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Trinity and National Personal Chef Day

OK, mid-July at last. Now if you haven’t fired up that grill yet, you’d better, because the siege of the mosquitos is about to begin, and you have to have a way to roast the little buggers. And, as we all know, People for the Ethical Treatment of (some) Animals is requiring that all of us homo saps provide food for all living creatures…except the annoying ones.

On 16 July 1790, the District of Columbia was established, carving out parts of Maryland and Virginia on the Potomac River; while Congress was aware that most of the land was still a swampy wilderness, they apparently felt at home there–and still do. And in 1863, the New York “draft” riots ended with the Union Army’s VI Corps patrolling the streets; while the draft offices were the easiest targets, the riot is also attributed to unrest over jobs, the payment of substitutes for the draft, and a general feeling that “outsiders” who included Negroes, Irish, and Germans were taking advantage of war-driven shortages. On 16 July 1940, Philippe Petain, French hero of WWI, became the Premier of the new French government at Vichy; while Petain felt he was only doing duty to his country, postwar Frenchmen would condemn him to life in prison and exile. And on 16 July 1969, Apollo XI launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida; in three days they would orbit the moon, and in four, land on the Sea of Tranquility.  Today is also National Corn Fritters Day because, somewhere in the long-ago past, someone said it was. But today, we talk about mushroom clouds in the desert and personal chefs.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_(nuclear_test)#/media/File:Trinity_Site_Obelisk_National_Historic_Landmark.jpg
Trinity National Historic Landmark, NPS

In 1933, the legend goes, Leo Szilard conceived the idea of the nuclear chain reaction, and everything after that was just a matter of engineering. Szilard was also credited with drafting the letter that Albert Einstein signed to President Roosevelt that has been ascribed to have been the trigger for the Manhattan Engineer District and the development of the atom bomb.

Nonetheless, the Americans began official, government-funded research on a nuclear weapon when the Manhattan Engineer District was formed on 6 December 1941. 

The letter wasn’t a suggestion to build a bomb, but a warning that the Germans might be on the way to building one. What no one outside of Germany knew at the time was that, yes there were eminent scientists in Germany working on a nuclear weapon, but their leader, Walther Heisenberg, had the theory wrong and couldn’t have built one based on his work. Nonetheless, the Americans began official, government-funded research on a nuclear weapon when the Manhattan Engineer District was formed on 6 December 1941.

They  made weird-looking explosive bricks and wedges, they turned metals into shapes with tolerances of zero, they watched columns of water change color, they built a tower in a sandy desert miles away from everything.

In the course of the next four years, an entire industry was formed in six states, employing nearly 120,000 people in total. Only a handful of these people knew exactly what they were working on. They extracted enriched uranium and plutonium, they made weird-looking explosive bricks and wedges, they turned metals into shapes with tolerances of zero, they watched columns of water change color, they built a tower in a sandy desert scores of miles away from everything.

The observers were told that when the light beams came together and stopped, they would have ten seconds to turn away–or it would be the last thing they ever saw.

In the summer of 1945, all the pieces were together in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Over the course of a week, the eggheads assembled the big round ball with its exotic triggers, thick wires and that ball of shiny material in the middle. Near midnight on 15 July 1945, the thousands of watchers started to fill the bleachers. At about 2 in the morning of 16 August, two searchlights started to sweep the air over the tower in the desert. The observers were given goggles, and were told that when the light beams came together and stopped, they would have ten seconds to turn away–or it would be the last thing they ever saw.

One member of the Special Engineering Division said that, among his coterie, the only subject of conversation afterwards was “so that’s what we’ve been doing.”

At 5:29 on 16 July 1945, the Trinity site–what the entire effort to assemble and detonate the “gadget” in that lonely patch of desert was called–became like a sun as the implosion-type plutonium-core nuclear device was detonated under those light beams. The explosive power of the weapon was rated at about 20 kilotons–20,000 tons of TNT. Blind persons fifty miles away were said to have seen the flash of light brighter than a star for a millionth of a second. One witness miles away from the official viewing stand–a member of the Special Engineering Division of technicians hired to do scut work–said that, among his coterie, the only subject of conversation afterward was “so that’s what we’ve been doing.”

On the same day, USS Indianapolis left the Mare Island naval station for San Francisco, where they would load parts of the bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima three weeks later.

By the standards of 2018 it would be a large tactical nuclear device, but by the standards of 1945, it was an enormous device. On the same day, USS Indianapolis left the Mare Island naval station for San Francisco, where they would load parts of the bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima three weeks later.

For those of you who might plan to actually go there, you have to want to find it–the Park Service didn’t make it easy to find in 1976 when I was there (in fact, our bus driver got lost). Take your own water, because there’s nothing out there other than the obelisk shown above–not even a gift shop. Fittingly, it’s a lonely, desolate place in the middle of what is now the White Sands Missile Range.


Today is also National Personal Chefs Day by decree of the folks at the National Day Calendar and the United States Personal Chef Association (USPCA).  Now, why it’s on 16 July is still a mystery, but there really has been an (apparently) professional organization for this kind of thing since 1991. Their description:

A Personal Chef is a culinary professional that comes directly to your home to provide you a wide variety of personalized cooking services. Each Personal Chef is an independent business owner who will work closely with you to provide personalized and customized services that fit your specific tastes and needs.

And here I always called them “cooks.”

But if you’ve got a personal chef, do something nice for them today, for it’s their day, like take them out for lunch. Or something.


And, in News of the Future-Past, on this day in 2018 King Fred of Wahoozistan (also known as Joyce the Broad-Shouldered) launched his campaign against their sworn enemies in neighboring Jeosophat in a lightning campaign that was stopped dead in its tracks by a lone goatherd just inside the border. Surviving accounts attribute the forever-nameless nomad with turning his shepherd’s crook into a dozen Krispy Kream glazed doughnuts with a mere wave of his cell phone. The aroma of these delectable fat pills so attracted the starving army that they started to fight among themselves, causing the ill-starred invasion to collapse.

And now you don’t know that, either. Take that, future researchers.

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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.

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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.

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Fall of Okinawa and National Leon Day

Nearly July already. The grass should be up by now, first sweep of allergy season over, and ready to move into Independence Day next week, this year in the middle of the week so dreams of three- or four-day weekends are just that. June is, however, one of three months in the US calendar that have no Federal, bank-closing holidays; March and April are the other two. For what it’s worth.

But June has events enough. On 25 June 1678 Elena Cornaro Piscopia became the first woman in the world to earn a Ph.D.; hers was in music, but she lectured in mathematics and was fluent in Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, French, and Latin–makes you feel like an underachiever, don’t it? And, on 25 June 1863, while the Army of Northern Virginia was invading the North again, George Meade took command of the Army of the Potomac from Joe Hooker; “Old Snapping Turtle” Meade had ruined his back a year before during the Seven Days’, and was known as an irascible but sensible commander. On 25 June 1950, the Korean War began which, remarkably, may finally come to an end during the administration of “warmonger” Trump who, we were assured in 2016, would begin a nuclear holocaust Any Minute Now. Today is also National Strawberry Parfait Day because someone wanted it to be today. But today we’re going to talk about the end of Okinawa, and pure marketing holidays.

This is what Okinawa looks like these days

https://okinawa-japan.com/
Okinawa ca 2018

This isn’t the same beach, but it might have been.

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/484277766167035253/?lp=true
Another view

One of the more remarkable things a historical writer gets to do is decide which times in the past he wants to concentrate on, and through what lens it is to be viewed. My co-writer and I have been working on Japan in the Pacific War off and on for nearly a decade. Our latest effort, Why the Samurai Lost Japan, focuses on the “why” of the Japanese aggression in the 20th century. In so doing, we’ve created a narrative that seems to be unique. This essay is in that spirit.

When 77-year old retired IJN Admiral Suzuki Kantaro, who had been Japan’s Prime Minister for less than two weeks, announced that the last of the Okinawa garrisons had been overwhelmed, it was his way of announcing that Japan was doomed.

On this day, 25 June 1945, we have to note, the bakufu–military government–of Japan announced to its people that Okinawa had been lost to the Americans. Many commentators have missed the significance of this event. Mostly the announcement is regarded as a “so what” event by those whose access to information is free and, in the 21st century, instantaneous. But in wartime Japan, leaders admitting that a part of metropolitan Japan had been captured by an enemy who was supposed to have been unwilling to fight at all was, by then, both breathtaking and soul-numbing. Barely a year before, Tojo Hideki had lost his jobs as Prime Minister/War Minister/Chief of the Imperial General Staff after admitting to the loss of Saipan. When 77-year old retired IJN Admiral Suzuki Kantaro, who had been Japan’s Prime Minister for less than two weeks, announced that the last of the Okinawa garrisons had been overwhelmed, it was his way of announcing that Japan was doomed.

Since the 1920s, the shishi had been killing those who opposed their visions of Japan’s future.

Most scholars have written about the end of WWII in the Pacific in one of two ways: either as a triumphalist American campaign attacking the Home Islands with impunity or as a hopeless Japanese resistance driven by fanatics. Trouble is that both have elements of truth, but neither is complete. Both ignore the fact that Japan had been driven by fanatics for decades. These neo-samurai had among them young men with dreamy views of an Imperial Japan that had never existed, where His Majesty ruled directly, unfettered by pettifogging politicians, where strict moral codes (theirs) were enforced. The most dedicated of these were known as Young Men of Purpose, contracted in Japanese as shihi. They were scattered all over the services, in influential enough positions so that they had access to those at the heights of power. Since the 1920s, the shishi had been killing those who opposed their visions of Japan’s future.

To the samurai, failure of any kind and on any scale–from fighting wars to writing a message–resulted in death: not as punishment, but as a natural consequence of failure.

The doom that Suzuki announced wasn’t as stark as saying “that’s all, folks” Bugs Bunny fashion, but its implications were far more stark. In the samurai culture that dominated the Japanese leadership, the strong resistance that would be offered to any invaders would certainly destroy any vestige of a Japanese state or empire. But this was not a punishment–it was the natural consequence of Japan’s inability to achieve the samurai’s goal of self-sufficiency. To the samurai, failure of any kind and on any scale–from fighting wars to writing a message–resulted in death: not as punishment, but as a natural consequence of failure.

The announcement of the loss of Okinawa on 25 June 1945 set the stage for both the samurai’s Gotterdammerung and the Showa’s rescue of Japan from it.

This was well known among those in the military, and to most Japanese civilians both in Japan and out. The Potsdam Declaration a month later was met with silent contempt at the time because there was no other way the samurai could answer it. Surrender was, for them, impossible. Those who spoke of it, overtly or covertly, risked being killed by a shishi in the next office, or desk. But in August, when the Showa Emperor Hirohito realized that he didn’t want to see his country exterminated, he decided to take the Allies up on their Potsdam Declaration and told his government to do just that. You see, the Showa wasn’t a samurai, so he didn’t have a failure=death mindset. Though there were several shishi who tried to prevent compliance with the Emperor’s wishes–they believed that His Majesty was being misled by bad counselors–that resulted in several score casualties, they couldn’t stop it. The announcement of the loss of Okinawa on 25 June 1945 set the stage for both the samurai’s Gotterdammerung and the Showa’s rescue of Japan from it.


Now, National Leon Day is one of those national days that I have to scratch my head over. The “logic” behind it is that it’s exactly half a year to Christmas (Leon is Noel backward), yet the good folks at National Day Calendar can’t find whose brilliant idea it was. It seems like a natural for all those marketing types to jump on with as much gusto as they could muster–any excuse for a sale. But…no. Too, there’s a complication: Leon Day.

https://baseballhall.org/discover/leon-day-day
Leon Day, Hall of Fame Pitcher

Leon Day was one of the best players of his time, playing every position but catcher. He was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown in 1995. Marketing thus runs into the crass commercialism of Christmas versus commemorating something of a legend. And we can’t have that.

So, it is recommended that those who make their Christmas gifts by hand observe National Leon Day by getting started on your macrame or paper-mache or knitting or whatever else it is you clever sods can do for your loved ones. And you can watch baseball at the same time if you’re so inclined.

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Simon B. Buckner and National Splurge Day

Mid-June already? Where does the year go? With no snow to punctuate life with, how does one know the passing of time? Eh, not that hard: just look at my bank account. But yesterday was Father’s Day in the US, and for all those of you who forgot, the Big Guy probably did too. For those of you who are fathers, hope you were at least as well treated as you treated the mothers in your life.

On this 18th day of June, a number of important and trivial events were known to have taken place. One was the beginning of the Tang Dynasty in China in 618, sometimes regarded as a high point in Chinese civilization. The Tang saw the rise of Buddhism in China and its decline; by the end of the dynasty in 907 the mechanisms of central administration were breaking down due in part to a population explosion. And on this day in 1682, William Penn founded Philadelphia, and on the same day in 1778, the British would abandon it under pressure. The last day of the Waterloo campaign, the climactic clash between Napoleon and Wellington that is the best-known 19th-century battle was on 18 June 1815: Napoleon ran out of time before dark, and his men simply ran out of energy. Speaking of generals, Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov died in Moscow on 18 June 1974, a victim of many things, including his own success. Zhukov was arguably the best Soviet general of the Stalinist period, who won far more than he lost in an age of military inefficiency. Today is also National Go Fishing Day, which for some is a way of looking like they’re doing something when in fact they are not. But today, we’ll talk about legacies and self-indulgence.

Simon B. Buckner was one of US Grant’s best friends, and Grant didn’t have many friends.

The name Simon Bolivar Buckner should be a familiar one to most anyone who has studied either the American Civil War or World War II. Simon B. Buckner Senior was one of US Grant’s best friends before the war broke out, and Grant didn’t have many friends. When the rift came in 1861, Grant remained loyal to the Union, and Buckner remained loyal to Kentucky, where he landed in 1857 after leaving the Army.  While Kentucky remained neutral–perilously–and Buckner assembled militiamen to defend it, Illinois, where Grant was, started assembling militiamen to send to fight to preserve the Union. Grant, even before he was commissioned, began organizing men even as he was eying the secessionists just across the Ohio River.

Buckner, knowing that fighting it out would only result in more casualties, surrendered his command to his old friend Grant.  

The crisis came for Grant and Buckner in February 1862, when General Grant and General Buckner faced each other at Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River. Grant had already taken Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and was poised to push the Confederates out of Kentucky altogether. Expecting, perhaps, to be afforded the “honors of war” to be offered, Buckner appealed to his old friend Grant for surrender terms. Grant’s famous reply of “unconditional surrender” electrified the Union, which was starving for action and especially victories. Buckner, knowing that fighting it out would only result in more casualties, surrendered his command to his old friend Grant.

Simon B. Buckner had the unique distinction of being both the first and the last Confederate general to voluntarily surrender a command.

Buckner was exchanged in August 1862 (that was still done at the time) and promoted to major general. He fought well at Perryville in October 1862 and was sent to Mobile, Alabama to prepare defenses there. Back in field command in the fall of 1863, Buckner missed Chickamauga and was relieved of command for trying to get Braxton Bragg replaced as a field commander. In the spring of 1864, Buckner was sent to the Trans-Mississippi theater.  Simon B. Buckner had the unique distinction of being both the first (Fort Donelson) and the last (the Trans-Mississippi) Confederate general to voluntarily surrender a command.*

Buckner fils commanded troops in Alaska before he was given the command of the Tenth Army and the invasion of Okinawa.

At the age of 64, Buckner fathered a son while he was governor of Kentucky, Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr, who was born on 18 July 1886 and accompanied the old gentleman on his presidential campaign in 1896. Buckner Sr. lived long enough to see his son graduate from his alma mater, the US Military Academy at West Point, in 1908. Buckner pere passed in January 1914, nearly 90. But the son spent WWI in the Philippines and drilling aviation cadets, but would spend the next seventeen years as an instructor and a student in the burgeoning graduate education system. Buckner fils commanded troops in Alaska before he was given the command of the Tenth Army and the invasion of Okinawa.

Evacuated immediately to a nearby aid station, Buckner died on the operating table. His command fell to Roy Geiger.

After more than six weeks of fierce struggle on Okinawa, Buckner was visiting a forward observation post about 300 yards behind the front lines on 18 June 1945. Regardless of personal security, his vehicle arrived festooned with three-star flags, making it an inviting target for the observant Japanese. Belatedly exchanging his three-star helmet for one without, Buckner was observing the Marine assault on Ibaru Ridge when a small-caliber, flat-trajectory Japanese shell (thought to have been 47 mm) struck a nearby rock and sprayed fragments into his chest. Evacuated immediately to a nearby aid station, Buckner died on the operating table. His command fell to Roy Geiger.

*Stand Watie, who held out for fifteen days longer than Buckner, was a part of Buckner’s command.


Today is National Splurge Day because Adrienne Sioux Koopersmith wanted it to be in 1994. Now, this woman bills herself as America’s Premier Eventologist, and as the only “eventologist” that I’ve ever heard of, I suppose that could be. But CNN covered her and a few other oddballs in a story in February 2018.

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Really?

In any event, “splurge” is a common reference to spending resources on ones’ self. As the bride above could be spending her father’s money, it is more likely that she splurges on her own. While marrying couples can spend money like drunken sailors or ad execs at a convention these days, such things aren’t called “splurging,” just spending on things of dubious value. While you can do whatever it is you want to do on this particular day, just don’t spend my money doing it. In other words, if you’re living off student loans, don’t use it to get yourself a full body wax.

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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.

 

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Sugar Loaf Ends and National Women’s Checkup Day

OK, 14 May. Yesterday was Mother’s Day (you did remember, didn’t you?), and I hope all you mothers out there were well feted and pampered. I also trust that those of you who still have mothers or mothers-in-law or ersatz-mothers did your duty in pampering and honoring them. One can only hope. We can also pray for a snow-free Mother’s Day in the Great Lakes.

On 14 May 1610, the colony known as Jamestown in Virginia was founded; my ancestor arrived there in chains from Ireland about a year later. Also on this day in 1686, Daniel Fahrenheit was born in what was then Prussia; he would later develop the Fahrenheit temperature scale based on the freezing and boiling points of water, then a revolutionary development. Also in the world of science, on 14 May 1796 Edward Jenner would first innoculate a patient using a cowpox strain; while Jenner was the first to inoculate using scientific means, primitive inoculations had been used using other sick patients’ weeping pus to bring on a milder form of the disease for some time before that. On this day in 1919 Henry J. Heinz–famous for ketchup–died; and on this day in 1954, Heinz Guderian–famous for armored warfare–died. But today we talk about rocks on islands and women’s health.

Announcements of the end of the war in Germany on 8 May did not affect the chaos and slaughter on Okinawa at all.

By the beginning of May 1945, most of the island of Okinawa was in American hands. Since the invasion on 1 April by the Tenth Army’s half million men, the Japanese had defended the island’s mountainous southern parts with their Thirty-Second Army’s 76,000 men plus conscripts with far more tenacity than the flatter parts to the north. The main Japanese holdouts were on the southern 1/3rd of the island, where a series of defensive lines of mutually supporting killing zones made the fighting a nightmare of noise and dust. Announcements of the end of the war in Germany on 8 May did not affect the chaos and slaughter on Okinawa at all.

To crack the Shuri Line, Sugar Loaf had to be secured. It fell on the 6th Marine Divisions to do the job.

One of these defensive lines was centered on Shuri Castle, which had been the seat of the independent Ryukyu Kingdom until it was annexed by Japan in 1879. The castle itself had been shelled and bombed repeatedly, but the Japanese held firm on the defensive line. One of the many defensive positions on the Shuri Line was dubbed Sugar Loaf Hill by the Marines fighting there. Barely fifty feet above the surrounding ridgeline and perhaps three hundred yards long, Sugar Loaf Hill is just east of the city of Naha, one of Okinawa’s principle municipalities and the western anchor for the Shuri Line. To crack the Shuri Line, Sugar Loaf had to be secured. It fell on the 6th Marine Divisions to do the job.

From https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/npswapa/extcontent/usmc/pcn-190-003135-00/sec5a.htm
Shuri Line, March 1945

If only it were a simple job. Not only were the Japanese positions mutually supporting, they were mutually supporting in all directions. In some cases, it became necessary to attack in three directions at once to clear a single position. An entire book has been written on this one insignificant land feature. From the Marine Corps Association website:

The Japanese were so entrenched that many Marines fought … without ever sighting the enemy…[describing] a colonel shaking hands with the Marines who returned from one of the fights…one Marine refused to shake hands, saying: “I don’t deserve any commendation. I took the worst licking of my life and never even got one of them in my sights.”

The 6th Marine Division was practically destroyed by the time they secured the hill on 14 May 1945. Nearly a thousand Marines were killed there, and more than 2,500 wounded, at a cost of just over 1,000 Japanese. But their sacrifice helped outflank Shuri Castle itself, even though it would be another two weeks of hard fighting to before the ruins of the castle itself were secured.

When I write stories like this, I come back to the penultimate scenes in Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966). In its 2002 restoration form, the film becomes more than a western–it becomes an anti-war film on the scale of Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1959). The cemetery where the Maguffin is buried is called Sad Hill. That cemetery is only accessible using a single bridge that has been fought over for months by opposing forces. But once the bridge is no longer an issue…no more futile battles.

What if there were no more hills and bridges to fight over? We would still fight over something…it’s in our nature.


This is National Women’s Checkup Day (the second Monday in May), a part of National Women’s Health Week (the week after Mother’s Day every year*). While women procrastinate about checkups as men do, the latest polling numbers indicate…not as much. An annual no longer costs anything in the US but time and may save your life. But…

From https://www.pinterest.com.au/bobnbarb71/funny/
Wile E. Coyote says…

But seriously, folks. Health is important for everyone. I’ve come to like going to my internist, a lovely younger woman (about my daughter’s age) who has put up with my intransigence about my shaky health for going on eighteen years. She says I’ve got at least another decade in me. Good for her.

Stop by next week, folks.

*There’s also an observance of Women’s Health Week the week of Labor Day in some locations.

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VE Day and National Packaging Design Day

And today, 7 May. Very little snow should be in the Great Lakes forecast, but that is not to say no snow. I remember well one May evening in 1988 we were told to expect partly cloudy skies and awoke to 8.5 inches of white and heavy “partly-cloudy” on my driveway and sidewalk.

Nonetheless, 7 May 1429 was when the French, inspired by Joan of Arc, lifted the siege of Orleans. Also on this day in 1660, a fella named Issac Fubine may have started the macaroni wars by patenting his macaroni in Amsterdam; funny it sounds and dubious it may be, but folks these days are deadly serious about macaroni design. And on 7 May 1765, HMS Victory, the 100-gun First-Rate line-of-battle ship that was the flagship for Lord Nelson at Trafalgar, was launched out of Chatham Dockyard; now a museum ship, Victory is the oldest commissioned warship in the world.  Also on 7 May in 1826, Varina Howell Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis, was born in Natchez, Mississippi; Varina was the only First Lady of the Confederacy and would survive her husband by nearly 20 years.  On this day in 1815, RMS Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk off Kinsale Head, Ireland; while celebrated as a cause celebre against Germany in the US, she was admittedly carrying ammunition and ordnance equipment. And on 7 May 1942, the naval battle known as the Coral Sea ended, the first naval battle where the belligerent surface ships never saw each other; while neither side “won” the Japanese lost most of two carrier air groups that would be sorely missed a month later at Midway. Today is also National Paste-Up Day for reasons known only to eternity, and National Leg of Lamb Day, ditto. But today, we talk about the end of the slaughter in Germany, and about packaging design.

Germany was losing control of territory at a rate about the size of Connecticut every day from March 1945 onward.

By the spring of 1945, Europe had been at war for almost six years. The British economy was still going only on American capital; the other economies of Europe were on life support. There had been nearly two million casualties a year since 1939, and the last eight months of the war had seen nearly a million killed, wounded and prisoners a month–except around Berlin, where the rate was doubled. The two largest land armies in Europe–Soviet and American–were hewing the remnant of the Germans into smaller and smaller enclaves by the hour. Germany was losing control of territory at a rate about the size of Connecticut every day from March 1945 onward.

By April 1945, not only were communications with Berlin unreliable, they were no longer thought of as necessary.

On 28 April 1945, Benito Mussolini and his mistress Claretta Petacchi were executed by Italian partisans in Giulino in northern Italy. Their bodies were displayed at a nearby gas works. The next day, Axis forces in Italy surrendered to the Allies without reference to Berlin. By April 1945, not only were communications with Berlin unreliable, they were no longer thought of as necessary.

The Soviets, whose total casualties for WWII are still incalculable, didn’t care who they killed as long as they took Berlin.

On 30 April 1945, Hitler and Eva Braun took their own lives in the Reichs Chancellory bunker in Berlin. By then Soviet troops were within 700 yards of the structure, advancing at a rate of about 400 yards a day. They were fighting not just regular German soldiers and Volkssturm militiamen but non-uniformed civilians who took up weapons with the soldiers and started fighting–unorganized, untrained, undisciplined, but fight they did. The Soviets, whose total casualties for WWII are still incalculable, didn’t care who they killed as long as they took Berlin.

…the US Army would report some 1,300 deaths a week due to non-combat causes (including disease, booby-traps, and ruined infrastructure) worldwide in the spring of 1945.

On the other side of ever-shrinking Germany the British and Americans, French and Poles, Canadians and Dutch, Belgians and Czechs were as likely to simply round up stragglers as they were to have to fight organized German units. While the prisoner and refugee camps grew in size so did the casualty lists, and not just to combat or direct enemy action. Their own equipment was wearing out at an alarming rate: the US Army would report some 1,300 deaths a week due to non-combat causes (including disease, booby-traps, and ruined infrastructure) worldwide in the spring of 1945.

When Breslau fell on 6 May, there were simply no large German maneuver forces left.

When the end came in Germany it came swiftly.  The shooting ended in Berlin on 2 May, and the German commander Helmuth Weidling surrendered his remnants to the nearest Soviet commander Vasily Chuikov. Army Group Vistula, consisting of about 45,000 Germans, surrendered to American forces the same day. On 2 May, Bernard Montgomery accepted the surrender of about a million Germans in Northern Germany and Scandinavia. When Breslau fell on 6 May, there were simply no large German maneuver forces left.

Though VE Day is usually recognized as 8 May when the news was released in the West, it was another day in Eastern Europe, 9 May, that is usually celebrated at Victory Day.

On 7 May 1945, Alfred Jodl signed the unconditional surrender document near Dwight Eisenhower’s SHAEF headquarters at Rheims, the same day the surrender was announced to German forces in Norway. Though all Germans were ordered to stop fighting, there were hold-outs fighting in Yugoslavia until 25 May. Though VE Day is usually recognized as 8 May when the news was released in the West, it was another day in Eastern Europe, 9 May, that is usually celebrated at Victory Day.

The Americans, still grimly planning their invasion of Japan, were trying to keep the VE Day celebrations to a minimum, not certain how the other half of their World War Two was going to be resolved.

While the celebrations were as wild in Europe as they would be three months later in the US, Europeans generally had a good deal less energy than the Americans. Worse, they had millions of displaced persons, prisoners of war, and war refugees who, though relieved by the conclusion of the fighting, still had to struggle to survive. The Americans, still grimly planning their invasion of Japan, were trying to keep the VE Day celebrations to a minimum, not certain how the other half of their World War Two was going to be resolved.


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As opposed to duct tape…?

7 May is National Packaging Design Day, which was founded by Design Packaging. a high-end retail packaging design outfit that would not design anything like the young lady’s dress above, and was proclaimed by the Registrar of National Day Calendar on April 22, 2015. Why it is today is one of the mysteries of the ages.

My brother-in-law Steve was a packaging engineer early in his post-college life. When he graduated in ’70 it was from the only 4-year program in the country at Michigan State University in Lansing (which was where he met my sister Lois and became my brother-in-law). Until then, like most everyone else, packaging was not high on my list of things to think about, but since then I attended the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) and came to know some of the Packaging Technology (another unique program) students there, and gave some more thought to packaging.

Well, at least a few minutes of thought, likely more than any of you have. Packaging in the 1970s was a great deal different than it is today. So much of it these days is tamper-proof (a nice way of saying “customer-proof”) and bio-degradable or recyclable. Then, not so much. But, too, stuff like bubble wrap (which has its own day) only came along in the last couple of decades or so, and the biodegradable stuff only in the last decade. For all the packaging we discard, we keep about 10%, only to discard most of it later. Biodegradable makes sense, but as of yet it is expensive and has limited applications for consumer products. But soon, it will follow the demand for green products.

In the meantime, remember: it took longer to design and manufacture your fast food box than it will take for you to consume the contents.

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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.

Wiki Commons
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.

Wiki Commons
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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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.