Demologos, Why the Samurai Lost Japan, and National Cat Day

Demologos, laid down on or about 29 October 1814, was a floating wooden battery built to defend New York Harbor and the first warship in the world to be driven by a steam engine. She was ordered by Congress in June 1814, during the War of 1812 but wasn’t finished until that conflict was over. Demologos (Latin for “voice of the people”) was designed by Robert Fulton and was commissioned as Fulton after his death in 1815. Demologos never fired a shot in anger, saw no action, and actually sailed under steam for exactly a day, carrying President Madison on a boat ride.

Demologos

Conceptual Drawing of Demologos, Not as built.

Demologos was built to carry thirty 32-pounder guns all around and two 100-pounder Columbiads fore and aft. She served mostly as a hulk or receiving ship, and had her engines removed in 1821 and a two-masted lateen rig installed. While she was lying in ordinary the British and French governments expressed some interest in buying her, but the discussions ended as soon as they started. She was destroyed by a powder explosion 4 June 1829.

The most remarkable things about Demologos was her catamaran hull (not duplicated for warships until the 21st century) and single internal paddle wheel that protected the delicate machinery from gunfire. Future floating batteries and paddlewheel warships worldwide would emulate this construction, as would the City-class ironclad vessels built on inland rivers during the American Civil War.

American innovation often took leaps like this in the 19th century, but Japan in the 19th century went from having no railroads at all in 1854 to 5,000 miles by 1906. Doing this required far more than just buying trains and track: they had to adopt everything Western from clocks and calendars to calculus, coal-mining, and road-building to get there. In the meantime, they suffered three civil wars, imposed a constitution, introduced political parties, and modernized their military. In two generations, Japan technologically went from where Europe had been in about 1600 to where Europe was in 1900.

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Cover for Why the Samurai Lost Japan

But doing all this was neither easy or cheap. Japan was still an agrarian nation when it defeated Russia in 1904. Not a single Japanese capital ship at the battle of Tsushima was designed in Japan. Gold reserves, a recent innovation in Japan, dipped to less than three week’s expenditures by the end of the war: Japan was paying for naval artillery fuses from Britain with tons of raw silk–having run out of cash–by the end of the war.

These and many other fascinating bits and pieces of history that you probably didn’t already know can be found in Why the Samurai Lost Japan, available in December. Look for it either on this blog or at your favorite bookseller.


Today is also National Cat Day which, while celebrating felines of all descriptions, was founded by the Animal Miracle Foundation in 2005, since shut down. The intent was to raise awareness of homeless and sheltered cats and help raise money for their support. Though the AMF was accused of fraud in Portland and ended operations, the quasi-holiday has been adopted by many others, for both charitable and profit-making reasons.

https://forums.shoryuken.com/t/my-cat-is-dying-need-6k-explanation-in-op-please-donate/182486

This is what National Cat Day was meant to prevent

Those of us who have had cats recognize that they would as soon eat our livers as they would have us scratch their ears. We also must understand that modern domestic felines are perhaps the most prolific of all pets when it comes to reproducing save the rabbit. Feral cats in some areas are a severe problem enhanced by their prodigious rate of reproduction. In my neck of the woods, coyotes come into town to hunt them, finding them among the garbage that they also scavenge in.

But, yes, our domestic animals do have their moments, though, for the most part, our house cats are grifters. Dogs include their humans in their packs; cats include theirs in their staffs. Most dogs are at least alarm systems; cats are, mainly, foot warmers at best. The late Terry Pratchett, a scrivener of comic tales, once wrote:

Cats were once worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.

 

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Alvin York, Confirmation Bias, and American Touch Tag Day

Alvin York was nearly thirty when he was drafted in 1917 and had recently joined a fundamentalist Christian sect that forbade fighting, among other things. But drafted he was. As a marksman of great skill, it was thought odd that he had no stomach for battle, but he did reluctantly agree.

As a member of Company G (3rd Battalion), 328th Infantry Regiment in the 82nd Division, Corporal York’s first taste of combat was in the Meuse-Argonne sector, where his seventeen-man patrol got into a confused firefight behind enemy lines on 8 October 1918 and captured an unclear number of Germans: this late in the war, even the elite Prussian Guards were giving up. But a German machine gun tried to compel their comrades to fight again, and York and three comrades eventually silenced the gun, killing 25 in the process. York never claimed to have accounted for more than nine.

Not what you got from the movie, is it?

But America needed a hero, and the beleaguered American Army in France needed one even more. While the survivors of his patrol did capture over a hundred Germans, it is important to remember that by then most of the German Army had been on less than a thousand calories a day for nearly two years. Much of Germany was starving; the fleet was in mutiny; the cities were crumbling from lack of labor. While York and his companions were indeed heroes, he never thought as much of the Medal of Honor that hung around his neck as everyone else did.

http://www.worldwar1.com/heritage/sgtayork.htm

Alvin York (right) and the then-Governor of Tennessee Prentiss Cooper

York spurned the role of hero and icon after the war, and by the 1930s was preaching from the isolationist pulpit with Charles Lindbergh, but Hollywood change his mind. While making and promoting the movie (that he wanted to make to raise money for a bible school) that made him even more famous, he became a preparedness spokesman. The film, Howard Hawk’s 1941 Sergeant York, was based on a 1928 novel Sergeant York: His Own Life Story and War Diary which contains excerpts of  York’s diary and greatly exaggerated other contents. It was good enough to win Gary Cooper, who played York, an Academy Award in 1942 for best actor.

Audiences today see the film as a feel-good flag-waver, entertaining enough for a little over an hour once or twice, but after that just old black-and-white hokum. While this purely personal assessment may be just that, the Hollywood folks–and York–in 1940 were after a lot more. They were looking at the ashes of the French Army that had been torn apart by the Germans in less than a month, and at the outnumbered and outclassed British, who barely escaped total annihilation by running back to England, which by then was under aerial siege. The US Army, then smaller than that of Uruguay, was woefully unprepared, and Hollywood was willing to work with the Army and York to make a hokey, black-and-white film with the bankable but down-home Gary Cooper in the lead to get a peacetime draft passed in Congress.

The tactic worked mostly because they used confirmation bias–the tendency for an observer to like something already believed in. The wartime myth of York’s single-handed exploit in the Argonne was played up not just to make the film more exciting and York’s role more central, but to make the down-home country boy who never handled a smokeless powder firearm before he was drafted more approachable by typical audiences and future bond-buyers, and thus more believable. That York never personally promoted the film is usually ignored; that he never saw it is possible.

But it is also irrelevant.

Many consumers of history are the victims of confirmation bias, as they usually enjoy and agree with the works that confirm what they already think they know. Yes, we’re building up to another plug for Why the Samurai Lost Japanbut that’s what this blog is for–selling JDBCOM.COM books. Japan attacked the US, British Commonwealth, and the Netherlands in 1941, and yes it was because the West had cut off their oil and other resources because of their war in China. But, why was Japan so interested in China? The West had warned Japan time and again about their military adventures in East Asia. Why, finally, did the showdown come just as the Germans were chewing up the Soviets in the summer of 1941?

It wasn’t as coincidental as it looks.

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Cover for “Why the Samurai Lost Japan”

Why the Samurai Lost Japan explores this and many other issues. While researching the book, my co-author and I found a great deal of confirmation bias in the sources, some of which nearly parrot themselves and each other with their insistence on Japan’s arrogance (but why), military prowess (but failed to defeat the Chinese in four years), and technological sophistication (but had to import most of its machine tools). While the terrific storm of American military might fought its way across the Pacific from the ashes of Pearl Harbor (where only three warships were permanently lost), the tenacious Japanese fought tooth-and-nail in defense of their far-flung empire (which was so porous US submarines were ranging off the Japanese coast by mid-1942).

But, what a war, anyway, huh?

Our subtitle gives a little better hint at what to expect: A Study of Miscalculation and Folly. Expect to see it in December.


Today is American National Touch Tag Day for reasons lost in posterity. In the Great Lakes it still might be warm enough for these girls to be playing Touch And Go (didn’t know it just might be an acronym, did you? Neither does Snopes, but what do they know?) in their summer dresses, but it likely isn’t. Still, when was the last time you did that, ran around in the sun, giggling with whoever you can catch? Yeah, me neither.

http://wkdq.com/did-you-know-what-the-game-of-tag-stands-for/

Remember? Yeah, me neither.

The game of Tag is, was and has been an innocent enough activity,  but the Fun Police have been criticizing it lately for encouraging bullying, harassment, reckless running, unwanted touches (which is the point), and predatory behavior.  It is banned in some schools in the US, but so are cellular phones and guns for all the good that’s done.

Defy authority and start up a game of tag. Have some outrageous fun while running and touching friends. Show the Fun Police what you’re made of.

William Boeing, Popular History and National Hair Day

Gonna try something different this month. Bear with me.

William Boeing, the founder of the Boeing Aircraft Company and United Airlines, was born on this day in 1881 to well-to-do parents in Detroit, Michigan. At an early age, he went into the lumber business in the American Northwest, becoming fascinated with aviation after seeing an airplane demonstration in 1909. He took flying lessons from Glenn Martin and bought a Martin TA floatplane. When it was damaged, Boeing decided to build a better one himself.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Boeing_B%26W.jpg

Boeing B&W

The outcome of that was the Boeing B&W or Model 1, named for the co-designers Boeing himself and George Westervelt. There were two built–the aircraft above is a replica. The two units that were made were offered to the US Navy but eventually sold to New Zealand. Soon afterward, the US Navy ordered fifty Boeing Model C training seaplanes to prepare pilots for WWI, Boeing’s first real financial success.

After WWI, Boeing built airmail aircraft, fighters, seaplanes, and flying boats, producing the first aircraft intended for passengers, the Boeing 80 in 1928, followed by the 247 in 1933, recognizable as the first “modern” airliner.

As the firm grew, Boeing expanded his reach into commercial airline routes, eventually founding what would become United Airlines. That ended in 1934 when Congress compelled all aircraft manufacturers to divest themselves of their interest in airmail routes and airlines. Boeing himself backed away from the day-to-day business by 1937, exploiting a growing interest in horses.

Personally, popular history would excoriate Boeing for monopolistic practices (about which they would be right…sort of) and for racist attitudes for founding some communities north of Seattle that had segregationist covenants. These were fairly typical of the time, but contemporary historians also dismiss this explanation because, well, because.

Popular history also holds that Boeing’s business affiliation with the military made him a war-monger. That his firm built the B-29 Superfortress that would be used to firebomb Japan and deliver the atomic bombs to Hiroshima and Nagasaki only proves the case. So there.

While Walter Boeing had nothing to do with either starting the war or personally with the development of the B-29 or the atomic bomb, he gets at least part of the blame for them in some circles. Boeing died 28 September 1956, long before anyone thought to blame him personally for the tools of war and industry his company provided.

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Cover for Why the Samurai Lost Japan

The illustration over on the left is the cover for Why the Samurai Lost Japan which is now in its final stages and is scheduled to be available by the end of the year. The subtitle, A Study of Miscalculation and Folly, is a not particularly glib attempt to summarize our conclusions.

Popular history and even academic history has been selling one of two versions of Japan in WWII. The first is what could be called a triumphalist version of the United States clawing their way back from the smoke and ruins of Pearl Harbor to dictating a just peace to a thoroughly prostrated Japan after whipping them like a poor relation.

The second is more nuanced but still ends the same way. Some popular historians and a few academics have questioned the “true” motives for the American response to the initial Japanese attacks. Some have even wondered out loud if there hadn’t been some very deep race-based motives for “pushing” Japan to war with the sanctions that started in 1933 and concluded in 1941. After all, at least one American naval officer after the Pearl Harbor attacks publicly stated that he wanted to exterminate all Japanese.

Did race play a part? Unlikely. Though John Dower in War Without Mercy tries to sell this message, frankly he does not connect the dots between attitudes and behavior on the part of either the West or the Japanese. The Japanese were as convinced of the superiority of their race as were the Germans, though they didn’t stoop to genocide the same way. The West, as suspicious of other races as other races were of them, was in no way particularly “racist” about how their war was fought against any of their enemies.

The goals of Japan for their conflict against the West in 1941 were both simple and complex. They earnestly expected an easy victory, piggybacking on Germany’s anticipated defeat of the Soviet Union. At the same time, they expected Asia to follow their “natural” leadership in resisting further encroachments into their territories.

Why the Samurai Lost Japan isn’t a popular history in the sense that it reads in the “USA triumphant” vein or in the “Japan was a victim of western capitalist/racist greed.” It is a study of why a supposedly defunct subgroup of Japanese society reached across the Pacific to engage in a trans-oceanic war with the leading industrial power of the time, expecting to succeed in their goals–but not “win” the war in the conventional sense. It is a study of miscalculation and folly on the part of not only Japan but of nearly everyone else that affected the samurai’s fateful decision to go to war. Look for it in December.


The lovely lass above is celebrating National Hair Day, proclaimed in 2017 by the National Day Calendar at the behest of NuMe, a purveyor of hair care products. I personally don’t get it (except to clean it out of the tub drain) but I don’t have to.

Hair, as we know it, is endemic to human society, as it is to all mammals–in fact, it helps define us, in part.

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Really?

Define us…how? Is this definition or is this just showing off? But then there…this…which is…what?

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Huh?

Suffice it to say I’m glad I don’t have to clean your drains. My hair…as you may appreciate, I don’t have that much more than I did here…

JDB_001 001

Your author, about age 2 or so.

Keep your cards and letters coming in, folks.

Saipan, National Sugar Cookie Day, and News of the Future-Past

Nearly mid-July and the weather is–or should be–warmer than it was six months ago. If not, Prince Albert Gore of St. Albans and his disciples of climate change have some explaining to do. As a reminder to my readers–climate changes. This does not mean we all have to start walking to work.

On 9 July 1540, Henry VIII annulled Anne of Cleaves, his fourth wife. Of all his divorces, this one was probably the one that everyone agreed with but robbed the headsman his fee for beheading her. Also on this day in 1686, the League of Augsburg (also known as the Grand Alliance) was first formed between the Holy Roman Empire, Austria, and Spain; at various times nearly every country in Europe would join to oppose expansionist France. Today in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read to the troops on Long Island as they were preparing to meet some 11,000 oncoming British troops; the reaction, according to most, was mixed. But it worked, since on 9 July 1795, the national debt of just over $2,000,000 was paid off–the last time that happened all at once. On this day in 1887, Samuel Eliot Morison was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Morison was a well-known scholar when he was appointed to write the US Navy’s official history of WWII, and left a lasting legacy of maritime and naval history, best remembered for coining the term “Long Lance” describing Japan’s oxygen-fueled Type-93 torpedo after the war. Today in 1993 is also the day when remains found near Ekaterinburg, Russia was identified as those of the Romanovs using mitochondrial DNA studies, the 75-year-old mystery of the fate of the last monarchs of Russia finally solved. But today, we’re talking about the end on Saipan, and the most delectable possible taste in all of creation (other than the kiss of your most precious loved ones).

In the Pacific War, much of the fighting was simply for bases. The prewar US plans were for a methodical march across the central Pacific, seizing the Mariana Islands as a prelude to a distant blockade of the Japanese Home Islands. But the prewar plans did not have the B-29s in them, and the Marianas were in range of the new super-heavy bombers out of Seattle.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Saipan#/media/File:Battle_of_Saipan_map.jpg

Saipan Campaign, Wiki Commons

Japan had moved into the Mariana Islands when they took them from the Germans in 1914 and had treated them as extensions of the Japanese Empire. Strategically, they were important to prewar Japanese planning as air bases for attacks on the expected US Navy fleet assault. Over 30,000 Japanese civilian colonists lived on Saipan in 1941.

While only isolated parts of Saipan were out of USN battleship range, none of it was out of the range of their carrier-based aircraft.

The American invasion fleet left Pearl Harbor for Saipan on 5 June 1944, a day before a much larger Anglo-American force hit the beaches of Normandy. The US naval force, 5th Fleet, was commanded by Raymond A. Spruance; V Amphibious Corps of two Marine and one US Army divisions on board the amphibious fleet was commanded by Holland M. Smith. Opposing them was the Central Pacific Area Fleet, led by Nagumo Chuichi of Pearl Harbor infamy, that included the Thirty-First Army commanded by Saito Yoshitsugu,  and 14th Air Fleet commanded by Nagumo. Tokyo knew the Americans were coming, and more-or-less when based what they gleaned from intercepting the radio traffic of the chatty Americans. The bombardment of the island started on 13 June, the invasion started on 15 June. The landings were essentially unopposed. Having tried to meet the invaders at the beaches at Tarawa with no success, Japanese strategy shifted from that to a defense in depth, in part to stay away from the pinpoint gunfire that American destroyers and other light ships were capable of. While only isolated parts of Saipan were out of USN battleship range, none of it was out of the range of their carrier-based aircraft.

In two days, 19-20 June, the Japanese lost three fleet carriers, two oilers, over 600 aircraft, and any hope of resupplying the Marianas, compared to just over 100 US aircraft (of some 900 engaged) lost.

On the day the invasion started, the Japanese committed to A-Go, the implementation of their mid-ocean ambush that they had drilled regularly since 1922.  A-Go is known to historians as the battle of the Philippine Sea, or colloquially as the Marianas Turkey Shoot. In two days, 19-20 June, the Japanese lost three fleet carriers, two oilers, over 600 aircraft, and any hope of resupplying the Marianas, compared to just over 100 US aircraft (of some 900 engaged) lost.

Ominously, civilians and wounded men joined in the largest banzai charge of the war.

The result of the fighting on Saipan was never really in doubt. The biggest delay was caused by interservice rivalry. Marine General Smith relieved Army General Smith because his troops were taking too long to clear a particularly tricky defile dubbed Death Valley. The area was finally cleared, using the original commander’s plan but implemented by his relief. On 7 July, after Nagumo killed himself, over 4,000 men committed themselves to a final banzai charge that, for fifteen hours, battered two already-decimated Army regiments to tatters. Ominously, civilians and wounded men joined in the largest banzai charge of the war. Saito killed himself shortly afterward.

If Saipan was a preview of the future, it was also ammunition for arguments against an invasion of the Home Islands and for a strategic bombing campaign.

But the bloody slog was over, and Saipan was declared secured on 9 July 1944. Within hours of the first landings, engineers were laying out the future airfields for the Superfortresses. It is thought that at least 22,000 Japanese were killed or killed themselves during the battle for the island. Saipan was the first part of the prewar Greater Japanese Empire to fall to Allied forces and was regarded as a preview of what was to come in any invasion of Japan. If Saipan was a preview of the future, it was also ammunition for arguments against an invasion of the Home Islands and for a strategic bombing campaign.


No one knows why, exactly, National Sugar Cookie day is 9 July, but who cares?

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/9870/easy-sugar-cookies/

The Perfect Dessert, Unadorned as the Creator Intended

Originally known as Nazareth cookies, these delectable confections were thought to have been invented in the mid-1700s around Nazareth, Pennsylvania by German Protestant settlers who were known to make them. Made with sugar, flour, butter, eggs, vanilla and either baking powder or baking soda, most people have the ingredients on hand at all times and can have the kids help make a batch on any day. The fun just begins with cutting the dough with fun shaped cookie cutters and then getting creative by decorating with icing and sprinkles.  Recipies abound on the internet, but here’s one of the easier ones from Allrecipies.com.

Sugar cookies are holiday favorites, often polluted–excuse me, decorated–with various icings and supposed enhancements including raisins. But for the love of all that’s holy, just don’t. Consume the unadorned delights plain, like you should take you pound cake and your angel food cake: simple, elegant, irresistible.

Or not.


Today, I’m starting a new segment, News of the Future-Past, a homage to the future rewriting of history, which as we all know will happen because we’ve done so much of it before and we continue to do it today, and we will continue to do it until we all get tired of it–the day after never. Continual re-interpretation of the historical record is so rampant and expected it shouldn’t be remarkable…but I can have fun with it. Future historians take note: these vignettes are presented for amusement, entertainment, and punditry. Almost none of them didn’t ever happen.

And you thought you were confused before.

In News of the Future-Past, on 9 July 2018, nuclear war with North Korea was narrowly averted by the courageous intervention of President-Emeritus Legtingle Lightworker and his tireless Secretary-of-State-Forever-in-the-Mind Swift-Boat Johnny. It should be recalled that Johnny was the same former presidential candidate whose memory of a Nixon speech denying that US forces were in Cambodia was seared–seared–into his mind when he was more than a hundred miles outside that country–and he later said he was in it at the time. More history that didn’t happen.


Like this post if you agree:

History: The only test for the consequences of ideas.

Sealion and Independence Day 2018

Hot time, summer in the Great Lakes, back of my neck gettin’…um…that doesn’t work. Well, let’s see what does.

On 2 July 1566 the seer called Nostradamus died in Provence, France; whether or not he predicted his death is impossible to know since his prophecies have been so bowdlerized over the centuries, many original texts having been lost:  he might have, or not. Also on this day in 1644, William Gascoigne was killed at the battle of Marston Moor in Yorkshire, England; Gascoigne was the inventor of the micrometer and the telescopic sight, and Marston Moor was the decisive battle in that phase of the English Civil War. But never mind, James II disbanded Parliament on 2 July 1687, partly as punishment for his grandfather’s ouster. On 2 July 1871, Charles Tupper was born–and he had nothing to do with Tupperware but was a Father of Confederation and the 6th Prime Minister of Canada. And today in 1900, the first Zeppelin flew over Lake Constance in Germany, and just sixteen years later Hans-Ulrich Rudel was born in Konradswaldau, in what is now Poland but was then part of Germany; Rudel was the most decorated German airman in WWII, and author of the memoir, Stuka Pilot.  It’s also National Anisette Day because, well, somebody said so. But today we’re going to talk about an invasion that never could have been, and the difference between declaring independence and being independent.

While this story has been peddled for decades by book writers and movie-makers, the truth is that the Germans were never particularly serious about invading England, and much of their preparations were meant to merely frighten her to the peace table.

After the British Army had its head handed to it in France and the Low Countries in June 1940, the story goes, Hitler was merely waiting for Britain to give up and make peace. When that didn’t happen, the Germans prepared to invade the British Isles. This scary prospect supposedly shocked and galvanized Britons into all sorts of gyrations to defend their island against the dreaded invaders. While this story has been peddled for decades by book writers and movie-makers, the truth is that the Germans were never particularly serious about invading England, and much of their preparations were meant to merely frighten her to the peace table.

In addition, neither the Luftwaffe nor the Kriegesmarine had any enthusiasm for the project. In short, Seelowe (Sea Lion) was a plan without willing participants or a shred of a possibility for success.

On 2 July 1940, the OKW,  (Oberkommando des Wehrmacht, or Armed Forces High Command) instructed the three branches of Germany’s military to do some studies for the invasion, with the preconditions that air and naval supremacy had already been established in the English Channel and much of southeastern England. The services dutifully prepared elaborate estimates, some of which required equipment that Germany didn’t have. On 16 July, having heard a synopsis of the estimates, Hitler issued his Directive 16 that ordered that preparations be made for the invasion. The services dutifully complied, again, and started collecting landing craft and troops. Absent in Directive 16 was the reality that the RAF and the RN were still viable forces in the area, and no matter what else happened they would still be viable when the preparations were supposed to be complete at the end of August, nor was a combined headquarters provided for. In addition, neither the Luftwaffe nor the Kriegesmarine had any enthusiasm for the project. In short, Seelowe (Sea Lion) was a plan without willing participants or a shred of a possibility for success.

Though Prime Minister Churchill was aware of all these non-gloomy official assessments, he was counseled to assume that the worst could happen if nothing else to get Britain moving in aggressive directions; that was his public persona.

But on the other side of the Channel, despite having only one fully equipped division in Britain–and that Canadian–the higher-ups in the British Army, Royal Air Force, and Royal Navy were somewhat sanguine. They had access to the tidal charts and eggheads who had been studying them for centuries. These eggheads were queried time after time since 1935 about the possibility of an invasion of England from France, and the answer was always the same: surprise was impossible because of the slow tides; an invasion force big enough to create a lodgement had to be larger than the Channel ports could accommodate; the Channel current flow was a bear that any force could overcome only with large numbers and concentration beyond German capacities. Besides, the intelligence men were saying, the Germans had zero experience with large-scale amphibious operations. Though Prime Minister Churchill was aware of all these non-gloomy official assessments, he was counseled to assume that the worst could happen if nothing else to get Britain moving in aggressive directions; that was his public persona.

After the failure of the Battle of Britain, Seelowe was postponed indefinitely on 17 September 1940.

The preconditions for the invasion, of course, were never met. The Luftwaffe never got close to air supremacy over the Channel or over England itself–they could barely keep the RAF from shooting up the collections of barges for the land forces. The Kriegsmarine was never more than a commerce-raiding force and were never a serious challenge to the Royal Navy. Thus the British Army could build up its forces in Britain and send troops to North Africa and wherever else the Empire needed them. After the failure of the Battle of Britain, Seelowe was postponed indefinitely on 17 September 1940.


Wednesday is Independence Day in the US–the 4th of July. It celebrates the day in 1776 that the Continental Congress in Philadelphia approved the text of the Declaration of Independence, and to mark that approval John Hancock affixed his signature to it. But, as those of us who have adult children living with them can attest, declaring independence is a far cry from being independent. For one thing, there were forces already in motion that, within two months, would largely destroy the largest American Army, Washington’s on Long Island. There was nowhere in the American colonies that the war was going particularly well for more than a year until about 1782. Another six years of often desperate fighting makes the 1776 declaration presumptuous, at best.

But it was a necessary step to get all the colonies at least thinking in the same terms. Thought the fractious United States would bicker and fight and argue with the others for the next four score and nine years–until 1865–the basic notion that they made up a self-governing republic without the need of a monarch on the other side of the Atlantic wasn’t seriously questioned. But financial independence had to wait until WWI when the center of the financial world gradually shifted from London to New York.

Britain’s “Darkest Hour” and National Old Maid’s Day

June! Had to happen eventually, unless the SMOD (Sweet Meteor of Death) caught up to us. Then, you wouldn’t be reading this, either.

But other 4 Junes have seen momentous events. On this date in 781 BC, a lunar eclipse was observed and recorded in China–one of the earliest such an event was recorded. And on this day in 1738, the future King George III was born at Norfolk House on St James Square in London–the first of the Hanover kings to be born in England and the first who never visited the ancestral seat in Germany. On 4 June 1783, the Montgolfier brothers–papermakers in Annonay, France–publicly demonstrated their hot-air balloon in an unmanned flight for the first time; the flight lasted all of ten minutes and rose to an altitude of about 6,000 feet, but created a sensation. In Lyon exactly a year later, Elizabeth Thible, dressed as Minerva, was the first woman to fly in an untethered balloon; her male companion was said to have sung duets with her while aloft. In 1942, on the other side of the world, the battle of Midway began, employing more than a thousand fixed-wing aircraft and not a single balloon. But today we’re talking about Britain’s dark days in 1940, and about spinsters.

This was the last mission of the Sea Fencibles–Britain’s “fishermen’s militia” called to service once more–risked everything to save a desperate army.

There are times in history where choices are made that, in hindsight, are so simple and elegant that it beggars the imagination how anyone could have done anything differently. After a month of fighting the German onslaught across the Low Countries and France, there was not a lot of fight left in the BEF, and it and other trapped Allied troops that could be pulled off had to be pulled out of France to get ready for the next battle–the one for England. On 4 June 1940, the RAF and the Royal Navy ended what was called Operation DYNAMO, the evacuation of troops from the coastal ports and beaches that included Dunkirk, the best known. Over 330,000 British Empire soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen were hauled off the piers, moles, and beaches of the French ports. But too there were nearly 140,000 French, Polish, Belgian, and Dutch fighting men were withdrawn. This was the last mission of the Sea Fencibles–Britain’s “fishermen’s militia” that had been derided by regular sailors for most of their existence. But called to service once more, between 800 and 900 small vessels from a two-meter sailing vessel named Dinky to ferries, merchant ships, Thames yachts, fishing smacks and merchant ships risked everything to save a desperate army.

Ultimately, the fact that the British and their Allies could pull such a combined operation together with a few hours of planning said much about the disparities in Allied vs German combat power. 

What is not often recognized amid the heroism and chaos in those desperate days is that the interregnum that allowed the nine-day operation was a sign of German weakness. While the German Army pressed around the edges, much of the German Army in northern France was out of fuel, having outrun its supplies. While the Luftwaffe attacked the air umbrella and occasionally the desperate operation of the surface, They, too, had come to the limits of their operational range. While several U-boats attacked the streams of ships and boats, the Kriegsmarine had no way of coordinating any other attacking units. Ultimately, while the several German commanders would point fingers at each other for their failure to stop the evacuation, the fact that the British and their Allies could pull such a combined operation together with a few hours of planning said much about the disparities in Allied vs German combat power.

On that same day, Winston Churchill, who had been Prime Minister for a little less than a month, addressed the House of Commons in what has since been called the “we shall fight them on the beaches” speech. Among other notable passages, it included:

…we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…

After delivering the entire address (about 10 minutes or so), Churchill was heard to also quip “And we’ll fight them with the butt ends of broken beer bottles because that’s bloody well all we’ve got!

The speech was instantly hailed as historic and has since been referred to as one of the seminal speeches of World War II–if not ever–in English. As desperate as Britain was, with worn-out troops and no equipment, having been run off the Continent in four weeks and everywhere else beset, Britain still had the cheek–or at least a leader with the cheek–to keep fighting.


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By definition–unmarried and childless–Miss Keaton is an Old Maid

And then, National Old Maid’s Day. Why you ask.  Well, in 1948 large swathes of American communities had men returning from military service. Many men had lost wives and sweethearts to time and distance, defense workers and earlier returning fellow veterans. “Old maids” started to look pretty good to some returning veterans. as for the most part, these never-married, childless women were stable, often of independent means, and–some–were desperate to spend their lives with male company regardless of personal foibles.

Guests ranged from 75 years old down to an age when hope still flickered

In that year, Marion Richards of Jeffersonville, PA (a suburb of Philadelphia not far from Valley Forge), held the first Old Maid’s Day gathering. According to a June 4, 1982, Asbury Park Press (NJ) article, “Guests ranged from 75 years old down to an age when hope still flickered.” Richards created the day to honor all the contributions Old Maids offer to their communities and their families.

As Miss Keaton says, the traditional spinster pining away her golden years waiting for a Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet it a myth.

In Richard’s time, older single women played a major role in many areas of the schools, churches, offices, and families. However, as Miss Keaton had shown, these women can be much more than that. While in my experience I have known very few true “old maids” in part due to my generation’s ideas of marriage, I have been privileged to know several women who were widowed or divorced early in life and who went on to live full and enriching lives. Well-known women who were not technically “old maids” include Katherine Hepburn (who was married in 1928 and divorced in 1934, passing at age 96) and Oprah Winfrey (who had a child at 14 that died shortly after birth). As Miss Keaton says, the traditional spinster pining away her golden years waiting for a Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet it a myth.

 

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.