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Updated: 3 weeks 4 days ago

Why Great Britain Was Desperate To Sink Germany's Bismark Battleship

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 10:00

Warfare History Network

Security,

Of all the German surface warships, the British feared Bismarck the most.

Here's What You Need To Remember: Like a pack of lions, the chasing British battleships Rodney and King George V caught and engaged Bismarck at a range of 16,000 yards. The German gunners’ return fire was ineffective, and the helpless Bismarck was torn apart. At 10:40 am on May 27, 1941, the German battleship sank some 300 nautical miles west of Ushant, France.

The British Admiralty Board of Enquiry into the loss of the battlecruiser HMS Hood, presided over by Vice Admiral Sir Geoffrey Blake, concluded, “The sinking of Hood was due to a hit from Bismarck’s 15-inch shell in or adjacent to Hood’s 4-inch or 15-inch magazines, causing them to explode and wreck the after part of the ship.”

Director of Naval Construction Sir Stanley Goodall, however, found this conclusion unsatisfactory and in his report pointed out the explosion was observed near the mainmast 65 feet further forward from the aft magazines. A second board of enquiry was convened under Rear Admiral H.T.C Walker. Even given eyewitness accounts that described fires on deck, that board still found a hit by Bismarck being the likely cause, although finishing with, “The probability is that the 4-inch magazines exploded first.”

Taking on the Feared Bismarck

In May 1941, Admiral Sir John C. Tovey, commander of the British Home Fleet at Scapa Flow in Scotland’s Orkney Islands, was ordered to attack the German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen that had just been spotted in the Denmark Strait. Tovey’s fleet consisted of two new battleships, King George V and Prince of Wales, the battlecruisers Hood and Repulse, and the aircraft carrier Victorious, plus many additional cruisers and destroyers. Also hurrying north to join him was the older battleship Rodney, mounting nine 16-inch guns, the largest caliber in the fleet.

Of all the German surface warships, the British feared Bismarck the most. Her size, speed, and firepower made her a definite threat to Allied shipping in the Atlantic, and it was imperative that she be neutralized.

On May 21, 1941, Hood and Prince of Wales left Scapa Flow with six destroyers under the command of Admiral Lancelot Holland flying his flag in Hood, their mission to provide heavy support to the cruisers Suffolk and Norfolk covering the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland––one of the likely routes the German naval squadron would take to reach the North Atlantic. The rest of the fleet was gathering to cover the area between Iceland and the Orkney Islands.

Early on the evening May 23, Suffolk made contact with the enemy ships, quickly turning away toward the coast of Iceland and into a fog bank. Suffolk immediately transmitted a sighting report to the Admiralty and then came around astern of the German ships to shadow them on radar.

Norfolk came up as well, a little too boldly, for Bismarck opened fire on her; like Suffolk, she raced for the fog bank. The blast from Bismarck’s 15-inch guns disabled her own forward radar, and overall German commander Admiral Gunther Lütjens ordered Prinz Eugen to take the lead.

The Germans had picked up the sighting report from Suffolk and advised their own high command. Lütjens was shocked their presence had been discovered so easily and had little intelligence on what his two warships might face.

The Dwindling British Advantage

As the two forces moved toward each other, Holland had a marked two-to-one superiority in firepower. However, this was offset by the age of the Hood (commissioned in 1920) and the newness (commissioned in January 1941) and lack of combat readiness of Prince of Wales, which was still having trouble with her main armament.

Holland soon realized he was in a favorable position to bring the enemy to action that evening, sailing northwesterly toward the Denmark Strait with the enemy on a southwesterly course. He hoped to catch the Germans just before sunset at around 2 am at 65 degrees north latitude. He also hoped to cross the German squadron’s “T,” which would give him a great advantage. “Crossing the T” is a tactic in naval warfare in which a line of warships crosses in front of a line of enemy ships, allowing them to bring all their guns to bear while receiving fire from only the forward guns of the enemy.

During the evening of May 23, the forces converged. Suffolk continued to shadow and update the Admiralty, Holland on Hood, and Tovey on King George V.

Around midnight, Suffolk lost contact because her radar was blinded by a snowstorm the German ships had entered. Holland waited an hour but, hearing no news, turned more northerly in case the enemy turned south. He could not afford a German breakout into the North Atlantic. At 2 am, still with no news, he turned southwesterly hoping to cut off the enemy before total darkness.

About an hour later, Suffolk regained radar contact and discovered the German ships were still on their original course. Holland must have cursed his luck, for his maneuvering had lost time and space, and the opportunity to cross the T was gone; this would prove critical in the coming battle.

Failing to Concentrate Fire on the Bismarck

Not wanting a night engagement, Holland brought his ships onto a course to intercept the German squadron at first light, keeping up a good speed but in the heavy seas dropping the escorting destroyers astern. By dawn, the destroyers were an hour behind.

Lookouts scanned the horizon for a glimpse of their quarry. At 5:37 am the two ships were spotted to the northwest, 30,000 yards (17 miles) away. The heavy guns could fire that far but the chance of a hit was remote; they needed to reduce the range to 25,000 yards or less––and quickly.

Prinz Eugen had already picked up the sound of ships with her underwater detection gear at some 20 miles to the southeast. At about the same time as the British lookouts spotted them, the Germans spotted smoke on the horizon. Lütjens believed that these were likely more cruisers, and he was under orders to avoid contact with British warships. He turned to starboard and headed almost due west, confident that he could outrun them.

Holland was soon aware the enemy had turned away, but he had to maintain his intercept course. Turning toward them would merely put his ships behind the Germans and make it a chase.

By 5:50 am, the range was down to 26,000 yards, and Holland would soon give the order to open fire. He was fully aware of Hood’s vulnerability to plunging fire at long range and wanted to pass through the critical zone as fast as possible. Therefore, he compromised by turning 20 degrees to starboard on a new course of 300 degrees toward the enemy. This would close with the enemy faster but make it impossible for the rear turrets of the British ships to bear on the Germans.

At 5:52 am, Holland designated the lead ship as the target and gave the order to open fire. This caused Captain John Leach of Prince of Wales a few anxious moments, for he was convinced that the rear ship was Bismarck, posing the greater threat. He ignored the orders from Holland and concentrated on Bismarck.

In seconds, huge columns of water erupted around Prinz Eugen, followed seconds later around Bismarck. Lütjens now had no doubt about what he faced. However, the British angle of approach still made identification difficult.

Marking the fall of shots, the British ships fired another salvo still firing at different targets. Leach had not informed Holland of his opinion and later had not been informed by his own gunners that Prince of Wales was firing at the second ship.

The Hood is Struck

The range was down to 24,000 yards when Lütjens ordered his ships to turn 65 degrees to port toward the British on a new course of 200 degrees and directed his ships to open fire as soon as they had turned. Lütjens was now on course to cross the British T and would be able to employ all his ships’ heavy guns.

Prinz Eugen opened fire first at 5:53 am, concentrating on the lead British ship, Hood, with her fast-firing 8-inch guns at four salvos per minute; she was firing high-explosive, not armor-piercing shells. After a few ranging salvos, Prinz Eugen hit Hood, her shells starting a large fire amidships among the ammunition lockers of the 4-inch antiaircraft guns, as well as ammunition for the unrifled projectile launchers used for defense against aircraft. Attempts to put out the fire were frustrated by the exploding ammunition.

Both British ships were still firing but at different targets. As yet, Bismarck had not opened fire. By now the range was down to 22,000 yards. After turning, Bismarck opened fire on Hood at 5:55 am with all eight 15-inch guns. Her first salvo fell close to Hood. At last Hood’s gunners realized they had been firing at the wrong ship. About this time, Holland ordered another 20 degree turn to port. This turn still would not allow the British ships to use their rear turrets.

At 5:59 am, Holland ordered another 20-degree turn to port, which would finally allow his ships to bring their full armament to bear. The range was now down to 18,000 yards. Bismarck fired three salvos in rapid succession about 30 seconds apart. The first, the fourth in total, again straddled Hood, but the fifth hit with devastating effect at about 6 am.

For the sailors aboard Hood, their worst nightmares were about to come true.

Explosion on the Hood

Ted Briggs had joined Hood as a signal boy on March 7, 1938, at just 15 years of age. Three years later he was an ordinary signalman on Hood’s compass platform, manning the voice pipe to the flag deck.

During the battle, Hood’s X Turret fired for the first time, but Y Turret was silent. Seconds later, Briggs saw a blinding flash sweep around the outside of the compass platform. However, he said there “was not a terrific explosion at all regards noise.” He felt the ship “jar” and begin listing to port. The “jar” was the ship breaking in two. The list got worse, and the men began leaving his area. By the time Briggs climbed down the ladder to the admiral’s bridge, the icy sea was already around his legs.

Eighteen-year-old Midshipman William Dundas had the duty of watching Prince of Wales to make sure she was keeping station; he was not far from Ted Briggs on the compass platform. He remembered bodies falling past his position from the higher spotting positions––the result, he felt, of Bismarck’s shells hitting without exploding. He recalled a mass of brown smoke just before the list to port began. Dundas escaped by kicking out a window on the starboard side of the compass platform. Even so, he was dragged under the water by the sinking ship but miraculously regained the surface.

Twenty-year-old Able Seaman Robert Tilburn was stationed at Hood’s aft-port 4-inch antiaircraft gun and witnessed the fire started by Prinz Eugen’s shells. The heat of the blaze made fire fighting impossible as the flames were being fanned by Hood’s 28-knot speed. Then he said, “The ship shook like mad” and began listing to port. Tilburn got onto the forecastle but was washed over the side by a great wave.

At the second board of enquiry, Tilburn told the admirals, “The Bismarck hit us. There was no doubt about that. She hit us at least three times before the final blow.”

Briggs, Dundas, and Tilburn were the only survivors from Hood; her 1,415 other crewmen were lost. But there were other witnesses, such as Lieutenant Esmond Knight. Aboard Prince of Walesobserving Hood, he remembered thinking, “It would be a most tremendous explosion, but I don’t remember hearing an explosion at all.” Chief Petty Officer French, also on Prince of Wales, said that the middle of the Hood’s boat deck appeared to rise before the mainmast.

Leading Sick-Berth Attendant Sam Wood, also on Prince of Wales, observed, “I was watching the orange flashes coming from Bismarck, so naturally I was on the starboard side. The leading seaman who was with me said, ‘Christ, look how close the firing is getting to Hood.’ As I looked out, suddenly Hood exploded. She was one pall of black smoke. Then she disappeared into a big orange flash and a huge pall of smoke which blacked us out…. The bows pointed out of the smoke, just the bows, tilted up, and then this whole apparition slid out of sight, all in slow motion, just slid away.” Within three minutes Hood was gone.

What Destroyed the Hood?

So what did happen to Hood? Were the boards of enquiry right that a 15-inch shell from Bismarck had hit close to her 4-inch and/or 15-inch magazines, causing an explosion that wrecked the after part of the ship?

What evidence we have would seem to shed some doubt on this. First, Hood was about 17,000 yards from Bismarck by 6 am. By that time, the heavy shells from both sides were travelling on a fairly low trajectory. As the range decreased, the guns would have been progressively depressed. Therefore, any hit would have been more likely to strike the belt. Hood’s belt armor was 12-inches thick and superior to any ship in the fleet; it was also inclined at 12 degrees.

It is still possible a shell could have hit the deck with its thin armor of three inches, but not with the plunging effect Holland had feared at long range. The shell likely fell at a rather oblique angle, which would make penetration of four decks to the main magazine under X Turret unlikely.

Also, it was witnessed aboard Hood and Prince of Wales that Bismarck’s 15-inch shells were likely defective, that most failed to explode.

Could there have been some sort of cordite flash explosion similar to those that destroyed three British battle cruisers during the battle of Jutland in May 1916?

This again seems highly unlikely as Hood’s shell-handling rooms were situated well below the X and Y Turrets’ magazine and the engine room thanks to lessons learned from that tragic Jutland episode. Also at Jutland, all three battlecruisers were destroyed by massive explosions, and there was none audible on Hood. One question about the magazine theory is why Y Turret did not fire like X had. Was something already happening there?

Then there is the fire started by Prinz Eugen’s 8-inch shells. Captain Leach of Prince of Wales described the fire as “a vast blowlamp.” The fire consumed much combustible material on the deck and upper superstructure, but the two- and three-inch deck armor and forecastle armor prevented this fire from penetrating below. The ventilation systems were fitted with gas-tight flaps and, at action stations, all should have been closed. Thus, it is fairly certain that the deck fires could not have resulted in Hood breaking in two or could even have contributed to this significantly.

The second board of enquiry did look at the possibility of Hood’s own above-deck torpedoes causing her to sink. Sir Stanley Goodall, who had supervised Hood’s design, believed an enemy shell could have detonated the torpedo warheads in their  tubes.

Four 21-inch MK IV torpedoes were kept in tubes, two on either side of the mainmast, and four reloads were nearby in a three-inch armored box. These torpedoes were certainly capable of breaking Hood’s back and could have been set off either by a direct hit from an enemy shell or by an intense fire. the TNT in the warheads would ignite at around 250 degrees Fahrenheit and explode at around 280 degrees. Again, however, there was no explosion. It is worth noting that similar torpedo tubes on the battlecruisers Repulse and Renown were later removed.

Was there some sort of underwater penetration? This seems even more unlikely. Hood was outside torpedo range of the German ships. One of Bismarck’s 15-inch shells could have penetrated the side and exploded in or near Hood’s shell-handling rooms––again unlikely without evidence of a massive explosion.

A Lucky Shot

The final theory or possibility is that Prinz Eugen’s 8-inch guns, firing at over half their maximum range, would have been falling on the target at a much steeper trajectory than Bismarck’s 15-inch guns and that one of her high-explosive 8-inch shells might have gone down Hood’s after funnel. If this did happen, it would have been just before Lütjens ordered Prinz Eugen to shift her fire to Prince of Wales, about the time Hood was engulfed.

The wire cage that covered the top of the funnel would not stop a shell and would be unlikely to explode it. The next obstacle on a shell’s journey would have been a steel grating positioned in vents at the level of the lower deck to protect the boiler room. If an 8-inch shell exploded here, it would have detonated in the boiler room. A high-explosive shell bursting in one of the boiler rooms or nearby might have resulted in an enormous buildup of pressure, resulting in an explosion inside the ship. The line of least resistance to this would have been up through Hood’s thin decks, not through the heavily armored sides or bottom.

Was this the result, a muffled explosion within the ship only heard below decks, the flash seen above decks near the mainmast with the propellers still turning driving the rear into the severely weakened midsection and breaking Hood in two parts? Could it have been a fatal combination of two of these theories?

In July 2001, the wreck of the Hood was found 9,334 feet below the surface of the  Denmark Straight. She lies in three sections  with the bow on its side, the mid section upside down, and the stern speared into the seabed. In 2013, the wreck was more fully explored with a remote-control vehicle. The exploration appears to confirm a massive explosion had taken place in the magazine feeding Y Turret and breaking the back of the ship. However, it remains a mystery, given the low trajectory of any shell, how one could have passed through four decks and the magazine armor. It must have been a lucky shot, indeed.

Prince of Wales Escapes

After the loss of the Hood, the battle continued. Prince of Wales was about 1,000 yards astern of Hood. Seeing the flagship explode, Captain Leach ordered a hard turn to starboard to avoid the wreckage. Hood was engulfed in smoke, but the stern was still above the water. The forward section still had some momentum but was listing to port and sinking rapidly. After clearing the wreckage, Leach swung Prince of Wales back onto 260 degrees, bringing his full broadside to bear.

The turn of Prince of Wales disrupted the gunners on Bismarck and Prinz Eugen, but they soon found the range again. With the range down to 15,000 yards, the fire from both sides was finding its mark.

A 15-inch shell from Bismarck hit the bridge of Prince of Wales. Although it did not explode, it killed several key personnel, and for a short period disrupted command of the ship. Direction was transferred to the aft position. She was also hit by an 8-inch shell from Prinz Eugen, knocking out fire control of several 5.25-inch guns, and two more hits caused minor flooding. At 6:03 am, Bismarck passed the port beam of Prinz Eugen, causing that ship to temporarily cease fire. The heavy cruiser had turned away because of suspected torpedoes.

Leach did not close the range. Prince of Wales had managed to hit Bismarck three times, although no explosions had been observed. Bismarck struck back, hitting the starboard crane of Prince of Wales, causing much splinter damage. Another shell hit amidships below the rear funnel under the waterline but failed to explode. It did cause some flooding and required the ship to counter flood to maintain trim.

Leach felt his ship was taking heavy damage––it had been hit four times by Bismarck and three times by Prinz Eugen. His own ship’s main armament was still not working properly, and his crew lacked the experience to adjust for this. Believing his ship might suffer serious damage, Leach ordered Prince of Wales to withdraw behind a smoke screen at 6:05. Also, Bismarck had completed passing Prinz Eugen so that ship’s guns would soon be back in action. Whether this influenced Leach is unknown.

Admiral Lütjens was surprised to see Prince of Wales turn away, but he dismissed calls from some of his men to pursue the British ship. It was doubtful they would be able to catch her. Also, Bismarckherself had been hit. Two shells had caused minor damage. However, one 14-inch shell had struck below the waterline causing some flooding and reduction in speed. Worse, some fuel tanks had been ruptured causing the loss of several hundred tons of precious fuel oil.

Lütjens soon realized he could not continue with the mission to attack British convoys due to the loss of fuel. Prinz Eugen was therefore detached to proceed with raiding while Bismarck turned back. The battleship headed for the nearest port with a drydock big enough to take Bismarck, at St. Nazaire, France.

Sinking the Bismarck

On May 26, a British aircraft spotted the battleship and radioed her position to other warships in the area. A force of 15 Fairey Swordfish torpedo planes from the carrier Ark Royal converged on Lütjens’ ship, and one torpedo damaged Bismarck’s rudder so badly that all the giant ship could do was sail helplessly in a circle.

Like a pack of lions, the chasing British battleships Rodney and King George V caught and engaged Bismarck at a range of 16,000 yards. The German gunners’ return fire was ineffective, and the helpless Bismarck was torn apart. At 10:40 am on May 27, 1941, the German battleship sank some 300 nautical miles west of Ushant, France. Only 110 of her crew of 2,222 survived the sinking. Admiral Lütjens went down with the ship.

This article By Mark Simmons originally appeared on Warfare History Network. This first appeared in 2018.

Image: Wikipedia.

Gas Flares Cause Preterm Births, Study Shows

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 09:45

Jill Johnston, Lara Cushing

economy, Americas

Low-income communities and communities of color here bear the brunt of the energy industry’s pollution.

Through the southern reaches of Texas, communities are scattered across a flat landscape of dry brush lands, ranches and agricultural fields. This large rural region near the U.S.-Mexico border is known for its persistent poverty. Over 25% of the families here live in poverty, and many lack access to basic services like water, sewer and primary health care.

This is also home to the Eagle Ford shale, where domestic oil and gas production has boomed. The Eagle Ford is widely considered the most profitable U.S. shale play, producing more than 1.2 million barrels of oil daily in 2019, up from fewer than 350,000 barrels per day just a decade earlier.

The rapid production growth here has not led to substantial shared economic benefits at the local level, however.

Low-income communities and communities of color here bear the brunt of the energy industry’s pollution, our research shows. And we now know those risks also extend to the unborn. Our latest study documents how women living near gas flaring sites have significantly higher risks of giving birth prematurely than others, and that this risk falls mainly on Latina women.

Gas Flaring and Health Risks

Many low-income residents and seniors living in the Eagle Ford shale believe the wastes from energy production – including disposal wells for oil production wastewater and gas flaring – are harming their communities.

In our research in the region as professors of environmental health and preventive medicine, we have shown how poor communities and communities of color bear more of the burden of these wastes.

It happens with fracking wastewater disposal wells, where “flowback” water from fracked wells containing toxic chemicals is injected back into the ground. Disposal wells bring new truck traffic to neighborhoods and may contaminate groundwater. In a study in 2016, we found these disposal wells were disproportionately in high-poverty areas in the region. They were also more than twice as common in areas where the population was more than 80% people of color than in majority-white areas.

These communities also bear more of the burden of gas flaring, the highly visible practice of burning off waste gas during oil production. Flaring releases greenhouse gases and hazardous air pollutants, including particulate matter, black carbon, benzene and hydrogen sulfide, pollutants that have been linked to respiratory and cardiovascular problems. We found areas with majority Hispanic populations were exposed to twice as many nightly flares as those with few Hispanics.

Flares are so common in the Eagle Ford shale that they are visible from space.

In our latest study, we used satellite observations and Texas birth records for more than 23,000 births in the region to study connections between flaring and health in pregnant women. We found that women who lived in areas where flaring is common had 50% higher odds of giving birth prematurely than those with no flaring within three miles of their homes.

Preterm birth can be life-threatening, especially for babies born very early, who typically have difficulty feeding and breathing and require special medical care. Being born prematurely can also cause long-term health problems, including hearing loss, neurological disorders and asthma.

The increased risk we found associated with flaring was similar to the increased risk others have seen for women who smoke during pregnancy. This risk fell almost entirely on Latina women, who were exposed to more flaring than white women. In all, about 14% of babies whose mothers lived within three miles of flaring and were exposed to at least 10 flares were born prematurely.

While women in the region also face other stressors related to poverty, health and racism, we think flaring may impact preterm birth for those living closest by exposing them to air pollutants, which research has shown are associated with preterm births.

Together, our work points to longstanding issues of environmental racism in rural energy extraction communities in the U.S.

Environmental Justice and the Urban-Rural Divide

Rural America is often singled out by locally unwanted industries. The rural policy scholar Celia Carroll Jones put it this way: “For the majority of Americans who live in metropolitan areas, rural dumping becomes a logical choice: Undeveloped land is inexpensive and available, fewer residents will be harmed should containment measures fail, and, most importantly, nuisances and dangers are removed from their own neighborhoods.”

It isn’t just the energy industry. Urban human and industrial solid waste, a byproduct of wastewater treatment plants, is frequently disposed of on rural land. Touted as fertilizer, this sewage sludge contains mixtures of chemical and biological contaminants. Residents complain of symptoms like mucous membrane irritation, respiratory distress, headaches and skin rashes when sewage sludge is being applied to land.

In Decatur, Alabama, where about 20% of the population lives in poverty, contaminated sludge was applied to land used for cattle grazing and crops. This resulted in detectable levels of toxic perflourinated compounds in soil, grass, beef and groundwater in the area.

This pattern extends to our food production systems. For example, the industrialization of hog production has led to the concentration of numerous biological and chemical pollutants that threaten environmental quality. The health impacts are concentrated disproportionately in Black communities in rural eastern North Carolina. Industrial hog operations have been linked to asthma, higher blood pressure and greater risk of premature death.

These examples illustrate a larger pattern of environmental injustice that characterizes relationships between urban areas that create waste and rural areas that receive that waste.

This undermines health in communities that are already at higher risk, as our research has shown. Ultimately, it also undermines progress toward more sustainable energy and food supplies, because the people who use the most energy and agriculture products don’t experience the health impacts of their production and waste.

Jill Johnston, Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine, University of Southern California and Lara Cushing, Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, Fielding School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles

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

Image: Reuters

Study: Shoulder-Fired Weapons Can Cause Brain Injury

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 09:30

Adam Linehan

Security, Americas

Is there a possible solution?

Key Point: New helmet designs could improve protection for soldiers.

Service members risk brain damage when operating shoulder-fired heavy weapons like the AT4, LAW, and Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle, according to report by the Center for a New American Security.

- “[Department of Defense] studies have demonstrated that some service members experience cognitive deficits in delayed verbal memory, visual-spatial memory, and executive function after firing heavy weapons,” CNAS reports.

- Whether those symptoms can become permanent is unclear. However, DoD studies have also “found higher rates of confusion and post-concussion associated symptoms among individuals with a history of prolonged exposure to low-level blasts,” according to CNAS.

- “When you fire [heavy weapons], the pressure wave feels like getting hit in the face,” Paul Scharre, a co-author of the report, told National Public Radio on Monday.

- CNAS found that helmets currently worn by U.S. Army soldiers provide “modest protection” against blast-waves produced by shoulder-fired weapons. The report advises the Army to begin researching “new helmet materials, shapes, and designs that might dramatically improve protection from primary blast injury.”

- Additionally, the report recommends that the Army better “protect soldiers against blast-induced brain injury” by increasing the use of sub-caliber rounds in training and enforcing limits of firing heavy weapons.

- To better assess how “blast pressure exposure” impacts the brain, the report urges the Army to expand the use of small devices that measure the intensity of blast waves. So-called “blast gauges” can be attached to the helmet or shoulder.

- “Every service member who is in a position where he or she might be exposed to blast waves should be wearing these devices,” Sharre told NPR. “And we need to be recording that data, putting it in their record and then putting it in a database for medical studies.”

- CNAS also recommends that “blast exposure history”  be included in soldiers’ service records so medical issues that later arise as a result of operating heavy weapons can be treated as service-connected injuries.

Adam Linehan is a senior staff writer for Task & Purpose. Between 2006-2012, he served as a combat medic in the U.S. Army, and is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. Follow Adam Linehan on Twitter @adam_linehan.

This article originally appeared at Task & Purpose. Follow Task & Purpose on Twitter.

Image: U.S. Army / Flickr

This Cheap Submarine From Sweden 'Sank' a U.S. Aircraft Carrier

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 09:00

Sebastien Roblin

Security, Europe

How was the Gotland able to evade the U.S. Navy's elaborate antisubmarine defense?

Key Point: The advent of cheap, stealthy and long-enduring diesel submarines is yet another factor placing carriers at greater risk when operating close to defended coastlines.

In 2005, USS Ronald Reagan, a newly constructed $6.2 billion dollar aircraft carrier, sank after being hit by multiple torpedoes.

Fortunately, this did not occur in actual combat, but was simulated as part of a war game pitting a carrier task force including numerous antisubmarine escorts against HSMS Gotland, a small Swedish diesel-powered submarine displacing 1,600 tons. Yet despite making multiple attacks runs on the Reagan, the Gotland was never detected.

This outcome was replicated time and time again over two years of war games, with opposing destroyers and nuclear attack submarines succumbing to the stealthy Swedish sub. Naval analyst Norman Polmar said the Gotland “ran rings” around the American carrier task force. Another source claimed U.S. antisubmarine specialists were “demoralized” by the experience.

How was the Gotland able to evade the Reagan’s elaborate antisubmarine defenses involving multiple ships and aircraft employing a multitude of sensors? And even more importantly, how was a relatively cheap submarine costing around $100 million—roughly the cost of a single F-35 stealth fighter today—able to accomplish that? After all, the U.S. Navy decommissioned its last diesel submarine in 1990.

Diesel submarines in the past were limited by the need to operate noisy, air-consuming engines that meant they could remain underwater for only a few days before needing to surface. Naturally, a submarine is most vulnerable, and can be most easily tracked, when surfaced, even when using a snorkel. Submarines powered by nuclear reactors, on the other hand, do not require large air supplies to operate, and can run much more quietly for months at a time underwater—and they can swim faster while at it.

However, the two-hundred-foot-long Swedish Gotland-class submarines, introduced in 1996, were the first to employ an Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system—in this case, the Stirling engine. A Stirling engine charges the submarine’s seventy-five-kilowatt battery using liquid oxygen.

With the Stirling, a Gotland-class submarine can remain undersea for up to two weeks sustaining an average speed of six miles per hour—or it can expend its battery power to surge up to twenty-three miles per hour. A conventional diesel engine is used for operation on the surface or while employing the snorkel. The Stirling-powered Gotland runs more quietly than even a nuclear-powered sub, which must employ noise-producing coolant pumps in their reactors.

The Gotland class does possess many other features that make it adept at evading detection. It mounts twenty-seven electromagnets designed to counteract its magnetic signature to Magnetic Anomaly Detectors. Its hull benefits from sonar-resistant coatings, while the tower is made of radar-absorbent materials. Machinery on the interior is coated with rubber acoustic-deadening buffers to minimize detectability by sonar. The Gotland is also exceedingly maneuverable thanks to the combined six maneuvering surfaces on its X-shaped rudder and sail, allowing it to operate close to the sea floor and pull off tight turns.

Because the stealthy boat proved the ultimate challenge to U.S. antisubmarine ships in international exercises, the U.S. Navy leased the Gotland and its crew for two entire years to conduct antisubmarine exercises. The results convinced the U.S. Navy its undersea sensors simply were not up to dealing with the stealthy AIP boats.

However, the Gotland was merely the first of many AIP-powered submarine designs—some with twice the underwater endurance. And Sweden is by no means the only country to be fielding them.

China has two diesel submarine types using Stirling engines. Fifteen of the earlier Type 039A Yuan class have been built in four different variants, with more than twenty more planned or already under construction. Beijing also has a single Type 032 Qing-class vessel that can remain underwater for thirty days. It believed to be the largest operational diesel submarine in the world, and boasts seven Vertical Launch System cells capable of firing off cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.

Russia debuted with the experimental Lada-class Sankt Peterburg, which uses hydrogen fuel cells for powerIt is an evolution of its widely produced Kilo-class submarine. However, sea trials found that the cells provided only half of the expected output, and the type was not approved for production. However, in 2013 the Russian Navy announced it would produce two heavily redesigned Ladas, the Kronstadt and Velikiye Luki, expected by the end of the decade.

Other producers of AIP diesel submarines include Spain, France, Japan and Germany. These countries have in turn sold them to navies across the world, including to India, Israel, Pakistan and South Korea. Submarines using AIP systems have evolved into larger, more heavily armed and more expensive types, including the German Dolphin-class and the French Scorpene-class submarines.

The U.S. Navy has no intention to field diesel submarines again, however, preferring to stick to nuclear submarines that cost multiple billions of dollars. It’s tempting to see that as the Pentagon choosing once again a more expensive weapon system over a vastly more cost-efficient alternative. It’s not quite that simple, however.

Diesel submarines are ideal for patrolling close to friendly shores. But U.S. subs off Asia and Europe need to travel thousands of miles just to get there, and then remain deployed for months at a time. A diesel submarine may be able to traverse that distance—but it would then require frequent refueling at sea to complete a long deployment.

Remember the Gotland? It was shipped back to Sweden on a mobile dry dock rather than making the journey on its own power.

Though the new AIP-equipped diesel subs may be able to go weeks without surfacing, that’s still not as good as going months without having to do so. And furthermore, a diesel submarine—with or without AIP—can’t sustain high underwater speeds for very long, unlike a nuclear submarine. A diesel sub will be most effective when ambushing a hostile fleet whose position has already been “cued” by friendly intelligence assets. However, the slow, sustainable underwater speed of AIP-powered diesel submarines make them less than ideal for stalking prey over vast expanses of water.

These limitations don’t pose a problem to diesel subs operating relatively close to friendly bases, defending littoral waters. But while diesel submarines may be great while operating close to home—the U.S. Navy usually doesn’t.

Still, the fact that one could build or acquire three or four diesel submarines costing $500 to $800 million each for the price of a single nuclear submarine gives them undeniable appeal. Proponents argue that the United States could forward deploy diesel subs to bases in allied nations, without facing the political constraints posed by nuclear submarines. Furthermore, advanced diesel submarines might serve as a good counter to an adversary’s stealthy sub fleet.

However, the U.S. Navy is more interested in pursuing the development of unmanned drone submarines. Meanwhile, China is working on long-enduring AIP systems using lithium-ion batteries, and France is developing a new large AIP-equipped diesel submarine version of its Barracuda-class nuclear attack submarine.

The advent of cheap, stealthy and long-enduring diesel submarines is yet another factor placing carriers and other expensive surface warships at greater risk when operating close to defended coastlines. Diesel submarines benefitting from AIP will serve as a deadly and cost-effective means of defending littoral waters, though whether they will can carve out a role for themselves in blue water naval forces operating far from home is less clear.

Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

This article originally ran in November of 2016.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

India is a Powerhouse in Vaccine Manufacturing

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 08:45

Rory Horner

Public Health, Asia

Thanks to its vast manufacturing capacity, India will undoubtedly export vaccines, continuing its role as the “pharmacy of the developing world”.

The great COVID-19 vaccine race is on. Pharmaceutical companies around the world are going head to head, while governments scramble to get priority access to the most promising candidates.

But a richest-takes-all approach in the fight against the deadliest pandemic in living memory is bound to be counter productive, especially for the recovery of low and middle income countries. If governments cannot come together to agree a global strategy, then the global south may need to pin its hopes on the manufacturing might of India.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, has warned that a nationalist approach “will not help” and will slow down the world’s recovery. Yet vaccine nationalism looms large over the search for vaccines, with the US, the UK and the European Commission all signing various advance purchase agreements with manufacturers to secure privileged access to doses of the most promising candidates. The US alone has paid over US$10 billion (£7.6 billion) for such access.

The ideal global distribution of a successful COVID-19 vaccine would look beyond which countries have the deepest pockets and instead prioritise health workers, followed by countries with major outbreaks and then those people who are particularly at risk.

India has the potential to play a key role in overcoming vaccine nationalism because it is the major supplier of medicines to the global south. Médecins Sans Frontières once dubbed the country the “pharmacy of the world”. India also has, by far, the largest capacity to produce COVID-19 vaccines. Its role in manufacturing a vaccine could come in two different ways – mass-producing one developed elsewhere (likely) or developing a new vaccine as well as manufacturing it (less likely, though not impossible).

Scaling Up Existing Vaccines

India’s Serum Institute has already started manufacturing the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine candidate before clinical trials have even been completed. This is to avoid any subsequent delay if the vaccine is approved. It is seen by many, including the WHO’s chief scientist, as the world’s leading prospect.

Serum Institute, based in the western city of Pune, is the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world and has a deal to supply 400 million doses by the end of 2020 (1 billion in total). It has also inked a deal for the manufacturing and commercialisation of American firm Novavax’s COVID-19 candidate.

Another Indian pharma company, Biological E (BE), has agreed to manufacture the vaccine candidate of Johnson & Johnson’s subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV. The Hyderabad-based firm has since announced its acquisition of Akorn India in order to boost its manufacturing capacity.

Despite India’s success in mass manufacturing, the transition to innovation and new product development has been more of a struggle. Nevertheless the Serum Institute, Aurobindo Pharma, Bharat Biotech, BE, Indian Immunologicals, Mynvax, Panacea Biotech and Zydus Cadila are all attempting to develop their own vaccines.

Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin has attracted the most attention and controversy. The Indian Council of Medical Research wrote to a number of hospitals seeking their help in fast-tracking the clinical trials of the drug, which was developed in collaboration with the National Institute of Virology. The aim had been to launch it by August 15 (Indian Independence Day). Despite the feasibility of that timeline being widely questioned, trials of Covaxin did begin in Delhi on July 15.

Who Gets the Vaccines?

Uncertainty reigns over who will get these vaccines manufactured in India – and there have been very mixed messages. Regarding the much-hyped Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, Adar Poonawalla, the Serum Institute’s CEO, said, “a majority of the vaccine, at least initially, would have to go to our countrymen before it goes abroad”.

He added that the Indian government would decide how much other countries get, and when. In a later interview the CEO went further, adding: “Out of whatever I produce, 50% to India and 50% to the rest of the world”. He also said the Indian government had not objected to this idea.

Vaccine diplomacy may come into play, as indicated by India’s foreign minister, Harsh Shringla, on a visit to Dhaka. He promised that India would supply vaccines to Bangladesh on “priority basis”, stating that India’s “closest neighbours, friends, partners and other countries” will receive privileged access.

Meanwhile, a recent agreement provided a firmer guarantee of Serum-Institute-produced vaccines being supplied outside of the country – at least in 2021. On August 7, Gavi (the global vaccine alliance) announced a collaboration with the Serum Institute and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The deal provides US$150m of financial support for the Serum Institute to manufacture and supply 100 million doses of vaccines to the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX) for distribution in low and middle-income countries in 2021.

The deal will support the company’s manufacture of both the AstraZeneca and Novavax candidates and guarantees a price of US$3 per dose. AstraZeneca’s candidate will be available to 57 Gavi-eligible countries, while the Novavax treatment will be available to 92.

With almost 18% of the world’s population, India has strong demand for COVID-19 vaccines. Export bans on some personal protective equipment and key medicines in March set a precedent for prioritising supply to India first. But the bans were short lived and exports continued.

Thanks to its vast manufacturing capacity, India will undoubtedly export vaccines, continuing its role as the “pharmacy of the developing world”. Vinod Paul, chair of India’s National COVID-19 Task Force, has spoken openly of his desire to see India play a global role, saying: “The vaccine is not just for India and Indians but for the world and humanity.” The question is when. Many in low and middle-income countries will undoubtedly be hoping it will be sooner rather than later.

Rory Horner, Senior Lecturer, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester

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

Image: Reuters

From Civil To Proxy War: How Syria Became Iran And Israel's Battlefield

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 08:30

Sebastien Roblin

Security, Middle East

By one count, there have been over 150 Israeli strikes in Syria stretching all the way back to 2012.

Here's What You Need To Remember: Now that Assad’s hold on power is secure, it’s becoming clear that growing infrastructure of Iranian bases in Syria is likely there to stay—and that Iran intends to use them to funnel drones, artillery, anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons to Hezbollah to challenge Israeli military dominance. This has elicited an intensifying Israeli bombardment campaign to knock out the buildup, both through preemptive strikes and reactive counterattacks.

At midnight on the Syrian-Israeli border on May 8–9, 2018 a multiple-rocket launcher system operated by the Quds force—an expeditionary special forces unit of the Iranian Revolution Guard Corps—fired a salvo of twenty unguided 333mm Fajr-5 rockets towards Israel. (You can see the apparent rocket launch here.) Four of the rockets were shot down by Israeli Iron Dome air defense system and the rest missed and landed in Syrian territory.

A few hours later, around ten Israeli surface-to-surface missile launchers and twenty-eight F-15I and F-16I jets unleashed seventy cruise missiles and precision-guided glide bombs that struck Iranian logistical bases and outposts throughout Syria. The Iranian rocket launcher was destroyed, and when Syrian air defenses attempted to engage the Israeli fighters, five batteries were knocked out.

The May 9 clash is considered the first direct clash between Iranian and Israeli forces, an event likely linked to the Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal the day before the attack. However, observers of the region might recall that Israeli warplanes had struck an Iranian convoy in Syria earlier that same day. There were additional strikes on May 6 and April 29 that killed scores of Syrian and Iranian troops—possibly including an Iranian general—and knocked out an S-200 surface-to-air missile battery.

By one count, there have been over 150 Israeli strikes in Syria stretching all the way back to 2012. Many of the raids have targeted transfers of advanced weapon systems to Hezbollah, or been made in response to cross-border attacks.

If you connect the dots, it becomes clear that the May 9 exchange was the most overt flare-up of a long-running proxy war. Iranian and Hezbollah troops—having effectively secured the government of Bashar al-Assad from possible overthrow—are busily establishing a long-term presence and transferring advanced weapons into Syria and Hezbollah, including drones, surface-to-air missile systems and rocket artillery. At the same time, Israeli warplanes are attempting to destroy these sites and weapon systems before they get deeply entrenched. The U.S. exit from the nuclear deal appears to have prompted Tehran to finally authorize a direct retaliatory attack on Israel—even if it was an ineffective one.

It’s unusual for two regional powers without a common a border to be at each other’s throats. However, a series of historical circumstances have brought them to more more open military conflict than ever before.

Syria, Lebanon and Hezbollah

Under the regime of the Shah, Iran developed relatively close economic and military ties to Israel. The Iranian Revolution in 1979 brought hardline clerics to power and a formal end to diplomatic ties, but Israel continued to supply Iran with over $500 million in desperately needed weapons during the bloody Iran-Iraq War. At the time, the Israeli government saw Iraq as a more proximate threat—mainly due to its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

However, the seeds of a deeper Iranian-Israeli conflict were sown in the civil war in Lebanon. The creation of Israel in 1948—and its conquest of additional territories in 1967—displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees. Unable to return home, the Palestinian refugees became a permanent, nationless population in neighboring Arab countries. Their presence in the small, multicultural state of Lebanon eventually destabilized a precarious balance of power between diverse factions divided by ethnicity, religion and ideology, contributing to the outbreak of a civil war in 1975.

Seven years later, Israeli troops entered Lebanon in Operation Peace for Galilee, an effort to tilt the war in the favor of Christian factions in Lebanon. Syria—which had fought multiple wars with Israel for control of the Golan Heights—had already deployed troops in Lebanon in support of Palestinian factions, so Syrian tanks and jet fighters clashed with Israeli forces in massive battles. President Ronald Reagan also dispatched troops to Lebanon in an attempt to influence the conflict, but withdrawn them in October 1983 after a truck bombing killed 241 Americans.

Meanwhile, religious divisions facilitated Iran’s involvement in the conflict. The most important schisms in the Islamic faith lies between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam, comparable to the Catholic-Protestant divide of Christianity. Iran—the chief Shia country in the Islamic world—organized and armed a coalition of Shia fighters called Hezbollah to fight the Israelis.

Though Hezbollah initially opposed Syrian influence in Lebanon, Damascus would eventually become a junior-partner in the management of Hezbollah. While Syria has a majority Sunni population, the ruling Assad family were Alawites—a minority associated with Shia Islam—which may have contributed to warm Iranian-Syrian ties.

Israel eventually withdrew from the Lebanese quagmire, and the war ground to its conclusion in 1990 with the defeat of the Maronite Christian faction, and the restoration of a tenuous multiparty democratic system—in which Hezbollah was entrenched as a key player. The Shia group became an odd combination of political party, de facto regional government in southern Lebanon, standing army and international terrorist group (with its sights set on the Israeli forces on the Lebanese border).

Tehran and Damascus also used Hezbollah as a lever to influence Lebanese politics. For example, Syria and Hezbollah are generally believed to be culpable in the assassinations of two-time Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri in 2006 using a 4,000-pound truck bomb.

Washington Clears the Way for Tehran’s Rise as Regional Power

During the 1990s, Iran ramped up anti-Israel rhetoric to cultivate political support in the wider Muslim world. However, in 2003, the moderate government of Mohammad Khatami transmitted a wide-ranging peace offer to restore relations with the United States and Israel. However, the Bush administration did not bother replying to a members of the ‘Axis of Evil.’

In April of the same year, U.S. forces invaded Iran’s old enemy, Iraq. It may be difficult to recall today, but in the weeks following the fall of Baghdad, many in Washington openly speculated that Tehran or Damascus might be the next to fall.

However, Iraq had been a Shia-majority nation ruled by a Sunni dictator. With the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Shia politicians and clerics ascended to power and soon shifted the nation towards warmer relations with Tehran. Ironically, the United States had removed one of the chief geographic barriers to Iranian influence. Shia repression of their erstwhile Sunni persecutors would also inspire radical Sunni groups (such as ISIS), prompting the formation of violent, Iran-backed Shia militias to deal with them in a vicious sectarian cycle.

In 2005, the hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president of Iran. A zealous ideologue, Ahmadinejad combined demagogic anti-Israel rhetoric and pageantry—for example, he sponsored an international Holocaust-denial conference—with increased military support and training for Hezbollah. Tehran also began sponsoring Hamas, a Sunni Islamist group that eventually secured control of the Palestinian Gaza Strip territory in 2007.

In the summer of 2006, this dynamic escalated into the 2006 Lebanon War, when Israel—in response to an ambush in which two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped—began a large-scale bombing campaign targeting Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, later escalating into an invasion.

The sheer scale of the bombardment reportedly stunned Hezbollah’s leadership—as well as Lebanese civilians. (The Israel Defense Forces estimates it killed 600 to 700 Hezbollah fighters in the war, while most sources put the death toll in both combatants and noncombatants in Lebanon at around 1,100.) However, Russian-built Kornet-E and Metis anti-tank missiles and a dense network of defensive positions allowed Hezbollah fighters—backed up by Iranian Revolutionary Guard personnel—to inflict unexpectedly heavy losses on Israeli tanks and infantry.

The war ended in a ceasefire and clashes diminished in frequency, in part due to a successful surge in from UN peacekeeping forces. Hezbollah and Israel licked their wounds and were soon were engaged in other conflicts.

Israel was also concerned with Iran and Syria’s covert nuclear weapons program, and Iran’s growing ballistic missile capabilities in particular. In Syria, Iranian, Syrian and North Korean engineers had been collaborating on a nuclear reactor facility and a new chemical weapons plant. However, in July 2007 the al-Safir chemical plant suffered a ‘mysterious’ explosion, while Israeli warplanes destroyed the reactor in Deir-ez-Zor that September, effectively bringing an end to Syria’s nuclear ambitions.

Iran, however, lies beyond the easy striking distance of Israeli jets, with several intervening international borders. Israel therefore began lobbying Washington to launch a preventive war to knock out the Iranian research program. Though this idea was popular with neoconservatives in the Bush administration, the Iraq War by then had proven such a debacle that political support was lacking.

Instead, the Israeli military employed clandestine means to strike at Tehran’s nuclear program. Starting in 2010, Israeli assassination attempts killed at least five and wounded one Iranian nuclear scientist. Iranian attempts to retaliate—via international terror attacks—were mostly unsuccessful.

Iran, Hezbollah and Russia Team Up to Save Assad

In 2011, the Arab Spring caused a wave of political unrest to sweep across the Middle East, igniting a civil war in a drought-stricken Syria. By 2012, the Damascus had lost control of vast swathes of the country to a disunited Sunni Arab and Kurdish rebel groups.

Tehran did everything it could to save Assad, dispatching teams of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps soldiers and officers to train and lead Syrian government troops into battle. However, the fragmenting Syrian military required more manpower as the rebellion spread—so in 2012, around 3,000 Hezbollah fighters poured over the Lebanese border to join the fight on behalf of Assad.

In truth, even the support of Iran and Hezbollah was not enough for Assad to win the war—but they kept his regime on life support. It was the intervention of Russian military and mercenary forces starting in the fall of 2015 that finally turned the tide.

Syria remained the last major outpost of Russian influence in the Middle East, notably in the form of a naval base at Latakia. Moscow calculated that not only would intervention in the war preserve Syria as an asset, but also afford it a chance to test numerous weapons system which had never been used in combat before, thereby advertising their capabilities to potential export clients.

Now that Assad’s hold on power is secure, it’s becoming clear that growing infrastructure of Iranian bases in Syria is likely there to stay—and that Iran intends to use them to funnel drones, artillery, anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons to Hezbollah to challenge Israeli military dominance. This has elicited an intensifying Israeli bombardment campaign to knock out the buildup, both through preemptive strikes and reactive counterattacks.

So far, the exchange has been a lopsided one, with only a single Israeli warplane shot down by Syrian air defense over seven years, in exchange for dozens of targets hit by Israeli guided munitions and numerous facilities and advanced weapons destroyed. Iranian and Hezbollah forces, however, have continued to test Israeli defenses with drones and artillery, so the proxy war could potentially continue escalating for some time.

Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring. This article first appeared in 2018.

Image: Reuters.

Is The F-5E Tiger II Or Soviet MiG-21 Superior? Here's What The Iran-Iraq War Has To Say

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 08:00

Robert Beckhusen

Security, Middle East

It became obvious that both the F-5E and the MiG-21 lacked the advanced sensors, weapons and electronic countermeasures necessary for survival over a battlefield saturated with massive volumes of anti-aircraft weaponry.

Here's What You Need To Remember: As far as is currently known, the Iran-Iraq War thus ended without a clear winner in this duel. Four each F-5Es and MiG-21s were destroyed.

There have been countless discussions over which is the better fighter jet— the U.S.-made Northrop F-5E Tiger II or the Soviet MiG-21 Fishbed.

That can be a hard argument to settle. The Iran-Iraq war was probably a draw for the two types.

More than 15,000 of these two cheap, lightweight, simple-to-maintain and -operate fighters were produced and, over the time, they’ve served in more than 60 different air forces — some of which operated both of them.

The usual story is that they never met in combat and thus the ultimate question about their mutual superiority remains unanswered. But actually, they did clash — and not only once.

Their first air battles — fought in the course of the long-forgotten conflict over the Horn of Africa in summer 1977 — ended with a rather one-sided victory for F-5Es of the Ethiopian Air Force. These shot down nine MiG-21s — not to mention two MiG-17s — of the Somali Air Force while suffering zero losses in air combat.

Slightly more than three years later, the two types clashed again in the course of the Iran-Iraq War. Iraq had opportunistically exploited internal chaos resulting from the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1978 and ’79. The Revolution toppled the U.S.-allied Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and installed a regime that nearly disbanded the Iranian military.

The former Imperial Iranian Air Force became the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, or IRIAF. The air arm lost nearly two-thirds of its officers and other ranks to arrests, executions or forced early retirements. By the time Iraq invaded Iran on Sept. 22, 1980, the IRIAF was a shadow of its former self.

Nevertheless, the IRIAF still had five squadrons equipped with around 115 F-5E/Fs, and one squadron flying reconnaissance-optimized RF-5As. Some 40 additional Tiger IIs were in storage. Their primary air-to-air weapon was the AIM-9J variant of the U.S.-made Sidewinder missile, and two 20-millimeter Colt M39 cannons installed internally. But in Iran the type was primarily deployed as a fighter-bomber, armed with different bombs.

Operated by nine squadrons, the MiG-21 was the backbone of the Iraqi Air Force, or IrAF. The best units were equipped with the ultimate MiG-21bis-variant and the latest Soviet-made air-to-air missiles such as the AA-2C Advanced Atoll and the AA-8 Aphid.

A few MiG-21s were locally modified to carry French-made R.500 Magic air-to-air missiles, a small batch of which was delivered to Iraq in summer 1980 pending the first deliveries of Dassault Mirage F.1EQ interceptors.

Training of Iraqi and Iranian pilots was of similar quality. All the Iranians underwent extensive training in the United States and some in Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Iraqis developed their own tactical procedures informed by the Arab experience in the October 1973 war with Israel. Indian, French and Soviet input also shaped Iraqi training.

Iranian F-5Es and Iraqi MiG-21s clashed for the first time on Sept. 24, 1980, two days after Iraq invaded Iran. Two MiGs sneaked up unobserved on a four-ship of Tigers that was approaching Hurrya Air Base loaded with Mk.82 bombs.

One of the Iraqi’s missiles detonated harmlessly under the aircraft flown by Capt. Yadollah Sharifi-Ra’ad, alerting him to the enemy’s presence. Sharifi-Ra’ad then splashed one of the Iraqis with a single Sidewinder.

In attempt to destroy the main Iraqi source of income, the IRIAF began bombing the Iraqi oil industry starting on Sept. 26, 1980. This operation resulted in most of the clashes between the two fighter types.

The first of these occurred on the same day and developed when a pair of Tiger IIs was intercepted by a pair of MiG-21s while approaching the Qanaqin oil refinery. While Iraqis claimed to have shot down an aircraft flown by famous Iranian pilot Capt. Zarif-Khadem — formerly a member of the Taj-Talee Acrojet team, an Iranian equivalent of the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds — the Iranians insisted he hit the ground while attempting to evade one of the MiGs.

On Nov. 14, 1980, a pair of MiG-21bis from №47 Squadron, led by a captain we’ll call “Zaki,” caught an F-5E that had separated from its formation after striking an oil refinery in Mosul. Wrongly describing his target as an F-4 Phantom, the Iraqi described what happened next.

“Our order was to patrol an area we thought was used as a waypoint by the enemy. We carefully scanned the skies and few minutes later saw a lonesome Phantom [sic]. I dove and accelerated while cutting the corner, got a good tone and pressed the trigger.”

“I never fired a Magic before, but heard of the first kill scored with it nearly a month before,” the Iraqi MiG-21 pilot continued. “The missile guided and everything looked fine — until it passed harmlessly by the tail of my target! My first reaction was that of a shock, but friction of second later the Magic detonated near the cockpit, causing a big fireball.”

The biggest air battle between the two types in this war took place on Nov. 26, 1980, when eight IRIAF F-5Es entered Iraqi air space with intention of simultaneously striking a power plant in Dukan, a radar station outside Halabcheh, an observation post outside Suleimaniyah and Al Hurrya Air Base.

By that time, Iraqi MiG-21s were regularly patrolling the northern section of Iraq’s border with Iran. A pair of MiGs led by Capt. Nawfal from №47 Squadron intercepted two F-5Es that approached Dukan and, launching an AA-8, shot down the aircraft flown by 1st Lt. Abul-Hassan, killing him.

The other Iraqi pair intercepted the formation led by Capt. Sharifi-Ra’ad, tasked with bombing a target outside Suleimaniyah. Once again, however, the experienced Iranian outsmarted his opponents.

“I found our target not occupied and decided to re-route towards the telecommunication facility outside Suleimaniyah instead,” Sharifi-Ra’ad recalled. “Once there, my plane shook and I warned my wingman about enemy flak. Then I glanced to the left and sighted a MiG-21: that was the reason for my aircraft shaking.”

“I released my bombs and prepared for air combat while decreasing my altitude to a very low level and then turning hard to force the MiG to overshoot. The Iraqi pilot did a mistake and reduced his speed, while I did another mistake by firing an AIM-9J at him much too early. The Sidewinder failed to lock-on and missed its target.”

“I switched to guns and fired a burst at his right wing from short range,” Sharifi-Ra’ad added. “He was watching me as we descended very low, and then his left wing touched the ground — and his aircraft exploded.”

Both sides agree that an F-5E and a MiG-21 collided during this dogfight, and both pilots perished, but the Iraqis insist that 1st Lt. Abdullah Lau’aybi intentionally rammed his MiG into Zanjani’s Tiger II — an act that made him a sort of local legend.

The most intensive period of aerial warfare between Iran and Iraq came to an end in late 1980. Both sides were physically and materially exhausted by four months of intensive operations and heavy losses.

Furthermore, it became obvious that both the F-5E and the MiG-21 lacked the advanced sensors, weapons and electronic countermeasures necessary for survival over a battlefield saturated with massive volumes of anti-aircraft weaponry.

Unsurprisingly, both types were increasingly relegated to secondary duties, and their mutual clashes became outright rarities. The last known air combat between Iranian F-5Es and Iraqi MiG-21s took place on Nov. 13, 1983, when Capt. Ibrahim Bazargan shot down an Iraqi involved in air strike on Ahwaz International Airport.

As far as is currently known, the Iran-Iraq War thus ended without a clear winner in this duel. Four each F-5Es and MiG-21s were destroyed.

This article first appeared in 2018.

Image: Wikipedia.

An Asteroid is Headed for Earth (It's 2020, After All)

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 07:33

Jonti Horner

Astronomy, World

Even if Earth is in the crosshairs, though, there’s nothing to worry about.

Social media around the world lit up over the weekend, discussing the possibility that an asteroid (known as 2018 VP₁) could crash into Earth on November 2.

It seemed only fitting. What better way to round off a year that has seen catastrophic floods, explosions, fires, and storms – and, of course, a global pandemic?

But you can rest easy. The asteroid does not pose a threat to life on Earth. Most likely, it will sail harmlessly past our planet. At worst, it will burn up harmlessly in our atmosphere and create a firework show for some lucky Earthlings.

So, What’s the Story?

Our story begins a couple of years ago, on November 3, 2018. That night, the Zwicky Transient Facility at Palomar Observatory in Southern California discovered a faint new “near-Earth asteroid” – an object whose orbit can approach, or cross, that of our planet.

At the time of its discovery, 2018 VP₁ was roughly 450,000 kilometres from Earth – a little farther than the average distance between Earth and the Moon (around 384,000km).

The asteroid was very faint, and hard to spot against the background stars. Astronomers were only able to watch it for 13 days, before it was too far from Earth to see.

Based on that short series of observations, it became clear the asteroid is a kind of near-Earth object called an “Apollo asteroid”.

Apollo asteroids spend most of their time beyond Earth’s orbit, but swing inward across our planet’s orbit at the innermost part of their journey around the Sun. 2018 VP₁ takes two years to go around the Sun, swinging just inside Earth’s orbit every time it reaches “perihelion” (its closest approach to our star).

Because 2018 VP₁’s orbit takes almost exactly two years, in 2020 (two years after discovery), it will once again pass close to Earth.

But how close will it come? Well, that’s the million-dollar question.

Anything from a Collision to a Very Distant Miss …

To work out an object’s exact path through the Solar system, and to predict where it will be in the future (or where it was in the past), astronomers need to gather observations.

We need at least three data points to estimate an object’s orbit – but that will only give us a very rough guess. The more observations we can get, and the longer the time period they span, the better we can tie down the orbit.

And that’s why the future of 2018 VP₁ is uncertain. It was observed 21 times over 13 days, which allows its orbit to be calculated fairly precisely. We know it takes 2 years (plus or minus 0.001314 years) to go around the Sun. In other words, our uncertainty in the asteroid’s orbital period is about 12 hours either way.

That’s actually pretty good, given how few observations were made – but it means we can’t be certain exactly where the asteroid will be on November 2 this year.

However, we can work out the volume of space within which we can be confident that the asteroid will lie at a given time. Imagine a huge bubble in space, perhaps 4 million km across at its largest. We can be very confident the asteroid will be somewhere in the bubble – but that’s about it.

What does that mean for Earth? Well, it turns out the closest approach between the two this year will be somewhere between a direct hit and an enormous miss – with the asteroid coming no closer than 3.7 million km!

We can also work out the likelihood the asteroid will hit Earth during this close approach. The odds are 0.41%, or roughly 1 in 240. In other words, by far the most likely outcome on November 2 is the asteroid will sail straight past us.

But What If It Did Hit Us?

As the great Terry Pratchett once wrote, “Million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten”. But have you ever heard someone say “It’s a 240-to-1 chance, but it might just work?”

So should we be worried?

Well, the answer here goes back to how hard it was to spot 2018 VP₁ in the first place. Based on how faint it was, astronomers estimate it’s only about 2 metres across. Objects that size hit Earth all the time.

Bigger asteroids do more damage, as we were spectacularly reminded back in February 2013, when an asteroid around 20 metres across exploded in the atmosphere above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk.

The Chelyabinsk airburst was spectacular, and the shockwave damaged buildings and injured more than 1,500 people. But that was an object ten times the diameter of 2018 VP₁ – which means it was probably at least 1,000 times heavier, and could penetrate far further into the atmosphere before meeting its fiery end.

2018 VP₁ is so small it poses no threat. It would almost certainly burn up harmlessly in our atmosphere before it reached the ground. Most likely, it would detonate in an “airburst”, tens of kilometres above the ground – leaving only tiny fragments to drift down to the surface.

If 2018 VP₁ is particularly robust (a chunk of a metal asteroid, rather than a stony or icy one), it could make it to the ground – but even then, it is way too small to cause significant damage.

Having said that, the fireball as the asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere would be spectacular. If we were really lucky, it might be captured on camera by the Global Fireball network (led by Curtin University).

With images of the fireball from several cameras, researchers could work out where any debris might fall and head out to recover it. A freshly fallen meteorite is a pristine fragment from which we can learn a great deal about the Solar system’s history.

The Bottom Line

It’s no wonder in a year like this that 2018 VP₁ has generated some excitement and media buzz.

But, most likely, November 3 will come around and nothing will have happened. 2018 VP₁ will have passed by, likely unseen, back to the depths of space.

Even if Earth is in the crosshairs, though, there’s nothing to worry about. At worst, someone, somewhere on the globe, will see a spectacular fireball – and people in the US might just get to see some spectacular pre-election fireworks.

Or to put it another way: “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine”.

Jonti Horner, Professor (Astrophysics), University of Southern Queensland

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

Image: Reuters

Iron, Guns, And Men: These 5 Battleships Owned The Oceans

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 07:00

James Holmes

Security,

What makes a battleship "great?"

Here's What You Need To Remember: A battleship's name becomes legend if it helps win a grand victory, loses in dramatic fashion, or perhaps accomplishes some landmark diplomatic feat. A vessel favored (or damned) by fortune, furthermore, becomes a strategic compass rose. It becomes part of the intellectual fund on which future generations draw when making maritime strategy.

Ranking the greatest battleships of all time is a tad easier than ranking naval battles. Both involve comparing apples with oranges. But at least taking the measure of individual men-of-war involves comparing one apple with one orange. That's a compact endeavor relative to sorting through history to discern how seesaw interactions shaped the destinies of peoples and civilizations.

Still, we need some standard for distinguishing between battlewagons. What makes a ship great? It makes sense, first of all, to exclude any ship before the reign of Henry VIII. There was no line-of-battle ship in the modern sense before England's "great sea-king" founded the sail-driven Royal Navy in the 16th century. Galley warfare was quite a different affair from lining up capital ships and pounding away with naval gunnery.

One inescapable chore is to compare ships' technical characteristics. A recent piece over at War Is Boring revisits an old debate among battleship and World War II enthusiasts. Namely, who would've prevailed in a tilt between a U.S. Navy Iowa-class dreadnought and the Imperial Japanese Navy's Yamato? Author Michael Peck restates the common wisdom from when I served in mighty Wisconsin, last of the battleships: it depends on who landed the first blow. Iowas commanded edges in speed and fire control, while Yamato and her sister Musashi outranged us and boasted heavier weight of shot. We would've made out fine had we closed the range before the enemy scored a lucky hit from afar. If not, things may have turned ugly.

Though not in so many words, Peck walks through the basic design features that help qualify a battleship for history's elite -- namely guns, armor, and speed. Makes sense, doesn't it? Offensive punch, defensive resiliency, and speed remain the hallmarks of any surface combatant even in this missile age. Note, however, that asymmetries among combat vessels result in large part from the tradeoffs naval architects must make among desirable attributes.

Only sci-fi lets shipwrights escape such choices. A Death Star of the sea would sport irresistible weaponry, impenetrable armor, and engines able to drive the vessel at breakneck speed. But again, you can't have everything in the real world. Weight is a huge challenge. A battleship loaded down with the biggest guns and thickest armor would waddle from place to place. It would make itself an easy target for nimbler opponents or let them run away. On the other hand, assigning guns and speed top priority works against rugged sides. A ship that's fleet of foot but lightly armored exposes its innards and crew to enemy gunfire. And so forth. Different navies have different philosophies about tradeoffs. Hence the mismatches between Yamato and Iowa along certain parameters. Thus has it always been when fighting ships square off.

But a battleship is more than a machine. Machines neither rule the waves nor lose out in contests for mastery. People do. People ply the seas, and ideas about shiphandling and tactics guide their combat endeavors. Great Britain's Royal Navy triumphed repeatedly during the age of sail. Its success owed less to superior materiel -- adversaries such as France and the United States sometimes fielded better ships -- than to prolonged voyages that raised seamanship and gunnery to a high art. Indeed, a friend likes to joke that the 18th century's finest warship was a French 74-gun ship captured -- and crewed -- by Royal Navy mariners. The best hardware meets the best software.

That's why in the end, debating Jane's Fighting Ships entries -- lists of statistics -- for IowaYamato, and their brethren from other times and places fails to satisfy. What looks like the best ship on paper may not win. A ship need not outmatch its opponents by every technical measure. It needs to be good enough. That is, it must match up well enough to give an entrepreneurial crew, mindful of the tactical surroundings, a reasonable chance to win. The greatest battleship thus numbers among the foremost vessels of its age by material measures, and is handled by masterful seamen.

But adding the human factor to the mix still isn't enough. There's an element of opportunity, of sheer chance. True greatness comes when ship and crew find themselves in the right place at the right time to make history. A battleship's name becomes legend if it helps win a grand victory, loses in dramatic fashion, or perhaps accomplishes some landmark diplomatic feat. A vessel favored (or damned) by fortune, furthermore, becomes a strategic compass rose. It becomes part of the intellectual fund on which future generations draw when making maritime strategy. It's an artifact of history that helps make history.

So we arrive at one guy's gauge for a vessel's worth: strong ship, iron men, historical consequence. In effect, then, I define greatest as most iconic. Herewith, my list of history's five most iconic battleships, in ascending order:

Bismarck:

The German Navy's Bismarck lived a short life that supplies the stuff of literature to this day. Widely considered the most capable battleship in the Atlantic during World War II, Bismarck sank the battlecruiser HMS Hood, pride of the Royal Navy, with a single round from her main battery. On the other hand, the leadership's martial spirit proved brittle when the going got tough. In fact, it shattered at the first sharp rap. As commanders' resolve went, so went the crew's.

Notes Bernard Brodie, the dreadnought underwent an "extreme oscillation" in mood. Exaltation stoked by the encounter with Hood gave way to despair following a minor torpedo strike from a British warplane. Admiral Günther Lütjens, the senior officer on board, gathered Bismarck crewmen after the air attack and "implored them to meet death in a fashion becoming to good Nazis." A great coach Lütjens was not. The result? An "abysmally poor showing" in the final showdown with HMS RodneyKing George V, and their entourage. One turret crew fled their guns. Turret officers reportedly kept another on station only at gunpoint. Marksmanship and the guns' rate of fire -- key determinants of victory in gunnery duels -- suffered badly.

In short, Bismarck turned out to be a bologna flask (hat tip: Clausewitz), an outwardly tough vessel that shatters at the slightest tap from within. In 1939 Grand Admiral Erich Raeder lamented that the German surface fleet, flung into battle long before it matured, could do little more than "die with honor." Raeder was righter than he knew. Bismarck's death furnishes a parable that captivates navalists decades hence. How would things have turned out had the battlewagon's human factor proved less fragile? We'll never know. Doubtless her measure of honor would be bigger.

Yamato:

As noted at the outset, Yamato was an imposing craft by any standard. She displaced more than any battleship in history, as much as an early supercarrier, and bore the heaviest armament. Her mammoth 18-inch guns could sling 3,200-lb. projectiles some 25 nautical miles. Armor was over two feet thick in places. Among the three attributes of warship design, then, Yamato's designers clearly prized offensive and defensive strength over speed. The dreadnought could steam at 27 knots, not bad for a vessel of her proportions. But that was markedly slower than the 33 knots attainable by U.S. fast battleships.

Like BismarckYamato is remembered mainly for falling short of her promise. She provides another cautionary tale about human fallibility. At Leyte Gulf in October 1944, a task force centered on Yamato bore down on the transports that had ferried General Douglas MacArthur's landing force ashore on Leyte, and on the sparse force of light aircraft carriers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts guarding the transports from seaward assault.

Next ensued the immortal charge of the tin-can sailors. The outclassed American ships charged Yamato and her retinue. Like Lütjens, Admiral Takeo Kurita, the task-force commander, appeared to wilt under less-than-dire circumstances. Historians still argue about whether he mistook Taffy 3, the U.S. Navy contingent, for a far stronger force; lost his nerve; or simply saw little point in sacrificing his ships and men. Whatever the case, Kurita ordered his fleet to turn back -- leaving MacArthur's expeditionary force mostly unmolested from the sea.

Yamato met a quixotic fate, though less ignominious than Bismarck's. In April 1945 the superbattleship was ordered to steam toward Okinawain company with remnants of the surface fleet, there to contest the Allied landings. The vessel would deliberately beach itself offshore, becoming an unsinkable gun emplacement until it was destroyed or its ammunition was exhausted. U.S. naval intelligence got wind of the scheme, however, and aerial bombardment dispatched Yamato before she could reach her destination. A lackluster end for history's most fearsome battlewagon.

Missouri:

Iowa and New Jersey were the first of the Iowa class and compiled the most enviable fighting records in the class, mostly in the Pacific War. Missouri was no slouch as a warrior, but -- alone on this list -- she's celebrated mainly for diplomatic achievements rather than feats of arms. General MacArthur accepted Japan's surrender on her weatherdecks in Tokyo Bay, leaving behind some of the most enduring images from 20th-century warfare. Missouri has been a metaphor for how to terminate big, open-ended conflicts ever since. For instance, President Bush the Elder invoked the surrender in his memoir. Missouri supplied a measuring stick for how Desert Storm might unfold. (And as it happens, a modernized Missouri was in Desert Storm.)

 

Missouri remained a diplomatic emissary after World War II. The battlewagon cruised to Turkey in the early months after the war, as the Iron Curtain descended across Europe and communist insurgencies menaced Greece and Turkey. Observers interpreted the voyage as a token of President Harry Truman's, and America's, commitment to keeping the Soviet bloc from subverting friendly countries. Message: the United States was in Europe to stay. Missouri thus played a part in the development of containment strategy while easing anxieties about American abandonment. Naval diplomacy doesn't get much better than that.

Mikasa:

Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō's flagship is an emblem for maritime command. The British-built Mikasa was arguably the finest battleship afloat during the fin de siècle years, striking the best balance among speed, protection, and armament. The human factor was strong as well. Imperial Japanese Navy seamen were known for their proficiency and élan, while Tōgō was renowned for combining shrewdness with derring-do. Mikasa was central to fleet actions in the Yellow Sea in 1904 and the Tsushima Strait in 1905 -- battles that left the wreckage of two Russian fleets strewn across the seafloor. The likes of Theodore Roosevelt and Alfred Thayer Mahan considered Tsushima a near-perfect fleet encounter.

Like the other battleships listed here, Mikasa molded how subsequent generations thought about diplomacy and warfare. IJN commanders of the interwar years planned to replicate Tsushima Strait should Japan fall out with the United States. More broadly, Mikasa and the rest of the IJN electrified peoples throughout Asia and beyond. Japan, that is, proved that Western imperial powers could be beaten in battle and ultimately expelled from lands they had subjugated. Figures ranging from Sun Yat-sen to Mohandas Gandhi to W. E. B. Du Bois paid homage to Tsushima, crediting Japan with firing their enthusiasm for overthrowing colonial rule.

Mikasa, then, was more than the victor in a sea fight of modest scope. And her reputation outlived her strange fate. The vessel returned home in triumph following the Russo-Japanese War, only to suffer a magazine explosion and sink. For the Japanese people, the disaster confirmed that they had gotten a raw deal at the Portsmouth Peace Conference. Nevertheless, it did little to dim foreign observers' enthusiasm for Japan's accomplishments.Mikasa remained a talisman.

Victory:

Topping this list is the only battleship from the age of sail. HMS Victory was a formidable first-rate man-of-war, cannon bristling from its three gun decks. But her fame comes mainly from her association with Lord Horatio Nelson, whom Mahan styles "the embodiment of the sea power of Great Britain." In 1805 Nelson led his outnumbered fleet into combat against a combined Franco-Spanish fleet off Cape Trafalgar, near Gibraltar. Nelson and right-hand man Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood led columns of ships that punctured the enemy line of battle. The Royal Navy crushed its opponent in the ensuing melee, putting paid to Napoleon's dreams of invading the British Isles.

Felled on board his flagship that day, Nelson remains a synonym for decisive battle. Indeed, replicating Trafalgar became a Holy Grail for naval strategists across the globe. Permanently drydocked at Portsmouth, Victory is a shrine to Nelson and his exploits -- and the standard of excellence for seafarers everywhere. That entitles her to the laurels of history's greatest battleship.

Surveying this list of icons, two battleships made the cut because of defeats stemming from slipshod leadership, two for triumphs owing to good leadership, and one for becoming a diplomatic paragon. That's not a bad reminder that human virtues and frailties -- not wood, or metal, or shot -- are what make the difference in nautical enterprises.

James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and coauthor of Red Star over the Pacific (second edition forthcoming this October). The views voiced here are his alone.

This was posted on December 2013 and is being reposted due to reader interest. 

Image: Wikipedia.

"Challenge Trials" Could Speed COVID-19 Vaccine Production. Are They Ethical?

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 06:30

Ben Bramble

Health, World

To answer that question, ethicists must consider an equation involving risk, knowledge and need.

The world urgently needs a vaccine for COVID-19. Only when a vaccine is approved and people are safe can countries fully end their lockdowns and resume normal life. The trouble is that such vaccines usually take years to develop and test for efficacy and safety.

Recently, some bioethicists have proposed a way of speeding up this testing process by several months. Researchers would put volunteers in quarantine with access to the best medical care, give these volunteers one of the trial vaccines and then directly expose them to the coronavirus. This type of intentional exposure is called a challenge trial, and since researchers would not have to wait for subjects to encounter the virus in the normal course of their daily lives, it could result in a vaccine much faster than a normal trial. Researchers need to know if the vaccine they are testing actually produces some sort of immunity, so people have to come in contact with the coronavirus. The question is whether to produce that contact intentionally, or let random chance do it.

I am a philosopher and bioethicist who has been researching and writing a book on the ethics of the pandemic. Challenge trials are not a new idea, and have always faced a major ethical question: Do they exploit test subjects even if the subjects volunteer?

To answer that question, ethicists must consider an equation involving risk, knowledge and need. Given the current state of the pandemic, there is only one rare situation in which I believe a challenge trial would be ethical. In most cases, it would unfairly exploit those who volunteer.

Risk Minimization

The first question is risk. Some proponents of challenge trials say that they might be ethical if you only select volunteers who already have a high risk of catching the virus – for example, people who live in high transmission areas, or who are essential workers like doctors, nurses, bus drivers, cleaners, food workers and so on. People who support this argue that since these people are already at great risk, being purposefully exposed to the virus isn’t that much riskier for them than normal life.

But I see a big problem with this idea. These people are at such high risk of catching COVID-19 in large part due to failures of governments to properly lock down, test and contact-trace. In asking these people to volunteer, I see governments as saying to them: “Due to our repeated blunders, you’re still at a very high risk of something really, really terrible. Sorry about that. But now, seeing as you are already so very imperiled, would you mind terribly if we increased your risk even further, to help us all get out of this giant pickle?” I believe that there is something deeply wrong with asking people this.

Full Information

OK, risk is bad, but what if volunteers fully understand the risks they face? Would that make challenge trials ethical?

Unfortunately, it is unclear whether this is possible. The medical community’s knowledge of the full health impacts of COVID-19 is simply too incomplete right now. For example, recent studies suggest the virus might cause long-term heart damage in patients who do not even require hospitalization during their initial infection.

Moreover, in order to reduce the risks of volunteers becoming severely ill or dying, they would likely have to be young and healthy people. But such people have, by definition, never experienced severe illness before. Even if they have a good theoretical grasp of the health risks, that is a far cry from firsthand experience of severe, long-term illness. This is a substantial problem.

Analogies with Other Professions

The final point that people make is that there are many other contexts in which it is ethical to allow people to take on big health risks for the sake of the community – firefighters, police officers, soldiers and many other people who work dangerous jobs do this daily. And of course, millions of essential workers are still going to work in the morning despite the risks involved.

The difference between firefighting and a challenge trial has to do with need. While there is robust debate going on over just how essential many of these jobs are, if every essential worker stopped going to work, society would grind to a halt. The country needs grocery store workers and firefighters to do their jobs.

By contrast, if the U.S. prevents people from volunteering for challenge trials, society will not collapse. It is true that the country needs a vaccine, but challenge trials are not the only way to get one. Researchers can simply run vaccine trials in the normal way.

When Challenge Trials are Ethical

If a normal vaccine trial can be run, I don’t believe challenge trials can be justified.

But imagine some point in the future before a vaccine is approved. Efforts to contain the virus have proven so effective that there is no longer enough of the virus still circulating in communities for a normal vaccine testing process to produce a result, but there is enough virus around to pose a significant risk of outbreaks if lockdowns were relaxed. In this specific scenario, countries could face a choice between staying in various states of lockdown indefinitely or conducting human challenge trials.

Here, it would be not only morally permissible, but arguably morally required to let people volunteer for challenge trials. The alternative to doing so would be a permanent and substantial diminishment of society and quality of life. Trial volunteers would then become truly analogous to essential workers, needed to prevent a kind of societal collapse.

If countries immediately commit to the effective interventions – mask wearing, locking down, testing and contact-tracing – and then actually do them, the virus could be contained. In that case, challenge trials could be justified.

Whether a country ends up facing the decision between indefinite lockdowns and a challenge trial remains to be seen, as there are a lot of unknowns with this virus. Until that decision is upon us, the equation involving risk, knowledge and need does not add up to a sufficient justification for challenge trials.

Ben Bramble, Visiting Fellow, Princeton University

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

Image: Reuters

Small Nation, Big Guns: Slovakia's Artillery Will Blow You Away

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 06:00

Robert Beckhusen

Security, Europe

Slovakia has some of the world's best.

Here's What You Need To Remember: The reason this machine is appearing now has to do with Slovakia’s goal of equipping a modern mechanized brigade with an artillery battalion that can respond rapidly to crises — whether affecting Slovakia itself or the NATO alliance, which is all the more salient given Slovakia’s proximity to Ukraine. The Slovak armored corps is still largely comprised of Warsaw Pact-era T-72s and BMP-1 and -2 armored fighting vehicles, although Slovakia is acquiring dozens of Finnish Patria armored vehicles to replace the BMPs.

When the DANA began rolling off Czechoslovakian assembly lines in the late 1970s, there wasn’t much else like it. The enormous, 152-millimeter self-propelled howitzer had eight road wheels instead of tracks. Most mobile artillery pieces at that time were tracked, like tanks, and the DANA was the first gun its of its size to roll on wheels — while carrying an innovative auto-reloading mechanism for the cannon.

The Czechoslovak People’s Army wanted the DANA so it wouldn’t have to rely as much on the Soviet industry for its needs — and the wheels made for a speedy and rapidly-deployable artillery piece, the most significant downside being less off-road maneuverability.

It worked well enough. The self-propelled gun is now battle-tested, with more than 670 built in total and exports to Poland, Libya and the Soviet Union — which were handed down to the successor states of Georgia and Azerbaijan, which still have them in service.

Most recently, the Czech military used them in Afghanistan.

The DANA is more precisely a Slovak weapon. In the 1990s, the recently-independent Slovakia — with its DANA-producing factories — produced the Zuzana, a successor to the Dana which is similar except for its 155-millimeter cannon designed to accommodate standard NATO ammunition. The only other country to ever adopt Zuzana is the Republic of Cyprus.

Now the Slovak company Konstrukta has a very interesting successor to the DANA and Zuzana known as the Zuzana 2. On May 23, 2018, the Slovak army announced it would be the first to acquire 25 Zuzana 2s, which have been in testing since 2014.

The machine is enormous at more than 46 feet long — and rather unique looking.

It looks like construction equipment, and it is quite heavy at 37.5 tons, which is 10 tons heavier than the U.S. Army’s self-propelled, tracked M-109 Paladin howitzer. Befitting the wheeled configuration and using the M-109 as a comparison, the Zuzana 2 can travel 15 miles faster — at 50 miles per hour — and has 156 more miles of unserviced range at 372 miles in total.

Like the first Zuzuana, the Zuzana 2 has a 155-millimeter howitzer servicing NATO ammunition. The crew has been reduced to three, from the Zuzana 1’s four, due to increased automation.

The reason this machine is appearing now has to do with Slovakia’s goal of equipping a modern mechanized brigade with an artillery battalion that can respond rapidly to crises — whether affecting Slovakia itself or the NATO alliance, which is all the more salient given Slovakia’s proximity to Ukraine. The Slovak armored corps is still largely comprised of Warsaw Pact-era T-72s and BMP-1 and -2 armored fighting vehicles, although Slovakia is acquiring dozens of Finnish Patria armored vehicles to replace the BMPs.

The most important upgrade to the Zuzana 2 is its “MRSI” capability — or multiple-round simultaneous impact — where the fire-control computer crunches the numbers for multiple rounds to fire at different trajectories in short succession, causing each high-explosive shell to land in the same place at the same time.

This makes the Zuzana 2 one of the most advanced artillery systems in the world.

Image: Reuters.

Are Nurses Heroes? We're Not Acting Like It

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 05:45

Jody Ralph, Dana Menard, Kendall Soucie, Laurie A. Freeman

Public Health, Americas

As a community, we need solutions that go beyond a pat on the back and “hero” label, and instead address unsafe working conditions and offer practical effective support.

The Year of the Nurse brought increased attention to the “heroes of health care”: nurses working on the front lines of COVID-19. However, despite public displays of thanks, it’s becoming clear that many nurses are not getting the support they need to feel safe on the job and to maintain their own health and well-being.

As researchers in psychology and nursing at the University of Windsor, we sought an in-depth understanding of how nurses in a border city felt about working during the pandemic.

Evidence from SARS in 2003 indicated that nurses may experience significant, long-term mental health effects from working during the pandemic. Early research from China and Italy found that nurses working during the surge of COVID-19 cases in those countries reported high rates of depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances.

Commuting in a Border City

As a border city, Windsor, Ont., is home to nurses who reside and work locally, but also a significant number who commute daily to hospitals in Detroit, Mich. Early in the pandemic, Detroit emerged as a “hot spot” partly due to significant racial inequalities and health disparities in the city’s population.

Detroit hospitals depend on their Canadian nurse employees. In 2016, 20 per cent of the nurses working at Henry Ford Hospital were Canadian, and a total of 1,600 Windsor residents reported working in health-care settings in Detroit. The continued ability of these hospitals to operate during and after the pandemic depends on the retention of Canadian personnel.

In May and June 2020, our team interviewed 32 female and five male nurses living in Windsor and working in health-care settings in Windsor (20 nurses) or Detroit (17 nurses). They worked on intensive care units, COVID-specific units, labour and delivery units, in emergency departments and field hospitals, with experience in nursing ranging from 1.5 to 36 years.

Concerns About Family and Mental Health

Nurses consistently reported increased mental health concerns, difficulties coping and substantial dissatisfaction with the level of support provided by their hospitals.

The support that nurses felt from their organization and managers varied from workplace to workplace and unit to unit. A few felt well supported, but many reported they were not valued, citing organizations that furloughed them, stopped employer contributions to retirement funds or did not provide adequate PPE. One participant noted:

“I didn’t sign up for not having myself protected, you know, I think I deserve as a nurse to at least have that.”

Despite increasing levels of depression and anxiety, there was a strong sense that referrals to employee assistance plans (EAPs) were not sufficient. Overall, we found that nurses were surprisingly resistant to the idea of formal mental health supports. They felt more comfortable seeking support from their coworkers or “work family” than non-nurse family/friends or organizational supports. Many expressed fears that seeking help from hospital administration would be perceived as a sign of weakness. One participant stated:

“Heaven forbid, you say mental health or stress … because then they’ll take you from your unit, and say, put you at the front door as a greeter.”

Nurses also expressed concerns about their own health and the health of family members. They described difficulties balancing quality patient care with “cluster care,” which limited their time in patient rooms, and the emotional toll of “death over Facetime” as one participant called it: holding electronic tablets as dying patients said their goodbyes to family.

They experienced difficulties navigating rapidly changing hospital policies (sometimes during a single shift), discrepancies between governmental and hospital recommendations, do not resuscitate orders that were either avoided or forced, and inadequate access to PPE.

Many reported sleep issues, nightmares, fatigue, increased irritability, increased alcohol consumption, unhealthy eating habits and use of sleep aids and cannabis. Many self-isolated from their families and missed out on the day-to-day moments and key developmental milestones of their children. One participant recounted:

“I missed my kid’s entire crawling stage.”

Many nurses spoke of inequity and moral injury. They expressed frustration about doctors and men with facial hair receiving better PPE, temporary employees (that is, travel nurses) getting better pay and/or hours, being reassigned to multiple units and doing non-nursing tasks like cleaning COVID-19 positive rooms. Nurses felt better prepared to be reassigned if they volunteered, but not if it was forced (and some were).

Some nurses were encouraged to purchase their own PPE to use at work, for example, face shields from Amazon or even dollar store raincoats. Almost everyone we interviewed expressed concern about second and third waves and whether the hospitals would be prepared.

Heroes … But Stigmatized

Nurses expressed appreciation regarding the community responses (for example, clapping, food donations, skipping lines at businesses) but also felt a lot of stigma as potential “disease carriers.” One participant shared:

“[The public] keep saying: ‘Oh, nurses are heroes. Doctors are heroes. They’re doing so much for us.’ You’re out in scrubs and they’re like, ‘They’re contaminated, get them away, they’re infectious.’”

There were some differences in responses between nurses employed in Detroit and those working in Windsor. Overall, nurses working on the Michigan side of the border reported greater patient mortality, PPE shortages, community stigma and dissatisfaction with hospital administration. However, these findings are complicated by the much more rapid onset and greater intensity of the COVID-19 pandemic in Detroit compared to Windsor, and therefore can’t be interpreted with confidence.

Most nurses said that they were not planning on leaving nursing, but several are considering changing units or looking to a career change if the pandemic continues for many months or even years. Nurses also highlighted issues that the public may not be aware of: a moratorium on organ donation, decreased quality of care or risk of family-patient online meetings getting hacked.

Rapid intervention and availability of supports are needed to quickly address symptoms of mental health issues and reduce loss in the nursing workforce that has been observed after previous outbreaks, such as SARS, which could exacerbate a pre-pandemic shortage of nurses in Canada.

Nursing is a profession with a reputation for trustworthiness and dedication to quality care. As a community, we need solutions that go beyond a pat on the back and “hero” label, and instead address unsafe working conditions and offer practical effective support.

Jody Ralph, Associate Professor, Nursing, University of Windsor; Dana Ménard, Assistant professor of clinical psychology, University of Windsor; Kendall Soucie, Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Windsor, and Laurie A. Freeman, Associate Professor, Nursing, University of Windsor

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

Image: Reuters

The Dollar is Taking a Beating - But It Still Doesn't Have Any Serious Competitors

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 05:30

Arturo Bris

economy, World

The dollar may be soft, but not for long.

Stock markets have been very strange this year. We witnessed the fastest sell-off in history between February and March, with the S&P 500 falling more than 30%, only to enjoy the best recovery ever, reaching an all-time high on August 21.

Institutional investors and especially pension funds have gone from panicking to completely reconsidering their long-term asset allocations. What we thought would be the biggest stock market crash in history has led to a fundamental reconsideration of the key risks around financial investments.

For international investors in general, currency risk – above all the weakening of the US dollar – has become the most important financial risk of the year. In spite of the pandemic, it has even overshadowed their considerations about specific firms and sectors.

For a European investor, for example, US markets have yielded about 5% in US dollar terms) in the first eight months of 2020. Translated back into euros, however, that return is 0.5% because of the depreciation of the US dollar over the past two months.

Some commentators have even been wondering whether the US dollar might be in danger of losing its privileged place as world reserve currency. Thanks to this status, the dollar is used in most international financial transactions. This gives the US certain economic advantages, such as being able to borrow cheaply and having more leeway with its national balance sheet.

Why So Soft?

For the dollar, 2020 has been the perfect storm. The pandemic has taken a particularly heavy toll on America. The sudden stop of the economy resulted in a massive drop in consumption and production, disrupting global supply chains and affecting commodity prices worldwide.

The Baltic Dry Index, often used as a measure of global trade and economic activity, fell 6% between January and May. This meant that the prices of many commodities have fallen as well, as can be seen in the CRB Commodities Index below.

For example, the World Bank expects oil demand to have fallen by an unprecedented 9.3 million barrels a day in 2020 from the 2019 level of 100 million barrels per day. Because oil and many other commodities are priced in dollars, weaker demand has meant a drop in demand for dollars too.

On top of this, the health crisis caused by COVID-19 was not confronted properly by the US authorities, so the country recorded the fifth highest death rate after Peru, Spain, Chile and Brazil. This has eroded consumer confidence and extended the prospect of a severe recession, with recovery delayed until 2022. The OECD estimates that, at best, the US economy will contract by 7.3% (and 8.5% if there is a second wave of pandemic).

Finally, the US dollar has been penalised by the presidential election. Financial markets like stability, so the prospects of a change in the presidency make the recovery more uncertain. Historically, volatility in the stock market rises in the months leading up to an election (albeit less so in recent years), and this weakens investors’ demand for dollars. Investors also fear that Donald Trump is not coping with the COVID-19 crisis, especially on the health front.

A cheaper currency has made imports more expensive for the US and has therefore further worsened the domestic economy. Yet it has also affected many other variables of the world economy. As other currencies have appreciated, exporting economies such as Brazil and India have suffered a lot. Consequently international investors have re-oriented their portfolios towards other developed economies, particularly European ones.

On the other hand, all countries with their currencies pegged to the dollar (especially those in the Middle East) have become more competitive. This has offset the damage from both the pandemic and declining oil prices.

The Longer View

On the whole, we shouldn’t worry too much about the weaker dollar. It is still relatively strong, having appreciated 17% against the euro between 2010 and 2020 even allowing for its current weakness. On the whole, the concerns about the future of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency are probably unfounded.

The dollar will probably rise as the political uncertainties are resolved, and this will happen sooner rather than later. I think we have seen the worst already. The greenback has already risen slightly in the past couple of days, although there could always be further slight depreciation to come.

For the next year, the financial markets now expect only mild adjustment: the US$ to euro 12-month forward rate – what the euro will be worth in US$ a year from now – is 1.19553 as of August 21, only 0.7% lower than the current trading rate. And 24 months from now, the dollar is expected to be 1.5% higher against the euro than at present.

Gold prices are another signal of comfort. When the dollar falls, gold rises. As of mid-August, gold prices had risen by around 30% since January 1. In five years, gold has appreciated by almost 80%, equivalent to 12% on an annualised basis.

By comparison, in the same period the S&P 500 has returned 10% on an annualised basis, and only 5% since the beginning of the year. However, gold forward prices – what the market thinks gold will be worth in future – are coming down now: they peaked in early August, and are now back to the levels of one month ago.

In conclusion, we should not expect a completely new financial order where, perhaps, a basket of global currencies or the Chinese yuan or Swiss franc take over from the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Most global trade transactions will still be denominated in the US currency; oil and other commodity prices will be in dollars; US stock markets will for a long time be the largest and prices of securities will be mostly dollar-denominated. The dollar may be soft, but not for long.

Arturo Bris, Professor of Finance, International Institute for Management Development (IMD)

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

Image: Reuters

Why Everyone Loves The AK-47 (Four Countries Have It On Their Flag Or Coat Of Arms)

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 05:00

Mark Episkopos

Security,

One of the world's most popular rifles.

Here's What You Need To Remember: Russia’s military may no longer be using it, but the AK-74 serves a curious purpose elsewhere in contemporary Russian society: schools. It was mandatory for many Soviet schoolchildren to fieldstrip and assemble AK-74’s within a certain timespan.

Born into a poor peasant family amid the Bolshevik seizure of power, young Mikhail Kalashnikov aspired to become a poet. Instead, he fought as a tank commander in the Second World War and went on to design one of the most iconic firearms of the modern world: the AK-47. The first Kalashnikov rifle left a gargantuan legacy that is still unfolding to this day, but its many successors and variants are not without a footprint of their own.

The 1970s AK-74 is particularly noteworthy as the first major Kalashnikov revision, as well as the Red Army’s standard-issue rifle during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Almost five decades after its inception, here are five little-known facts about the AK-74.

1. The AK-74 continues to be circulated in staggering numbers.

The Kremlin is currently phasing out the AK-74 and its AK-74M variant in favor of the modernized AK-12 and AK-15 rifles, but a staggering eighteen million AK-74’s remain in circulation across the world. A chunk of that comes from official production licenses purchased by Soviet-aligned countries like Bulgaria and former Soviet nations like Azerbaijan.

Many more are unauthorized, less reliable reproductions that remain popular across Central Africa and in parts of Latin America. Yet others, like North Korea’s Type 88 rifle, are thinly rebranded copies made without a license.

2. Russian schoolchildren are taught to assemble AK-74’s.

Russia’s military may no longer be using it, but the AK-74 serves a curious purpose elsewhere in contemporary Russian society: schools. It was mandatory for many Soviet schoolchildren to fieldstrip and assemble AK-74’s within a certain timespan. In homage to this tradition, schools across Russia continue to hold that exercise in the form of competitions.

3. The AK-74 was the first Kalashnikov variant to experiment with a smaller round.

Whereas the original AK and its AKM variant use the 7.62x39mm cartridge, the AK-74 was the first of several subsequent Kalashnikov models to be chambered in a smaller, lighter 5.45x39mm cartridge. The change enabled lighter equipment loads, considerably reduced recoil and greater accuracy.

The Soviets realized that the move to a lower-caliber round will come at the cost of some penetrating power, but believed that the AK-74’s bullets will yaw earlier once inside the human body and thus inflict even more catastrophic damage against soft-tissue areas.

4. The AK-74 was even cheaper than the original, dirt-cheap Kalashnikov.

Despite boasting across-the-board improvements in handling and accuracy, the AK-74 was even cheaper to mass-manufacture than its predecessor due to slight tweaks in the 74’s production process. It also featured lower maintenance costs, saving additional money over the long term. Nonetheless, the AK-47 was so widely disseminated in export markets by the late 1970s that the AK-74 simply arrived too late to replicate the breakaway success of its predecessor.

5. Four countries bear the Kalashnikov on their flag or coat of arms.

This point is related to both the AK-74 and its predecessor, but warrants inclusion on this list for how well it illustrates the global reach of the Kalashnikov brand: MozambiqueZimbabweBurkina Faso and East Timor all depict the Kalashnikov rifle on their flag or coat of arms.

Interestingly, all four countries adopted this symbology at around the same time in the mid 1980s; by this time, the AK-47 had well established itself as the staple choice of guerillas and insurgents across the third world, and the AK-74 was first making waves as an export product.

Mark Episkopos is a frequent contributor to The National Interest and serves as a research assistant at the Center for the National Interest. Mark is also a Ph.D. student in History at American University.

This first appeared last year and is being republished due to reader interest. 

Image: Reuters

Why Evangelicals Still Love Donald Trump

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 04:45

Emma Long

Politics, Americas

Evangelicals who feel that “America is becoming a more difficult place for them to live,” believe Trump hears their fears, takes them seriously, and responds.

“He’s following the radical left agenda, take away your guns, destroy your second amendment, no religion, no anything, hurt the Bible, hurt God … He’s against God,” President Donald Trump told supporters during a recent trip to Ohio.

Trump was speaking about Joe Biden, the Democrat challenger for the White House. Never mind that Biden, a Catholic, has spoken openly and often about how his faith helped him cope with family tragedy, and wears rosary beads that belonged to his late son, Beau.

Trump’s statement echoed a strategy that paid dividends in the 2016 election and he is clearly hoping will do so again: appeal to the nation’s evangelicals using a political agenda wrapped in the language of faith.

Although a highly complex term which doesn’t lend itself to an easy definition, evangelicals generally believe in the literal truth of the Bible. They believe that the only way to salvation is through belief in Jesus Christ, and that salvation can only come through individual acceptance of God – often through a conversion or “born again” experience.

Studies suggest around a quarter of Americans consider themselves to be evangelical, although estimates vary. Eight out of ten white evangelicals supported Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

From Hands-Off to Front and Centre

Those who sought to revive the common 19th-century name evangelical during the second world war were just as politically active as their more contemporary descendants. They testified before congressional committees, organised letter writing campaigns, and published editorials and articles in religious publications to support or criticise policies of the day.

But while their politics often leaned to the right, these founders of the modern evangelical movement largely eschewed party politics – as my own ongoing research is exploring. “We are rejoicing,” Clyde Taylor, secretary of public affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), one of the major evangelical organisations in the mid-20th century, told members in early 1953, that the organisation, “has never allowed itself to become entangled with the political influences and parties of Washington.”

All that changed in the 1980s when close connections between the evangelical-influenced religious right and the administration of Ronald Reagan were developed consciously by conservative activists, both secular and religious, who saw advantages to creating greater ties between faith and politics.

Since the late 1980s religious conservatives have built networks of political, legal and social activism which have aggressively, and successfully, pushed their agenda into mainstream American politics.

Anti-Trump Evangelicals

A recent Pew Research Center poll indicated that although Trump’s approval ratings among white evangelicals have slipped slightly to 72%, eight out of ten still say they would vote for him again in November.

Yet given the focus on evangelical Trump supporters, it’s easy to overlook the 19% of white evangelicals, and those evangelicals of colour, who did not support Trump in 2016. Among the most prolific and high profile are John Fea, Messiah College professor of history, and Randall Balmer, professor of religion at Dartmouth College.

But there are others, such as the Red Letter Christians, a group who seek to “live out Jesus’ counter-cultural teachings” and whose focus on social justice tends to see them allied more often with the political left. In December 2019, even the leading evangelical publication Christianity Today published a widely reported editorial supporting Trump’s impeachment.

Although these divisions run deep within the evangelical community, they have scarcely caused a ripple in American culture more generally. So why has the political impact of these anti-Trump evangelicals been relatively small?

First, the “evangelical left” has always struggled to achieve political impact, often attracting enthusiastic support but not huge numbers. Second, the anti-Trump category is so large and diverse, and based on so many different issues, that it’s easy for any one group to be submerged into the larger howl of protest.

And third, evangelicals are a diverse group who disagree on many issues. Significant as it is within the evangelical community, the evangelical left is probably neither big enough nor sufficiently cohesive to have much of an electoral impact in November.

Ramping up the Rhetoric

When commentators say Trump is speaking evangelicals’ language, what they mean is not the language of theology and faith, but the language of politicised religion that has come to form a large part of what’s now frequently referred to as the “culture wars” in America.

Trump began employing this language during the 2016 campaign and has continued throughout his term in office. He has consistently claimed that people of faith are “under siege,” language which pointedly echoes a common refrain from evangelical leaders.

He also promised to “totally destroy” the Johnson amendment which bars non-profit organisations such as churches from endorsing or opposing particular candidates – although he hasn’t done so. And he became the first sitting president to address the annual anti-abortion March for Life rally in 2020.

In this light, Trump’s claim that Biden poses a threat to the American faithful is part of a much longer history of the politicisation of conservative Christianity. It’s increasingly associated with issues such as free market capitalism, support for the state of Israel, abortion, gun ownership and religious liberty rights. The rhetoric, promises and symbolism has far outstripped the reality of policy change, but that does not appear to matter a great deal.

Evangelicals who feel that “America is becoming a more difficult place for them to live,” believe Trump hears their fears, takes them seriously, and responds. And such symbolism is working: in March, 81% of white evangelicals said the Trump administration had helped their constituency.

As the November election nears with Trump behind in the polls, expect him to turn more and more to those within his constituency, both secular and religious, on whom he has relied for affirmation and support. It’s likely there will be more claims of religious liberty under threat and more merging of religion with issues such as gun control, abortion and economic policy.

But evangelicals might heed a warning issued in 1950 by then NAE president, Stephen Paine, that evangelicals should be wary of increasing engagement with the government. They risked the state filling “the place which the Lord should be,” and officials telling them what they wanted to hear while failing to provide real answers. Neither state nor faith benefited from their mingling, he argued. It’s a warning that clearly echoes in the 2020 campaign.

Emma Long, Senior Lecturer in American Studies, University of East Anglia

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

Image: Reuters.

How the Syrian Civil War Smashed Germany's Famed Leopard 2 Tank

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 04:30

Sebastien Roblin

Security,

Ankara had offered to release a German political prisoner in exchange for Germany upgrading the Turkish Army’s older-model Leopard 2A4 tank, which had proven embarrassingly vulnerable in combat.

Here's What You Need To Remember: This was shockingly illustrated in December 2016 when evidence emerged that numerous Leopard 2s had been destroyed in intense fighting over ISIS-held Al-Bab—a fight that Turkish military leaders described as a “trauma,” according to Der Spiegel. A document published online listed ISIS as apparently having destroyed ten of the supposedly invincible Leopard 2s; five reportedly by antitank missiles, two by mines or IEDs, one to rocket or mortar fire, and the others to more ambiguous causes.

Germany’s Leopard 2 main battle tank has a reputation as one of the finest in the world, competing for that distinction with proven designs such as the American M1 Abrams and the British Challenger 2. However, that reputation for nigh-invincibility has faced setbacks on Syrian battlefields, and placed Berlin in a uniquely awkward national-level dispute with Turkey, its fellow NATO member.

Ankara had offered to release a German political prisoner in exchange for Germany upgrading the Turkish Army’s older-model Leopard 2A4 tank, which had proven embarrassingly vulnerable in combat. However, on January 24, public outrage over reports that Turkey was using its Leopard 2s to kill Kurdish fighters in the Syrian enclaves of Afrin and Manbij forced Berlin to freeze the hostage-for-tanks deal.

The Leopard 2 is often compared to its near contemporary, the M1 Abrams: in truth the two designs share broadly similar characteristics, including a scale-tipping weight of well over sixty tons of advanced composite armor, 1,500 horsepower engines allowing speeds over forty miles per hour and, for certain models, the same forty-four-caliber 120-millimeter main gun produced by Rheinmetall.

Both types can easily destroy most Russian-built tanks at medium and long ranges, at which they are unlikely to be penetrated by return fire from standard 125-millimeter guns. Furthermore, they have better sights with superior thermal imagers and magnification, that make them more likely to detect and hit the enemy first—historically, an even greater determinant of the victor in armored warfare than sheer firepower. A Greek trial found that moving Leopard 2s and Abramses hit a 2.3-meter target nineteen and twenty times out of twenty, respectively, while a Soviet T-80 scored only eleven hits.

The modest differences between the two Western tanks reveal different national philosophies. The Abrams has a noisy 1,500-horsepower gas-guzzling turbine, which starts up more rapidly, while the Leopard 2’s diesel motor grants it greater range before refueling. The Abrams has achieved some of its extraordinary offensive and defensive capabilities through use of depleted uranium ammunition and armor packages—technologies politically unacceptable to the Germans. Therefore, later models of the Leopard 2A6 now mount a higher-velocity fifty-five-caliber gun to make up the difference in penetrating power, while the 2A5 Leopard introduced an extra wedge of spaced armor on the turret to better absorb enemy fire.

German scruples also extend to arms exports, with Berlin imposing more extensive restrictions on which countries it is willing to sell weapons to—at least in comparison to France, the United States or Russia. While the Leopard 2 is in service with eighteen countries, including many NATO members, a lucrative Saudi bid for between four hundred and eight hundred Leopard 2s was rejected by Berlin because of the Middle Eastern country’s human-rights records, and its bloody war in Yemen in particular. The Saudis instead ordered additional Abramses to their fleet of around four hundred.

This bring us to Turkey, a NATO country with which Berlin has important historical and economic ties, but which also has had bouts of military government and waged a controversial counterinsurgency campaign against Kurdish separatists for decades. In the early 2000s, under a more favorable political climate, Berlin sold 354 of its retired Leopard 2A4 tanks to Ankara. These represented a major upgrade over the less well protected M60 Patton tanks that make up the bulk of Turkey’s armored forces.

However, the rumor has long persisted that Berlin agreed to the sale under the condition that the German tanks not be used in Turkey’s counterinsurgency operations against the Kurds. Whether such an understanding ever existed is hotly contested, but the fact remains that the Leopard 2 was kept well away from the Kurdish conflict and instead deployed in northern Turkey, opposite Russia.

However, in the fall of 2016, Turkish Leopard 2s of the Second Armored Brigade finally deployed to the Syrian border to support Operation Euphrates Shield, Turkey’s intervention against ISIS. Prior to the Leopard’s arrival, around a dozen Turkish Patton tanks were destroyed by both ISIS and Kurdish missiles. Turkish defense commentators expressed the hope that the tougher Leopard would fare better.

The 2A4 model was the last of the Cold War–era Leopard 2s, which were designed to fight in relatively concentrated units in a fast-paced defensive war against Soviet tank columns, not to survive IEDs and missiles fired by ambushing insurgents in long-term counterinsurgency campaigns where every single loss was a political issue. The 2A4 retains an older boxy turret configurations which affords less protection from modern antitank missiles, especially to the generally more vulnerable rear and side armor, which is a bigger problem in a counterinsurgency environment, where an attack may come from any direction.

This was shockingly illustrated in December 2016 when evidence emerged that numerous Leopard 2s had been destroyed in intense fighting over ISIS-held Al-Bab—a fight that Turkish military leaders described as a “trauma,” according to Der Spiegel. A document published online listed ISIS as apparently having destroyed ten of the supposedly invincible Leopard 2s; five reportedly by antitank missiles, two by mines or IEDs, one to rocket or mortar fire, and the others to more ambiguous causes.

These photos confirm the destruction of at least eight. One shows a Leopard 2 apparently knocked out by a suicide VBIED—an armored kamikaze truck packed with explosives. Another had its turret blown clean off. Three Leopard wrecks can be seen around the same hospital near Al-Bab, along with several other Turkish armored vehicles. It appears the vehicles were mostly struck the more lightly protected belly and side armor by IEDs and AT-7 Metis and AT-5 Konkurs antitank missiles.

Undoubtedly, the manner in which the Turkish Army employed the German tanks likely contributed to the losses. Rather than using them in a combined arms force alongside mutually supporting infantry, they were deployed to the rear as long-range fire-support weapons while Turkish-allied Syrian militias stiffened with Turkish special forces led the assaults. Isolated on exposed firing positions without adequate nearby infantry to form a good defensive perimeter, the Turkish Leopards were vulnerable to ambushes. The same poor tactics have led to the loss of numerous Saudi Abrams tanks in Yemen, as you can see in this video.

By contrast, more modern Leopard 2s have seen quite a bit of action in Afghanistan combating Taliban insurgents in the service of the Canadian 2A6Ms (with enhanced protection against mines and even floating “safety seats”) and Danish 2A5s. Though a few were damaged by mines, all were put back into service, though a Danish Leopard 2 crew member was mortally injured by an IED attack in 2008. In return, the tanks were praised by field commanders for their mobility and providing accurate and timely fire support during major combat operations in southern Afghanistan.

In 2017, Germany began rebuilding its tank fleet, building an even beefier Leopard 2A7V model more likely to survive in a counterinsurgency environment. Now Ankara is pressing Berlin to upgrade the defense on its Leopard 2 tanks, especially as the domestically produced Altay tank has been repeatedly delayed.

The Turkish military not only wants additional belly armor to protect against IEDs, but the addition of an Active Protection System (APS) that can detect incoming missiles and their point of origin, and jam or even shoot them down. The U.S. Army recently authorized the installation of Israeli Trophy APS on a brigade of M1 Abrams tanks, a type that has proven effective in combat. Meanwhile, Leopard 2 manufacturer Rheinmetall has unveiled its own ADATS APS, which supposedly poses a lesser risk of harming friendly troops with its defensive countermeasure missiles.

However, German-Turkish relations deteriorated sharply, especially after Erdogan initiated a prolonged crackdown on thousands of supposed conspirators after a failed military coup attempt in August 2016. In February 2017, German-Turkish dual-citizen Deniz Yücel, a correspondent for periodical Die Welt, was arrested by Turkish authorities, ostensibly for being a pro-Kurdish spy. His detention caused outrage in Germany.

Ankara pointedly let it be known that if a Leopard 2 upgrade were allowed to proceed, Yücel would be released back to Germany. Though Berlin publicly insisted it would never agree to such a quid pro quo, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel quietly began moving towards authorizing the upgrade in a bid to improve relations in the face of what looks suspiciously like tank-based blackmail. Gabriel presented the deal as a measure to protect Turkish soldiers’ lives from ISIS.

However, in mid-January 2018, Turkey launched an offensive against the Kurdish enclaves of Afrin and Manbij in northwestern Syria. The attack was precipitated generally by Turkish fears that effective Kurdish control of the Syrian border would lead to a de facto state that would expand into Turkish territory, and proximately by an announcement by the Pentagon that it was recruiting the Kurds to form a “border security force” to continue the fight against ISIS.

However, photos on social media soon emerged showing that Leopard 2 tanks were being employed to blast Kurdish positions in Afrin, where there have several dozen civilian casualties have been reported. Furthermore, on January 21, the Kurdish YPG published a YouTube video depicting a Turkish Leopard 2 being struck by a Konkurs antitank missiles. However, it is not possible to tell if the tank was knocked out; the missile may have struck the Leopard 2’s front armor, which is rated as equivalent to 590 to 690 millimeters of rolled homogenous armor on the 2A4, while the two types of Konkurs missiles can penetrate six or eight hundred millimeters of RHA.

In any event, parliamentarians both from German left-wing parties and Merkel’s right-wing Christian Democratic Union reacted with outrage, with a member of the latter describing the Turkish offensive as a violation of international law. On January 25, the Merkel administration was forced to announce that an upgrade to the Leopard 2 was off the table, at least for now. Ankara views the deal as merely postponed, and cagey rhetoric from Berlin suggests it may return to the deal at a more politically opportune time.

Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

Nazi Germany's Panzer Battalion 129 Gave Everything To Take Stalingrad

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 04:00

Robert Beckhusen

History, Europe

But failed all the same.

Here's What You Need To Remember: This is where Mark’s narrative begins to break down. It’s not his fault — it’s simply harder to keep track of what happened given the chaos. The shock of the Soviet attack was so severe, Panzer-Abteiling 129 broke down as a cohesive fighting unit. The battalion’s surviving tanks, disorganized and disrupted, merged with other German formation as they fell farther back into the pocket.

The Panzer-Abteilung 129, a tank battalion serving with the German 6th Army, fought its way into the Soviet city of Stalingrad in late 1942 only to find itself pinned down during winter. A a million-man Red Army counter offensive, attacking in two giant pincers, surrounded the Germans that November.

Trapped, the battalion’s soldiers sheltered wherever they could in a village to find warmth — and whatever meager protection the homes provided from regular Soviet air attacks.

The last days of the battalion were brutal and unimaginably miserable, as recounted in the first volume of historian Jason Mark’s highly-regarded series Panzerkrieg: German Armored Operations at Stalingrad — which traces the day-by-day history of 6th Army tank battalions using extensive primary sources from those who witnessed the battle.

“Gradually, the losses become sensitive,” German war correspondent Parzival Kemmerich wrote in December 1942. “Every night, and sometimes even by day, there are dead and wounded in the village. Added to this is the lack of panzer crews. Last but not least, the psychological stress resulting from the inactivity imposed on us becomes apparent.”

“Waiting, coupled with idleness, is probably the worst thing for the German soldier. He then begins to brood, and the sun shines darker.”

Shortly after Kemmerich wrote that account, the battalion prepared to head west to resist Soviet forces which had flanked the 6th Army from behind. But some of the biggest problems for the ordinary German soldier was sheer exhaustion combined with malnutrition — and the weather. The horrible, frigid weather.

Despite the Russian winter being the second one experienced by the German army in the war, Panzer-Abteilung 129 lacked winter clothing. That was due in part to Soviet forces overrunning several supply depots.

“Usually, only the commander of a combat vehicle has cold protection suit and a pair of felt boots, which are absolutely necessary, as he drives with the cupola open and stands in the midst of an icy draft which, furthermore, is also swept past him by the cooling of the engine,” Kemmerich reported.

“Without special clothing, he would soon be frozen.”

On New Year’s Eve, the German soldiers played cards, drank cognac, dodged aerial bombs and ate dogs. Two days later, the battalion began moving westward across the winter terrain — what one soldier described as an “endless white surface of death” that reminded him of stories of polar explorers he read as a child.

The Panzer-Abteilung 129 eventually — facing to the northwest — dug itself in near the village of Dmitriyevka, which the Soviets needed to take before reaching Karpovka to the south, which housed a railway station and a vital airfield the Germans needed to bring in supplies. To the battalion’s northeast were the German 29th, 44th and 76th Infantry Divisions; to the southwest, the 3rd Infantry Division.

“It was an orderly battle formation with enough strength to put up stout resistance — on paper,” Mark writes. “In reality, however, many favors were stacked against the Germans.”

His descriptions of the landscape, collected from first-hand accounts, are apocalyptic. There were plenty of corpses lying around — horse and human — which contributed to further demoralization within the German ranks already beaten down by hunger and cold.

Worse, the Panzer-Abteilung 129 was short on everything, particularly ammunition. What was left had to bear the brunt of the final Soviet offensive toward Stalingrad, named Operation Koltso. In the Panzer-Abteiling 129‘s sector, the battalion faced the Soviet 21st Army as it approached from the northwest.

When the offensive finally arrived on Jan. 10, 1943, the Soviets opened up with 8,000 artillery pieces — the largest bombardment of the war at that point — and attacked with three armies along the front.

This is where Mark’s narrative begins to break down. It’s not his fault — it’s simply harder to keep track of what happened given the chaos. The shock of the Soviet attack was so severe, Panzer-Abteiling 129 broke down as a cohesive fighting unit. The battalion’s surviving tanks, disorganized and disrupted, merged with other German formation as they fell farther back into the pocket.

However, scattered battalion reports note several bold, nighttime counter-attacks that caught the Soviets by surprise. These thrusts, Mark notes from Russian archives, inflicted heavier losses on Soviet tank forces taking part in Operation Koltso — numbering dozens of tanks destroyed — than traditionally believed by post-war historians.

On Jan. 14, three or four surviving German tanks sped through a village toward a nearby rise named “Hill 2.0,” which had been occupied by Soviet tanks. The charge so shocked a “horde” of starving, German rear-area troops hiding in the village that they ran outside and followed the tanks into battle — believing this to be their chance to escape the pocket.

The attack shocked the Soviets, too, who retreated from the hill. But that was as far as the panzers were either willing or able go, and so the tank crews set up a defensive position. “Disappointed, [the accompanying German soldiers] simply drifted back to their hidey-holes,” Mark writes.

The Soviets returned the next day and smashed the German position. At that point, Mark notes, Panzer-Abteiling 129 had effectively ceased to exist as survivors fled into the city of Stalingrad proper. None of the battalion’s officers would return to Germany alive.

Image: Wikipedia.

The Battle of Iwo Jima Proved That Marines Have Grit

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 03:45

Warfare History Network

History, Asia

Thirty-six days of hell.

Key Point: Iwo Jima was one of the worst blood-lettings of World War II.

“You know,” said Marine Maj. Gen. Clifton B. Cates to a war correspondent on the eve of Operation Detachment, the invasion of Iwo Jima, “if I knew the name of the man on the extreme right of the right-hand squad of the right-hand company of the right-hand battalion, I’d recommend him for a medal before we go in.”

And for good reason. General Cates’s 4th Marine Division was tasked with conducting its fourth opposed amphibious landing on a heavily defended island. The 4th was the right flank division of General Harry Schmidt’s V Amphibious Corps and, together with Maj. Gen. Keller E. Rockey’s 5th Marine Division on the left, was about to begin one of the bloodiest battles in American history. Also taking part would be Maj. Gen. Graves B. Erskine’s 3rd Marine Division.

General Cates understood what his men were about to face. Born August 31, 1893, in Tiptonville, Tennessee, he was commissioned into the United States Marine Corps after receiving his law degree from the University of Tennessee. He fought in the Great War with the Marine Brigade of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Division at Verdun, Belleau Wood, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne.

After inter-war duty in China and several military schools, Cates commanded the 1st Marine Regiment on Guadalcanal. Then, after commanding the Marine Corps Schools, he was sent back to the Pacific to command the 4th Marine Division, which had just completed the seizure of Saipan in July 1944. His many well-deserved decorations included the Navy Cross, two Distinguished Service Crosses, two Distinguished Service Medals, two Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit, and two Purple Hearts.

Whoever the unknown Marine on the far right flank was, he was a member of the 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division. Most of the men in the division had already made three or more opposed landings in the Marshall Islands, at Saipan, and most recently at Tinian, both in the Mariana Islands. Like General Cates, who had taken command of the division from General Schmidt after Saipan, they knew all too well what they were about to encounter.

They had learned fast. For a unit that had not existed when General Cates and the 1st Marine Division landed on Guadalcanal in 1942, the 4th Marine Division had been organized, trained, and took part in four amphibious assault landings in less than 13 months. And Iwo Jima, scheduled to be attacked on February 19, 1945, would be the worst.

The Strategic Importance of Iwo Jima

Iwo Jima was also important. Lying midway along the direct path from Saipan to Tokyo, Iwo Jima had two airfields with a third under construction. From here Japanese fighters were able to attack B-29 Superfortresses on bombing raids to Tokyo or returning home to Saipan, picking off bombers that had been damaged by antiaircraft fire. As a result, the B-29s had to fly higher, along circuitous routes, with a reduced payload. At the same time, enemy bombers based on Iwo often raided B-29 bases in the Marianas. Iwo’s radar station also gave the Japanese defense authorities two hours advance notice of coming B-29 strikes.

Because of the distance between mainland Japan and American bases in the Mariana Islands, Iwo Jima, if captured, would provide an emergency airfield for damaged B-29s returning from bombing runs. The seizure of Iwo would also allow for sea and air blockades, plus strengthen America’s ability to conduct intensive air bombardment and degrade Japan’s air and naval capabilities.

Iwo was, and is, an isolated, sulfurous, seven-square-mile island that is part of the Bonin Group located 750 miles south of Tokyo. The Japanese, who considered the island part of the Tokyo Prefecture, had occupied it for decades and had spent all of 1944 creating a spider web of stinking, stifling hot underground tunnels, warehouses, command posts, fortifications, and fighting positions. Two airfields were spread across the island’s surface, and 14,000 soldiers and 7,000 Japanese marines manned the defenses. The island garrison’s commander, Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, was confident that his position was as impregnable as anyone could make it.

The 4th Marine Division consisted of the standard three Marine infantry regiments (the 23rd, 24th and 25th) and one artillery regiment (the 14th). It included tank, engineer, and medical battalions as well as other supporting units. The 4th’s assignment at Iwo was to secure a beachhead, seize the first enemy airfield, and then pivot to the north and east, clearing out enemy opposition as it went. Critical to success was the reduction of the enemy’s ability to deliver flanking fire on the landing beaches from an area known as “the Quarry,” which overlooked them from the north.

The various Marine divisions and regiments had specific sectors of the two-mile-long beach assigned to them. In the first wave, Colonel John R. Lanigan’s Regimental Combat Team 25 would come ashore on Blue Beach on the right flank, Colonel Walter W. Wensinger’s RCT 23 was assigned the Yellow landing beaches (to the left of the 25th) and to assault the first enemy airfield. The 27th Marines would land on Red Beach to the left of center, while the 28th would hit Green Beach on the far left, closest to Mount Suribachi. The 24th was in reserve and would come ashore at about 5 pm on L-Day (landing day).

Softening up enemy defenses was deemed critical. After sustaining a terrific naval and aerial bombardment that lasted for days (but not as long as American commanders wanted), the Japanese, although a bit shaken and deafened, looked through their telescopes and field glasses to see the 450-ship American armada parked off the island’s southern coast.

“Land the Landing Force!”

At 6:45 am on February 19, 1945, Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner signaled, “Land the landing force!” It took hours to obey that order, but shortly after 9 am Marines of the 4th and 5th Divisions began hitting Green, Red, Yellow, and Blue Beaches abreast, initially finding little enemy resistance. Kuribayashi had ordered his men to hold their fire until the beaches were crowded with invaders; most would obey. There would be no suicidal banzai charges, either.

After wading ashore, the 4th Marine Division’s 25th RCT’s mission was to push forward to take the Quarry, a Japanese strongpoint, while the 5th Marine Division’s 28th Marines had the task of attacking Mount Suribachi, which loomed 556 feet above the invasion beaches. The 3rd Marine Division would be kept in reserve and land on L+5 to capture Airfield Number 2. More than 80,000 Marines would eventually take part in Operation Detachment.

The Japanese watched and waited as the Marines in their camouflage-speckled uniforms came ashore, followed by their great, lumbering Sherman tanks. Supplies began to pile onto the black sand. The Marines were obviously relieved that, thus far, everything was proceeding without a hitch. Few shots had been fired at them. Maybe the preliminary barrages had wiped out all of the enemy.

And then, at about 10 am, the calm morning was shattered as General Kuribayashi gave the signal and hundreds of guns, firing from hidden emplacements, opened up on the Marines.

Colonel Wensinger’s RCT 23 discovered that trying to run across the soft, yielding volcanic sand was like running through molasses. Struggling inland under increasingly severe enemy fire, they pushed forward until they reached the edge of Motoyama Airfield Number 1 in early afternoon. But enemy opposition had depleted the ranks of the leading battalion, and despite support from Lt. Col. Richard K. Schmidt’s 4th Tank Battalion, the attack stalled at the edge of the airfield. Even the tanks had difficulty reaching the airfield, several being lost to enemy mines buried in the soft sand and others temporarily stranded on the beach in that same black volcanic sand.

Wensinger’s 23rd Marines ran into a series of blockhouses and pillboxes manned by the 10th Independent Anti-Tank Battalion and the 309th Infantry Battalion. It was here that Sergeant Darren S. Cole, USMCR, a 24-year-old from Flat River, Missouri, serving with Company B, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines, became the first Marine on Iwo Jima to earn the Medal of Honor. When his squad was halted by devastating small-arms, mortar, and artillery fire, Sergeant Cole led them up the slope to Airfield Number 1 and alone destroyed two enemy positions with grenades. He then identified three enemy pillboxes threatening his men.

Putting his machine gun into action, he managed to silence the closest pillbox. Suddenly, his weapon jammed and the enemy opened up a renewed fusillade, including knee mortars. Sergeant Cole, armed only with a pistol and one hand grenade, charged alone at the enemy, tossed his grenade, and then returned for more. He repeated this action twice more, each time knocking out an enemy position. As he destroyed the final enemy post, he returned to his squad only to be killed by an enemy hand grenade. His self-sacrifice had enabled Company B to continue its advance against Airfield Number 1.

Colonel Wensinger ordered his reserve battalion, Major James S. Scales’s 3rd, into the fight. As Major Scales’s men came forward, the tanks were forced to withdraw under an intense Japanese antitank barrage. Nearby, Major Robert H. Davidson’s 2nd Battalion couldn’t even get tank support, so intense was the enemy fire. Nevertheless, by mid-afternoon the Marines of the 23rd Regiment, through sheer guts, had reached and secured the edges of the airfield.

“One of the Worst Blood-Lettings of the War”

Colonel Lanigan’s RCT 25 was on the extreme right of V Amphibious Corps. Their assignment was twofold. After landing over the Blue Beaches, they were to attack in two directions; Lt. Col. Hollis Mustain’s 1st Battalion was to strike directly inland, protecting the right flank of the 23rd Marines attacking Airfield Number 1, while Lt. Col. Justice M. Chambers’s 3rd Battalion was assigned to take the Quarry. Because of concerns that fire from the Quarry and East Boat Basin would be severe against the landing beaches, Blue Beach 2 was not used, and Chambers’s battalion landed behind Mustain’s battalion over Blue Beach 1.

Because the two battalions followed each other across Blue Beach 1 under heavy enemy fire, some confusion and mixing of units resulted. The 3rd Battalion in particular was hard hit, with Company K losing eight officers by mid-afternoon; Company I lost six others and Company L another five. The supporting tanks of Company A, 4th Tank Battalion only drew more enemy fire. A bulldozer cutting a road off Blue Beach 1 was destroyed when it hit a large enemy mine hidden in the sand, and the tanks of Company A were halted barely 100 yards off the beach by a large enemy minefield.

Using their main 75mm guns, Company A’s tankers provided what support they could to the Marines attacking the enemy positions in the cliffs and pillboxes to the north. Engineers from the 4th Engineer Battalion worked under enemy fire to clear the blocking minefield.

Landing 15 minutes after H-hour, Lt. Col. Chambers’s 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, took the heaviest beating of the day on the extreme right while trying to scale the cliffs leading to the Quarry. “Crossing that second terrace,” Chambers recalled, “the fire from automatic weapons was coming from all over. You could’ve held up a cigarette and lit it on the stuff going by. I knew immediately we were in for one hell of a time.”

The enemy bombardment was unlike anything the Marines had ever experienced. There was hardly any cover. Japanese artillery and mortar rounds blanketed every corner of the 3,000-yard-wide beach. Large-caliber coast defense guns and dual-purpose antiaircraft guns firing horizontally caught the Marines in a deadly crossfire from both flanks.

Marines searched for cover in vain as the Japanese artillery and machine-gun fire cut them to shreds. One Marine combat veteran observing this expressed a grudging respect for the Japanese gunners. “It was one of the worst blood-lettings of the war,” said Major Frederick Karch of the 14th Marine Artillery Regiment. “They rolled those artillery barrages up and down the beach—I just didn’t see how anybody could live through such heavy fire barrages.”

At sea, Lt. Col. Donald M. Weller, the naval gunfire officer with Task Force 51, tried desperately to hit the Japanese gun positions that were blasting 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, from the Quarry. It would take longer to coordinate this fire: the first Japanese barrages had wiped out the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines’ entire shore fire control party.

Medal of Honor in the Quarry Battle

As the two battalions of the 25th Marines attacked in different directions against strong enemy resistance, they soon lost contact with each other. This had been foreseen, and Colonel Lanigan called forward Lt. Col. Lewis C. Hudson’s 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, from Blue Beach 1 to fill the gap.

With all his battalions now on line, Colonel Lanigan ordered a coordinated attack to clear the beaches and move on the airfield and the Quarry. This attack began well, but soon both the 1st and 2nd Battalions were forced to ground by enemy fire. The 3rd Battalion managed to clear about 200 yards before halting.

The 3rd Battalion commander, Lt. Col. Justice M. Chambers, USMCR, of Huntington, West Virginia, was already a legend in the Marine Corps before he ever set foot on Iwo Jima. Having served as a Marine Raider in the Solomon Islands campaign before joining the 4th Marine Division, he had earned a reputation as a daring leader in addition to several medals for bravery.

He was also a caring leader and trained his battalion hard. Chambers preached “mental conditioning” to his men and kept them for weeks on the rifle range to ensure accurate marksmanship. Not much for close-order drill, he kept his men out in the field, training at every opportunity. Some men groused and even considered revolt but gradually came to respect their battalion commander when they began to realize they were among the best trained battalions in the division. Now, after three campaigns, they would follow Chambers’s lead anywhere.

On L-Day at Iwo Jima, he led them against the Quarry. It was a bitter, brutal fight and cost the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines dearly.

By late afternoon, Chambers reported to Colonel Lanigan that of the 900 Marines he had landed with that morning only 150 were still on their feet as the first day ended. Lanigan immediately rushed up elements of the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, to the Quarry battle.

As night fell, Chambers’s battalion, or what was left of it, was relieved by Major Paul S. Treitel’s 1st Battalion, 24th Marines. For his personally courageous leadership of 3rd Assault Battalion Landing Team, 25th Marines, from February 19 to February 22, when he was seriously wounded, Lt. Col. Chambers was awarded a Medal of Honor.

Eight Percent Casualties

Not far behind the thin line of Marine infantrymen, Colonel Louis G. DeHaven’s 14th Marine Artillery Regiment landed over the now secured beaches. Because of the heavy and accurate Japanese fire, only the 1st and 2nd Battalions came ashore on L-Day, the 3rd and 4th Battalions landing the following day.

The artillerymen had problems of their own. The beachhead was too small and did not include areas that had been preselected for the artillery to emplace their guns. There were no roads inland, and the soft sand hindered movement of heavy equipment. Casualties, including a battalion commander, further hindered the artillery. Even Lt. Col. Carl A. Youngdale’s 4th Battalion, which had spent the day aboard ships awaiting orders to land, suffered six casualties from enemy shells falling among the transports.

Japanese tactics so far in the Pacific War had been to launch a major counterattack on the first night of any invasion of their islands. This “defense at the water’s edge” doctrine had broken the back of Japanese resistance in many island battles. But not at Iwo Jima. Although enemy artillery and mortars pounded the Marines all night long, no serious ground attack was launched against the V Amphibious Corps’ beachhead. Iwo Jima was already showing signs of being a different type of battle than those the Marines had fought earlier in the Pacific.

The constant Japanese barrage took a toll, however. Both Lt. Col. Ralph Haas, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines, and his operations officer were killed during the night, and the supply dump of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, on Blue Beach was destroyed by enemy rockets. Preliminary casualty counts showed that about eight percent of the 30,000 men who landed on L-Day had become casualties. Of these 2,420 casualties, about 20 percent, or 548 men, had been killed.

February 20 dawned clear and with good visibility. The 4th Marine Division attacked toward Airfield Number 1 with the 23rd and 25th Marines abreast; battalions of the 24th Marines reinforced both regiments. With the support of Company C, 4th Tank Battalion, the 23rd Marines secured the airfield, breaching an important section of the Japanese defensive line. Minefields, rough terrain, and fierce enemy opposition slowed the advance. Heavy rocket, artillery, and mortar barrages constantly struck the advancing Marines.

Late in the afternoon, the 23rd Marines made contact with the 27th Marines of the 5th Marine Division, forming a connected line of advance across the middle of the island. The 25th Marines advanced with two battalions, while the attached 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, held in place at the Quarry until the rest of the corps came alongside.

Again, the cost of the advance was high. A mortar shell knocked out the command staff of the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, and killed the commander of Company B, 4th Tank Battalion. Lt. Col. James Taul, the executive officer of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, then in reserve, took command of the 2nd Battalion.

Knocking Out Bunkers on Iwo Jima

Meanwhile, the fight raged on. Lieutenant Arthur W. Zimmerman, seeing that tank support was desperately needed, constantly exposed himself to direct tank fire against a blockhouse that had his platoon pinned down. A tank commander, Sergeant James R. Haddix, volunteered to remain in an exposed position protecting several Marines who were pinned down in a shell hole, eliminating every enemy threat that came against them.

One of the participants, who wrote a brief history of the battle, stated, “There was no cover from enemy fire. Japs deep in reinforced concrete pillboxes laid down interlocking bands of fire that cut whole companies to ribbons. Camouflage hid all the enemy installations. The high ground on every side was honeycombed with layer after layer of Jap emplacements, blockhouses, dugouts, and observation posts. Their observation was perfect; whenever the Marines made a move, the Japs watched every step, and when the moment came, their mortars, rockets, machine guns, and artillery––long ago zeroed-in––would smother the area in a murderous blanket of fire.

“The counterbattery fire and preparatory barrages of Marine artillery and naval gunfire were often ineffective, for the Japs would merely retire to a lower level or inner cave and wait until the storm had passed. Then they would emerge and blast the advancing Marines.”

Fighting remained personal on Iwo Jima. A 24-year-old from Marvel Valley, Alabama, Sergeant Ross Franklin Gray, USMCR, was a platoon sergeant with Company A, 25th Marines, when his unit was held up by a grenade barrage near Airfield Number 1 on February 21. He pulled his platoon out of grenade range and then went forward alone to reconnoiter the enemy defenses. He discovered a large minefield and a strong network of emplacements and covered trenches.

Although under heavy enemy fire, Sergeant Gray cleared a path through the minefield and then returned to his platoon. He volunteered to lead an attack under the covering fire of three fellow Marines. Unarmed except for a huge demolition charge, he crawled to the first enemy position and blew it closed with the explosives.

Immediately taken under fire by another of the enemy positions, Gray crawled back to get another demolition charge. He then returned and destroyed the second enemy post. He did this again and again, destroying a total of six enemy pillboxes and killing 25 enemy soldiers. Not finished, he returned to the minefield and disarmed the remaining mines. He survived to wear his Medal of Honor.

As the battle slowly moved north, the 24th Marines came up against six pillboxes that were stalling the leading company. Two tanks came forward and tried to knock them out, but both tanks were themselves disabled by mines. The battalion commander asked a Marine “regular,” 43-year-old Marine Ira “Gunner” Davidson, from Chavies, Kentucky, if he could knock out the pillboxes. Davidson rounded up a gun crew of six Marines and a 37mm gun. While running across 200 yards of open ground under enemy fire, one was killed, two were wounded, and one knocked senseless before they could get the gun into position.

Davidson then set his sights on each bunker in turn, aiming for the firing slits in each pillbox and blasting away. Now protected by some riflemen, the Marines moved up to find that in each pillbox were from two to four dead Japanese. Davidson’s exacting aim had knocked out all six pillboxes by exploding his rounds inside each without destroying the emplacement itself. Davidson repeated this exploit a few days later and was awarded a Silver Star for his skills and courage.

The time had come to take Airfield Number 2 in the island’s center. During the advance of the 24th Marines on February 21, a company commander in the 2nd Battalion, Captain Joseph Jeremiah McCarthy, USMCR, a 34-year-old Chicagoan, refused to admit his men were stymied by the Japanese defenses around the airfield.

Despite heavy enemy machine-gun, rifle, and 47mm fire directed at his company, he organized a demolition and flamethrower team, covered by a rifle squad, and led them across 75 yards of fire-swept ground into a heavily fortified zone of enemy defenses. He personally threw hand grenades into the successive pillboxes as his team came up to destroy each in turn.

Seeing enemy troops attempting to escape from a destroyed position, McCarthy stood erect in the face of enemy fire and destroyed the fleeing enemy. Entering the ruins of one pillbox, he killed an enemy soldier who was aiming at one of his Marines, then went back to his company and led them in an attack that neutralized all enemy resistance within his area. Throughout this battle, he had consistently exposed himself to personally lead and encourage his Marines. He received the Medal of Honor.

Raising the Flag on Mount Suribachi

The situation was no less dangerous at the supply and aid stations in the rear along the waterline. Enemy gunners seemed to target supply dumps and aid stations, and many Marines suffered second and third wounds while lying helplessly in an aid station. Vehicles bringing supplies to the forward areas were also targeted.

On the beaches, a sudden storm made unloading difficult and delayed removal of the wounded to hospital ships offshore. During the landing of the 4th Battalion, 14th Marine Artillery Regiment, on February 20, over half the battalion’s 105mm howitzers were lost to the sea and two more were lost on the beach due to high surf conditions. The surviving guns were set up on Yellow Beach and provided support for the infantry.

Advancing painfully, the 4th Marine Division had lost too many men to cover the assigned front. To assist with this, General Schmidt gave General Cates the 21st Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, then offshore in reserve. Although he originally intended for the new arrivals to relieve the battered 25th Marines, General Cates was advised by his assistant division commander, Brig. Gen. Franklin A. Hart, that beach conditions and inland routes favored replacing the 23rd Marines instead, and it was so ordered.

Iwo Jima became a bloody battle between Marines above ground and Japanese deep underground, well camouflaged, and well supported by artillery, rockets, and mortars. Nights were full of enemy infiltration attempts and the occasional small counterattack. Single-plane enemy air raids dropped bombs at random, rarely hitting anything of importance, although one attack did hit the rear areas of the 25th Marines on Blue Beach on L+3. A cold, drizzling rain did little to cheer the exhausted Marines.

On February 23, L+4, a platoon of Marines reached the summit of the island’s most imposing feature: Mount Suribachi. Five men from the 28th Marines raised a small flag atop the volcanic mountain. Navy Corpsman John Bradley said, “It was so small that it couldn’t be seen from down below, so our battalion commander, Lt. Col. Chandler W. Johnson, sent a four-man patrol up with this larger flag….” Another group of men from the 28th Marines, including Bradley, raised the second, larger, flag––an event that was captured by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal and reproduced thousands of times. Although it was a photo that symbolized victory, final victory on Iwo Jima was still a long way off.

“It takes courage to stay at the front on Iwo Jima,” wrote Lieutenant Jim G. Lucas, a Marine Corps combat correspondent. “It takes something which we can’t tag or classify to push out ahead of those lines, against an unseen enemy who has survived two months of shell and shock, who lives beneath the rocks of the island, an enemy capable of suddenly appearing on your flanks or even at your rear, and of disappearing back into his hole. It takes courage for officers to send their men ahead, when many they’ve known since the [4th Marine] Division came into existence have already gone. It takes courage to crawl ahead, 100 yards a day, and get up the next morning, count losses, and do it again. But that’s the only way it can be done.”

The “Meat Grinder”

Having secured the Quarry and the high ground above the East Boat Basin, the 4th Marine Division was now faced with a major enemy defensive enclave. This was a mutually supporting group of defensive positions known as the “Amphitheater.” The main defenses of this area in the central and northern sections of the island––Hill 382, Turkey Knob, Charlie-Dog Ridge, and Minami Village––would soon be collectively known as the “Meat Grinder.”

The enemy had done everything possible to build these defenses. Hill 382, also known as “Radar Hill,” had the remains of a radar station atop it, but the hill itself had been hollowed out by Japanese engineers and filled with antitank guns and artillery pieces. Each resided safely in a concrete emplacement. The hill gave the enemy excellent observation over all approaches.

The remainder of Hill 382 was a honeycomb of caves, ridges, and crevices containing light and medium tanks, 57mm and 47mm guns, and infantry armed with rifles, mortars, and machine guns. Turkey Knob, some 600 yards south, was a major communications center for the Japanese and housed reinforced concrete emplacements.

In the Amphitheater, a southeastern extension of Hill 382, the Japanese had taken the bowl-shaped terrain and filled it with three tiers of heavy concrete emplacements. Here, too, were extensive communications facilities along with electric lighting for the vast underground defenses. Antitank guns and machine guns covered all approaches to Turkey Knob.

Between each of these was a jumble of rocky ground, caves, crevices, and open ground offering little, if any, protection for attacking forces. Torn trees blocked approaches, as did blasted rocks, depressions, and a host of irregular ground obstacles. This was the eastern bulge of Iwo Jima––the core of the Japanese defense in the northeastern half of the island––and the 4th Marine Division’s objective.

Two Days of Fighting For Hill 382

On February 24, the 24th Marines began to move across those approaches.

After several hundred yards the Marines were stopped cold. From Charlie-Dog Ridge came heavy machine-gun, rifle, antitank, and mortar fire at point-blank range. From behind came antiaircraft fire using airbursts, antitank fire, and artillery. The Marines called for supporting fire of their own, but because they were so close to the enemy this was refused.

Only the 14th Marine Artillery’s 105mm guns were accurate enough, along with the infantry’s own 60mm and 81mm mortars; Marines of the Weapons Company dragged a 37mm gun forward and helped. Four machine guns were also pushed forward to help in suppressing enemy fire.

Then it began again. Advancing by rushes, individual squads of Marines attacked each enemy position in turn, working from one position to the next. Shooting, burning, and blasting, they fought their way to the top. By late afternoon, Companies G and I had made it and were mopping up the last of the defenders.

The 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines, was not so fortunate. They hit the Amphitheater itself, suffered heavy casualties, and had to use white phosphorous smoke shells to screen the evacuation of their wounded. Among these was the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Alexander A. Vandegrift, Jr., son of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, who was seriously wounded.

By this time, L+6, two-thirds of the 3rd Marine Division was ashore on Iwo Jima and had taken over the center of V Amphibious Corps’ front line. The 4th Marine Division continued on the right flank, facing the Amphitheater; one-third of the island lay in their sector. It was the most rugged terrain on the island and defended by determined enemy soldiers and sailors.

The 23rd and 24th Marines, the latter reinforced with the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, and Company A, 2nd Armored Amphibian Battalion, opened the attack with a fierce barrage from supporting weapons. Because enemy defenses blocked the use of tanks on the division’s front, permission had been given to move the 4th Tank Battalion’s tanks through the adjoining 3rd Marine Division’s sector. These were particularly helpful to the 23rd Marines’ advance, knocking out enemy pillboxes, machine guns, and antitank guns.

The 24th Marines and their reinforcements took on the Amphitheater and Minami Village. From offshore, the amphibian tractors tried to support the attack, but rough seas reduced their effectiveness and they were recalled.

Incredibly heavy resistance greeted the 24th Marines. Even the arrival of five tanks did little to aid the attack due to the rough ground and fierce enemy resistance. Once again, key leaders were among the first to fall to enemy fire. After gaining a few hundred yards, the attack halted for the night. General Cates alerted the 25th Marines to replace the 24th Marines in the morning. All three of its battalions, including the 2nd, which was already at the front, would resume the attack.

Using a rolling barrage, with the 14th Marine Artillery Regiment providing an artillery bombardment that advanced toward the enemy 100 yards at a time every five minutes, for 20 minutes, the 25th Marines advanced for the first 100 yards successfully. They then ran into a wall of enemy fire from the Amphitheater and Turkey Knob.

Tanks from Company A, 4th Tank Battalion, came up to assist, but they soon became targets of the enemy artillery. Attempts at counterbattery fire were frustrated by poor observation, even though two observation planes flew over the area attempting to locate the enemy guns. To the left, the 23rd Marines had doggedly moved on Hill 382 using flamethrowers, rockets, and demolitions to gain about 200 yards.

For the next two days the battle continued without pause. Time after time the Marines would gain the top of Hill 382 only to be forced back to cover by enemy artillery, mortar, and small-arms fire. Fighting became hand-to-hand around the ruins of the Japanese radar station.

As one Marine later remarked, “The easiest way to describe the battle … is to say that we took the hill [Hill 382] almost every time we attacked––and that the Japs took it back.”

Marine engineers and bulldozers finally cleared a path for tanks to move to the front, and Company B, 4th Tank Battalion, came up to support the 23rd Marines. But once again, the Marines were forced to withdraw for the night. That night Japanese planes were observed parachuting supplies to their troops; Marine artillery took the drop zone under fire.

Navy Corpsman Cecil Bryan

No description of Marines in combat is complete without an acknowledgement of the brave Navy corpsman assigned to them. One such was Pharmacist’s Mate 2/c Cecil A. Bryan. During one battle on Iwo Jima, he saw First Sergeant Fred W. Lunch of the 24th Marines fall seriously wounded.

Despite heavy enemy fire, Bryan raced to the sergeant’s side and saw that his windpipe had been severed by a shell fragment. Unless something was done immediately, he would be dead within moments. Bryan knew he had to give Sergeant Lunch an alternate windpipe––but how? Thinking quickly, he reached into his medical bag and grabbed a piece of rubber tubing normally used for plasma transfusions. He cut off six inches and thrust it into Lunch’s throat. Then he carried his patient, barely alive and bleeding profusely, to an evacuation station. Lunch survived the war with no ill effects.

Combat Effectiveness Down to 50 Percent

At the Amphitheater and Turkey Knob, the 25th Marines, with the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines attached, continued their frontal attacks. There was no way to surround either terrain feature since they were mutually supporting. On February 27, the 1st Battalion attempted to flank the Amphitheater by moving through the zone of the 23rd Marines, but the latter had not advanced far enough.

Finally, late in the day an opening was cleared, and Company A, supported by tanks, moved forward. The advance soon turned into a disaster. Three tanks were quickly knocked out by enemy antitank fire, and enemy small arms, mortars, rockets, and artillery saturated Company A. Fire from Turkey Knob also ravaged the advancing Marines, and a withdrawal was soon ordered. The only significant success was the securing of the East Boat Basin by the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines.

The constant attacks day after day not only wore down the Americans, but the Japanese as well. By March 1, Hill 382 was surrounded, many of the heavier enemy guns silenced, and many of the Japanese defenders dead.

For several more days the battle continued. Company E of the 24th Marines repeatedly attacked, and it seemed as if every attack cost the company a commander killed or wounded. Second Lieutenant Richard Reich, who had been with the company since L-Day, remarked, “They [the new commanding officers] came so fast,” he said, “I didn’t even get their names.”

With such fierce fighting it was little wonder that the division’s combat effectiveness was down to 50 percent. Casualties as of March 3 were preliminarily reported as 6,591 Marines killed, wounded, or missing. While this number was about 37 percent of the total division strength, it represented 62 percent of its authorized infantry strength and, as usual, the infantry carried the burden of the battle.

In other words, two of every three infantrymen who came ashore on L-Day were casualties by March 3, 1945, or L+13, after two weeks on Iwo Jima. As just one example, Captain William T. Ketcham’s Company I, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines, landed with 133 Marines in the three rifle platoons. Only nine of these men remained when the battle ended.

Although some replacements had arrived and joined the depleted regiments, they were not nearly enough to bring them up to authorized strength.

The First B-29 Lands on Iwo Jima

Although fighting still raged across, below, and above Iwo Jima, a signal moment came on March 4 when the first emergency landing was made by a B-29 bomber on one of the captured airfields. The aircraft was repaired, refueled, and took off to complete its mission. By war’s end, 2,400 B-29 bombers would make unscheduled landings on the island.

Meanwhile, the strong enemy defenses caused the Marine commanders to try new techniques. When two tanks fired directly into an enemy communications blockhouse atop Turkey Knob without result, the 14th Marine Artillery was asked to send up a 75mm pack howitzer. A gun was duly brought forward with its crew and fired 40 rounds directly at the blockhouse and, while it did not destroy it, the fire neutralized the garrison sufficiently for Company F to move forward some 75 yards to a position from which it destroyed the emplacement the next day. A demolitions crew and a flamethrowing tank completed the job.

By March 9, the Marines had outflanked Hill 382 and Turkey Knob, as well as the Amphitheater; the way to Iwo’s east coast lay ahead. Division intelligence reported that the main enemy core of resistance in the 4th Marine Division’s zone had been broken.

Signs that the Japanese were suffering were becoming clear. The one and only major counterattack against the 4th Marine Division came on the morning of March 9, when enemy troops were discovered infiltrating the lines of the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines and 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines.

This infiltration quickly turned into a major counterattack but was by no means a wild banzai charge for which the Japanese were known. The enemy troops worked their way as close as possible to the American lines before revealing themselves. Several managed to advance to the battalion command post of the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines, before being killed. Others carried stretchers and shouted, “Corpsman!” in English to disguise themselves while penetrating the Marine lines. Most of the fighting fell to Company E, 23rd Marines, and Company L, 24th Marines.

Daylight found some 850 enemy dead in and around the friendly lines; many more were thought to have been carried back to Japanese lines.

General Erskine’s 3rd Marine Division also encountered extremely stubborn defenses during its frontal assault to take Airfield Number 2, but take it they did. By nightfall on March 9, the 3rd had reached Iwo’s northeastern beach, cutting the enemy defenses in two.

Hard fighting was by no means over, however. When the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, moved into rough terrain north of Turkey Knob, the unit went quietly, with no pre-assault bombardment. For a few minutes all seemed well, but then a barrage of rocket and mortar fire hit the battalion; close fire from enemy machine guns soon joined in the battle.

Friendly tanks and artillery answered. A thousand gallons of flamethrower fuel (jellied gasoline) and thousands of rounds of 75mm fire were hurled against the concrete communications blockhouse, which was again active. The battalion was nevertheless forced to withdraw; it spent the night absorbing replacements for the many casualties it had suffered.

Indeed, so short of men was the division that a “4th Provisional Battalion” was organized from supporting troops and placed under the command of Lt. Col. Melvin L. Krulewitch, who had been the 4th Division support group commander.

It had become common practice for companies to be shifted from one battalion to another simply to bring the assault battalion for that day up to near normal strength. The 24th Marines were forced to disband one rifle company in both the 1st and 2nd Battalions, using those men to strengthen the remaining companies.

The 4th Marine Division’s Last Major Attack

The 4th Marine Division continued to clear its zone on Iwo Jima. Patrols sent out by the 23rd Marines on March 10 reported that they had reached the coast. The 25th Marines continued to advance on the right against strong but not determined resistance; the 3rd and 5th Marine Divisions would join them there. Clearly Japanese resistance had been broken.

A two-regiment attack on March 11 pushed forward against moderate resistance. Combat engineers followed and destroyed any enemy positions found. The 23rd Marines settled down for the night about 400 yards from the coast, the best position from which to cover their front.

The 25th Marines, facing more opposition, including rocket, mortar, and small-arms fire, continued forward. A prisoner captured during the day reported that about 300 enemy troops remained hidden in caves and tunnels in the small area left under Japanese control. He also reported that a Japanese major general commanded the group.

The remaining Japanese had good terrain from which to continue their resistance. Once again crevices, caves, and ridges covered the area. To avoid more casualties, a surrender appeal was broadcast to these defenders and the enemy general, thought to be Maj. Gen. Sadasue Senda, commanding the 2nd Mixed Brigade.

When the appeal failed, the attack began. Three battalions––2nd and 3rd, 25th Marines, and 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines––launched the 4th Marine Division’s last major attack on Iwo Jima. For the next four days the battle raged, too close for air support or artillery. It became a battle of small arms, mortars, and flamethrowers against Japanese hidden deep in caves and crevices. Tanks could only operate with caution, so close were the fighters.

Finally, Marines with flamethrowers, bazookas, rifles, grenades, and satchel charges decided the issue. Despite numerous attempts to convince the Japanese to surrender, they fought to the end. Some 1,500 Japanese dead were later counted in this area. Maj. Gen. Senda’s body was never identified, nor was Lt. Gen. Kuribayashi’s body ever found.

On March 14, 1945, the 4th Marine Division, or what was left of it, began departing Iwo Jima for Maui, Territory of Hawaii, and some well-deserved R&R. Fighting still raged on the island, but the division had accomplished its mission. Plans for the invasion of the Japanese home islands were already in progress, and the 4th Marine Division was included. Behind them, 9,098 of the 4th’s members were killed or wounded.

Indeed, for the 4th Marine Division the war was over. The division had spent a total of 63 days in combat during four major amphibious operations. The 4th’s casualties totaled 16,323, or 260 casualties per combat day. Only the 1st Marine Division suffered more casualties during the war, but it spent far more time in combat. Only the 1st and 4th Marine Divisions made four opposed amphibious landings during the war. The 4th Marine Division also suffered more combat fatalities than any other Marine division except the 1st.

It had been a short but a very difficult war for the 4th Division, a unit that did not even exist until after Guadalcanal. But they had performed magnificently.

Twenty-Seven Medals of Honor on Iwo Jima

Total casualties for all three Marine divisions and the Navy offshore during the 36-day battle were over 26,000 with 6,821 killed; the Japanese lost 20,000 men killed. Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded to Marines and sailors, many posthumously, the most ever awarded for a single operation during the war, and one third of the 80 Medals of Honor awarded to Marines during World War II.

After the battle, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas, wrote, “The battle of Iwo Island has been won. The United States Marines by their individual and collective courage have conquered a base which is as necessary to us in our continuing forward movement toward final victory as it was vital to the enemy in staving off ultimate defeat.

“By their victory, the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions and other units of the Fifth Amphibious Corps have made an accounting to their country which only history will be able to value fully. Among the Americans who served on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

This article by Nathan N. Prefer originally appeared on Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Hitler's Panzer Tank Plan To Stop The Soviet Union Totally Backfired

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 03:30

Warfare History Network

History, Europe

The German leader became fixed on the need to protect the Hungarian oilfields from Red Army tank and rifle units that had encircled Budapest in late December 1944.

Here's What You Need To Remember: Hitler would have done well to heed Guderian’s advice to commit the Sixth Panzer Army to the defense of the Oder line to slow the Russian advance on Berlin. Georg Maier, deputy chief of staff for operations for the Sixth Panzer Army, offered a fitting summation of the failed offensive. “Time, pressure, poor weather, extremely difficult terrain conditions, [and] Hitler’s impatience joined forces with the well-prepared enemy defense to form a combined front,” he wrote.

Even in the dark days of March 1945, when the Third Reich was on the brink of collapse, its troops managed to exhibit that grim humor that enables frontline soldiers to endure the horrors of battle. As the panzer crews of mighty Tiger II tanks rumbled forward in the last German offensive of World War II in eastern Hungary, they joked about the difficulties they were having coming to grips with the enemy. A few of the 68-ton King Tigers sank up to their turrets in the mud produced by an early spring thaw. Making light of the situation, tank commanders quipped that they were steering tanks, not U-boats.

The Soviet forces gathering on the Oder River in early 1945 seemed not to bother Adolf Hitler. The German leader became fixed on the need to protect the Hungarian oilfields from Red Army tank and rifle units that had encircled Budapest in late December 1944. Hitler had sent the IV SS Panzer Corps against the forces threatening Budapest in three consecutive counterattacks in January 1945 that were known collectively as the Konrad Offensives. But the tenacious Soviet forces had repulsed each assault. On February 13, the city fell to the soldiers of Marshal Rodion Malinovsky’s 2nd Ukrainian Front.

The Hungarian oilfields at Nagykaniscza constituted the last major petroleum resources available to Germany. By early 1945, the Austrian and Hungarian oilfields furnished 80 percent of the oil for the German armed forces. Despite the setbacks of January, Hitler devised a new offensive called Operation Fruhlingserwachen (Spring Awakening) that had both economic and military objectives. Hitler wanted to stem the Soviet tide in Hungary. He envisioned a larger offensive that would roll back the gains of Marshal Fyodor Tolbukhin’s 3rd Ukrainian Front in Hungary. If all went according to plan, the Germans would inflict severe distress on the Russian marshal and his forces in the upcoming campaign. Hitler hoped that his panzer forces would be able to establish bridgeheads over the Danube River and perhaps even retake Budapest. In so doing, the Germans would secure the oil resources needed to feed their war machine.

Although Operation Spring Awakening officially began on March 6, 1945, the planning began as early as January. The Supreme High Command of the German Army issued orders on January 16 to SS-Oberfruppenfuhrer Sepp Dietrich to bring his Sixth Panzer Army back to Germany from the Ardennes region to rest and refit for a new operation. Although Dietrich’s command is commonly referred to as the Sixth SS Panzer Army, it was not officially known as such until it was transferred to the Waffen SS on April 2, 1945.

Dietrich’s Sixth Panzer Army comprised Generalleutnant Hermann Preiss’s I SS Panzer Corps and Generalleutnant Willi Bittrich’s II SS Panzer Corps. Preiss’s corps was composed of the 1st SS and 12th SS Panzer Divisions, and Bittrich’s corps was composed of the 2nd SS and 9th SS Panzer Divisions. To bring these battered units up to standard strength for an SS panzer division, the commanders filled the depleted ranks with raw recruits and support personnel from the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine. Unfortunately, time and fuel were in short supply, so the replacement personnel received no combat training. Nevertheless, the four panzer divisions did receive nearly all of the arms and vehicle production they needed to build up their tank, assault gun, and tank destroyer requirements. In the end, the Germans amassed 240,000 troops, 500 tanks, 173 assault guns, and 900 combat aircraft for the offensive.

Hitler and his advisers planned to make the main attack for Operation Spring Awakening with General Otto Wohler’s Army Group South. Wohler would have plenty of hitting power. His command would consist of General Hermann Balck’s Sixth Army, Dietrich’s Sixth Panzer Army, and the Hungarian 8th Corps. Wohler had a total of 10 panzer and five infantry divisions to hurl against the 3rd Ukrainian Front.

While Army Group South advanced south toward the Soviet forces between Lake Balaton and Lake Velencze to the east, other German armies would strike east against Tolbukhin’s left flank. Wohler’s attack would be supported by a secondary attack by Generaloberst Alexander Loehr’s Army Group E in Yugoslavia, as well as another minor attack by General Maximilian de Angelis’s Second Panzer Army.

By the start of Operation Spring Awakening, nearly 40 percent of the German Army’s heavy combat fighting vehicles in use on the Eastern Front were in Hungary. Under the strictest security measures, additional units made their way there. Col. Gen. Heinz Guderian, the German Army’s Inspector General of Armored Troops, disapproved of Hitler’s decision to send the Sixth Panzer Army into Hungary. Guderian believed its strength would be better employed behind the Oder River to slow the Red Army’s drive on Berlin. Hitler overruled Guderian, and the Hungarian offensive went forward as planned.

Hitler approved the final plan for Operation Spring Awakening on February 23. As part of the final preparations, he reinforced Dietrich’s Sixth Panzer Army with the I Cavalry Corps, comprising the 3rd and 4th Cavalry Divisions, and Generalleutnant Joseph von Radowitz’s 23rd Panzer Division. Radowitz’s troops would serve as a ready reserve to be committed at the most opportune time.

Dietrich assigned Preiss’s I SS Panzer Corps the center position, which stretched from Lake Balaton to a point west of Seregelyes. Bittrich’s II SS Panzer Corps took up a position on its left, and the I Cavalry Corps deployed on its right. Flank protection would be provided by the 44th Grenadier and 25th Hungarian Infantry Divisions. Dietrich’s first objective was to secure a crossing over the Sio Canal and capture the city of Dunafoldvar.

General Hermann Breith’s III Panzer Corps of Balck’s Sixth Army was to attack north of the Sixth Panzer Army from Seregelyes to Lake Valence. Its objective was to capture the area between Lake Valence and the Danube River. Two heavy tank battalions with King Tigers provided extra firepower for the III Panzer Corps and the Sixth Panzer Army. Generalleutnant Rudolf Freiherr von Waldenfels’ 6th Panzer Division would follow behind.

Guarding the left flank of the III Panzer Corps were the 3rd and 5th SS Panzer Divisions of SS- Obergruppenführer Herbert Otto Gille’s IV SS Panzer Corps. The IV SS Panzer Corps was badly depleted from the Konrad Offensives, but it would be sent into action anyway.

To the south, the Second Panzer Army held the front line south of Lake Balafon. By the time of the offensive, though, it could hardly be described as a panzer army. It consisted of four divisions equipped not with tanks, but with assault guns. Its best division was the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division. The Second Panzer Army’s objective was to capture Kaposvar. Army Group E was deployed south of the Second Panzer Army along the Drava River. Its objective was to establish a large bridgehead across the Drava near Donati Miholjac with its three divisions.

Although the Germans had employed strict security measures to disguise the transfer to Hungary, the Red Army knew a German offensive was brewing. As early as February 12, the Western Allies passed along intercepted communications regarding troop movements. Any doubt the Red Army commanders might have had was eliminated near the end of February when the last successful Waffen SS operation, known as Operation Southwind, went forward against the Soviet forces in Slovakia. In that offensive, the I SS Panzer Corps eliminated a Red Army bridgehead over the Gran River.

Tolbukhin’s 3rd Ukrainian Front would receive the brunt of the German attack. Created in October 1943, the units that constituted the front had participated in various Soviet offensives that had liberated Ukraine and Moldova from German occupation by August 1944. In the following months, the 3rd Ukrainian Front had invaded Romania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia. Tolbukhin’s Red Army troops liberated Belgrade in October. Afterward, Stavka, the Soviet high command, shifted the front north to Hungary where it assisted Malinovsky’s 2nd Ukrainian Front in besieging Budapest and helped repulse German attempts to relieve the city.

While the Germans were clearing the Gran bridgehead, Stavka issued directives to Tolbukhin and Malinovsky to prepare for fresh offensives to capture Vienna and Bratislava, respectively. Soviet Premier Josef Stalin set March 15 as the start date for these offensives. Thus, Tolbukhin not only had to prepare for the upcoming offensive, but also establish a defensive plan for the forthcoming German attack.

Tolbukhin created a multilayered defense that stressed antitank obstacles and killing zones. Each layer had multiple fortified belts. The first two layers typically had two or more lines of trenches. Altogether, Tolbukhin had a defense in depth that stretched for 30 kilometers. But since the defenses were created in a short time, the soldiers only strung barbed wire in a few places and had not had time to construct concrete pillboxes.

The 3rd Ukrainian Front had approximately 406,000 soldiers and 407 tanks, assault guns, and tank destroyers. In addition, the Soviet 17th Air Army had 965 aircraft available to support the ground troops.

The 4th Guards Army held the 3rd Ukrainian Front’s right flank. The army comprised three rifle corps, each of which had three rifle divisions. The 4th Guards’ main task was to defend Szekesfehvar. Deployed on its right flank was the XXIII Tank Corps, which functioned as a mobile reserve.

To the left of the 4th Guards was Lt. Gen. Nikolai Gagan’s 26th Army, deployed directly in the path of the advancing Sixth Panzer Army. Gagan’s army was responsible for the area from Seregelyes to Lake Balaton. Because of the likelihood that it would be hit hard, the XXX Rifle Corps had half of the 3rd Ukrainian Front’s artillery and ample anti-tank guns.

The XVIII Tank Corps, another of Tolbuknin’s mobile reserves, was stationed in the Sarosd area where it could either assist the 4th Guards or the 26th Army as the situation developed. The I Guards Mechanized Corps also was deployed directly behind the 26th Army.

The 57th Army was deployed to the south of Gagan’s 26th Army. Comprising two rifle corps, its task was to guard a section of the front that stretched from the shores of Lake Balaton south to the Drava River. Although it had only six infantry divisions, each division had slightly more men than those in the other Soviet armies. It was deployed in the path of the Second Panzer Army. The V Guards Cavalry Corps was situated in the northeast area of the 57th Army in such a way that it might assist either the 57th Army or the 26th Army.

Stationed along the northern banks of the Drava River south of the 57th Army were the six infantry divisions that constituted the First Bulgarian Army. Although the Bulgarian divisions had a strength that was twice that of a Soviet division in numbers, its men had less combat experience. Stavka believed that a major enemy advance in the sector held by the Bulgarians was unlikely because of the difficulty the Germans would have striking across the Drava. Still, Tolbukhin was prepared to send elements of the 57th Army south to assist the Bulgarians if the need should arise. To the Bulgarians’ left was the XII Army Corps from the Third Yugoslavian Army, which was not part of Tolbuknin’s front.

Tolbukhin entrusted the 27th Army with his second line of defense. The 27th Army consisted of three Guards infantry corps, yet all of its divisions were significantly weaker in men and equipment than the 26th Army. The 27th Army held a section of the front from Lake Valence to the Danube River.

While it seemed as if the Red Army had an extraordinarily large number of troops in this sector, a typical Soviet unit was small in comparison to its German counterpart; for example, a Red Army tank corps in terms of men and equipment was equivalent to a German panzer division.

Tolbukhin also had other units in his sector which, under orders from Stavka, he was forbidden to use. One of these units was the 9th Guards Army, which was slated for the drive on Vienna. Even if the 3rd Ukrainian Front’s situation grew critical, Tolbukhin knew from past experience that his request to use such units was likely to be rejected.

Overall, German intelligence had accurately estimated the number of Soviet armies, corps, and divisions against which the German forces would be attacking. But it failed to detect the guards mechanized and guards cavalry corps positioned in the assault route of the Sixth Panzer Army, failed to determine the location of two corps of the 27th Army, and failed to accurately assess the strength and disposition of the Soviets units.

Although the German intelligence omissions were important, they were nothing in comparison to other factors that would influence the Germans before and during the offensive. The security measures that the Germans employed in an effort to deceive the enemy, which in the end were futile, prevented orders from reaching anyone below corps level. This had a detrimental effect on final preparations for the offensive. In addition, some assembly positions were up to 20 kilometers from the actual starting points. To make matters worse, commanders were not allowed to conduct their own reconnaissance of enemy positions to their immediate front.

Dietrich and the staff of the Sixth Panzer Army had considerable concerns about the location chosen for the attack. In addition to being vulnerable to a Soviet thrust north of Szekesfehervar, several waterways and canals crossed the lanes of attack and threatened to slow the German advance. Moreover, only two of the roads were paved, and the dirt roads shown on the maps the Germans would be using were in reality no more than narrow paths.

Last but not least, the weather at that time of year was apt to hinder the movement of the tracked vehicles of the German panzer divisions. An early thaw in the spring of 1945 had turned the entire area into a morass. The region’s canals and drainage ditches had been unable to contain the runoff. During the first days of the offensive, the SS panzer divisions lost vehicles due to the saturated condition of the terrain. German tanks often sank in mud up to their turrets. The situation was particularly problematic for the King Tigers. Commanders of some units participating in the offensive requested a postponement of offensive operations until either the temperatures dropped low enough to freeze the mud or climbed high enough to dry the ground. Hitler and his advisers refused all such requests.

The effects of the bad weather delayed the II SS Panzer Corps to the extent that by March 5 some of its units still had not reached their starting points. Hitler was adamant that the attack begin on time, even if all participating units were not in place. The headquarters of Army Group South had experience with these conditions but still did little to assist with the requests. Rather than help those under his command, Balck echoed the orders coming from Berlin. Throughout the war he had always been overly optimistic about an operation’s potential outcome, and this operation proved no different than before. But Balck also had a tendency to blame others for shortcomings that ultimately were his responsibility. The situation was exacerbated by Balck’s disdain for SS officers due to previous experiences in the war. Specifically, Balck harbored a grudge against Bittrich for the failed relief of the Ukrainian city of Tarnopol in April 1944.

German corps commanders participating in Operation Spring Awakening distributed orders to their division commanders on the evening of March 5. With herculean efforts, most units had by that time slogged their way through the mud to their respective starting points. Hungarian liaison officers had warned the Germans not to underestimate the mud season in their homeland, but their advice fell on deaf ears.

The II SS Panzer Corps, though, had not managed to reach its staging area. Bittrich made multiple pleas to have the offensive delayed until his divisions reached their starting points, but his superiors flatly rejected his repeated requests.

At 1 AM on March 6, Army Group E’s three divisions surged across the Drava in five places. Throughout the course of the day, the Germans consolidated their five small bridgeheads into two larger bridgeheads near Valpovo and Donati Miholjac. Not surprisingly, the Bulgarians were unable to repulse the Germans. Three hours later, the Second Panzer Army’s four divisions attacked eastward in a drive to encircle Nagybajom. Thirty minutes after that the 1st SS Panzer Division began a preplanned artillery barrage at 4:30 AM.

Other German units opened fire shortly afterward. Although the indirect fire did not have the results hoped for by the German commanders, German tanks and assault guns employed direct fire with good effect against the Soviet forces in the area. The I Cavalry Corps gained ground at the outset but was pushed back by the Russians.

Like the divisions of I Cavalry Corps, the 12th SS Panzer Division stalled after marginal advances, but it managed to hold onto its gains. The 1st SS Panzer Division made noteworthy progress when it exploited some weak spots in the Soviet defense; however, its gains were only two to four kilometers deep. As for the II SS Panzer Corps, its advance elements did not attack until evening and made negligible progress.

In concert with the Second Panzer Army, the Sixth Army established a bridgehead across the Hadas Ditch, which empties into Lake Valence. On either side of Seregelyes, the 1st Panzer Division and the 356th Infantry Division managed to advance only to the north end of the village by nightfall. The 3rd Panzer Division was unable to bring its full weight to bear as some of its units had not yet reached their jump-off positions.

By day’s end the attackers had advanced only three to four kilometers on a 3.5-kilometer front. It was fortunate for Tolbukhin that the damage was not more severe because III Panzer Corps had struck the seam between the 4th Guards and the 26th Armies. German air support was restricted on the first day due to inclement weather.

Tolbukhin and his staff had correctly predicted the German avenues of attack. The 3rd Ukrainian Front commander instituted measures designed to further strengthen the defense in the direct path of the German assault. He regrouped his artillery and shifted elements from the XVIII Tank Corps into the second defensive belt. In addition, the 27th Army’s XXXIII Rifle Corps was repositioned to block the I SS Panzer Corps, which had made significant progress on the first day of the operation given the weather conditions.

Rain mixed with light snow greeted the combatants at daybreak on March 7. The Germans renewed their attack across the entire front. Along the Drava River, Army Group E was unable to significantly enlarge its bridgeheads due to the mud. For the rest of the offensive, its divisions stayed on the defensive. Farther north around Nagybajom, the Second Panzer Army benefitted from captured enemy plans that detailed Soviet defenses. Based on the intelligence gleaned from the plans, the Second Panzer Army shifted the focus of its attack to its right wing.

A stubborn Soviet defense permitted little gain, and a stalemate ensued for the next few days. Between Lake Balaton and Lake Valence, the main attack pressed on as worsening terrain conditions trapped more German tracked vehicles, putting a strain on the already weakened infantry. Against the layered defense, the I Cavalry Corps made few gains. To its left the SS panzer divisions enjoyed some success. For example, the 1st SS Panzer captured Kaloz, and the 12th SS Panzer drove six kilometers into the Soviets lines. The II SS Panzer Corps, which was able to attack in force, also made significant headway, advancing six kilometers.

But the adjacent III Panzer Corps did not make any attempt to attack. Dietrich severely criticized its commanders for their lackluster performance. The IV SS Panzer Corps, though, did capture ground near Stuhlweissenburg that strengthened its defensive position.

An early morning frost on the third day of the offensive saw some road improvement. This was lost as temperatures rose, exacerbating the muddy conditions. The offensive finally looked like it might have a chance when the I SS Panzer Corps made the first real gains across a wide front when the 1st SS Panzer Division breached the enemy’s second defense line. Exploiting this momentum, the I Cavalry Corps also gained significant ground. The II SS Panzer Corps failed to follow up the gains of the previous day and became bogged down in heavy fighting near Sarosd. Orders were given for the 23rd Panzer Division to assemble behind the 44th Grenadier Division to be ready for a possible breakthrough. The 3rd Panzer Division was brought forward to attack Adony on the Danube River while the III Panzer Corps captured Seregelyes and an additional couple of kilometers.

These advances continued to be contested by the Soviets. Tolbukhin brought forward more of his reserves beginning on March 8, especially artillery and Katyusha rocket batteries. With the exception of XVIII Tank Corps, most of the Soviet mechanized forces had been held back. The following day major developments occurred between Lake Balaton and the Sarviz Canal.

The I Cavalry Corps made a surprisingly deep penetration with its 3rd Cavalry Division overcoming several defensive lines. These gains were assisted by the success of a night attack by the 1st SS Panzer Division. By the end of March 9, Dietrich had two corps through the Soviets’ primary defensive line. But the localized success had a drawback. The III Panzer Corps also enjoyed considerable success as its units advanced along the southern shore of Lake Valence before being stopped by Soviet forces at Gardony.

With his infantry suffering heavy attrition, Bittrich became deeply concerned over the losses suffered by his troops from combat and exposure to the elements. The 9th Panzer Division had lost more than a third of its strength by that point in the offensive.

Tolbukhin also became increasingly worried about the losses his units were incurring. The tempo of battle on March 9 compelled him to commit all of his reserves, except for a few small units. He informed Stavka that the situation was critical, and he asked if they would release to him the 9th Guards Army. His superiors flatly refused the request. They instructed him to make do with the forces at hand. As a result, Tolbukhin began to alter areas of responsibility along the front. He reduced the length of front for which the 26th Army was responsible. The result was that the 27th Army had to take up the slack. Its commander was startled to find that he was suddenly responsible for a critical portion of the front line. Tolbukhin also shifted units from the 4th Guards Army in the second echelon and placed them directly in the path of Dietrich’s advancing Sixth Panzer Army in an effort to slow the enemy’s momentum.

Frontline troops on both sides shivered in their positions on March 10 as the skies opened up and snow and freezing rain fell in western Hungary. This exacerbated the already poor road conditions. Nevertheless, the Second Panzer Army south of Lake Balaton experienced considerable success when the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division exploited the seam between the Soviet 57th Army and the First Bulgarian Army. The panzergrenadiers advanced five kilometers, reaching the village of Kisbajom.

Meanwhile, the 25th Hungarian Infantry Division entered battle in the I Cavalry Corps’ sector. After a full day of savage house-to-house fighting, the understrength Hungarians captured the high ground around Enying. The 3rd Cavalry Division and the 1st SS Panzer Division reached the Sio Canal and secured sections of its bank in preparation for a crossing.

Elsewhere, the 12th SS Panzer, 2nd SS Panzer, and 44th Grenadier Divisions all made gains. In the Sixth Army’s sector, the 3rd Panzer Division surprised a pair of Soviet divisions by attacking amid a heavy falling snow. The panzer troops fought their way into the enemy’s second echelon of defense near Seregelyes. Its fellow division, the 1st Panzer, captured several villages. The pressure of battle compelled some of the German commanders to point fingers of blame at each other. Balck was accused of having misinformed Guderian about the status of the IV SS Panzer Corps. Balck reported that the corps had enough reserves to deal with a Russian counterattack when it no longer had such capability. As for Tolbukhin, he shifted units from relatively secure areas to critical ones to limit the enemy’s gains.

The weather improved on March 11, which enabled both Luftwaffe and Red Army ground attack aircraft to fly multiple sorties. With the support of their aircraft, Soviet troops were able to push back elements of the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division around Kisbajom. The Second Panzer Army requested a change in the direction of its attack, but this was rejected by Wohler.

Instead, Wohler ordered the Second Panzer Army to renew its attack within the next 48 hours to keep Tolbukhin off balance and take the pressure off the Sixth Panzer Army. The Hungarians continued to advance along Lake Balaton, but they ground to a halt at Siofork. The German divisions that reached the Sio Canal spent the day securing its north bank and continued to search for crossing locations. While forward elements of the 12th SS Panzer Division were able to locate an intact bridge over the Sio, they were unable to exploit their discovery because it was blocked by burning vehicles.

The 23rd Panzer Division attacked Sar Egres, but it could not control the village. Despite the good weather of March 11, Dietrich sent a direct request to Hitler asking him to temporarily halt the offensive due to the rain and mud. Not surprisingly, Hitler rejected the request. Elements of the II SS Panzer Corps and the III Panzer Corps nevertheless managed to drive four kilometers into the Soviet 27th Army in some places.

The German armies involved in the offensive faced a determined, veteran commander. As Dietrich’s and Balck’s panzer divisions sought desperately to punch through the Soviet defenses, Tolbukhin masterfully shifted his resources in ways that prevented a decisive breakthrough. The Soviets’ defenses forced the Germans to make tactical adjustments. To catch the Red Army units by surprise, the Germans refrained from conducting preliminary artillery barrages before making an assault.

On the seventh day of the offensive, Army Group E ran out of steam. From that point forward its units did nothing more than hold their ground and fix the enemy units arrayed against them so that they could not be shifted to other sectors.

Tolbukhin, who already was deeply concerned over the condition of the 26th Army, watched in dismay as the German 4th Cavalry Division and 1st SS Panzer Division established bridgeheads across the Sio. These bridgeheads were approximately three kilometers deep and three kilometers wide. In addition, elements of the 1st SS Panzer Division entered Simontornya. On the opposite bank of the Sarviz Canal, most of the units of the II SS Panzer Corps could make no progress, although the redoubtable soldiers of the 44th Grenadier Division cleared the village of Aba. To the north, the three panzer divisions of the III Panzer Corps advanced two kilometers mainly because they benefited from the support of a heavy panzer battalion that used its King Tigers to blast Soviet positions. Despite the impressive gains made by the German forces that secured the Sio Canal bridgeheads, the soldiers of the 3rd Ukrainian Front had succeeded in preventing a breakthrough.

March 13 marked a week since the Germans launched what was to be their final offensive. The weather improved, and the roads began to dry out. Despite this, the Germans were unable to make any significant progress. There were two noteworthy exceptions. First, the 23rd Panzer Division captured Sar Egres. Second, the 1st SS Panzer Division occupied Simontornya. A change occurred in the nature of the fighting when the Soviet forces, which up to that point in the German offensive had only used self-propelled guns, introduced tanks to the battle.

The Soviets continued to hold their defensive lines, though Tolbukhin withdrew one division that had the potential to be encircled. The IV SS Panzer Corps reported increased enemy troop movement. If the enemy counterattacked, Dietrich believed his veterans would have sufficient time to establish strong defensive positions. German intelligence at the army and army group levels misinterpreted this activity in the 2nd Ukrainian Front as local reinforcement movement and not as preparation for a major offensive.

Stavka transferred Maj. Gen. A.G. Kravchenko’s crack 6th Guards Tank Army, which had approximately 500 tanks, and the 9th Guards Army from their positions near Budapest to the rear of the 4th Guards Army. The Germans did not detect the arrival of Kravchenko’s armored units.

On March 14, the German panzer forces were able to maneuver better than in previous days due to the arrival of better weather. But by that time, the panzer force divisions participating in the offensive had shrunk to 50 percent strength.

With the sun peeking out from behind the clouds, the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division received orders to spearhead an attack that day, which only made limited progress in the face of heavy artillery fire from the Soviet 57th Army. Dietrich watched helplessly as his cavalry divisions lost all offensive capability. Although his panzer divisions were still able to make small gains against the enemy, it became increasingly apparent that there would be no armored break- through. Bittich’s II SS Panzer Corps held its ground in bitter fighting near Sarkeresztur. At that point Dietrich was greatly concerned about his flanks, which were vulnerable to enemy counterattack. Reports flooded into his headquarters about increased Soviet vehicle activity, particularly in the passes of the Vertes Mountains northwest of Lake Velencze.

Balck responded by frantically organizing every possible reserve unit to bolster the German and Hungarian forces in his sector of the battlefront. He reluctantly committed his last reserve, the 6th Panzer Division, to the battle. After making some initial headway, its attack was easily contained by the reinforced Soviet XVIII Tank Corps. Even the most optimistic of the German commanders realized by that time that the offensive had ground to a halt. Although they also were exhausted, the Russians sensed that they had won the battle. At that point, the armies of the 3rd Ukrainian Front began making preparations to resume offensive operations. Tolbukhin’s subordinate commanders ordered their units to move into the staging areas for the drive on Vienna.

The good weather held on March 15. The Second Panzer Army resumed its advance. To the north the Sixth Panzer Army and the III Panzer Corps of the Sixth Army tried to gain new ground on their respective fronts, but they had nothing appreciable to show for the blood spilled that day. The II SS Panzer Corps remained on the defensive. The only positive developments for the Germans were that the 1st SS Panzer Division slightly expanded its bridgehead and the 44th Grenadier Division erected a pair of pontoon bridges capable of handling tanks. Hitler and his advisers debated the merits of reorganizing their forces for a new direction of attack.

Unwilling to abandon his objectives, Hitler allowed the reorganization to proceed after an entire day was squandered in the debate. The upshot was that the lengthy delay put some of the units of the I SS Panzer Corps in greater danger from the looming Soviet assault than they would have been if they had received permission to adjust their positions.

March 16 dawned much like the previous 10 days. Heavy fighting occurred the length of the battlefront. Taking advantage of the good weather, the Soviet Air Force stepped up its operations flying numerous sorties against the Sixth Panzer Army and Sixth Army. On the southern end of the battlefront, the Russians attacked Army Group E’s bridgeheads. As for the Second Panzer Army, it only made negligible gains. Elsewhere, the I Cavalry Corps and II SS Panzer Corps remained on the defensive. The momentum had shifted by that point, and even the best plans for reorganization were nullified by the Red Army’s resumption of offensive operations. Both Ukrainian Fronts attacked in force on March 16. The 4th Guards Army and the 9th Guards Army, with the 6th Guards Tank Army and 46th Army following in reserve, struck the left flank of Balck’s Sixth Army northwest of Lake Velencze.

The Soviets targeted the Hungarian divisions, which were the weakest of the enemy’s units. In heavy fighting on the second day of the offensive, the Soviet 46th Army overran the 1st Hungarian Cavalry Division. Wohler responded by cancelling all offensive operations. The Germans had completely abandoned the Drava bridgeheads by March 20. The panzer troops fought tenaciously against the advancing Russians to protect a narrow escape corridor and avoid being surrounded and cut off. The fighting grew in intensity in the following days, and during that time the German retreat corridor narrowed to no more than two miles in width. Speed was of the essence, and the retreating German units abandoned their equipment and supplies as necessary to ensure their escape.

Some of the SS panzer divisions fell back without orders. Hitler threw a tantrum. He immediately dispatched a representative to Hungary to summarily strip the SS troops of their armbands, which had been bestowed upon them to signify that they were elite troops of the Third Reich.

As the Germans withdrew, low-flying Russian Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik ground attack planes pounded their columns from above and Russian tanks and tank destroyers pursued them on the ground. Dietrich’s and Balck’s panzer divisions fell back as quickly as possible given the conditions. Elements of Dietrich’s 6th SS Panzer Army fought for a short time on the outskirts of Vienna, but the weight of the Russian attack forced them to retreat to avoid being encircled. On April 2, the Soviet 57th Army and 1st Bulgarian Army captured the Nagykaniscza oilfields.

The Germans suffered 14,800 casualties compared to 33,000 Russian casualties. Malinovsky captured Bratislava on April 4, and Tolbukhin secured Vienna on April 13 after an 11-day battle.

In the final analysis, Hitler would have done well to heed Guderian’s advice to commit the Sixth Panzer Army to the defense of the Oder line to slow the Russian advance on Berlin. Georg Maier, deputy chief of staff for operations for the Sixth Panzer Army, offered a fitting summation of the failed offensive. “Time, pressure, poor weather, extremely difficult terrain conditions, [and] Hitler’s impatience joined forces with the well-prepared enemy defense to form a combined front,” he wrote.

This article by John E. Spindler originally appeared on Warfare History Network. This article first appeared in 2018.

Image: Wikipedia.

If China's Plan Succeeds, The USS Nimitz Aircraft Carrier Will Be On The Sea Floor

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 03:00

Kyle Mizokami

Security, Asia

More than twenty years ago, a military confrontation in East Asia pushed the United States and China uncomfortably close to conflict.

Here's What You Need To Remember: The Third Taiwan Crisis was a brutal lesson for a China that had long prepared to fight wars inside of its own borders. Still, the PLA Navy deserves credit for learning from the incident and now, twenty-two years later, it is quite possible that China could seriously damage or even sink an American carrier.

More than twenty years ago, a military confrontation in East Asia pushed the United States and China uncomfortably close to conflict. Largely unknown in America, the event made a lasting impression on China, especially Chinese military planners. The Third Taiwan Crisis, as historians call it, was China’s introduction to the power and flexibility of the aircraft carrier, something it obsesses about to this day.

The crisis began in 1995. Taiwan’s first-ever democratic elections for president were set for 1996, a major event that Beijing naturally opposed. The sitting president, Lee Teng-hui of the Kuomintang party, was invited to the United States to speak at his alma mater, Cornell University. Lee was already disliked by Beijing for his emphasis on “Taiwanization,” which favored home rule and established a separate Taiwanese identity away from mainland China. Now he was being asked to speak at Cornell on Taiwan’s democratization, and Beijing was furious.

The Clinton administration was reluctant to grant Lee a visa—he had been denied one for a similar talk at Cornell the year before—but near-unanimous support from Congress forced the White House’s hand. Lee was granted a visa and visited Cornell in June. The Xinhua state news agency warned, “The issue of Taiwan is as explosive as a barrel of gunpowder. It is extremely dangerous to warm it up, no matter whether the warming is done by the United States or by Lee Teng-hui. This wanton wound inflicted upon China will help the Chinese people more clearly realize what kind of a country the United States is.”

In August 1995, China announced a series of missiles exercises in the East China Sea. Although the exercises weren’t unusual, their announcement was, and there was speculation that this was the beginning of an intimidation campaign by China, both as retaliation against the Cornell visit and intimidation of Taiwan’s electorate ahead of the next year’s elections. The exercises involved the People’s Liberation Army’s Second Artillery Corps (now the PLA Rocket Forces) and the redeployment of Chinese F-7 fighters (China’s version of the MiG-21 Fishbed fighter) 250 miles from Taiwan. Also, in a move that would sound very familiar in 2017, up to one hundred Chinese civilian fishing boats entered territorial waters around the Taiwanese island of Matsu, just off the coast of the mainland.

According to Globalsecurity.org, redeployments of Chinese long-range missile forces continued into 1996, and the Chinese military actually prepared for military action. China drew up contingency plans for thirty days of missile strikes against Taiwan, one strike a day, shortly after the March 1996 presidential elections. These strikes were not carried out, but preparations were likely detected by U.S. intelligence.

In March 1996, China announced its fourth major military exercises since the Cornell visit. The country’s military announced a series of missile test zones off the Chinese coastline, which also put the missiles in the approximate direction of Taiwan. In reality, China fired three missiles, two of which splashed down just thirty miles from the Taiwanese capital of Taipei and one of which splashed down thirty-five miles from Kaohsiung. Together, the two cities handled most of the country’s commercial shipping traffic. For an export-driven country like Taiwan, the missile launches seemed like an ominous shot across the country’s economic bow.

American forces were already operating in the area. The USS Bunker Hill, a Ticonderoga-class Aegis cruiser, was stationed off southern Taiwan to monitor Chinese missile tests with its SPY-1 radar system. The Japan-based USS Independence, along with the destroyers Hewitt and O’Brien and frigate McClusky, took up position on the eastern side of the island.

After the missile tests, the carrier USS Nimitz left the Persian Gulf region and raced back to the western Pacific. This was an even more powerful carrier battle group, consisting of the Aegis cruiser Port Royal, guided missile destroyers Oldendorf and Callaghan (which would later be transferred to the Taiwanese Navy), guided missile frigate USS Ford, and nuclear attack submarine USS PortsmouthNimitz and its escorts took up station in the Philippine Sea, ready to assist Independence. Contrary to popular belief, neither carrier actually entered the Taiwan Strait.

The People’s Liberation Army, unable to do anything about the American aircraft carriers, was utterly humiliated. China, which was just beginning to show the consequences of rapid economic expansion, still did not have a military capable of posing a credible threat to American ships just a short distance from of its coastline.

While we might never know the discussions that later took place, we know what has happened since. Just two years later a Chinese businessman purchased the hulk of the unfinished Russian aircraft carrier Riga, with the stated intention of turning it into a resort and casino. We know this ship today as China’s first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, after it was transferred to the PLA Navy and underwent a fifteen-year refurbishment. At least one other carrier is under construction, and the ultimate goal may be as many as five Chinese carriers.

At the same time, the Second Artillery Corps leveraged its expertise in long-range rockets to create the DF-21D antiship ballistic missile. The DF-21 has obvious applications against large capital ships, such as aircraft carriers, and in a future crisis could force the U.S. Navy to operate eight to nine hundred miles off Taiwan and the rest of the so-called “First Island Chain.”

The Third Taiwan Crisis was a brutal lesson for a China that had long prepared to fight wars inside of its own borders. Still, the PLA Navy deserves credit for learning from the incident and now, twenty-two years later, it is quite possible that China could seriously damage or even sink an American carrier. Also unlike the United States, China is in the unique position of both seeing the value of carriers and building its own fleet while at the same time devoting a lot of time and resources to the subject of sinking them. The United States may soon find itself in the same position.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the DiplomatForeign PolicyWar is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009, he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami. This article first appeared in 2018. 

Image: Wikipedia.

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