difference in bows is as follows.  The British had the longbow the French the crossbow; to be more accurate the Genoese mercenaries had the crossbow in the employment of the French.  The English held the high ground, a classic tactical move, on a south slopping hillside at Crecy-en-Ponthieu.  This put the French mounted knights at a disadvantage from the start.  Out flanking the English was impossible for the French as the English left flank was anchored at  Wadicourt and the right flank protected by Crecy and the Maye River just beyond the city.  In essence this constricted the French into what could be termed a confined killing zone. Since the English had arrived well before the French they were well rested and fed, in contrast to the French who were weary from the long march and had not had time to take sustenance. King Philip VI of France was advised to encamp for the night so the troops could be fed and well rested prior to the battle.  Unfortunately for the French, King Philip listened to his to his senior nobles and elected to fight on that very day.

 

Around 16:00 hrs (4:00 PM for you non-military/police types) a heavy rain started.  The British took their bow strings off their bows and stored them under their waterproof hats.  The Genoese could not remove their bowstrings as this required special tools to install and remove the strings.  The wet crossbow strings, which could not have been removed or even adjusted to” take up the slack”, greatly reduced the range of the crossbow while the dry longbow strings, once the British bows were re-equipped maintained their range. As the Genoese advanced the setting sun shone directly in their eyes blinding them. At the same time the British arrows started to rain down on them well before they could reach the range to use their crossbows.  The Genoese commander ordered a tactical withdrawal (another and more honorable term for retreat) which enraged the French knights, which was comprised of their nobility.  History states that the French mounted knights slaughtered the 5,000 (or was it 15,000) Genoese crossbowmen for showing cowardice in the face of the enemy.  As we have all probably read the French knights then fell before the British arrows throwing the French battle strategy into complete disarray and defeat.  This defeat sapped the fighting strength of the French to such a degree that defence of Calais at a later date was impossible, allowing the British to control that area for several hundred years afterward.

 

My issue was with the long held theory that the Genoese crossbowmen could not remove their bow strings in the rain and therefore the range was lessened.  It seems to me that professional mercenary crossbowmen, if the bow string could not be removed, would have planned for such an event, based on their past experiences and training.  Crossbowmen had large shields, called pavises, where they could take shelter from enemy arrows while reloading.  So why not use these to cover the crossbows while the weather was wet?  There are two stories to this question (stories are not necessarily facts).  One story was that while on route to Crecy in the August heat the crossbows plus the heavy shields were too much to carry so they discarded them.  This seems unlikely for two reasons; first you would not discard your pavis in the face of an enemy who could launch almost twice as many arrows as you.  Second the crossbowmen did not carry their own pavises as they had pages, or squires, to do so.  Another theory was that the pavises were on the baggage trains and they simply had not arrived in time for the battle.  The battle did not actually need to start that day but at the insistence of the French nobles it did and the crossbowmen were pressed unto the attack, therefore this might lend credence to the theory that the pavises were indeed absent.  Had the pavises arrived in time would this had made a great difference in the outcome of the battle?  I tend to doubt that it would.  The French were too confined and with the greater range of the longbow and the higher number of shots per minute the Genoese would have suffered greatly.  The impatience of the mounted armoured knights would undoubtedly lead them to attempt an attack which would have been through the front line (the Genoese).  One of the facts of using mercenaries is that you don’t need to pay a dead mercenary and often they would take causalities from “friendly fire” in order to thin their ranks once the battle had turned in the favour of their employer.  The distain for mercenaries by the nobility and the need to reduce the number of survivors needing to be paid may have meant that charging through their ranks was a positive move on several levels.  If we can accept this scenario then the outcome of the battle would have been much the same.

 

It is my opinion that the English were simply superior archers with a far longer ranging bow, the long bow.  The arrows being much longer and with more weight tipped with a four sided tip called a bodkin tip had greater kinetic energy at impact.  This not only brought down the Genoese but the flower of the French mounted knights. There has been doubt that a longbow arrow could penetrate plate armour; perhaps this is true as it is supported by contemporary observation.  However, the armor on a horse is relatively light and certainly not even close to full covering.  Bring down a knight’s horse and you have finished off the man.  I say this as a man in a couple of hundred pounds of steel armour hitting the ground at speed (full charge) would cause multiple debilitating and mortal internal injuries.   Add to this a 2,000 pound horse and its armour rolling over him and you have what could best be described as “puree of knight in a can”.

 

I am suggesting that the wet bow strings and perhaps even the missing pavises (if that is even true) combined with the French knights slaughtering the Genoese as cowards as they were retreating is something that was made up by the Genoese survivors themselves.  A mercenary is only as good as the last victory in which he was engaged.  To admit that the enemy (English in this case) were simply using superior bows and were the better archers would not bode well for potential future employment.  To tell the tale that they were exhausted prior to the battle and upon moving back out of range of the English archers, as a tactical move to regroup, then be cut down by the French (a betrayal) would be acceptable to potential employers who may not be friendly toward the French.  Add to this possibility that the French used the Genoese as a reason for their defeat. Always be quick to take credit for your victories and be quicker to deflect blame in the case defeat. It would be folly to suggest the reason for English victory was due only to their superior bowmen as there were other factors such as the tactically wise choice of terrain by the English and King Philip’s decision to give in to his nobles poor advice. This, of course, is pure speculation on my part.

 

So how can I sit here in the Home Office and make such profound statements?  On what am I basing my opinions and assumptions?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  Almost two years ago this question, in my mind, of wet bow strings drove me to produce two exact as possible copies of a crossbow based on the weapons of the 1300s.  Research alone took almost a year then testing both bows over the course of several months, when time allowed, saw two years pass by.  I built the two crossbows, one for me and one for my friend Brian, in order to see if they would perform in the same manner in the hands of two people who never fired a crossbow before.  The cost of these two bows, considering some parts were made by professional armourers, was just under $1,000.00 Canadian.  I’ll take you through some of the processes of making the bows and the materials used as well as our findings in the next blog.

 

Please stay tuned for a little applied archeology and discussion as to what we discovered.

 

Regards

Brian

 

 

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Brian Wolfe

 

The content of this blog may be offensive to some readers and should probably not be viewed by readership under the age of 14.  Content may include nudity, coarse language and/or violence (though probably not). Reader discretion is strongly advised.

 

After what could be easily described as a Dickensian childhood I am not what you would term as a warm-hearted individual.  The fact that I have never watched the movie “A Christmas Carol” past the first half point, I did like the whole ghost segment, is not to say I am completely lacking in compassion.  As an example, living in Canada, we get a good deal of snow and the municipal sidewalks require by law to be cleared by the abutting property’s owner.  My section of municipal sidewalk is 180 feet in length.  I don’t know what that is in metric measure because, first I remove the snow in the imperial system of measurement and secondly if you want it in metric you can come over and remove the snow and measure it anyway you want. My neighbour next door has a heart condition so I remove an additional 100 feet of snow from his sidewalk.  Once this is completed I remove the snow from my driveway and the sidewalks surrounding our home.  This year the neighbour on the other side of the street just experience a heart attack so I decided I would also remove he snow at his place for the winter to allow him time to recover.  I do these tasks with a snow blower machine; the largest, most powerful machine I could find.  The neighbours have nicknamed it “The Beast”; or at least I think they are talking about the snow blower.  The first time I removed my neighbour’s snow, which was unannounced, his wife hugged me....now understand that I do not like to be touched.  If I knew doing a good turn would result in a hug I would probably have avoided the act in the first place.  Today I received a large plate of cookies.  Now we’re talking.  I speak fluent “cookie”.  I said to my dear wife. Linda, “Wouldn’t it be funny if there were peanuts in the cookies and by thanking me she killed me (I have a peanut allergy).  Linda didn’t think that was funny at all.  So I am not a warm individual and also have a sick sense of humour.  This brings me to my point.  Anyone who has ever read my blogs knows by now it takes a while to get around to the actual point; if indeed there even is one.

 

While attending the shopping mall to pay homage to the patron saint of retail sales, Santa Clause, by throwing good money (I mean “investing”) in cheaply made gaudy toys for the grandchildren an interesting thing happened.  An older sales representative wished a younger woman a “Merry Christmas”.  To this the young woman replied, “That’s Season’s Greetings” not “Merry Christmas”; “Merry Christmas” might insult some people.  Well, I though, that’s interesting.  You mean that is all it takes to insult some people?  All this time I have worked so hard to annoy others and this is all it took.  Well you can imagine just how frustrated I was after expending all of that effort over all those years.  Here’s my way of looking at it.  Don’t care?  Too bad, you should have known better than to have read this far; don’t blame me for your short comings.  Not my circus, not my monkeys.

 

If I were to wish someone “Season’s Greetings” then to my compulsive obsessive mind I would be wishing them good wishes throughout the whole season.  What, two or three weeks? By wishing them a “Merry Christmas” I am only extending those wishes over a 24 hour period.  I might not really know this person and if I actually took the time to do so I would most likely find some reason to dislike them.  Merry Christmas (the 24 hour greeting limit) is both efficient and time specific; not all wishy washy, warm and fuzzy like the imprecise “Season’s Greeting” which has the potential to go on and on forever.  If I don’t really know you then be satisfied with a “Merry Christmas”, be happy with that and don’t push your luck.

 

As to the membership of the GMIC, over the years I have gotten to know many of you and even those I have yet to meet seem to be a pretty good lot.  So I am wishing you all both a “Season’s Greetings’ AND a “Merry Christmas”.  Well, except for “you-know-who” he just gets a “Merry Christmas”.

 

Regards

Brian

 

 

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Brian Wolfe

Applying Lessons from History

 

“I’m so smart” said Homer Simpson, “S-m-r-t”, spelling the word while bragging and at the same time showing the evident lack of intellect.  Perhaps not the best example of multitasking.  While Homer is the “star” of the popular cartoon sit-com this statement reminded me of the multitude of armchair generals surrounding us.  I don’t follow sports, on any level (thereby cementing my status as a “nerd”), but I believe “Monday Morning Quarterback” is the sports equivalent to “Armchair General”.  Both making calls well after the fact and with full knowledge the outcome.  Most so called sports game experts at least actually watch the game in question.  The history expert must draw his or her (yes these irritating people are not gender specific) from the works of others, some of which have as little formal training in the field as…well…me.  Making things worse are those who “were there” and then write histories that favour their own side or in an effort to further their own career and or egos. I won’t mention any names but I believe I have covered that Churchillian practice in an earlier blog.

 

As many of our membership knows the battlefield can be a confusing place.  Perhaps understanding exactly what is taking place at the time is impossible.  Even police actions on what the public sees as a small operation can be a nightmare to organize and orchestrate.  Fire scenes, even without the smoke and noise requires the highest degree of organization.  Then, of course, there is most of the rest of us who would find it difficult to organize a one vehicle funeral procession.  From the days of two forces meeting on the battle field, knowing when to form line to take cannon fire and the order to form square to receive cavalry, to the battle ground of the 20th Century matters only got more and more confusing.  With that in mind let’s first look what was transpiring in France in May, 1940.  The allies were in full retreat from the Germans and heading to Dunkirk with the hope of evacuation to England. 

 

Enter Generaloberst Gerd von Rundstedt of Army Group A, one of the leaders of the German forces.   As noted above the allies were in full retreat leaving what resembled a debris trail in their wake.  This “debris” included vehicles, artillery pieces, heavy machineguns and everything except light arms which, to the credit of the soldiers and their training, they had retained.  With the German army supported by the Luftwaffe prospects looked dim for the allies.  Suddenly the German forces were ordered, by their commander Generaloberst von Rundstedt, to halt.  At first history would record this as an order coming directly from Hitler but later it would be found that Hitler had merely confirmed the initial order issued by von Rundstedt.  Why would the General order a halt of his forces?   We may never know so let’s speculate; as that’s what armchair generals do best.  History may have taught the General that outstripping one’s supply lines plus your supporting infantry, thereby leaving the possibility of the enemy exercising a flanking maneuver, was a real threat.  We, here in the future, know that allies were devoid of any heavy equipment and armament, however that may not have been as obvious to the German leader back in the day.  I do think it safe to make the assumption that had the Germans not halted when they did the allies would not have had time to evacuate.  This assumption is made completely ignoring the sacrifice of the brave French soldiers who fought a rear guard action against the Germans further slowing their advance. That action and any other stalling actions by the allies, had the events unfolded in any manner as they did, may have indeed resulted in the evacuation taking place to one degree or another. 

 

Stepping back in time, yet staying with the French, let’s look at some of the military decisions made by them based on of centuries of warfare. The French are an intellectual lot and have, through history been at the leading edge in the areas of art, science and military, to name a few.  Since the dawn of the medieval times, and even before then, the French have won and lost battles and even wars using massed armies.  The Hundred Years War, Franco Prussian War and the Napoleonic Wars, all employed massed armies, whether France was the victor or the defeated the lesson that massed armies was the “answer” to successful military tactics was driven home. This being the case it is no surprise that the response to The German Schlieffen Plan, a plan to encircle Paris at the outbreak of a war in the early part of the twentieth century was France’s Plan Seventeen.  Plan Seventeen was a plan where the French would attack, with a massed army, due east straight toward Berlin.  Due to the resistance by the Low Countries to the German advance and the failure of the Germans to implement the Schlieffen Plan with the suggested number of regiments the advance was turned well short of Paris.  This left the familiar two massed armies facing one another but this time with advanced weapons of war, i.e. long range rifles and not smooth bore muskets and rapid firing machineguns.  The result, the trenches of the First World War.  After centuries of massed armies meeting on the field battle something relatively new.  Sadly the practice of employing massed armies lingered on in the tactics supported by the leaders of the German and the allied militaries. Even though the static form of trench warfare was broken and the war ended in fluid tactics the French noted that the massed army of the Germans was stopped in its tracks by trenches, a form of fortification, so-to-speak.  Between the wars the French dug in along their frontier with the development of the Maginot Line.  Once again it would appear that an attempt was made, in this case by the French, to learn from the past.  Germany did, however, take lessons from the tactics used at the end of the War and developed the Blitzkrieg to great success. We know how well the Maginot line held up to the fluidity of “lighting war”.

 

At this point, in wrapping up, I allude to the original theme of this series, “Can we learn from history?”  Looks like a rather hit and miss proposition at best, relying, like in so many campaigns through the millenniums, on luck.

 

Regards

Brian

 

Brian Wolfe

Can we learn from history?

 

In my last blog we looked at the battle of Kadesh (1274 BCE) where classic errors were made and perhaps the first opportunity for those following after to learn.  The Egyptians left large gaps between their divisions allowing the Hittites to exploit those gaps and move on the command HQ.  There were, of course, perfectly good reasons for the gaps between Egyptian divisions, all of which were covered in my last blog.  What may have not been as clear was the first recorded tactical error by the Hittites. Their exuberance to exploit the gap between the Egyptian divisions resulted in their chariots out-pacing the infantry and therefore supporting troops.  With the Hittites slower chariots surrounded by the Egyptian infantry and their faster deadlier chariots they were destroyed. 

 

Jumping ahead 1,300 years (give or take a few decades) to 9 CE we look at the three Roman Legions, the 17, 18 and 19th, under Publius Quinctilius Varus in the Teutoburg Forest of Germany for our next example. Following earlier victories over the Germanic tribes a young man named Arminus was sent to Rome as tribute.  He was educated as a Roman and became a trusted confidante of Varus. If this were a plot of a movie we would think the outcome of this alliance between Varus and Arminus was obvious.  Too bad Russel Crowe wasn’t there to advise Varus, but history didn’t have two millennium to wait for benefit or Mr. Crowe’s wisdom.

 

As a little background information we should note that the brilliance of the Roman military machine was firmly rooted in maneuvers involving two armies meeting in open fields, a luxury not afforded in the close confines of the dense forests of Germania.

 

We now find Varus leading his legions in a column miles long weighted down by equipment and baggage trains along with the usual camp-followers.  The Romans were confined on both sides by forest and forced to trudge along mile after agonizing mile of seemingly endless wilderness.  Even the most inept armchair general will tell you this is a classic example of a need for advanced as well as flanking scouts.  Varus was not a complete fool (at least not a “total” fool that is) and indeed did employ both advanced and flanking scouts. The error was that these scouts were from “loyal” German troops recommended by the equally loyal Arminus. Those “loyal” Germanic flanking scouts quickly disappeared, moving ahead to join their tribesmen in the ambush ahead, as did the advanced scouts.

 

The location for the German ambush was carefully planned with the area being even more restrictive than had been the case prior to this. On one side there was a steep incline while the other side of the trail was an impassible swamp.  This allowed the Germans to fire on the Romans from both flanks while the different elevations assured that one side was not in direct line of fire from the other.  Added to this a severe weather front moved in soaking the Romans and their equipment increasing the weight each Roman was carrying by more than double. The Romans couldn’t advance up the incline which was also fortified, they couldn’t attack the swampy ground as doing so would find them mired in the soft ground and easy targets for the Germans.  Retreat was blocked by their own baggage train and transport so continuing along the trail was the only option.  An option that proved even more disastrous than holding their ground.  Due to the rough ground and a continuous rain of missiles the Roman column was not all moving at the same speed.  This left gaps in the column which the Germans were quick to exploit. In the end this led to the ambush by the German tribesmen crushing the three legions.  Many books, the internet and even recent documentaries have stated that the Romans were lost to a man.  Research into original documents from that time by real historians has found that several Romans did survive the massacre and found their way back to Roman territory.

The Emperor Augustus has been said to have uttered in frustration, “Quintili Vare legions redde!” (Quinctilus Varus give me back my legions!).  Looks like not even the most powerful man in the world of the time could command the dead.  Documentaries have also stated that the Legions Eagle standards were lost forever, however there is evidence that some if not all of the lost eagles were recovered.  The series “I Claudius” states that the Germans were eventually conquered, however even though there were some punitive actions taken against the Germans, probably the reason for the recovered eagles, the German territory east of the Rein was never conquered. 

 

Before The National Enquirer, the yellow journalism of the tabloids and television documentaries perverted historical facts and research in favour of sensationalism and profits history was researched by serious historians. Military leaders have been schooled in tactics of the past and cautioned about the errors of those who came before.  Leaving gaps in your columns to be exploited by the enemy was to be avoided while watching for and exploiting the same errors by your opponents was of paramount importance.  So, don’t leave gaps in your column and don’t out-pace your supply and support troops…sound advice…right?

 

There are many examples of military errors, far too many for a blog.  As well there are good examples of military leaders learning from history, applying what they have learned, only to find things didn’t go as planned.  In my next blog we’ll look at a couple of examples of this from the 20th century. 

 

Thanks for reading my blogs.

Regards

Brian

 

 

 

 

Brian Wolfe

The Middle East and Propaganda

 

I’ve often heard the statement that man (mankind) is unable to learn from history.  As a general statement this is, of course, ridiculous. As an example we tend to no longer defecate in our drinking water; with the exception of the City of Victoria, British Columbia that still dumps their raw sewage into the ocean. To be fair it is not actually drinking water and it does serve to give people like me something to be smug about while committing some other violation against the environment; so thumbs up Victoria.  What the statement regarding learning from history usually refers to is the history of human conflict.  On an individual human level it would seem to be true as far as abusive marriages as can be attested by any police officer.  People in abusive relationships, when and if they “escape”, will often find another abusive partner.  On a national level involving military engagements we may not actually be able to learn from history due to several reasons.

The fact that the histories of wars are usually written by the victors and often by those who shape their books to favor themselves and or their careers flooding the shelves of libraries and book stores.  Another nemesis of accurate histories is propaganda; in order to learn from history we must know what the truth is and identify the perversions of the truth.  I suppose this should not be a total surprise as US Senator Hiram Warren Johnson said in 1918, “The first casualty of war is truth”, so why would there be an incentive to set the record straight post war, especially for the victors? Propaganda certainly has its uses and after all we need to know that we are ethical while the enemy are evil agents of Satan; “Gott mit uns” leaps to mind.  Propaganda can be a most useful tool especially in time of war and actually amounts to misinformation and out and out lies, usually directed at the very people the government is meant to be protecting.  It’s a little like being caught by your wife with your mistress and having the presence of mind to introduce her as your long lost niece; it might work, as long as you actually have a brother or sister.  If not….plan “B”.  Plan “B” works every time and I would share it with you but I know you want me to get back to the subject at hand.  Propaganda can take different forms and intensities.  For example in an effort by the British to conceal the reason for an increase in RAF night mission successes against Luftwaffe bombers the rumor was started that the pilots had been consuming vast quantities of carrots which accounted for their superior night vision.  The success of this propaganda had lasting effects well after the war, and managed to keep the use of radar a secret for a lot longer than a policy of silence would have accomplished. An example “from the other side” involves the 2nd Waffen SS Panzer Division Das Reich after the D-Day invasion when they were taking a pounding by the allies.  The movie going public in Germany were informed through the news reels that Das Reich was making significant advances and the allies were reeling from the might of the Division as well as other German troops.  The truth was that while the division and the German military in general was a force to be reckoned with Germany fought mainly a war of defense and  tactical withdraw until the allied victory.

This brings me to an example, perhaps the first example, of an incident in the Middle East involving a world super power, weapons of mass destruction and the cover-up propaganda that many still hold as the truth today.

Cover-up in the Middle East

Near the border of modern Syria and Lebanon was situated the city of Kadesh, on the Orontes River. Kadesh itself controlled the trading routs between to great areas and the control of Kadesh was paramount. Over the centuries the Egyptian and Hittite Empires had been at odds.  Egypt had been in one war after another in an attempt to reclaim their empire and in 1274 BCE the Hittites under Muwatalli II threatened to conquer the city of Kadesh.  The Hittites greatly out-numbered the Egyptians by over two to one especially in infantry; the interesting fact about the battle is that the Hittites never had the chance to employ their infantry and while they out-numbered the Egyptian in chariots the Egyptians were far superior. Think of comparing a modern fighter jet (Egyptian chariot) to a propeller driven transport plane (Hittites). 

Kadesh was in relative close proximity to the Hittite Empire while the Egyptians faced a two month march to the city.  The Egyptian Army was led by Pharaoh Ramesses II at the head of the Amun Division. Three other divisions joined this force, the Re, Ptah and Seth divisions named for the areas from which they were raised.  Each area or the prominent city of the area had a particular God and these divisions were named in honour of those Gods.  While crossing this huge expanse of desert area each division took its own course rather than as a single army.  This would lead to a tactical error by Ramesses as we will see later on.  While to the modern Armchair General this splitting of the divisions may seem an obvious error, however, there are other factors at play.  For the most part wars were won or lost in one decisive battle and usually by only one Egyptian division which was the division of that particular area.  This makes the Kadesh campaign a rather unprecedented undertaking.  The second factor and perhaps the most important one is that living off the land during a two month trek is a lot easier for one division rather than an army of four times that size.  Therefore each division taking its own path to Kadesh made perfect sense.

Upon arriving just south of Kadesh Ramesses formed up his divisions but rather than combining the divisions into one large force he left a great deal of space between them.  A tactical error that almost cost him the war.  This seems to be an error that has plagued the military for centuries and I’d like to explore this in more detail at another time.  Acting on intelligence that the Hittites were almost 200 miles away and were afraid of the Egyptian army Ramesses decided to cover the 11 miles between his army and the city of Kadesh as quickly as possible.  The advance was made with the vast distances between the divisions remaining in place.  The intelligence proved to be a trap and the Hittites were upon the Re Division with their chariots catching the Egyptians unprepared.  The Re Division broke and some headed for the nearby Amun Division commanded by Ramesses while others turned their route around to the rear of the Hittites who were now closing on the Amun Division.  One might say that the day was the Hittites to lose as the future looked bleak for the Amun Division and the whole of the Egyptian army. 

At this point several factors came into play, which is often the case in warfare, which saved the day for Ramesses.  Along with the defenders of the Amun Division the Hittite chariots encountered the materials that often surround an encampment along with tents and abandoned Egyptian chariots.  This slowed the leading Hittite chariots and the next waves started to “jam up” as progress slowed to a stop.  This made the Hittite chariots easy targets for the Egyptian archers.  Remember those Re Division chariots that had turned their route and headed towards the Hittite rear and flanks?  One of the advantages of being a God-King when your solders see that you are in peril they come to your aid with an unmatched fanaticism.  Added to this the Path and Seth Divisions closed on the Hittite flanks.  The Hittite Emperor, Muwatalli II had also made a tactical error in allowing his chariots to advance too quickly and without the support of his archers and infantry; both of which played no part in the battle. It would seem that front line troops out pacing support and supply has been a problem for a long time. 

The aftermath saw both sides claiming victory over the other and I suppose in an odd way they were correct as neither side actually lost so it could be said that a draw is when both sides, in a manner, win.  Ramesses II had his “claimed” victory commemorated on the walls of the temple at Karnak, showing how he, almost alone, crushed the Hittite foe.  Ah, propaganda at its best!  Propaganda that may be still seen today, over 3,000 years after it was carved. 

The positive aspect of this conflict, regardless of the victor, was that not only was this the first documented military action it resulted in the first known peace treaty in history.  Who knows, perhaps in another 3,000 years we’ll see peace in the Middle East; I’ll keep you posted.

Regards

Brian

 

Brian Wolfe

What's The Use?

What’s The Use?

 

At times I wonder of what use there is in researching then writing articles for the membership here at GMIC.  Now I read that over I realize how nasty that sounds therefore let me explain.  For the most part we all have an interest in history, especially military history; therefore we also possess a more than average knowledge in that field.  It is rather like preaching to the choir, so-to-speak.  Those only interested in accumulating collectables for the ownership of said items probably hold only a slight passing interest in the subject.  This means they will most likely simply pass by such articles while those with the interest will soon see that they have about the same degree of knowledge as I.

 

As an example, a recent reply to a post posing a question about a certain medal of Independent India made me want to go on and on about the history between India and Pakistan and the subsequent conflicts.  Rather than doing so I suggested that if the reader was interested in this history they should refer to the internet which is filled with information on the subject.  I’m not too lazy to compose a condensed article on any historical subject it is just a matter that I have more to do with my time, limited as it is becoming, than take on what is often a redundant exercise. 

 

So what is it I’m saying, or trying to say?  I’m saying, for me at least, my time and efforts may be better used in passing along information that may be of help in research, preservation, restoration etc.  If you have read this far and are bored then please scan to the last paragraph for a possible helpful tip for research. 

 

Another example of what I am getting at is from a resent discussion regarding learning from history, which I still plan on using for a future blog, where the topic of WWII fortifications was broached.  I said that one of the best examples of a fortified line, that failed of course, was France’s Maginot Line.  I further used the example of Finland’s so-called Mannerheim Line.  One of the participants expressed puzzlement at the mention of these defences while another forcefully exclaimed that he was not aware Finland was even involved in WWII, as if trying to instigate an argument.  Well, there went my encouragement to continue any discussion with the group and with it the possibility of enlightening them regarding the use of the tactic called, “Motti”, against the Soviet troops. I did suggest that if they were interested they could always Google the topic.  That doesn’t mean there are no topics to discuss as there is a plethora (I was wondering where I could fit that word in) of topics and perhaps many that would encourage intelligent debate or at least discussion.

 

In one of my planned upcoming blogs I want to discuss an issue in the Middle East involving a major world power, weapons of mass destruction and the propaganda and political cover up that followed, one that has been accepted by the population at the time and by many to this very day;  but that is for the future.

 

Last Paragraph (as promised)

 

My brother-in-law, a computer genius in reality, told me of something that might help some members in their research.  I have a very tough time with facial recognition, unless I actually meet someone face to face.  Photos of a group of soldiers and separate photos of individual soldiers, even in the case of brothers, prove very difficult to impossible for me to identify.  I usually refer to my wife, Linda, who has an uncanny talent for facial recognition.  This “tool” involves Google Photos (I think that is the correct name) and the saving of photos to something called the Cloud.  This program has a facial recognition option and it can and does recognize people in different photos and point them out.  The program can also “look” at a photo of an adult and pick out their baby pictures!  I was thinking that perhaps some of the membership might be able to use this to assist in finding a certain soldier within a group etc.    

 

I do hope this helps someone; my wife would not appreciate emails from the membership for help in facial recognition.  ;)

 

Regards

Brian

 

Brian Wolfe

Learning From History – A Rant

 

One of the aspects of the New Year’s season that I dislike the most, aside from the obligation to congregate in herds at parties, is being expected to converse pleasantly with the attendees.  I don’t mind parties at our house as I can simply remove myself either to the office downstairs (aka the Home Office) or the shop and work on a project...and I have been known to do so. Yes I am a solitary rather anti-social type who has been lucky to have found a wife who can tolerate my rather, at times, rude behaviour.  I don’t blame myself for my attitude; people like me seldom do, the problem is with those who refuse to stick to conversations and opinions well within their own knowledge and comfort parameters.  For example I don’t attempt to converse about sports, entertainment, automobiles or motorcycles and or their repair.  I don’t know about these topics and quite frankly don’t care.  In my defence I will stand by and listen with feigned interest, a glass of cola in my hand to provide the visual mistaken assumption that partial impairment is the reason for my glazed over eyes and not mind-numbing boredom.  Inevitably at sometime during this personal purgatory someone will wander into my areas of interest, one being history and its associated politics.

 

In such rare moments the dragon awakes!  The mind sparks to life, eyes glisten with interest and the senses near salvation at the prospect of fresh meat in the form of an intellectual discussion.  The first comment has been answered with the disappointing, “No one wants war” and then “If you don’t learn from history you’re doomed to repeat it”.  It looks like their arsenal of knowledge on the subject has been spent and now they are starting to withdraw to a safer topic.  But no! They have wandered into the sanctum sanctorum of my mind, my lair; like innocent lambs and they will not suffer me to allow them leave unscathed.  To the statement “No one wants war” I reply that someone must want it as we sure as hell are engaged in them often enough.  In regard to learning from history I throw out the challenge for the fellow to support his statement.  I can see the fright in their eyes, smell the fear; they are mine, mine I tells you, and now I intend to destroy them utterly and completely.

 

It’s about now my wife swoops down like an angle from the heavens and brings with her a sense of peace and calm, changing the subject to the relief of all but yours truly. They have no idea just how lucky they were, unfortunately you dear fellow member know all too well, based on my other blogs over the past year.  I do feel a twinge of remorse for you having to read these pieces, but then upon contemplation, it could simply be a touch of heart burn. ;)

 

I’ll close off this tongue-in-cheek blog now and let it stand as an introduction to more serious discussions within the next few weeks on the topic of learning from history, or the inability to learn from it. 

 

Happy Year to all, from the Home Office, deep beneath the ground in New Hamburg, Ontario Canada

 

Brian

 

 

Brian Wolfe

'Tis the Season

‘Tis the Season

 

Ho, ho, ho, here we go again with the annual season seemingly created to make a cynic’s life nearly effortless.  It’s a little over a week before Christmas and the orders placed with my cabinet shop with expectations of them being completed before that day of gift giving nearly realized.  Which brings me to my first observation; I call them “observations” in a desperate attempt to avoid the term “cynicisms”.

 

Approximately a month ago the rock music station I have tuned into in the shop announced that they would be playing Christmas tunes 24/7 until Christmas Day.  Strange that the disc jockey was able to reveal that information with an apparent air of pride.  True I will be deprived of the songs by that delightful Meghan Trainor  constantly telling the world that “It’s All About the Bass (no treble)” and Elle King bragging about her “Ex’s & Oh’s”. They prove that slightly plus sized blonde white girls can make gimmicky music as well as any skinny inner city inked gang banger/biker babe type.  I first heard about these two particular tunes when our daughter related a story that our six and eight year old grand-daughters took their i-pods to Sunday school and suggested that these would be great song to perform at the annual Christmas concert.  Apparently the most disturbing aspect, at least for their pastor, was when our six year old grand-daughter taught the words and dance moves to “All about the Base” to the other little girls of the class.  Check out the video on the internet.  Another thing I discovered was that this story was NOT FUNNY and my apparent amusement upon hearing the story was a bad influence on our grand-daughters.  To think, last year the songs and dance numbers were all from the cartoon “Frozen” now even their five year old is “All about the Base”.

 

Back to the radio music.  Over a month of Christmas music?  Really?  Ok, I like Christmas music at least as much as the next Ebenezer but surely even the most accepting Who in Whoville has his or her limits.  One more version of “Baby Its Cold Outside” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and I’m going to lose my egg nog.  Then there’s Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Cumin’ To Town”, where he comes out with his condescending monologue asking if the band and audience has been good this year.  I’ve been a musician and the chances of that or any band being “good” all year is about as high as Frosty the Snowman tending a blast furnace located in the Amazon Basin.  Perhaps the worst of the lot is John Lennon’s “So this is Christmas” (War is Over).  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful song written by one of the greatest musicians of our time.  But listen to the lyrics, if you dare.  The words can make the most charitable person in the world feel like he or she has burned down the orphanage and sent the children to a Siberian gulag in order to construct a bordello on the former shelter’s site. 

 

Last week I took my musically inclined if not slightly inappropriate grand-daughters to the mall to visit the patron saint of retail sales, the one and only Santa Clause.  He happens to be appearing there in person for the next couple of weeks, so don’t forget to tip your waitress. Photos with the old gent from the North Pole cost $10.00 each but he certainly earned it  when the youngest (five year old) grand-daughter, after asking for a sleigh for her American Doll, said that “mommy says she would like anything this year as long as it comes from La Senza.  So apparently Santa’s face can get as red as Rudolph’s nose.   Actually our daughter’s face was a glowing shade of red as well when her little angle pointed her out to be sure Saint Nick knew who to deliver the “delicates” to, along with a proud thumbs up with her other hand.  To be honest that’s not the worse gesture she can make with one of her digits, but that’s another story.  It’s our daughter’s own fault in teaching the girls to think of others. There was a fellow set up in the aisle selling crafts at the mall.  One of the items was “repurposed” light bulbs painted green, with a Santa’s cap and the face of the cartoon character the Grinch pained on them.  He said that children really liked these and they would make great gifts for our grand-daughters.  Who, besides Sweeny Todd, would give any little child a glass light bulb as a gift, let alone the three Chaos Sisters?  I call them “the Chaos Sisters” for several reasons but at the moment I recall the time when, a few years ago, the then youngest middle grand-daughter accidently pressed 9-1-1 on her mother’s phone.  The police arrived and because our son-in-law, their father, is a fire fighter for the city the police would not leave until the house was “cleared” of any potentially dangerous suspects.  I could write a book...

 

So with that small glimpse into my world I wish you a very Merry Christmas (Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or other celebration) and the Happiest of New Years. At least most of can agree on the New Year... unless you follow the Lunar New Year.  This political correctness thing is tougher than one might think. Well, be happy whoever or whatever you might be, just remember what the Chaos Sisters told their Sunday school class and Pastor, “It’s All About the Base”. ;)

 

Regards

Brian

 

Brian Wolfe

Fallen but Not Forgotten

 

Sitting in the auditorium with some fifty or so other students I opened my history exam paper upon the announcement to commence by the teacher in charge of security and started ticking off the boxes of the multiple choice section.  I always found this section rather annoying with ridiculous choices such as, “When was the date of the Battle of Hastings?” Choices ranged from 1066 to 1466, never anything more difficult than remembering the correct century in which the battle took place; though some of my friends were frustrated that there was never the choice “Some of the above”, or even “All of the above” to check off.  Many, no doubt, would have been stumped by such multiple choice questions as, “When did the War of 1812 occur” or “Who fought the Franco-Prussian War”. 

 

My favorite part of the History Examination was always the essay section.  You had to choose two of five topics and write an essay of between 500 and 1,000 words with penalty points for exceeding the draconian restriction of such a meager limitation.  If you are wondering why keeping an essay under 1,000 words gave that young scholar an anxiety attack you must not have been reading my blogs and articles here on the GMIC.  Yes, I have always been an obsessive pain in the lower extremities.  A secondary, though just as stressful, aspect of the essay section was being limited to only two out of five topics.  It seemed and still seems rather a cruel trick to play on a student and I really should broach this topic with our respected fellow GMIC member and educator Megan sometime. To be fair educators only have so much time to check the exams and besides most students would rather have to choose one out of five, or better yet do a “Word Search” of historical names and places or “Connect the Dots”  to reveal the letter “I”.

 

Over the years we have reduced history to dates and places, at times the casi belli (causes for war) is thrown in for good measure.  Unless you have had an ancestor who fell in a certain war or battle the names and stories of those who served and fell seldom surface.  Most of the time we are not aware of any of our ancestors unless such research has been done into our past family.  In my case I know an ancestor of mine fell in the Battle of Isandlawana only because my dear wife is an avid researcher into ancestry.

 

I applaud some of the resent documentaries dealing with the past two World Wars in bringing the stories of some of those who fell back to life.  While it could be argued that history can indeed be reduced to dates and places with an overview of the root causes and the outcome, however, the personal sacrifices must not be allowed to fade away into the mists of the past.  There are several excellent books which detail individual sacrifices and one of them is Paul C”s book “Small Town, Large Sacrifice”.  Paul has written one book and is now in the process of writing a second dealing with fallen heroes from the American towns of Hawthorne and North Haledon, New Jersey, which I have the honor of being asked to edit.  One aspect of Paul’s book is that it tells the stories of those killed in action and in addition those who died in training while still in their home country. We seldom think of those unfortunate people who never got the chance to go overseas to serve their country, which had been their intention.  

 

This may seem like a shameless promotion of Paul’s past book as well as his upcoming one and if it does so be it.  Paul is a fellow member here at GMIC and I think he needs to be applauded for taking on this task.  My point is not so much, “buy Paul’s books” as it is that such works need to be made required reading in schools so that future generations can get a good idea of the true sacrifices the service people and indeed their families and loved ones made during our shared conflicts. 

 

I would suggest that anyone interested in the full history and the impact the wars have had check out Paul’s book or at the least one with the same theme.  We all need to stop simply “checking off” one choice from a list or taking the easiest essay question on a test style of thinking and get the full picture, if we want to call ourselves history buffs or dare I use the term Historians.

 

Regards

Brian

 

Brian Wolfe

Myth Busting Part 2

 

Without going to the dictionary, what is a myth?  A myth is a commonly held misconception often based on a fact or event.  The causes of a myth can be quite varied, ranging from a misinterpretation brought on by sloppy research and or erroneous reporting of the sound research by another party or even propaganda. An example of propaganda would be during the Second World War when soldiers were told that the new German MG 42’s “bark” was greater than its “bite”.  The nick name for the MG 42 was “Hitler’s buzz saw” which described the sound that the machine gun’s 1,200 rounds per minute rate of fire produced.  This lie was perpetrated in the hope of alleviating the reputation that this new deadly weapon had among the allied troops.  Of course it didn’t take long for a new recruit to realize the bite was indeed as wicked as its reputation indicated: that is if the new replacement survived his first encounter. 

 

I would like to take a moment or two to talk about some of the current “offenders” engaged in questionable experiments and coming to conclusions based on their so-called trials of weapons ranging from the ancient up and including the Second World War.  Unfortunately many of the pseudo-experts are ex-military personnel who, while perhaps being experts in weapons and their use in the modern world, lack the knowledge and needed expertise to tackle older, now defunct, weapons.  I will bow to the concept that military colleges and institutions cover the battle tactics of the famous generals of ancient times, however, I was not aware that modern military training spends a great deal of time training Marines, as an example, to use a broadsword or battle axe. I do stand to be corrected on this view. 

 

One of the common errors made by both civilian and past military men presenting experiments with weaponry on documentaries, which seem to be in overwhelming number on television, is the watermelon/human head example.  When presented in the light of, “we’ll use this watermelon as a stand in for a human head” I have no problems at all with the concept.  However, most of the time the presenter will state, “This watermelon is a good substitute for the human head and has as close as possible the same resistance as a human skull”. This is when I get my “back up” and the old blood pressure starts to rise. Surely they can’t be serious!  I know I can put my fist through the side of a watermelon and know for a fact that I cannot do the same with a human head, nor could anyone in my past who has carried out that experiment on my cranium.  Drop a watermelon off a one storey building and see what happens.  Most people can survive a fall of that distance, depending on the type of surface that eventually breaks their fall; try the same with a watermelon and you will have the beginnings of a great fruit salad.  “Please do not try this at home, we are trained professionals”, say the “experts”.  I’ve watched these so-called experts and what they should say is, “Don’t try this at home, we are paid to take stupid risks; and we are basically morons enough to attempt this”.  I will give them this, and I will bet you are of the same mind, who doesn’t like seeing a watermelon explode in slow-motion photography?  Will that ever get old, I doubt it.

This is where I say, “Long story short” and you think, “Too late”. 

There is a fellow on some of the weapons documentaries, a past Special Forces or Army Ranger who likes to attempt to bring the tactic or weapon into the realm of today’s thinking by saying, “Just like today’s Special Forces…”  One example was dealing with the medieval battle axe and he boldly said, “Just like today’s Special Forces who are trained to use whatever weapon is at hand to suit the situation...”  Funny, I was under the impression that today’s military was not in the habit of carrying a medieval battle axe.  The battle axe, in this example, was the weapon supposedly carried by the medieval warrior; much as a modern firearm is carried by today’s warriors.  I would hazard a guess that a medieval battle axe is never at hand to be used as a “weapon of opportunity”, as we used to refer to such objects that stand in for real weapons, in a modern situation.   A tree branch, rock or bar stool, depending on the location and situation are weapons of opportunity; never a battle axe.  In another example, and this is one of my “buttons” (now you know for sure), was when he was hosting a show on the ancient Japanese Ninjas.  After going over some of the mythical (note that word) skills of the Ninja he said, “Much like the ancient Japanese Ninja today’s Special Forces use stealth tactics to infiltrate an enemy position”.  I truly hope they don’t as the so-called Japanese Ninja is the stuff of movies, comic books and video games.  Oh, oh, do I detect yet another topic for this myth busting series?  The presenter might as well have said that today’s Special Forces use tactics just like those of the soldiers of Gondor from the Lord of the Rings books and movies.  Oh yes, he would have had to leave out the reference to books and movies as he left out the word “mythical” when comparing true modern heroes with those killers taken from the pages of fiction. I personally think it diminishes today’s service man or woman to be compared to figments of an author’s imagination, no matter how long ago the character or characters were invented.

 

Before I go on I must share with you a suspicion I have about television net-works such as the AHC (American Heroes Channel).  To be sure I watch a lot of programs, documentaries etc. on AHC and the History Channel but I am getting the feeling that AHC has a lot of financing from the military establishment.  The quality of their documentaries is questionable yet they never cease to attempt to bring their point around to today’s military.  I can’t help but wonder in the far future if there won’t be someone writing a blog suggesting that such programs were, in actuality, propaganda, or at the very least aimed at recruitment.  This is just a thought and not meant to be a condemnation or praise, I leave that to history.  So if I have hit a nerve in you, my good reader, I apologize as that was not the purpose of my musing.

 

A civilian presenter, a respected man from the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) was presenting a documentary as part of the series “Museum Secrets” where he demonstrated the crossbow and the musket in comparison.  Never failing to amuse the audience he used the ever infamous watermelon and shot it through with a crossbow quarrel (arrow) after a couple of tries and then with the musket on the first try, which produced my ever favorite slow motion explosion of red watermelon brains. Next they decided to attempt to pierce plate armour.  The crossbow quarrel dented the plate armour while when the musket ball was fired it went through the armour leaving a sizable hole. At this point he uttered the revelation that it was obvious why the musket became favored over the crossbow and to this end he declared that this proved two things.  First was that the musket had a greater killing potential and that the musket was easier to use, sighting that he hit the watermelon on his first try with the musket yet needed several tries with the crossbow. The penetration against plate armour was another victory for the musket. I see this as silly exhibitionism thrown together for the program at the cost of any real scientific experimentation.  First of all whether you shoot a quarrel through the head of a watermelon soldier or explode his head with a musket ball (which I still like watching in slow motion) a dead watermelon soldier is a dead watermelon soldier. That wound, or a death blow of any kind, cannot be determined to be any worse than any other death dealing strike.  You can’t get deader than dead!  I know that is nit-picking so let’s look at the more scientific aspect of this so-called experiment.   

 

First of all the crossbow they were using was indeed much like to originals with, I believe, a 150 pound pull; this I have little problem with.  Indeed the range at which they fired both weapons was identical tough not at a realistic likely battle range of the day, of say around 60 yards. We need to be able to hit the target after all and indeed the closer range should favor the crossbow, so I’ll accept this as well.  This is where the whole experiment starts to unravel.  Yes the crossbow and the musket went through watermelon soldier’s chainmail protected head, however for the most part the head of a soldier in the medieval era also would have been wearing a thick quilted cloth head protection and possibly a steel helmet of sorts.  I believe the results of the experiment would still have been the same, however, it is not up to me to make assumptions about what another researcher has failed to prove or even test correctly.  The issue I have is that the musket fired by the ROM representative was not the matchlock that another participant had originally shot.  The amount of powder in a musket may well be greater than that of the matchlock.  The musket that was fired in the experiment against the plate armour was a copy of the “Brown Bess” flintlock which would put that weapon between around 1750 to 1850 (the example was one of the later models) and not the 1300s which would have been represented by the crossbow.  That’s a 400 year spread between the matchlock and the flintlock therefore this alone brings the experiment’s results into question. Next let’s look into the claim that the musket pierced the plate armour while the crossbow failed.  True the crossbow failed however the bow used was what would have been considered a light to medium crossbow with much larger and therefore extremely more powerful bows available during the time period in question. As already pointed out the firearm used for the experiment was not available for another 400 years, give or take a fortnight. Another problem with the experiment was the fact that no one went into battle with only their knickers on under the plate armour.  The heavily armoured knight of the time period first dawned a thick quilted garment called a gambeson, which it has been sufficiently documented and shown in trials to be proof against the arrows from a light to medium crossbow.  Next he would wear a coat of chain mail, followed by the plate armour. In essence he was the battle tank of his era. All of these layers would have provided a cushioning effect on the impact of the musket ball, not to mention the “give” of the human body under the impact.  This would have had the effect similar to the present day ballistic resistant vests (wrongly termed “bullet proof vests”) worn by law enforcement and military personnel.  Another clue, and the fellow from ROM should have known this as he was head of the ancient arms and armour section of the museum, is that there are several examples or thirteenth and fourteenth century armour breast plates in the ROM collections showing deep dents in the lower right side of the armour.  These are the results of a musket ball being fired to prove, or proof, the suit of armour as being musket ball resistant, which left the telltale dent as proof to the purchaser.  As to the ease of hitting the target with the musket as opposed to the crossbow I can easily suggest that this first time using a musket and with his first shot there was a good deal of “beginner’s luck” involved.  He may even have had the luxury of fixed sights on the musket he was using, though an original Brown Bess would have lacked sights and certainly the early matchlock firearms may have lacked these aiming devices.  I would have to say that the whole experiment failed to actually prove a thing as the results were predetermined based on currently held beliefs or in actuality myths.  The experiment completely failed to prove anything conclusively except that exploding watermelons look cool when shown in slow motion.

 

I will explore crossbows and the English Long Bow in a future article, perhaps in Myth Busting Part Three.  I closing off this installment I would like to point out that the little things matter.  It matters how experiments are carried out and there is a need for strict controls.  Even a miss-placed word runs the risk of polluting the way events and dates are perceived.  An example of such sloppy wording can be found in the documentary series “The Evolution of Evil” shown on the History Channel.  The particular episode dealt with Hideki Tojo, Japan’s infamous World War Two Prime Minister and Minister of War.  The documentary was attempting to set the stage for the political atmosphere of the 1930s and stated that Japan and the Soviet Union had been at war for a period of 200 years.  This statement would imply that the Soviet Union had been in existence since the 1730s.  They should have just said “Russia” or more accurately, “Russia and later on the Soviet Union”.  Small point?  Yes.  Sloppy writing, definitely.

 

Please stay tuned for Part 3, if you are still awake.

 

Regards

Brian

 

 

Brian Wolfe

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. 

 

 

 

 

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Regards

Brian

 

Brian Wolfe

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.

 

Happy collecting.

Regards

Brian

 

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Brian Wolfe

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Summary:

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Regards

 

Brian

 

 

 

 

Brian Wolfe

Winston Churchill, Britain’s Lion

Part three: In the Skies of Britain





“The Battle of France is over, I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.†– Winston Churchill, 18 June, 1940.

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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.

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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 Army’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 Germany’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.

“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender, 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 God’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 Churchill’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 “machine†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 “V 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,
“If the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts a thousand years, men will say, ‘This was their finest hour’â€.



Next month: The North Africa Campaign.

Brian

Brian Wolfe

Why can’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 wasn’t listening because I didn’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 “Old Country Restaurant†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. It’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 doesn’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 – 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 ketchup’s release from the effects of the bottle’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 you’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. “Yes lady you heard me correctly now get over it and piss off!†you think as you notice that kindly eighty year old lady looking your way in shock. You’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, “No quarter, you’re going down you glass vessel from the lowest bowels of Hell itself!!!!!†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, here’s tip. If you find yourself in one of these situations where the silence emulating from your significant other is almost “deafening†do not; I repeat, do not, turn on the radio.

And this, my friends, is why we can’t discuss politics on the forum.

Regards
Brian

Brian Wolfe

Winston Churchill, His Finest Hour



Part Two, On The Brink:



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.

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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.


Next month, the Battle of Britain.

Brian

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