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Beginnings: Crop Duster a Winner; Japan Attacks Russia and Britain; Bloody Mary is Beheaded; Elizabeth II Becomes Queen

As the badge on today’s post says, Crop Duster: A Novel of WII is an Honorable Mention in the 2014 Writers Digest Self-Published E-Book Awards for Mainstream Fiction.  This is a long-winded way of saying that Crop Duster is regarded at one of the five best of over a hundred submitted books in this category.  It’s also a Notable Book in Shelf Unbound’s Self-Published E-Book Awards for 2014 for Page-Turners. Find out what the judges see is so great about Crop Duster today.  Available in paperback and E-book at fine booksellers everywhere.


On the night of 8 February 1904, Japan attacked the Russian naval base at Port Arthur with torpedoes from four destroyers.  A Russian protected cruiser (Pallada) keeled over and sank, and two battleships (Retvizan and Tsarevich ) were damaged.  An indecisive daylight action the next morning damaged vessels on both sides, but the Japanese had the advantage of being able to sail out of range of the Russian shore batteries, while the Russians were trapped in port by the strong Japanese fleet.

As the opening battle of what would come to be called the Russo-Japanese War, Port Arthur was a template for Japanese conflict initiation for the next fifty years: strong attacks with little warning followed by relentless pressing of the advantages of surprise.  While the Japanese attacks in 1904, 1914, 1932, 1937 and 1941 were expected in a general sense, their location often was not.  The 8 February 1942 invasion of Singapore after two months of attacks all around the Pacific Rim was forewarned, but the British had never expected an attack from landward along the Malay Peninsula.

What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look At Japan at War, 1941-1945 probes the Japanese mindset reaching back to before the Tokugawas. Available in hardback, paperback and PDF.


Two distantly related events, ironically, are marked in early February.  Mary,Queen of Scots was beheaded on 8 February 1587, an unfortunate victim of a dynastic feud begun in prehistory, for all intents and purposes.  The Stuart throne of Scotland dated from the 14th century (or 12th, for purists) in a country that had the poor luck of being weaker than most of her neighbors but stronger than her closest kin.  Britain had the sense to try to “civilize” the traditionally tribal Scots off and on for centuries, while Scotland allied with France and was used as a cudgel against Ireland in between periods of independence.  Mary’s poor timing that she would reign while Elizabeth I sat in Windsor, but was lucky enough that Elizabeth would be childless, so that her son would inherit the throne of England.

Nearly four centuries later, Elizabeth II,oldest daughter of George VI would be proclaimed queen on 6 February 1952.  She would be the first British monarch for over a century who was not also empress of India. She is at this writing the longest reigning British monarch in history.


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America Ascendant and Germany Descendant

On 2 February 1848 the Mexican-American War came to an official end, though for all practical purposes it had ended weeks before.  Winfield Scott, the only American General-In Chief to take field command (a whole other story, that) was the most celebrated soldier since Andrew Jackson.  An entirely self-educated officer who was first commissioned at age 22 as a captain of artillery (1808), “Old Fuss and Feathers” had led the American invasion of the Mexican Plateau in the first such expedition since Cortes.  What was remarkable was that European observers were all convinced that the European-trained Mexicans would handily defeat the Americans, whose last outing against European-style armies was in 1815.

Scott’s army never lost a battle, nor left a battlefield in retreat.  Six different American forces invaded Mexican territory from 1846-48 ranging in size from company to Scott’s small army, and none were unsuccessful.  “A little more grape, Captain Bragg” became a buzz phrase for a generation before the Civil War.  Mexico, beset by internal division, class warfare, and political uncertainty since its independence in 1822, would gradually settle into a twilight state between revolution and civil war that would obtain until the European invasion in 1862, and return until the Cristero War ended in 1929.


And then there was Stalingrad.  Though German Sixth Army officially surrendered on 31 January 1942, it would be two days until the last pockets of resistance were destroyed.  Between the Axis Allies and the Soviets, somewhere near two million soldiers and at least as many civilians died in the carnage and bitter weather at the City of Stalin.  Films like Stalingrad (1943) and Enemy At the Gates (2001) depict desolation, privation, random death and injury only to well-fed Germans and Russians, but the truth was that both sides were nearly on starvation rations even before the November 1942 offensive cut off the Germans and their allies.

Stalingrad changed the entire face of WWII in Russia, and arguably lost the war for Germany.  Between the loss of Guadalcanal by Japan earlier in the week, the brawl that was the American’s return to combat in North Africa in the next month, the British offensive into Libya and then Tunisia, the cracks in the Axis empires were becoming bigger, if not deeper.  It was clear that, if the Allies would fight long enough, both the German and Japanese monsters could be tamed.

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Bleeding Kansas Becomes a State and Guadalcanal is Saved–Again

After half the slave-holding states had left the Union, Kansas was admitted to the Union 29 January 1861.  After a years-long struggle over the slavery issue, the vote was anticlimactic…and practically inevitable.  Texas would be the last slave-holding state admitted to the Union 29 December 1845.

The expansion of the slave-bound political economy of the pre-1865 American South was the biggest issue of the period between the Mexican War and the firing on Fort Sumter.  It was less the plight of the slaves that most Northern politicians was concerned with as much as the reliance on their cheap labor that might have affected the rapid industrial expansion.  It wasn’t equal civil rights on the minds of most abolitionists as much as it was the idea of one sort of people holding another sort in bondage.  In Kansas, where raids of one faction were paid back by raids of another over the course of several months in 1859, John Brown and his biblical murder philosophy held sway with the Younger brothers and some very young James boys in pillage, raid and murder.  In the end, the faction that could control the Federal troops would win.

But the irony of Kansas and its admission as a “free” state was that, perhaps unintentionally, it would be the first state to organize African-Americans into state and then Federal units: the 1st Kansas Infantry (Colored) was formed in August 1862, predating the 54th Massachusetts by nine months, and saw their first combat that October, nearly a year before the 54th Massachusetts saw combat.


In contrast to Kansas, Japanese and American forces dueled off Rennell Island on the night of 29-30 January 1943, the last of a dozen naval battles fought around the island of Guadalcanal.  Although the Americans believed the Japanese were reinforcing their already exhausted troops on Guadalcanal, the fact was they were withdrawing them.  The Japanese, for once in a position to anticipate American actions, attacked an American escort group and crippled the Northampton class heavy cruiser USS Chicago (CA-29).  Much of the rest of the battle centered around keeping the vessel afloat, but after six torpedo hits she finally sank on 30 January.  Destroyer USS De Haven (DD-469) was also lost, the first Fletcher class destroyer to be lost in WWII.

The Japanese are said to have “won” the Rennell Island fight, but they only won it insofar as they were able to evacuate the pitiful remnant of their troops on Guadalcanal.  Unlike the British “victory” of Dunkirk, most of the Japanese were in such band shape that they never saw service again.  Combined with a similar experience at Kiska, it was the last time the Japanese performed a large-scale evacuation of an island that had been invaded.  From late 1943 on, Japanese garrisons were not to expect to be withdrawn in the face of enemy opposition.

What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look at Japan At War 1941-1945 by John D. Beatty and Lee A Rochwerger is an examination of Japanese strategic thinking, available in hardback, paper and PDF from fine booksellers everywhere.

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America Bombs the Reich

By later standards the first USAAF bombing of Wilhelmshaven on 27 January 1943 was not a lot, but it was something.  B-17 Flying Fortresses from parts of the 369th Squadron of the 306th Bomb Group (H) hit the small port city on the Jade River, hitting mostly industrial plants where they hit at all.  Bombing accuracy, much to the disappointment of the Americans, was never stellar.  They would make up for it later with sheer numbers.

These early efforts, like the 15th Squadron’s 4 July 1942 raid on a Dutch Luftwaffe field in borrowed aircraft, were mostly symbolic.  The Americans taking the war to the enemy, like Jimmy Doolittle’s military stunt bombing Japan 18 April 1942 showed, could be disconcerting,  It also boosted morale for the military as much as the home front.  For a generation that had been told that strategic bombing would be able to prevent the kinds of deadlocks that characterized WWI, this was heady stuff.

By the end of 1943, the USAAF had bombed Germany more than a hundred times, and the Luftwaffe showed no signs of deterioration…on the outside.  Internally, the Luftwaffe had good morale, but the physical and mental strain on its pilots was beginning to tell.  Goering spoke of a “plague” as early as 1942 that killed many new pilots in accidents that more experienced men might have avoided.  But the Americans had lost nearly a third of their aircraft and crews in September and October of 1943…their morale was not nearly as good as their opponents, and never would be.

Crop Duster: A Novel of WWII is a story about Americans and Germans flying over Europe in that tumultuous year.  Available in paper and E-book from fine booksellers everywhere.


As the Soviet juggernaut pressed ever onward to Berlin, the 332nd Rifle Division reached  partly dismantled and almost entirely evacuated concentration camps near Oswiecim, in southern Poland on 27 January 1945.  Eventually, the Allies would find evidence of nearly two million deaths and the Auschwitz/BIrkenau complex, with warehouses full of the pitiful possessions of the inmates.  No one before believed the wild tales coming out of the area.

Even today the sheer numbers of the Nazi’s “final solution” strains credulity.  There is a cottage industry of deniers (author David Irving among them) of the extermination of probably close to 12 million people (a little over half were Jews; the rest just got in the way) as a matter of state policy.  The British who liberated Belsen in Germany in April 1945 couldn’t believe it, either.

Though this writer has never been to Auschwitz he has been to Belsen, where many of the evacuees from Auschwitz were liquidated.  That was bad enough, though a fraction of the size of Auschwitz.   But not believing does not change the evidence, nor the testimony of the survivors.  Just as strategic bombardment gained evidence of success with practice, technology and numbers, so too did the accounts of the survivors of the death camps gain credulity.

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Not All Military Action End With Parades

January marks the anniversary of the largest US ground operation in Vietnam, called Cedar Falls, in 1967.  The Viet Cong evaded the American forces, large as they were, and though they were ejected from the Iron Triangle briefly, many historians point to Cedar Falls as a symbol of American misunderstanding of the Southeast Asia conflict.

It can also be used to point to scholarly “misunderstanding” of the American presence in Vietnam, and to the critics who loudly say that United States “lost” the conflict there.  Interestingly enough, most critics cannot point to what direct failure of American forces led to this purported “defeat.”  While the oft-stated but never documented purpose of the American military there was to prop up the Saigon regime (which was too corrupt for its own good), the fact is that this was never an officially stated mission: indeed, no Letter of Instruction was ever written for MACV.  Thus, there was no “war” there to “win.”  Nor, since the last American combat units left the region in 1972 and Saigon fell in 1975, can any battlefield loss be attributed to US arms.

The Southeast Asia war also points up some uncomfortable truths about military action, as has been shown through history but became plain in the 1970s.  Not all conflict ends in “victory,” but most end in a simple winding down of combat operations.  Not all of a nation’s enemies are “officially defeated” and forced to sign treaties in rail cars or on battleship decks.  And, most important, comparatively few even begin with a declaration of war.

While many who read this will become let’s say incensed at the idea because conventional wisdom says that the US “lost” Vietnam, it must be asked: by what measure?  Might we also consider that, in Tet 1968, while the body count was rising and attention was fixed at both Vietnam and North Korea’s seizure of USS Pueblo on 23 January of the same year, the Soviet Union was unable to take advantage of the paper army that USAEUR had become and launch an offensive to reunite Germany.  One could argue that January-February 1968 would have been the best, last chance the Soviets would have had to do this.  Yet they failed.  They didn’t even try.

So, what does this say?  Perhaps it says that ultimately Southeast Asia was a sacrificed pawn in the global power game between the US and the Soviet Union, that American military action was, deliberately or not, intended to bait the Soviets into doing something…anything…stupid.  They didn’t, yet in 1992, after seeing yet another pawn–Iraq–sacrificed in its gambit over Kuwait, the Soviet experiment came to an end.

Not all military action leads to victory, or even success.  And often, we cannot know for generations what it was all for.  We can only guess.

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Green Hell, 1943

In late January 1943, the Americans and Australians declared the Papua peninsula (the far eastern end) of the island of New Guinea “secure.”  For over a year they had been struggling to eject the Japanese from a battlefield like no other in the world.

The Japanese, who had arrived on the lush yet desolate island at the end of 1941, had thought to conquer the island in a week. Port Moresby, the largest city, was still holding out six months later, and the Japanese had simply run out of rations, healthy men, and working heavy equipment.  When the first Americans arrived, the Wisconsin National Guardsmen were fresh out of training camp and thrown into the impenetrable jungle.  Though Douglas MacArthur, the controversial commander and mastermind of the New Guinea campaign, has been credited with its successful clearing, it nonetheless took nearly three years.

William Manchester, in his magisterial biography of MacArthur, called New Guinea “green hell,” and by most accounts it certainly was.  It rained in most parts more than tree hundred inches a year; the growth rate of some of the more notorious vines and branching trees was measured at more than a foot a week.  All metals were rusty, always; electrical equipment often had to have blowers to keep from shorting out during operation. Ammunition notoriously misfired, especially artillery.  Motor vehicles were too large for most of Papua’s roads.  The soldier’s war in New Guinea was an odd mix of 20th century hardware with 19th century reliability and 18th century tactics pressed into the demands of a 20th century global strategy.

What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look at Japan at War by John D Beatty and Lee Rochwerger examines New Guinea in a context of examining Japanese planning, operations and execution amid material shortages and over-extended supply lines.  Called one of the best books of its kind, it’s available at fine booksellers everywhere.

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Crop Duster a Finalist on Bookbzz

JDB Communications, LLC is pleased to announce that John D. Beatty’s Crop Duster: A Novel of WWII is a finalist in the Bookbzz 2015 Prize Writer Competition.  Starting on 1 February, readers will be able to vote on their favorites.  Go to http://bookbzz.com/crop-duster-novel-world-war-ii-john-beatty/ starting 1 February for both professional and fan reviews and to vote on your favorites.

John D. Beatty, sole proprietor of JDB Communications, LLC, is a professional writer of more than forty years experience in military science and in industry. He retired from the US Army Reserve after 27 years of service.  He is the author of Crop Duster: A Novel of World War II; The Devil’s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War; and What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look at Japan at Warm 1941-1945, and other pieces of military history.   He lives and works in Wisconsin.

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National Guard and Draft Dodgers

As it happens, 21 January is simultaneously the anniversary of the birth of the (organized) National Guard (in 1903), and of Carter’s draft amnesty (1977).  Coincidence, surely.

The Dick Act, as the enabling legislation is popularly known, recast the many state-formed National Guard units into a national image, creating a means to join the Guards into the Regular Army in the event of an emergency.  For decades Army reformers had tried different formulas to get the state’s units to look less like social clubs (which they were) and more like adjuncts to the Regulars (which they were supposed to be).  The war with Spain in 1898 was the last time the state-organized units (the militias which were not part of the Guard “movement”) were called up, and the halting disasters that followed could be directly attributed to the state’s lack of funding and organization for their militias.

The earliest “National Guard” units were formed more or less spontaneously in the early 19th century.  They were separate from the militias (if you really want a glimpse of insanity, take up American militia organization) and at least a third of them were not funded by their states, but by the members themselves or by private benefactors.  Many were units only in name, possessing no equipment nor even standardized uniforms.  The one thing they had in common was that the units that bore the title “National Guard” were pledged to national service wherever Congress might send them.  This is also what distinguished them from many state militias.

By WWI, the Guards had be thoroughly reorganized.  The experience on the Mexican frontier had shown the weaknesses of the Guards, and how completely they had to be remade.  By the Armistice, the Guards were what we see today: Federally organized and funded units lent to the states in between wars.

The Carter amnesty was the fulfillment of a campaign promise, and is seen by some as “healing a wound” left over from the Vietnam conflict.  There was an unknown number of draft evaders (thought by some to be about 200,000) and a much smaller number of deserters (about 70,000) that were covered under the amnesty, but even fewer of these took advantage of the amnesty to return to…something other than what they had been doing for over a decade.

Though well-intentioned (like many things Carter did in office), it was nearly four years after the draft ended, and long after law enforcement and the military had been enforcing the draft and actively pursuing deserters.