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Berlin and National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day

Well, three weeks into Spring in the Great Lakes already. Wow, where did that time go? Probably in the mud of my backyard. If you like lawns, don’t have dogs in the winter.

The one signal event on 16 April in the year 1457 BC was Meggido, a battle on the plains of Armageddon in the modern Jezreel Valley that is the first documented battle–and the earliest objectively identified event–in human history; though we know that the Egyptians and the Canaanites that resulted in Egyptian success, we know little else for certain. We are much more certain, however, that the battle of Culloden, fought east of Inverness in Scotland on 16 April 1745, was the end of the Jacobite (Stuart) uprising and marked the beginning of the end of the religious wars that wracked Europe for two centuries. Also in Britain, on 16 April 1797, the Spithead Mutiny began near Portsmouth; the labor unrest (for that’s what it amounted to) was less a mutiny than it was a work stoppage or slowdown for men who were essentially treated like beasts and hadn’t had a pay raise since 1658. The idea spread throughout the fleet, eventually reaching the Caribbean, South Africa, and Australia before the last incident was settled in 1812.  Also on this day in 1867, aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright was born in Millville, Indiana; his younger brother Orville was born in 1871, and sister Katherine in 1874. Also on this day, befitting our lead article, Lucius Clay, one-time military governor of Berlin, died in Chatham, Massachusetts. It’s also National Bean Counter Day, National Orchid Day, and in the US, Income Tax Fatality Day. But today we’re talking about the horror of the battle of Berlin, and about PJs.

By the spring of 1945, Germany was thoroughly beaten but was hardly defenseless. The Soviets had hammered the Germans back to the Oder and Neisse rivers, within long-range artillery range of Berlin by mid-February, but the Soviets were so worn down that they needed time to regroup. As Budapest fell 13 February and securing East Prussia and the northern Baltic coast by mid-March, the Soviets rebuilt and regrouped their two and a half million men in three Fronts (army groups) under Gregori Zhukov, Konstantin Rokkosovsky, and Ivan Konev. The Germans, too, under Gotthard Heinrici and Ferdinand Schoener, marshaled what resources they could, some three-fourths of a million men bolstered by an unknown corps of schoolchildren, grandfathers, housewives and factory girls formed into ad-hoc units or were simply handed a mine and a Panzerfaust to await the Soviet onslaught that they knew would come sooner than later.

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Phase One, Seelowe Heights to Encirclement

On 16 April it began at the Seelowe Heights, where Zukov’s 1st Belorussian Front drove the Germans back for four days in the last truly pitched open battle of the war in Europe. Rokossovsky’s 2nd Belorussian Front pushed across the Oder, cutting Berlin off from the north. Konev’s 1st Ukranian pushed over the Niesse in the south, isolating Berlin from Schoener’s Southern Army Group. After four days, Berlin was cut off on three sides.

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German Counterattacks around Berlin, April to May 1945

It took no time at all for the Germans to start counterattacks, but the efforts were worse than tilting at windmills. By this time the Germans had Panzer divisions with no tanks, infantry divisions the size of 1939 battalions, and horse cavalry units hunting the roads and fields for the thousands of deserters. When Army Group Steiner, an ad-hoc formation with barely 30,000 men in a single corps, attacked the northern flank of the encirclement, they were beaten down in less than twenty hours, and out of fuel in thirty.

Water was miraculous if it still came out of a tap; electricity a memory; silence an illusion.

The encirclement of Berlin was a foregone conclusion, but the Nazi propaganda machine kept up the pace with claims of Soviet-American battles that would allow Germany to divide and conquer. The few people who actually heard these pronouncements and had time to think about them knew better. Inside Berlin, Soviet troops cleared the city block by block, in some cases room by room. The cacophony of noise, dust, and waves of concussion from the continual roaring of artillery and explosives made the fighters numb to any sensation other than fighting. Housewives found themselves trapped in cellars with antitank guns, passing ammunition to the long-since deaf gunners engaging Soviet tanks down rubble-blocked streets. Squads of children made games of running up to tanks with magnetic mines, of picking off Russian drivers in trucks. Water was miraculous if it still came out of a tap; electricity a memory; silence an illusion.

Altogether the Soviets would expend about a thousand men and women an hour for three months in the last battles in Germany.

By 30 April, the inner core of Fortress Berlin was a few blocks around the Reichstag, and those defenders had barely an evening’s ammunition left. After Hitler and Braun were dead and disposed of, the survivors of the inner circle killed themselves or dispersed as best they could, but most were captured or killed. Two days later, on 2 May 1945, the Berlin survivors stopped shooting. In two weeks the Soviets suffered some 81,000 killed and quarter million wounded fighting over Berlin; the Germans probably about 44,000 dead military and civilian casualties in the Berlin Defense Area itself, but from Seelowe Heights to the encirclement at least another 50,000. Altogether the Soviets would expend about a thousand men and women an hour for three months in the last battles in Germany.

For a more detailed description of the Battle for Berlin, you can see my essays in Russia At War, edited by Timothy Dowling (2015, ABC-CLIO) available at your library.

On a personal note, my mother-in-law was ten and living in Berlin when the Russians came in ’45. I have yet to get her to talk about it much. I might not want to talk about such a nightmare, either. I get it, Lucie.


For reasons unknown to humans, today is National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day. The thing was started, speculation holds, because traditionally it’s the day after income tax returns are due to be in the mail in the US, though this year they’re due today. While this fits the procrastinator’s explanation, those of us who try to not wait in line at the much-publicized mail cues at midnight don’t have the excuse. I rather doubt that the woman above waited in a line at the post office all night. Unless you’re working from home or in professions where more exposed skin means more money, I wouldn’t advise that anyone wear pajamas like this to the office:

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Beautiful, yes, but…appropriate for the office? Maybe not.

In all things, moderation, please. I would never recommend wearing pajamas, mostly because I don’t wear them at all. And what I wear to bed is none of your beeswax, buckaroo.

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Bataan, Churchill and National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day

9 April and the snow (hopefully) continues to recede. The ground is soft and muddy, and we all look forward to spring…sooner or later.

Early April is the beginning of the traditional campaign season in the Northern hemisphere, but this early, until the 20th century anyway, the horses still had limited long forage for at least another two weeks. So, there would be a few battles. But one event that didn’t require forage or timing was the death of the first Emperor of Japan to sit on the Yamato throne. Traditionally the Emperor Jimmu died on this day in 585 BC, and though solid sources for this singular event are non-existent, it is still observed in some places in Japan. A monarch we have better evidence for is Edward IV, the first Yorkist king of England, who died on 9 April 1483 in Westminster; of what we don’t know, but some sources, including Shakespeare, suspect it was his ambitious brother, who would rule England as Richard III as soon as he walked past another few coffins. Also on this day in 1731, a British merchant captain named Robert Jenkins lost an ear during a scuffle with Spanish authorities somewhere in the Caribbean; the resulting diplomatic dustup resulted in a conflict that, years after the conflict was over, got the funniest name on record–the War of Jenkin’s Ear. Also on this day in 1940, a far less amusingly-titled conflict expanded into traditionally neutral territory when Germany invaded Scandinavia, overwhelming Denmark in half a day and starting a two-month-long campaign that would see a third of Germany’s tiny navy destroyed. And on 9 April 2009, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles were wed in the Windsory Guildhall; rumors about premarital affairs and the like have never been put to rest, but does it really matter? Today is National Cherish an Antique Day, National Chinese Almond Cookie Day, and National Name Yourself Day (I can’t make these up). But today, we’re going to talk about the Philippine campaign of 1941-42, Winston Churchill, and prisoners of war.

Exactly why the Bataan strategy was still in place in 1941 is something of a mystery because it had been decades since the US had planned to relieve the Philippines once the war with Japan started. But it was the plan that was implemented.

The outline of Japan’s invasion of the Philippine archipelago will be familiar to many readers. On 8 December 1941, Japanese forces began to seize outlying islands of the big island of Luzon, landing troops there starting 10 December. By 14 December, the Japanese Fourteenth Army under Homma Masaharu of about 120,000 men began the offensive work of pushing Jonathan Wainwright’s Northern Luzon Force of no more than 25,000 mostly Philippine reservists stiffened by a handful of American Army regulars. The plan for the defense of the Philippines had been worked out years before by the commander of all Philippine and American ground forces in the archipelago, Douglas MacArthur. It was simply to deny the principal assets of Luzon, namely Subic Bay and Cavite, to any invader for as long as possible by holing up on the Bataan Peninsula. Exactly why the Bataan strategy was still in place in 1941 is something of a mystery because it had been decades since the US had planned to relieve the Philippines once the war with Japan started. But it was the plan that was implemented.

If Wainwright’s people hadn’t been starving, exhausted and short on ammunition, they might have broken the siege themselves.

By the first week in January 1942 the American withdrawal to Bataan was complete, and Japanese forces began to probe and scout the formidable American lines. Then, the Japanese high command, strapped for resources as always, began to strip both land and air forces from the Philippines, believing that the battle was all but won. Initial Japanese attacks were severely repulsed, and the Japanese timetable was set back first by days, then weeks. By the end of January Japanese forces in the siege lines of Bataan consisted of a single infantry brigade (three regiments, about 15,000 men) and three artillery battalions facing as many as 70,000 American and Filipino troops. If Wainwright’s people hadn’t been starving, exhausted and short on ammunition, they might have broken the siege themselves.

But now the Japanese had two significant problems: the prisoners outnumbered the Japanese forces still in Bataan, and there were four times as many of them as the Japanese had planned for. 

By late March the Japanese had built up to a bare parity with their foes on Bataan. The Americans, undaunted, patrolled aggressively and constantly, deceiving the Japanese as to how strong they were. In the first week in April, Japanese mobile units managed to outmaneuver and dislodge several strong points. By 9 April 1942, resistance on Bataan was at an end. Though hard numbers are hard to come by–and the Japanese didn’t bother to count–as many as 80,000 American and Filipino troops fell into Japanese hands. But now the Japanese had two significant problems: the prisoners outnumbered the Japanese forces still in Bataan, and there were four times as many of them as the Japanese had planned for.

Bushido has no defining text–no Bible or Koran–so it could be whatever someone says it is and had been since it was first rendered (never formalized) in the 15th century. Further, no one in Japan invoked Bushido as a justification for anything during the war.

While these issues do not excuse the brutality of the Bataan Death March of between 60 and 70 miles to the railhead and the train ride to Camp O’Donnell, the Japanese nonetheless had a series of problems that they lacked the resources to resolve. Again, disease and malnutrition saved Homma’s captors from being overwhelmed by their captives. Wartime and postwar accounts attribute most of the prisoner’s suffering to Japan’s Bushido code, but evidence for this simply does not exist. Bushido has no defining text–no Bible or Koran–so it could be whatever someone says it is and had been since it was first rendered (never formalized) in the 15th century. Further, no one in Japan invoked Bushido as a justification for anything during the war.

The IJA, for their part, lost so many China veterans in the Bataan battle that training suffered for the rest of the war.

The fall of Bataan on 9 April 1942, tragic as it was, was still a full three months behind the Japanese timetable. Homma, for his failure to stick to the timetable, was sidelined, then compelled to retire. After the war, he was tried in Manila for his failure to control his troops and was executed by firing squad 3 April 1946, nearly four years to the day after the fall of Bataan. The IJA, for their part, lost so many China veterans in the Bataan battle that training suffered for the rest of the war.

For more on Japan’s war in the Pacific, follow us at JDB Communications, LLC for the publication of Why the Samurai Lost: Japan at War late in 2018.


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Classic portrait of the Bulldog

Today is also Winston Churchill Day in the United States, and it is manifest upon me to explain why. Most Right Honorable Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, KG, OM, and EIEIO was made an honorary citizen on this day in 1963, the first of only eight honorary citizens of the US. It is also fitting that we recall that in October 1899 Churchill was captured by the Boers and put in a prison camp in Pretoria. Churchill and two others escaped in December, and Churchill was subsequently lionized in the press.

But today, too, is National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day, proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. As we recognize the Bataan survivors (maybe half survived the war) and Churchill and others, notably Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain who spent five years in Vietnamese captivity, we need to recall that prisoners of war are simultaneously helpless victims of their captors and additional burdens on them. While the definitions for “prisoner of war” are only recently formulated, PWs throughout history have always been subject to the fortunes and whims of their captors. In WWII, American flyers were sometimes executed by the Japanese; Germans captured by the Soviets were treated with benign neglect and died in droves; Soviets captured by the Germans were frequently worked to death. While Allied prisoners in German hands were never given the kind of treatment depicted in Hogan’s Heros, they didn’t have the kind of escape network that typified Allied wartime entertainments. In all they were just, as Churchill quoted above, just people caught by circumstances into situations beyond their control.

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USS Hornet and National Reconciliation Day

April already? Wow, what happened to winter? Oh, yeah, a new furnace, a busted toe while chopping ice, and another year on the roof. That’s what happened to winter. But hey, yesterday was Easter, so spring is just around the corner…for most of us in the Northern Hemisphere; you down south, yep, winter’s just around the corner.

So, 2 April. Charlemagne, king of Franks and Lombards and Holy Roman Emperor (at the time about half the known world) was born somewhere in Frankia (part of modern France) on 2 April 742. On this day in 1513, Ponce de Leon landed somewhere between modern St. Augustine and Melbourne Beach and claimed Florida (“land of flowers” in Spanish) for his masters in Spain. And on 2 April 1865, the Confederate forces under Robert E. Lee were forced out of their defenses at Petersburg, Virginia; that night, the Confederate government broke up and fled south, making the Southern Confederacy a dead issue. Also on this day in 1872 Samuel FB Morse, the guy with the keys and the code, died in New York.  On 2 April 1917, Jeanette Rankin first assumed her seat in the US House of Representatives, the same day that Woodrow Wilson asked the Congress for a declaration of war against Germany: she would vote against it. Speaking of wars, the Falklands Islands Crisis/Conflict/War began on this day in 1982 when Argentina invaded the islands. Today is also National Ferret Day and National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day. But today, we’re talking about the Doolittle Raid, and about reconciliation.

On 2 April 1942, USS Hornet (CV-8) departed San Francisco on what looked like a ferry mission to somewhere in the Pacific. Her decks were crowded with sixteen B-25 medium bombers and, as everyone knew, those airplanes were too large to be recovered on a carrier deck, even if they could take off. Therefore, it had to have been a ferry mission: even the bomber crews half-believed it. Well…

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B-25 Mitchell medium bomber said to be that of Doolittle himself, launching 18 April 1942, from USS Hornet.

James Doolittle and his little band of bombers had intended to launch about 500 miles east of the Japanese Home Islands on about 18 or 19 April, but their plan was foiled by a picket line of Japanese vessels that included fishing boats and a 70-ton patrol craft Nitto Maru. that the US didn’t know anything about before they literally ran into them on 18 April. The intention was to have the B-25s bomb Japan, then fly on to join Claire Chennault’s airmen in China, but most of them wouldn’t make it that far.

What radars there were in Japan, and a bulk of the air observers were watching for a sneak attack from mainland Asia to the north and west, not from the sea to the east.

The true story here isn’t the well-known Doolittle Raid, but the lesser-well-known Japanese preparations for such attacks, the Japanese response to the attacks, and what happened afterward. Japan, unlike most histories of WWII say, was ready for an attack on the Home Islands, but not from the sea. Most Home Island air defenses were oriented to detect and intercept an attack from the Soviet Union. What radars there were in Japan, and a bulk of the air observers were watching for a sneak attack from mainland Asia to the north and west, not from the sea to the east.

The brave patrol boat Nitto Maru got its warning off just before one of the Hornet’s escorting cruisers, USS Nashville (CL-43), sank her with gunfire, capturing four of the crew.

But the air defense of the islands was an Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) responsibility, and the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) felt it imperative to watch the seaward side of the islands. The IJN set up their cordons from 400 to 750 statute miles away from Japan, calculating that the first line would detect an aircraft carrier strike at least two days before any attack could be undertaken. The brave patrol boat Nitto Maru got its warning off just before one of the Hornet’s escorting cruisers, USS Nashville (CL-43), sank her with gunfire, capturing four of the crew.

Therefore, when Tokyo received the message from the patrol line, they believed they had at least a day before any air attacks could be mounted.

But the warning didn’t say that Hornet was carrying twin-engined bombers, if indeed Nitto Maru saw them (the record isn’t clear). In addition, only one aircraft carrier in Task Force 16 was spotted, probably USS Enterprise (CV-6), which carried no bombers.  Therefore, when Tokyo received the message from the patrol line, they believed they had at least a day before any air attacks could be mounted.

When the first of the Doolittle Raiders were spotted over Japan’s eastern coast at about 11:00 Tokyo time, the spotting stations were told that what they were seeing simply had to be a large formation of birds.

The defenses of Japan were commanded by Higashikuni Naruhiko, an Imperial prince, career IJA officer and uncle-in-law to the Showa Emperor Hirohito. Higashikuni was a capable officer but lacked imagination. Though he was aware of the limitations of Japan’s homeland defense, he, like most of the IJA, felt that a serious attack on the Home Islands could not be mounted from aircraft carriers. On the morning of 18 April, he was alerted to the presence of at least one aircraft carrier at the outer limit of the early warning cordon (that the IJN had told the IJA about just that morning), but was assured by his staff that no air attack was to be expected before the next day. However, IJN officers familiar with US aircraft carrier doctrine were not sanguine that there was only one American carrier in the task force. When the first of the Doolittle Raiders were spotted over Japan’s eastern coast at about 11:00 Tokyo time, the spotting stations were told that what they were seeing simply had to be a large formation of birds.

 Japan’s resources were so thin that no Japanese radar even by 1945 was as accurate, powerful, or rugged at Allied units dating from 1940.

About ten minutes before the first bombs dropped, the warning sirens started going off, and the intercepting fighters were launched. The antiaircraft batteries opened fire soon thereafter. It was obvious that day that neither the Ki-27 fighters that were used for homeland defense nor the 75 mm antiaircraft guns without target predictors that made up a bulk of the batteries were adequate even against these low and fairly slow threats. The Nates (Allied code name) simply didn’t have the firepower, and the 75 mm’s lacked range and power over large aircraft. These inadequacies were addressed as quickly and as simply as Japan’s resources could, but one consequence was that the numerous 75 mm anti-aircraft guns were shipped out to defend island outposts, and often were turned into ground defense weapons. More work on radar did improve the early warning network somewhat, but Japan’s resources were so thin that no Japanese radar even by 1945 was as accurate, powerful, or rugged at Allied units dating from 1940.

The strengthening of the Home Island defenses was expensive enough; the ships, planes, and men that would be expended for the rest of 1942 on islands that meant nothing to Japan but everything to the Allies would be the beginning of Japan’s downward spiral to ultimate defeat.

But the most serious consequence of the Doolittle Raid on Japan was the outrage and overreaction to that military pinprick that caused the old Eastern Operation (Midway and Hawaii) and Expanded Southern Operation (Solomons Islands and Northern Australia) to be dusted off again, and sparse resources used to stretch the frontiers of the Empire even further beyond the sustainable limits. The strengthening of the Home Island defenses was expensive enough; the ships, planes, and men that would be expended for the rest of 1942 on islands that meant nothing to Japan but everything to the Allies would be the beginning of Japan’s downward spiral to ultimate defeat.

Why the Samurai Lost, available at the end of 2018, goes into more detail on the thought processes that brought Japan to its destruction. Follow us at https://JDBCOM.COM for more information.


Today is also National Reconciliation Day in the United States, a completely unofficial observance in America. In South Africa, Reconciliation Day has been observed on 16 December since 1994 and the end of apartheid. In Australia, Reconciliation Day will be observed in the Capital Territory for the first time on 26 May 2018. In South Africa, the “reconciliation” was to correct decades of injustice under a predominantly white rule. In Australia, the effort is aimed at a recognition and remembrance of the abuses suffered by the indigenous Australian population since the European colonization of the island continent since the late 19th century.

Reconciliation in accounting and banking suggests a balancing of the books. In the Catholic faith, it’s related to Confirmation. In most contexts, the concept of reconciliation suggests a process or act of making up differences. In Australia and South Africa, this process has had definite racial and political overtones.

The idea of a National Reconciliation Day in the US was popularized by the popular newspaper columnist Ann Landers beginning in 1989 and carried on in her columns until her death in 2002. Landers urged readers to try to repair broken relationships on 2 April every year. The success of her efforts, however, are unknowable. Still, the goal is noble. I’ve had my share of broken relationships in my time, but most of those people who I’ve been alienated from are gone now. Hard to reconcile with ghosts, or with the memory of them.

 

 

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Komandorski Islands and Epilepsy Awareness Day

Oh, good, March is ending, the sooner the better. Snow melting into mud puddles faster than spit on a skillet…or at least I hope so. Looking forward to the spring cleanup and some relief from my furnace running all the time.

On 26 March we’ve got a lot of things going on. Conrad II was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1027, beginning a dynasty that would include Charlemagne. English forces captured Bombay (Mumbai) on the coast of India on 26 March 1668, beginning three centuries of colonization on the subcontinent. Herman Haupt, the railroad genius of the American Civil War, was born in Philadelphia on 26 March 1817. The battle of Glorietta Pass began in what is now New Mexico on 26 March 1862, between 1,300 Union and 1,100 Confederate troops, sometimes dubbed the “Gettysburg of the West.” William Westmoreland. who would command MACV during the Tet offensive and later be Chief of Staff of the US Army, was born on this day in 1914. Jonas Salk announced his polio vaccine on this day in 1953. And, on this day in 2005, James Callaghan, who had served Great Britain from 1945 to 1987, died at his home in Surrey. But today we talk about a decisive battle at sea that few have heard of, and an insidious medical condition that many know of but few know about.

At the far reaches of the North Pacific, the US and Japan dueled over the control of the Aleutian Islands for a little over a year. Though the Japanese captured Attu and Kiska easily in 1942, the Americans had other things on their plates for most of that year, leaving the Japanese more or less unmolested except for the occasional air raid. By early 1943, with a great deal more ships and men available, the US presence in Alaska was greatly enhanced. In March 1943, the Americans became aware that the Japanese were planning a resupply convoy, and a six-ship task force was sent to intercept it. The Japanese knew that eventually, the Americans would try to wrest their Aleutian conquests away from them, but felt it imperative that their toehold on American soil be preserved. To preserve their position, Japan sent a six-ship task force under Hosogawa Boshiro to escort the three transports carrying reinforcements and supplies to the garrisons on Attu and Kiska.

Though there were no clouds there was a great deal of fog, the temperature was below freezing and the sea was glass-flat: the combatants would spend most of their time dodging  between packs of ice-fog.

Before sunrise on 26 March 1943* the US task force of USS Salt Lake City (CA-25), Richmond (CL-9), Coughlan (DD-606), Bailey (DD-492), Dale (DD-553) and Monahagn (DD-534) were in a scouting line when they made radar contact with the tail end of the Japanese convoy. The sea conditions were, to put it mildly, unusual. Though there were no clouds there was a great deal of fog, the temperature was below freezing and the sea was glass-flat: the combatants would spend most of their time dodging between packs of ice-fog. After a little more than an hour of maneuvering and reacting to each other’s maneuvers, Japanese light cruiser Nachi opened fire on Richmond a few minutes after dawn at 0800. Richmond, Salt Lake City, Bailey, and Coughlan opened fire on Nachi, scoring four hits between them and crippling her. Soon, Japanese heavy cruiser Maya started firing on Salt Lake City, scoring six hits in two and a half hours, crippling her. at the end of the fighting, Bailey launched torpedoes but missed. Bailey and Coughlan were hit by Maya. After this, the Japanese, with the weather clearing and fearing an American air attack, retired to the west just after noon. For all the shooting and maneuvering in the four-hour gunfight, no ships were sunk and there were less than fifty casualties combined.

The out-gunned and outfought American task force, by luck, doomed the Attu and Kiska garrisons to starvation.

There’s been some speculation about the Komandorski Islands fight over the years, specifically on how the Americans seem to have won even though they got the worst of it. But Hosogawa never got another sea command. The Komandorski Islands battle is notable for many reasons: it was surface action fought entirely in daylight, and with no active air or submarine participation on either side. Torpedoes, though launched by both sides, were not even a factor. But as a result, the Japanese, having suffered catastrophic destroyer casualties in the South Pacific, dared not try another surface convoy. The out-gunned and outfought American task force, by luck, doomed the Attu and Kiska garrisons to starvation.

* The battle is often dated 27 March, but the US Navy used the date in Hawaii which is on the other side of the IDL, making it 26 March to the USN.


Today is Epilepsy Awareness Day, begun in 2008 by Cassidy Megan of Nova Scotia to increase awareness of this insidious condition. Wearing purple, in theory, is supposed to make public the tragedy of the wide range of disorders known as epilepsy.

The young lady at the top is only one of the best-known sufferers of epilepsy, a neurological disorder that can either be acquired or the result of some birth defects. Known throughout recorded history, it’s been called the Sacred Disease or the Noble Disease in part because genetic roots ran in intermarried families. Famous epileptics include Fyodor Dostoyevski, Edgar Allen Poe, Neil Young, Vladimir Lenin, Theodore Roosevelt, and Florence Griffith-Joyner (who died as a result of a seizure) and hundreds of others. It may have affected Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte. But because of the stigma attached, well-known sufferers, including Socrates, hid their conditions, while others were condemned and locked away, while others were hanged or burned as being possessed by evil spirits.

Most people have at least seen an epileptic episode (mistakenly called “fits”) on TV or in a movie at least once. But most episodes come and go without notice to any but the sufferers. One friend described most of his petit-mals (small seizure, as opposed to a gran-mal that is impossible to hide) as not unlike a short nap. One other sufferer, a childhood friend of the family who died in a seizure-related accident, described even her small seizures as jolting as getting an electric shock.

While I do not suffer from the condition myself I have known those who have, and more than once helped people suffering events related. While I don’t think that wearing a color would change anything–ribbon-weariness being the issue–I do think that public awareness that the condition is neither contagious or (usually) dangerous to others is a good thing. So, take a few seconds to at least become aware that epileptics are neither dangerous nor worthy of scorn, as people discovered in 2016 when Marie Ventrone (above) was chosen as Miss New Jersey.

 

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USS Franklin and National Let’s Laugh Day

Well, now, March is nearly over, and in the Great Lakes, there should be signs of spring: dirty snow piles everywhere dripping into mud. That and more road construction.

So, on 19 March there’s a whole pile of stuff that happened. In 1524 Giovanni de Verrazano landed on the Carolina coast. In 1536 Anne Bolyne went to the chopping block for the crime of not providing a male heir for Henry VIII. In 1629, Alexi Romanov was born in Moscow, who would become tsar in 1645 at the age of 17. Richard Burton (no, not that one) was born on 19 March 1821 in England: he would be credited with discovering the source of the Nile and translating The Arabian Nights into English. On this day in 1865, the last major attack by a Confederate Army in the American Civil War was carried out at Bentonville, North Carolina; the intent was to delay Sherman’s pursuit of the remnant of the Army of Tennessee, which succeeded for perhaps an afternoon. Adolf Galland was born in Germany on this day in 1912; Galland would be the last commander of the Luftwaffe’s fighter arm. On 19 March 1982 Argentina landed troops on South Georgia island, sparking the Falklands Islands War. And on this day in 2008, Arthur C. Clarke, British science fiction author, died in Sri Lanka. Today is also National Certified Nurses Day (and these first-responders need a week of their own) and National Poetry Day (for reasons surpassing understanding).  But today we’re talking about a flattop, and about laughing.

The Essex-class aircraft carriers were some of the largest warships afloat in 1944. Displacing 32,000 tons and over 820 feet long overall, twenty-four of the vessels were commissioned, making them the largest class of capital ships entering service in the 20th century. USS Franklin (CV-13), nicknamed “Big Ben” for being named after Benjamin Franklin, was laid down on 7 December 1942 and commissioned 31 January 1944. With a complement of over 2,600 officers and men and shipping as many as 100 aircraft, Big Ben was a potent addition to the Pacific Fleet when she joined Task Group 58.2 off the Marianas at the end of June 1944.

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Design Plan for Essex Class Aircraft Carriers, ca 1941

Off Pelilieu on 13 September, Franklin was struck by a Japanese aircraft abaft of the island. Sometimes called a kamikaze, this was two months before the first organized suicide plane campaign off the Philippines. It may be a case of what Japanese pilots called “belly-crashing” where a hopelessly damaged aircraft was intentionally crashed into a target. The Americans had seen such attacks as early as February 1942.

 

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Franklin and USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24) off Samar

 

After providing support for the Leyte and Luzon landings, Franklin was struck by two more apparent kamikazes off Samar on 30 October. This time, the Navy declared that Big Ben had suffered enough to warrant a trip home. She arrived at Bremerton, Washington on 28 November 1944, and was under repair until her departure on 2 February 1945. On 15 March 1945, Franklin joined Task Force 58 for a series of attacks on the Japanese Home Islands of Kyushu and Honshu.

 

USS_Santa_Fe_(CL-60)_fighting_fires_aboard_the_burning_USS_Franklin_(CV-13)_on_19_March_1945_(80-G-373734)
Franklin and Santa Fe

 

On 19 March 1945, Big Ben was fifty miles off Kyushu, closer than any American aircraft carrier had ever been to Japan during the war. Before daybreak, a Japanese dive bomber put two 550-pound semi-armor-piercing bombs through the flight deck, which set off some 47 armed and fueled aircraft both on the deck and in the after hanger. Gasoline vapor also set of a dozen Tiny Tim air-to-surface rockets. Accounts differ as to whether the attacker escaped or not.

300px-D4Y3_pulling_up
Yokosuka D4Y Judy dive bomber; may have been the type that attacked Franklin

Regardless of the fate of the Japanese dive bomber, the explosions knocked out electrical power, set Franklin on fire from midships aft on four decks, and forced the task force’s admiral to shift his flag. On his way off the ship, Ralph Davison suggested that her skipper, Leslie Gehres, abandon and scuttle Franklin. Gehres refused as long as there were men trapped belowdecks. For six hours the crew battled the infernal blazes that threatened the magazines, which couldn’t be flooded because of the damage to the electrical system. Crewmen blown overboard were recovered by destroyers and USS Santa Fe (CL-60) alongside as more ships came to the assistance of the listing Franklin. Because she carried nearly 10% more weight in ammunition, aircraft, and armor than her hull was designed for, reserve buoyancy was low, and Big Ben looked for all the world as if she was going down by the stern with a 13-degree list.

220px-Attack_on_carrier_USS_Franklin_19_March_1945
Franklin, listing and down at the stern. The crewmen on deck are non-essentials awaiting evacuation

Finally, it was decided that Big Ben was worth saving, and she was taken under tow by USS Pittsburg (CA-72) until she could move under her own power. Franklin then proceeded to the Brooklyn Navy Yard via Ulithi and Pearl Harbor, arriving there 28 April 1945. She was still under repair when the war ended, and never saw active service again. Big Ben was sold for scrap in 1966. The number of casualties suffered in the attack and the subsequent fire ranges from just over 700 to more than 800: Franklin had the highest casualty total of any surviving US Navy warship in WWII save Arizona.


LaughingDogs
Dogs…go figure

Today is also National Let’s Laugh Day, for reasons no one knows but, who cares? Laughter, the instant vacation (Milton Berle), the human race’s really effective weapon (Mark Twain), the best medicine unless you’re laughing for no reason–then you need medicine. Whatever it is the two lovely ladies on top are laughing about, let’s all take some time for laughter with someone we love.

And I’ll give you this to take along:

Any person who makes others laugh, even if for no reason,

is worthy of being loved.

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Sun Yat Sen and National Girl Scout Day

So, 12 March, and the snow–hopefully–isn’t piling up above the sills anymore in the Great Lakes. By now those of us who don’t do winter sports and live on corner lots with fireplug responsibilities are just done with it.

But a lot of things happened on 12 March. The Ostrogoth siege of Rome ended on this day in 538: it only lasted ten days, and the Ostrogoths retreated. The first mention of a Gutenberg Bible was recorded in a letter from Enea Silvio Bartolomeo Piccolomini (the future Pope Pius II) on 12 March 1455: though exact dates are unclear, he had probably seen a copy of the first book printed in Europe with flexible metal type as early as the previous year. Koriki Kiyonaga, a daimyo who fought for the Tokugawas in the wars that ended in 1600, died in Japan on this day in 1608: the circumstances of his death are still controversial. John Worden, US naval officer who was the first skipper of USS Monitor, was born on this day in Mt Plesant, New York in 1818: his long naval career started when he was just sixteen. On 12 March 1910, armored cruiser Georgios Averoff was launched in Italy: built for the Royal Hellenic (Greek) Navy, she is now a floating museum and the last surviving vessel of her type in the world. On this day in 1933, President-Elect Franklin D. Roosevelt broadcast the first of six “fireside chats” that he used to reassure the country after its severe economic downturn, then in its fourth year: the worst of the Great Depression was yet to come. The US voting age was lowered to 18 on this day in 1970, much to the consternation of many: the reelection of Nixon in 1972 reassured the conservatives that the liberal “wave” was not led by teen voters. And on 12 March 1999 Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined the NATO alliance, much to the consternation of Russia: the West was now a day’s drive closer to Moscow. Today is also, for some unaccountable reason, National Plant A Flower Day: go to it if you have a mind. Bht today we’re talking about Chinese revolutionaries, and about Girl Scouts.

When the powerful Dowager Empress Cixi died in 1908, the time was ripe for revolution.

Late 19th century China was a victim of Euro-American expansionism, and of technology gone wild. While Britain and France vied for empire in India in the 18th century, the Russian Empire continued to consolidate its far eastern holdings on the borders of Manchuria. Steam-powered ships and the demands for expanding markets led to conflicts within China over the coming of the Europeans, and the Opium Wars didn’t help. “Extraterritoriality” demands after these conflicts were impossible for the hapless Qing Dynasty which, though it knew it had to modernize, could not overcome its internal influences. A disastrous war with Japan in 1894 and another with most of Europe in 1900 led to even more foreign troops and influences on Chinese society.  When the powerful Dowager Empress Cixi died in 1908, the time was ripe for revolution.

Though the Wuchang Revolution failed, it inspired others that fired up all over China and is traditionally the beginning of the Xinhai Revolution.

By then there were literally scores of groups, societies, and organizations willing to start something, somewhere. Their goals ranged from simply anarchy to a whole new republic, and their methods from a peaceful transition to calls for mass murder. On 10 October 1911, a violent protest over a railway protection plan in Wuchang exploded into civil war. Though the Wuchang Revolution failed, it inspired others that fired up all over China and is traditionally the beginning of the Xinhai Revolution.

It would be another three months before the Qing dynasty would finally cede power to the new government in Nanking, and Sun Yat-Sen, who had spent most of his adult life out of the country, was the leader of the most populous state on earth.

After weeks of riots, battles, protests, massacres, and arguments over precedents, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen was elected president of a Chinese Republic on 29 December 1911, even though the Chinese United League to which he belonged controlled only part of the county. The Republic of China was proclaimed on 1 January 1912 when Sun Yat-Sen was sworn in. It would be another three months before the Qing dynasty would finally cede power to the new government in Nanking, and Sun Yat-Sen, who had spent most of his adult life out of the country, was the leader of the most populous state on earth.

By cooperating with the Communist Party of China the KMT restored themselves to power in Nanking by 1921, but China was so severely factionalized that Manchuria was, for all intents and purposes, a separate country, an administrative fact that Japan would exploit.

But Sun was not to lead for long. On 10 March 1912, he resigned his post as president in favor of Yuan Shikai, who had been the last emperor and could control the many royalists better than an intellectual could. Sun became the president of the Nationalist Party of China, better known as the Kuomintang, or KMT. Soon, though, Yuan was plotting a return to the monarchy, broke up the KMT and exiled Sun to Japan. Another revolution was followed by another return to China in 1919. By cooperating with the Communist Party of China the KMT restored themselves to power in Nanking by 1921, but China was so severely factionalized that Manchuria was, for all intents and purposes, a separate country, an administrative fact that Japan would exploit.

On Taiwan Sun Yat-Sen is revered as the father of the Republic; in China, he is politely recognized as an early opponent of the monarchy.

By 1925 Sun Yat-Sen, by then 58 years old, was dying of liver cancer. Radium and traditional treatments failed, and on 12 March 1925, he died in Bejing. Sun Yat-Sen’s legacy in China is mixed. While he is hailed as the leader who overthrew the monarchy, Sun Yat-Sen is also the founder of the political party who opposed the Reds for nearly 20 years. On Taiwan Sun Yat-Sen is revered as the father of the Republic; in China, he is politely recognized as an early opponent of the monarchy.


Today, 12 March, is also the anniversary of the founding of the Girl Scouts of America by Juliet Gordon Low in Savanah, Georgia in 1912. The Girl Scouts do more than sell cookies and make S’mores: they have always been an organization that encourages and trains young women to lead productive lives. They do this by encouraging them to learn about traditional crafts, but also, yes, to sell cookies. Such activities build confidence and prepare them to learn even more. Merit badges are a big part of the scouting life, and there are few activities, from cooking and sewing to running a business and space exploration, that girls cannot earn a merit badge or an award for.

 

Salt Lake Tribune, 2017
The future of Scouting

 

There’s some question about the future of scouting in America. Recent court rulings and policy changes in the Boy Scouts signal that a merger of the two organizations will happen in the not-distant future. With girls joining the Boy Scouts imminently, there has been a great deal of discussion about how this might impact either or both organizations. It must be pointed out, however, that like combat arms jobs in the military, just because girls can join the Boy Scouts, there will likely be precious few who actually do. I can see that, yes, the two organizations can join together, but that there will still be boys’ troops and girls’ troops that may be together from time to time: at certain stages of their lives, the two genders just won’t mix well, no matter what the social engineers want.

In the interest of full disclosure, my sisters were Girl Scouts, and my mother was a Scout leader. I was in Scouting all the way to the Order of the Arrow. While we rarely had anything to do with any Girl Scouts officially in the ’60s and ’70s, we occasionally did, and the interactions were, well, teenage-appropriate as long as the grownups were around. But the weather was usually cold as I recall, and–let’s just say that what everyone’s afraid of just didn’t happen.

I’d prefer that young men and women were allowed to fail in the company of other young men and women before they have to learn to deal with failure in the adult world among members of the biologically-verifiable opposite sex who they may seek the favor of in future. It’s a lot scarier then, regardless of how many genders and sexual orientations someone may demand the UN to recognize.

 

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Death of Stalin and National Absinthe Day

Well, what’ya know? March. Still winter, still snowing in the Great Lakes, probably. But, the world still turns. This is short today because I have snow to shovel in mid-January, and a schedule to keep.

But 5 March is to be commemorated for many things, among them Henry VII of England commissioning John Cabot to explore the new world on 5 March 1498, which by sheer coincidence would be mapped by Gerardus Mercator, who was born in Belgium on the same day in 1512. And speaking of the world and its shape (sort of), Nicolaus Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus was placed on the Codex of the Vatican’s forbidden works on 5 February 1616. The first American temperance law was passed in Virginia on 5 March 1623. On 5 March 1836, Samuel Colt made his first pistol, the “Texas” model. On 5 March 1933, the NSDAP came out on top in the last German elections before 1954; on the same day, the forerunner of IBM was formed in New York. And today is also Cheese Doodle Day, and National Split Personality Day (for whatever reason). But today we’re going to talk about a monster and some really potent booze.

There’s been a great deal written about Stalin…a great deal more after his 5 March 1853 death. One of the most extraordinary things about his legacy is that he may have lived a few more years if he hadn’t been so feared in his lifetime. After 1950 his physical health was deteriorating, and, according to some, so was his mental state. He spent most of 1950 and 1951 on vacation. In 1952 one of his doctors suggested he retire, which started a purge of the medical profession in the Soviet Union until his death. However, he seemed to realize that he was on his last legs in 1952: his last book, The Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, was an attempt to provide guidance for the Soviet Union after his death.

On 1 March 1953, some of his staff found Stalin on the floor of his cottage, unconscious. No one had seen or heard from him for three days before that, but no one had the courage to knock on his door: he may have had his stroke days earlier, and might have been saved. His surviving children were summoned to his death-couch, witnessing the administration of various medicaments and leeches. Stalin never woke up and died on 5 March 1953. He was embalmed and shown off for three days in Red Square. An autopsy half two and a half months later revealed severe atherosclerosis. There have been rumors that he was assassinated, but he was so sick any such effort would have been pointless, and even paranoid Russia never looked for any potential murderers.


Today is National Absinthe Day in the United States, legalized again in the US in 2007. The National day is 5 March because Pernod, one of several vendors, finalized its label on this day in 2014. Go figure.

Anyway, for those of you who don’t know, absinthe is a thick distilled high-alcohol content spirit made from wormwood and anise, among other things. It was banned in much of the world for some time beginning in the early 20th century, its supposedly addictive and even psychoactive properties being held as dangerous. The stuff is usually poured over sugar on a “spoon” that is more properly called a sieve (see above) and lit, merely to heat it.

Personally, I’ve never had it, but I have seen it consumed, and I have to say…so what? Liquor doesn’t appeal to me much, anyway, and if you have to add sugar just to make it palatable (as aficionados have it), um…what makes it so wonderful?

Eh, different strokes, I guess. Come around and see us at JDBCOM.COM sometime.

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26 February Incident and National Tell A Fairy Tale Day

This is the end of February, when the last snowstorms leave their wet, heavy loads in the Great Lakes…with luck, the last of the winter. Or not.

But 28 February tells us much about the state of the world today. Valentinian I, the last to rule a united Roman Empire, was born on this day in 364. The Inquisition in Rome delivered Galileo Galilei their demand he recant his announced heliocentric beliefs on 26 February 1616. Napoleon escaped from Elba on this day in 1815, starting the Hundred Days that would end in Belgium. Levi Strauss, developer of the popular denim trousers in the US, was born on 26 February 1829 in Germany. Husband E. Kimmel, hapless commander of the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in 1941, was born on this day in Kentucky in 1882. Richard J Gatling, inventor of the first successful automatic weapon, died in New York on 26 February 1902. Also on this day in 1935, the German Luftwaffe was formed in Germany and radar was first demonstrated in England: how’s that for irony. Today is also National Pistachio Day for whatever reason. But today we’re talking about a coup in Japan, and about fairy tales.

Though the national armed forces took on the duties of the old domains, the role of the old warrior traditions and its complex-but-unstated bushido code was, with the advent of parliamentary government, becoming more subordinate to non-royal masters. 

It’s impossible to talk about the 26 February Incident in 1936 without first talking about what had happened in Japan for the previous three generations: if I did, it would make no sense. Ever since the first Westerners began to compel Japan to open their ports and markets (first the Americans, then the Russians, followed by the British, and finally the French) in the mid-19th century, there had been a steady tension among the warrior caste, called samurai. Though the Meiji Emperor supposedly abolished the samurai traditions in Japan in the 1870s, it was impossible to just wipe out centuries of tradition, attitudes and class division with a single stroke, or even with a war (in this case there were two wars or major revolts). Though the national armed forces took on the duties of the old domains, the role of the old warrior traditions and its complex-but-unstated bushido code was, with the advent of parliamentary government, becoming more subordinate to non-royal masters.

…the IJA was relatively resource-poor compared to the IJN, which created even more resentment.

By the early 20th century, with the creation of the Kwantung Army in Manchuria, hotheads in the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) had begun to prosetlyze among the junior officers the idea of an imperial “restoration,” where the emperor would eliminate the parliamentary government and restore the samurai to their rightful place in Japan, and imposing “morality”–theirs–on Japan for its own good. These hotheads got promoted, of course, and scattered throughout the IJA. The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), however, was not quite as radical about their view of Japan, mostly because they worked closely with the government to get the material they wanted, which the IJA never did. As a result, the IJA was relatively resource-poor compared to the IJN, which created even more resentment.

The Imperial Way was led by an IJA general named Sadao Araki; Control by a former Kwantung Army officer named Tojo Heideki. 

Starting in 1928, a number of violent “incidents” from knife attacks to shootings were perpetrated by the myriad factions and groups within the IJA against other factions and groups or just people who disagreed with or criticized them in public. Many of the incidents were passed of without too much notice, the perpetrators receiving light punishment if they got any at all. By 1936, two factions emerged. The first called itself the Imperial Way, that advocated the abolition of the Diet and all political parties, repudiation of all international treaties, an end to compulsory education and the banishment of “western” learning, complete annexation of Manchuria, prohibition of Christianity, and the immediate seizure of the entirety of China. The other, much looser faction called itself Control, that supported some of the Imperial Way’s ideals but not how to get them. The Imperial Way was led by an IJA general named Sadao Araki; Control by a former Kwantung Army officer named Tojo Heideki.

The conspirators would murder their worst enemies in lightning moves across the Tokyo prefecture on 16 February, and invite the Showa Emperor Hirohito to take charge of Japan, just as they imagined his grandfather, the Meiji Emperor, had in 1867 (he really didn’t).

By early 1936, it was plain that the rule of law was–at least for the moment–suspended in Japan when it came to what the neo-samurai did to each other and their opponents. An order moving the IJA’s 1st Infantry Division out of Japan and to Manchuria in early February 1936 would have displaced and dispersed too many Imperial Way adherents away from the levers of power and influence, so a coup was planned. The conspirators would murder their worst enemies in lightning moves across the Tokyo prefecture on 16 February, and invite the Showa Emperor Hirohito to take charge of Japan, just as they imagined his grandfather, the Meiji Emperor, had in 1867 (he really didn’t).

They missed several other of their enemies, but also managed to disrupt the Asahi Shimbun, a liberal newspaper that the Righteous Army considered un-Japanese, and failed in their attempt to seize the Imperial Palace.

The coup started in the predawn hours of 26 February 1936 in Tokyo by an ad hoc group styling itself the Righteous Army, with part of the 1st Infantry Division taking part by capturing the Ministry of War and the Tokyo Police Department headquarters. In the meantime, the conspirators attempted to kill the Prime Minister, Okada Keisuke, but mistook him for his brother-in-law, who was shot to death. They also killed Takahashi Korekiyo, Finance Minister at the time who had been a Prime Minister, and Watanabe Jōtarō, the Inspector General of Military Education who had been a War Minister. They missed several other of their enemies, but also managed to disrupt the Asahi Shimbun, a liberal newspaper that the Righteous Army considered un-Japanese, and failed in their attempt to seize the Imperial Palace.

…in 1941 the Righteous Army finally got one of its demands granted: all political parties in Japan were merged into one IJA-controlled organization–the Imperial Rule Assistance Association–by Tojo Heideki, one of the leaders of Control.

The Showa Emperor was told of the violence early in the morning, and was never sympathetic to the Righteous Army’s goals as stated in the numerous pamphlets scattered around Tokyo. But there were factions in both the IJA and the IJN that both supported and opposed the uprising, though few others openly participated. Without additional support the coup was at a stalemate by dark on 26 February. It would be resolved on 28 February by a personal command from the Emperor. A bulk of the conspiracy’s leaders were arrested and tried for everything from murder to noblesse oblige, resulting in the execution of nineteen officers, prison terms and fines for scores of others. Several others not directly involved, including Sadao, were compelled to either resign or retire. This was the last of hundreds of incidents, and the end of the Imperial Way. Control, which no longer had a need to exist, also broke up. However, in 1941 the Righteous Army finally got one of its demands granted: all political parties in Japan were merged into one IJA-controlled organization–the Imperial Rule Assistance Association–by Tojo Heideki, one of the leaders of Control.


And then there’s National Tell a Fairy Tale Day, and that falls on 26 February every year. No one seems quite sure why it’s today, but there it is. Fairy tales, as we all know, were not originally intended to be for children, as most of them were quite dark. The Brothers Grimm, who collected a number of them for the first published book of fairy tales first published in 1812, referred to them as Children’s and Household Tales that included textual analysis and known origins. The first volume contained 86 of them; the second volume of 1815 contained 70. Eventually there would be 170 collected stories in there volumes, most originating in German folklore but, in the nature of storytelling, these easily crossed borders and paths.

But, then, that picture of Richard Nixon on the top of the page. Yeah, apparently he told some real whoppers during his time at the White House, and a few others besides. Those were real adult fairy tales. But a bigger tale is told by his critics about the “damage” he did to the presidency and the country. Whatever damage was done then was certainly minor compared to the “ambush” and “gotcha” journalism that followed, where purported journalists are more intent in making headlines and creating enduring scandals than they are in simply reporting facts. Some of those fairy stories have done some real damage all over the political spectrum by frightening those who can actually do something into inactivity.  Everyone with a microphone and a camera simply prompts anyone with influence or position for sound bites that can be manipulated and misused by the eye-rolling network blowhards inspired by the team of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who covered the Watergate/Nixon story for the New York Times.

Come see us at JDBCOM.COM.

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Iwo Jima and President’s Day

And so, here we are in mid-February. doubtless cold and wet in the Great Lakes. If we had a nickel for every snowstorm in February…lots of nickels. Every February day I don’t have to haul out the snowblower’s a good day…

But this is 19 February, when we celebrate the birth of Copernicus in 1473 (remember him, the guy who said that the Earth was not the center of the universe?). And we remember the non-promotion of Benedict Arnold on 19 February 1777: he was so mad he was willing to sell out the country.  Also, on 19 February 1861, Tsar Alexander II of Russia freed the serfs: unlike slavery in the US, the practice wasn’t universal in Russia. Edison patented his phonograph on this day in 1878. And Cuban strongman FIdel Castro resigned his offices on this day in 2008. But today we talk about high spots in the ocean, and Monday holidays.

That made Iwo a problem, especially for the Army Air Force’s B-29s based in the Marianas.

The Volcano Islands, just south of the Bonins, were the first overseas acquisition for the Empire of Japan when they were annexed in 1891. No one else really wanted them, so no one minded, at the time. But by 1944 they were a bastion for the Home Islands as the Americans moved inexorably towards Japan. Iwo Jima, the flattest of the island group, had the beginnings of three airfields on it by the end of 1944. That made Iow a problem, especially for the Army Air Force’s B-29s based in the Marianas.

The Japanese rarely tried to pursue the big Superforts over the water.

But HH “Hap” Arnold, commanding the US Army Air Forces, didn’t like the idea that the Japanese could use Iwo to attack his bombers on their way to Japan. As unpleasant a prospect as it was, he couldn’t show that any of his airplanes had been shot down by Iwo-based fighters. Then Arnold got the idea that he could base fighters on Iwo to “escort” the bombers, and maybe crippled B-29s could use it as an emergency airfield. All of which was true, but “escorting” B-29s wasn’t practical. The Japanese weren’t real good at intercepting B-29s over Japan, and the way fighter “escort” worked that late in the war was more like “be at this map grid at this time when the bombers are expected to be there.” The Japanese rarely tried to pursue the big Superforts over the water.

200px-Iwo_jima_location_mapSagredo

As the map shows, Iwo is in a direct line between the Mariana Islands and Japan. Now, the airfields weren’t a problem for anyone other than the B-29s, and that a minor irritant in the long run. But the Marines had three divisions rebuilding in Hawaii that formed V Amphibious Corps, and the Army was scrambling for as many men as they could get for their Philippine campaign. On that basis, Arnold convinced the Marines that using the otherwise idle Marines to take Iwo would save them from Douglas MacArthur’s clutches.

The Marines have used Iwo Jima as a case study of their worth ever since.

Nonetheless, eventually, Arnold sold the Iwo Jima project to everyone he needed to, and the Marines stormed ashore on 19 February 1945. The savage fighting lasted until mid-March, and resulted in nearly 7,000 Marine and over 17,000 Japanese dead. The Marines have used Iwo Jima as a case study of their worth ever since. But later scholars have asked:

  • How many “escort” missions were conducted from Iwo? Answer–three (1191 sorties), and all lost more fighters than bombers due to the fighter’s lack of over-water navigational aids that they were too small to accomodate. The effort was soon abandoned.
  • How many B-29 crewmen were saved by using Iwo for emergency landings? Answer–About 5,000, give or take. At least half of the subsequent emergency landings were of convenience, not dire emergency.
  • Given those two answers, does that mean that the 7,000 Marines who died were worth less than the 5,000 or so Army air crewmen saved? And herein lies the controversy.

This dispute brewed up in the 21st century between scholars of the Pacific War, and pointed out that not all operations there were without debatable results. My book, Tug of War: The Super-Heavy Bomber and the Invention of Strategic Warfare (tentatively,  sometime in 2019) discusses the nascent theories of “strategic bombardment” and the struggle of Arnold and others to bring them into practice.


And today is Presidents’ Day/Washington’s Birthday, observed in the US as an alternative to Lincoln’s and Washington’s Birthday since the late 1980s, depending on where you are and who you ask. It’s the federal holiday (my wife the banker doesn’t work and there’s no mail) in observance. But, as the image at the top implies, it’s also an excuse for businesses to hold sales, as if they need one. The lass in question is shilling for some California resort’s Presidents’ Day Weekend. Although she’s pretty, I’m not sure that old George would have approved of her use of the flag. I mean, seriously: standing on a boat crossing the Delaware with a flag that wouldn’t be invented for another two years is one thing, but she’s much too scantily clad for New Jersey in December. She’d catch her death. Drape one of those over her shoulders…

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The Last Emperor of China and Lincoln’s Birthday

OK, everyone: mid-February and the world, as of mid-December when this is written, is still turning. And both Francisco Franco and Richard Nixon are still dead. And that gag is still pretty…silly.

But 12 February has a lot going on. On this day in 1553 Lady Jane Grey, the Nine-Days’ Queen of England, was beheaded in the Tower of London, no older than 17: her crime was being named in the succession by Edward VI on his deathbed, while Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, yet lived. Also on this day, in 1862, the fighting for Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River in Tennessee began: when it was over, Ulysses S. Grant was a sensation, some 15,000 Confederates were taken prisoner, East Tennessee was open to invasion by the Union, and the stage was set for the titanic fight in the Tennessee pine barrens near a Quaker meeting house called Shiloh (which you can read all about in The Devil’s Own Day). Omar Bradley, the “GI General” of WWII fame and the last five-star flag officer in the United States, was born in Clark, Missouri on 12 February 1893. And the second Monday in February is National Clean Out your Computer Day, and 12 February is National Bread Pudding Day (for whatever reason). But today we’re talking about the rather hapless Pu Yi, the last Emperor of China, and about Old Abe…sort of.

His Confucian education taught him nothing of the outside world, of mathematics or business, science or even geography. 

Pu Yi, (or Puyi or any one of a score of different names) became the Xuantong Emperor of China on 14 November 1908, two months before his third birthday.  Only his wet nurse, Wang Wen-Chao, was allowed to accompany the toddler to the Imperial Palace in the Forbidden City. As Emperor the boy loved to have his eunuchs flogged for no other reason than they were available. His Confucian education taught him nothing of the outside world, of mathematics or business, science or even geography.

His generosity attracted the attention of the Japanese, who became interested in Pu Yi as a possible pawn in their game of power politics in East Asia.

But change was coming to China. In October 1911 the army garrison at Wuhan mutinied, beginning the Xinhai Revolution. As the unrest spread to Peking and public opinion turned decidedly against the Qing dynasty, he was handed an instrument of abdication on 12 February 1912,  three days after his sixth birthday. The boy was kept as something of a pet, still served by a household agency in the Forbidden City, but he had no temporal power beyond his imperial apartments. He was restored to the throne for twelve days by a warlord in 1917 but was removed by another. In 1923, after the Great Kanto Earthquake devastated Tokyo and other cities, he donated some of his treasures to pay for disaster relief. His generosity attracted the attention of the Japanese, who became interested in Pu Yi as a possible pawn in their game of power politics in East Asia.

From the time he was ejected from the Forbidden City in 1923 until 1945, Pu Yi was a puppet of Imperial Japan.

Even though he had no real power, Pu Yi had been treated as an Emperor Emeritus of sorts since his abdication, but in 1923 another strongman took over Peking and abolished his titles and his household, and reduced him to a private citizen. He was expelled from the Forbidden City, fled to the Japanese Embassy, and thence to the Japanese concession in Tientsin. From the time he was ejected from the Forbidden City until 1945, Pu Yi was a ward/puppet of Imperial Japan.


 

Litho of a younger Lincoln
Looks much younger here than he would later as president.

And today, on 12 February, we recognize the birth of the 16th US president, Abraham Lincoln–or at least some of us do, like Connecticut, Illinois, Ohio and New York. But on last Indigenous People’s Day (9 October), some students at UW Madison got themselves together to protest the statue of Lincoln at Bascom Hall because:

 Everyone thinks of Lincoln as the…freer of slaves, but let’s be real: He owned slaves, and…he ordered the execution of native men….

I’m going to guess this one’s a “studies” scholar of some sort or another and not a history major. But, in 2017 at Madison, it’s hard to tell. The organization which led the protest, called Wunk Sheek, which says they “[serve] students of indigenous identity” on campus, covered the offending Lincoln bust with a black tarp briefly, made their speeches, doubtless did their drum-circle thing for the cameras, and left.

No evidence has ever actually surfaced of Lincoln’s ownership of slaves, though it must be conceded that his wife’s family were slaveholders.

As we all know now, because Lincoln didn’t issue his emancipation at his first inaugural, he absolutely, positively had to have owned slaves because…well, he just did. Case closed.  Arguments to the contrary will not be heard. The “Lincoln owned slaves” fantasy has been around for so long that it has become some sort of received wisdom. It likely has to do with Lincoln’s lawyerly care in eliminating the practice of slavery in the United States because he knew that, legally, whatever he did had to survive him. An outright emancipation was legally impossible, and nearly everyone at the time knew it. Only generations later did critics conclude that Lincoln simply had to have owned slaves because he moved so slowly in the emancipation. No evidence has ever actually surfaced of Lincoln’s ownership of slaves, though it must be conceded that his wife’s family were slaveholders.

When told that more hangings would have earned him more votes in the next election, Lincoln replied “I could not afford to hang men for votes.” Yup, pretty heartless.

Lincoln also heartlessly ordered the execution of 32 Dakotas in Mankato, Minnesota on 26 December 1862, for their roles in a peaceful eastern Sioux/Dakota demonstration that left some 800 Euro-Caucasian invaders of their ancient land…well, un-alive…in an event that the white-privileged history establishment calls the Sioux War of 1862. Well…no to the “ordered the execution,” trope, too. There were originally 303 of the Sioux leaders of the 1861-62 Sioux Uprising who were condemned to death by courts-martial and tribunals (it was in the middle of a civil war), but Lincoln commuted 264 of the sentences, and one was reprieved for other reasons. The remaining 32 were executed, but not on Lincoln’s express order.  When told that more hangings would have earned him more votes in the next election, Lincoln replied: “I could not afford to hang men for votes.” Yup, pretty heartless.

Now, officially, President’s Day will be next Monday, the Monday between Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthday. See you then. Stop by JDBCOM.COM some time.

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Manila 1945 and National Shower with a Friend Day

OK, so, here we go: 5 February and winter’s half-done in the Great Lakes. Still, we’ll get more snow, more ice, more bone-chilling cold. But I’m hoping by now we’ll have our new furnace (writing this in December, and the contract is to have it done in some “slack period” in January or February). But, other than that…

Our calendar for 5 January is pretty full, starting with the birth of the Sanjo Emperor of Japan in 976 AD; the Sanjo had five wives and seven children before his death in 1017, a most prolific fellow. On 5 February 1663 came the Charlevoix earthquake in modern Quebec: a 7.3-7.9 (calculated Richter) shock that knocked down chimneys as far away as Roxbury, Massachusetts, and leveled a waterfall on the St. Maurice River. And on this day in 1784, the mother of a future president, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, was born is what is now Mineral County, West Virginia. And on 5 February 1869, two miners in Australia found a two-hundred-plus pound gold nugget called “Welcome Stranger:” as of this morning, it would have been worth $3.8 million. The last of the American Punitive Expedition left Mexico on this day in 1917, barely a month before America would go to war with Germany. And speaking of leaving, the last Soviets left Afghanistan on this day in 1989, after a decade of indecisive and costly fighting, they left behind a state on the brink of collapse. Also, today is National Weatherperson’s Day, the day of John Jeffries’s birth in Boston on 5 February 1745, celebrated as the first meteorologist. But today we’re talking about Manila in 1945, and about saving water and time with friends.

This was another case where dedicated samurai warriors were defying orders for reasons they could justify in the name of gekokujo, and thousands would die for it.

After Walter Krueger’s Sixth US Army landed at Lingayen Gulf on 9 January 1945, the American forces met fairly light resistance from Yamashita Tomoyuki’s defenders. But, when Joseph Swing’s 11th Airborne Division reached Manila on 3 February, Iwabuchi Sanji’s 31st Naval Special Base Force 12,500 men were digging in to make a fight of it, augmented by 4,500 soldiers under Katsuzo Noguchi, despite Yamashita’s orders to evacuate the city. This was another case where dedicated samurai warriors were defying orders for reasons they could justify in the name of gekokujo, and thousands would die for it.

In the way that the Japanese armed forces were so severely divided between Army and Navy, Iwabuchi’s sailors and SNLF troops weren’t Yamashita’s to command. So was born the ghastly fight for Manila.

To be clear, the Japanese high command by early 1945 was committed not to stopping the Allied advances in the Pacific and in Burma–they knew they lacked the power for that. What they were hoping for was to make their remaining holdings look too costly to seize by creating as many Allied casualties as they could. Yamashita, concerned about feeding the million or so Philippine civilians trapped in Manila over a siege, was trying to conserve his resources for battles in the interior. But, arguably, in the way that the Japanese armed forces were so severely divided between Army and Navy, Iwabuchi’s sailors and SNLF troops weren’t Yamashita’s to command. So was born the ghastly fight for Manila.

There’s a certain sense of tragedy about the battle of Manila: tragedy because it was all quite pointless, and primarily to stroke Douglas MacArthur’s ego.

The gunfight actually started on 3 February and lasted until 5 March. On 5 February, Douglas MacArthur entered the city behind a spearhead of the 37th Infantry Division, declaring Manila to be “liberated,” when in fact the battle had only just begun.  There would be over 16,000 Japanese casualties before it was done, in addition to as many as a quarter million Filipinos and some 6,000 Americans. There’s a certain sense of tragedy about the battle of Manila: tragedy because it was all quite pointless, and primarily to stroke Douglas MacArthur’s ego. Bypassing Manila was not out of the (military) question, as Krueger argued later, but MacArthur simply had to have his victory parade.


Now, National Shower with a Friend Day was registered in 2014 by New Wave Enviro, a Colorado-based manufacturer of durable water bottles and food storage products. This much is known, but I can recall showering with…well, associates, anyway, like this:

Ad for Bradley Group Showers
Showers with Freinds, ca 1960. Don’t tell me you never did something like it…

In the school gym, in the barracks, in a public pool.  Sure, I did something like this a lot in my younger, school and Army days. Now, there’s a different kind that you filthy-minded voyeurs were thinking of…

Shower with a different kind of freind
There’s the different kind of “shower with a friend” that you know you have fantasized about more than have actually done…

But even the more adventurous among us haven’t found too many showering facilities big enough to accommodate two consenting adults, despite what the movies show. Still, did it maybe twice, with consenting persons of the opposite sex. It wasn’t like the movies, as I recall (these events were during the Carter or first Reagan administrations and we were both far more limber), but crowded, and harder for her to wash her hair properly with another body in the way. Still, our backs did get cleaner than usual, as I recall.

But the point of National Shower With a Friend Day isn’t to provide titillation or romance (which it really wasn’t), but to conserve water. Ultimately, I’m not sure how it could do that, simply because you end up running the water longer for two people, or more, like the lead picture shows, which is I believe more for cooling off than for washing up…but it got you down this far, didn’t it?  It does save a little time, though.

Meanwhile, as you read this there shall be one more update on Why the Samurai Lost. Yes, it moves right along, but we’re going to publish entirely ourselves, my co-author Lee Rochwerger and I. JDB Communications, LLC will be the publisher. Follow us at JDBCOM.COM for further developments.

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Rennell Island and National Puzzle Day

Ah, another January comes to an end, and the snow piles up outside…maybe here, maybe where you are. But that minor inconvenience shall not forestall us until it collapses the roof.

And so…29 January, known for the birth of Tom Paine, author of Common Sense, in England in 1737,  and for the birth of “Light Horse” Harry Lee, the father of Robert E Lee and Revolutionary War cavalryman, in Virginia in 1756.  King George III of England, poor mad soul, finally gave up the ghost on this day in 1820. Seth Thomas, pioneer of the mass production of clocks in the United States, died on this day in Connecticut in 1859. The battle of Spion Kop began on this day in 1900 in the Natal region of southern Africa, pitting the Boers against the British that ended in British disaster. In the US, the Seeing Eye Dog organization was formed on 29 January 1929. And on 29 January 1991 the battle of Khafji in Saudi Arabia began, a two-day gunfight that was the culmination of the air war against Iraq, and a demonstration of the capabilities of the Saudis in the coalition. Too, today is Library Shelfie Day (you’re supposed to take pictures of your library shelves…umm…), and National Corn Chip Day (I usually don’t indulge, so you go ahead), and Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day (pop it, wear it, eat it, or use it for packing material, whatever).  But today we’re back to Guadalcanal, and puzzles.

Halsey misinterpreted the preliminary Japanese move as an attempt to reinforce Guadalcanal, and sent Task Force 16 to bolster TF 18. Fortunately for later events, the carriers of TF-16 were left behind.

By January 1943, it was pretty clear to even the most die-hard Japanese that holding onto Guadalcanal was not only impractical but becoming impossible. Growing American naval and air strength would soon destroy the Japanese forces in the area. To facilitate evacuating their land forces from the southern side of Guadalcanal, Yamamoto Isoroku and Jinichi Kusaka implemented Operation Ke, to brush back Task Force 18, the heavy American surface forces operating in the triangle formed by Guadalcanal, Rennell Island and San Cristobal island under Robert C. Giffen. William Halsey, commanding all the American forces in the area, misinterpreted the preliminary Japanese move as an attempt to reinforce Guadalcanal, and sent Task Force 16, with USS Enterprise (CV-6) and three other flattops, to bolster TF 18. Fortunately for later events, the carriers were left behind.

Battle of Rennell Island
From Warfare History Network

For a military organization that had no doctrine for withdrawals of any kind, the Japanese plan for the Guadalcanal pullout was pretty good.

The Japanese may have been somewhat myopic about the Americans in the Solomons in the late summer of 1942, but by January 1943 they had the right idea,  They reasoned that the Americans couldn’t be strong everywhere all the time, so they planned to overwhelm TF 18 with air attacks around Rennell Island, compelling at least a temporary withdrawal from Guadalcanal so that a fast destroyer convoy could get in and out. For a military organization that had no doctrine for withdrawals of any kind, the Japanese plan for the Guadalcanal pullout was pretty good.

Chicago came to a dead stop but Wichita managed to keep moving. Louisville  took Chicago under tow, escorted by the rest of TF 18.

As the sun set on 29 January, TF 18 radars picked up a number of unidentified aircraft inbound from the north–30-odd torpedo bombers of the Japanese 701st and 705th Air Groups out of Rabaul and Bougainville. Circling around to the east so as to attack out of the gathering night gloom, the first group launched its torpedoes at 19:19 hours but all missed, losing one airplane to antiaircraft fire. A second attack at 19:38 was more successful, putting two torpedoes into USS Chicago (CA-29), a recently-returned-to-the-fleet survivor of the earlier battles around Savo Island six months before, and two into USS Wichita (CA-45), the TF flagship, but only one exploded while losing two more aircraft. Chicago came to a dead stop, but Wichita managed to keep moving. USS Louisville (CA-28) took Chicago under tow, escorted by the rest of TF 18. The last Japanese attacker left the area just before midnight. The next day the Japanese, determined to sink crippled Chicago, attacked again and again, finally putting four more torpedoes into her, and she was abandoned: she sank some 20 minutes later. The Japanese also heavily damaged USS La Vallette (DD-448), which had shot down at least six Japanese aircraft during the two-day fight–all the more remarkable because it was the first time La Vallette had fired her guns in anger.

Later, Japan would have neither the aircraft nor the air crews that could have attacked at night, and the Americans would have had enough ships to have replaced TF 18 more swiftly.

Losses were relatively light. Despite the loss of Chicago the Americans lost only 85 men, while the Japanese lost 12 aircraft and about 80 fliers. While the results of the fight were less than remarkable from a win/loss standpoint, the loss of Chicago and effective loss of Wichita and La Vallette compelled TF 18 to pull out of the area, allowing the Japanese to complete their evacuation of Guadalcanal. As naval battles go RUssell Island wasn’t much of one, but it is an excellent example of how, given the resources and the compelling need, the Japanese could still pull off an operation in the face of American opposition at this stage in the war. Later, however, Japan would have neither the aircraft nor the air crews that could have attacked at night at that range, and the Americans would have had enough ships to have replaced TF 18 more swiftly.


Today, 29 January, is National Puzzle Day, founded by Jodi Jill in 2002, a professional travel writer and puzzle and quiz creator who, according to sources, was raised in a storage container in Colorado. But, regardless, this day is supposed to celebrate the challenges of puzzles, word games, acrostics, magic squares, Sudoku and the thousands of other man-made brain-teasers that amuse, annoy, entertain and frustrate many millions every day. Personally I don’t care for those intentional puzzles that are intended to be solved: I prefer the unintentional puzzles of human behavior and natural phenomenon that are not.

As for Why the Samurai Lost, it’s proceeding apace. Remember to check in with us at JDBCOM.COM for more.