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Why America and China Are Set to Continue Their Rivalry

The National Interest - Sun, 24/05/2020 - 07:30

Ron Huisken

Security, Asia

Things seem likely to only get more intense.

Most cultures—especially, perhaps, those in Asia—regard cycles as one of the basic rhythms of life, including international life. Great Britain was recognised as the leading world power for more than a century from 1815. The United States roared into prominence over the few decades leading up to World War I and, after leading coalitions to victory in Europe and Asia in World War II, resolved to design and manage a thoroughly refurbished international system. By that time, it had long been clear that the UK wouldn’t contest being displaced in that role.

Over the past 2,500 years, China’s fortunes reached glittering heights on three occasions, usually separated by chaos, civil war or foreign conquest and occupation. Now China sees itself as on the cusp of a fourth age ranked among the world’s leading states and possibly—because it is for the first time intimately linked to the rest of the world—the first among equals. The remaining obstacle is the US, which is now itself deeply ambivalent about continuing to take on any kind of leadership responsibilities but which has also signalled its determination to resist China (and Russia), shifting the tone of the international system away from liberal democratic values in favour of more authoritarian guidelines and constraints.

In the months before his death in 1945, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his key advisers designed their system to address the root causes of the devastating turbulence in the first half of the 20th century—specifically, ultranationalism and protectionism. Roosevelt also determined that China, with its immense population (if little else in 1945), had to be part of an inner clique of large powers tasked with holding the system together.

The advent of the Cold War between the US and USSR around 1947, and China joining the socialist bloc in 1949, meant that the existential cleavage turned out to be ideology and associated philosophies of governance. The two systems had their first conflict just a year later, in Korea, with the US and China as the core adversaries. The US-led international order therefore got off to a somewhat confused start.

The Sino-Soviet alliance imploded in 1960, and in 1972 the US and China engineered a historic accommodation. Later, after Mao Zedong’s death, the Chinese Communist Party capitalised on the de facto American security blanket to abandon socialist thinking on resource allocation and switch progressively to a market system linked to the international trading community. China’s new leader, Deng Xiaoping, made much of the proposition that the constellation of forces driving the international system provided China with a ‘strategic window of opportunity’ to attempt this hazardous transformation in comparative safety: the US stalemated the USSR in security terms and was prepared to support China’s ‘reform and opening up’ by leaving the huge US market open to Chinese products.

A decade later came the spectacular collapse of the Soviet Union and a peaceful end to the Cold War. China’s economy was beginning to flourish, but the CCP also engaged in the stunningly brutal suppression of protesters seeking greater freedom. The Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 led to strained relations with Washington for several years, but the White House’s core stance of protecting the accommodation with China survived.

One strand of logic in the American position was the broad contention that a free-market economy was likely to also have a liberalising influence politically and socially. Keeping the US economy open to countries utilising the market system therefore supported US interests. If Tiananmen Square tested this contention, so too did Japan’s emergence in the same timeframe as a state that could compete with the US even in high-technology products. Miraculously, however, although China was an order of magnitude larger than Japan and its adoption of liberal principles to guide the conduct of its affairs a much more problematic contention, the general wisdom of America’s posture towards China wasn’t really contested through the Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations.

George W. Bush’s administration came to office in January 2001 with a (neo-conservative) mindset to reposition China as a strategic rival and proclaimed a sweeping pivot to Asia centred on this assessment. These policy settings were swept aside by the events of 11 September and Washington’s disastrous determination to put Iraq at the centre of America’s response to mass-casualty terrorism.

Not long after Iraq was confirmed as a historic blunder, China was again detecting a strategic window of opportunity to continue with its export-led growth model. The global financial crisis in 2008 confirmed that this window remained open. It may well have been the case that the GFC drove a shift in the relative stature of the US and China. Key pointers included Beijing’s preparedness to simply deflect US President Barack Obama’s repeated attempts to discourage state-sponsored theft of technology and other intellectual property and its decision in 2014 to implement well-prepared plans to construct seven artificial islands in the South China Sea to try to make its extensive claims there a fait accompli.

The broad posture of engaging with and accommodating China, which emerged in 1972, wasn’t formally terminated until 2017–18 when President Donald Trump’s administration recommitted the US to strategic competition with major powers that wanted ‘to shape a world antithetical to US values and interests’, specifically, China and Russia.

For 50 years, a disciplined and focused China feasted on the fruits of Western success to accelerate its reacquisition of major-power capacities. It secured relief from the Soviet threat, access to immense markets, enduring privileges as a ‘developing economy’ and a relaxed attitude to the theft of technology. This looked like another textbook example of how the US-designed ‘rules-based order’ was supposed to work in respect of states ‘not of the West’. No one saw merit in wondering whether the American-led order could embrace a China that could readily match the US in raw economic muscle and, in the fullness of time, dwarf it.

A little interrogation would have confirmed that the CCP regarded every basic principle of democratic governance as deeply threatening and would, early in the new century, label advocacy of them as treasonous.

China’s hard power continues to converge on that of the US and will exceed it in due course. At some point, a surfeit of hard power will compensate for shortcomings on the soft power front, but until then soft power means that global leadership cannot simply be seized, it must also be bestowed.

Soft power has contributed heavily to America’s standing and influence and, although China certainly recognises this, its own progress on this front has been stunted by its government’s deep aversion to transparency in any shape or form. Transparency is inescapably associated with spontaneity, which in turn threatens the control that the CCP clearly regards as crucial to its survival. This imperative, however, makes the CCP a poor communicator, presenting China as introverted, secretive, evasive and calculating—qualities that crush those associated with soft power: confidence, integrity, legitimacy, frankness and intimacy.

Despite the spectacular economic gains of the recent past, the CCP is not doing justice to China, an extraordinary country by any measure and one that has enriched and continues to enrich our world in so many ways. Tragically, it is likely to prove simply incapable of doing so.

Australia is still searching for a posture of engagement towards the government of China that endures—not least because it involves recognising that the CCP is very unlikely to change its outlook and expectations and the means it feels entitled to employ to achieve them.

Similarly, the Covid-19 experience has propelled the US–China relationship beyond ‘distant’ to overtly hostile. If the fallout from the pandemic includes the threat of a game-changing divergence in the economic trajectory of the two states—as it well might—the relationship could degenerate to instability and outright danger. Perhaps more likely is that the power struggle between these two giants will persist and that this struggle will be both prolonged and fraught with danger. Either way, those with the capacity to make a positive difference, whether alone or in coalitions, need to get to work.

This article by Ron Huisken first appeared in the Australian Strategic Policy Insitute’s The Strategist in 2020.

Image: Reuters

How Soviet-American Cooperation Over Operation Frantic Foreshadowed the Coming Cold War

The National Interest - Sun, 24/05/2020 - 07:00

Warfare History Network

History, Europe

The two Allies didn't get along.

Early on the overcast afternoon of June 2, 1944, three white-starred Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses in V-formation roared over the Soviet air base at Poltava. Within moments, the entire countryside reverberated from 256 powerful Pratt & Whitney engines as flight after flight of the heavy bombers roared overhead. American ground crewmen standing in the light rain watched with open pride as the first silvery plane touched down on the steel mat runway. The name Yankee Doodle II was boldly painted on the fuselage just behind the plexiglass nose.

East Meets West In One Triumphant Moment

Lieutenant General Ira C. Eaker, head of the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces, climbed down from the four-engined bomber. The rugged 50-year-old Texan, a pioneer of post-World War I military aviation, had led the first U.S. heavy-bomber raid on Nazi-held Western Europe two years earlier. Accepting a bouquet of flowers from a buxom, smiling Russian female soldier, he passed around a handful of cigars before taking the welcoming hand of Soviet Maj. Gen. Alexei R. Perminov. Eaker also plucked a Legion of Merit medal from his pocket and pinned it on Perminov’s tunic. Greetings were exchanged with American Ambassador W. Averell Harriman and U.S. military mission chief Maj. Gen. John R. Deane, as well as with other Russian officers on hand for the occasion. Harriman’s daughter, Kathy, stood by holding a bouquet of roses.

The 64 B-17s at Poltava and 65 other bombers and 64 fighters of the U.S. Fifteenth Air Force that landed at two neighboring bases were the spearhead of Operation Frantic, America’s World War II effort to strike at enemy targets in Eastern Europe from England and Italy using bases in the Soviet Union to refuel and rearm. The concept of taking off from one airfield and landing at a second on the other side of otherwise unreachable targets was raised by U.S. planners early in the war. Since Hitler controlled most of continental Europe, air bases would have to be in the British Isles, the Mediterranean area, and the Soviet Union to make shuttle bombing fully effective. The first shuttle bombing mission was between Great Britain and Italy in 1943. Adding Russia was hoped to greatly enhance the concept.

Shuttle Bombing Both Strategic And Diplomatic

American leaders proposed the use of Russian bases with a number of general goals in mind: strategic and tactical bombing in distant Eastern Europe; stretching Nazi air-defense forces, especially prior to the Allied invasion of France; and demonstrating to the Soviets, who had no long-range bombing force, the sincerity and effectiveness of the U.S. war effort, thereby improving Soviet-American relations and the exchange of information. It was also hoped that shuttle bombing in the European Theatre would lead to the use of bases in Siberia to strike Japan.

What would become Operation Frantic was proposed in mid-1942 to the Soviets, who received the idea coolly. Aptly named, the operation was destined to be a short-lived child of a questionable marriage. The subject of shuttle bombing was again broached at the Moscow Conference in October 1943, when the newly arrived chief of the U.S. military mission to Russia, General Deane, discussed it with Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov. Once more the response was inconclusive. It took President Franklin D. Roosevelt to break the log jam by talking to Russia’s paranoid dictator, Josef Stalin, at the November 1943 Teheran Conference. But even then, it was not until February 2, 1944, that Stalin told Ambassador Harriman, “We favor it,” at a Kremlin meeting. The operation, initially named Baseball, possibly in expectation of the team playing it would foster, was renamed Frantic in March 1944.

Realty Falls Short Of Initial Hopes

The reality, however, immediately fell short of the American hope for six airfields manned by more than 2,000 men. There would be only three bases, Poltava, Mirgorod (50 miles to the west), and Piryatin (another 50 miles west) situated on the flat farmland of the east central Ukraine in a southeast-to-northwest line about 450 miles southwest of Moscow, and about half as many ground crewmen as proposed. The bases were much farther east than desired and in almost unusable shape, but it was a question of take it or leave it. Deane was to have administrative control of the operation, while Lt. Gen. Carl A. Spaatz, Commander of U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe, would be in charge of operations. On-site supervision of the freshly created Eastern Command fell to Maj. Gen. Robert L. Walsh when it became fully operational on June 1, 1944.

Poltava was selected as U.S.-Soviet headquarters for the eastern terminus of the shuttle bombing program. It was at Poltava that the overconfident Swedes under Charles XII were bloodied 235 years earlier by the Russian forces of Peter the Great, thereby establishing Russia as a world power. In 1941 the area was occupied by Hitler’s Wehrmacht, which found itself welcomed by a significant part of the populace. When the Nazis retreated, they leveled virtually every building except for private dwellings. The postoccupation attitude of the Poltavans, however, was illustrated by a photograph they eagerly showed the Americans. It depicted the mayor who had ruled during the German occupation with an alpenstock smashed into his skull.

Runway Highlight Of Makeshift Russian Airfield

Engineers from the United States, working with mostly Russian labor and virtually all American materiel and supplies, lengthened the Poltava runway assigned to them to over a mile and covered it with pierced-steel matting. Taxi strips, hardstands, and storage areas were set up. The Russian flightline, at the end of a 4,500-foot-long concrete runway, was situated on the other side of several damaged buildings from the American one. Among the red-starred aircraft parked there were American-built Douglas C-47 transports and Russian-made, single-engine Yakovlev Yak-9s of the 210th Fighter Interceptor Division. Across a road from their flightline, the Americans oversaw the erection of some 150 pyramidal tents for the ground and bomber crews. The mess hall and hospital tents were sandwiched into this section, whose extremity was marked by a series of twisting trenches for use as air-raid shelters.

The U.S. command staff and its Russian counterpart were quartered across the road from the Russian flightline in a damaged multi-storied, U-shaped building that also served as base headquarters. A wider road winding between the building and the American tents ran southward roughly two miles to the town of Poltava. Modifications were also made to the two other bases.

Allied Command Relents To Russian Objectives

By mid-1944, Frantic was ready to go. A U.S. communications center overseen by the Soviets was functioning. The ground support personnel, their entry into the Soviet Union closely controlled by Moscow, were in place. Even the initial targets—aircraft factories at Riga in Latvia or at Mielec, Poland—had been chosen. Since the Eighth Air Force based in England was already deeply involved in the bombing of Germany and preparations for the imminent invasion of Normandy, the honor of inaugurating Operation Frantic went to the Italy-based Fifteenth Air Force. The Soviets dismayed the Americans by vetoing the target selection. Bomb Romania or Hungary instead, they countered. It was pointed out that those countries were within range of bases in Italy.

The Russians, more interested in tactical objectives to support their advance than in strategic matters, were adamant. Deane and Spaatz decided in the Soviets’ favor because, in the reluctant Eaker’s words, “It is imperative that we gain the full confidence and respect of the Russians by starting our collaboration with an … operation of immediate significance to them.”

At 6:55 am on June 2, 1944, Frantic Joe, the first combat mission of the new shuttle program, took to the air from airfields in Italy. Four groups of B-17 bombers and one group of the checker-tailed North American P-51 Mustang fighters from the 5th Combat Wing droned northeastward in clear weather, their aiming point the rail hub of Debrecen, Hungary. Three hours later, bomb bay doors yawned wide to disgorge over a thousand 500-pounders on the enemy railroad yards. The escorting P-51 pilots scanned the cumulus-speckled sky in vain for intercepting fighters.

Impressed Russians Consent To Factory Targets

The only loss was a Flying Fortress that exploded in midair. While General Eaker and his airmen were being welcomed with flowers at Poltava, the other bombers landed at Mirgorod. The fighters, after initial trouble finding the base, landed at Piryatin. Following the airfield ceremonies and a short meeting at the Poltava headquarters, Eaker, the Harrimans, and Deane went on to Moscow in a Russian C-47. There, the Americans again raised the question of aircraft plant targeting. Surprisingly, this time the Soviets consented. Eaker was elated until he talked to his meteorologists. Bad weather over the targets, they reported. The big bombers, ready and loaded, sat waiting at the Russian bases.

When the weather over east-central Europe failed to clear by June 6, the day Allied armies were storming ashore in France, Eaker sent most of his planes on a side mission against the Galati airfield in Romania. Two P-51s went down during the mission. The Germans lost, in addition to aircraft destroyed on the ground, a possible eight fighters, the first U.S. air victories on the Eastern Front.

Initial Success Bodes Well For Future American-Soviet Operations

Five days later, still foiled by bad weather from hitting the originally targeted Heinkel plant in Poland, Eaker led his groups back to Italy. They bombed the Focsani air base in eastern Romania on the way. The initial Frantic mission was completed. The ground crews at the three Russian bases were commended for their contribution. “The first American task force ever to operate from Russian soil has returned to its bases.…” the commendation read in part. “The cooperation and understanding displayed in working with our Russian allies set an example for future American-Soviet operations.”

Wednesday, June 21, 1944, was a special day for the Americans stationed at the Soviet installations. A lot of old friends were in the Eighth Air Force air crews making the first England-to-Russia shuttle raid. Twenty bomb groups of heavy bombers and 23 fighter groups, almost 2,500 aircraft in the war’s largest attack on the Berlin area, dropped over 2,000 tons of bombs on factories, railroad yards, and a synthetic oil plant. As the massive aerial armada swung back toward Great Britain, more than 140 Fortresses and 65 Mustangs comprising Frantic II continued eastward. Touching down at Poltava after an 11-hour flight, 70 B-17s of the 45th Bomb Wing were directed to disperse as best they could on the cramped eastern end of the field. Ground crewmen exuberantly greeted the newcomers, who were checked by Russian border guards before being shown to a tent for debriefing by intelligence officers and for the customary double-hooker of scotch. The exhausted airmen were then fed and assigned temporary quarters. The accompanying 13th Bomb Wing alit at Mirgorod. Five bombers, running out of fuel, had landed near Kiev, about 140 miles northwest of Poltava. The P-51s, except for two lost, came to ground at Piryatin.

Sniffing Out The Soviet-American Airfield

The Americans at Poltava would have been less jubilant had they known that they had been followed by a Heinkel He-177 piloted by Sergeant Hans Muller. The multiengined reconnaissance bomber circled high above the base taking pictures before turning back toward its base. As the German plane overflew Mirgorod, an American officer who spotted it wanted to radio Piryatin to send up Mustangs to shoot it down. The Soviets, making no effort to intercept the intruder themselves, denied permission. It was also later reported that the enemy had recovered maps and photographs of the Poltava base from a shuttle bomber that crashed during the June 11 raid on Focsani.

American complacency made the situation even riper for disaster. The newly arrived bombers, their silver-colored skins making them conspicuous targets, were poorly dispersed. Fifty-five-gallon drums of high-octane fuel, 500,000 gallons in all, were stashed around the edge of the field. Ammunition was piled in open-air revetments. The slit trenches dug to provide emergency shelter could accommodate approximately 300 people. Most of the Americans, Eighth Air Force men, had become accustomed to the relative security of their English bases. Furthermore, the Americans had been promised around-the-clock fighter protection by their hosts. By 11:15 pm, most of the ground crews, having refueled and rearmed the B-17s, were either in bed or engaged in poker games and bull sessions. The bomber crews were nearly all asleep in Poltava’s large tent city. Not surprisingly, when an air-raid warning came minutes later, the tired men, in the words of one, “merely turned over and cussed because they had been awakened.”

A Surprise Nighttime Attack

Things changed in less than an hour when about 150 bombers of German General Rudolph Meister’s 4th Flying Corps arrived. Antiaircraft guns, 85mm and 37mm, barked to life, followed by the chatter of smaller weapons. The sirens recently given to the Russians added their plaintive howl to the growing noise. Searchlight beams fingered the night sky.

At almost precisely 12:30 that morning of June 22, a swastika-marked plane buzzed the field. Flares whooshed into blinding blue-white blossoms in its wake. Men were fleeing their tents in confusion, uncertain where to go when the bombs came. It was a hellish cacophony of shrill whistling, body-crushing detonations, and concussion waves accompanied by sprays of fragments. One airman reportedly complained, as he ran in his underwear, that he had never been in an air raid before. “I’ve always been on the other end—dropping the bombs.” Ground crewmen directed newcomers to the trenches. One cockpit crew sought safety behind a pile of bricks. A bomb exploding about a dozen feet away killed the copilot and mortally wounded the pilot.

German Air Force Deals Devastating Blow In Under Two Hours

Most of the Luftwaffe bombers, twin-engined Heinkel He-111s and Junkers Ju-88s, pounded Poltava between 12:35 and 1:45. After a brief lull, broken by exploding aircraft and munitions, the rest swooped in at a lower level, machine guns blazing. Their loads included thousands of small antipersonnel mines called Butterflies. They fluttered down on stubby wings that opened up to arm them. At 2:20 am, adding insult to injury, flash bombs lit up the airfield anew for a reconnaissance plane to photograph the damage. Although the last of the aircraft engine noise faded to the west just before 2:30, Russian antiaircraft guns continued firing for another 15 minutes. In all, gunners shot off over 28,000 rounds of ammunition. Yet all of the German aircraft returned to their base near German-occupied Minsk. Not one Allied fighter had risen to challenge them.

In a period of just over a hundred minutes, the Luftwaffe bombers had ravaged Poltava airfield with over 110 tons of high explosives and fragmentation and incendiary bombs. According to the Eastern Command damage report, 47 B-17s, two C-47s, and a Lockheed F-5 (photo-reconnaissance version of the P-38 Lightning fighter) were “destroyed or damaged beyond economical repair.” Every other Fortress and two F-5s received some form of damage.

Miraculously, only two Americans died, Lieutenants Raymond Estle, the pilot, and Joseph Lukacek. Six enlisted men were wounded. Nearly 2,000 bombs and 400,000 rounds of 50-caliber ammunition were obliterated. Over 200,000 gallons of aviation fuel brought halfway around the world went up in flames. Six vehicles were totaled. The Russians reported 34 fatalities and over 60 wounded. They lost a C-47 and 25 fighters and trainers.

Poltava: One Of Göring’s Finest Moments

Aside from adding to the commotion with target practice and peppering the tents with shell fragments, the Soviets had nothing to show for their defensive effort. It was the most costly air raid the U.S. Army Air Force had suffered since the Japanese caught Douglas MacArthur’s aircraft on the ground in the Philippines on December 8, 1941. After the war, an American general told Hitler’s air chief that Poltava was the best attack the Luftwaffe made against U.S. aviation. Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring replied, “Yes, those were wonderful times.”

There was no questioning Russian heroism, however. Soviet soldiers, with only one firetruck and two fire trailers, hurried toward the blazing aircraft even as bombs were falling. More, male and female, were scouring the field to collect and detonate the deadly butterfly mines, often with sticks or by picking them up and throwing them. Other mines exploded when soldiers stepped on them. The primitive mine clearing would take weeks to complete and nearly double the Soviet casualties. To the Americans it demonstrated a shocking disregard for human life. Ironically, the Butterfly subsequently entered Moscow’s military inventory as the PFM-1 antipersonnel mine. It is also called the Green Parrot because of its color, and it maimed many Afghan children after the Soviet invasion of that country in 1979.

After the raid, stunned Americans emerged from whatever shelter they had found to stare at the Dante-esque scene. Kept away from the field by the Russians, they gradually returned to their quarters, which German precision had spared. A short, phlegmatic pilot was quoted as telling one group of men, “It’s amazing how calm a person can be in the face of death. When the raid started, I got up, dressed as calmly as I do every day.” This was apparently accepted with due respect until one listener looked at the officer’s boots. They were on the wrong feet.

Carbon Copy Raid On Mirgorod Airfield

Later that June 22, beneath drifting clouds of smoke, with fires still blazing and explosives occasionally going off, the Poltava base belatedly closed the proverbial barn door. The hospital tent was moved to a patch of towering sunflowers several miles away. Surviving bombers, incongruous among the twisted skeletons of the destroyed aircraft, were widely dispersed preparatory to being patched up and flown out. Ground crewmen vultured the wreckage for salvageable parts.

The bombers at Mirgorod, spared that fateful night by a German navigational error, were evacuated to bases farther east. On the night of June 22, the Luftwaffe finally found Mirgorod. The raid was nearly a carbon copy of the Poltava attack, less than two hours of bombing and strafing with absolutely no interference from Russian interceptors.

Nearly 200,000 gallons of gasoline and an undetermined number of bombs erupted in a miniature Vesuvius. Only Piryatin was untouched, but only because the German raiders sent to bomb it missed their target by about three miles. A half-dozen C-47 transports flew in several days later to take the air crews of the destroyed and disabled aircraft to Iran en route to Britain. Seventy-two B-17s, just over half of those that had flown in, and 57 P-51s roared off the Russian bases on June 26 and struck the oil refinery at Drohobycz, Poland, before landing in Italy. There were no losses.

Soviet-American Relations Deteriorate After Raid

The Poltava disaster cast a pall over the entire Frantic operation. Morale among the bases’ permanent personnel never fully recovered and was to grow worse with time, contributing to increasing friction between Americans and Russians. This friction was aggravated by the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, acting on Moscow’s orders to discourage fraternization. On another level, U.S. commanders were concerned about Soviet inability to adequately protect American aircraft. Strategically, Frantic’s raison d’être was also being called into question. The Red Army’s westward advance was overrunning targets that previously had been out of range of bases in Britain and Italy. Further, American island-hopping in the Pacific was evaporating the need for bases in Russia’s eastern maritime provinces.

In an effort to keep Frantic alive, for continued U.S.-Soviet contact if for no other reason, American planners decided to continue the shuttle flights, but with one major difference. Since the Americans were denied permission to establish an effective radar-controlled defense system for the bases and because supplies there were low after the German raids, no heavy bombers were to be used. On July 22, Frantic III’s Fifteenth Air Force P-38s and P-51s attacked targets in Romania and flew on to Russia. From there, the three fighter groups involved finally brought the war to Mielec, Poland, one of the targets on Frantic Joe’s wish list.

Next Rounds Of Operation Frantic Commence

The return to Italy was accomplished in two increments, both in response to Soviet requests for tactical sorties to support the Russian advance. Most of the fighter-bombers hit airfields in Romania on July 26. The rest attacked bases in Hungary.

Frantic IV consisted of two fighter groups of the Fifteenth Air Force. They left Italy on July 31 and ran into bad weather, but reached Russia nevertheless. At the request of their hosts they strafed the airfield at Focsani, Romania, on August 4 and one in the Bucharest-Ploesti area of Romania en route back to Italy two days later. Each side lost half a dozen aircraft.

The August 4 mission provided one of the most remarkable tales of the entire Frantic saga. A P-38 of the 82nd Fighter Group left Poltava with one pilot and returned with two. As it was strafing the Focsani air base with its nose guns, one Lightning, a single-seat fighter, was hit by ground fire. Both its engines disabled, it bellied into a field. The pilot, 1st Lt. Richard E. Willsie, was able to get out despite a head injury. A fellow pilot radioed a “cover me” to other group P-38s and bumped to a landing alongside the downed aircraft.

Lieutenant Richard T. Andrews discarded his parachute to make room and helped Willsie into the cockpit. Riding tandem on the bucket seat with a minimum of comfort and a maximum of cooperation, the duo took off. It apparently was not the first time this feat was accomplished. An account from the earlier North African campaign tells of a South African Hawker Hurricane pilot forced down behind Axis lines and similarly saved by a fellow flier.

Soviet Gunfire Posed Greater Risk To Americans Than German Pilots

Frantic’s operational goals, which required the use of heavy bombers, had been ignored by the last two shuttle missions. It was therefore decided to make Frantic V a B-17 mission. On August 6, Flying Fortresses from two bombardment groups and P-51s from a fighter group of the Eighth Air Force joined a huge formation of aircraft sent against German targets. The 76 B-17s and 64 P-51s of Frantic V broke away to lambaste an aircraft plant near Gdynia, Poland, and go on to the Russian airfields. The only aircraft combat losses were German, a Focke-Wulf Fw-190 fighter and a Ju-88.

On the whole, German pilots on the Eastern Front were inferior to those in the West. In fact, many of the American airmen felt their greatest danger was Soviet gunfire. At least seven F-5s assigned to photograph targets for the bombers were attacked by the Soviets, with one actually being shot down in June. Relieved that there was no repetition of the Poltava debacle, the fighter-escorted B-17s of Frantic V completed a local assignment against an oil refinery in Poland. The aircraft then flew to Italy, focusing their attention, at Soviet request, on Romanian airfield targets en route. They then bombed a German air base near Toulouse, France, before returning to Britain, completing their triangular itinerary on August 12.

Pilots And Ground Crews Also Bravely Fought Boredom

American planners, despite realizing that Frantic was militarily unviable, were determined to see the program through. While bilateral talks, including discussion of the use of Siberian bases against Japan, dragged on in Moscow, the men and women at Poltava, Mirgorod, and Piryatin found the late summer depressingly dull. They chased the blues as best they could through increasingly difficult personal fraternization or attending parties and shows.

There were occasional side trips to Moscow and Teheran. During one trip to the Soviet capital, Frantic enlisted men experienced the psychological discomfort of sharing the Hotel Metropole dining room with the Japanese ambassador to the Soviet Union. It would be another year before the Soviet Union declared war on an almost completely prostrate Japan. Whatever their diversions, the men and women shared the common denominator of boredom. Letters from home were read until they fell apart. Paperback books split from constant reading. Decks of cards became soft and dog-eared. Bottles of vodka were filled and emptied at a prodigious rate. One happy moment came toward the end of the operation when two officers married, the woman being one of the Poltava hospital unit nurses.

American Bounty Fueled Soviet War Effort

Their limited travel in Russia impressed the Americans with the wealth of war materiel being sent from the United States. Between October 1, 1941, and May 31, 1945, some 2,660 ships sailed from U.S. ports with 16,529,791 tons of supplies for Russia. A price tag on this materiel, which included 14,795 aircraft and 375,883 trucks, read $11.3 billion. This excluded supplies reaching the Soviet Union by other routes, and contributions from Great Britain. Stalin himself admitted at the Teheran Conference that the war would have been lost without American production. Yet the average Russian was never informed of this fact.

With the Red Army about to knock Romania out of the war, the Americans were asked on August 22 to immediately send a Frantic mission against railroad yards there. Bad weather interfered, however, and the Russian offensive overtook the request. When Frantic VI finally got off the ground from England on September 11, it bombed an arms factory in Chemnitz, Germany.

Two days later, the mission’s B-17s and P-51s concentrated on steel works in Diosgyor, Hungary, and returned to Britain via Italy. By this time, Moscow saw little need to continue Operation Frantic. On August 25, Foreign Minister Molotov had told Harriman and Deane that Russia needed its three shuttle fields back. The Americans asked if they could keep one base open for continued photo-reconnaissance flights and to be ready for resumed shuttle flights after the approaching Russian winter.

Poles Rise Up With Promise Of Red Army Support

In the meantime, while fighter raids were keeping shuttle bombing alive, the Armija Krajowa (AK, Home Army), 35,000 strong, in Poland’s capital prepared to rise up against the Nazi occupiers. A military arm of the Polish government-in-exile in London, the anti-Communist AK wanted to liberate Warsaw before the approaching Soviet Army. Moscow actually encouraged an uprising through its radio broadcasts.

The victorious Red armies will be in Warsaw in a matter of days, an announcer said. “People of Warsaw, take up your arms.…” On August 1, 1944, with the thunder of Soviet guns audible in the distance, the Poles attacked the German occupation forces. The Russian juggernaut abruptly halted at the city’s eastern suburbs, although it continued to advance north and south of Warsaw. While there is still controversy over why the Soviets stopped, there can be no question that the turn of events suited their postwar purposes. The beleaguered AK radioed for help. Although the Poles had taken two-thirds of the city, they knew that they could not hold out against the more heavily armed Germans.

On August 15, a message from Washington urged Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight Eisenhower to have arms and supplies flown to Warsaw. Prohibitively long round-trip flights from Western Europe were ruled out, and heavy British losses had already demonstrated the risk of sorties from Italy. That left Frantic. Stalin’s answer, in the words of U.S. diplomat George Kennan, “was a snarling no.”

Final Step In Soviet Takeover Of Poland

The dictator’s initial step in absorbing Poland into Communist orbit had occurred when the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany divided Poland in 1939. Eliminating thousands of the country’s future leaders, the Soviets established a puppet Polish regime in Moscow. Stalin then obtained concessions over Poland from the U.S. and British leaders at the Teheran and Yalta conferences. The Warsaw uprising was icing on the Russian cake. It gave the Soviets the opportunity to let the Nazis liquidate more of the potential leaders of the stubbornly nationalistic country.

On September 9, the Kremlin belatedly consented to limited mercy flights. The Red Air Force itself made some supply runs over the doomed city, dropping mismatched weapons and ammunition without parachutes from small planes. On September 18, delayed by operational and weather problems, Frantic VII was set into motion as over a hundred fighter-escorted B-17s left England on their 11-hour flight to Russia. In their bomb bays were 1,284 containers of weapons, food, and medical supplies.

Only about 10 percent of these, parachuted over Warsaw, were recovered by the Poles in their shrinking defense perimeter. Stalin had ensured the outcome. One bomber and two fighters were lost to the intensive German reaction; 49 other B-17s were damaged, some heavily. Promised Soviet assistance—bombing nearby German airfields and helping escort the bombers—never materialized. The next day, 93 B-17s and 55 P-51s left the Russian bases to strike the railroad yards at Szolnok, Hungary.

“The Forgotten Bastards Of The Ukraine”

Frantic VIII, a second Warsaw supply mission, never got off the ground because Stalin denied the Americans the use of the Ukrainian bases. On October 5, Polish General Tadeusz Bor-Komorowski surrendered to the Nazis. Between 215,000 and 250,000 Poles, most of them noncombatants, had died in the two months of fighting while the Red Army sat on the other side of the Vistula River from the capital.

Frantic, too, was gasping its last breath. It was with little regret that the main body of Americans began leaving the three Russian bases on the wet, chilly morning of October 5, 1944. The caretaker “volunteers,” 29 officers and 126 enlisted men, who remained at Poltava to keep the Frantic door ajar received best wishes and a large supply of vodka from their departing comrades. The stay-behinds quickly dubbed themselves “the forgotten bastards of the Ukraine.” Those leaving were given written instructions to refrain from “comments derogatory to the Soviets.” Under Point No. 4 was the following ironic statement: “The Russians are not trying to run our country—lets [sic] not criticize theirs. We are fighting for the right of all people to govern themselves as the majority sees fit.”

In any case, the Allied victories on all fronts rendered Frantic obsolete. On April 19, 1945, having finally realized that Stalin had no intention of approving a U.S. presence in Siberia, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff informed the Kremlin that Russian bases were no longer necessary. Nazi Germany surrendered on May 7, and the last Americans left Poltava on June 22, a year after the crippling German air raid.

A Strategic Failure And Preview Of the Cold War

What had Operation Frantic accomplished? Strategically it was a failure. The Americans had good reason to regret having nagged Stalin into accepting it. Aside from being virtually superfluous at a time when Allied advances were speeding up, the operation flew too few sorties to truly affect the war effort. The hoped-for bases in the eastern maritime provinces of Russia never materialized. And despite limited success on personal levels, relations between the Soviet Union and the United States were not improved, especially after the Warsaw tragedy. Interestingly, the close contact between the top Soviet officers and the Americans may well have been the reason General Perminov and others disappeared after the war.

The Germans dismissed Frantic as “a demonstration to show how closely the Russians and Americans were collaborating” and “a mere propaganda stunt.” No Luftwaffe aircraft were redeployed from the West to deal with the shuttle bombing threat. The real winner was the Soviet Union, which used the operation as a bargaining chip for concessions elsewhere. Russia also gained aircraft and equipment, including a Norden bombsight, so secret that it was long denied to even the British; a high-altitude oxygen system; and an automatic pilot. Working side by side with the Americans, hundreds of rotated Russians were trained on the sophisticated techniques and equipment of strategic bombing, a capability they previously lacked.

One thing is certain, however. The disappointments of the Frantic program in no way detract from the courage and sacrifice of the personnel involved. Further, the operation, a little-known facet of World War II, was politically significant and provided a preview of the Cold War.

This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia

Research Explains Why Early-Acting Lockdown Measures Cut Death Tolls

The National Interest - Sun, 24/05/2020 - 06:00

Joshua Aizenman


New research hints at why Germany’s death toll from COVID-19 was relatively low while Italy’s and America’s spiked.

If cities across the U.S. had moved just one week faster to shut down restaurants and businesses and order residents to stay home, they could have avoided over 35,000 coronavirus deaths by early May, new research suggests. If they had moved two weeks earlier, more than 50,000 people who died from the pandemic might still be alive.

Those U.S. estimates, from a modeling study released May 20 by researchers at Columbia University, came to similar conclusions that I and my colleagues from the University of Southern California found in assessing policies and death rates around the globe in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Our latest research looked at 60 countries worldwide over the first 100 days of the pandemic and found several recurring themes.

Overall, countries that acted quickly and implemented stringent measures that kept most residents at home as the pandemic started to spread were able to reduce their daily COVID-19 death rate faster than countries with looser restrictions. Countries that had aggressive policy interventions in place before their first coronavirus death, such as Denmark and South Korea, tended to have fewer deaths.

We also found that countries with large vulnerable populations benefited more from fast, strict policy implementation than others. For example:

  • Countries with older populations that quickly implemented stringent measures saw their death rates fall about 9% after two weeks, compared to death rates falling 3.5% in the youngest countries with similar rules.

  • Similarly, countries in cooler climates, which offer more ideal circumstances for the virus to spread, benefited more from stringent measures than warmer countries near the equator.

  • Countries with greater population density, more personal freedom and large numbers of residents working in jobs that leave them vulnerable to exposure also benefited more from quick action, but the difference wasn’t as stark as for those with older populations.

In general, countries with stricter rules saw their death numbers peak after about 40 days, compared to 50 days for countries that also acted quickly but had looser restrictions.

Italy vs. South Korea

These findings, published May 18 as a National Bureau of Economy Research working paper, might help explain the lower mortality rates in South Korea and Germany. Both countries invoked stringent policies early on and invested in upgrading their medical capabilities.

On the other hand, Italy’s high mortality reflects the absence of stringent policies in place prior to COVID-19’s explosive mortality wave there, along with the large share of seniors living in congested regions and extended family households. Germany’s percentage of residents over age 65 is only slightly lower than Italy’s, yet it had far fewer deaths per capita.

The numbers stand out. In April, South Korea’s daily mortality rate peaked at 0.1 deaths per million residents, while Germany and Denmark had rates of roughly 2.8 deaths per million people. Sweden did not fare as well, with 10.6 deaths per million, nor did Italy at 13.6 per million or Spain at 18.6 per million.

The much lower death rate in Denmark also reflects the stricter policies enacted there, as opposed to more relaxed policies in Sweden.

What’s next?

The key to ensuring social and economic stability during the COVID-19 pandemic is to remobilize workers, without risking a flood of new cases and strain on the medical system. In many cases, governments must balance the lives of their citizens against their livelihoods.

A country’s relative performance in the first phase of the pandemic does not guarantee its future performance, however, particularly in the case of a second wave of new cases.

Countries still need more and better-quality data to sharpen their understating of the pandemic’s dynamics and the role public policies play. The Columbia modeling study provides insight into how faster action could have saved lives in the U.S.; however, like our and many other studies explaining COVID-19, its findings were released before the usual peer review process.

Understanding the factors that might explain COVID-19 mortality rates is essential for allowing a gradual resumption of economic activities with greater safety. The sooner we can explain the patterns of the pandemic, the earlier the opening of schools, universities and key services.

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This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

, Professor of International Relations and Economics, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Image: Reuters

Coronavirus Means It's Even More Urgent to Fix California's Housing Crisis

The National Interest - Sun, 24/05/2020 - 05:30

Michael D. Tanner, David Hervey

Politics, Americas

Rent and eviction freezes can create more problems than they solve and can’t last forever. Failing to build more housing will ultimately make the pandemic’s toll worse.

For Californians who have long opposed building more housing in their communities, COVID-19 has provided a new and seemingly convincing argument: density is dangerous. Some have even suggested that the pandemic vindicates proponents of “single‐​family sprawl” or justifies a moratorium on new housing legislation, which are views these observers would likely hold regardless of the current crisis.

At first glance, the argument against density seems correct, but evidence suggests there are other factors at play. A virus that transmits person to person is much more likely to spread in areas where large numbers of people congregate. That’s one reason why urban centers like New York City, Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles have been hit hard. And, it is the logic behind social distancing. But, as with so many anti‐​housing arguments, there is less here than meets the eye.

Simply look at those Asian countries that have done a far better job of containing the virus than we have, despite extreme density. For example, Seoul, South Korea is about 50 percent denser than NYC but has had less than one percent as many cases per capita. Likewise, extremely dense Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taipei have held their infection rates to much lower levels than cities in this country. Undoubtedly, previous experience with infectious diseases like SARS improved not only governments’ responses to the current crisis but also individuals’ responses, vastly outweighing any effect density may have had.

Turning to Europe, we also find the link between density and infections to be weaker than expected. Berlin, for instance, is about four times as dense as France’s Ile‐​de‐​France region (which includes Paris) and only slightly less dense than London but has only about half as many COVID-19 cases as either, on a per capita basis. Density clearly wasn’t the central determinant here: other factors had a much bigger impact.

Even looking at New York City and its surrounding environs shows a muddled picture, with less dense Westchester and Suffolk counties showing higher infection rates than extremely dense Manhattan. And, in California, San Francisco has a lower infection rate than Los Angeles, despite being about six times denser. Perhaps even more surprisingly, San Francisco’s infection rate is about the same as Kansas’ (2.24 cases per thousand San Franciscans versus 2.54 cases per thousand Kansans).

In addition, we should remember that California’s lack of affordable housing creates its own kind of density, one that is even more conducive to the virus’s spread. There is a big difference between people in their own apartments in a dense multi‐​family structure and several roommates jammed together in a tiny space because it is all that is available or affordable.

A study of COVID-19 cases in New York showed that crowding (generally defined as more than one resident per bedroom) contributed to higher rates of COVID-19, while density, in general, did not. The data from California also indicates this: San Diego County, with about 7% of households living in crowded homes, has a lower rate of coronavirus infections than either Los Angeles or San Francisco counties, which have higher rates of crowding. Conversely, Los Angeles County, with a higher rate of crowding (about 11%) has the highest infection rate of the three counties. San Francisco’s crowding rate is only slightly higher than San Diego’s. at 7.1%, and this helps explain its similarly‐​low infection rate.

California’s lack of affordable housing also contributes to the state’s growing homelessness crisis. Yet, the homeless are both extremely vulnerable to infection and a potential source of spread to the population at large. In addition to makeshift efforts to get the homeless off the streets by housing them in hotels or other temporary fixes, California would be well‐​served by ensuring a bigger supply of affordable housing.

Moreover, the economic toll from the pandemic and “shelter in place” orders will fall most heavily on California’s poorest citizens, many of whom are already one missed paycheck away from homelessness. Rent and eviction freezes can create more problems than they solve and can’t last forever. Failing to build more housing will ultimately make the pandemic’s toll worse.

In turns out that the evidence of the impact of California’s excessive housing regulations is far stronger and more convincing than arguments about density and coronavirus. We know that strict zoning and density regulations prevent the construction of affordable housing in America’s urban areas. We also know that many of these laws are part of America’s history of institutional racism and segregation. The COVID-19 crisis does not change these facts.

Perceptions and expectations, whether they are accurate or not, have a way of shaping future behavior and policymaking. Housing affordability will remain a problem for America’s cities long after the current crisis subsides. We can’t afford to let misinterpretations of the pandemic’s causes get in the way of long‐​term efforts to relax the outdated restrictions that prevent affordable housing in so many of California’s cities.

This article by Michael D. Tanner first appeared in CATO on May 20, 2020.

Image: Reuters.

How Angela Merkel Talks About the Coronavirus Without Using Metaphors

The National Interest - Sun, 24/05/2020 - 05:00

Dagmar Paulus

Politics, Germany

German chancellor Angela Merkel does not use war imagery when talking about the coronavirus. In fact, she hardly uses any metaphors at all.

Many political leaders around the world have reached for the imagery of conflict to describe the coronavirus pandemic. In France, President Emmanuel Macron said his nation was at war with an invisible enemy. Over in the US, President Donald Trump positively revels in the idea of being a “wartime president”. In the UK, Prime Minister Johnson has spoken of the virus as an “enemy” and even said that “we must act like any wartime government” to protect the economy.

But in Germany this kind of language is not circulating. The virus is not an “enemy”, and the process of containing it is not a war. Perhaps there’s a tendency among German politicians to avoid war metaphors for historical reasons. There may be a feeling that it does not go down well nationally and internationally if German political leaders speak about war, even metaphorically.

This is particularly the case because the far-right AfD party has been trying to expand the limits of what is acceptable in Germany. One of its leaders recently lamented Germany’s loss of territory after the second world war – a position that has been condemned by many, including the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

So German chancellor Angela Merkel does not use war imagery when talking about the coronavirus. In fact, she hardly uses any metaphors at all. Her first major public interaction during the crisis was a televised address on March 18. Merkel’s words to describe the crisis were simple and straightforward. She spoke of “this situation”, “a historical task”, and a “great challenge” ahead.

When Merkel alluded to the past, it was to express a desire not to return to it. She referred to her own history growing up in the GDR when emphasising that the decision to curtail democratic freedoms had not been taken lightly.

In a speech to the German parliament on April 23, Merkel again used few metaphors. She called the current situation a “real test”, “serious times”, a “dramatic crisis”, a “gigantic challenge”. The only figurative expressions she used were “thin ice” and “long-distance run”. These metaphors evoke challenge, but not combat.

It’s true that drastic words and passionate statements were never Merkel’s style, but other German politicians have taken a similar approach. Among the 16 regional leaders, two have been especially prominent in the debate about the coronavirus: Bavarian leader Markus Söder and Armin Laschet, of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Like the chancellor, Söder mostly uses straightforward vocabulary to describe the virus: it’s “an exponential development”, a “crisis”, and a “task”.

Laschet, too, has been been vocal in the debates about the coronavirus, possibly because he aspires to be Merkel’s successor as chancellor and may therefore feel the need to make his mark. He used rather more dramatic language but still stops short of going to war. He speaks of an “adversary” (but not an “enemy”) and has warned that people have to make sacrifices. By the end of April, he also had gone back to more neutral expressions: the “situation”, the “event”.

While speeches by German politicians have mostly been easy to follow and unambiguous, there has been some confusion, too. Different states across the country’s federal structure decided on different rules at the beginning of the lockdown. For example, when Lower Saxony closed DIY stores in March, there was an exodus of people to neighbouring states where they were still open, causing Lower Saxony to backtrack.

Low death rate

Overall it looks like Germany has done comparatively well so far. The German government imposed containment measures on March 17, at a fairly early stage in the pandemic. At the time of writing, there were 179,000 cases and 8,300 deaths in Germany, which is far fewer than in many other European countries.

The response from the German public has been mostly positive. Approval ratings for Merkel and her party, the centre-right CDU, went up in recent weeks.

However, a small but vocal minority of protesters has been demanding an end to the measures. Paradoxically, they are gaining traction at the moment, now that the lockdown has been relaxed, and although the measures in Germany were fairly mild compared to Spain, Italy, or France.

The protesters are a rather strange alliance – some are worried about their democratic rights or about the economy, but others are members of the extreme right, conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, and anti-Semites. The financial crisis of 2008 had in all probability contributed to the rise of the AfD. Now, with another massive economic slump on the horizon, the threat of right-wing extremism is likely to increase.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

, Senior Teaching Fellow in German Studies, UCL

Image: Reuters

Civil War Soldiers Once Filled Gun Barrels With Whiskey to Get Drunk On the Sly

The National Interest - Sun, 24/05/2020 - 04:30

Warfare History Network

History, Americas

“It is the cause of by far the greatest part of the disorders which are examined by court-martial.”

Union General Benjamin Butler was baffled. Every night a picket guard went to an outpost 1½ miles from Fort Monroe, Virginia. The soldiers departed for their shift perfectly sober, yet when they returned to the post the next morning they caused trouble “on account of being drunk.” Investigations failed to reveal the source of their whiskey. Searches of canteens and gear turned up nothing suspicious. But there was one odd thing about the detachment: someone in Butler’s command noticed that the men always held their muskets straight up in a peculiar manner. The mystery unraveled when their muskets were examined. “Every gun barrel,” wrote Butler, “was found to be filled with whiskey.”

Excessive drinking was a constant problem in both armies during the Civil War. “No one evil agent so much obstructs this army as the degrading vice of drunkenness,” wrote Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan in February 1862. “It is the cause of by far the greatest part of the disorders which are examined by court-martial.” The complete abolition of alcohol, he believed, “would be worth fifty thousand men to the armies of the United States.” And across the Mason-Dixon Line, the Norfolk Day-Book complained that Confederate enlisted men and officers in the vicinity were drinking whiskey “in quantities which would astonish the nerves of a cast-iron lamp-post, and of a quality which would destroy the digestive organs of an ostrich.”

Whiskey the Drink of Choice for Most Soldiers

Many if not most soldiers were already well acquainted with alcohol from the antebellum era. Whiskey was far and away the most popular drink in 1861. Often made from corn instead of grain, it was distilled at countless locations across the country. Popular nondistilled drinks included cider and beer. Cider, made from apples, was more common, but beer was quickly growing in favor, its rise fueled by the steady German immigration into Northern states.

Low-grade whiskey carried with it the threat of poisoning the drinker, so makers might start with clear alcohol, water it down, and then doctor the mixture to simulate the color and flavor of the real thing. Chewing tobacco, for example, helped approximate the amber tint of whiskey or brandy. Harsher ingredients added the bite that drinkers expected in their whiskey. An 1860 inspection of liquor samples in Cincinnati found whiskey containing sulfuric acid, red pepper, caustic, soda, potassium, and strychnine. It was no wonder that “rotgut” was the most prevalent nickname for cheap liquor during the era.

Countering the growth of alcohol consumption was the temperance movement, which sought to make all forms of alcoholic beverages illegal. Maine enacted a prohibition law in 1851. Several other states or territories passed dry laws in the following years. In most cases, these laws were repealed or overturned within a short time. Per capita consumption peaked in 1830 at an equivalent of 7.1 gallons of alcohol annually. A swift decline followed, with the annual per capita figure dropping to 2.53 gallons by 1860.

“Spirit Rations” Abolished

Alcohol still had an official presence in the U.S. Army in 1861. A daily spirit ration for American soldiers had been abolished in 1832, but officers were permitted to issue special servings of whiskey to relieve fatigue and exposure. Soldiers, naturally, had countless sneaky ways to obtain whiskey. While diligent officers could restrict the flow of whiskey into camp, soldiers could still drink when they received a pass to leave camp. In the Confederate Army, the phrase “running the blockade” meant slipping in and out of camp for illicit purposes, usually involving alcohol.

On February 27, 1862, the Confederate Congress passed a law allowing President Jefferson Davis to suspend habeas corpus and declare martial law in areas threatened by the enemy. Immediately, martial law was declared in Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia, followed by Richmond on March 1. Richmond came under control of the provost guards commanded by Brig. Gen. John H. Winder, who prohibited the manufacture of liquor and closed the city’s saloons. By then liquor sales had caused so much trouble and crime among Confederate soldiers and civilian that many in Richmond welcomed martial law. Winder also barred rail shipments of whiskey into the Confederate capital. Apothecaries were allowed to dispense liquor only with a doctor’s prescription.

Martial law did not stop the distribution of whiskey, but merely drove it underground. There were still countless cases of drunk and disorderly behavior, as well as arrests for illegal sales of alcohol. Corruption flourished among the provost guards, some of whom forged prescriptions for alcohol. After obtaining the liquor, they then arrested the apothecaries who had dispensed it, thus adding insult to injury.

A ‘Creature Comfort’ Care Package From Home

A great deal of whiskey was sent to army camps on both sides by well-meaning relatives back home. It was a common practice, especially among the Union soldiers, for families to send their loved ones packages of fresh, canned, or smoked food and other small creature comforts. Commanding officers quickly realized that a great deal of whiskey was also being smuggled into camp inside these care packages. General Butler later testified before Congress that a search of an Adams Express Company depot yielded 150 different packages of liquor in crates and boxes on their way to his command.

Every parcel intended for a soldier had to be opened and inspected by officers of his regiment or brigade. Union Private John D. Billings, in his classic memoir Hardtack and Coffee, recalled, “There was many a growl uttered by men who lost their little pint or quart bottle of some choice stimulating beverage, which had been confiscated from a box as contraband of war.” Billings noted some ingenious ways that innocent-looking gifts concealed whiskey. One favorite ruse was hiding a bottle of whiskey inside a well-roasted turkey. Whiskey bottles also came into Billings’ camp in tin cans of small cakes or in loaves of bread with holes cut in the bottom.

Smuggling whiskey in legitimate-looking containers with false labels was a common practice. A helpful sutler showed Butler several little bottles that supposedly contained hair oil packaged by a New York City firm. Instead, each bottle contained half a pint of whiskey, with a little olive oil on top. The bottles were sold wholesale at eight cents each, but soldiers paid 25 cents for them in camp. The distributor claimed to have sold thousands of such bottles at Fort Monroe.

Alcohol Restrictions Lead to Officer Impersonation

In February 1863, the Union guard boat Jacob Bell searched the supply schooner Mail at Alexandria, Virginia. Aboard the schooner were 428 dozen cans labeled “milk drink” packaged by Numsen, Carroll & Company, a Baltimore firm. Upon closer inspection, Lt. Cmdr. E.P. McCrea learned that the milk drink was actually “villainous eggnog.” Commodore Andrew Harwood noted that the cans were not soldered in the usual way. The top and bottom had been heated with a resinous substance and the edges bent over so that the cover at either end could be removed to convert the can into a drinking cup. Harwood issued orders to the Potomac Flotilla to seize any vessel caught smuggling alcohol.

Sutlers were in a good position to profit from liquor sales. Regulations prohibited them from selling liquor to enlisted personnel, but many of the officially licensed merchants evaded the rules. Sutlers could openly stock whiskey because they were still allowed to sell it to officers. Brassy enlisted men frequently borrowed a pair of officers’ shoulder straps and purchased whiskey in the shops. Others stole bottles from sutler huts, wagons, or tents.

Impersonating an officer was only one of the many ways that Union and Confederate soldiers managed to get around the rules restricting their drinking. Assignment to guard duty also provided opportunities for mischief. In eastern North Carolina in April 1862, several men in the 51st Pennsylvania were ordered to guard the commissary tent in which a newly arrived shipment of whiskey barrels was stored. One night the guards took the barrels off their muskets. After unscrewing the breech plugs, each soldier had a long iron straw, which he inserted into the bung-hole of a whiskey cask and sucked himself into intoxication.

Among the busiest routes for smuggling alcohol to the Union Army was the Long Bridge, which crossed the Potomac River, linking Washington, D.C., to Virginia. On November 23, 1863, all contraband liquor seized on the bridge was turned over to the Army Medical Museum, located not far from the Washington end of the bridge. At the time, tissue specimens saved for the museum were wrapped in cloth and preserved in a keg of alcohol or whiskey. Each specimen was identified by a small wooden block, with a description written on it in pencil so that the alcohol would not dissolve the writing. Confiscated liquor was distilled again by the museum into uniform grade 70 percent alcohol, which was deemed perfect for preserving specimens.

Liquor Smuggling Gets More Sophisticated

Surgeon John H. Brinton recalled that ground around the museum was piled high with “kegs, bottles, demijohns, and cases, to say nothing of an infinite variety of tins, made so as to fit unperceived on the body, and thus permit the wearer to smuggle alcohol into camp.” Another medical officer, Acting Assistant Surgeon Ralph S.L. Walsh, marveled at the ingenuity of liquor smugglers. Goods confiscated for the museum, ranging from blackberry wine to straight alcohol, were packed in many peculiar vessels. Frequently women were arrested with belts under their skirts to which were fastened tin cans holding between a quart and a gallon of whiskey. In a number of cases the women sported false breasts, each holding a quart or more of contraband liquor. Guards seized so much alcohol at Long Bridge during the war that the Army Medical Museum had enough alcohol for its specimens until 1876.

In many camps sutlers were allowed to sell patent medicines. Often these remedies were nothing more than liquor flavored and tinted with herbal concoctions. Countless posters and newspapers touted the healing power of bitters, liquor strongly flavored with herbs. Some medicinal bitters were served as drinks in saloons. The highly advertised Drake’s Plantation Bitters, which blended herbs with St. Croix rum, was enormously popular at sutler tents.

“Snake Smuggling”?

Lieutenant Luther Tracy Townshend, the adjutant of the 16th Vermont, was also the president of the regimental temperance society. Once, in the absence of the regiment’s sutler, it fell to Townshend to order a shipment of necessities and luxuries for the troops. Some of the men persuaded Townshend to order several cases of Hostetter’s Bitters to help soldiers who were suffering from chills. The merchandise soon arrived in their camp in Louisiana. As Townshend reported, “Some of the men, who were more chilly than the others, took overdoses and in consequence became staggeringly drunk.” Only then did the mortified adjutant learn that Hostetter’s Bitters was almost pure whiskey.

An exception to the ban on sutler sales of alcohol to enlisted personnel existed in some German units of the Union Army. Brig. Gen. Louis Blenker, for one, ordered sutlers to sell beer to the soldiers of his brigade, who were predominantly German immigrants, to keep up their morale. His orders caused resentment among non-German units, although this was mollified by sutlers selling beer to soldiers outside the brigade.

Perhaps the most creative dodge was used by a soldier of the 11th Ohio, who killed a snake and, in the words of a marveling comrade, “carefully dissecting the varmint obtained a long, white cartilage, which he carefully cleaned and coiled up. Proceeding to the hospital, he politely requested a small quantity of spirits in which to preserve the curiosity (which he represented as a tape worm). The surgeon not only agreed, but complimented the man highly for the interest he manifested in natural science!”

Whiskey abuse was not confined to land-based armies. Both Union and Confederate navies faced abuses of their own. In the 18th century the British Royal Navy routinely issued a ration of spirits, usually rum, to enlisted personnel. Originally the ration was eight ounces of distilled spirits per day. Naval rum was diluted with water, resulting in the traditional drink called grog. The practice was associated with Admiral Edward Vernon, a famed officer of the mid-1700s whose service nickname was “Old Grog” because he wore a coat made of grogham cloth. (Laurence Washington, George Washington’s older brother, served with Vernon. When Laurence died, George inherited his plantation Mount Vernon, which had been named for the admiral.)

Alcohol Smuggling in the Continental Navy

The Continental Navy, as well as the early U.S. Navy, adopted the British ration of half a pint of grog per day. Before the War of 1812, imported rum from Britain’s Caribbean colonies was dropped in favor of American-made whiskey. Despite the switch, sailors and the general public continued calling the naval ration grog. On land, lower class saloons were called grog-shops or groggeries. Aboard ship, the crew’s barrels of whiskey and the officers’ private stores of liquors and wines were kept locked up in the “spirit room.” At the captain’s discretion, extra rations of spirits were doled out before and after action, or even during a battle. During the long fight with CSS Virginia, the crew of USS Monitor was braced by a special issue of two ounces of whiskey per crewman.

Captains also issued extra liquor as a reward for hard work such as the tedious and backbreaking job of loading coal aboard steam warships. Confederate sailors outfitting Sea King, which was secretly being converted at sea into CSS Shenandoah, received a serving of grog every two hours. Mariners saw the spirit ration as well-deserved compensation for their long months of hard work and isolation at sea. With some reason, temperance advocates saw it instead as a severe problem and focused considerable effort on luring sailors away from the bottle. In 1832 reformers persuaded Congress to cut the naval ration to one gill, or four ounces, daily. Sailors under the age of 21 and anyone who chose not to draw a spirit ration received instead a small cash commutation, which had risen to five cents a day by 1861.

After reducing the naval grog ration, Congress debated but did not act further on the temperance movement’s demands for tighter restrictions. A chance to end the grog ration arose again when Southern members of Congress left the nation’s capital after the beginning of the war. Northern representatives and senators were more sympathetic to the temperance cause, and with Southern seats now vacant, there were enough Northern votes to abolish the naval spirit rations. A July 14, 1862, act of Congress set August 31 of that same year as the last day for the grog ration. A correspondent aboard an unnamed vessel wrote to the Philadelphia Press that Congress had made a great mistake. He warned that ending the spirit ration would drive all the old seamen out of the service. Aboard the receiving ship North Carolina in New York City harbor, the men met the restriction with muttered growls, but no signs of incipient mutiny were readily apparent.

Kegs Auctioned Off & Turned In To Medical Staff

Spirit kegs remained under lock and key until naval vessels returned to port. About 3,000 kegs were auctioned off and others were turned over to the naval medical service for hospital use. Excess whiskey in the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron was stored aboard the aptly named ship Brandywine. As compensation for the loss of the spirit ration, the Navy added five cents per day to sailors’ pay, a raise of between 8 and 10 percent. Despite the banning of grog, there was still some alcohol aboard Union naval vessels. “Distilled spirituous liquors” were allowed on board ship as medical stores. And officers, trusted by Congress more than common sailors, were still allowed to have private stores of liquors and wines.

Grog was served in the Confederate Navy as well. Rebel tars were entitled to one gill of spirits or half a pint of wine per day. As in the Union Navy, a small cash commutation was paid to sailors not taking their spirit ration. Confederate Navy officials had considerable trouble obtaining enough spirituous liquor for rations and hospital use. Naval requirements clashed with state regulations that reserved corn and grain for food rather than distillation of spirits. Eventually a distillery was set up in Augusta, Georgia, to produce whiskey for naval use. Despite the trouble in obtaining liquor, the Confederate Navy never got around to banning its spirit ration, and it remained on the books until the war ended in 1865.

Illicit alcohol resulted in a number of embarrassing incidents at sea. Midshipman James Morris Morgan, in his memoir Recollections of a Rebel Reefer, wrote about an alcohol-fueled riot on the cruiser CSS Georgia in October 1863. Sailors slipped into a coal bunker and bored through a thin bulkhead separating the coal from the spirit room. Then they drilled a hole into the head of a barrel of liquor and inserted a lead pipe. The pilfered grog was distributed among the crew, said Morgan, “and soon there was a battle royal going on the berth deck which the master-at-arms was unable to stop.” Georgia’s first lieutenant went below and induced most of the men to give themselves up for punishment. One holdout defied the officers, but Morgan tackled him and the master-at-arms handcuffed him. Several crewmen were placed in irons and sentenced to a spell in the brig on bread and water.

Whiskey As Spoils of War

The British blockade-running schooner Sting Ray, under the command of a Captain McCloskey, was captured in the Gulf of Mexico by USS Kineo on May 22, 1864. An acting ensign with a prize crew of seven men took charge of the vessel and followed in Kineo’s wake. McCloskey produced a stash of whiskey and offered it to the prize crew. By the time Acting Ensign Paul Borner realized what had happened his men were so drunk that they were unable to get back on deck without assistance.

Borner locked the hatch to keep the men from getting any more whiskey, but McCloskey and his crew jumped Borner, took his pistol, and reclaimed the ship. Union sailor William Morgan fell overboard, and McCloskey tossed a spar into the sea as an improvised life preserver. Another man jumped into a ship’s boat, cut the painter, and escaped. The Confederates followed Kineo for a time before changing course and making a dash for shore. Seeing Sting Ray change course, Lt. Cmdr. John Watters of Kineo opened fire with a 20-pounder gun. McCloskey managed to beach the vessel after dodging several Union shells. Borner and five of his sailors were captured by the 13th Texas. Only two of Borner’s crew avoided capture and were picked up later by Kineo. Morgan, according to Watters, was “in a beastly state of intoxication, crazy drunk and howling.”

Doctors at the time incorrectly believed that alcohol was a stimulant, so they prescribed it to treat sick or wounded soldiers. Some drugs were soluble in alcohol, and patients received them in doses with whiskey or brandy. One treatment for diphtheria was a dose of brandy mixed with ammonia. Alcohol itself was seen as having curative powers for some illnesses. Laudanum, a mixture of alcohol and opium, was a widely prescribed painkiller. Ether was made by distilling alcohol and sulfuric acid, called “spirits of nitre.” A purer form of alcohol called alcohol fortius was used to make ether and to dissolve various compounds.

A Prized Commodity in Medical Treatment

Whiskey or brandy, either alone or mixed with other ingredients, were routinely used to treat patients suffering from wounds or illnesses. Usually whiskey was prescribed in frequent but small doses, perhaps one ounce or one tablespoon every few hours. Sometimes it was administered by itself, but it might also be mixed in eggnog or milk punch. One example concerned the case of Private Augustus C. Falls of the 1st New York Heavy Artillery. Falls was admitted to Douglas Hospital in Washington with diarrhea on August 5, 1864. A surgeon prescribed 11/2 ounces of whiskey each day at dinner. Three days later the dosage was raised to two ounces of whiskey three times a day. On September 29, the dosage was again increased to three ounces of whiskey every four hours. Despite the special treatment, Falls died on October 5.

One of the few effective drugs of the era, quinine, could prevent malaria or ease symptoms for patients who already had the disease. Soldiers often balked at taking their malaria medicine, though, because of its markedly bitter taste. To cajole soldiers into taking quinine, some surgeons mixed it with whiskey. This created the opposite problem; some soldiers enjoyed the quinine-whiskey dose so much that they sneaked through the line for a second prescription. While stationed at New Bern, North Carolina, the men of the 44th Massachusetts found that their medical officers took precautions to limit the soldiers to one dose each. Instead of serving quinine in whiskey, the drug came blended with medical alcohol, water, and cayenne pepper. “No soldier,” wrote a veteran of the regiment, “is known to have acquired a dangerous hankering for the mixture.”

Guilty on Charges of Drunkenness

Southern medical officers struggled to obtain sufficient quantities of medicinal alcohol. Surgeon General Samuel P. Moore established distilleries in Montgomery, Columbia, Salisbury, and Macon to produce medicinal alcohol. Volunteer committees gathered food, clothing, medicines, and creature comforts from civilians and shipped them to military hospitals. On November 22, 1861, the Charleston Mercury highlighted the first quarterly report of the city’s Ladies’ Christian Association. Among numerous shipments sent by the association to hospitals in Virginia were 34 boxes or crates of alcoholic beverages, including wine, brandy, blackberry brandy, claret, Madeira, port, whiskey, ale, bay rum, and additional alcohol in the form of medicines and bitters.

Drunkenness could be overlooked if it occurred when a soldier was off duty and did not compound his offense with other crimes. Court-martial of officers charged with drunkenness was handled differently from those of enlisted men. Officers found guilty could be cashiered with forfeiture of pay. In addition to dismissal, a Confederate law of 1862 allowed a public reprimand of officers convicted of drunkenness. An officer dismissed from the Confederate service could also be conscripted back into the ranks as an enlisted man. Enlisted personnel found guilty of drunkenness usually faced some form of confinement, corporal punishment, or public shaming. Penalties varied depending on the degree of the soldier’s offense and the policies of his commanding officer. Common punishments for drunken enlisted men included confinement in a guard tent or guardhouse, wearing a barrel with a placard noting that the culprit was a drunk, extra duty, or a spell carrying a log or marching with a knapsack filled with rocks.

Generals were not immune from abusing alcohol. Indeed, their vast responsibilities encouraged such abuse. Most notoriously, rumors of alcoholism dogged Union General Ulysses S. Grant. After Grant’s capture of Vicksburg, several gentlemen warned President Lincoln that Grant drank to excess. Lincoln was said to have asked what sort of whiskey Grant drank, because “if it makes him win victories like this Vicksburg, I will send a demijohn of the same kind to every general in the army.”

Generals Just As Guilty As Their Soldiers

A serious instance of generals drinking on duty contributed to the Union defeat at the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864. After successfully detonating a huge explosion in a tunnel dug under the Confederate lines outside Petersburg, Union forces moved in to exploit the break in the Rebel defenses. Brig. Gens. James H. Ledlie and Edward Ferrero remained behind the lines drinking liquor in a bombproof while their neglected divisions floundered without guidance from their commanders. The attack, which had the potential of taking Petersburg and shortening the war, bogged down, and the Union regiments were devastated by Confederate counterattacks. After investigations into their drinking and dereliction of duty, Ledlie was allowed to resign from the army, but Ferrero escaped serious penalty. He even managed to be brevetted to major general before the end of the war.

Offenses were not limited to line officers. Confederate hospital matron Phoebe Yates Pember wrote of one case in which a drunken surgeon treated a patient whose ankle had been crushed by a train. After the injuries were set and bandaged, the soldier remained in excruciating pain and his condition worsened. Checking the patient, Pember found that the bandaged leg was perfectly healthy, while the other leg was “swollen, inflamed, and purple.” The attending surgeon had been so drunk that he set the wrong leg. Fever set in and the patient died at the hospital.

Plagued with food shortages, inflation, and transportation problems, Southern soldiers and civilians dealt with severe shortages of alcohol caused by state legislatures restricting the use of grain, corn and foodstuffs for distilled liquor. Private distilling took a blow after the Federal capture of Chattanooga in September 1863 and advancing Union forces captured copper mines desperately needed by the South. Not only did their loss crimp production of brass artillery pieces, it also threatened the manufacture of percussion caps and artillery friction primers. The Confederate Ordnance Bureau confiscated scores of copper whiskey stills in western North Carolina. Metal from the stills went into many of the South’s percussion caps made during the remainder of the war.

Persimmon Brandy & Other Homemade Recipes

Southern blockade runners brought wine, whiskey, brandy and other potables from Europe. Less popular than wine and brandy, but still showing up in blockade runner holds, were rum, gin, Scotch whisky, champagne, ale, porter, and schnapps. Occasionally one might even find imported cut glass decanters to serve the imported liquors. Pure alcohol, intended as medical supplies, also passed through the blockade. Blockade-run liquor was beyond the financial means of most Confederates, forcing many people to turn to home-made substitutes. Despite wartime laws, some corn and grain found their way into whiskey. When these standard ingredients were not available, distillers turned to sweet potatoes, rice, sorghum seeds, and persimmons.

On October 21, 1863, the Charleston Courier published a recipe for persimmon brandy. Mashed by a pestle or simply with one’s hands, persimmons were mixed with warm water and left to ferment for five or six days. Then the mash was ready for distillation. In thrifty fashion, the writer suggested saving the persimmon seeds. They could be used for buttons, or parched and mixed with dried sweet potatoes to make a coffee substitute. Beer and wine were simpler to make at home than whiskey, as they needed no distilling apparatus. Newspapers published numerous recipes for persimmon beer. Wine and brandy were made from any kind of available fruit, including peaches, pears, cherries, blackberries, plums, and even watermelons.

F.P. Porcher’s 1863 work Resources of Southern Fields and Forests listed uses for hundreds of plants that grew in the Confederacy. He gave recipes for making beer from corn, persimmons, and boiled sassafras shoots. Blackberries could also be used to make wine, and with the addition of spices and whiskey, a healthy cordial could be concocted. Porcher also mentioned dozens of medicines that could be prepared from native herbs added to whiskey, wine, or brandy. Another way of coping with the lack of alcohol was to make a joke of it. By early 1864, “starvation parties” were becoming a fad in Richmond. Attendees wore the best finery they could manage. Unlike antebellum parties, there were no imported wines or liquors. The fine punchbowls and glassware remaining from the days before the war held only water from the James River.

Robert E. Lee once remarked that it was not possible to have an army without music. He might just as well have said that it was not possible to have an army without whiskey. Whether serving as an innocent aid to relaxation, medication to treat wounds or disease, or a lure to the evils of vice and desertion, whiskey and other types of alcoholic beverages were firmly rooted in the armies of the 1860s. The many creative ways alcohol found its way to soldiers and sailors, and the methods used to control its influence, are intertwined with the story of battles, generals, regiments, and ships of war.

Offenses were not limited to line officers. Confederate hospital matron Phoebe Yates Pember wrote of one case in which a drunken surgeon treated a patient whose ankle had been crushed by a train. After the injuries were set and bandaged, the soldier remained in excruciating pain and his condition worsened. Checking the patient, Pember found that the bandaged leg was perfectly healthy, while the other leg was “swollen, inflamed, and purple.” The attending surgeon had been so drunk that he set the wrong leg. Fever set in and the patient died at the hospital.

For Some, Private Distilling Filled the Gap

Plagued with food shortages, inflation, and transportation problems, Southern soldiers and civilians dealt with severe shortages of alcohol caused by state legislatures restricting the use of grain, corn and foodstuffs for distilled liquor. Private distilling took a blow after the Federal capture of Chattanooga in September 1863 and advancing Union forces captured copper mines desperately needed by the South. Not only did their loss crimp production of brass artillery pieces, it also threatened the manufacture of percussion caps and artillery friction primers. The Confederate Ordnance Bureau confiscated scores of copper whiskey stills in western North Carolina. Metal from the stills went into many of the South’s percussion caps made during the remainder of the war.

Southern blockade runners brought wine, whiskey, brandy and other potables from Europe. Less popular than wine and brandy, but still showing up in blockade runner holds, were rum, gin, Scotch whisky, champagne, ale, porter, and schnapps. Occasionally one might even find imported cut glass decanters to serve the imported liquors. Pure alcohol, intended as medical supplies, also passed through the blockade. Blockade-run liquor was beyond the financial means of most Confederates, forcing many people to turn to home-made substitutes. Despite wartime laws, some corn and grain found their way into whiskey. When these standard ingredients were not available, distillers turned to sweet potatoes, rice, sorghum seeds, and persimmons.


This article by David A. Norris first appeared in the Warfare History Network on September 20, 2015.

Image: Political cartoon satirizing the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederate States of America. From Harper's Weekly, 8 March 1862. Public domain.

Australia's Commandos Fought Hard To Beat Japan In The Pacific

The National Interest - Sun, 24/05/2020 - 03:30

Warfare History Network

History, Asia

Ralph Coyne fought across the South Pacific with the Australian 2/4 Commandos.

“We shall not be content with a defensive war,” stated British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during his speech to the House of Commons immediately after the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Forces from Dunkirk on June 4, 1940. That same afternoon, he wrote to General Sir Hastings Ismay, his right- hand man in the War Cabinet Secretariat, “We should immediately set to work to organize self contained, thoroughly equipped raiding units. Enterprises must be prepared with specially trained troops of the hunter class who can develop a reign of terror down the enemy coasts leaving a trail of German corpses behind them.” With pressure from Churchill, the famous British Commando units were born.

Commandos in the Pacific

Negotiations began secretly between Australia and Britain to establish special units similar to the British Commando model. A British military mission arrived in Australia in November 1940 to set up a training scheme in secret. The training was to be conducted by Australian and New Zealand officers specially detailed for the task. Each soldier had to be a volunteer, be physically fit, possess individual initiative, and be of above average intelligence. They were trained to accept responsibility far in excess of their rank and to be able to fend for themselves under the most severe conditions. British Commandos were trained to carry out sudden sneak attacks and then withdraw back to their bases, whereas the Australians were taught to stay behind, live off the land, and carry out guerrilla warfare against an attacking enemy. They were called Independent Companies and were not officially known as Commandos until 1943.

Twenty-year-old Ralph Coyne was training in the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) to be a signaler during March 1941 and was expecting to be posted to the Middle East. “One day on parade, a Major asked for volunteers to serve in a small group to operate in enemy territory,” he remembered. “Of the 500 on parade, 12 of us stepped forward. We were immediately put on a truck and taken to a secret training area at Wilsons Promontory in Victoria. The next morning we were told we were going to receive very tough training and at the end of a month, those who are not suitable or didn’t wish to stay could return to their original units without shame. At the month’s end, one third had returned to their units and those of us who completed the course were issued British uniforms. And, as I was in the 2/4 Independent Company, I proudly attached the dark blue double blue diamond colour shoulder patch to my new uniform. We had three infantry platoons, each of 67 men, a signals section of 36, 20 engineers, 11 medical and a company HQ of 12. We were transferred to the top part of Western Australia and split up into platoons so we could patrol the major rivers of the Northern Territory stretching from the Western Australian border to the Gulf of Carpentaria.”

The Japanese Invasion of Timor

Before the war, the island of Timor, about 300 miles from the northwest corner of Australia, had been politically divided by two colonial powers. The western half of Timor was part of the Dutch East Indies with Koepang the capital. The eastern half, with Dili as its capital, was a Portuguese colony. The island was of strategic interest to the Japanese.

Pearl Harbor was only the beginning of Japanese military expansion in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. The Japanese Army invaded Hong Kong and the Philippines and landed troops on the northeast coast of Malaya on December 8, 1941, sweeping all before them and capturing Singapore, the last bastion of British rule and prestige in Asia.

Fearing possible Japanese activity in the region, Australia sent to Timor on December 12, 1941, the 2/40 Battalion AIF with supporting units of the newly trained 2/2 Independent Company and Lockheed Hudson bombers from No. 2 Squadron RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) to bolster the Dutch forces around Koepang. An arrangement was made with the neutral Portuguese to unofficially allow most of the 2/2 to be stationed near Dili. Code-named Sparrow Force, the troops were soon to see action.

Japanese forces continued their seemingly unstoppable advance and on January 23, 1942, overwhelmed the small Australian garrison at Rabaul on the island of New Britain, which was the capital of the Australian-controlled territory of New Guinea. In early February 1942, Australian and Dutch forces surrendered the island of Ambon, another Dutch East Indies possession. Control of the nearby island of Timor by the Japanese would bring them within easy striking distance of Australia.

From Admiral Chuichi Nagumos’s aircraft carriers in the Timor Sea and from the 21st Air Flotilla base at Kendari in the Celebes, 188 Japanese aircraft struck a crippling blow against the major northern Australian port of Darwin in early February. Shortly afterward, the Japanese began their invasion of Timor on February 19-20, with landings on the northern coast of Portuguese territory and the southern coast of Dutch territory. Sparrow Force defended Koepang as best it could but was soon out of supplies and ammunition. With many wounded, most of the troops were forced to surrender on February 23.

Most of those who survived the battles and surrendered died from brutal treatment in Japanese POW camps. In Dili, the 2/2 and some Dutch troops along with remnants of the 2/4 were given the equally impossible task of overcoming a large, well-equipped Japanese force. The outcome was inevitable, forcing the survivors to retreat into the mountains with approximately 8,000 Japanese searching for them. The survivors of Sparrow Force were limited to carrying out hit-and-run ambushes, and as time passed their health suffered through lack of decent food, exhaustion, and sickness. They had to rely on whatever food they could get from the natives. During the fighting, they lost their only radio. Unable to communicate with Australia, they were presumed captured or dead.

“One night in mid-April 1942, two months after the rumored loss of Sparrow Force on Timor, our signalers were told to listen for radio calls claiming to be Australian coming from Timor,” remembered Coyne. “Although weak, we were able to pick up their signal, and after they answered a lot of personal questions we were able to identify them as the remnants of the 2/2 Independent Company in Timor. Their signal was being transmitted by a radio pieced together from scrap material and powered by an old car battery. The battery was being charged by a generator driven by a rope connected to a wheel turned by a native. The radio became known as ‘Winnie the War Winner’ after the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. HQ realized it was most imperative a reliable transmitter/receiver be sent to them as soon as possible.”

Landing on Timor

The Royal Australian Navy landed a party at night at a prearranged rendezvous, and several small vessels followed, landing ammunition, weapons, medical supplies, food, clothing, and radio equipment. They also evacuated the sick and wounded.

With the Japanese capture of New Britain, it was now even more vital that Allied HQ in Australia be informed of the enemy movements in Timor, and urgent arrangements were made for the 2/4 Independent Company to be withdrawn from its existing patrol areas. They were re-equipped with rifles, submachine guns, grenades, ammunition, sleeping bags, new uniforms, and other assorted stores that were being sent to reinforce the 2/2 Company on Timor. Late on the afternoon of September 22, 1942, Corporal Coyne and the men of the dark blue double diamond 2/4 Company boarded the World War I-vintage destroyer HMAS Voyager for the 30-hour trip to Timor. She was a small ship, and with approximately 14 tons of stores on her deck there was barely enough room for the 250 soldiers. They made themselves as comfortable as possible. It was a dark, moonless tropical night and most tried to sleep, as soldiers throughout the centuries have done when given the opportunity.

“At some point during the night,” said Coyne, “everyone on board became aware the engines had stopped and the main gun was being trained. The ship’s forward movement also stopped, and she began to roll listlessly with the waves. The dreaded word ‘submarine’ was quietly whispered amongst sailors and soldiers alike. The silence was eerie as the ship drifted in the darkness for about 20 minutes before the throb of the engines resumed and Voyager was underway again.

“We reached the south coast of East Timor at a beach called Betano in late evening on 23 September,” he continued, “and the Voyager’s captain, knowing the men had to scramble down nets slung over the side heavily loaded with equipment, tried to get as close to shore as possible. Each soldier carried a pack weighing approximately 80 pounds plus his rifle or machine gun, belts or magazines of ammunition, grenades, and a water bottle. Clambering down nets on the side of a swaying ship and stepping into a canvas boat in heaving surf was no easy task. Boxes of ammunition, grenades, heavy long-range radio sets, car batteries (to power the sets), battery chargers the size of a small car engine, gasoline, medical supplies, demolition charges, and Australian silver currency to pay the natives who were able to sell food.

“The destroyer lay with her port side parallel to the beach, and some of the soldiers were disembarking into the boats just above the ship’s port propeller. Suddenly, the alarm as raised as the heavy surf had caused the ship to swing on her anchor and was in danger of running aground hard ashore. The captain, Lieutenant Commander R.C. Robison, could have saved his ship with the use of both his engines, but it would have meant a horrible death for many of the soldiers above the port propeller. With no time to lose, the captain opted to leave the port propeller idle and went astern on the starboard screw, but unfortunately Voyager hit the beach. Once the soldiers and their stores had disembarked safely, the ship’s company worked desperately to free the ship embedded in the sand. To make matters worse, a strong southeast wind created large waves that forced the ship further ashore. Voyager was now stuck fast and left with no alternative. The decision was made to abandon the ship and destroy her using demolition charges.”

The next day, the Voyager was sighted by a Japanese reconnaissance bomber escorted by a Zero fighter and, defiant to the end, the destroyer’s crew shot the bomber down. By mid-afternoon, a series of Japanese bombing raids completed the Voyager’s destruction. Two days later, the stranded officers and crew were safely evacuated by two Australian Navy ships and returned to Australia.

500 Men

The 2/4 Company quickly moved inland and joined the remainder of the 2/2. The combined force totaled 500 men, and they began frequent and effective ambushes against the Japanese. Two observation posts were established overlooking Dili, so the arrival of enemy convoys could be reported to HQ in Australia. Reports such as the number of ships and naval escorts, troops and military equipment being unloaded, and where the troops were being quartered were transmitted to Australia. This information allowed General Douglas MacArthur at General Headquarters South West Pacific Area (GHQ, SWPA) in Australia to allocate RAAF bombers to strike specific targets identified by the Commandos.

“We traveled single file away from the beach in the darkness,” recalled Coyne. “No one spoke. Around 1400 hours, word was passed down the line we were to camp, as it turned out, at an abandoned Portuguese military quarters at Hata Udu. Our platoon lieutenant wanted to send a coded message to HQ, so I unpacked our transmitter and took it into a nearby native grass hut and set up the radio (about the size of a large loaf of bread), put up the antenna and made contact with HQ in cipher and Morse code. A few minutes later, I could hear a Jap fighter in the vicinity. Moments later, there was the harsh rattle of machine gun fire, the bullets stitching a straight line across the hut floor and across the wooden table I was using, just missing the radio. I completed the message after the fighter had gone.

“Shortly after, the platoon moved westward to a small town called Ainaro nestled near high mountains,” he related. “There was a small simple church there, and we were told that the two Portuguese priests, Fathers Roberto and Peres, had been murdered by the Japanese for supplying the Australians with information. One had been doused with petrol and set on fire at his altar. For those of us new to war, this information gave us an insight into the type of enemy we were fighting. We followed a native track up into the mountains, and it was here we met native boys who approached the soldiers asking if we would take ‘criados,’ meaning a native servant for each soldier. We looked at the mountains and our heavy packs and agreed with enthusiasm. By late afternoon we all had a criados freeing us of our packs and allowing us to cope with the heavier military equipment. My criados was a young lad who I called Dicky.

“As time passed, we found it risky using other natives or mountain ponies. If we were attacked, the horses would bolt and the natives would drop the equipment and run away. We couldn’t afford to lose anything. Because most of our cross country walking was over mountain ranges up to 9,000 feet high, we had to discard some unnecessary equipment. Each native village we came to was thickly infested with fleas, and as we walked through the village, they rose up in a cloud smothering our legs and clothes. Initially, they drove us crazy, but after a while we got used to it just as the natives had. The beards we had grown were a haven for them.”

“Just to Survive”

Allied military commanders expected the Commandos to live off the land and had no idea that the primitive native farmers were accustomed to barely meeting their own food requirements and that supplying others was almost beyond their capacity. The local staple diet consisted of maize, some rice, and wild pig, which had excessive fat and little meat. To the Australian palate, the pig tasted revolting. The situation was made even more difficult as the Japanese placed a ruthless and heavy demand on the natives for food as well. They paid for it in a special printed currency, which was quite worthless. The natives knew it was worthless, but refusal risked punishment and possibly death.

The Commandos paid in Australian silver currency for what they could get; the money was prized by the natives. The Timorese feared the Japanese because of their brutality but liked the Aussie soldier, who was always friendly, and admired the Aussies’ fighting ability. They seemed to suddenly rise up out of the grass, and in usually short, sharp exchanges ambush the Japanese and disappear, leaving a trail of death behind them. In nearby Papua, New Guinea, the Imperial Japanese Army suffered another setback from November 1942, to January 1943, when Australian and American troops attacked and defeated them at Buna and Gona.

For almost four months, the 2/2 and 2/4 Independent Companies were able to engage two Japanese divisions. The combined effect of bombing by the RAAF and the constant ambushing by the small force of Australian soldiers hit the Japanese hard. In response, they increased their strength to approximately 20,000. Outnumbered and outgunned, the net began to close on the Australians. The Japanese launched a massive campaign against Sparrow Force, combining bribery and savage butchery of natives who were, or were thought to be, the major source of intelligence and suppliers of food to the Australian soldiers. This tactic proved successful, and in early December 1942, the 2/2 Company, deprived of the resources necessary to carry on effectively, had to finally be evacuated by the Dutch destroyer Tjerk Hiddes. This also forced 2/4 Company to abandon its coast watch, which greatly reduced the intelligence information available to GHQ, SWPA in Australia. The men of 2/4 retired to the mountains to carry out guerrilla warfare.

“We were fighting for our lives just to survive,” Coyne remembered. “The natives had been wonderful, frequently risking their lives to supply us with what they could in food, information and shelter. Unfortunately, the food was irregular and of such poor quality, our health began to deteriorate. In the limited time we had been here, a strong bond of friendship and mutual respect had developed between the Australians and the Timorese. Late one afternoon my section stayed in a deserted mountain village. As usual, we went to sleep in our sleeping bags fully dressed, boots and weapons beside us. At daybreak we awoke to find all the other huts occupied by native men, women and children. Our section was not even aware they had arrived.

“It was established the village had a curse or hoodoo on it and the fact we stayed there lifted the curse and they could come back to their village,” he said. “This was a great event for them, and a celebration feast in their traditional style was organized. We were asked to shoot four water buffalo for the feast. We argued against this as shots could be heard by the enemy and our position would be compromised. After much discussion, we agreed to shoot only two. To the primitive Timorese, sacrificing these valuable animals was meant as a great honour. The unfortunate creatures were led into the village and shot, but strangely, the villagers just left the dead buffalo in the hot tropical sun. The next day they began to bloat. We had expected a feast almost straight away but it wasn’t until midday on the fourth day the villagers plunged their knives into the carcasses. The stench was awful. Then, something occurred we least expected. The entrails were removed and brought to us with much bowing and gesturing. The soldardos (soldiers) were being honored. Everything was being passed by hand. We were trapped. We were each given a piece of the revolting mess and watched with expectancy. We couldn’t refuse without offending them. My stomach churned, but I smiled and ate my piece. Satisfied, the villagers turned their attention to the animals and began their feast while our stomachs turned cartwheels.”

“Patrolling, Ambushing or Being Ambushed”

Coyne saw his share of combat during his time on Timor, as evidenced by one encounter with the Japanese. “One day we ambushed a group of 30 Jap soldiers, killing a number of them,” he commented. “Invariably, our ambushes were watched by natives hiding in the scrub. After the clash was over, natives rushed out with machetes and decapitated the dead or wounded Japanese. The heads were taken back to their village and placed on totem poles. I remember thinking those heads could quite easily have been Australian. After another ambush, a native came up to me holding two Japanese heads by the hair and offered them to me as presents. Naturally, I refused. A few minutes later, the men and boys formed a large circle in the village and began clapping and chanting while the women and girls began playing football with the two heads for about 20 minutes.

“We were constantly on the move, patrolling, ambushing or being ambushed. We practiced ‘Tetum,’ the native language which was spoken by half the population of East Timor and understood by a quarter of the remaining people. Our criados tried speaking English.”


As Corporal Coyne and the men of his section harassed the Japanese in short, sharp, and bloody ambushes, the military situation for the various sections of 2/4 operating in East Timor was fast becoming untenable owing to pressure from the Japanese forces and their native sympathizers. It was decided by HQ in Australia to evacuate all the 2/4, and a secret order was issued to every section leader to assemble at Quicras beach approximately 16 miles east of the original landing beach at Betano. All movement was to be in complete secrecy.

“After days of marching east, our criados began to suspect something was wrong,” said Coyne. “Somehow they suspected we were going back to Australia. They pleaded with us to take them with us when we left. We couldn’t answer them as we didn’t know what was happening ourselves. All we knew was we had to get to a rendezvous point by a certain date. Some time on 9 January, the sky began to darken, indicating a storm was brewing. We came to a large jungle swamp and waded across single file with water up to our waist. On the other side was the beach at Quicras. Waiting there were other sections of the 2/4. Once we were all assembled, the commanding officer, Major Mac Walker, announced that even before the evacuation of the 2/2 Company a month earlier all our sections had been under increasing attack. Our ops over Dili had to be abandoned, and our strength was now down to 250 men. And, as we were slowly being surrounded it was time to leave Timor. He also explained that General Douglas MacArthur had asked for a small volunteer force to remain behind to continue sending whatever intelligence they could to HQ in Australia. Thirteen men responded and moved back into the jungle to continue sending information. They were code named S-Force.

“Also on the beach were a group of Portuguese women, children and two men who were to be evacuated as well. The criados appealed to us to take them with us, but we were told by Major Walker this was not possible. We built a bonfire, and we lit it at 2230 hours as prearranged. The destroyer HMAS Arunta sent two boats through the raging surf to begin the evacuation. Imagine our feelings. We were glad to be leaving Timor, but to leave our faithful criados behind was very emotional and distressing. Many tough soldiers had tears in their eyes when they said goodbye. I gave Dicky my army pullover and any money I had. It was all I had to give.”

The women and children went in the boats first, and they were assisted beyond the strong surf. The night was passing quickly, but eventually all the civilians were aboard except the two Portuguese men. The storm was making it too dangerous to attempt further landings, and the ship’s captain signalled, “Am sending final lot of boats with orders to stand-to outside breakers. Swim for it. Time does not permit sending any more boats.” The captain had to leave before it was light enough for any Japanese reconnaissance aircraft to spot the ship. As it was, the last of the soldiers boarded just 45 minutes before daylight.

“We were ordered to throw our weapons into the swamp, and section by section we waded into the ocean and swam out to the waiting navy boats beyond the surf,” recalled Coyne. “They pulled us aboard and took us to the ship. We discovered later the two Portuguese men had shot themselves instead of coming with us. The sailors gave us clothing and as much food as we could eat but not being used to decent food and with the rising and falling of the ship as she raced through the waves towards Australia, most of us became seasick. Even sailors with many years experience at sea were sick.”

A Month of Rehabilitation

Below deck, the crockery was crashing down, toilets were blocked, and vomit was everywhere but somehow the crew managed to get the ship cleaned up before arriving back in Darwin in the late afternoon. A welcoming committee of approximately 200 smartly uniformed Army, Navy, and Air Force personnel waited at the wharf. They were shocked at the sight of virtually naked, bearded, unkempt, thin, and wild- eyed soldiers disembarking. To the men, all that mattered was they were back home in Australia and alive.

The members of 2/4, who had so proudly worn the dark blue double diamond shoulder patch, began a month of rehabilitation. Some were hospitalized, and all were given a month leave and then reassembled for training for service in New Guinea.

The members of S-Force were only able to remain in East Timor for a short while. Japanese forces had finally made it too difficult for them to operate, and on February 10 the remaining soldiers were evacuated by the American submarine USS Gudgeon. With the departure of S-Force, the Australian campaign in Timor ended. For almost 12 months the Australian soldiers had harassed the Japanese, killing an estimated 1,500 with a loss of 48 of their own. Most importantly, their activities led the Japanese to believe that Allied forces were going to attempt to retake the island. Battle- hardened troops from the 48th Division were diverted to defend Timor against possible invasion. The Timorese were to pay a heavy price for their support of the Australians. Many criados were murdered by pro-Japanese natives. Hundreds of loyal natives were imprisoned, tortured, or killed.

More Failed Missions

In Australia, General MacArthur was still anxious for more information about Japanese activity on Timor, so it was decided that small groups of three or four men would be dropped by air onto the island as required. Radio contact was arranged in Melbourne, and a special cipher was to be used. No message would be regarded as authentic unless it was first preceded by a code word. Over a two-year period between 1943 and 1945, nine parties were dropped by air or put ashore by submarine. The first party was captured complete with radio and cipher. The signaler was tortured and forced to send messages prepared by the Japanese. To warn those in Australia that the operation had been compromised, the signaler omitted the code word.

Unbelievably, this was ignored by the recipients and another drop date was made. This gross negligence was to cost the lives of many brave men. The second party was met by the Japanese at the drop zone and killed. Six more parties were sent and lost, but when the ninth one was being arranged, the team leader, Captain Arthur Stevenson, who had been a 2/4 corporal on Timor in 1942, received a warning about a possible Japanese ambush at the drop zone. He arrived a day earlier than arranged and approached the area to check if the information they had received was correct. He found the Japanese were waiting in ambush.

The Australian presence was soon discovered by the Japanese, and the Australians had to be evacuated by submarine. Timor remained under Japanese control until the war ended.

In 1973, Ralph Coyne and a party of former 2/4 members and their wives returned to Timor to meet their criados. News had been broadcast by Radio Dili that the Solardo Australie were returning. Some criados walked for three days to reach the towns the Australians were to visit. Sadly, Coyne’s criados, Dicky, was not among them.

Japan Turns to New Guinea

After returning from Timor, Corporal Coyne and his fellow 2/4 members enjoyed their leave. “It was so good to be home away from the war and amongst friends and relatives but like all good things, it had to end,” he said. “There was still a war on so we were eventually recalled to duty, reformed, and sent to Canungra in Queensland, where we joined 9 Division, recently returned from North Africa, and commenced jungle training. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were going to be attached to 9 Division, 26 Brigade. It would be seven months before we were back in action again.”

While the Timor survivors were training in Australia, the Japanese had turned their military might toward New Guinea and had originally planned a two pronged attack, one by sea attacking the Port Moresby area, and the second over the Owen Stanley Mountains and along the Kokoda Track. Japanese losses at the Battle of the Coral Sea ended plans for the seaborne invasion of Port Moresby, but the overland attack began on July 21, 1942, when the first 2,000 Japanese troops, including Maj. Gen. Tomitaro Horii’s battle-hardened elite South Seas Detachment and engineers, began landing at Buna and Gona at the northern end of the Kokoda Track, a rugged mountainous jungle path covered in barely penetrable rain forest and kunai, a tall bladed grass.

Some of the mountain ridges soar to heights of 1,640 feet before plunging sharply back down to sea level. The humidity is oppressive, and sudden tropical downpours can turn jungle streams into raging torrents within a few minutes. Dangerous animals, reptiles, and insects, especially malaria-carrying mosquitoes, teem in the lush growth of the jungle. It is one of the most inhospitable places on earth. The actual track winds its way approximately 186 miles over the Owen Stanley Range and connects the north coast of New Guinea with Port Moresby on the south coast. If New Guinea fell, a direct invasion of Australia was possible.

“Chocos” Defending Port Moresby

The defense of this nightmarish track initially fell to the poorly equipped and trained militia of the Australian 39 Battalion, whose soldiers averaged only 18 years of age and had just finished basic training. They were derisively called “chocos” by the regular soldier, meaning they were like chocolate and would melt in the sun. However, these young soldiers, after a series of battles and through their sustained gallantry, held on long enough for units of the battle- hardened 7 Division just returned from the Middle East to join them.

The militia had been weakened by the jungle, the Japanese, malaria, and hunger. Many of them looked gray, old, and ill as they stood wearily in their stinking waterlogged foxholes, expressionless eyes deep in their sockets. They could hardly walk, let alone fight, but they and the 7 Division had taken on an invading Japanese force vastly superior in both numbers and firepower. Forty years later, one regular soldier remarked, “We were the real soldiers and they were just the bloody chocos, but Christ, they were brave.”

“The lethargic flow of the brackish water had also borne the incomplete, maggot-infested Japanese corpses to softly nudge them or float slowly past,” remembered another soldier. “You took your socks off only when clean socks arrived. And hungry! Just one feed a day. To all who fought here, this was a bastard of a place.”

The battle flowed back and forth with brutal savagery, the Japanese slowly forcing the Australians into what could loosely be described as a series of small offensives during the course of a withdrawal. Many times, the combat was hand to hand. Rifle butts smashed skulls, entrenching tools sliced open throats, and bayonets were rammed into stomachs with violent thrusts, twisted, and withdrawn. Men fought to stay alive or died gouging, clawing, and hacking at each other. Very rarely were prisoners taken by either side. Eventually, bolstered by reinforcements, the Australians dug in at Imita Ridge and waited for the Japanese to attack. A Japanese victory here would bring them within sight of their objective, Port Moresby.

While the fighting was taking place along the Kokoda Track, a Japanese naval convoy landed 2,700 troops supported by several tanks at Milne Bay on the northernmost tip of New Guinea. Facing them were 8,824 combined Australian and American troops. This was the first time Australian militia, regular AIF, and Americans fought together. After 11 days of heavy fighting, they beat a common enemy. On September 5, Japanese ships evacuated what remained of their troops. They had suffered their first defeat, losing 311 dead and wounded, with 700 missing. The victory bolstered the confidence of the Allies and shattered the myth of Japanese invincibility.

Unfortunately, any jubilation was tempered by evidence of unparalleled brutality by the Japanese against the local natives and prisoners. These atrocities hardened the Australian and American attitudes toward taking any prisoners themselves. This was embodied in the phrase, “The only good Jap is a dead one.”

“Take Buna or Don’t Come Back Alive”

At Imita Ridge, the Australians waited 10 days, but the Japanese seemed unwilling or unable to attack. Tired of waiting, the Australians cautiously advanced on September 27, across a valley to Ioribaiwa where the enemy had reportedly dug in. All they found was an abandoned camp. On the very doorstep of the town they had fought so hard to reach, the Japanese had abandoned their position and were withdrawing over the Owen Stanley Mountains. Owing to their losses during the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese Navy could no longer resupply the troops, and to make matters worse, the high command in Tokyo had decided to concentrate supplies and men on defending Guadalcanal in the Solomons against attacking U.S. forces at a time when the outcome of the battle on New Guinea hung in the balance. Maj. Gen. Horii was ordered to take what remained of his troops and return to Buna. It was a crushing psychological blow to the Japanese, but the order had to be obeyed. Horii died along with many of his troops during the retreat.

On November 2, the Australian flag was hoisted above the Kokoda plateau, but three more months of bloody fighting lay ahead before the Australians, joined at last by American troops, pushed on toward Buna and Gona. The Japanese soldiers received their last reinforcements and supplies at Buna, and they knew this was their last stand. Surrender or evacuation was out of the question.

The Japanese were militarily finished, and tactically it would have been less costly in lives to contain them and simply leave them to wither on the vine, but General MacArthur insisted on urgent offensive action and sent in more American troops. The Australians once again had to go on the attack, only this time with a less than enthusiastic American ally. This caused the campaign to bog down, and MacArthur sent his trusted subordinate, General Robert Eichelberger, to sort things out.

Eichelberger’s orders were chillingly simple. MacArthur said in part, “Bob, I want you to go out there and take Buna or don’t come back alive.” The Australians took Gona, but the Americans were stymied at Buna and were forced to seek help from the Australians. Finally, the Allies took Buna on January 2, 1943. MacArthur was delighted and played one of his many political and propaganda strategies by issuing a press release claiming American forces singlehandedly had taken Buna and won the campaign. Apart from completely ignoring the Australian effort, he disgracefully left out any reference to General Eichelberger.

Landing Near Lae

With their training completed at Canungra, the Australian troops of 2/4 and 9 Division joined 26 Brigade. “In August 1943, seven months after returning from Timor, we were on our way to New Guinea,” remembered Coyne, who by then was promoted to sergeant. “We landed at Milne Bay, the scene of fierce fighting and Japan’s land defeat back in August-September 1942. Although we didn’t know it at the time, we were to take part in an amphibious landing near Lae.”

The troops of 26 Brigade engaged in training exercises, firing and testing weapons, patrols, unloading stores, lectures, and physical exercises. For relaxation, the troops packed into the makeshift open-air picture theater and watched the only film available, Seven Sweethearts, starring Kathryn Grayson.

On September 4, the day of departure for Lae, Coyne was attached to A Platoon. He found his unit divided into three sections, and he boarded along with other troops of the brigade. As their ship, the American LST 471, cleared Milne Bay, they joined Rear Admiral Daniel E. Barbey’s Task Force 76. Code-named Operation Postern, the task force comprised 12 destroyers, 50 transports, and three minesweepers with the U.S. Fifth Air Force and RAAF providing fighter protection and support for the landing.

The Allied planning for the capture of Lae involved a drive by the Australian 9 Division westward along the coastal plains from selected beaches approximately 16 miles east of the objective together with a thrust by the Australian 7 Division southeast from Nadzab along the Markham Valley to Lae. The estimated strength of enemy troops in the Lae area was between 6,400 and 7,250 with a further 7,000 believed to be in the Salamaua area.

The men resigned themselves to the heat, humidity, and cramped conditions aboard the transports ploughing a course around the eastern tip of New Guinea, through the Solomon Sea, and onto the landing beaches just east of Lae. The U.S. 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment was to capture and develop the landing strips in the Nadzab area in preparation for airborne operations. Some of the Australians were no doubt aware they were taking part in the first opposed amphibious landing by Australian troops since World War I.

Aerial Raid

“It was a sunny, calm afternoon,” Coyne remarked. “At lunch we were told that we would be landing for the attack near Lae that afternoon and were advised to rest. We were quartered in the crew’s quarters and directly below us was the ship’s magazine. We lay on the bunks, reading, sleeping, writing letters and trying not to think of the task ahead. We hadn’t been there long when there was a shattering explosion, and the ship seemed to lift right out of the water. I was hurled against a steel bulkhead. Shaken and dazed but otherwise unhurt, I rose to my feet; I looked about me and saw death everywhere. The place was a shambles. The bunks were in tiers of three, and they had collapsed and were wedged together at weird angles. My mates were lying on the bunks—dead. Of the 48 troops, only 11 of us were alive: four of those were wounded.

“Our ship had stopped, and on the top deck the crew were frantically trying to put out a fire, man the antiaircraft guns and seal the bulkhead,” he continued. “We had been hit by a Japanese aerial torpedo, which had gone straight into the ship’s magazine underneath us, detonating the lot. The stern of the vessel was curled up like a scorpion’s tail, the stern gun pointing straight up. The overall scene was bedlam. The sky seemed studded with weaving Jap and Allied aircraft, some taking evasive action, the Japs on bombing runs or firing cannon or machine guns at the convoy. U.S. Naval escort ships were maneuvering at high speed around the troopships, and every available gun in the convoy was firing. I found some of my wounded colleagues on the top deck and was able to administer morphine I got from the ship’s captain’s apartment.”

Nearby, another transport was also hit. According to the ship’s deck log, the convoy was attacked by 18 Japanese planes. They were identified as six Mitsubishi Betty bombers and six twin-tailed torpedo planes thought to be Thelmas, with a fighter escort. The wounded were transferred to the destroyers USS Conyngham and USS Drayton..

Taking Lae

The 2/4 unit’s diary records the landing of the troops from the undamaged LST’s at Red Beach at 11 pm on September 4. “All those faces of dead Japanese soldiers who had been buried in the sand … the tide had washed away the sand and exposed the faces,” recalled one soldier. “I’ll never forget that. Later, we were going along further and someone yelled, ‘Look out for snipers.’ I have never forgotten the sight of one. They had shot him, and he was still hanging there by his belt on the tree. You are going through the jungles like that at night, without sleep, your nerves are all on edge.”

Aboard the damaged LST, Coyne arrived at Morobe Bay in the darkness, transferred to another transport, and was then taken to join his comrades already ashore at Red Beach. “I remember stepping off the LST landing ramp into water up to my waist,” he said. “A firm hand gripped my arm. ‘You’re ok Aussie,’ said a warm, reassuring American voice. ‘Thanks Yank,’ I replied. ‘We should thank you boys,’ he said quietly. And that was the end of my meeting with a stranger, also far from home, whose face I couldn’t see, whom I would never recognize, but offered me friendship and support in a time of need.

“We walked throughout the night without sleep, looking for our unit, our nerves on edge as the enemy could be anywhere in the jungle or in the high kunai grass, which was very dense and makes a very effective screen to hide in. We finally found the unit just after daybreak, and brigade assigned us to be flank cover and scout for Jap positions. When the brigade attacked, we were to eliminate any that escaped the initial onslaught. Being the wet season, the rain came down in sheets and turned the ground into a sea of thick mud, and rivers flooded. Our jungle green uniforms were permanently wet. We slept in the mud with our waterproof ground sheets strung overhead between two trees in a futile attempt to keep the rain off us. A couple of our platoons had gone upstream and came to the Kunda suspension bridge crossing the turbulent Busu River.”

The river and continuous rain delayed 9 Division’s advance to Lae. The B Platoon was ordered to secure the east bank of the Busa, the bridge, and the tracks leading north and west from the bridge, but not to cross the span.

There were no signs of Japanese forces on the other side, and it was in the Australians’ interest to cross before the river rose any further and the enemy arrived. A signal was sent to Brigade HQ for permission to cross, but this was refused.

By the time permission to cross was received, a small number of Japanese had arrived near the bridge on the west bank and had been made painfully aware who was in control of the east bank. Eighteen men were detailed to cross first with covering fire. As the men began crossing the bridge, the Japanese, who were not yet in position, opened up with machine guns, killing and wounding several of the Australians. Some fell into the river and drowned; some became tangled in the cane structure as it was cut up by the enemy fire. The ones who made it across had no choice but to attack the Japanese before they could become well established. The bridge collapsed, and reinforcements were forced to wade across.

Tarakan and Sadau

With the capture of Lae and other successful campaigns, the Allies had forced the Japanese to retreat, but still they fought ferociously. During the course of the war, the Japanese military had sent approximately 150,000 troops to New Guinea. Now, the ability to resupply them by sea was lost. They were abandoned to their own fate.

In 1945, the taking of Tarakan Island was the most ambitious operation undertaken by Australian forces in the entire Pacific War. The Australians also suffered their highest percentage of casualties during the war. The military value of the campaign continues to be debated. On March 21, General MacArthur ordered 26 brigade to seize and hold the oil-producing island. Enemy strength was estimated at 1,500 to 2,000 troops. Twenty-four hours before the attack, the 2/4 Commando Squadron landed on the adjoining island of Sadau.

“Again, we were transported by an LST,” said Coyne. “Whilst sailing between Morotai and Borneo, we were accompanied by two American Kitty Hawk fighters. I happened to be on deck and saw one of the planes suddenly dive into the sea. The other plane circled the spot, and our LST turned and searched the area but nothing was found. We landed on Sadau Island and had with us a battery of 25-pounder field guns to help cover the main brigade landing the next day. To our surprise there were no Japs on Sadau.

“On May 1, the 26 Infantry Brigade Group backed by artillery and a naval bombardment fought their way ashore against fanatical Japanese counter forces. On May 3, the 2/4 Commandos sailed from Sadau Island to assist the brigade in another rendezvous with danger and death. The 2/4 joined the brigade after its troops had stormed ashore. We were given a job to capture Tarakan Hill, the highest point on the island. It was a sharp feature about 200 feet above the flat oilfields alongside. What upset us was that a battalion of 700 men had spent the previous day attacking it and were repulsed.

“It was now the task of our 250 troops,” he continued. “We soon found that the hill had tunnels with steel door entrances. Originally built by the Dutch as a hospital retreat in the event of an oilfield fire, there were exit shafts emerging at different points around the hill. Initially, no Japs were seen, but as soon as our patrols moved out into clear ground and crossed a creek near the base of the hill, their machine guns opened up and killed several of our boys. Tanks were called in to blast the steel doors. Our lads began climbing the hillside from different directions, dropping grenades down shafts. Rifle and machine gun exchanges were fierce. By nightfall, our sections were spread out on the hill, and the arrival of a moonless night reduced the shooting to tension- filled, intermittent exchanges throughout the darkness.

“By the third day, the entrances to the tunnels and the shafts had been sealed by demolition charges, and the hill was ours. Next, we moved onto Snags Track, a primitive one-lane vehicle track across the island bordered on the sides by low jungle scrub and overhead trees. Resistance was fanatical. Jap snipers had tied themselves to the tree branches and concealed machine gun entrenchments were built into jungle ridges covering the track. Hidden by logs leaving only slits as targets to attack, they could mow down approaching patrols. Throughout the Tarakan campaign, this was typical of the Japanese defensive system. As I moved along Snags Track rolling out a telephone cable, an explosion immediately in front of me made me turn quickly. One of the boys was blown to pieces. He had stood on a land mine.”

Short of supplies and their numbers severely depleted, the Japanese were broken by June 1, and the survivors retreated to the north and northeast of the island, where they were eventually hunted down by Australian patrols. In two months of fierce fighting, 26 Brigade had achieved its main objectives and had killed approximately 1,540 Japanese with a loss of 225 Australian dead.

Victory Over Japan

On August 14, 1945, President Harry Truman announced the unconditional surrender of Japan, and this was confirmed the following day by the Australian government. An issue of three bottles of beer per man helped the troops to celebrate in a proper manner. The 26 Brigade Group remained as an occupational force on Tarakan Island until December 2.

By December 18, most members of the 2/4 Commando unit, with their dark blue double diamond shoulder patch, had finally returned to Australia. On January 8, 1946, the unit was officially disbanded. The 2/4 was the only Australian infantry unit to have fought in each of the New Guinea and Borneo campaigns.

Ken Wright lives and works in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

This article first appeared at the Warfare History Network.

Image: Reuters.

Are Aircraft Carriers The Best Way To Project American Power?

The National Interest - Sun, 24/05/2020 - 03:00

Robert Farley

Security, Asia

America's carriers are vulnerable.

Here's What You Need To Remember: Just because flat-decked aircraft carrying ships will likely be with us does not mean that the Ford class, which emphasizes high-intensity, high technology warfare, represents an ideal investment of U.S. defense capital.  The vulnerabilities of the big carriers are real, and the U.S. needs to either remedy those problems, or consider an alternative means of delivering ordnance.

The United States has decided to spend many billions of dollars on the CVN-78 (“Ford”) class of aircraft carriers to replace the venerable Nimitz class. The latter has served the U.S. Navy since 1975, with the last ship (USS George H. W.  Bush) entering service in 2009. The Fords could be in service, in one configuration or another, until the end of the 21st century.

Just as the U.S. government has determined to make this investment, numerous analysts have argued that the increasing lethality of anti-access/area denial systems (especially China’s, but also Russia and Iran) has made the aircraft carrier obsolete.  If so, investing in a class of ships intended to serve for 90 years might look like a colossal waste of money.

As with any difficult debate, we should take time to define our terms, and clarify the stakes. The anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) systems around the world may indeed curb the effectiveness of the Ford class, but the U.S. will still find uses for this ships.

Define Obsolete:

We need to carefully describe how we think about obsolescence. Military analysts often equates obsolescence with uselessness, especially while pursuing dollars for new gadgets, but the two words don’t mean the same thing. In every war, armies, navies, and air forces fight with old, even archaic equipment.  Built for World War II, the A-26 Invader attack aircraft served in the Vietnam War.  The USS New Jersey, declared obsolete at the end of World War II, fought off Korea, Vietnam, and Lebanon.  The A-10 “Warthog,” thought by many to be obsolete before it even flew, continues to fight in America’s wars.  For countries less well-endowed than the United States, the point hold even more strongly; all of the armies currently fighting in Syria and Libya use equipment that the U.S. considered obsolete decades ago.

The point is that even if the ships of the CVN-78 class cannot penetrate advanced A2/AD systems, they can still serve other useful purposes.  Indeed, American carriers since 1945 have entirely earned their keep on these other missions, which include strike in permissive environments, displays of national power and commitment, and relief operations.  “Obsolescence” for one kind of mission does not imply uselessness across the range of maritime military operations.

Carrier vs. A2/AD:

People have predicted the obsolescence of the aircraft carrier since the end of World War II.  The Soviets developed an elaborate system of submarines, sensors, and aircraft designed to strike US aircraft carriers.  The U.S. developed countermeasures, including the F-14 Tomcat, intended to defeat and distract the Soviet systems. As war never happened, we never had the opportunity to test the capabilities of a carrier air wing against a flight of Tu-22M “Backfire” bombers. The Soviets and the Americans worked hard against each other, countering each innovation with an ever-more-sophisticated reply.  Each iteration led to a different constellation of power and vulnerability; the bombers had the upper hand at some points, and the carriers at others.

The next generation of A2/AD capabilities will have a similarly non-linear character. While Chinese missiles might have the range and terminal maneuverability to find U.S. carriers, missile defense and electronic counter-measures might make the missiles ineffective to the point of uselessness.  Similar, improvements in anti-submarine technology could limit or eliminate the vulnerability that carriers face against undersea threats. Carriers that become “obsolete” may not stay that way.


The utility of a large, flat-decked ship comes primarily from the kinds of aircraft it can carry and launch. The aircraft carrier as a concept has survived, in no small part, because aircraft carriers are good for jobs other than penetrating tightly defended A2/AD systems.  Indeed, no U.S. carrier since World War II has ever needed to directly challenge such a system. Instead (as noted above) aircraft carriers have found themselves jobs in a variety of other conditions.

The U.S. Navy has enjoyed the advantage of nearly unfettered access to enemy airspace over the past twenty-five years, and has structured its air wings accordingly. While the U.S. has been slower than many would have liked to adapt to the new array of anti-access threats, the development of fifth and sixth generation stealth aircraft, as well as the eventual procurement of long range, carrier-based strike zones, can help restore the usefulness of the CVN-78 class, even if anti-access weapons drive the carriers further out to sea.

The Final Salvo:

Plenty of world-beating weapons quickly become obsolete. The fast battleships of World War II went into reserve less than a decade after their commissioning. The early fighters and bombers of the jet age sometimes had even briefer lifespans. Aircraft carriers, in widely variant forms, have enjoyed a good, long run. They survive because aircraft have short ranges, and fixed airfields have significant military and political vulnerabilities. These two factors seem likely to persist.

However, just because flat-decked aircraft carrying ships will likely be with us does not mean that the Ford class, which emphasizes high-intensity, high technology warfare, represents an ideal investment of U.S. defense capital.  The vulnerabilities of the big carriers are real, and the U.S. needs to either remedy those problems, or consider an alternative means of delivering ordnance.

Robert Farley, a frequent contributor to TNI, is author of The Battleship Book. He serves as a Senior Lecturer at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. His work includes military doctrine, national security, and maritime affairs. He blogs at Lawyers, Guns and Money and Information Dissemination and The Diplomat. This was originally published in May 2017 and is being republished due to reader interest. 

Image: Reuters.

Welcome to the Coronavirus Cold War

The National Interest - Sun, 24/05/2020 - 02:31

Sukjoon Yoon

Security, Asia

The United States and China have both treated the pandemic as another opportunity to play power politics in the South China Sea.

China has quite shamelessly used its infamous Nine-Dash Line to justify bullying its smaller weaker neighbors, attempting to seize economic control of valuable undersea assets. It has also behaved badly in other ways, creating and militarizing artificial islands to seize strategic control of the South China Sea (SCS) in support of its geopolitical struggle with the United States. 

Liberal democracies now take the view that changing political boundaries by main force is no longer legal, whereas China believes it is simply restoring the historical status quo ante. But the behavior of the United States is hardly less provocative: the Chinese economy relies upon freedom of navigation through the SCS, just as much as other economies, so the U.S.-led freedom of navigation operations seem to be more about preserving U.S. military dominance and keeping China in its place. 

The United States seems determined to preserve its regional maritime hegemony, whatever the consequences, but its military advantage over China is clearly declining in relative terms, and China can afford to play a long game. 

The ASEAN countries, especially those coastal to the SCS, have limited options, though they are trying to achieve a little more autonomy by expanding their maritime forces. But a general arms build-up in the SCS is hardly conducive to peace and good order, and all parties should consider their common interests in preserving a stable security environment. 

The United States and China should, therefore, refrain from any further saber-rattling, and instead work together to resolve their differences within existing international legal and security protocols, and if these are inadequate then new ones should be negotiated: it does not help matters that the United States has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

As a regional middle power, South Korea is advocating balanced and constructive policies, without prejudice to any country, and is demonstrating its successful measures against the coronavirus pandemic during the past couple of months that world nations can have some lessons restored and the threat of serious physical conflicts in the SCS can be reduced. 

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is a novel factor impacting the maritime disputes in the SCS. The navies of the two great powers, the United States and China, have been directly affected, by having to demonstrate their ability to manage this insidious threat. And there has also been an indirect geostrategic effect arising from the entanglement of military, economic, and public health issues, with both countries playing the blame game and attempting to rally domestic support through conspiracy theories.

Theoretical analysis of middle powers has generally been skeptical about the extent of the leverage which they can exert to influence the great power game, but in 2020 we have seen a situation where South Korea has been admired in almost every country around the world, including in China and the United States, by the common people, and by many of the political leaders, for its strikingly successful response to the coronavirus global pandemic. Are there, perhaps, some lessons from this health crisis that can be usefully transferred to geopolitical crises, such as those of the SCS?

Certainly the pandemic has already had effects far beyond the immediate sphere of health management, the most conspicuous being the concomitant economic crisis. The world is facing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and even the greatest powers have lost significant influence, with the magnitude and speed of this collapse unprecedented in our modern world. Regionally, China and many ASEAN members are experiencing multiple crises: in health, in their finances, and with collapsing supply chains for food and goods. ASEAN policy-makers are struggling to cope with this extraordinary situation, and their efforts are without reference to or support from the great powers. Thus, the Philippines decided to terminate its Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, and three ASEAN states have recently tried to push back at China’s unilateral claims in the SCS.

With the United States and China playing a blame game about who is responsible for the coronavirus pandemic, the SCS has been drawn into their struggle to find strategic scapegoats. In April 2020, the United States sent naval cruisers and destroyers to the Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands in the SCS for the first time, while two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers were moored at harbors in the region. The Chinese PLA Southern Theater Command accused the U.S. naval vessels of conducting illegal trespass into SCS waters and claimed to have expelled them. It seems probable that the United States and China will continue to exploit the coronavirus pandemic as a tool to influence regional states strategically, which will result in tactical naval operations. With other countries entirely focused on public health, South Korea is well placed to defuse this naval escalation. 

The coronavirus is a novel transnational threat that has revealed South Korea, by comparison with almost every other country, as a shining exemplar of competent, transparent, trustworthy governance. Assuming that Chinese statistic is accurate, then China has managed the pandemic with ruthless authoritarian efficiency, but few outside China have felt inspired by this model, and in liberal democracies, people have once again recognized the true character of China’s monolithic system, which tramples even trivial popular dissent, and grabs everything it can get its hands on from its neighbors around the SCS. As for the United States, a health disaster vies for headlines with an economic catastrophe, and Trump is exposed as a breathtakingly incompetent narcissist who has done the exact opposite of “Make America Great Again” by presiding over a historic decline which will surely end with the United States losing its great-power status. One can only hope that the process is as graceful as the decline of British power in the previous century.

Not only the United States, but all major Western countries as well as Japan have also failed miserably to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Yes, there are degrees of failure: Germany is often lauded as a European success story, but as of mid-April they were suffering about as many deaths daily as South Korea had had in total. Moreover, although there is social distancing in South Korea, there is nothing remotely resembling the lockdowns seen elsewhere, and whilst the economy will be impacted, this will likely be within conventional bounds to manage. South Korea is clearly setting a standard that other countries aspire to emulate, and its global stature seems likely to be considerably enhanced in the post-coronavirus era. China and the United States, meanwhile, are engaged in a pathetically unedifying blame game about which is most irresponsible, and, by extension, which system of governance is superior. 

Taiwan is another country which has dealt very successfully with the coronavirus. So what do South Korea and Taiwan have in common? Both societies are highly connected with technologically savvy populations, both have competent, transparent, and responsive governments that enjoy the trust of their citizens, especially in times of crisis. Both countries have relied upon effective contact tracing which collects and integrates multiple data sources, and people have calmly accepted this as necessary and appropriate, even in a free and open society, because they trust their governments. By contrast, other countries are still arguing about privacy issues. Australia and New Zealand are two other regional middle powers that have dealt well with the coronavirus, and again, the governments of these countries have retained the trust of their populations.

The United States and China have both treated the coronavirus pandemic as another opportunity to play power politics in the SCS. China’s stance offers little benefit to its neighbors in the near future and the U.S. “America First” policy progressively erodes its world leadership. Rather than working together against a global health threat, the great powers are engaged in a coronavirus Cold War. By contrast, the South Korean coronavirus success story provides significant international leverage to raise South Korea’s profile, both during and after the pandemic. Let us hope that this will afford South Korea greater strategic and diplomatic influence, allowing it to function as an essential stabilizing factor in the SCS.

The world is changing, and the coronavirus will surely accelerate change. Once upon a time, there were high-class fashion-leaders and major-label musicians, now there are “influencers” that drive global trends from their teenage bedrooms, and some are hugely commercially successful. Perhaps there is a parallel evolution of governance, in which ordinary people will choose what they like, escaping from autocracy, and ignoring corporate interests who try to buy their compliance. Before the crisis there was growing disillusionment with liberal democracies as currently established, and some were looking to the Chinese system, but this has now become less appealing. And it beggars belief that during the worst pandemic for a century the United States has decided to withhold its World Health Organization funding. Both types of governance are now being challenged by the middle powers, by competent trustworthy governments, of which there are several in the region, including South Korea. The coronavirus crisis has exposed the flaws of both great powers for everyone to see, and there is now an unprecedented opportunity for the middle powers to increase their influence over geopolitical developments, including the sorry situation of the SCS.

Ultimately, nothing short of a comprehensive strategic solution will suffice to restore maritime peace and stability in the SCS, taking full account of all relevant geographical, legal and economic factors.

Dr. Sukjoon Yoon is currently a senior fellow and program coordinator of the Korea Institute for Military Affairs and retired Republic of Korea Navy Captain.

Image: Reuters

The Jockeying Has Begun for Iran’s Post-Khamenei Leadership

The National Interest - Sun, 24/05/2020 - 02:31

Michael Rubin

Security, Middle East

It behooves the United States to plan for post-Khamenei Tehran.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is now eighty-one years old. While his health remains a closely guarded secret, his past medical history, age, and the deaths in recent years of other senior leaders have led Iranians to start considering what a post-Khamenei Islamic Republic might look like. 

There are two main contenders to succeed Khamenei: Khamenei’s fifty-one-year-old son, Mojtaba, and Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi. Neither can campaign openly but the nature of the Iranian system is that the Assembly of Experts, the institutional power center which officially promotes the next supreme leader is a rubber-stamp body, and so the informal campaign is more important than the formal. 

Raisi’s supporters may have just fired the first shot. Last month,, an Iranian website that specializes in cyber issues, reported that the Assembly of Representatives of Students and Scholars of the Seminaries of Qom, the Coordinating Council of Cultural Centers of the Seminaries, and more than four hundred professors, students and scholars of seminaries from sixty-five cities across the country, wrote a letter to the head of the judiciary asking it to prosecute the perpetrators of the disaster of “cyber vulgarity and crime.” So far, so good: it should not surprise that religious seminaries would among the most conservative element within an already conservative Islamic Republic. 

The letter quotes Ali Khamenei’s frequent statement that cyberspace should be a realm of strength for the Islamic Republic but then complains that both the Ministry of Communication and the Supreme Cyberspace Council have failed at their task. The Ministry of Communications, of course, is led by Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi who, at age thirty-eight, is Iran’s youngest cabinet member. Iranians often float his name as a potential future president, especially with Hassan Rouhani’s second term winding down. To knee-cap a potential moderate (in the very limited Iranian sense) may be on the hard-liners’ agenda. 

The castigation of the Supreme Cyberspace Council is more interesting. Formed in March 2012 by Khamenei itself, it was meant to unify Iran’s myriad cyber-organizations and coordinate policy. For the seminary activists simultaneously to petition Raisi and complain about the failure of the Supreme Cyberspace Council to protect the public from counter-revolutionary and counter-cultural ideas carried on “television, radio, the Internet, social networks, [and] all kinds of cyberspace devices” is to criticize subtly not only the supreme leader for not backing his rhetoric with action but also by association Mojtaba. 

Most analysts believe that Raisi is among the most conservative figures in Iranian politics. To put that in perspective, in 1989, the Iranian political elite settled on Khamenei to replace Revolutionary Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini not only because Khomeini had endorsed Khamenei, but also because they believed Khamenei to be relatively neutral and weak and therefore not a threat to the internal balance of power. That alone should give pause to foreign diplomats and academics who believe revolutions naturally liberalize with time or that muddle-through reform will triumph in Iran. Raisi’s accession is still far from certain. Remember, up until a year before his death, Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri was Khomeini’s designated successor until Khomeini engineered a last-minute purge. The same, in theory, could happen to Raisi. Likewise, it is uncertain any cleric would emerge if the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps decided to exert control over the situation. Still, whether Republican or Democrat or whether a proponent of maximum pressure or conciliation, it behooves the United States to plan for post-Khamenei Iran because it appears the Iranians already are.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). You can follow him on Twitter: @mrubin1971.

Image: Reuters

The F-35B Guarantees Allied Naval Dominance Over China

The National Interest - Sun, 24/05/2020 - 02:26

Merrick “Mac” Carey

Security, Asia

Its stealth, long-range sensors and ability to internally carry Raytheon's AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missile make it the world's most effective air supremacy fighter, after the F-22. The Joint Strike Missile (JSM), and Lockheed's Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) provide the F-35B with advanced long-range sea and land strike capabilities. There will soon likely be a JSM variant that will fit into the F-35B's internal bomb bays, thus preserving its stealth.

The F-35B is the Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of the fifth-generation Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). As the acronym implies, the B model is distinct from the F-35A and C variants in that it employs a lift fan and thrust-vectoring engine to take off in short distances and land vertically. This unique attribute allows the fighter to operate from short runways, small, simple aircraft carriers and amphibious warfare ships.

The JSF is the world’s only operational fifth-generation fighter in large-scale production. Fifth-generation fighters are distinct from their Cold War-era fourth-generation predecessors (F-15, F-16, F-18, and Russian and Chinese Flankers) primarily in their ability to see enemy fighters and ground threats without being seen. This gives them a substantial increase in combat effectiveness compared with their older cousins. Imagine a battle where one side is blindfolded.

Pairing this generational leap in capability with STOVL flexibility triples the number of allied warships that can operate fifth-generation fighters. These additional platforms could ensure naval dominance over China.

The F-35B is nominally meant to replace the AV-8B Harrier as a close air support fighter, but this doesn't come close to describing its full potential as an air and maritime supremacy platform.

Its stealth, long-range sensors and ability to internally carry Raytheon's AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missile make it the world's most effective air supremacy fighter, after the F-22. The Joint Strike Missile (JSM), and Lockheed's Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) provide the F-35B with advanced long-range sea and land strike capabilities. There will soon likely be a JSM variant that will fit into the F-35B's internal bomb bays, thus preserving its stealth.

The AN/APG 81 is the most advanced radar ever fitted onto a fighter aircraft. Its electronically scanned array allows the system to be used for multiple purposes, adding sea search to traditional air search capabilities. Continual software upgrades will only increase that powerful radar's abilities. Finally, by operating at high altitudes, the F-35 sensors can see over the horizon, giving the aircraft a much longer detection range than surface ships. This level of lethality is simply unprecedented in a STOVL package.

Pairing long-range arms with far-seeing eyes gives every F-35B naval platform the ability to see and shoot first.

America’s ten nuclear powered Nimitz-class carriers operate the catapult and arresting wire variant of the aircraft, the F-35C. These carriers offer unrivaled naval power. In terms of speed, range, survivability, capacity for aircraft, sortie generation, and a host of other criteria, the Nimitz is beyond the challenge of any sea-based threats.

However, nuclear-powered carrier fleets are cost-prohibitive for every non-U.S. navy in the world. The F-35B lowers the barriers to entry into the elite club of (fortunately only allied) nations that can operate fifth-generation fighters off of ships.

The U.S. Navy also operates nine non-nuclear-powered amphibious assault ships that are capable of launching and recovering STOVL fighters. Though they are only half the size of the nuclear-powered carriers, and not dedicated exclusively to air operations, they are a significant force multiplier for U.S. naval aviation. Once the F-35B achieved Initial Operational Capability in 2015, the U.S. Navy found that its fifth-generation-capable carrier fleet essentially doubled, from 10 to 19, by adding this group of smaller warships to the mix.

Furthermore, the F-35B enables up to eleven allied warships to operate fifth-generation fighters. Below is a list of the number of STOVL platforms that each allied nation operates: 

  •  2 British* 

  •  2 Japanese* 

  •  1 Italian (with another completing construction)* 

  •  1 Spanish 

  •  2 Australian** 

  •  1 Korean (with another conducting sea trials)**  

* Already have F-35B aircraft delivered or ordered for carrier operations.

** Ships would require some modification for F-35B operations.

 Both the Koreans and Australians already operate F-35As, the land-based variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. South Korea is officially reviewing a proposal to purchase F-35Bs.

The barriers of entry to operate F-35B capable warships are so low that Singapore, a nation of only five million people, is also flirting with the idea. Singapore has announced plans to buy roughly a dozen F-35Bs. It has even advertised models of a domestically constructed STOVL carrier, which would essentially be a larger version of their domestically produced Endurance-class amphibious assault ship. The fact that this is even a possibility for a city-state less than half the size of Rhode Island proves how much of a game-changer this flexible fighter is.

Far too much has been made about the implications of the fledgling Chinese aircraft carrier force. The Chinese navy operates a modest pair of carriers with the worst launching method and the worst type of ship engine.

Unlike U.S. big deck carriers, they have no catapults. Without lift fans, their fourth-generation J-15 fighters do not have true short takeoff capability. Therefore, Chinese carrier-based fighters take off by struggling up a ramp in full afterburner. This causes dramatic payload and range penalties, giving it a significantly shorter operational distance than the combat radius for the F-35B.

Unlike the unlimited range of the U.S. nuclear-powered carriers, or the excellent power and efficiency of all modern allied STOVL amphibious assault ship’s gas and diesel propulsion systems, the Chinese carriers employ complex, cumbersome and inefficient oil-fired boilers. This seriously limits the range and makes maintaining and crewing the ships incommensurately expensive.

This combination produces an underpowered, over-priced aircraft carrier. The Chinese carriers are unable to challenge the allied fifth-generation fleet. This leaves Chinese surface vessels confronting allied carrier-based aircraft. The advantages of aircraft range, speed, and sensor altitude make such potential contests one-sided.

Persian Gulf energy, African resources, and European and U.S. export markets are essential for Chinese economic prosperity. Without energy from the Persian Gulf, in particular, the Chinese economy would collapse in weeks. In order for it to secure shipping access in wartime, China's navy would need to dominate both the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. The difficulties of this task are many, and it would essentially be made impossible by even a fraction of the aforementioned allied amphibious assault ships operating from bases encircling Eurasia.

Five European warships rotating on station in the Indian Ocean, in coordination with naval support bases at Diego Garcia and the Persian Gulf, would be an almost insurmountable challenge to a fledgling Chinese blue water force. Should the Europeans be unwilling or unavailable, one Nimitz-class carrier strike group could also do the job. Meanwhile, four allied East Asian F-35B warships could seal off approaches to the East China Sea, by far China's most important sea line of communication. Finally, two Australian warships could present a serious blocking movement on the Strait of Malacca. All of these decisive naval actions could be accomplished without even entering the disputed South China Sea, or coming within range of China's impressive land-based tactical aircraft.

The modern propulsion systems on the allied STOVL amphibious warships enable longer deployments with less maintenance and overhaul time in between cruises. Chinese carriers, powered by oil-fired boilers, have about 30–40 percent of the endurance of the allied platforms. This naval asymmetry gives the United States and her allies veto power over Chinese economic survival for many years.

Even if only one-fifth of this twenty-ship international STOVL fleet were available at any given time, it would be sufficient to completely tie up China's navy, disrupt its vital shipping lanes from the Pacific Ocean to the Red Sea, and cripple its economy. 

The grueling testing and development process of the F-35 left many wondering if incorporating the complex STOVL variant was worth the time and expense. However, the unique advantage it gives—bringing the total number of allied warships capable of operating fifth-generation fighters from ten to thirty, with the potential for more—proves the irreplaceable worth of the F-35B STOVL variant.

Merrick "Mac" Carey is a former senior Capitol Hill aide who is now CEO of the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank in Arlington, Virginia.

Image: Reuters

Rhino Tanks: The D-Day Weapon That Helped Win World War II

The National Interest - Sun, 24/05/2020 - 02:00

Peter Suciu

History, Europe

Allied tanks were crucial to securing a beachhead in Normandy after the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944—and while there were a number of specially designed and modified tanks, one of the more successful innovations wasn't a simple field modification. Yet it proved crucial in breaking through French hedgerows.

Allied tanks were crucial to securing a beachhead in Normandy after the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944—and while there were a number of specially designed and modified tanks, one of the more successful innovations wasn't a simple field modification. Yet it proved crucial in breaking through French hedgerows.

Among the numerous weapons developed specifically for Operation Overlord, were the "Hobart's Funnies"—a series of tanks that were designed to fill specific roles during the D-Day landings. These were conceived by and named after British Major-General Sir Percy Hobart. Among the most famous was arguably the DD tank—the Duplex Drive—which was an amphibious tank fitted with a large watertight canvas housing that actually enabled it to float while a pair of propellers provided propulsion.

The DD "swimming" Sherman was used on all five beaches on D-Day. The DD tanks worked well in the reasonably calm waters off Gold, Sword, and Juno beaches, while twenty-seven out of twenty-eight tanks reached Utah Beach. However, in the rough waters of Omaha Beach, almost all of the tanks launched offshore were lost.

Other "Funnies" included the "Crocodile," which was a Churchill tank that was modified with the addition of a flame-thrower, which made it one of the most deadly weapons in the British Army's arsenal. It proved so successful it was used throughout the latter stages of the war in Europe. Another was the "Crab," which was a Sherman tank equipped with a mine flail to clear a path through a beach minefield. The fail tank wasn't entirely a new invention—a Matilda "Scorpion" had been used two years earlier at the Battle of El Alamein, but in the case of the Crab the fail was powered by the tank's main engine.

Hobart's Funnies proved successful, but none were able to deal with a problem that military planners failed to address prior to the invasion—the French hedgerows, or "bocage." of Normandy. These were the hedges and small trees that grew on the earthen embankment that since Roman times had bordered the fields in the French countryside of Normandy.

The hedgerows caused great problems as the Allied units could not see beyond the next hedgerow while Germans found these to be perfect defensive positions. Allied tanks were unable to climb the embankments without exposing the underside while tanks moving down the narrow roads made prime targets for the enemy. Worst of all disable tanks created a bottleneck that couldn't be easily moved. As a result a small German unit with anti-tank weapons could prevent an entire battalion from advancing.

The solution came not from Major-General Hobart but rather from American Sergeant Curtis G. Culin of the 102nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, 2nd Armored Division, who developed a type of metal sawtooth tusk that could be fitted to the front of a tank. It was made of little more than scrap steel that originally came from the beach obstacles and it proved strong enough to cut through the hedgerows.

The design proved successful and as other tanks were outfitted with similar tusks these quickly began to be called "Rhinoceros" as the plate charged through the bocage like the horn on the African beast. However, it wasn't long before it became known as the Culin Rhino device or Culin hedgerow cutter—and it caught the notice of General Omar Bradley, who ordered that as many Sherman tanks as possible be fitted with the device. By the launch of Operation Cobra—the breakout from Normandy—some sixty of Allied tanks were fitted with the Culin Rhino.

For its creation, Sergeant Culin was awarded the Legion of Merit. This simple innovation highlighted how soldiers in the field were able to adapt, overcome and win the day.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Image: An American M4 Sherman tank with hedgerow breaching modifications, 60th Infantry Regiment, Belgium. 9 September 1944. U.S. Army Signal Corps.

Can I Really Fly Again or Is Coronavirus Threat Too Great?

The National Interest - Sun, 24/05/2020 - 01:45

Kacey Ernst, Paloma Beamer

Health, World

Here's what to consider and how to minimize your risks.

We don’t know about you, but we’re ready to travel. And that typically means flying.

We have been thinking through this issue as moms and as an exposure scientist and infectious disease epidemiologist. While we’ve decided personally that we’re not going to fly right now, we will walk you through our thought process on what to consider and how to minimize your risks.

Why the fear of flying?

The primary concern with flying – or traveling by bus or train – is sitting within six feet of an infected person. Remember: Even asymptomatic people can transmit. Your risk of infection directly corresponds to your dose of exposure, which is determined by your duration of time exposed and the amount of virus-contaminated droplets in the air.

A secondary concern is contact with contaminated surfaces. When an infected person contaminates a shared armrest, airport restroom handle, seat tray or other item, the virus can survive for hours though it degrades over time. If you touch that surface and then touch your mouth or nose, you put yourself at risk of infection.

Before you book, think

While there is no way to make air travel 100% safe, there are ways to make it safer. It’s important to think through the particulars for each trip.

One approach to your decision-making is to use what occupational health experts call the hierarchy of controls. This approach does two things. It focuses on strategies to control exposures close to the source. Second, it minimizes how much you have to rely on individual human behavior to control exposure. It’s important to remember you may be infectious and everyone around you may also be infectious.

The best way to control exposure is to eliminate the hazard. Since we cannot eliminate the new coronavirus, ask yourself if you can eliminate the trip. Think extra hard if you are older or have preexisting conditions, or if you are going to visit someone in that position.

If you are healthy and those you visit are healthy, think about ways to substitute the hazard. Is it possible to drive? This would allow you to have more control over minimizing your exposures, particularly if the distance is less than a day of travel.

You’re going, now what?

If you choose to fly, check out airlines’ policies on seating and boarding. Some are minimizing capacity and spacing passengers by not using middle seats and having empty rows. Others are boarding from the back of the plane. Some that were criticized for filling their planes to capacity have announced plans to allow customers to cancel their flights if the flight goes over 70% passenger seating capacity.

Federal and state guidance are changing constantly, so make sure you look up the most recent guidance from government agencies and the airlines and airport you are using for additional advice, and current policies or restrictions.

While this may sound counterintuitive, consider booking multiple, shorter flights. This will decrease the likelihood of having to use the lavatory and the duration of exposure to an infectious person on the plane.

After you book, select a window seat if possible. If you consider the six-foot radius circle around you, having a wall on one side would directly reduce the number of people you are exposed to during the flight in half, not to mention all the people going up and down the aisle.

Also, check out your airline to see their engineering controls that are designed or put into practice to isolate hazards. These include ventilation systems, on-board barriers and electrostatic disinfectant sprays on flights.

When the ventilation system on planes is operating, planes have a very high ratio of outside fresh air to recirculated air – about 10 times higher than most commercial buildings. Plus, most planes’ ventilation systems have HEPA filters. These are at least 99.9% effective at removing particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter and more efficient at removing both smaller and larger particles.

How to be safe from shuttle to seat

From checking in, to going through security to boarding, you will be touching many surfaces. To minimize risk:

  • Bring hand wipes to disinfect surfaces such as your seat belt and your personal belongings, like your passport. If you cannot find hand wipes, bring a small washcloth soaked in a bleach solution in a zip bag. This would probably freak TSA out less than your personal spray bottle, and viruses are not likely to grow on a cloth with a bleach solution. But remember: More bleach is not better and can be unsafe. You only need one tablespoon in four cups of water to be effective.

  • Bring plastic zip bags for personal items that others may handle, such as your ID. Bring extra bags so you can put these things in a new bag after you get the chance to disinfect them.

  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer as often as you can. While soap and water is most effective, hand sanitizer is helpful after you wash to get any parts you may have missed.

  • Once you get to your window seat, stay put.

  • Wear a mask. If you already have an N95 respirator, consider using it but others can also provide protection. We do not recommend purchasing N95 until health care workers have an adequate supply. Technically, it should also be tested to make sure you have a good fit. We do not recommend the use of gloves, as that can lead to a false sense of security and has been associated with reduced hand hygiene practices.

If you are thinking about flying with kids, there are special considerations. Getting a young child to adhere to wearing a mask and maintaining good hygiene behaviors at home is hard enough; it may be impossible to do so when flying. Children under 2 should not wear a mask.

Each day, we are all constantly faced with decisions about our own personal comfort with risk. Arming yourself with specific knowledge about your airport and airline, and maximizing your use of protective measures that you have control over, can reduce your risk. A good analogy might be that every time you get in the car to drive somewhere there is risk of an accident, but there is a big difference between driving the speed limit with your seat belt on and driving blindfolded, 60 miles an hour through the middle of town.

, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Arizona

, Associate Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Arizona

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

Will These Changes Dramatically Boost Russia's Su-57 Stealth Fighter?

The National Interest - Sun, 24/05/2020 - 01:30

Roger McDermott

Security, Europe

Let's take a closer look.

Moscow’s efforts to develop, test and procure its new Su-57 fifth-generation stealth fighter have long stalled, with numerous setbacks and delays. While progress has been made, ongoing issues appear to beleaguer aspects of this complex development process, especially following the high-profile crash of an Su-57 prototype during a test flight on December 24, 2019, in Khabarovsk region, in Russia’s Far East. Specialists in Russian airpower frequently defend the Su-57 against critics by asserting that such negative assessments are rooted in exaggerating the merits of the United States’ F-22 or F-35 stealth fighters. While Russia’s defense ministry aims to introduce 76 Su-57s by 2027, recent reporting suggests there may well be further modifications to the platform before production can finally commence (, May 15).

One likely modification relates to the aircraft’s hydraulic drive, which will be replaced with an electromechanical one. The first test flight for the updated Su-57 is scheduled for 2022. The purpose for carrying out such an upgrade is to reduce future maintenance costs and increase the efficiency of the aircraft. The switch to an electromechanical drive will also offer greater protection to the booster. Yet, the economic factor—reducing the maintenance costs for the Su-57—may well be crucial, since critics within the Ministry of Defense have questioned the reasons for accelerating work on the advanced aircraft, arguing that the Aerospace Forces (Vozdushno Kosmicheskikh Sil—VKS) are currently well served by the Su-35, which has been tried and tested in operations in Syria (, April 28).

Moscow-based airpower specialists note that international criticism of the Su-57 stems from the lengthy period of its development as well as unfavorable comparisons to the US F-22. One commentary offered examples of such criticism from defense publications in the United States, Italy and China. The Su-57 was dismissed as being not ready for combat against a high-technology adversary. Questions have also been raised over its engines as well as a range of factors that may present challenges to the full stealth capability of the Su-57. One report in Beijing highlighted the issue of stealth technology and concluded that the Su-57 should, therefore, be classed as a fourth-generation fighter. In 2018, India withdrew from a joint program with Russia to create a fifth-generation fighter. The Indian Air Force was dissatisfied with the Su-57’s lack of stealth, weak engines for such a platform, and the numerous delays in terms of program implementation (, May 13).

While the widespread foreign criticism of the Su-57 undoubtedly causes irritation among Russia’s military experts, it seems the delays to finalizing production, combined with the most recently announced modifications, suggest there could be more serious underlying issues. On August 22, 2018, the defense ministry signed a contract for the supply of the first two Su-57s, delivered during the period 2018–2020; this year, the VKS is scheduled to receive 13 more Su-57s. It is questionable if these targets will be met, however. Since work on developing the Su-57 began in the early 2000s, serial production has been postponed several times. To date, there have been thirteen prototype Su-57s, with three reserved for ground-based testing and ten platforms for flight tests. The Su-57 crash in December 2019 was certainly a fresh setback for the Sukhoi Design Bureau, which is producing this aircraft (, April 28).

The platform will enter service equipped with the existing AL-41F1 serial engines with an axisymmetric round nozzle section. Similar power units are installed on the fourth-generation Su-35S. Su-57s with such engines will be delivered to the VKS by the mid-2020s. At a later stage, more advanced “Product-30” engines will be installed on the Su-57s. Although little technical data is publicly available regarding this newer engine, according to Russian air defense specialist Mikhail Khodarenok, there are indications it will have a flat nozzle (, May 15). This may be linked to efforts to eventually twin the Su-57 to the operational use of the heavy strike, reconnaissance, unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) S-70 Okhotnik (Hunter), which also has a flat nozzle (see EDM, November 13, 2019).

Since Soviet physicist Petr Ufimtsev worked out the fundamentals of stealth aircraft theory in 1962, the US has become the undisputed global leader in the use and application of stealth technology. Moscow has only recently attempted to play catch-up in this field. In essence, radar stealth is achieved by scattering incoming electromagnetic radiation or absorbing it via a protective coating. Even under the best circumstances, some part of a radar’s beamed radiation energy returns, having directly bounced off the stealth craft’s surfaces; yet, at large distances, this echo will hopefully be small enough to be perceived by the radar’s sensors/operators as nothing more than electromagnetic noise. Consequently, the smaller the distance between the radar and the “invisible” aircraft, the greater the likelihood of the plane’s detection, which has spurred the invention of special absorptive coatings to further limit how much of a signal returns to the radar receiver. The formulations of the coatings used in stealth aircraft in the US, Russia and China remain classified. Though it is known that these are polymeric materials with carbon inclusions designed to absorb wave energy (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, May 18).

According to Vladimir Tuchkov, writing in an article for Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, “The designers of the Su-57, however, added four more decimeter radars to the four-centimeter-range radars, the antennas of which are located in the wing. This allows you to launch a rocket in the ‘target location’ so that the missile, approaching the target at a distance of capture by its radar homing, makes a targeted attack.” Tuchkov notes that as well as the stealth challenges for the Su-57, it also has to avoid detection in the visible spectrum and infrared wavelength range. To reduce optical visibility, the designers of the Su-57 added a “pixel color” on the aircraft. However, challenges remain to overcome the thermal or infrared visibility of the jet (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, May 18).

Despite the numerous delays to the production of the Su-57, the defense ministry and the Sukhoi Design Bureau retain confidence that, in the future, Moscow will introduce a genuinely fifth-generation stealth fighter aircraft. Meanwhile, lowering the visibility of the platform to radar, optical and infrared detection will need to be finally resolved, while the upgraded engine may become a later addition.

This first appeared in the Eurasia Daily Monitor of the Jamestown Foundation. It was written by Roger McDermott. 

Image: TASS.

Study: Coronavirus Unemployment Is Creating Early Retirement Wave

The National Interest - Sun, 24/05/2020 - 01:00

Brent Orrell

Politics, Americas

The authors believe that these retirements are likely earlier than originally planned, given the age range of the participants.

Almost 40 million claims for unemployment insurance have been filed in the past two months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and it appears that not everyone is looking to go back, particularly older workers.

A recent working paper from the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute finds that the unemployment rate has not risen to levels that would correspond with the numbers of jobs lost. Through surveys conducted earlier in 2020 and again at the height of the pandemic, they found that some of those who lost jobs have not been counted in the BLS unemployment rate because these workers have dropped out of the labor force. Furthermore, a striking percentage of these former workers cited retirement as their reason for not seeking additional work, rising from 53 percent in the first survey to 60 percent in the follow-on survey. The authors believe that these retirements are likely earlier than originally planned, given the age range of the participants.

There are numerous variables affecting retirement decisions, including household income, personal health, lifestyle preferences, and caretaking responsibilities. Researchers disagree on whether economic downturns postpone or hasten retirement decisions, though it does seem that a household’s financial assets play an important role in this decision.

A unique feature of the current recession is that health officials have been warning the public for months that older people, and especially those living with underlying health conditions, are more at risk of developing more serious forms of the disease than their younger, healthier counterparts. Anxiety about the disease and lower rates of telecommuting might be combining to encourage more early retirement.

Prior to COVID-19, the number of older workers remaining in the workforce was growing at a rapid rate. The US Senate’s Special Committee on Aging found that older workers are on track to make up one quarter of the workforce by 2026. We will have to wait and see whether the pandemic has changed this calculus by creating an exodus of our most experienced and knowledgeable workers.

Learn more: Reemployment is walking; worker safety is chewing gum. We have to do both. | What will 'the ties that bind' look like after COVID? | Workforce education and training, during and after the coronavirus

This article by Brent Orrell first appeared in AEIdeas on May 21, 2020.

Image: Reuters.

Coronavirus: How to Go Back to Work and Not Freak Out

The National Interest - Sun, 24/05/2020 - 00:30

Olivia Remes


Here's a few tips. 

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, people’s anxiety levels shot up. Daily reports were coming in about the number of new deaths, there was global chaos and people had to be persuaded to stay inside. And even though this was difficult, we somehow managed to pull through. We slowly became used to our new lives in lockdown, and our anxiety began to subside.

But just as we were settling in to a new reality and routine, the UK government recently announced new measures for lifting the lockdown. Naturally, this has been causing some panic and reports are beginning to surface about how people’s mental health is again being affected. Many people are worrying about whether it is safe to go back to work or send their children to school.

This anxiety is mainly related to uncertainty. We don’t know what the future will hold and this can keep us up at night. It can trigger excessive and uncontrollable worrying, and it can even lead to physical symptoms, such as shortness of breath and heart palpitations.

For people with a pre-existing anxiety disorder or depression, the coronavirus pandemic is a recipe for disaster. Going back out into society might trigger or revive past conditions – such as health anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). We’re advised to wash our hands frequently and keep our distance from others at all times – but there is a point when safety behaviours begin to morph into mental disorders.

Sometimes we think that worrying serves a useful purpose, making us vigilant and prepared. We believe that it can help us arrive at a better solution by being proactive about a situation. But worrying for even a short amount of time predisposes us to even more worrying. And before we know it, we’re stuck in a vicious cycle which we can’t escape.

It is a myth that worrying helps us arrive at a better solution. It only makes us feel anxious and stressed – especially if the worrying becomes chronic. Just knowing this can help us take useful steps forward, because we can let go of those anxious thoughts. And most of our worries won’t come true anyway. When researchers at Penn State University asked people to track their anxieties and revisit them at a later point, they saw that 91% of the participants’ worries didn’t come true.

Giving up control

Sometimes, however, this is easier said than done. Sometimes it is very difficult to stop worrying. Sometimes we can’t stop cleaning, and begin to perform repetitive behaviours that can turn into OCD. The way that OCD oftentimes starts is with repetitive, fixed ideas. People read news stories about coronavirus and start worrying that they might get infected if they go back out.

To alleviate this anxiety, they begin to engage in behaviours – such as repetitive, excessive hand-washing – to avert the dreaded outcome. When they do this, they are trying to take control of the situation. But the more they indulge their obsessions, the more – ironically – they begin to lose control. They become unable to rein in their thoughts and lose power over their actions. At this point, OCD has a stronghold over the person and they can’t get out.

One way to prevent this from happening is to do what you can to protect yourself – wash your hands for only the recommended amount and wear a mask – and then let the chips fall where they may. And realise that no matter what you do, it is sometimes impossible to completely protect yourself. Letting go of control is, paradoxically, a way of gaining it back.

This can help us see things more clearly and with a calmer mindset. It also helps us make better decisions. And if you’re worried about restrictions lifting and having to take a crowded tube again - remember, that any anxiety you will be feeling as you’re on that tube will subside. It’s temporary and you will bounce back from it. This is the nature of anxiety, and research has shown this time and again.

Master your life

Another good way to maintain your mental health during this time of constant change and uncertainty is to introduce a positive agenda into your daily routine. How do you do that? By scheduling positive activities into your life and monitoring them. This may include short walks in parks, trying a new recipe or anything else you might enjoy. It’s also important to track yourself to make sure you’re doing such activities on a consistent basis.

When we take the time to engage in pleasant activities, research shows that we not only begin to feel pleasure, but we gain “mastery”. When you have mastery, you start to feel satisfied, having a sense of achievement and control. If you suffer from depression, this technique is particularly useful – it’s like a crane that can help lift you out of a low state. And we know that low mood is something many people have been feeling during this pandemic.

But the road to mastery can be scary to some people. Scheduling things into your life that make you feel happy can be frightening, especially if depression has been a part of your life for a long time.

The rollercoaster of emotions we’ve been experiencing throughout this pandemic might also make us cautious of being too happy too quickly. You might have superstitious thoughts that, if you feel good, something bad will happen. You may worry that it won’t last, or that you’ll get hurt. Isn’t it better to have low expectations – not get too excited and maintain a position of “defensive pessimism”?

Research tells us that the answer is no. Because when we don’t hope and aim for happiness, our lives become a flat line. And isn’t it better to experience a life with ups and down, like a wave with crests and troughs? Embracing life can have a significant impact on our mental health and places us on a path to wellbeing – even during a pandemic.

, Mental health researcher, University of Cambridge

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

NATO Needs a Standing Naval Group In the Arctic to Stop China

The National Interest - Sun, 24/05/2020 - 00:00

Colin Barnard

Security, Americas

As NATO becomes the recognized authority for maritime security in the region, de-escalation and even cooperation with Russia could be possible.

Since the Cold War, the U.S. has maintained a steady presence in the Arctic—specifically the European Arctic, or High North—primarily through nuclear submarine deployments while relying on NATO allies in the region for logistical support. However, melting ice caps, an increase in commercial maritime activity, and ongoing territorial disputes necessitate stronger NATO cooperation in the region to achieve a deterrence posture against Russia and safeguard maritime security. Deterring Russian aggression is important in all European bodies of water, and the Arctic will increasingly face the same maritime security issues as other parts of the world, including illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing by China and the movement of migrants and refugees by sea.

Checking a Growing Russian Sphere of Influence

The Arctic has reemerged as a front for NATO in recent years, as Russia has ignored European policies not to militarize the region. Since at least 2010, Russia has been reopening and rearming much of the Arctic infrastructure used at the height of the Soviet Union. In 2012, Russia resumed its patrol of the Northern Sea Route (NSR), a commercial shipping lane running along Russia’s northern coastline from the Kara Sea to the Bering Strait. In 2014, Russia established a new joint strategic command in Severomorsk to oversee its Northern Fleet with renewed focus on the Arctic. And in 2019, following the first successful navigation of the NSR without icebreakers two years prior, Russia implemented mandatory pilotage for foreign vessels and demonstrated its maritime interdiction capabilities.

Similar to Russia, NATO needs to improve its capability and capacity to operate on the Arctic front. In order to deter the Russian threat and safeguard maritime security, sustained presence in the region is needed. To this end, NATO should create a new standing maritime group dedicated to the Arctic and separate from themaritime groups focused elsewhere. While likely to be hotly debated, a new standing maritime group should gain traction among many of the Arctic states, especially Iceland, Norway, and Denmark, who have long recognized the growing Russian threat in the region. With sustained presence, so too will come sustained situational awareness, which is fundamental for conducting successful operations.

Currently, NATO’s maritime component commander, HQ Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM), maintains operational control of NATO’s four standing maritime groups: two destroyer/frigate groups and two mine countermeasures groups. These groups are already overtasked, posturing against a resurgent Russian Navy across the North Atlantic, Baltic, and Black Seas, and lending support to NATO’s maritime security operation in the Mediterranean, Operation Sea Guardian, as well as the EU refugee and migrant crisis. Regardless of these ongoing tasks, these groups are not tailored for Arctic naval operations. For this reason, a new group needs to be formed.

Instead of relying exclusively on frigates and destroyers from NATO navies to form the new group, NATO should look to its coast guards as well, recognizing that many of these forces field ships that are optimized for Arctic operations. The U.S., Canada, Denmark (via Greenland), Iceland, and Norway all have Arctic maritime borders, and most have ice-class ships. Denmark has Thetis-class and Knud Rasmussen-class patrol vessels, the latter of which double as icebreakers. Norway has the patrol vessel Svalbard, which also doubles as an icebreaker and recently completed the first Norwegian voyage to the North Pole. Three new patrol vessels will soon join her. Iceland, too, can lend support with their aging but capable Ægir-class or newer Thor-class patrol vessels. Thor is not capable of icebreaking, but it can still operate in the Arctic.

Of course, these examples are just from the smaller NATO navies and coast guards of the Arctic; the U.S. and Canada would have a responsibility to support the group as well. U.S. Arleigh Burke-class destroyers can operate in the Arctic, as recently demonstrated, and where capabilities are lacking, the NATO Defense Planning Processshould abide. NATO partners Sweden and Finland have land borders in the Arctic region and would likely contribute to the group, if not with tangible patrol and surveillance assets, then with information exchange. Beyond historical cooperation with NATO states through agreements such as NORDEFCO, Sweden and Finland have increased cooperation with NATO in recent years, joining the UK’s Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), improving on existing agreements with the U.S., and participating in NATOexercises in the Baltic Sea.

One potential, but not required, outcome of establishing a standing maritime group for the Arctic is the feasibility for NATO to conduct freedom of navigation operations, or FONOPS, against Russia’s excessive maritime claims in the region. For years, the world has read stories of FONOPS in the South China Sea to challenge China’s excessive claims. According to the Department of Defense (DoD), FONOPS are conducted to “consistently challenge excessive maritime claims made by a variety of coastal States, including allies, partners, and competitors.” However, despite excessive maritime claims made the world over, high-profile FONOPS are rarely conducted outside of the South China Sea, including againstRussia.

Concerns over whether or not FONOPS in the Arctic would do moreharm than good are valid, but these concerns are mostly due to the U.S. Navy’s current lack of capability and capacity in the region, which the new standing maritime group would help address. Nevertheless, objections to FONOPS in the Arctic, especially NATO-led, are still likely to be made for fear of escalation with Russia. However, even if Russia were to cite a NATO FONOP, it does not require one to justify its continued aggression, nor did it require one in Georgia in 2009 or in Ukraine in 2014 and 2018. Russia justifies its aggression because of NATO’s continued expansion into once Soviet territory, something which George Kennan, the architect of the Cold War containment strategy,predicted. Russia is going to act regardless of NATO conducting FONOPS.

With this tension between NATO and Russia in mind, some believe a military “code of conduct” is needed for the Arctic. While the recommendation for the deployment of a standing maritime group to the region may appear hardline in contrast, such a group would operate professionally alongside Russian units, as is already done by the other maritime groups. Moreover, such a group would be part of NATO’s increasing role in Arctic maritime security. From assisting with search and rescue operations to helping deter illegal/illicit activity ranging from IUU fishing to trafficking in persons or goods, NATO’s role in the region would be two-fold: deter Russia while safeguarding maritime security. Neither role precludes a code of conduct for the region, and the latter presents an opportunity for de-escalation and possibly even a measure of cooperation with Russia.

The China Angle

Another potential outcome of NATO’s sustained presence and situational awareness in the Arctic is a better deterrence posture against China. China, declaring itself a “near-Arctic” state and achieving observer status on the Arctic Council, is increasingly becoming a player in the region. While for now most of the play has been economic, investing large sums in Arctic states—including NATO allies—and adding the Arctic to its Belt and Road Initiative (Polar Silk Road), it can be assumed that its economic investment in the region will eventually be followed by militarization.

How China might move to militarize the Arctic is anyone’s guess, but its 2018 white paper on the Arctic, as summarized by Lieutenant Commander Rachel Gosnell, USN, clearly states China’s interests in the region, and it has plans to protect them. While much of the paper touts adherence to international law, the world has very little reason to believe China will do so. One example of how China could move to militarize the Arctic is on the back of its seemingly benign fishing fleet. China has stated it has inherent rights to the fish migrating to the Arctic because of its large population. And where China’s fishing fleet goes, militarization will soon follow, as has been demonstrated already by Chinese fishing “militias.”


NATO’s sustained presence and situational awareness are needed to achieve deterrence against both Russia and China while safeguarding maritime security in the Arctic. The first step toward achieving this goal is to increase NATO capability and capacity to operate in the region, centered on a new standing maritime group that is dedicated to the Arctic and separate from NATO’s maritime groups operating elsewhere. This group should be formed by NATO states with Arctic maritime borders and ice-class ships. As NATO becomes the recognized authority for maritime security in the region, de-escalation and even cooperation with Russia could be possible. It is time for NATO to invest in this future, starting with a standing maritime group for the Arctic.

Lieutenant Barnard is serving as a staff operations and plans officer at NATO Maritime Command in Northwood, U.K. He was previously gunnery officer onboard USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) and weapons officer onboard USS Firebolt (PC-10), and was recently selected to be a foreign area officer in Europe. He graduated from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland with a master’s in terrorism studies and holds a bachelor’s in political science from Abilene Christian University in Texas. His views are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Department of Defense, or NATO.

This article by Colin Barnard first appeared at the Center for International Maritime Security on May 15.

Image: U.S. Navy safety swimmers stand on the deck of the Virginia class submarine USS New Hampshire after it surfaced through thin ice during exercises underneath ice in the ArcticOcean north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska March 19, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Dangerous Mission: How Allied Pilots Flew Over the Himalayas to Supply Forces in China

The National Interest - Sat, 23/05/2020 - 23:30

Warfare History Network

History, Asia

Many planes were lost to accidents over the steep mountains.

In truth, it really was not a combat operation. For every airplane lost to enemy action, a hundred were destroyed in accidents. Yet the effort to resupply Allied forces in China entirely by air was perhaps the most ambitious effort of World War II.

No other effort—including the amphibious landings on beaches from Casablanca to Normandy and from Guadalcanal to Okinawa—faced so many obstacles; obstacles that had to be overcome to simply keep China in the war and prevent the Japanese from overrunning all of Asia. They were obstacles that are as old as human history: rugged mountains, raging rivers, steaming jungles, violent weather—the very features that dictate how regions are settled, trade routes are developed, and wars are fought. These are the obstacles that ultimately dictate how nations and modern military forces develop. Prior to 1942, these obstacles could have never been scaled. Even then, the cost of surmounting them was extreme.

The actual decision to attempt to resupply China by air is lost to antiquity, although developing events in the spring and summer of 1942 dictated that aerial resupply was the only possible means of getting supplies to a country that by that time had been completely cut off from the sea. By mid-1942 Japanese troops occupied China’s port cities and the southern two-thirds of Burma. The Japanese had cut the Burma Road, and Rangoon had fallen into their hands. Thailand, which lay to the south, was allied with Japan, while Japanese troops occupied French Indochina by proxy from the Germans, who now controlled France. The vast Chinese interior remained under Allied control, but with no suitable roads and all of China’s seaports in Japanese hands, the only means of delivering supplies to the region was by air.

As the first country to experience Japanese aggression, China came to depend on the United States as a valuable ally through the efforts of the American-educated wife of the leader of the Koumintang, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. Madame Chiang used her American connections to influence President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide military supplies and other support to her country. Her brother, T.V. Soong, the head of the China lobby in the United States, made sure that Chinese-Americans did not forget their native land and the many troubles facing it. The Soongs found a ready audience for their message in the evangelical Christian movement in the United States, where China had been a focal point of American missionary efforts for nearly a century.

When war finally came to the United States on December 7, 1941, China immediately took on a strategic importance due to its location in relation to Japan. Although events pushed the massive Asian country to the back burner, Allied planners initially saw China as an avenue from which to take the war to the Japanese homeland. American heavy bombers—Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses and Consolidated B-24 Liberators—could wage a strategic bombing campaign against Japan from air bases in China. In the spring of 1942, the U.S. War Department authorized the establishment of the Tenth Air Force to defend China and begin an aerial offensive against Japan.

Major General Lewis Brereton was transferred from Australia to India to organize an air force that would be made up of a group of heavy bombers, a group of medium bombers, and two groups of pursuit planes, with a troop carrier group to provide air transportation. The famous Doolittle Raid on Japan was actually a part of this plan—18 North American B-25s that had been authorized for China service were diverted by presidential order to make a raid on Japan from an aircraft carrier. The War Department plan called for them to overfly Japan after departing an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, then to proceed on to China. When they got there, the B-25s were expected to form the nucleus of a medium bomber force in China.

It was the impending arrival of the Doolittle force that led to the initial deployment of American transports to India for flights to China. In advance of the raid, 10 Pan American Airways Douglas DC-3 transports operating under contract to the Army Ferry Command were moved from Africa, where they had been supporting British forces, to India. Their mission was to pre-position gasoline and oil at Chinese airfields to service the B-25s when they arrived in China. As it turned out, not a single B-25 arrived intact. The task force was discovered and Doolittle decided to launch the bombers at the limit of their range to even strike Japan. There was little chance that any of them could make China intact. The raid was a propaganda coup for the Roosevelt administration, but the loss of the B-25s and the subsequent capture of the proposed sites for bomber bases destroyed Allied plans for mounting an air campaign against Japan from China in 1942.

Even as the Doolittle raiders were on their way to China aboard the aircraft carrier Hornet, Colonel Caleb V. Haynes was on his way to India via the overland route across Africa and Central Asia with a combined flight of Boeing B-17s and Douglas C-47 transports. Haynes’s force, which was designated as Project Aquilla, was to serve as the nucleus of a heavy bomber force in China. These planes were to join a bombardment group that was being transferred from Australia. (The 7th Bombardment Group had fought in Java and the Philippines—its small force of B-17s and LB-30 and B-24 Liberators had been greatly diminished.)

Another force of B-24s under Colonel Harry Halverson was also planned for China, but its departure from the United States was delayed, and the Halpro force ended up diverting to the Middle East where it would eventually be joined by the Aquilla B-17s. Haynes and his men arrived to discover that the military situation in China had taken a turn for the worse as the Japanese went on the offensive in retaliation for the Doolittle Raid. The planned bomber bases had been overrun, and Japanese forces were advancing into Burma. Haynes and some of his crews gave up their B-17s and were put to work with the C-47s hauling supplies into Burma. As the military situation deteriorated, they evacuated Allied troops from the country.

Unfortunately, the Japanese were successful in both Burma and eastern China, leaving the Allies completely landlocked. Although Chinese forces held the vast interior of the country, the only means of delivering supplies was from India. Even without the threat of enemy action, land delivery was extremely difficult due to the rugged terrain of eastern India and central Burma, but even that possibility was ruled out when Japanese forces cut the Burma Road. With the land routes cut, the only means of delivering supplies to China was by air.

By the spring of 1942, it was apparent that delivering supplies to China was to be a major mission of the Tenth Air Force, the organization the War Department had created for control of air operations in the China-Burma-India Theater. With the loss of the planned bomber bases, China also lost its importance to the strategic plan, but there was one element that dictated that the country could still be important to the Allies.

Chennault’s ‘Flying Tigers’ Evolved into an Air Force Deep in the Chinese Interior

Before the war, retired U.S. Army Captain Claire Chennault had organized an all-volunteer air force staffed by former U.S. military personnel to support China. The American Volunteer Group went into action two weeks after Pearl Harbor and immediately revealed to the world that Japanese air units were not invincible. Chennault’s small force of fighters, known as the Flying Tigers, would evolve into an air force operating deep in the Chinese interior, a force that would tie down Japanese air units in Southeast Asia, preventing some of them from moving to other theaters. Chennault was recalled to active duty as a brigadier general and given command of the China Air Task Force (CATF), a subordinate unit to Tenth Air Force. The CATF would be entirely dependent on airlift for everything it needed to function as a viable combat force.

When it became obvious that air resupply of China would be a major Allied mission in the CBI, the War Department authorized the creation of a special transport unit to move supplies from India to China. In March 1942, Project Ammisca, a special effort consisting of a “ferry” force made up of a hundred recalled Army reservists, mostly active airline pilots, was formed. The reservist pilots reported to the Ferry Command base at Morrison Field, Florida, where they joined enlisted crew chiefs and radio operators. Formed in 1941 to provide crews on temporary duty from the Air Combat Command to ferry U.S.-built aircraft sold under Lend-Lease to the Allies, Ferry Command had no other operational mission.

However, just prior to the war, the command was authorized to contract with the airlines for aircraft and crews to set up a “ferry” of supplies to British forces in North Africa. So, the mission of delivering supplies to China was given to it. The situation became even more complicated when the War Department decided that the “India-China Ferry” should be a Tenth Air Force responsibility. The original plan called for Ammisca to be under the direct control of General Joseph Stilwell, the senior Allied officer in China, but Tenth Air Force commander Brig. Gen. Clayton Bissell naturally believed that if he was to be responsible for the air ferry, all of the assets involved should be under his command.

Ammisca commander Brig. Gen. Robert Olds, an original member of the Ferry Command staff, opposed the transfer, but Bissell’s view won out. When Ammisca arrived in India as the 1st Ferrying Group, it became part of the Tenth Air Force.

There was a third air transportation entity in Asia, one that offered perhaps even more possibilities for success than the 1st Ferrying Group. China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) was a subsidiary of Pan American Airways, which had been established in China in the 1930s. Many of the pilots were former U.S. military fliers—including some who joined the airline after leaving Chennault’s AVG—and they took quickly to air transportation operations in the rugged conditions faced along the routes to China. CNAC would be the prime element in the China Ferry for most of 1942.

Brigadier General Earl Naiden surveyed the route for the Assam-Burma-China Ferry, along with a Trans-India route from Karachi to the Assam Valley, from which supplies bound for China would depart. The most direct and efficient route was across Burma to the airfield at Myitkyina on the Burma-China border, where supplies could be transferred to river barges then to trucks for the remainder of the trip to Chungking and Kunming. But Myitkyina was a strategic target for Japanese forces in Burma, which captured the airfield on May 8, placing the success of the resupply effort to China in doubt.

From Myitkyina, Japanese fighters threatened to control Burmese skies while their bombers were in easy range of the Indian bases from which the airlift was to be mounted. To alleviate the threat to India and reduce Japanese efforts against the air routes to China, the Tenth Air Force made the airfield at Myitkyina its primary target.

The delivery of supplies to China attracted political attention at the highest level of the United States government as President Roosevelt took a personal interest, to the extent that he actually set monthly tonnage goals. Had simply flying supplies into China been the only military consideration in the CBI, the goals might have been met. Unfortunately, Japanese troops were moving westward, forcing the Tenth Air Force to prioritize the use of its forces, with the defense of India becoming primary.

Air transportation was proving to be a major asset to ground operations in the theater, as well as in New Guinea in the Southwest Pacific where Allied forces faced similar obstacles. Military considerations for the defense of India led to frequent diversions of 1st Ferrying Group transports to missions in support of combat operations. Every time a transport was assigned to another mission, one less airplane was available for the China Ferry.

Sinclair’s Scathing Report of the 10th Air Force Accused Them of Having a “Defeatest Attitude” and Lacking a “Singleness of Purpose”

Political interest in the delivery of supplies to China ran high, thanks in no small measure to the interests of the American companies selling war materials to the Chinese. Their representative company was China Defense Supplies, Inc., a corporation that had been formed by Whiting Willauer, a New York lawyer with political connections, to act as a middleman between the Chinese government and the U.S. manufacturers for the delivery of Lend-Lease supplies. Willauer was also instrumental in the formation of the AVG. Payment for materials was contingent on their delivery to Chinese soil, and executives whose companies stood to make millions from the supply effort were not sympathetic to the military problems of the region.

A China Defense Supplies, Inc., representative, one Frank D. Sinclair, who wore the title of “Aviation Technical Advisor” in the company, visited India in the summer of 1942 to observe the airlift. Sinclair, whose background was in the aviation industry and who had airline connections, wrote a scathing report accusing the Tenth Air Force of having “a defeatist attitude” and lacking “singleness of purpose” in regard to the China Ferry. Sinclair’s accusations seem ridiculous today when considering the seriousness of the military situation in eastern India in 1942, which he either failed to grasp or chose to ignore. Nevertheless, the report attracted the attention of the White House. A copy also went to the headquarters of the infant Air Transport Command.

In reality, the effort to deliver supplies to China was proceeding in spite of numerous problems, the most serious of which was the loss of Myitkyina. With the central Burmese airfield no longer available for transshipment, transports were forced to fly all the way to Kunming to deliver their loads, which reduced the efficiency of the transports and the amount of supplies that could be delivered. Furthermore, the threat of interception forced the unarmed transports to fly a more circuitous route, heading north over the eastern reaches of the Himalayas, then turning east to their Chinese destinations. Although the high Himalayas were well to the west, the “foothills” north of the Assam Valley were higher than the American Rockies.

The combination of humid air masses moving north out of the Bay of Bengal and the high mountain elevations produced some of the worst weather conditions in the world—strong winds that made navigation difficult, violent thunderstorms with heavy rain, and severe mountain turbulence that could rip an airplane apart. In the higher elevations the rain turned to ice and snow, which could load the wings and force an airplane into the mountain peaks.

Consideration was given to placing the entire responsibility for the movement of supplies to China on the China National Aviation Corporation, a move that Stilwell opposed. He believed it would be a mistake for U.S. military personnel to be under the control of an organization whose civilian personnel were paid on a much higher scale. Stilwell proposed instead that the CNAC be contracted to the Tenth Air Force, a suggestion accepted by the War Department and by the Chinese government, which owned the airline. The CNAC transports were assigned exclusively to the movement of supplies from Dinjan to China.

The airlift got off to a slower start than the White House wanted, but it was a start nevertheless. The CNAC transports in particular soon established an efficient routine. But the 1st Ferrying Group effort suffered innumerable problems, thanks in part to the diversions of some of its airplanes—one squadron was diverted to the Middle East in June. Only about two-thirds of the group’s assigned airplanes had reached India by mid-1942. Quite a few were involved in accidents during the move while others were diverted to support military operations in Africa and the Middle East. Once they began operations, the transport force was plagued by accidents.

Events in the spring of 1942 eventually affected the China Ferry, although not until late in the year. Lawrence Pogue, the director of the Civil Aeronautics Board, wrote a letter to President Roosevelt expressing his concern that the haphazard awarding of military contracts to the nation’s airlines was detrimental to the future of the industry. Pogue’s solution was the creation of a pseudo-military government-run airline reporting directly to the president, an airline that would function independently of the Departments of War and the Navy.

A second alternative was for the War Department, at least, to set up its own air transportation command to handle airline contracts. A board of military officers was appointed to consider the problem, but before it submitted a solution Army Air Forces commander General Henry “Hap” Arnold took matters into his own hands. On June 20, Arnold issued General Order No. 8, establishing an Army air transportation organization that would be responsible for all air transportation needs except those directly related to combat.

The order took the “air transport” designation that had previously belonged to the groups and squadrons that had been formed to support combat operations and gave it to the new organization. The former air transport units were redesignated as “troop carriers.” The reorganization also transferred the responsibility for issuing military contracts to the airlines from the Air Service Command to the new Air Transport Command.

The Air Transport Command was assigned a dual function, the ferrying of military aircraft, including Lend-Lease aircraft that had been consigned to other nations, from factories to combat units and the transportation of military cargo and passengers. As such, it was divided into two sections, the Ferrying Division and the Air Transportation Division. To staff the new command, the Army drew heavily on the airline industry, which contributed a number of key personnel who were given direct commissions as field grade officers. American Airlines President Cyrus R. Smith was assigned as the chief of staff of the new ATC, initially with the rank of colonel and with the responsibility of organizing and supervising the Air Transport Division.

Both divisions depended heavily on the national airline industry for contract pilots and air crews as well as for former airline personnel to fill military positions. The Air Transport Command also utilized “service pilots,” men with civilian flying experience who were brought directly into the military without undergoing military pilot training. ATC’s Ferrying Division also included a sizable number of female pilots, women with civilian flying experience who were employed in the same manner as male civilian contract pilots with the exception that their activities were confined to North America.

A copy of the Sinclair letter ended up in the hands of ATC Chief of Staff C.R. Smith, who saw and seized an opportunity for his new command and for the airline he managed in civilian life. He elaborated on Sinclair’s complaints to assert that an independent command should be established in the CBI for the sole purpose of delivering supplies to China. Smith proposed that the Air Transport Command “take over” the airlift of supplies to China. His rationale was that since the Air Transport Command was made up of “air transportation professionals,” it would logically be able to produce a better product than the Army’s combat command.

All that would be required, according to Smith, would be support from the theater units in the form of base facilities and the air bases from which the ATC transports would operate. ATC would do the rest. Smith made a powerful case, and his proposal was accepted by General Stilwell. The ATC was to take over the airlift to China on December 1, 1942. Unfortunately, Smith’s proposal was founded to a large degree on wishful thinking, and his command would not only fail—it would fail miserably.

Crews Flying “The Hump” Faced Constant Danger From Enemy Attack and Reduced Aircraft Performance Due to the Rarified Air

The “Hump” that ultimately gave the airlift its name was the Santsung Range, a long ridge that reached 15,000 feet in places and lay between the Salween and Mekong River valleys on the Burma-China border. Fortunately, Allied troops, mostly native Ghurkas and Chinese, held northern Burma, thus affording advance bases for Tenth Air Force fighters charged with protecting the airlift route. Allied fighters and bombers concentrated on Japanese airfields in Central Burma, reducing Japanese fighter capabilities and allowing more direct deliveries from the transport bases in India’s Assam Valley to the destination airfields at Kunming and Chungking.

Even though the threat of enemy air attack was sporadic, the crews flying the Hump faced constant danger, not the least of which was the reduced performance of their aircraft in the rarified air at the airfields themselves. Many of these were located at altitudes several thousand feet above sea level. In six months in 1943, Air Transport Command suffered no less than 134 major accidents on the Hump route, a large number of which occurred during takeoff and landing.

In spite of Smith’s assurances that ATC would increase airlift capabilities over the Hump, tonnage amounts actually declined during the first months after the transfer. The decline came in spite of an increase in the size and perceived capabilities of the airlift force. When ATC took over the Hump operation, it began making plans to add new types of aircraft to replace the Douglas C-47s with which the 1st Ferrying Group was equipped. In early 1943 a contingent of Consolidated C-87 four-engine transports arrived in India. C.R. Smith’s own company, American Airlines, provided the flight crews under contract.

The transport version of the B-24 Liberator bomber, the C-87 promised to increase tonnage capabilities considerably due to its increased payload. However, it failed to live up to initial expectations. The other new type assigned to the Hump operation was the Curtiss C-46 Commando, a large twin-engine airplane capable of carrying a much larger payload than the DC-3 and C-47. But the C-46 was poorly designed, particularly the fuel system, with miles and miles of aluminum and steel tubing that made the airplane a mechanic’s nightmare. Fortunately, modifications to the design turned the C-46 into an adequate transport, although it never lived up to expectations.

Although ATC had promised to increase the airlift tonnage, it would take the India-China Wing another six months to attain the 4,000 tons a month goal it had promised for February 1943. Meanwhile, the White House and War Department were promising tonnage levels twice those that were actually being carried. For example, the goal for September 1943, when tonnage finally exceeded 4,000 tons, was 10,000 tons. The Air Transport Command commander, Maj. Gen. Harold George, passed the buck to the Tenth Air Force, claiming that the India-China Wing was “a relic” of the 1st Ferrying Group that had been transferred to theater command over the protests of the Ferry Command leadership. Such an argument doesn’t hold water. In reality, other units involved in airlifting cargo to China were constantly increasing their capabilities.

By September 1943, the CNAC was averaging 49 tons per airplane per month, while ATC squadrons were only carrying 23—and this in spite of the fact that ATC was equipped with C-87s and C-46s, both of which afforded considerably larger payloads than the CNAC DC-3s. Furthermore, when the 1st and 2nd Troop Carrier Squadrons became operational in India in the spring of 1943, they immediately became far more efficient than ATC. Many of the crews in the two troop carrier squadrons, which were promised to the Tenth Air Force as compensation for the loss of the 1st Ferrying Group, were fresh from training in the United States. Obviously, the problems with the India-China Wing were internal.

Eastern Airlines president and World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker paid a visit to the CBI in the spring of 1943. With decades of experience in air transportation, Rickenbacker recognized that the real problem with the airlift lay in the command organization. The Air Transport Command was attempting to operate an independent command within a combat zone while expecting to receive priority support from a theater command that was up to its ears in combat operations.

Rickenbacker also noted the lack of suitable airdromes to handle the airlift operation, as well as shortages in weather forecasting, communications, engineering, and maintenance personnel. To Rickenbacker, the only logical solution was to return responsibility for the airlift operation to the Tenth Air Force. Rickenbacker’s views were not shared by those within the military establishment in Washington, especially the leadership of the Air Transport Command. The airlift remained under ATC. The problems continued.

Low morale was a major problem in the ATC units in India, although they were operating under conditions no worse, and perhaps better, than those endured by the combat squadrons. For Americans native to the temperate United States, the heat and humidity of India were a shock. They made life miserable, and they also produced torrential rains that turned the bases into seas of steaming mud. The situation was compounded by the presence of venomous snakes, insects, and vermin of every description.

Another factor unique to ATC personnel that is not discussed in histories of the airlift was the feeling that hauling freight to China was less important than fighting the Germans and Japanese. While the Ammisca pilots were drawn from the ranks of the U.S. airlines, they were also U.S. Army reservists and trained combat pilots. They knew that other reservists had been assigned to the bomber squadrons that were being formed in the United States, often in positions of leadership as flight and squadron commanders. Yet, here they were, pushing freight in unarmed transports in a backwater region of the world.

The lack of the exuberance of youth was also a factor. As a rule, ATC pilots in 1942 and 1943 were considerably older than the young men assigned to the combat squadrons. An older man’s ordeal is often a young man’s adventure. It is worth noting that the efficiency of the airlift began to improve after more and more Army pilots became available for transport duty.

Combat Crews Derided the ATC Crews, Referring to the ATC Acronym as ‘Allergic to Combat’

The Air Transport Command took several steps in an attempt at improving the morale of the airmen assigned to the Hump mission. A major complaint was the poor delivery of mail, so mail was assigned a higher priority in the cargo system. General George convinced the Army Air Forces to authorize the awarding of combat decorations, particularly the Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross, to Hump flyers even though the dangers they faced were more from weather conditions and adverse terrain than from an armed enemy. He also obtained a citation for the India-China Wing.

The ATC headquarters encouraged several well-known media representatives to observe command operations, including the Hump airlift. Photographs and articles produced by men such as Ivan Dmitri appeared on the pages of Time, Life, and The Saturday Evening Post. The publicity drew attention to the role of the ATC airmen, but it also led to derision among the combat crews—especially troop carrier personnel—who began referring to the ATC acronym as “allergic to combat” or, in reference to the civilian contract crews, “Association (of) Terrified Civilians.” The hostility toward ATC also reached into the command levels in the combat units, as theater command personnel came to believe that the ATC leadership in Washington was out to build an empire at their expense.

In mid-1943, the Army increased the size and capabilities of the India-China Wing of the ATC more than fivefold, a factor that allowed tonnage levels to finally begin increasing. Additional air bases were placed into service in India’s Assam Valley and in the Chinese interior to handle the vastly increased airlift apparatus. All of the ATC wings were elevated to division status, including the India-China Wing, which became the India-China Division.

In September, Colonel Thomas O. Hardin transferred to the India-China Division to take command of the Hump operation. An airline executive in civilian life, Hardin had a reputation as a hard driver. He was also a practical commander who realized that official policies were often detrimental to mission completion. One of Hardin’s actions was to implement 24-hour-a-day operations on the Hump route, thus greatly increasing the number of flights each day. The additional flights immediately increased tonnage capabilities over the Hump. In December, Hump crews hauled more than 12,000 tons into India. Adverse weather and high terrain made night operations more dangerous, and the accident rate increased.

The ATC leadership realized that an essential ingredient in the success of the airlift was an adequate supply of aircraft and engine parts. General George authorized special weekly flights from the Air Service Command supply depot at Fairfield, Ohio, to India. Four C-87s from the 26th Transport Group began the operation in September, but the mission transferred to the Ferrying Division in November and became known as Fireball. To keep the airplanes moving, crew stage bases were set up along the route. The rapid deliveries of aircraft parts also increased the numbers of available operational airplanes.

Although the threat of enemy interception was real, there were actually very few instances when ATC transports were subjected to enemy air attack. The worst period for the ATC, and other crews flying the Hump, commenced on October 13, 1943, when Japanese fighters operating from forward fields in central Burma attacked Allied aircraft over northern Burma. Two transports, a C-46 and a C-87, were shot down that day along with a CNAC DC-3. A B-24 and two Tenth Air Force C-47s were damaged. The Japanese were in for a surprise when they attacked several armed B-24s that were engaged in transport operations, and paid for their mistake with several losses.

Over the next two weeks two more ATC transports were shot down, and three others were reported missing. Two more transports were shot down in December. These were the only ATC combat losses on the airlift to China. Statistics reveal losses to enemy action of seven transports and 13 crew members during the duration of the Hump Airlift.

Even though losses to enemy action were minimal, Hump airplanes and crews were being lost to accidents at a phenomenal rate. So many wrecks were strewn along the route from Assam to Kunming that some Hump crews began referring to it as “The Aluminum Trail.” Still, the majority of the accidents occurred at the airfields themselves, where the combination of higher elevations and hot temperatures put the transports on the very edge of their operational performance envelope.

The accident rate was particularly high among the four-engine C-87s, no doubt due to the lack of adequate runway lengths for the altitudes involved. The Army had established 6,000 feet as the necessary runway length for a loaded C-87, apparently without taking into consideration the phenomenon known as density altitude. Due to high temperatures, density altitude—the altitude that actually effects an airplane’s performance—is significantly higher than the actual elevation, thus increasing takeoff distance considerably. Climb performance is also drastically affected, meaning that the loss of an engine right after takeoff on a hot day in high terrain was a sign of impending doom. It is reported that accidents during the Hump airlift claimed some 600 transports and the lives of 1,000 airmen.

In the spring of 1944, the capabilities of the ATC Hump airlift force were greatly increased with the arrival of additional C-46s that were dedicated to the support of Matterhorn, a special unit equipped with long-range Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers to begin aerial operations against Japan. The Twentieth Air Force deployed to China as a self-sufficient unit. Several XX Bomber Command B-29s were converted into tankers to transport fuel from India to the advance bases in China from which the Superfortresses would depart on missions against Japan.

The Matterhorn force also included its own transport squadrons equipped with C-87s and a new transport version of the Liberator, the C-109 tanker, which entered service in August. While the C-87 was essentially a B-24 that had been stripped of the features that made it a bomber and equipped with a cargo floor, the C-109 incorporated a system of tanks that could be filled with fuel. Both the C-87 and C-109 were designed so that ground crews could drain extra fuel from their tanks at the Chinese bases. Aviation fuel was the major commodity delivered over the Hump, especially in 1944 and 1945.

Support of the Matterhorn force greatly increased the amount of tonnage being hauled across the Hump by the India-China Division. The division received a bonus when XX Bomber Command agreed to transfer its C-87s and C-109s to the Air Transport Command. When the War Department decided to withdraw the B-29s from China in early 1945, the transports that had been dedicated to their support were incorporated into the Hump airlift. It was largely due to the increase in airlift capability that ATC was able to start exceeding its monthly tonnage goals.

In August 1944, Brig. Gen. William H. Tunner replaced Brig. Gen. Thomas O. Hardin as commander of the India-China Division. Tunner was an ATC veteran whose air transport career dated to his assignment as the personnel officer for the Ferry Command before the war. When the ATC was activated, Tunner was placed in command of the Ferrying Division. One of the first production-oriented officers of the Army Air Forces, Tunner achieved a reputation for organization and safety. The India-China Division set unprecedented records while under Tunner’s command, records for which the general was quick to take credit. Many historians credit Tunner with “turning around” the airlift, and the modern Air Mobility Command considers him to be “the father of Military Airlift.” Such, however, is not the case.

The ATC Effort had Fallen Short of its April Allotment by More Than 4,000 Tons, Causing the Assignment of More Aircraft and Crews and Leading to a Great Deal of Resentment Towards the ATC.

Several factors led to the increase in tonnage being airlifted to China, not the least of which was the capture of the airfield at Myitkyina by Merrill’s Marauders in May 1944. Although the town itself remained in Japanese hands until August, the capture of the airfield had a two-fold benefit for the Hump airlift. It deprived the Japanese of an advanced base for their fighters and afforded the ATC a delivery point from which supplies destined for China could be further delivered by truck and barge.

The reduction in the threat of enemy interception allowed ATC crews bound for China to take a more southerly route over lower and less hostile terrain. The lower altitudes now required for flights into China allowed the introduction of the four-engine Douglas C-54 Skymaster to the airlift. Although the C-54 had proven to be a reliable transport with substantial payload capabilities, its limited high-altitude performance ruled it out for flights over the Hump. The C-54 also had a far better safety record than the C-87, although this was perhaps largely due to the Douglas transport being operated at lower elevations than the Liberator Express. However, it was C-46s, not C-87s, that the C-54s began replacing.

Tunner took command in India just as the size of the India-China Division was greatly increased by the transfer of the XX Bomber Command transports to ATC. The combination of an increased force and shorter routes at lower altitudes from India to China naturally resulted in an increase in the amount of cargo carried.

Although Tunner has been given too much credit for the success of the Hump airlift during its final year, he did implement new maintenance and cargo-handling procedures that improved efficiency. One of his first actions was the introduction of what he called “Production Line Maintenance,” a system under which airplanes were placed on a line not unlike an assembly line over which they moved as various maintenance items were completed. Under previous procedures, a crew of men would complete all required maintenance procedures one airplane at a time.

Tunner’s system allowed more specialization as individual mechanics concentrated on specific tasks. He also applied similar techniques to the processing, handling, and loading of cargo. Due to the increase in size of the airlift force and the decreasing military urgency, Tunner was also able to institute safety policies in an attempt to lower the accident rate.

Tunner also benefited from the Allied successes in Europe and elsewhere in the Pacific Theater. By the time he took over the India-China Division, Allied troops were advancing from the Normandy beachhead and, most important, the air war in Europe had been won. The decreasing demand for replacement pilots in heavy bomber groups made more four-engine pilots, aerial engineers, radio operators, and navigators available for transport duty. The reduced demand for trained aircrews in the combat groups led to a reduction in primary flight training, thus releasing the staffs of the hundreds of primary flight schools for military service.

Tunner and the India-China Division also benefited from decisions made by the Army Air Forces as the war in China began winding down. By the spring of 1945, Burma had been liberated, and the massive troop carrier and combat cargo organization that had been developed to support combat operations in the CBI became available for routine transport operations.

Lieutenant General George Stratameyer, the senior American air officer in the CBI, made another decision that greatly increased ATC capabilities. He and his staff decided that the cost in fuel of conducting heavy bomber operations from bases in China was prohibitive and that the four-engine B-24 Liberators of the 7th and 308th Bombardment Groups would be more productive in transport operations than in tactical operations.

In May, Stratameyer ordered the transfer of the two bombardment groups, the 433rd Troop Carrier Group, and the 3rd and 4th Combat Cargo Groups to the operational control of the India-China Division of the ATC. The transfer was not based solely on efficiency. The ATC effort had fallen short of its April allotment by more than 4,000 tons, and the assignment of more aircraft and crews would boost ATC capabilities.

The transfer met with resentment on the part of the combat personnel, who saw their new assignment as degrading. That they had to undergo a week of training under the supervision of ATC personnel caused further resentment among the bomber and troop carrier crews—all of whom were veterans of months and sometimes years of Hump operations. Ironically, the troop carrier and combat cargo squadrons had been carrying considerably more tonnage across the Hump than ATC. In March 1945, troop carrier and combat cargo transport delivered twice the tonnage transported during the same period by ATC.

The former combat aircrews were now under the control of “Tonnage” Tunner, and the India-China Division commander insisted that the combat crews undergo the same training as newly assigned crews fresh from the United States. In spite of their resentment and subsequent low morale, the bomber and troop carrier/combat cargo crews made a large contribution to the airlift to China through the end of the war. It was only due to their contribution that the India-China Division was able to exceed 50,000 tons a month.

With the end of the war, the requirement for the airlift of supplies to China lessened. The airlift continued, however, until November as Allied forces in China moved into occupied territory formerly held by Japanese troops.

Sam McGowan is himself a pilot. He resides in the Houston, Texas, area.

This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia

The Ruger American Ranch: A Reliable (And Accurate) Bolt Action Rifle

The National Interest - Sat, 23/05/2020 - 23:00

Richard Douglas


Combining their favored .223 Ranch rifle with their American bolt-action line, Ruger has produced an economy rifle that their customers love.

Whether you’re taking fast shots at predators from the cab of a pick-up or shooting cans off a fence rail from 100 yards out, everybody needs a reliable, accurate, and versatile rifle in their arsenal.

While there are a lot of quality rifles on the market today, like the Barrett Multi-Role Adaptive Design (MRAD) Rifle, not everyone has the budget or needs of an expensive, high-precision gun—a more economical and practical option was called for.

Ruger has once again answered that call. Combining their favored .223 Ranch rifle with their American bolt-action line, Ruger has produced an economy rifle that their customers love. Let’s find out why…


By all accounts, the American Ranch rifle is as accurate as its Ruger predecessors. The cold hammer-forged barrel is firmly attached to the action via a barrel nut system and V-notch supports, which leaves the barrel free-floating. Even with heavy rounds, there is very little recoil. It can handle a wide array of ammo—from 50 to 77 grain—and keeps shots at about 1 MOA. There aren’t any built-in iron sights, but there’s a picatinny rail mounted to the receiver to accommodate optics. All of this combined with the low-pressure trigger pull adds up to a stable shot and accurate sight picture.


The three-lug bolt is on the left rear of the receiver. The smaller field of movement found with the 70-degree throw (as opposed to a 90-degree throw) allows for the bolt to clear your scope when loading. As far as I can tell the magazine feeds clean and it won't jam up on you. Due to the well-crafted barrel, this gun is capable of shooting over 1,000 rounds of fairly cheap shot without any problems, so it's a great rifle to bring to the range. Ruger makes a simple, reliable, and fast-firing rifle.


The American Ranch rifle is versatile and lightweight. The safety is tang-mounted and easy to reach with either hand, and the ambi mag release is located at the rear of the magazine well. The 16 inch barrel allows for quick maneuvering in a tight space, and I like the way the 5-round magazine sits flush with the stock. There’s sling mounts on both ends of the stock, and the barrel is threaded for sound and fire suppressor attachments. The synthetic stock material feels pretty cheap, but it’s not bad for the price. All together, it’s a pretty neat little rifle. It’s fairly small and lightweight, easy to handle, doesn’t have a lot of kick-back, and allows for scope and muzzle attachments.


The trigger on the American Ranch is one of my favorite aspects. The user-adjustable trigger can be set between 3 and 5 pounds and the trigger guard is integrated directly into the stock. Out of the box, the pull is about 4 pounds, so there might be an initial adjustment until you’re comfortable with the pressure.

Magazine & Reloading 

This .223 Remington chambered rifle comes with a detachable, 5-bolt, rotary magazine, but you can use 10 and 20 round mags as well. A major selling point with these rifles is that they accommodate AR15 mags. Reloading is easy. The mag release paddle is located on the rear of the magazine well and is designed for ambidextrous use. Load the magazine, slide the bolt to chamber a round, and fire. Ruger also manufactures this rifle in 5.56x45mm, 7.62x39mm, .300 Blackout, and .450 Bushmaster.

Length & Weight 

With an overall 36 inch length, and a 16.1 inch free-floating barrel, the Ruger American Ranch rifle is pretty compact. It also weighs in at 6 pounds, unloaded, so there isn’t a lot of bulk to contend with. It’s lightweight design makes for a great gun to grab for that quick-shot or to sling over a shoulder for longer treks.

Recoil Management 

With the low comb and smooth trigger pull, the recoil on this rifle is negligible at best, but there is a rubber recoil pad on the butt of the gun for support. The addition of a suppressor will do even more to suppress recoil effects.


The best part about this rifle is affordability. At around $550.00 suggested retail, it’s a great, cheap, investment for those of you who need a reliable gun on a budget. If you’re budget calls for something less expensive, check out the similar Remington 783 Bolt-Action Rifle.

My Verdict? 

The American Ranch rifle is definitely the “every man’s” rifle we’ve all been waiting for. Its lightweight handling and maneuverability, combined with its compact design allow for a reliable and accurate firearm that anybody would benefit from owning. This durable (and affordable!) rifle is a must-have for anything from target practice to varmint hunting.

Richard Douglas is a firearms expert and educator. His work has appeared in large publications like The Armory Life, Daily Caller, American Shooting Journal, and more. In his free time, he reviews optics on his Scopes Field blog. 

Image: Youtube Screenshot.

It's True: Code Breakers Were Warned Before the Battle of the Bulge

The National Interest - Sat, 23/05/2020 - 22:30

Warfare History Network

History, Europe

So what went wrong for the Allies?

Key point: Just because a code is cracked, does not mean enough warning is always given. However, the Nazis were unable to ultimately win that battle anyway.

World War II, being far more fluid than World War I, marked the advent of the mobile radio intercept unit whose task was to pick up, decrypt if possible, and pinpoint enemy units sending their messages through the airways. The U.S. Navy set up intelligence teams on various carriers and command ships soon after the Battle of Midway. The British Army, followed by the U.S. Army, put together similar groups in the North African campaigns. They were called “Wireless Units” by the English, “Signal Radio Intelligence Companies” or “Signal Service Companies” by the U.S. Army, and “Mobile Radio Squadrons” by the U.S. Army Air Force.

In England, late in March 1944 while the English and American armies were feverishly preparing for the invasion of Normandy only two months away, the U.S. Ninth Air Force, whose assignment it was to conduct the tactical air war over the Continent, ordered a Major Harry Turkel to form and train a new unit in time for the invasion.

3rd Radio Squadron Mobile

The new unit’s task was to monitor and intercept German Air Force radio traffic while operating out of mobile caravans designed to keep pace with advancing armies. This new unit was to be aptly named the 3rd Radio Squadron Mobile (“G,” for German).

In order to perform the nearly impossible in so short a time, Turkel was given extraordinary powers to co-opt men from any U.S. unit in the United Kingdom. His long arm even reached back to the States.

I was a product of this levy. In late April 1944 I was among 10 who had trained in German at Michigan State College and were then in a code-breaking class at Vint Hill Farms Station, Warrenton, Va. We were suddenly ordered to prepare to leave, within 24 hours, by plane for London to join the 3rd Radio Squadron Mobile (R.S.M.).

Voice-Intercept Operations on the D-Day Invasion

For Detachment “A,” the code-breakers, he was able to find two young and intelligent lieutenants, Mortimer Proctor, Jr. of Proctor, Vt. (son of the governor); and Hugh Davidson, a University of Chicago graduate. They were the only ones in the squadron with previous code-breaking experience, as civilians with the Signal Corps in Washington.

With experienced British officers as teachers, we received hands-on training with real-time German messages at various places throughout southern England. The British proved to be excellent instructors and apparently we were apt pupils. On The D-Day Invasion, a 20-man echelon of Detachment “B” led by Lieutenant Gottlieb was off Omaha Beach and landed on June 9, during which two trucks sank. Their voice-intercept operations started on June 11 at Cricqueville-in-Bessin two miles south of Pointe de Hoc. By the end of the month the balance of Det. “B,” all of Det. “A,” and the nucleus of “C” were all dug-in in adjoining fields. “C” was awaiting the organizing of the XIX Tactical Air Command, to take place when Lt. Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army went into action. This was the only period until the war ended that all detachments were “together.” After the breakout from Normandy, “B” and “C” went with the First and Third Armies respectively and “A” served both 8th Air Force Headquarters and SHAEF.

On the night of July 21 my squadron had a weird experience. The usual German night intruders were overhead trying to drop their mines to interfere with our unloading operations at Omaha Beach, and our usual antiaircraft “Fourth of July” show was in full visual and sonic bloom when suddenly, Corporal Albert Gruber, monitoring his Hallicrafter intercept set, heard a panic-stricken German pilot announce, “I’ve been hit—am losing altitude—must get rid of my load.” Before Gruber had finished writing this down on his message pad he saw a blinding flash in the field adjoining his and seconds later a blast wave knocked him off his chair.

Parachutes From Stricken Aircraft

My detachment (“A”) was in the adjoining field and I was hunkered down in my foxhole watching this Heinkel 111, tail aflame, coming in ever lower and suddenly, in the light of our exploding ack-ack fire, seeing several parachutes drop from the stricken aircraft. These were concussion mines. Some exploded setting off our own thermite grenades, kept on or in the vans to destroy them in case of imminent capture. The pressure wave from the grenades pressed me down in my hole as if an elephant were standing on my back.

About a week later the Allies broke out of their breachead, and within a few days Det. “A” left Normandy via Avranches and set up operations at the small village of Parné-sur-Roc near Laval. Our stay there was marked by a flood of activity because many German units, in retreat, were sending panic messages, some poorly enciphered, a few even “en clair.”

Cracking the Code

It was at Parné on August 13 or 14 that we intercepted a message that I recall playing an important part in breaking. Traffic analysis identified the call sign as being that of a German reconnaissance squadron. Direction finding added that the flight originated from La Spezia in Northern Italy and that the aircraft was flying westerly along the Mediterranean littoral. Armed with this information and the fact that the previous duty shift had already postulated the letter “J” I stared at the message with my mind on idle, until, suddenly, in an intuitive spurt the name of the Corsican port of Ajaccio came to me.

This helped break the entire message and we found that the German plane was reporting on a concentration of Allied landing craft in the harbor of Ajaccio. (They were to be used one or two days later for the landings in Southern France.) Ninth Air Force H.Q. became very excited when they received our break. They bombarded us with all sorts of questions. To this day I am not certain about their reasons: whether they hadn’t been previously informed about the new landings or whether they wanted to know more about what the Germans had observed.

A few days later, as Paris was being liberated, we hastily packed up and raced to Chateau Beaumont, the recently evacuated headquarters of the Luft Funkhorch Regiment West, our counterparts, located in La Celle St. Cloud just west of Paris.

The heated barracks with beds and bath were a far cry from the foxholes of Normandy. And in the Chateau proper the code-breakers occupied the tower rooms with a fireplace and a superb view of Paris down the silver lane of the Seine while the intercept operators set up their equipment in the Grand Ballroom. We stayed at La Celle St. Cloud while our “voice” detachments went on to the Ardennes in Belgium (“B”), East of Nancy (“C”), and the newly formed (“D”) at Fouron St. Pierre on the Belgo-Dutch border.

Tracking the German Anti-Aircraft Guns

During the next several months Det. “A,” still at Chateau Beaumont, monitored and decoded messages as usual. We had many adventures during this time, but at 0415—it was December 16—out of the silence of the night, the radios of Det. “A” came alive with a short but hastily sent message. It was unusual to get such traffic at night. The intercept operator took the message up the stairs to the Tower, where in front of a crackling fire, the midnight-to-0800 shift of code-breakers was on duty.

The cryptanalysts had barely started to work on the message, when, at 0419, a second message, exactly repeating the first, was brought in. Eyebrows were raised. Most unusual. This was the first time in their experience that a message had ever been duplicated. It eliminated the possibility of corruption in the code groups or a decryption error.

We quickly identified the German encryption. It was one of a family of codes we had named after musical composers, an “elgar” used by the Germans to contact their antiaircraft units. It was quickly broken, and we read “… 90 JU 52s and 15 JU 88s going from Paderborn area to area 6˚-6˚ 30´, E to 50˚ 31´-50˚ 45´ and returning by same route.” We plotted the co-ordinates on our maps as between Hofen and Monschau on the Belgo-German border. In the dim light of the tower room, eyebrows went up even higher. JU 52s were transports. JU 88s were versatile aircraft used as bombers, night fighters and occasionally as transports; we thought they would be used as transports. Never had the Germans used 105 transport planes at night.

The consensus was that so many aircraft flying into Allied airspace had to be an airborne-operations parachute drop. Our usual addressees—9th Air Force H.Q. in Luxembourg City, IXth TAC in Verviers, SHAEF at Versailles and A14F (Air Ministry Intelligence, London) were promptly notified, and in traditional fashion we received the standard “QRV”—message received.

At 0549 that morning we received a third message. It canceled the operation. This we also sent on to the higher headquarters.

De-Classification in 1996

Whatever use the Allied commanders made of our decodes remains a matter of conjecture. The fact is that the Germans did make the parachute attack early on the following morning, December 17—instead of the 16th—along the Eupen-Malmedy road having flown over the frontier between Hofen and Monschau. It was the early strike of the massive morning attack of three German armies to turn the tide of the war in the West, and launched what we call the Battle of the Bulge. Fortunately for the Allies, the delays, confusions and outright incompetence connected with German “Operation AUK” (also known as Operation STöSSER) resulted in a catastrophic drop for 1,200 Fallischirmjäger that on a smaller scale was worse than the fate they had suffered in Crete in May of 1941.

Records show that American antiaircraft battalions (possibly informed by 3rd R.S.M.’s alert) took a heavy toll on the German transports that morning. To add insult to injury, many German antiaircraft units, apparently never receiving the messages sent by Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich von Der Heydte, the paratroop commander, shot up and shot down many of their own planes.

The cryptanalysts of detachment “A” as well as various RAF Wireless Units and Hut 3 at Bletchley Park, which apparently also took down some or all of the messages, had to wait until mid-1996, when our National Security Agency finally declassified all the documents. They then learned, “The only advance intelligence of the German offensive received in low-grade air codes was the warning of the parachute landings.”

It is obvious that two hours’ warning is not very much but certainly higher headquarters should have been alerted by this unique message that meant that something more than a local counterattack was afoot.

A Mexican Standoff in Belgium

For the 3rd R.S.M. there was another, even more bizarre aspect to the confusion. Our venerable detachment “B” was encamped astride the Eupen-Malmedy road. Headquarters and the voice interceptors were lodged in the town of Jalhay west of the road but the Direction Finding Vans were located at Baraque Michel and Mt. Rigi, the highest points in Belgium, east of the road. The remnants of von Der Heydte’s parachute force (less than a hundred men) landed right between them.

Major Silverstein, Det. “B”’s commander, had been alerted to “A”’s break of the paratroop message, but only knew what direction the Germans were taking, not how deep into Allied territory they were flying. He was rudely shocked when men of the morning duty shift on December 17 ran in, carrying empty German parachutes they had picked up in the woods near town. When Sergeant Bob Siefert led his crew out to relieve the D/F operators he noticed some men filtering through the trees, but it was the guard in front of one van who cautioned him, whispering that he suspected they were Germans.

A Mexican standoff developed. The Germans were too weak to provoke a battle, and our men, armed only with carbines, were certainly not going to take them on. Major Silverstein, fearing capture and the compromise of our secret operations, contacted IXth tac in nearby Verviers requesting permission to move out immediately. But IXth tac as well as 9th Air force H.Q., were still completely unaware of the extent of the attack and advised him to wait. By day’s end, however, Silverstein took matters into his own hands and ordered “B” to move north and join Det. “D” at Fouron St. Pierre on the Dutch border. It was good that he did so because by that time a German battle group under Joachim Peiper was already threatening to capture Malmedy.

Fading Into History

In the spring of 1945 the 3rd Radio moved into Germany with the various Allied armies. Det. “A” took over a “Kurhaus” and a school (used as barracks) in the little village of Bad Vilbel near Frankfurt-am-Main presumably to be nearer to SHAEF.

When the war ended in May the other detachments eventually all moved in with us. Once the war with Japan was over, the majority of the squadron was sent home. I was discharged the day before Christmas 1945. A skeleton unit, called the 2nd—Radio Squadron under ex-Lt. Maj. Mortimer Proctor stayed on until the spring of 1946, and then it also faded into history. Interestingly, during the Korean War, the 3rd Radio was reconstituted and served for over a year in Alaska monitoring Korean and presumably Russian transmissions.

Originally Published November 21, 2014

This article originally appeared in 2015 on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia