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Am I Coping Well During the Pandemic?

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 09:00

Nick Haslam


Over time, people have changed how they have responded to the threat of COVID-19. Google searches have shifted from the harm of the pandemic itself to ways of dealing with it, such as exercising and learning new skills.

The pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges. Many of us have lost work, gained carer responsibilities and grappled with social isolation. Experts have warned of a looming wave of mental illness as a result.

Research suggests they’re largely correct. Surveys in Australia, the UK and the USA point to rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thinking substantially higher than in previous years.

But over time, people have changed how they have responded to the threat of COVID-19. Google searches have shifted from the harm of the pandemic itself to ways of dealing with it, such as exercising and learning new skills.

This pivot points to a new focus on coping with COVID-19.

Many ways of coping

Coping is the process of responding effectively to problems and challenges. To cope well is to respond to the threat in ways that minimise its damaging impact.

Coping can involve many different strategies and it’s likely you have your own preferred ones. These strategies can be classified in many ways, but a key distinction is between problem-focused and emotion-focused strategies.

What’s the difference?

Problem-focused coping involves actively engaging with the outside world. This might mean making action plans, seeking further information about a threat, or confronting an adversary.

Emotion-focused coping, in contrast, is directed inward, attempting to change how we respond emotionally to stressful events and conditions, rather than to change them at their source.

Effective emotion-focused strategies include meditation, humour and reappraising difficulties to find benefits.

Less effective emotion-focused strategies include seeking distractions, denial and substance use. Although these tactics may stave off distress in the short term, they neither address its causes nor prevent its longer term effects.

Which is best?

Neither of these coping strategies is intrinsically more or less effective than the other. Both can be effective for different kinds of challenges.

Problem-focused strategies are said to work best when we can control the problem.

However, when we face an immovable challenge, it can be better to adjust our response to it using emotion-focused strategies, rather than battling fruitlessly against it.

Coping strategies during the pandemic

Physical activity and experiencing nature can offer some protection from depression during the pandemic. One study even points to the benefits of birdwatching.

But there’s more evidence around coping strategies to avoid. Rising levels of substance use during the pandemic are associated with greater distress.

Eating too many snacks and accessing too much COVID-related media have also been linked to higher levels of stress and depression. So these should be consumed in moderation.

How can I tell if I’m not coping well?

We should be able to assess how well we are coping with the pandemic by judging how we’re going compared to our previous normal.

Think of yourself this time last year. Are you drinking more, sleeping poorly or experiencing fewer positive emotions and more negative emotions now?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, then compared to your previous normal, your coping may not been as good as it could be. But before you judge your coping critically, it’s worth considering a few things.

Your coping is relative to your challenge

The pandemic may be shared, but its impacts have been unequal.

If you live alone, are a caregiver or have lost work, the pandemic has been a larger threat for you than for many others. If you’ve suffered more distress than others, or more than you did last year, it doesn’t mean you have coped less well — you may have just had more to cope with.

Read more: Your coping and resilience strategies might need to shift as the COVID-19 crisis continues

Negative emotions can be appropriate

Experiencing some anxiety in the face of a threat like COVID-19 is justified. Experiencing sadness at separation from loved ones under lockdown is also inevitable. Suffering does not mean maladjustment.

In fact, unpleasant emotions draw our attention to problems and motivate us to tackle them, rather than just being signs of mental fragility or not coping.

We should, of course, be vigilant for serious problems, such as thoughts of self-harm, but we should also avoid pathologising ordinary distress. Not all distress is a symptom of a mental health problem.

Read more: 7 mental health coping tips for life in the time of COVID-19

Coping isn’t just about emotions anyway

Coping isn’t all about how we feel. It’s also about action and finding a sense of meaning and purpose in life, despite our distress. Perhaps if we’ve sustained our relationships and done our jobs passably during the pandemic, we have coped well enough, even if we have sometimes been miserable.

Read more: 7 science-based strategies to cope with coronavirus anxiety

Coping with COVID-19 has been an uneven contest

Social distancing and lockdowns have left us with a reduced coping repertoire. Seeking emotional and practical support from others, also known as “social coping”, is made more difficult by pandemic restrictions. Without our usual supports, many of us have had to cope with one arm tied behind our backs.

So remember to cut yourself some slack. For most people, the pandemic has been a unique challenge. When judging how well we’ve coped we should practise self-compassion. Let’s not make things worse by criticising ourselves for failing to cope better.

If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Nick Haslam, Professor of Psychology, University of Melbourne

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

Image: Reuters

World War I: Why Did Germany Join the Triple Alliance?

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 08:33

Warfare History Network

History, Europe

The Triple Alliance served the purposes of Kaiser Wilhelm II in his pursuit of a colonial empire and political and military influence for Germany.

Key Point: The agreement left room for clandestine dealings.

When Kaiser Wilhelm II acceded to the throne of the German Empire in 1888, the young nation was already an economic and military force with which to be reckoned on the European continent. During the previous three decades, Otto von Bismarck, first as Prime Minister of Prussia and then Chancellor of Germany, had presided over the unification of the country, the successful prosecution of multiple wars, and the establishment of a colonial empire, particularly on the continent of Africa.

Bismarck had also later worked to maintain an uneasy peace among the major European powers, negotiating settlements that avoided wars between Germany’s neighbors while protecting his nation’s own interests. In 1873, Bismarck spearheaded the formation of the League of Three Emperors with Austria-Hungary and Italy primarily for the purpose of isolating France, which remained hostile and might seek vengeance after its decisive defeat by the Prussians in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Although the League survived until 1890, Russia and Austria-Hungary were distrustful of one another as opportunities for expansion in the Balkans developed with the decline of the Ottoman Empire. At the same time, Russia became wary of the growing possibility of German hegemony in Europe and sought closer ties with France, which shared similar concerns.

Forming the Alliance

In May 1882, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy successfully concluded the Triple Alliance, which provided assurances between the nations in the event that one of them was attacked. However, there were some elements of the agreement that left room for clandestine dealings. On the face of it, the alliance purported that Germany and Austria-Hungary would assist Italy if that country were attacked by France without having provoked a French military move. Italy would side with Germany in the event that France opened hostilities against that country, and if Austria-Hungary went to war with Russia, Italy pledged to remain neutral. Five years later the Triple Alliance was renewed with the conclusion of additional assurances between the nations.

While young Wilhelm II had benefited directly from Bismarck’s efforts, he dismissed the “Iron Chancellor” in 1890, determined to pursue a more aggressive imperial posture. The Kaiser asserted that Germany would have its “place in the sun.” Bismarck died in 1898, amid the Kaiser’s overt efforts to build a German Navy that rivaled the supremacy of the British Royal Navy and establish German economic, industrial, and military domination in Europe.

A Flurry of Negotiations & Counter-Agreements

Although the Triple Alliance ostensibly represented a powerful coalition in Central Europe, five months after the agreement was renewed in November 1902, Italy successfully negotiated an understanding with France that each country would remain neutral if the other were attacked. The Triple Alliance was again renewed in 1907 and 1912, countering the Triple Entente between France, Great Britain, and Russia, each of which feared the growing might of the German nation and its obvious desire for territorial expansion.

The foremost of the flurry of agreements, treaties, and secret protocols that emerged among the major European powers prior to World War I, the Triple Alliance and Triple Entente significantly influenced the march toward global war in 1914. The Triple Alliance survived until the outbreak of the Great War, when Italy declined to enter the conflict on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

This article first appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Clemson-Class Destroyers: These American Ships Served Britain and Russia (and Even Japan)

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 08:00

Warfare History Network

History, Americas

The Clemson-class U.S. Navy destroyers were both speedy and heavily armed.

Key Point: Built too late for extensive combat service in World War I, the ships were approaching obsolescence by the advent of World War II.

The 50 ships transferred to Great Britain by executive action of President Roosevelt were all Clemson-class destroyers. There were 273 of these ships commissioned during 1917-1922. In general, they had an overall length of 314 feet, 5 inches; and a beam of 31 feet, 8 inches. Normal displacement was 1,190 tons, which produced a mean draft of 9 feet, 3 inches. The design speed was 35 knots, and their complement was six officers and 89 men. The ships were normally armed with four 4-inch guns and one 3-inch gun, plus twelve 21-inch torpedo tubes arranged in four triple mounts.

The Clemson-class carried hull numbers DD-69 through DD-347 inclusive. Despite the fact that World War I was concluded before construction on many of the destroyers was started, only hull numbers 200-205 were canceled. These destroyers, commonly referred to as “four-pipers,” were perhaps the archetypal American warships. Built too late for extensive combat service in World War I, they were approaching obsolescence by the advent of World War II; however, they played an important role in the latter conflict. One ship of the class, USS Reuben James, became the first American combat vessel sunk during hostilities between the United States and Germany when she was torpedoed by German submarine U-552 while escorting a British convoy on October 31, 1941, more than a month before the United States entered the war.

“Four-Piper”: The Ubiquitous Ship

Four-pipers were possibly the U.S. Navy’s most ubiquitous and colorful ships. Their presence in huge numbers during the 1920s virtually halted new American destroyer construction for 12 years. In addition, their existence as usable hulls practically forced the U.S. Navy to find alternative uses for them. Consequently, many were converted to destroyer minelayers, seaplane tenders, minesweepers, high-speed transports, radio-controlled target vessels, and even water barges. Several were sold and converted to civilian banana carriers. As combat ships, they served under the ensigns of the United States, Great Britain, Norway, Canada, and the Soviet Union. One captured four-piper, USS Stewart, even fought for Japan.

While the four-pipers were normally considered a homogeneous class of ships, that was not quite true. It should be recognized that the 273 completed destroyers were constructed in 11 different building yards, each of which made slight changes in the basic design to utilize the best local ship-construction practices. Three ships of the class were built with only three stacks, while many others in later life had one or two of the original four stacks removed. For this reason, “flush-decker” rather than “four-piper” is sometimes used to describe the class. Two of the ships had three, rather than the usual two, propeller shafts. Of the 273 four-pipers completed, only 20 were built in Navy yards, while 253 were constructed by civilian shipbuilders.

This article first appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Forget COVID-19: These Three Pandemics Changed the Course of Society

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 07:33

Andrew Latham

History, World

People are beginning to understand that the little changes COVID-19 has already ushered in or accelerated – telemedicine, remote work, social distancing, the death of the handshake, online shopping, the virtual disappearance of cash and so on – have begun to change their way of life. This is not the first time a pandemic has reshaped society. 

Before March of this year, few probably thought disease could be a significant driver of human history.

Not so anymore. People are beginning to understand that the little changes COVID-19 has already ushered in or accelerated – telemedicine, remote work, social distancing, the death of the handshake, online shopping, the virtual disappearance of cash and so on – have begun to change their way of life. They may not be sure whether these changes will outlive the pandemic. And they may be uncertain whether these changes are for good or ill.

Three previous plagues could yield some clues about the way COVID-19 might bend the arc of history. As I teach in my course “Plagues, Pandemics and Politics,” pandemics tend to shape human affairs in three ways.

First, they can profoundly alter a society’s fundamental worldview. Second, they can upend core economic structures. And, finally, they can sway power struggles among nations.

Sickness spurs the rise of the Christian West

The Antonine plague, and its twin, the Cyprian plague – both now widely thought to have been caused by a smallpox strain – ravaged the Roman Empire from A.D. 165 to 262. It’s been estimated that the combined pandemics’ mortality rate was anywhere from one-quarter to one-third of the empire’s population.

While staggering, the number of deaths tells only part of the story. This also triggered a profound transformation in the religious culture of the Roman Empire.

On the eve of the Antonine plague, the empire was pagan. The vast majority of the population worshipped multiple gods and spirits and believed that rivers, trees, fields and buildings each had their own spirit.

Christianity, a monotheistic religion that had little in common with paganism, had only 40,000 adherents, no more than 0.07% of the empire’s population.

Yet within a generation of the end of the Cyprian plague, Christianity had become the dominant religion in the empire.

How did these twin pandemics effect this profound religious transformation?

Rodney Stark, in his seminal work “The Rise of Christianity,” argues that these two pandemics made Christianity a much more attractive belief system.

While the disease was effectively incurable, rudimentary palliative care – the provision of food and water, for example – could spur recovery of those too weak to care for themselves. Motivated by Christian charity and an ethic of care for the sick – and enabled by the thick social and charitable networks around which the early church was organized – the empire’s Christian communities were willing and able to provide this sort of care.

Pagan Romans, on the other hand, opted instead either to flee outbreaks of the plague or to self-isolate in the hope of being spared infection.

This had two effects.

First, Christians survived the ravages of these plagues at higher rates than their pagan neighbors and developed higher levels of immunity more quickly. Seeing that many more of their Christian compatriots were surviving the plague – and attributing this either to divine favor or the benefits of the care being provided by Christians – many pagans were drawn to the Christian community and the belief system that underpinned it. At the same time, tending to sick pagans afforded Christians unprecedented opportunities to evangelize.

Second, Stark argues that, because these two plagues disproportionately affected young and pregnant women, the lower mortality rate among Christians translated into a higher birth rate.

The net effect of all this was that, in roughly the span of a century, an essentially pagan empire found itself well on its way to becoming a majority Christian one.

The plague of Justinian and the fall of Rome

The plague of Justinian, named after the Roman emperor who reigned from A.S. 527 to 565, arrived in the Roman Empire in A.D. 542 and didn’t disappear until A.D. 755. During its two centuries of recurrence, it killed an estimated 25% to 50% of the population – anywhere from 25 million to 100 million people.

This massive loss of lives crippled the economy, triggering a financial crisis that exhausted the state’s coffers and hobbled the empire’s once mighty military.

In the east, Rome’s principal geopolitical rival, Sassanid Persia, was also devastated by the plague and was therefore in no position to exploit the Roman Empire’s weakness. But the forces of the Islamic Rashidun Caliphate in Arabia – which had long been contained by the Romans and Sasanians – were largely unaffected by the plague. The reasons for this are not well understood, but they probably have to do with the caliphate’s relative isolation from major urban centers.

Caliph Abu Bakr didn’t let the opportunity go to waste. Seizing the moment, his forces swiftly conquered the entire Sasanian Empire while stripping the weakened Roman Empire of its territories in the Levant, the Caucasus, Egypt and North Africa.

Pre-pandemic, the Mediterranean world had been relatively unified by commerce, politics, religion and culture. What emerged was a fractured trio of civilizations jockeying for power and influence: an Islamic one in the eastern and southern Mediterranean basin; a Greek one in the northeastern Mediterranean; and a European one between the western Mediterranean and the North Sea.

This last civilization – what we now call medieval Europe – was defined by a new, distinctive economic system.

Before the plague, the European economy had been based on slavery. After the plague, the significantly diminished supply of slaves forced landowners to begin granting plots to nominally “free” laborers – serfs who worked the lord’s fields and, in return, received military protection and certain legal rights from the lord.

The seeds of feudalism were planted.

The Black Death of the Middle Ages

The Black Death broke out in Europe in 1347 and subsequently killed between one-third and one-half of the total European population of 80 million people. But it killed more than people. By the time the pandemic had burned out by the early 1350s, a distinctly modern world emerged – one defined by free labor, technological innovation and a growing middle class.

Before the Yersinia pestis bacterium arrived in 1347, Western Europe was a feudal society that was overpopulated. Labor was cheap, serfs had little bargaining power, social mobility was stymied and there was little incentive to increase productivity.

But the loss of so much life shook up an ossified society.

Labor shortages gave peasants more bargaining power. In the agrarian economy, they also encouraged the widespread adoption of new and existing technologies – the iron plow, the three-field crop rotation system and fertilization with manure, all of which significantly increased productivity. Beyond the countryside, it resulted in the invention of time and labor-saving devices such as the printing press, water pumps for draining mines and gunpowder weapons.

In turn, freedom from feudal obligations and a desire to move up the social ladder encouraged many peasants to move to towns and engage in crafts and trades. The more successful ones became wealthier and constituted a new middle class. They could now afford more of the luxury goods that could be obtained only from beyond Europe’s frontiers, and this stimulated both long-distance trade and the more efficient three-masted ships needed to engage in that trade.

The new middle class’s increasing wealth also stimulated patronage of the arts, science, literature and philosophy. The result was an explosion of cultural and intellectual creativity – what we now call the Renaissance.

Our present future

None of this is to argue that the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will have similarly earth-shattering outcomes. The mortality rate of COVID-19 is nothing like that of the plagues discussed above, and therefore the consequences may not be as seismic.

But there are some indications that they could be.

Will the bumbling efforts of the open societies of the West to come to grips with the virus shattering already-wavering faith in liberal democracy, creating a space for other ideologies to evolve and metastasize?

In a similar fashion, COVID-19 may be accelerating an already ongoing geopolitical shift in the balance of power between the U.S. and China. During the pandemic, China has taken the global lead in providing medical assistance to other countries as part of its “Health Silk Road” initiative. Some argue that the combination of America’s failure to lead and China’s relative success at picking up the slack may well be turbocharging China’s rise to a position of global leadership.

Finally, COVID-19 seems to be accelerating the unraveling of long-established patterns and practices of work, with repercussions that could affet the future of office towers, big cities and mass transit, to name just a few. The implications of this and related economic developments may prove as profoundly transformative as those triggered by the Black Death in 1347.

Ultimately, the longer-term consequences of this pandemic – like all previous pandemics – are simply unknowable to those who must endure them. But just as past plagues made the world we currently inhabit, so too will this plague likely remake the one populated by our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Andrew Latham, Professor of Political Science, Macalester College

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

Image: Wikimedia

$1,200 Check Coming Soon? What's in the Latest Coronavirus Relief Bill?

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 07:00

Matt Weidinger


The new legislation could be considered on the House floor as soon as today. 

Late Monday, House Democrats released an updated version of the “Heroes Act,” the massive $3.4 trillion coronavirus relief bill that passed the House mostly along partisan lines in May but has languished since then. The new 2154-page legislative text is billed as a slimmed down version of the prior bill, and Capitol Hill sources suggest the new legislation could be considered on the House floor as soon as today. 

Despite its “slimmed down” billing, a review of the legislation’s unemployment provisions shows it calls for an expansion of several key unemployment benefits, including an extension of 13 more weeks of benefits (for a new total of up to 72 weeks of benefits) and an expansion of the eligibility criteria for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which has been subject to significant fraud and abuse.

Meanwhile, as the table below also displays, the legislation adds a new $125-per-week federal benefit for individuals with at least $5,000 in prior self-employment earnings, on top of the revived $600 per week federal bonus and other unemployment benefits. As under the May version of the legislation, the $600 bonus would be extended through January 2021 with a phase-out through March 2021 — except its revival would begin after September 5, when the intervening $300 per week federal Lost Wages Assistance program ceased supplementing other unemployment benefits.

Comparison of Unemployment Benefit Policies in Heroes Act I and II

  Policy     Heroes Act I (May 2020)   Heroes Act II (September 2020) Extension of $600 bonus Extends the federal $600 per week bonus from late July 2020 through January 2021, with a soft phase-out through March 2021. Same extension, except the revival of the $600 bonus begins after September 5, 2020 (that is, not during weeks when intervening $300-per-week federal Lost Wages Assistance benefits were payable).   Additional $125 benefit for “mixed earners” No provision. Adds a new $125-per-week federal “mixed-earner unemployment compensation” benefit (on top of the $600 bonus and other unemployment benefits) for individuals with at least $5,000 in prior self-employment earnings.   Disregard of $600 bonus Expands the current law disregard of the $600 bonus payments (which currently covers only Medicaid) to include “any Federal program or under any State or local program financed in whole or in part with Federal funds.”   Same, but adds that this change “shall take effect as if included in the enactment of the CARES Act,” suggesting unemployment benefit recipients may be able to file new claims for SNAP and other means-tested benefits back to March 2020.   More weeks of extended benefits Proposes a total of up to 59 weeks of all unemployment benefits (up to 26 weeks of UI, 13 of PEUC, and 20 of EB). Proposes a total of up to 72 weeks of all unemployment benefits (adding a new 13-week PEUC “extension” program).   PUA extension and eligibility expansion Extends PUA through January 2021 (i.e. a one-month straight extension). Same extension, but also expands eligibility for PUA, such as for adults whose children are in schools that are “partially reopened” or for whom “physical attendance at the school or facility presents an unacceptable health risk for the household.” Also allows the waiver of the repayment of PUA overpayments back to the program’s start, including if repayment “would be contrary to equity and good conscience.”   Extension of CARES Act benefits Extends PEUC plus federal financing of STC and the first week of UI benefits through January 2021 (i.e. a one-month straight extension).   Same as Heroes Act I. Other extensions Extends 100 percent federal funding of EB, interest-free treatment on federal loans, and federal assistance for reimbursable employers through June 2021 (i.e. a six-month straight extension).   Same as Heroes Act I. Report on claim backlogs No provision. Requires states to update the Department of Labor on backlogs of unemployment claims and develop a corrective action plan.  

Note: SNAP = Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as food stamps);

PEUC = federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, a program that currently provides 13 weeks of extended benefits to those exhausting state UI benefits;

PUA = federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program;

STC = Short-time compensation;

UI = state Unemployment Insurance program;

EB = Extended Benefits program.

This article first appeared on the AEIdeas blog, a publication of the American Enterprise Institute.

Image: Reuters.

Mitch McConnell's Legacy: A Conservative Supreme Court Shaped by His Political Calculus

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 06:30

Al Cross


Trump exercises his power with what often seems like reckless audacity, but McConnell’s 36-year Senate tenure is built on his calculated audacity.

Unless Democrats win both the White House and the Senate in November, abolish the filibuster and expand the Supreme Court, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is about to finish his project of remaking the federal judiciary from top to bottom.

The impact of that achievement will outlive the 78-year-old Kentuckian, making it the biggest piece of his large legacy in Senate history.

This feat could hardly have been predicted when Senate Republicans elected McConnell their leader in 2006. For most of the 40-plus years I have watched McConnell, first as a reporter covering Kentucky politics and now as a journalism professor focused on rural issues, he seemed to have no great ambition or goals, other than gaining power and keeping it.

He always cared about the courts, though. In 1987, after Democrats defeated Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, McConnell warned that if a Democratic president “sends up somebody we don’t like” to a Republican-controlled Senate, the GOP would follow suit. He fulfilled that threat in 2016, refusing to confirm Merrick Garland, Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court.

Keeping that vacancy open helped elect Donald Trump. Two people could hardly be more different, but the taciturn McConnell and the voluble Trump have at least one thing in common: They want power.

Trump exercises his power with what often seems like reckless audacity, but McConnell’s 36-year Senate tenure is built on his calculated audacity.

McConnell’s political rise

It was audacious, back in 1977, to think that a wonky lawyer who had been disqualified from his only previous campaign for public office could defeat a popular two-term county executive in Louisville.

McConnell ran anyway.

It was audacious to think that a Republican could get the local labor council to endorse him in that race, but he got it, by leading the members to believe he would help them get collective bargaining for public employees.

McConnell won the race. He didn’t pursue collective bargaining.

Seven years later, it was audacious to think that an urbanite who wore loafers to dusty, gravelly county fairs and lacked a compelling personality could unseat a popular two-term Kentucky senator, especially when he trailed by 40 points in August, but McConnell won.

As soon as he won a second term in 1990, McConnell started climbing the Senate leadership ladder, facilitated in large measure by his willingness to be the point man on campaign finance issues, an area his colleagues feared. They reacted emotionally to this touchy issue; he studied it, owned it and moved higher in the leadership.

Business, not service

In politics, lack of emotion is usually a drawback. McConnell makes up for that by having command of the rules and the facts and a methodical attitude.

McConnell in 1992. Laura Patterson/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

The recording on his home phone once said, “This is Mitch McConnell. You’ve reached my home. If this call is about business, please call my office.”

Business. Not something like “my service to you in the United States Senate,” but “business.”

This lack of emotion keeps McConnell disciplined. I am not the only person he has told, “The most important word in the English language is ‘focus,’ because if you don’t focus, you don’t get anything done.”

Last year, I spoke to the McConnell Scholars, the political-leadership program he started at the University of Louisville. One thank-you gift was a letter opener bearing two words: focus and humility. The first word was no surprise, because of McConnell’s well-known maxim; the second one intrigued me.

The director of the program, Gary Gregg, says adding “humility” was his idea. But it fits the founder. With his studied approach and careful reticence, McConnell is the opposite of bombast, and that surely helped him gain the Republican leader’s job and stay there. He has occasionally described his colleagues as prima donnas who look in the mirror and see a president, something he claims to have never done.

When the colleagues in your party caucus know you are focused on their interests and not your own, you can keep getting reelected leader, as McConnell has done without opposition every two years since 2006.

McConnell’s Supreme Court

McConnell’s caucus trusts him. When he saw Obama as an existential threat – someone who could bring back enough moderate Democrats to give the party a long-term governing majority – McConnell held the caucus together in opposition to Obamacare, and Republicans used that as an issue to rouse their base in the 2010 midterm election.

Meanwhile, McConnell was working on the federal judiciary. He and his colleagues slow-walked and filibustered Obama’s nominees, requiring “aye” votes from 60 of the 100 senators to confirm each one. The process consumed so much time that then-Majority Leader Harry Reid abolished the filibuster for nominations, except those to the Supreme Court.

That sped up the process, allowing Obama to appoint 323 judges, about as many as George W. Bush. But Republicans’ additional delaying tactics still left 105 vacancies for Trump to fill.

When Democrats weakened the filibuster, McConnell warned, “You’ll regret this. And you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.”

Seven years later, Democrats may concede that point. McConnell and Trump have put nearly 200 judges on the federal courts, making them all the more a white-male bastion of judicial conservatism.

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When Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016 and McConnell said the seat wouldn’t be filled until after the November election, it was another case of calculated audacity.

Sen. Chuck Schumer reminding McConnell of his ‘rule,’ September 2020. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democrats cried foul, but they were powerless to reverse his decision because Republicans stuck with him.

Trump’s victory preserved the Senate Republican majority, which then did away with the Supreme Court exception, allowing McConnell and his colleagues to install by simple majority vote the sort of Supreme Court justices they wanted: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh – and, now, it seems almost certain, Amy Coney Barrett.

Al Cross, Director and Professor, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky, University of Kentucky

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

Trump Sees Patriotism as Unconditional, but a True Patriot Has a Critical Eye

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 06:00

Stewart Clem

Politics, The Americas

In 1963, James Baldwin wrote: “I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

When President Donald Trump talks about “patriots” – and he does, a lot – he probably doesn’t have in mind a fictional Black American sailor sitting in a cafe in Wales, listening to locals sing folks songs.

But in Ralph Ellison’s short story “In a Strange Country,” the protagonist, Mr. Parker, listens to Welsh songs that simultaneously express loyalty to the queen and defiance of England, and sees something of his own situation and conflicting feelings to the land of his birth. When the locals begin to sing “The Star Spangled Banner,” Mr. Parker finds himself singing along. Thousands of miles away from his homeland and fighting back tears, he sings his national anthem for the first time without irony.

It is a form of patriotism echoed by another Black American, this time the very nonfictional author and thinker James Baldwin. In 1963, Baldwin wrote: “I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

Trump sees patriotism differently. For him, it is unconditional. Even before coming to office, he was tweeting about the topic, on one occasion using the Mark Twain adage: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”

More recently, he has bestowed the term on his supporters and sought to cast them as being more patriotic than Black Lives Matter protesters.

Pitting 1776 against 1619

In September, Trump announced plans for a “patriotic” and “pro-American” curriculum in American public schools.

In unveiling a proposed “1776 Commission” to ensure that “our youth will be taught to love America,” Trump was seemingly responding to The New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project. That project aims to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”

Trump appears to imply that loving America is incompatible with acknowledging that the U.S. has oppressed certain people and groups on its path to glory.

Deciphering the word ‘patriot’

As a moral theologian and someone who frequently engages the writings of medieval thinkers, I can’t help but notice that this understanding of patriotism is relatively novel. The concept that a “good” patriot unquestionably loves his country unconditionally is not in keeping with how it has been viewed throughout history.

The word “patriot” comes from the ancient Greek “patrios,” translated as “of one’s fathers.” As such, in the original meaning a patriot is someone who belongs to one’s fatherland. No judgment was made as to how that person should view the fatherland. This came later.

The medieval scholastics – a diverse group of thinkers including such luminaries as St. Bonaventure and St. Anselm of Canterbury – were known for reviving and developing ideas that originated in ancient Greek philosophy.

To belong to something, according to the scholastics, is not a mere observation of fact. It generates moral obligations, because we owe a debt to the things that give us life. As St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “The principles of our being and government are our parents and our country, which have given us birth and nourishment. Thus, a person is debtor chiefly to their parents and their country, after God.”

The virtue of piety

The scholastics had a name for this virtue: piety. The virtuous person honors and loves the things that have brought them into being, and this includes one’s homeland. “Piety,” St. Thomas writes, “is a declaration of the love we bear towards our parents and our country.”

While perceived wrongdoing may lead us to denounce the actions of our country’s government, such criticism is compatible with – and, indeed, necessitated by – the virtue of piety, according to the scholastic understanding of the virtue of justice.

What we can learn from the scholastics is that the heart of patriotism is not an unwavering commitment to the objective superiority of one’s country – rather, the heart of patriotism is love.

As such, we should study the shameful aspects of our nation’s past not only because it is fair and honest but also because it can can make us love our country more. In short, it can make us better patriots.

As the theologian and philospher G. K. Chesterton once quipped, “Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they loved her.”

A modern interpretation could be that an American patriot will always love America, but he or she may not always be pro-America.

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This is an interpretation that jars most with Americans on the political right. But there is also a lesson here for some Americans on the left that criticism of one’s own country should not spill out into contempt. Hatred or indifference toward one’s country is not a virtue, in the eyes of the scholastics.

So someone can be a “good American patriot” who ardently loves America while also lamenting its shortcomings – both past and present. If Trump’s proposed K-12 curriculum can maintain both of these virtues, then it would be truly patriotic. But if it leads to educators who insist that students be blindly pro-American, it would merely be propaganda.

Aquinas Institute of Theology is a member of the Association of Theological Schools.

The ATS is a funding partner of The Conversation US.

Stewart Clem, Assistant Professor of Moral Theology, Aquinas Institute of Theology

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

Image: Reuters

Could the U.S. Presidential Election Be Decided by a Few State Legislatures?

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 05:30

Austin Sarat

Politics, The Americas

Recent media reports indicate that Trump’s campaign is considering asking some of the 29 state legislatures with Republican majorities, in charge of a total of 300 electoral votes, to depart from current practice in choosing their Electoral College delegates. The request would be for those bodies to select Trump electors and order them to cast their ballots for the president, regardless of the candidate the states’ voters actually preferred.

State legislatures could face legal and perhaps even state constitutional crises after Election Day, if they’re pressured to change how they traditionally allocate electoral votes.

Recent media reports indicate that Trump’s campaign is considering asking some of the 29 state legislatures with Republican majorities, in charge of a total of 300 electoral votes, to depart from current practice in choosing their Electoral College delegates. The request would be for those bodies to select Trump electors and order them to cast their ballots for the president, regardless of the candidate the states’ voters actually preferred. A similar possibility arose in 2000, when the Republican majority in the state’s legislature claimed to possess “broad authority to allocate Florida’s electoral votes,” and came close to doing so.

As a student of American democratic politics, I believe that while there are some legal barriers that could limit the ability of legislative bodies to disregard popular vote totals in the allocation of their electoral votes, the most important constraints would be political.

A president picked this way by state legislatures would likely have his legitimacy questioned – and the legislatures would also likely face the public’s ire.

A base in the Constitution

Article II of the U.S. Constitution leaves decisions about how electors will be chosen to state legislatures: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.”

In the country’s early years, some legislatures did not trouble themselves to involve their citizens in choosing the president. When George Washington was first elected in 1788, the legislatures of Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey and South Carolina appointed electors directly without a popular vote. The New York state legislature did not even choose electors because lawmakers couldn’t resolve the split between its two chambers, which were controlled by different parties.

The first several presidential elections followed a mixed pattern, with some states using popular elections to direct the choice of electors, while others left that choice solely to their legislatures. As political parties jockeyed for advantage, states changed their systems often.

No state legislature has ever appointed a slate of electors supporting a candidate who lost the state’s popular vote. As the Supreme Court noted in the recent “faithless electors” case, by 1832, every state except South Carolina had passed legislation saying that the popular vote would determine the choice of its electors.

In 1876, newly admitted Colorado became the last state whose legislature chose electors on its own. Today the laws of every state give voters the final say about which party the electors should represent.

The Supreme Court’s view

State legislatures have given up the power to choose electors, but the Supreme Court has on several occasions recognized their right to take it back.

The first decision was in 1892, when the court declared that “the legislature possesses plenary authority to direct the manner of appointment, and might itself exercise the appointing power by joint ballot or concurrence of the two houses, or according to such mode as it designated.”

More than 100 years later, the court revisited the question in Bush v. Gore. In a little noticed but highly consequential passage, the majority wrote that a state legislature “may, if it so chooses, select the electors itself,” and it retains authority to “take back the power to appoint electors,” even if it formerly let the popular vote make the decision.

In a July 2020 decision, the Supreme Court again declared that Article II gives state legislatures “the broadest power of determination” over who becomes an elector. However, the majority opinion did suggest that power might be subject to “some other constitutional constraint.”

What are the limits?

The court has declared that states have the right to take back the choice of electors from the people – but has cautioned that they may not do so easily.

When states give the voters control over electoral picks, they confer on them a “fundamental” right, which is protected by other constitutional guarantees, including the due process and equal protection clauses.

But it’s not clear how strong that protection might actually be. State legislatures would almost certainly have to pass a new law or resolution to make any change. In each state, a majority of legislators would have to agree. And, depending on the form of the enactment, it might or might not be subject to a governor’s approval – or a veto override.

Historically, courts have respected legislative decisions to change how a state appoints electors so long as the changes happen before the election happens, not after the ballots are cast.

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A matter of timing

Post-election changes of the kind the Trump campaign is reportedly contemplating would cause confusion around two federal laws that directly contradict each other.

One law requires electors to be appointed on Election Day itself. But all states abide by another law, the Electoral Count Act, passed in 1887, which gives states up to 41 days after Election Day to designate their slate of electors. The conflict between these laws provides fertile ground for litigation.

In the end, however, the most effective forces blocking state legislatures from disregarding the popular vote may be political, rather than legal. It is, after all, up to the people to hold their officials accountable for their actions.

Yet in the country’s current toxic political environment, it’s not clear whether even an obvious effort to ignore the popular vote might nonetheless find support among some of the public, and some of their elected representatives too.

Austin Sarat, Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, Amherst College

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

Image: Reuters

How "Project Convergence" Will Reshape the U.S. Military

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 05:00

Matthew Van Wagenen, Arnel P. David

Security, Americas

Dr. Esper’s vision of a renaissance is unfolding right before our eyes.

Many in defense would be cautious about using the word ‘renaissance,’ but in 2018, Dr. Mark Esper declared just that and argued, “the time for change is now.” The Army is entering a new era, and after observing Project Convergence in Yuma Proving Ground last week, it is abundantly clear that the Army is indeed reaching a new level of experimentation and testing. Dr. Esper’s vision of a renaissance is unfolding right before our eyes.

The Army is converting ideas, prototypes, and various modes of operating (i.e., new ways of fighting) into new capabilities.  This is a departure from the past, where a lion share of the budget and programming narrowly focused on incremental upgrades to existing platforms, adding armor, speed, reach, and lethality at exorbitant costs, over long periods of time. This approach is antiquated, and the Army is aggressively pursuing innovation to attain a decisive edge over rising competitors.

A recent podcast by 1st Special Forces Command’s Chief of Staff, Colonel Ed Croot, and The Kill Chain author, Christian Brose, clarifies the distinction between modernization and innovation. The key to innovation is finding cost-wise solutions to operational problems the nation is facing on a fast-paced and rapidly changing battlefield. At best, modernization has been the approach to make incremental changes, but innovation is now the collective aim.

Early in Army Futures Command development, there was a concern on whether or not the new command could cultivate an “innovative culture.” The inaugural Project Convergence, led by Brigadier General Ross Coffman and his Next-Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) Cross-Functional Team (CFT), validated Army Futures Command’s ability to bring diverse talent and capability together from across industry, sister services, and other CFTs to “fail early, fail small, and learn fast” and prototype warfare.

In an unprecedented level of collaboration, on the hardpan desert of Yuma Proving Ground, Project Convergence has throttled the needle forward and sped the kill chain from minutes to seconds, combining over thirty technologies to alter the speed, complexity, and overall geometry of the battlefield. To be sure, the experimentation was not perfect, but the aggressive use of machine learning and artificial intelligence to sense, detect, and assign shooters to service targets was fast and rather remarkable.

To build on this success, we propose two ideas to (1) accelerate the transition of capability through experimental units and (2) garner increased investment and interoperability with allies and partners.

1. Experimental Units. Advanced research organizations like DARPA and the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) routinely study how they might improve technology transition to units and organizations within the Department of Defense. Past case studies show how experimental units aided the acceleration of technological adoption through repetitive testing in field environments and routine interaction between soldiers, scientists, and engineers. Take the example of the 1st Air Cavalry Division.

Before Vietnam, the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) at Fort Benning, Georgia, served as a tactical training and experimental testbed for tactical maneuvers with helicopters. The troubling events in Vietnam, combined with the challenges of mobility and restrictive terrain, caused the test division to be converted into a combat division, the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).

The prior experimentation and testing of the division validated the utility of air assault operations in combat. The 1st Air Cav (as it was often called) excelled in cavalry missions to reconnoiter, screen, delay, and conduct raids over expansive terrain. Its most successful air cavalry mission was the relief of Khe Sanh to aid US Marines. The air mobility concept influenced the development of other capabilities in other services to include special operations units, with the most recent successful air raid to kill or capture Osama bin Laden.

The Army and the Joint Force should examine how modern experimental units might help accelerate technology transition and adoption. The success and speed of change with Project Convergence warrant such an examination. The integration of units and partners early and often amplifies innovation, leading to the next point.

2. Incentivize Allied and Partner Investment and Interoperability. Last month during the 2020 Maneuver Conference, Brigadier General Matthew Van Wagenen proposed that the key to unlocking unlimited potential across the allied enterprise is multinational interoperability. A highly-integrated multinational kill chain will further deter would-be adversaries, and our alliance formations need to operate with increased reach and dispersion, in a fast-paced and connected environment.

We need our allies and partner to have the ability to collect on information requirements to support the close and deep fight, probe enemy gaps, and, if needed, strike hard and fast, destroying as much enemy force as possible with minimal friendly economy of force, speed and precision. In essence, they need to plug into our battle networks with their sensors and shooters while adhering to interoperability standards and their national caveats.

Army Futures Command plans to include allied forces in their 2022 Project Convergence capstone but coordination to make that happen needs to begin now. There need to be incentives to drive collaborative investments and unconventional partnerships to deliver interoperability. Data standards and sharing agreements will require not just military and industry partners but also policymakers and diplomats.

Whether it is in Europe or on the Korean Peninsula, our combined headquarters require the ability and capacity to rapidly coalesce an alliance of forces, spanning multiple echelons and across multiple domains, into a highly dense digital environment. Success requires digital alignment across all warfighting functions and a common set of tools in a mission partnered environmentU.S. Army Europe has made progress in this space with the DEFENDER series of exercises, and this work should continue to inform experiments like Project Convergence.

What we witnessed in the scorching hot desert of Yuma Proving Ground is genuinely incredible. The collaborative ‘team of teams’ approach of the CFTs and the increased risk tolerance by senior Army leaders is extraordinary. Success must continue, and the incorporation of experimental units can accelerate the transition of technology and elicit feedback, ideas, and buy-in from soldiers. By incentivizing allied investment and participation, innovation can flourish faster, and the costs can be shared by more. After all, as General Mark Milley once pointed out in the Conference of European Armies, “it is our network of allies and partners that serves as a centerpiece for modern deterrence.” Our network of partners and allies is a strength and competitive advantage our adversaries do not have.

BG Matthew Van Wagenen, U.S. Army, is currently serving as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations (DCOS OPS) in the NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps.

LTC Arnel P. David, U.S. Army, is currently serving as the Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff G5 (DACOS G5) in the NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps. 

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect any entity or organization of the U.S. Government or NATO.

This article first appeared in RealClearDefense.

Image: Reuters.

The Korean War: How Douglas MacArthur Masterminded the Inchon Invasion

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 04:33

Warfare History Network

History, Asia

During the early days of the Korean War, Douglas MacArthur attempted a daring amphibious Inchon Invasion to retake Seoul.

Key Point: General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower termed the victory "a brilliant example of strategic leadership."

Late in the evening of June 25, 1950 U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson was at his Maryland farmhouse reading when a call arrived to inform him of a serious situation in the Far East. He telephoned President Harry S Truman at the latter’s Independence, Mo. home that same Saturday evening and told HST, “Mr. President … the North Koreans are attacking across the 38th Parallel.”

Harry S. Truman Responds To The Korean Crisis

The next day, President Truman returned to Washington aboard his aircraft Independence for an emergency meeting of the top-level Security Council at Blair House, his temporary residence while the White House was undergoing renovation.

The President heard and approved a triad of recommendations, namely, first, to evacuate all American civilian dependents from the South Korean capital of Seoul; second, to air-drop supplies to the embattled Republic of Korea (ROK) forces under attack; and third, to move the U.S. fleet based at Cavite in the Philippines to Korea. Another caveat was that there would be no Nationalist Chinese forces sent from Formosa to fight in South Korea.

Meanwhile, far away from the nation’s capital in Allied-occupied Japan, America’s Supreme Commander there—five-star General of the Army Douglas MacArthur—picked up the telephone by his bedside in the American Embassy in Tokyo. He, too, was told that the North Koreans had struck in great strength.

North Koreans Had Formidable Soviet Tanks

Long familiar with all the countries of Asia, MacArthur thus described Korea in his 1964 memoirs, Reminiscences: “Geographically, South Korea is a ruggedly mountainous peninsula that juts out toward Japan from the Manchurian mainland between the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. An uneven north-south corridor cuts through the rough heart of the country below the 38th Parallel, and there are highways and rail links on both the eastern and western coastal plains.” He knew that the existing ROK forces were very weak: four divisions along the Parallel and, although well trained, “organized as a constabulary force, not troops of the line. They had only light weapons, no air or naval forces, and were lacking in tanks, artillery, and many other essentials. The decision to equip and organize them in this way had been made by the [U.S.] State Department.” As for their North Korean People’s Army opponents, they, MacArthur knew, had “a powerful striking army, fully equipped with heavy weapons, including the latest model of Soviet tanks,” the vaunted T-34 that had shattered the German Wehrmacht.

The mathematical equation of the rival forces on the ground was both simple and deadly: 100,000 ROKs versus 200,000 NKPAs—plus no modern weapons for the defenders as opposed to all modern weapons for the attackers. The method of the North Korean steamroller-like advance was also quite basic: Swing left and then right of their opponents’ lines in broad, flanking movements, so well practiced by British line infantry regiments during the entirety of the Napoleonic Wars of the previous century, and then plunge through any opened gap in the enemy center.

”Timidity Breeds Conflict, And Courage Often Prevents”

Disdaining President Truman’s term for Korea as a “police action,” his man in Tokyo privately thought, “Now was the time to recognize what the history of the world has taught from the beginning of time: that timidity breeds conflict, and courage often prevents.” Right from the start, therefore, the general misread the mettle of his commander-in-chief, just as the latter did him.

Nevertheless, in these early hours and days of dire emergency, the man in Washington turned to the man in Tokyo: “I was directed to use the Navy and the Air Force to assist South Korean defenses … also to isolate the Nationalist-held island of Formosa from the Chinese mainland. The U.S. 7th Fleet was turned over to my operational control.”

The British Asiatic Fleet was also placed under his command and, with his historic corncob pipe clenched between his teeth, MacArthur flew out of Haneda Airport aboard his old wartime plane the Bataan to take a first-hand, on-the-ground look at the fighting in Korea.

MacArthur Arrives To Witness A Tragic Scene

Upon arrival, he came almost immediately under enemy fire. He commandeered a jeep. “Seoul was already in enemy hands,” he later wrote. “It was a tragic scene. I watched for an hour the disaster I had inherited. In that brief interval on that blood-soaked hill, I formulated my plans. They were desperate plans, indeed, but I could see no other way except to accept a defeat which would include not only Korea, but all of Continental Asia.”

How could that have been, this instant of genius in the midst of overwhelming catastrophe and seemingly hopeless rout? Asserted his later compatriot and eventual successor, Lt. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway in 1986, “He was truly one of the great captains of warfare.” Like Napoleon who would nap on a battlefield by his horse as deadly cannonballs would claim the lives of lesser mortals, Douglas MacArthur was lofty and serene in his genius, utterly convinced in his purpose, and absolutely determined that he would see all his plans through to completion or die in the process.

Formulating a Battle Plan

Clear-eyed and alert despite his 71 years, with thinning hair but no gray, MacArthur set about his plans. On July 23 he cabled to the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon the basic tenets of his plan, to be called Operation Chromite. “Operation planned mid-September is amphibious landing of two division corps in rear of enemy lines [150 miles behind NKPA lines, far to the north of the Pusan Perimeter fighting where General Walton Walker’s 8th Army was fighting for its life and what little Korean territory remained to it] for purpose of enveloping and destroying enemy forces in conjunction with attack from south by 8th Army.…”

Ironically, unlike other U.S. Army generals of the day (like Omar Bradley, who stated openly that seaborne landings were obsolete), MacArthur was a distinct rarity—an army leader who firmly believed in amphibious operations, based on his own previous wartime experiences in the Pacific against the Japanese Army, working hand-in-glove with the U.S. Navy. Moreover, unlike Truman, Bradley, and former U.S. Defense Secretary Louis Johnson (who was fired the day before Inchon was launched, and replaced by General Marshall), MacArthur was not against the Marine Corps. Indeed, having first planned to use the army’s lst Cavalry Division as his projected lead assault unit of what was to be called the X Corps, he changed his mind and asked for—and got—the 1st Marine Division instead.

Tide And Terrain Make Water Landing Extremely Hazardous

Secretary Johnson had even gone so far as to assert that “the Navy is on its way out.… There’s no reason for having a Navy and a Marine Corps,” feeling instead that the new U.S. Air Force could take over both services’ functions. At Inchon, MacArthur used navy ships, Marine aerial Corsairs and Marine and army troops jointly, in a superb example of inter-service cooperation.

In late August, in the Dai Ichi Building in Tokyo, America’s “proconsul for Japan” listened politely to all the arguments against Operation Chromite, and the dire prophecies of doom that it would fail ignominiously. The obstacles were formidable, indeed. MacArthur later wrote: “A naval briefing staff argued that two elements—tide and terrain—made a landing at Inchon extremely hazardous. They referred to Navy hydrographic studies which listed the average rise and fall of tides at Inchon at 20.7 feet—one of ‘the greatest in the world.’ On the tentative target date for the invasion, the rise and fall would be more than 30 feet because of the position of the moon.

“When Inchon’s tides were at full ebb, the mud banks that had accumulated over the centuries from the Yellow Sea jutted from the shore in some places as far as two miles out into the harbor, and during ebb and flow these tides raced through ‘Flying Fish Channel,’ the best approach to the port, at speeds up to six knots. Even under the most favorable conditions, ‘Flying Fish Channel’ was narrow and winding. Not only did it make a perfect location for enemy mines, but also any ship sunk at a particularly vulnerable point could block the channel to all other ships.

The Invasion Plan Would Rise Or Fall With the Tide

“On the target date, the Navy experts went on, the first high tide would occur at 6:59 am, and the afternoon high tide would be at 7:19 pm, a full 35 minutes after sunset. Within two hours after high tide most of the assault craft would be wallowing in the ooze of Inchon’s mud banks, sitting ducks for Communist shore batteries until the next tide came in to float them again.

“In effect, the amphibious forces would have only about two hours in the morning for the complex job of reducing or effectively neutralizing Wolmi-Do, the 350-foot-high, heavily-fortified island which commands the harbor and which is connected with the mainland by a long causeway. …

“Assuming that this could be done, the afternoon’s high tide and approaching darkness would allow only 2 1/2 hours for the troops to land, secure a beachhead for the night, and bring up all the supplies essential to enable [the] forces to withstand counterattacks until morning. The landing craft, after putting the first assault waves ashore, would be helpless on the mud banks until the morning tide.”

A City With Every Conceivable Handicap

And then there came the icing on the cake. “Beyond all this,” MacArthur recalled, “the Navy summed up [that] the assault landings would have to be made right in the heart of the city itself, where every structure provided a potential strong point of enemy resistance. Reviewing the Navy’s presentation, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Sherman concluded by saying, ‘If every possible geographical and naval handicap were listed—Inchon has ’em all!’”

Army Chief of Staff General Joseph Collins believed that, even if the landings were a success, MacArthur would not be able to retake Seoul, and might even suffer a complete defeat at the hands of the NKPA in the embattled capital’s suburbs. The specter of an Asian Dunkirk thus loomed, with MacArthur in no doubt that he must first defend Japan, and only then Korea.

And what about the Japanese Home Islands? Might they not be attacked by their traditional enemy, the Russian bear, while MacArthur was tied down in Korea? And what, too, of the Red Chinese? Might they not also sweep down from the north and crush the X Corps like a paper cup and then go on to do the same to the 8th Army in the Pusan Perimeter? The risks that MacArthur was running were enormous.

The Impossible Serves To Surprise

Now it was MacArthur’s turn to answer his critics at the Dai Ichi military summit conference. “The bulk of the Reds,” he recalled saying, “are committed around Walker’s defense perimeter. The enemy, I am convinced, has failed to prepare Inchon properly for defense. The very arguments you have made as to the impracticabilities involved will tend to ensure for me the element of surprise, for the enemy commander will reason that no one would be so brash as to make such an attempt.

“Surprise is the most vital element for success in war. As an example, the Marquis de Montcalm believed in 1759 that it was impossible for an armed force to scale the precipitous river banks south of the then walled city of Quebec, and therefore concentrated his formidable defenses along the more vulnerable banks north of the city. But Gen. James Wolfe and a small force did, indeed, come up the St. Lawrence River and scale those heights.

“On the Plains of Abraham, Wolfe won a stunning victory that was made possible almost entirely by surprise. Thus, he captured Quebec and in effect ended the French and Indian War. Like Montcalm, the North Koreans would regard an Inchon landing as impossible. Like Wolfe, I could take them by surprise.”

MacArthur Makes a Convincing Case

Turning to the assembled sailors, he intoned, “The Navy’s objections as to tides, hydrography, terrain and physical handicaps are indeed substantial and pertinent, but they are not insuperable. My confidence in the Navy is complete, and in fact I seem to have more confidence in the Navy than the Navy has in itself! The Navy’s rich experience in staging the numerous amphibious landings under my command in the Pacific during the late war, frequently under somewhat similar difficulties, leaves me with little doubt on that score.”

Gen. Collins had proposed another landing at the west coast port of Kunsan instead, thus canceling MacArthur’s prized Inchon plan, but the latter was having none of it: “It would be largely ineffective and indecisive … an attempted envelopment that would not envelop. It would not sever or destroy the enemy’s supply lines or distribution center.… Better no flank movement than one such as this!”

After his conclusion, Admiral Sherman rose and said, “Thank you. A great voice in a great cause.” As for the dangers of going up Flying Fish Channel, Admiral Sherman snorted, “I wouldn’t hesitate to take a ship up there!” leading MacArthur to exclaim, “Spoken like a Farragut!”

A 45,000-To-One Shot

When MacArthur had earlier stated, “If we find we can’t make it, we will withdraw,” Admiral James T. Doyle retorted, “No, General, we don’t know how to do that. Once we start ashore, we’ll keep going.” Later, Admiral Doyle would recall the overall scene thus: “If MacArthur had gone on the stage, you never would have heard of John Barrymore!”

In his final remarks, MacArthur was even more firm: “We must strike hard and deep! For a five-dollar ante, I have an opportunity to win $50,000, and that is what I am going to do.” Indeed, almost no one except those on MacArthur’s immediate staff liked or backed the plan. General Ridgeway called it a 45,000-to-one shot.

Only three dates were possible for the attempted landing because of the moon: September 15, October 11, and November 3; characteristically, MacArthur chose the first, even though when President Truman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved Operation Chromite, there were only a mere 17 days to D-Day. Yet another problem was security—or the total lack of it—as South Korean President Syngman Rhee, General Walker, the American news media (which kept silent at MacArthur’s request), and even Red spies in Japan all knew of it and, later, an NKPA officer correctly predicted the landing in an official dispatch that was found after the battle.

Troops Are Called In To Mount Up

Like Tsarist Marshal Mikhail Kutusov in Russia against the Napoleonic invasion of 1812, MacArthur’s basic strategy in these weeks was to buy time with space (the shrinking Pusan Perimenter) so as to build up his independent strike force and then smash the enemy in the rear at the time and place of his choosing, just as he had against the then-victorious Japanese Army in New Guinea in 1942.

To facilitate this, there was an unheard-of mobilization of troops and ships within Japan and the “mounting up” of Marines from all over the world, including American embassies, the U.S. Navy fleet in the Mediterranean, and the Marine Corps Reserve called up by the President to flesh out the needed muscle of MacArthur’s invasion armada. In the meantime, the beleaguered troops within the Pusan Perimeter kept buying the time needed in order for Chromite’s blow to assemble itself.

Chromite’s keys were simple: Land and secure the initial beachhead on the morning tide, land again in the evening with army troops and then, with the Marines, wage the land battle to defeat the surprised NKPA, cross the Han River, take Kimpo Airfield and then Seoul. After that, Walker would break out of the perimeter, link up with X Corps and drive the NKPA back to their frontier—and later beyond it.

An Unparalleled Leap In Mobilization

The Marine “mounting out” or build-up from scratch, especially, was impressive, with the lst Marine Division rising in strength from 7,789 men in June when the North Korean invasion commenced, to 26,000 men by D-Day, Sept. 15, an unparalleled leap in mobilization, to use the term used by Lt. Gen. Lem Shepherd.

Marine Reserves flooded in from posts around the world and homes across the country. During four frantic days, August l to 5, nine thousand officers and men reported for duty. Lamented a Pentagon planner, “The only thing left between us and an emergency in Europe are the School Troops at Quantico [Virginia].”

North Koreans Begin to Fortify

The NKPA, too, were strengthening their forces and positions, however, particularly on Wolmi-Do Island astride Flying Fish Channel, the literal key to the overall success of Operation Chromite. Notes Robert Leckie, “Little Wolmi-Do guarded all the approaches to the inner harbor. It was well fortified. More, Wolmi rose 351 feet above water and was the highest point of land in the Inchon area. Its guns could strike at Marines attempting to storm the port’s seawalls to the north and south. Wolmi would have to be captured to secure the flanks of both landings, but before it could, Wolmi would have to be subjected to several days of bombardment by air and sea, and this, of course, would forfeit that advantage of surprise so necessary to MacArthur’s plan,” thus making the island fortress seemingly the very nemesis at the heart of Chromite’s hoped-for success.

As what was now being called “Operation Common Knowledge” proceeded, the later problem of the port of Inchon itself came into sharper focus as well. The Marines were concerned that they would be landing under fire directly into a city of 250,000 people where warehouses and buildings were fortified. In addition, once the port was taken, the Marines would have to regroup and prepare for the expected NKPA counterattack that might well drive them back into the water with heavy losses, much as had happened during the Canadian raid on Dieppe in Nazi-occupied France in 1942.

The Top Priority: Retaking Seoul

Surviving this, they would have to cross the wide and swift Han River before they could reach Seoul, the coveted prize. Not only the South Korean capital, Seoul was also the linchpin of the country’s telephone, telegraph, rail-way, and highway networks.

And what of the defenders? In Seoul there was the 10,000-man 18th Rifle Division, reinforced by the Seoul City Regiment, an infantry unit 3,600 strong. There was also the hated 36th Battalion, 111th Security Regiment, plus an antiaircraft defense force unit armed with Russian 85mm guns, 37mm automatic cannon, and 12.7mm machine guns, and air force personnel numbering in the thousands.

At Inchon was a garrison of two thousand new conscripts and two harbor defense batteries of four 76mm guns, each manned by two hundred gunners. In addition, Russian land mines were being laid, trenches and emplacements dug, and weapons and ammunition arriving. There were plans to mine the harbor, but the work had not begun.

Espionage Helped Provide a Guiding Light

Kimpo Airfield, too, was an extremely worthwhile military objective. Located to the north of the Inchon-Seoul axis, it lay a mile inland along the left bank of the Han River, downstream—or northwest—of Seoul. It was the best airfield in Korea, serving the two million inhabitants of Seoul as well as the port of Inchon.

Espionage played a significant part in the planning stages from the Navy side. Recalled Ridgway, “The first step in Operation Chromite was to scout the harbor islands which commanded the straitened Channel. A young Navy lieutenant, Eugene Clark, was put ashore near Inchon on Sept. lst and worked two weeks, largely under cover of darkness, to locate gun emplacements and to measure the height of the seawall. So successful were his efforts that he actually turned on a light in a lighthouse to guide the first assault ships into Inchon harbor before dawn on Sept. 15th.”

Even MacArthur saw the light on the way in to shore on the morning of the 15th: “I noticed a flash—a light that winked on and off across the water. The channel navigation lights were on. We were taking the enemy by surprise. The lights were not even turned off.” (Apparently, he never learned of Lieutenant Clark’s daring mission.) “I went to my cabin and turned in,” he concluded.

Weather Takes A Turn For Worse

“All I fear is nature,” asserted Napoleon Bonaparte, and the Inchon invasion, too, was threatened by the sea and wind in the form of Typhoon Kezia, a 125-mile-an-hour storm that seemed destined to arrive precisely on time with Chromite’s Joint Task Force 7 invasion fleet in the Korean Strait. Naval planners nervously recalled the disastrous storm that had occurred during the invasion of Okinawa in the spring of 1945, and wondered if history might be repeating itself. MacArthur boarded his flagship the Mt. McKinley on the 12th. The vessel and its mates at sea were buffeted by howling winds and high seas when the storm suddenly veered north from the east coast of Japan on the 13th. But the worst of the terrible storm narrowly missed the invasion fleet.

As the countdown for Chromite approached, two diversionary bombardments took place by air to the south at Kunsan and to the north at Chinammpo, with the battleship USS Missouri blasting Samchok on the east coast right across from the real target, Inchon. Next came Wolmi-Do; beginning on Sept. 10 Marine Corsairs set most of its buildings afire.

Enemy Gets Ample Warning Of Invasion

By the 13th, the cat seemed to be out of the bag in the enemy camp: an intercepted Communist dispatch to Pyongyang read: “Ten enemy vessels are approaching Inchon. Many aircraft are bombing Wolmi-Do. There is every indication the enemy will perform a landing. All units under my command are directed to be ready for combat; all units will be stationed in their given positions so that they may throw back enemy forces when they attempt their landing operation.”

At last, 71,339 officers and men of the U.S. Marine Corps, Navy, Army, and ROK Marines were ready in their 47 landing craft to prove MacArthur either a seer or a reckless gambler who had bet on the wrong horse. According to one source, “Precisely at 0630, the U.S. Marines swept in from the Yellow Sea to face 40,000 North Korean troops.”

What would be the outcome—tremendous victory or ignominious defeat? In the event, the Battle of Inchon is most notable for two things: What didn’t happen that very well might have, and for the “about as planned” outcome that Douglas MacArthur had envisioned on that hill in South Korea just a short time before.

Did MacArthur Call It Right?

The initial landing force of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, lst Marine Divsion clambered ashore from their landing craft and scaled the sea wall, securing Wolmi-Do Island in a mere—and historic—45 minutes. Stated Ridgway, “The action opened at dawn with a heavy bombardment by American destroyers, whose skippers gallantly steamed up the channel under the very muzzles of enemy cannons, and by British and American cruisers. The first task was to neutralize Wolmi-Do, the little island that sat right athwart the channel, with all channel traffic within point-blank range of its guns.

“The island, however, was not nearly so strongly fortified as had been feared [MacArthur had been right in this assessment] and its guns were quickly silenced by the naval bombardment. Marine Corsair planes strafed the island beaches … and the Marines stormed ashore, scattering the dazed defenders.… Artillery was positioned on the island then to support the assault upon the seawall.”

Continues Ridgway: “In places, the Marines used ladders to scale the wall, which stood four feet above the prows of the Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs). Elsewhere the LSTs simply rammed holes in the wall, or Marines opened holes with dynamite, through which the assault troops poured.… By dark the advance elements … were securely dug in on their beachhead ready to repel counterattacks,” which never came, so complete and total was the surprise victory.

A Smug General Rolls Back Over To Sleep

And what of the man whose military genius had foreseen all this from the start? Aboard the Mt. McKinley, two NKPA MiG fighters were seen at 5:40 am beginning an attack on a cruiser to the front, leading General Courtney Whitney to alert MacArthur in his cabin of the danger. MacArthur simply said. “Wake me up again, Court, if they attack this ship,” rolled over and went to sleep.

After the bombardment began, he went to breakfast and then up on deck, commenting above the roar of the guns, “Just like Lingayen Gulf,” meaning his invasion of the Philippines in 1945. Later, Marine General Shepherd would recall, “His staff was grouped around him. He was seated in the admiral’s chair with his old Bataan cap with its tarnished gold braid [that Truman would mock a month to the day later] and a leather jacket on. Photographers were busily engaged in taking pictures of the General, while he continued to watch the naval gunfire—paying no attention to his admirers.”

“More People Than That Get Killed In Traffic Every Day!”

As the Marines had stormed ashore, elderly Korean civilians had gathered to watch them in awe, admiration, and relief at being liberated from their northern oppressors. The NKPAs also admired the Leathernecks, calling them “yellow legs” because of their distinctive leggings. Indeed, President Truman’s personal observer throughout the battle, National Guard Maj. Gen. Frank E. Lowe, also admired the men his boss had derisively called “The Navy’s police force,” leading the amphibious commander General Oliver P. Smith later to write, “As to personal danger, his claim was that the safest place in Korea was with a platoon of Marines.”

Back on the Mt. McKinley, MacArthur was told that there were 45 enemy POWs on Wolmi-Do, with U.S. losses being put at about six dead and 15-20 wounded, leading him to comment, “More people than that get killed in traffic every day!”

The landings were divided into a trio of Beaches: Green to take Wolmi-Do, and Red and Blue to seize Inchon proper, with the former to the north of the causeway linking Wolmi-Do to the port and the latter to the south of it.

Taking Of Red Beach a Sight To Behold

The main battle assault was at Red Beach. In the words of one Marine company commander, Captain Frank I. Fenton, “It really looked dangerous.… There was a finger pier and causeway that extended out from Red Beach which reminded us of Tarawa, and, if machineguns were on the finger pier and causeway, we were going to have a tough time making the last 200 yards to the beach.”

At 5:24 pm the Marines went in, and Herald-Tribune reporter Marguerite Higgins described the scene: “A rocket hit a round oil tower and big, ugly smoke rings billowed up. The dockside buildings were brilliant with flames. Through the haze it looked as if the whole city was burning.… The strange sunset, combined with the crimson haze of the flaming docks, was so spectacular that a movie audience would have considered it overdone.” Cemetery Hill was taken, and Miss Higgins came in with the fifth wave onto Red Beach.

“We were relentlessly pinned down by rifle and automatic weapon fire coming down on us from another rise on the right [Observatory Hill]. Capt. Fenton’s men took it, and the CO himself had a rather unusual experience, as related by the late Marine Col. Robert Debs Heinl, Jr, whose seminal work Victory at High Tide: The Inchon-Seoul Campaign, is without doubt the very best study in print on MacArthur’s Cannae: “Outside his command post on the hill., Capt. Fenton stood poised to relieve himself by the light of a star shell. As he did so, the hole at his feet came alive and a frightened Communist soldier, armed with burp gun and grenades, sprang out and cried for mercy. Momentarily transfixed, Fenton shouted for his runner, who disarmed the drenched captive.”

The Indomitable “Chesty” Puller

Now came the taking of Blue Beach, and the re-emergence of one of the Marine Corps’ greatest all-time combat heroes: Colonel Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, 52. “Fierce and utterly fearless,” wrote Colonel Heinl, “entitled to almost as many battle stars as the regiment he commanded. Winner of two Navy Crosses before World War II, and of two more during the war, Puller was one of the great fighting soldiers of American history. … Puller’s mission was to land south of Inchon and seize a beachhead covering the main approach to the city proper, from which the regiment could advance directly on [a fortress called] Yongdungpo and Seoul.

During one rather gloomy G-2 report, he cut his own intelligence officer short: “We’ll find out what’s on the beach when we get there. There’s not necessarily a gun in every hole! There’s too much goddamned pessimism in this regiment. Most times, professional soldiers have to wait 25 years or more for a war, but here we are, with only five years’ wait for this one.… We’re going to work at our trade for a little while. We live by the sword and, if necessary, we’re ready to die by the sword. Good luck! I’ll see you ashore.”

Notes his biographer, Burke Davis, Puller’s first wave went in at 5:30 pm. “Puller went to his objective at Blue Beach with the third wave, in a twilight hastened by the smoke pall, and climbed a 15-foot sea wall on one of the scaling ladders improvised on the ship en route. It occurred to him that the Corps had not used ladders since [the storming of] Chapultepec [in the 1848 Mexican War].

Leaflets Dropped To Discourage Enemy Into Surrender

“He sat on the wall,” wrote Davis, “briefly watching the enemy in his front.” He settled his men in for the night, and launched his renewed attack inland the next day, Sept. 16 as planned, at dawn. “By 9 a.m., Puller had driven 4,000 yards against machinegun and mortar fire.” To the north, the fighting was sharper, with a counterattack by six Russian-made tanks against which the Americans launched aircraft. But the advance inland continued, the Marines taking care that none of their dead or wounded remained on the battlefield but were carried to the rear.

MacArthur—ever the military public relations man—had devised yet another masterstroke that paid off, a leaflet dropped some two hundred miles to the southeast, on the Red troops fighting at the Pusan Perimeter.
It read: “UNITED NATIONS FORCES HAVE LANDED AT INCHON. Officers and men of North Korea, powerful UN forces have landed at Inchon and are advancing rapidly. You can see from this map how hopeless your situation has become. Your supply lines cannot reach you, nor can you withdraw to the North. The odds against you are tremendous. Fifty-three of the 59 countries in the UN are opposing you. You are outnumbered in equipment, manpower and firepower. Come over to the UN side and you will get good food and prompt medical care.”

Onto Kimpo Airfield After Inchon Falls

With nine American tanks on Wolmi-Do, three with flame-throwers, three with bulldozer blades, success was in the air. MacArthur took great satisfaction when he saw the Stars and Stripes flying overhead. Six NKPAs forced their officer to strip naked and then surrender, others jumped into the water and tried to swim to Inchon, and yet still others fought to the death in their holes in the ground.

The overall casualties at Wolmi-Do were 20 Marines wounded, with about 120 North Koreans killed and another 180 captured. MacArthur’s great gamble was looking good. After the fall of Inchon came that of Kimpo Airfield on the 17th—D-Day plus two. Two hundred NKPAs with five tanks were wiped out by the Marines in a battle six miles southeast of Inchon.

“Attack, push and pursue without cease,” had asserted French Marshal Maurice de Saxe, and now his 20th-century counterpart—MacArthur—came ashore to do precisely that, landing on the 17th and setting out in a jeep convoy to find the hero of the hour, Chesty Puller. But the tough Marine sent back the message: “If he wants to see me, have him come up in the front lines. I’ll be waiting for him.” MacArthur did so, and awarded Puller the Silver Star on the spot. Puller said, “Thanks very much for the Star, General. Now, if you want to know where those sons of bitches are, they’re right over the next ridge!”

Propaganda From Moscow Paints A Different Picture Of Invasion

The Marines had first fought in Korea in 1871, and first taken Seoul in 1894. Now—after taking fortress Yongdungpo and crossing the Han River, they took it a second time, on Sept. 26, but it wasn’t completely cleared of enemy resistance, after tough street-by-street, house-to-house fighting, until the 28th.

Indeed, the Soviet newspaper Pravda likened the battle for Seoul to the epic struggle at Stalingrad against the Germans in 1942-43: “Cement, streetcar rails, beams and stones are being used to build barricades in the streets, and workers are joining soldiers in the defense. The situation is very serious. Pillboxes and tank points dot the scene. Every home must be defended as a fortress. There is firing from behind every stone.

“When a soldier is killed, his gun continues to fire. It is picked up by a worker, tradesman or office worker. … Gen. MacArthur landed the most arrant criminals at Inchon, gathered from the ends of the earth. He sends British and New Zealand adventure-seekers ahead of his own executioners, letting them drag Yankee chestnuts from the fire. American bandits are shooting every Seoul inhabitant taken prisoner.”

A Huge Number Of North Koreans Taken Prisoner

That was on the 23rd. The day before, the NKPA troops had begun surrendering, as Colonel Heinl points out: “They started coming in in numbers, all carrying their burp guns. We stripped every one as he came in—pretty hard trying to get trousers off over leggings … (which the North Koreans, like their Marine captors, also wore). Indeed, in the two weeks after Inchon, MacArthur’s forces captured a stunning 130,000 North Koreans, just as predicted.

States Leckie, “By mid-September, the 70,000 combat troops opposing Gen. Walker’s combat force of 140,000 men [in the Pusan Perimeter] were served by perhaps 50% of the tanks and heavy weapons they needed. MacArthur’s estimate of what happened to an army at the end of a long supply line was proven correct, and his faith in what happened to it when it was put to rout was borne out with grim exactitude during the last 10 days of September.

All Escape Routes In United Nations’ Hands

“By the end of the month, the North Korean Army was shattered and fleeing north with little semblance of order. Some of the enemy’s 13 divisions simply disappeared. Their men were spread all over the South Korean countryside in disorganized and demoralized small parties. All of the escape routes were in United Nations hands, the sea was hostile to them and the sky roared with the motors of planes that spat death at them or showered them with firebombs.

“The roads, rice paddies and ditches of South Korea became littered with abandoned enemy tanks, guns and vehicles. Wholesale surrenders became commonplace.”

It was at this point and this juncture only—in the heady, warm glow of total victory by UN arms—that arose the idea of the unification of the two Koreas by force, especially espoused by President Rhee, who crowed, on Sept. 30, “What is the 38th Parallel?… It is non-existent. I am going all the way to the Yalu, and the United Nations can’t stop me.”

The Extent Of North Korean Atrocities Become Apparent

On Sept. 29, MacArthur and President Rhee wept together over the liberation of Seoul, as the General and the assemblage recited The Lord’s Prayer in gratitude for the UN victory, and the President blurted out through his tears, “We admire you. We love you as the savior of our race!” He would be overthrown in 1960.

The South Korean people had welcomed the incoming Marines with open arms, and had even brought out their small cooking stoves so that their liberators could warm their cold rations before eating. It soon became apparent why, as Communist atrocities began surfacing. Murdered American POWs also cropped up in ever-increasing incidents as UN forces advanced north into enemy territory.

The reckoning of the battle was also accomplished on Sept. 30, as—in the words of Colonel Heinl—“The X Corps War Diary rounded out the number of enemy killed at 14,000, his prisoners in hand, 7,000. These figures are about as correct as any that will ever be arrived at. Some 50 Russian tanks were destroyed, 47 by Marine ground or air. … The Marine division alone destroyed or took 23 120mm mortars, two 76mm self-propelled guns, eight 76mm guns, 19 45mm antitank guns, 59 14.5mm antitank rifles, 56 heavy machineguns, and 7,543 rifles.”

”The Trinity Of Victory”

General MacArthur was not solely responsible for the great deed done in the campaign, Colonel Heinl concluded. He must be given credit for what Heinl calls “a masterpiece,” but he was responsible for the conception of Operation Chromite, not its command execution. For that the laurels must properly go to “the trinity of victory:” Admiral Struble, the overall commander of all forces afloat; Rear Admiral Doyle, the amphibious force commander; and General Oliver P. Smith, the landing force CO.

“Every great campaign spawns its statistics,” lamented Heinl. “To defeat the 30-40,000 defenders which the [NKPA] threw piecemeal against X Corps, 71,339 soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and ROK troops landed at Inchon and bore their part in the battle. The cost of this victory to the United States was 536 killed in action or died of wounds, 2,550 wounded, and 65 missing in action. Among the Services, Marines, on the ground and in the air, paid the highest price.”

Adds Ridgway: “The measure of the role the ground forces played in Korea may be judged from the fact that, of the total U.S. battle casualties for the entire conflict, the Army and Marines accounted for 97%.… [But it] certainly may be said that the gallant airmen and sailors who contributed so much to the effort are nowhere more highly honored than in the hearts of the doughboys and Marines who fought the ground battles.”

Reassertion That America Was a Maritime Power

Overall, Heinl asserts, “Inchon underscored … that America is a maritime power, that her weapon is the trident, and her strategy that of the oceans. Only through the sure and practiced exercise of sea power could this awkward war in a remote place have been turned upside down in a matter of days.”

He also makes this very astute observation: “Civil wars, Communist wars, and Asian wars are unhappily noted for their ferocity. The Korean War was all three … Not only did the NKPA cause the ruin of Seoul, but they stripped it systematically (as they did Inchon) of all usable industrial machinery and even office furniture, conducting such removals until the very last moment.”

Like Army man Ridgway, Marine Heinl notes, too, that Inchon was a joint inter-service victory, and quotes the words that are inscribed on the monument that stands today at Green Beach on Wolmi-Do and is still honored each year on Sept. 15 by the South Koreans (who “do not forget”):

Red Chinese Enter The Korean War

“The victory was not won by any one nation or any one branch of the military service. … The Inchon-Seoul operation was conducted jointly by the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.” The ROK forces, this writer feels, should be added to the inscription.

The victory had long-term effects that are still felt today, Heinl felt: “It revindicated amphibious assault (and, more fundamentally, maritime strategy) as a modern technique of war. In so doing, it almost unquestionably averted the abolition of the U.S. Marine Corps and naval aviation.”

The war went on, even though many thought it was won (on Oct. 30, 1950, one U.S. newspaper prematurely avowed that “Hard-Hitting UN Forces Wind Up War”). Less than a month later, Red Chinese Marshal Lin Piao launched his massive attack across the Yalu River from Manchuria into North Korea. “Two Chinese Army Groups—the Fourth, operating against Walker, the Third, against Almond [commanding the X Corps]—attacked with overwhelming force,” wrote MacArthur. “It was an entirely new war.”

Still, that was in the future, and even in the light of subsequent events, nothing can be taken from the bold stroke that both the enemy believed impossible of attempt and completely fulfilled its goal and prediction of cutting enemy supplies and reinforcements while at the same time putting him in a vise between two fighting forces.

Inchon Invasion Receives Wide Praise

General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower termed the victory “a brilliant example of strategic leadership,” while General Carl A. “Tooey” Spaatz called it “one of the most, if not the most, significant military operations in history.”

It was left to U.S. Navy Admiral “Bull” Halsey to say of the attack: “Characteristic and magnificent. The Inchon landing is the most masterly and audacious strategic stroke in all history.” In 1964, author David Rees in his work Korea: The Limited War, termed Inchon “A 20th Century Cannae, ever to be studied.”

And yet back in those bleak and desolate days of the summer of 1951, MacArthur himself was the first to realize that, in German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s words, “If I fail… everybody will be after my blood.” On the very eve of the landings he noted, “I alone was responsible for tomorrow, and if I failed, the dreadful results would rest on Judgment Day against my soul.”

This article first appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

How a Fallen Bridge Almost Led To Disaster for U.S. Forces in Korea

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 04:00

Warfare History Network

History, Asia

During the Korean War, U.N. forces retreating to the 38th Parallel were stalled at Funchilin Pass when a section of the bridge was blown.

Key Point: It was a battle "unparalleled in U.S. military history."

December 7, 1950 dawned bitter cold in the remote mountains of North Korea. More than 14,000 U.N. troops trapped on the plateau at Koto-ri had already endured 10 days of frozen hell. On November 26, the entire Chinese Communist 9th Army Group had slammed into two overexposed regiments of the U.S. lst Marine Division, a U.S. Army Regimental Combat Team, and assorted other units strung out for miles along a narrow mountain road in the vicinity of the iced-over Chosin Reservoir.

American Route To Safety Impeded By A Gap In The Bridge

East of the reservoir, the overwhelming weight of Chinese had already smashed the U.S. Army’s 31st Regiment, forcing the survivors into a pell-mell dash for the comparative safety of the Marine positions along a twisting and dangerous highway that the Marines called the Main Supply Route (MSR), which snaked from the port city of Hungnam on the Sea of Japan into the mountain wastes of far northern Korea. The Chinese then besieged the Marines.

Now, after 10 interminable days of battling waves of Chinese and the worst weather imaginable, the lst Marine Division was on the verge of completing its breakout. But a blown-out bridge over the treacherous mountain gorge at Funchilin Pass threatened to halt its fighting withdrawal from North Korea. A 29-foot gap in the concrete bridge meant that the Marines would have to abandon all of their vehicles, and carrying out their wounded and dead under fire would be a nearly impossible task.

The gap would have to be bridged, but the Marines did not have bridging equipment at Koto-ri. So they made an emergency request to the engineers at Koto via the U.S. Air Force for a parachute drop of treadway bridge sections. No one knew whether it would work; it had never been done in the history of warfare.

A Daring Supply Mission To Drop Bridge Sections

At 9 am, December 7, eight big Air Force C-119 Flying Boxcars appeared over Koto-ri. Each plane carried one bridge section, weighing close to 2,500 pounds. The Marines needed only four sections, but had requested eight in case several did not survive the drop. The planes lowered to eight hundred feet, drawing fire from the Chinese on the surrounding hills, and the cargo masters began dumping their precious cargo. Each bridge section had giant G-5 parachutes attached to both ends for security if a single chute failed. A practice drop with smaller chutes at Yonpo airfield near Hungnam had failed, but there was no time for more experimentation. It was now or never for the 1st Marine Division.

After the shock of the Chinese attack in late November, it had become clear that the U.N. position in North Korea was untenable. Earlier that year, after North Korean forces had invaded South Korea and forced the U.N. troops into an enclave around the southeastern city of Pusan, U.N. commander Douglas MacArthur had executed a brilliant flanking movement with an amphibious landing at Seoul’s port, Inchon.

The North Korean Army largely disintegrated in the face of that reversal and fled north toward the Chinese border, the U.N. troops in hot pursuit. But Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communists viewed the pending American-led occupation of all of Korea as an unacceptable threat to their own interests and decided to enter the war.

Chinese Troops Force Marines Back To The 38th Parallel

Now, on the western half of the peninsula, the U.S. Eighth Army was retreating toward the 38th Parallel. In the east, the X Corps, of which the lst Marine Division was a part, found itself in a dangerous predicament. The unexpected weight of the Chinese troops, who had secretly infiltrated across the Yalu River during the preceding months, meant that the only military opportunity for the U.N. troops in this sector was a fighting withdrawal to the coast, followed by a sea and air evacuation from Hungnam.

The Chinese 9th Army Group was given the job of annihilating the lst Marine Division. It did not seem so daunting. The Marines and attached units strung out along the highway totaled around 20,000 men when the Chinese struck. The nine Chinese divisions ranging against them had an advantage in numbers of six to one.

But the Marines had a few elements in their favor. They were better equipped and supplied than the Chinese, and they had control of the air above the battlefield.

Ill-Advised Orders To Move Headlong Into The Mountains

In October 1950, the division had gone ashore at Wonsan and been ordered by the X Corps commander, Lt. Gen. Edward Almond, to advance up the narrow road from Hungnam deep into the mountains. The aim was to reach the Yalu’s border with China. Major General Oliver P. Smith, commanding the 1st Marine Division, believed that Almond’s instructions for the division to move hastily up to the Chosin Reservoir were ill-advised. As an experienced combat officer, Smith could smell trouble even if corps headquarters and general headquarters in Tokyo didn’t recognize the signs.

For example, there had been ominous contact with smaller Chinese “volunteers” on both the Eighth Army and X Corps fronts since October. These fronts were separated by a gap of 75 miles in the northern mountains, into which the Chinese had successfully infiltrated.

With the trap sprung in late November, Smith’s division found itself in a terrible tactical position. The lst, 5th, and 7th Marine Regiments were scattered along the highway. Only because Smith had defied Almond’s unwise orders by urging caution on his regimental commanders instead of advancing headlong into the mountains, did the division succeed in absorbing the Chinese onslaught while remaining intact as a fighting unit. Nevertheless, with nearly 1,500 vehicles and only a single road to move along, the Marines were subjected to continuous attack along the route of withdrawal, from Yudam-ni to Hagaru-ri to Koto-ri.

The Bridge Becomes the Only Option For Retreat

By now, the end of the first week of December, the bulk of the division plus a hodgepodge of other U.N. troops were assembled at Koto-ri preparing for the final stage of the breakout. Smith expected the 10-mile stretch between Koto-ri and Chinhung-ni to be the toughest yet: a downhill march through a sheer-cliffed ravine with the Chinese occupying the hilltops along the route.

The situation was further complicated by the fact that the Chinese had just blown the critical bridge at Funchilin Pass for the third time, presenting Smith with a searing problem. He described it thus: “At this point water coming from the Chosin Reservoir by tunnel emerged from the side of the mountain and was discharged into four penstocks [large concrete pipes] which descended steeply down the mountainside to the turbine of the power plant in the valley below. Where the penstocks crossed the road there was a concrete substation, without a floor, on the uphill side of the road covering the penstocks. On the downhill side of the substation was a one-way concrete bridge. The drop down the mountain side here was sheer. There was no possibility of a bypass. The integrity of this bridge was vital to us, for without it we would have been unable to get out our vehicles, tanks, and guns.”

Chinese And Brutal Cold Make Things Difficult

The bridge had been blown on December 1 and again on December 4, and repaired each time by U.S. combat engineers. But now the damage was more extensive, and the 14,000 troops at Koto-ri needed outside assistance. Just to reach Koto, most of these men had fought a 10-day running battle with the Chinese, but the battle against the elements had proved even worse. It was not officially winter yet, but the inhospitable mountains of North Korea, whipped by fierce Siberian winds, made the conditions of World War II’s Battle of the Bulge look moderate in comparison. At times, the wind chill along the highway reached 90 below zero. The raw Fahrenheit temperature was almost always well below zero.

Due to the prodigious efforts of Marine and Army engineers, airstrips had been hacked out of the frozen terrain, and the very worst frostbite and battle-casualty cases were evacuated by air. But many Marines with cases of frostbite so bad that their feet were turning black refused to submit to medical attention and continued to walk southward along the MSR in a state of mental and physical numbness. Only the vehicle drivers and the wounded who could not walk rode in jeeps or trucks. Everyone else marched.

It was 78 miles from what had been the most forward Marine concentration at Yudam-ni to the sea. The entire world watched spellbound as the lst Marine Division tried to extricate itself from the Chinese stranglehold. Few members of the press thought they could do it. Only the Marines themselves, and those with them, never doubted the outcome.

An Offer To Fly The Entire Division Out Refused

Nevertheless, the situation was so bad that on December 5, before the bulk of the lst Marine Division had pushed through to Koto-ri, Maj. Gen. William Tunner of the U.S. Air Force’s Combat Cargo Command had flown into the rough airstrip at Hagaru-ri and offered to fly out the entire division from that location. But that would have meant that the embattled troops could only have taken out their small arms. It would have also presented an increasingly difficult tactical situation as more and more troops were lifted out and the Chinese stepped up the pressure on those who remained.

Nothing doing, said Smith. The lst Marine Division had come up to Chosin Reservoir as an intact fighting unit, and by God, it was going to leave as one. The fact that more than a hundred thousand Chinese thought differently simply did not matter. While flying out some of their wounded, the Marines were also bringing fresh replacements into Hagaru-ri.

Smith’s plan was straightforward enough. Now that he had all of his men at Koto-ri, he would send individual battalions south along the high ground on each side of the road with the aim of driving the Chinese from key hill positions. These infantry units would be supported by artillery units also leapfrogging southward. Most of Colonel Lewis “Chesty” Puller’s lst Marine Regiment would maintain the perimeter at Koto-ri until all of the other formations had moved out, performing rearguard duty.

Cover Was Vitally Needed For The Combat Engineers

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Donald Schmuck’s lst Battalion of Puller’s Regiment, in position at Chinhung-ni, 10 miles south of Koto-ri, would drive north and seize the high ground dominating Funchilin Pass. Of particular significance was Hill 1081, the most important terrain feature between Koto-ri and Chinhung-ni, and which stood about a mile south of the key bridge through the pass. Hill 1081 needed to be taken, or the combat engineers would be exposed to withering fire from the heights above while they attempted to reconstruct the bridge.

Air support for the entire series of operations would remain critical; without it the men on the ground would be on their own, vastly outnumbered in a bad tactical situation. The 1st Marine Air Wing endeavored to keep 24 attack aircraft over the withdrawing column at all times during daylight in order to provide immediately available fire support. At night, specially equipped fighter aircraft could offer some degree of coverage.

In addition to the Marine Air Wing, Navy aircraft flying from carriers in the Sea of Japan and Air Force planes from other parts of Korea tried both to keep the troops on the ground supplied and the Chinese under constant pressure. But the weather often did not cooperate, and the Air Force was simultaneously engaged in massive support of the Eighth Army’s crumbling front in western Korea.

Condoms Dropped Instead Of Rations

Because of these airmen, the troops on the ground retreating from Chosin Reservoir were well supplied with ammunition. Food was a different matter, however. The C-rations and K-rations carried by the troops were frozen solid and could not be readily thawed. Lighting fires along the route of march presented the obvious problem of drawing enemy fire, especially at night. As the breakout progressed from Yudam-ni to Hagaru-ri to Koto-ri, the men were continually drained of energy. In a moment of complete comic relief, at Koto an airdrop delivered boxes of condoms to the Marines, who quipped, “What do they think we are doing with those Chinese, anyway?”

The Chinese were having a very hard time of it themselves. Their positions in the hills were subject to air attacks, which took a devastating toll over the two-week period. Despite their continuous harassment of the Marine column, they had been unable to prevent the movement from the reservoir to Koto-ri and were absorbing terrible casualties every time they concentrated and launched an attack. They were also subject to piecemeal destruction as small groups launched seemingly uncoordinated attacks about every three hundred yards along the Marines’ line of march. Attempts to infiltrate into the column itself were continually made and beaten back.

Frozen Chinese Surrender Without A Struggle

Of course, the cold was devastating to the Chinese as well as the Americans. They were unprepared for the most extreme weather and their logistical support was sparse. Consequently, many Chinese units were captured intact by the Marines because they were physically incapable of moving and their weapons had frozen up. Some Chinese surrendered with their hands frozen to their rifles; Marines had to break the prisoners’ fingers simply to dislodge the weapons from their hands. On the attack south from Koto, a Marine unit found Chinese in foxholes surrendering in such frozen condition that the Marines merely lifted them out of their holes and placed them on the road to thaw out.

The problem of the bridge itself was unique. Fortunately, with the Marines at Koto was a U.S. Army engineer unit that possessed two bridge-laying six-ton Brockway transporter trucks. Although no bridging materials accompanied the trucks, without them it would have been extremely difficult to move the airdropped bridge sections from Koto to the blown-out bridge site, and to mount the sections once they were at the bridge.

A Plan To Patch The Bridge Approved

When the bridge was knocked out for a third time, blocking movement south of Koto, Lt. Col. John Partridge, commanding the lst Marine Engineer Battalion and in charge of all engineer units at Koto, flew reconnaissance over the bridge site to assess what would be needed. He figured on four treadway sections, and that the gap to be spanned was 19 feet.

Smith approved the plan, and Partridge asked for a practice drop at Yonpo to see if the bridge sections could survive the landing. The Air Force unit at Yonpo used regular G-1 chutes, and the test failed. But there was no time for further practice; the next drop would be for real. Partridge asked that eight bridge sections be dropped at Koto, to allow for error.

When the sections were shoved out of C-119s on the morning of December 7, six were recovered in good shape. The Marines found a seventh damaged but still usable. The eighth section landed in Chinese-held territory. The Air Force intentionally dropped the sections just outside the Marine perimeter at Koto in order to avoid hitting Allied soldiers. By late afternoon of December 7, all necessary equipment for the bridging operation was assembled at Koto and the Marines were ready to move into Funchilin Pass.

A Whiteout Confronts The Marines

Under cover of darkness in the early morning of December 8, Lt. Col. Schmuck’s battalion began a six-mile march north from its positions at Chinhung-ni toward the objective of Hill 1081. A few hours later, the Marines at Koto began their drive south toward the blown-out bridge. The weather that morning was particularly abominable—heavy, blinding snow and a temperature of 14 degrees below zero. Visibility was 50 feet. There was no air cover in what amounted to a whiteout.

Schmuck’s battalion used the conditions to advantage as it crept up on the Chinese defending Hill 1081, but the going was agonizingly slow: It took six hours to move the six miles and make contact with the Chinese.

Captain Robert Barrow, commanding A Company, lst Marines and charged with capturing the summit of Hill 1081, later remarked that the Chinese 60th Division was “clearly in a position to control, dominate and absolutely stop the lst Marine Division from moving south. They had to be dislodged.” Barrow’s men scaled an ice-encrusted cliff in the howling wind. But they surprised the Chinese on the summit, with Corporal Joseph Leeds spearheading an assault on the key bunker atop the hill after he and his men had crawled up to the enemy position on hands and knees.

Marines Fall Behind Schedule Due To Weather And Exhaustion

All told, the Marines assaulting Hill 1081 suffered 13 dead (including Leeds, who received a posthumous Navy Cross), and 17 wounded in the process. But they drove off the Chinese and held the position against a determined enemy counterattack on the night of December 8, during which the temperature reached 25 below zero.

Meanwhile, the advance southward from Koto-ri proved slower than expected. Some of the Marine units ordered to lead the assault were so severely depleted by frostbite and combat casualties that they lacked sufficient strength to mount a coordinated attack. This was particularly true of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, whose three rifle companies comprised a total of only 130 combat electives—combined. Colonel Homer Litzenberg, commanding the 7th Marine Regiment, ordered his 2nd Battalion to assist the 3rd in clearing enemy positions west of the road. Given the weather, this required considerable time and could not be completed before dark on December 8.

The Brockway trucks carrying the bridge sections had been moved forward to within range of the bridge site, but then were pulled back toward Koto when it appeared that the engineers would be unable to undertake the bridging operation that day. Partridge could not risk having the trucks unnecessarily exposed to enemy artillery or mortar fire. Another effort would be made the following morning.

The Bridge Gap Was Wider Than Expected

First Lieutenant David Peppin of D Company, lst Engineer Battalion, was given the job of laying the new bridge across the gap. With the weather more favorable early on December 9, the two Brockway trucks again groaned down the road toward the site. Peppin then noticed a pile of timbers near the knocked-out bridge; Japanese had placed these here years before when Korea was a vassalage of Japan. When Peppin measured the gap in the bridge, it proved too wide to be covered by the M-2 treadway sections themselves. This was an unanticipated problem stemming from additional damage the Chinese had somehow accomplished since Partridge overflew the gap several days earlier.

But Peppin (on the recommendation of a platoon sergeant) made the most of his situation by using the stacked timbers to build up a crib on a small shelf just below the roadway. The M-2 sections could be laid from the crib across the rest of the gap, thereby restoring the bridge. Peppin used Chinese prisoners to move the timbers to the bridge site, where the engineers built the crib and laid the new sections.
Colonel Litzenberg allowed Peppin two more hours to complete the job. By 3:30 pm, the new sections were hooked together and the treadways spaced so that tanks could cross. Trucks and jeeps would need to make use of plywood center sections that had been dropped to the engineers along with the heavy treadway sections.

A Bulldozer (With Assistance From Ice)

Peppin had yet another job. The Chinese had also dynamited a steel railway bridge onto the highway about a thousand yards south of the now-repaired bridge at the penstocks. The railway bridge had crossed above the road but now lay demolished and at right angles across it.

Following an infantry battalion across the treadway bridge, Peppin moved with a bulldozer to the new obstacle. Suddenly a mortar barrage erupted. But from this, Peppin and the bulldozer driver emerged unhurt, and Peppin decided to see whether the bulldozer could just push the big steel bridge out of the way. The ice on the road proved helpful as the bulldozer shoved the bridge off the road. The route to Chinhung-ni was open!

But disaster soon struck. Although the treadways of the newly repaired bridge over the gap could handle a weight of 50 tons, the four-inch-thick plywood center sections would support only 20 tons. This was more than adequate for most purposes, but a tractor towing earth-moving equipment broke through the plywood and hung precariously on the edge of the precipice. This effectively blocked further movement across the bridge. But Marine Technical Sergeant Wilfred H. Prosser, an expert tractor driver, saved the day by climbing onto the tractor and carefully backing the vehicle off the bridge.

Quick Thinking Allows Tanks And Jeeps To Pass

Now the engineers had a new problem: Without the plywood center section, tanks could still cross on the metal treadways, but the narrower wheelbases of the trucks and jeeps would prevent further movement of those vehicles. Thinking quickly, Partridge ordered the steel treadway sections pushed as far apart as possible, which would allow the tanks to cross while jeeps could ride on the treadways by carefully aligning their wheels so that they cleared the inside lips of the metal sections by a mere half-inch on either side.

There was no margin for error, and a crossing procedure originally undertaken at two miles an hour was slowed even more. As the vehicles in single file crossed the treadway bridge, each driver had to concentrate to the utmost. An inadvertent lapse would have meant plunging 1,500 feet down the side of the mountain. N. Harry Smith, a war correspondent, later said, “I didn’t want to ride in any vehicle over this hellish road, down a mountain that never leveled off into flatness.”

Crossing More Hazardous Under Darkness

The troops at the repaired bridge were still under long-range sniper fire, and as darkness descended the operation became extremely hazardous. The engineers guided the drivers across only by flashlight, because headlights would have attracted enemy mortars.

Nevertheless, the column snaked southward from Koto-ri the whole night. Partridge recalled: “The sensation throughout that night was extremely eerie. There seemed to be a glow over everything. There was no illumination and yet you seemed to see quite well; there was artillery fire, and the sound of many artillery pieces being discharged; there was the crunching of the many feet and many vehicles on the crisp snow. There were many North Korean refugees on one side of the column and Marines walking on the other side. Every once in a while, there would be a baby wailing. There were cattle on the road. Everything added to the general sensation of relief, or expected relief, and was about as eerie as anything I’ve ever experienced in my life.”

By 2:45 am on December 10, the first Marine units reached the comparative safety of Chinhung-ni, still 43 miles from Hungnam, but out of the deadly Chosin trap. They boarded trucks and were driven to Hungnam. But most of the remainder had to continue trudging toward the coast until more transport became available.

“Chesty” Puller Brings Up The Rear With Dead And Wounded Marines

In mid-afternoon, Koto-ri was abandoned by the Marines. The rear of the column consisted of tanks covered by men of the lst Marine Division’s Reconnaissance Company (the recon men were there because of a mix-up in orders). Following by a few hundred yards was a large group of Korean refugees. Chesty Puller was among the last to leave Koto. He walked out; his jeep carried a handful of dead and wounded Marines.

The Marine column, stretching along the mountainside for 10 miles, was organized so that each section of the supply train was separated from the next by a quarter-mile. Each vehicle driver separated himself from the next by 50 yards. Although the spacing meant vulnerability to infiltration by small bands of Chinese, it also ensured that a complete section of the supply train would not be wiped out in the event of a sudden ambush or by accurate enemy fire. Above both sides of the road, Marine rifle companies moving along the ridges provided protection for the vehicles negotiating the pass.

Some Chinese Shot Rather Than Taken Prisoner

Between Koto-ri and Chinhung-ni, the Marines captured more than a hundred Chinese prisoners, some of whom were so frostbitten that gangrene had already set in. But the Marine rifle companies in the hills could not afford to take prisoners. Strained to the limits of human endurance, bone-tired and pressed for time, some small units that captured prisoners defied the orders from higher headquarters to bring their captives down the mountain, and simply shot them as an exigency of war (from an eyewitness account cited in The Korean War: An Oral History, by Donald Knox).

A last sharp firefight erupted south of Chinhung-ni in the middle of the night of December 10. But the Marine column pushed through the Chinese roadblock and continued toward Hungnam. Partridge ordered the treadway bridge in Funchilin Pass demolished on the afternoon of December 11. He recalled: “I had a sense of well-being after everyone had crossed over and I’d blown the bridge.”

During the final push south from Koto-ri to Chinhung-ni and beyond, the lst Marine Division and its attached units suffered 75 killed, 16 missing, and 256 wounded. On reaching Hungnam, the division was evacuated with the rest of the U.N. forces in northeastern Korea. The Chinese were too battered to continue the fight all the way to the sea. As a last act, U.S. demolition teams destroyed the port of Hungnam to deny the Communists its use. There would be no return.

”Battle Unparalleled In U.S. Military Histroy”

The dramatic breakout of the lst Marine Division from Chosin Reservoir was widely reported at the time by the world press. Time magazine remarked that it “was a battle unparalleled in U.S. military history,” possessing “some aspects of Bataan, some of Anzio, some of Dunkirk, some of Valley Forge, some of the ‘Retreat of the 10,000’ (401-400 bc) as described in Xenophon’s Anabasis.” In fact, most of the world didn’t think the Marines stood a chance until they had actually cleared Funchilin Pass.

But the Chinese 9th Army Group may have lost as much as half its numerical strength to battle casualties and the severe cold. It was knocked out of the war for over three months at a very critical time. The lst Marine Division suffered nearly seven thousand casualties in two weeks of almost constant fighting, although about half were owing to frostbite and illness. The X Corps absorbed over 2,700 additional casualties, mostly in the U.S. Army units operating alongside the Marines.

As a Marine later wrote, “We gave up the ground, but we may well have saved the war.” The troops themselves knew they would make it. If ordered back north, they would have gone.

This article first appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The "Haversack Ruse": A Decisive British Military Victory of World War I

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 03:33

Warfare History Network

History, Middle East

Meinertzhagen’s haversack ruse helped break the stalemate at Gaza and even attracted the appreciation of Lawrence of Arabia for its brilliance.

Key Point: The ingenious “haversack ruse” is an outstanding example of a highly successful scheme that had a decisive impact on the outcome of the battle.

Since the days of the Trojan Horse, military deception and ruse have been effective instruments when used by an innovative commander to deceive and defeat an enemy, minimizing friendly casualties and expenditure of valuable resources in the process.

British Spirits Lag After Four Years Of War

One of the most effective stratagems in modern military history occurred during the Palestine campaign of World War I. This campaign had been plagued by mediocrity and lack of ingenuity among the senior British commanders, plus a general lack of resources, until the appointment on June 27, 1917 of General Sir Edmund H.H. Allenby as Commander-in-Chief, Egyptian Expeditionary Force.

Soon after Allenby’s arrival in Cairo, he and his staff assessed the situation in his theater of operations. He realized offensive operations would be needed when desert temperatures decreased, and the possibility of rain increased, in the late fall. This was the fourth year of war, and all hope of ending the conflagration in 1917 was gone, due to the collapse of the Russians, demoralizing failure of the French offensive in Champagne, and lackluster results of the Allied spring offensive. A decisive victory was needed to sustain the morale and confidence of the British people.

Before Allenby’s departure for Egypt, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George said as much when he told him that “he wanted Jerusalem as a Christmas present for the British nation.” The Prime Minister’s conviction was reinforced in a telegram he sent to Allenby in August 1917, encouraging the general to continue pressuring the Turks “to strengthen the staying power and morale in this country.”

Determined Not To Make The Same Mistakes In Taking Gaza

With these strong admonitions in mind, General Allenby realized he would have to crack the heavily fortified Turkish defenses at Gaza as an intermediate objective toward the eventual capture of Jerusalem. The first two battles of Gaza (in January and April 1917) had both ended in dismal failure for the attacking British. General Allenby’s new plan (a slightly modified version of the one developed by Lt. Gen. Sir Philip Chetwode, commander of the “Eastern Force” before General Allenby’s assumption of command in Egypt) was to seize Gaza without making the same costly, unimaginative, and unsuccessful frontal assaults against strong defensive positions as had been done in the first two battles.

The Third Battle of Gaza went almost exactly according to plan. First, on October 27, XXI Corps began a feint against Gaza, consisting initially of a systematic and increasingly heavy artillery bombardment from land-based heavy and medium guns. Two days later naval gunfire, provided by a cruiser, destroyers, monitors, and river gunboats, added its weight. Indeed, the appearance of this offshore flotilla concerned the Turks because it raised the specter of an amphibious assault against Gaza or north of it in the Turkish rear. The Turks, believing this artillery barrage—the heaviest outside Europe during the war—to be the prelude to the main attack, concentrated their forces at Gaza.

Deception Put Into Play

Meanwhile, with the enemy’s attention fixed at Gaza, the XX Corps and the Desert Mounted Corps moved stealthily across the desert, generally at night, with limited water supplies and increased security. By the afternoon of October 30 both corps (minus reserve elements and one division manning the front between Gaza and Beersheba) had assembled in their assault positions, with XX Corps generally to the southwest and south of, and the Desert Mounted Corps generally to the east and northeast of Beersheba. The attack on Beersheba began on the morning of October 31. After a day of hard fighting, culminating in the magnificent sunset charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade, led by the 4th and 12th Australian Light Horse Regiments, Beersheba, with its all-important water wells, was captured.

To keep the enemy off balance and unaware of the true course of the battle, the British on the next afternoon feinted an amphibious landing on the coast to the rear of the Turkish Gaza positions. General Allenby, skillfully timing the phases of the battle, then ordered XXI Corps to attack Gaza from the south the following day, knowing that XX Corps was preparing to attack the left flank of the Turkish main line of defense. The XXI Corps attack was meant to divert the attention of the Turks and force them to commit their main reserves at Gaza, not sending them in the direction of Beersheba.

And Like That, The Third Battle Of Gaza Was Over

Around Beersheba, however, the British operations slowed. Water wells and other resources were not as fruitful as originally envisioned, and a violent khamsin (sandstorm) struck. The water shortage forced the postponement of the main attack against the Turkish left until November 6, although fierce and determined fighting continued north of Beersheba.

The main XX Corps attack against the left flank of the Turks began early on November 6, together with a renewed assault on Gaza by XXI Corps, and by the end of the day the former had captured the key Sheria position some 10 miles northwest of Beersheba. The next day, both XX and XXI Corps continued their attacks, only to find many enemy positions empty. Realizing that the Turks were retreating, elements of the Desert Mounted Corps attacked from Sheria and raced to the Mediterranean Sea in an attempt to cut them off. The Third Battle of Gaza was over.

Numerous reasons explain the British (with significant Australian and New Zealander participation) victory at the Third Battle of Gaza. They include dynamic and charismatic leadership at all echelons of the chain of command; detailed, innovative, and flexible planning; superb training; high morale in soldiers and esprit de corps in their units; and outstanding logistical preparations and resupply capabilities.

The “Haversack Ruse” Explained

Add to these the numerous preparations to deceive the enemy about the location and time of the attack, the most effective of these ploys now known as the “haversack ruse.” Conceived by Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, head of Military Intelligence at General Headquarters, Egyptian Expeditionary Force, this plan was sanctioned enthusiastically by General Allenby in September. The scheme called for a staff officer, ostensibly on a reconnaissance mission, to contrive to be chased by patrolling Turkish soldiers, pretend to be wounded, and drop his haversack, freshly stained with his horse’s blood. The haversack contents were meant to deceive the Turks into believing that the main attack would again be made at Gaza and that the preparations against Beersheba were only a feint.

Meinertzhagen’s staff ingeniously compiled a portfolio for the fictitious staff officer. Items in the haversack included a staff officer’s estimate of the situation complaining about the command’s obstinacy in attacking at Gaza instead of at Beersheba, and a report in the staff officer’s notebook disclosing the inability of the British commander to overcome the water shortage and transport difficulties in maintaining a large force before Beersheba. There was also an agenda for a meeting at Allenby’s headquarters, with a telegram announcing a reconnaissance patrol in the Beersheba vicinity, and a map, with arrows pointing to Gaza. Of utmost importance was a copy of a detailed General Headquarters operations order clearly indicating that the British main attack would again be made against Gaza, simultaneous with an amphibious landing on the coast north of the town. Noted as a secondary operation, more on the scale of a feint, was an assault by mounted troops on Beersheba. Rough notes about a wireless cipher were also included.

But Wait, There’s More!

To further enhance the realism of the haversack’s contents, a large number of pound bank notes, in a sum large enough to give the impression that they would not have been “lost” on purpose, was included, as were a number of personal letters, including one announcing the birth of a son to the staff officer. Written by Colonel Meinertzhagen’s sister Mary, this letter concluded: “Good-bye, my darling! Nurse says I must not tire myself by writing too much, so no more now but I will write again soon and then it will be a longer letter than this. Take care of your precious self! All my love and many kisses. Your loving wife, Mary. Baby sends a kiss to Daddy.”

Two unsuccessful attempts were made to “deliver” the falsified information to the Turks. Colonel Meinertzhagen himself took the haversack on the third try, and on October 10 he rode toward Beersheba with it. His diary notation best relates this episode:

Ruse Reinforced With Deceptive Radio Messages

“I was well mounted, and near Girheir when I found a Turkish patrol who at once gave me a chase. I galloped away for a mile or so and then they pulled up, so I stopped, dismounted, and had a shot at them at about 600 yards. That was too much for them, and they at once resumed the chase, blazing away harmlessly all the time. Now was my chance, and in my effort to mount I loosened my haversack, field glasses, water bottle, dropped my rifle—previously stained with some fresh blood from my horse—and, in fact, did everything to make them believe I was hit and that my flight was disorderly. They had now approached close enough, and I made off, dropping the haversack which contained the notebook and various maps, my lunch, etc. I saw one of them stop and pick up the haversack and rifle, so I now went like the wind for home and soon gave them the slip, well satisfied with what I had done and that my deception had been successful.”

The captured haversack made its way up through Turkish intelligence and command channels. At the same time the British sent dummy wireless messages indicating the objective of the upcoming offensive was not Beersheba, these messages being decipherable with the aid of the captured cipher code notes. The Desert Mounted Corps also sent a message to General Allenby reporting the incident and complaining about “the staff officer’s” stupidity and negligence.

Germans Convinced Attack Would Be Directly At Gaza

Simultaneously, and further reinforcing the authenticity of the “missing” haversack, a notice was sent out from the Desert Mounted Corps informing subordinate units of the “lost” haversack with a request for its return. A patrol was sent out to find and recover the haversack, during which the officer in charge threw away some sandwiches wrapped in a copy of the bogus operations order! The captured intelligence ultimately reached the German commander of the Turkish forces, General Kress von Kressenstein.

This simple ploy, coupled with all of the other British deceptions, convinced General von Kressenstein that the main British assault against Gaza would be conducted frontally from the south. Even though he probably realized the possibility that the documents may have been fake, General von Kressenstein felt obliged to act as if they were genuine. Indeed, it was difficult for him to conceive of an attack being made in any direction other than directly at Gaza.

When the Third Battle of Gaza began on October 31, the Turks were indeed deployed in anticipation of the main attack striking from the south. After a week’s hard fighting with heavy losses, the Turks abandoned the Gaza-Beersheba line that they had held with determination for the previous nine months. They were in full retreat to the north. Indeed, only five weeks after the capture of Gaza, General Allenby formally entered the captured city of Jerusalem. He had completed his mission of providing the British Prime Minister with his desired Christmas gift.

Lawrence of Arabia Gives Nod To Ruse

The intricately planned, audaciously executed, yet relatively simple “haversack ruse” helped break the stalemate at Gaza and led to the capture of Jerusalem. From October 31 to December 11, the day of the British entry into Jerusalem, some 12,000 Turkish prisoners and 1,000 artillery pieces were captured. During the same period, Turkish casualties numbered about 25,000 as compared to 18,000 for the British.

In his massive semi-historical account of his role in the Arab Revolt, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T.E. Lawrence “of Arabia” confirmed that Meinertzhagen was solely responsible for the conception and successful execution of the “haversack ruse.” Lawrence added that Meinertzhagen “took as blithe a pleasure in deceiving his enemy (or friend) by some unscrupulous jest.”

Indeed, Meinertzhagen was a master of battlefield deception, with the “haversack ruse” only one of his many successful ploys. On one occasion, Meinertzhagen repeated a stratagem he had conducted successfully in East Africa earlier in the war. He identified the primary enemy spy operating in the Beersheba area, and sent him a letter of thanks for the valuable information he had purportedly “given” the British, along with a sizable monetary reward in Turkish currency for his superb services rendered. As anticipated, the Turks intercepted the letter, and believing their best spy to be a double agent, or at least an informant for the British, executed him.

Opium-Laced Tobacco Dropped From the Skies

In addition, during the preparations for the Third Battle of Gaza, Meinertzhagen learned from captured Turkish soldiers that there was an acute shortage of tobacco in their units. Meinertzhagen then arranged for the British airplanes that dropped propaganda leaflets over the enemy trenches every night to also drop packages of cigarettes as an enticement to surrender. This seeming act of benevolence was leading up to a coup de grâce in which, immediately before the Third Battle of Gaza, the cigarettes dropped on the tobacco-hungry Turks would contain Meinertzhagen’s own special blend of tobacco and opium.

Allenby deprecated this act as being too close to poisoning the enemy, but Meinertzhagen did it anyway, believing any action to save friendly lives was justified. After the battle, Meinertzhagen sampled one of his own opium-laden cigarettes, and observed that “they were indeed strong. The effect was sublime, complete abandonment, all energy gone, lovely dreams and complete inability to act or think.” Although the definite effect of this ploy cannot be ascertained, it has been recorded that after being captured on November 6, many of the Turks appeared lethargic, “befuddled,” and “barely coherent.” All of Meinertzhagen’s imaginative acts of deception and subterfuge contributed to the overall success of the Palestine campaign.

Haversack Ruse Considered One Of the Greatest Wartime Deceptions

Throughout history, military commanders and forces have used various ploys and ruses to deceive and defeat an enemy force. The ingenious “haversack ruse” before the Third Battle of Gaza in 1917 is an outstanding example of a highly successful scheme that had a decisive impact on the outcome of the battle.

T.E. Lawrence was duly impressed and observed that “after the Meinertzhagen success, deceptions, which for the ordinary general were just witty hors d’oeuvres before battle, became for Allenby a main point of strategy.” With greater objectivity, the British Official History declared accurately that the “haversack ruse” was to have “an extraordinary effect, an effect, indeed, hardly to be matched in the annals of modern war.”

This article first appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Shot Down In War, Nazi Pilot Gottfried Dulias Barely Survived The Soviet Gulag

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 03:00

Warfare History Network

History, Europe

A young Luftwaffe fighter pilot was shot down and captured by the Soviets, endured years in captivity in the Gulag, and lived to tell the tale.

Gottfried P. Dulias was a young Luftwaffe pilot who had seen plenty of action in the skies above the Eastern Front. Flying the Messerschmitt Me-109G-14/AS with Jagdgeschwader 53—known as the Pik A’s, or Ace of Spades squadron, or simply as JG 53—he shot down five enemy aircraft and became an ace.

Subsequently, he was shot down by ground fire and captured, and he spent three years in a Soviet prison camp. Dulias emigrated to the United States in 1953 and worked in residential construction and as a locksmith until his retirement in 2009. He and his wife, Hedwig, were married for 46 years until her death in 1997.

The father of three daughters, who also has two grandchildren and one great grandchild, Mr. Dulias lives today in Patchogue, New York. He and coauthor Dianna M. Popp met on the internet and later worked together to produce the book Another Bowl of Kapusta, from which this story is excerpted. Kapusta is Russian for cabbage soup, which served as a staple food for prisoners of war held by the Soviet Union.

Captured Near the Crackling ‘Gustav’

As I was passing over the front line with tracers flying by right in front of me, I had no time for evasive action and I heard loud pings hitting my engine and saw the impacts and some debris hitting my windshield. The engine started to sputter as the cockpit immediately filled up with smoke, and I knew I was doomed. The first thing I did was to jettison my canopy in order to see and breathe. I quickly searched for a suitable spot to make a belly landing. Luckily, I found a clear opening in the forested area and set my mortally wounded machine down on the snow-covered ground.

Coming to a stop, I made a quick exit, ran away from my beloved “Gustav,” and within a split second it blew up. Immediately, I headed toward the nearby woods to hide. Following my training on the procedures for bailing out, I used my survival knife and dug a small hole in the ground to hide my documents, including a photo of me in civilian clothes from my last furlough wearing the [Nazi] party pin. I intended to hide in the woods until nightfall and hoped to make it back through the nearby front line. I still heard the crackle of exploding ammunition from my burning Me-109; it was my beloved Gustav’s goodbye call.

I started walking by feeling my way through the thick underbrush. I did have a survival compass which had glow-in-the-dark directional points and a glowing needlepoint top indicator. Besides that, I had my survival pocketknife and my Luger [pistol] with 30 bullets. I continued to grope my way through the forest, and it never seemed to end.

It was now beginning to dawn. I remained in hiding there in the forest and heard some voices. Russian was being spoken. I found a secure place and hid in the underbrush. I peeked through the branches and saw a group of six drunken Russians passing by. They passed perhaps 20 feet from me. I saw that they were soldiers, not civilians, and they walked along a narrow path. I carefully observed their movement and then managed to advance forward on my way back toward our side.

As I kept stalking in the direction of the front, following my compass, and snuck past them, another troop came along, and they spotted me. They yelled: “Stoi, Stoi!” meaning Halt, Stop! Unfortunately they spotted me before I did them. I guess I was better at navigating up in the air than on the ground! I had to hold my hands extended and outstretched above my head. They shouted commands in Russian to me that I much later got to know as derogative curses.

They were a mean bunch and I knew that they hated the Luftwaffe because of the great damage that was done to them by us. It was known that downed Luftwaffe pilots were executed on the spot. They all pointed their Tommy guns [machine pistols] directly at me. Then one started talking and sounded as he was giving me orders.

I knew he was extremely angry as he was shouting at me, obviously due to the fact that we had a language barrier. I couldn’t understand a single word. He began hitting me in the chest with his gun butt. I almost fell backwards and his stroke took my breath away. He motioned for me to walk and pointed to the direction they came from. As I passed him, he kicked me hard in the back, and I almost fell forward. As I stumbled, the others cursed me too, and then hit me with their gun butts. Finally, I got knocked to the ground, yet they continued hitting, kicking, and trampling me so hard that I almost passed out.

A Fluent Russian Major

They probably would have killed me if a Russian major had not come up and stopped them. He was a most impressive character. To my complete surprise, when he and I met face to face he addressed me in fluent German without the slightest accent. At the same time he spoke Russian to his soldiers. Thanks to God he appeared just in time to spare me from certain death.

The first thing he asked me was, “Are you the pilot of the plane that went down?”

I confirmed with a “Yes.”

He stretched his arm forward with an open hand and he said, “Give me your gun!”

I handed him my belt and holster containing my Luger. He slid the holster off my belt and handed the belt back to me. I believe he was from the same troops that were doing the ground fire that shot me down and now had searched and finally spotted me. I acknowledged his questions and was really impressed with the major’s command of the German language.

He asked me my name and rank and saw that I was a Leutnant [lieutenant]. He also asked what type of aircraft I flew, although it appeared that he was knowledgeable about that already. He ordered me to march ahead of him to their field command station, which was just beyond the forested area, to the north. I walked ahead while the soldiers still continued cursing at me, but the major gave them orders to stop that.

Later, at the farmhouse, which I correctly assumed to be their post, one of the Russian soldiers approached me, pointed toward his wrist and shouted, “Ura, Ura.” He pointed to a chain hanging out from my pants pocket. I happened to have my grandfather Dulias’s open pocket watch on me. It was of a copper-golden tone but without a cover. So I had to give him the watch. He held it to his ear, listened to it tick and shouted, “Ura, Ura.” with a smiling face, obviously happy to get that trophy. In return he gave me a piece of bread. He was friendly, not too demanding, not stern, but just had to have my watch. Perhaps it was a novelty to him that he had only heard about.

At that station I saw several German infantrymen also held as prisoners of war. They were guarded by a few Russians and were not mistreated in any way. For the first time I saw a few female Russian soldiers holding their guns. When they saw me they shouted out, “Fritz, Fritz,” which was their nickname for any captured German soldier, as I found out later. In turn, the German nickname for the Russians was “Ivan.”

The major went into this command post. One by one all newly captured POWs were called into the post to be interrogated by the major. I was asked if I knew of any more German outfits (tanks, artillery, and so on) at or near the front. I couldn’t answer, due to my real lack of knowledge. Basically all I revealed was the fact that from the air I saw some German tank columns approaching the front.

I was then asked if I was able to draw maps. I knew I was skilled in doing that because I had already been copying maps for our own pilots because of a shortage; supplies had dwindled fast and replacements never made it to our field base. So he led me to an empty desk in the room where Russian soldiers were busy working on copying maps and showed me what he wanted me to do. So now, I had to do for the enemy what I originally did for my fellow pilots; but now I had no choice in the matter.

A First Taste of Kapusta

Finally toward evening they gave me something to eat, as it was their suppertime.

A bowl of cabbage soup was my first meal as “guest” of the Russians. They called it kapusta. I welcomed that warm soup, especially after not having had any food at all since leaving my base the day before. In the rush of leaving my plane I had forgotten to take my emergency rations with me. The kapusta was rich with lots of green cabbage leaves and included some potatoes and a few other vegetables along with some morsels of meat. It tasted really good and reminded me of the good Kohlsuppe (cabbage soup) we had often at home as my mother had cooked it.

Later that night I was led to the adjoining barn where I joined the other POWs. I was shown the floor as my place to sleep. It was rather barren except for some straw, and I fell asleep in my flight suit. I slept all through the night. In the morning my whole body was hurting me from the gun-butt blows and kicks I had suffered.

The next morning, the soldier who took my watch came back to me and said: “Ura kaput, ura kaput!” He showed me that he thought the watch was broken. He looked at me with a sad face as he handed it to me. I quickly realized that he didn’t know that he had to wind it to make it go on ticking. So I wound it for him and handed it back. He held it to his ear and smiled and grinned and looked like he was dancing for joy as he shouted: “Ura karascholl, ura karascholl,” meaning, the watch worked again and that it was okay.

Then another guard came and motioned to me to come out and walk ahead of him while he remained behind me, pointing his gun at me and swinging it in the direction he wanted me to go, toward an open field. I wondered why he walked so far behind me and also noticed that he followed in my exact footprints along the open field, like Indians did on a warpath. At any moment I really expected to be shot from behind.

I kept walking but nothing happened until we reached the obviously intended destination. To my great relief we came to another farmhouse. Once there I noticed a group of about 80 German prisoners, all infantrymen. One of those Germans pointed to the field and asked me if I had come across it to get there. To my horror, he told me that I had crossed a minefield. I almost passed out from that shock.

A Long and Deadly March

More POWs were herded into our group. For a roll call we had to form three lines. We were then counted two and three times as a guard walked down the lines counting and writing in a notebook. Then we were ordered to march toward the south, away from the front. Following our column were four horse-drawn supply wagons loaded with kapusta and captured German Komissbrot [Army bread] and other supplies that were covered with canvas sheets. Following those wagons was another team of horses pulling a German Goulaschkanone [field kitchen, aka Goulash cannon].

Those infantry POWs each had their army-issued Kochgeschirr [aluminum cooking and eating dish] and their army spoon-fork combos, which were not confiscated from them as were most other things they carried. Also they could keep their army Brotbeutel [bread sacks with shoulder straps]. I did not have any of that equipment and was hoping I could borrow from one of those who were fed first whenever we stopped to eat, or I would go hungry. I did get to borrow these.

The next morning the guards shouted: “Pajyom, Pajyom!” Get up, let’s go, let’s go! Three or four of the wounded and sick POWs did not get up. They were dead. The guards just left them there in the field. After being counted again several times, we marched on the muddy road. The snow was melting and puddles were everywhere. Our march was leading us into the hinterland, far beyond the front. While under way, some of the sick and wounded were unable to continue or had passed out. They just dropped where they were in the marching column and were dragged to the side of the road by a guard and shot on the spot.

From one of those poor dead fellows I took an army-issue bread bag. It had a looped strap to easily sling over my shoulder. Inside the bag I found a shawl, a pair of socks, and some army newspapers. The shawl and socks came in handy for the cold nights and windy days. We continued marching all day long without food. At nightfall there was another roll call, and our numbers got smaller. In the evenings we got our now familiar kapusta and bread. That soup was about the same quality as what I was served the first time at the command post, not bad! And the thick slice of German Komissbrot was welcomed as filler.

On the third or fourth night of our march, the guards happened to find an abandoned farmhouse with a barn and stable. That was the first night we found shelter with a place to sleep under a roof. It was a welcome relief after so much marching and sleeping out in the open. I was lucky to be assigned to stay in the main farmhouse and it was still fully furnished.

We slept on the floor and while I was lying there I looked around the room. My eyes gazed upon a collection of books on a bookshelf right by my head, and that sparked my curiosity. I was able to read the spine from one of them printed in gold letters. It looked quite familiar to me: Altes und Neues Testament Die Heilige Bibel (Old and New Testament the Holy Bible)
I slipped it off the shelf and opened it up. It was completely printed in the German language, and on the first blank page I saw a handwritten dedication by a father to his son. I don’t remember their names, but as I recall, it was in a neat handwriting in the old German Sütterlin type, that I had learned at public school.

The pages of the Bible were rather thin and were edged in gold. I decided to keep my find. It fit nicely into my bread bag. The size of the Bible was about eight inches wide by 10 inches in length, and had a spine about two inches thick. Besides that, I found a small black and white photo, which showed a quaint town with its church tower with an arched gate, along with a few blank pages of paper from a notebook. I took those along too.

Trading Boots

The next morning, after only one night of shelter, there was the usual roll call, and then we continued marching on. Every day more and more men died of their wounds; some of the weak guys who could not go on were shot where they dropped. Some were bleeding to death. Others who were never treated for their injuries had developed gangrene. It was a pitiful sight but there was no turning away from it, and I cooperated in every way, just to survive. The dead could not be buried. The ground was still frozen hard underneath the melting snow and thin layer of mud.

On our way we saw the bloated carcasses of horses lying frozen on the side of the road among burned-out Russian and German tanks, trucks, and other vehicles. Frozen soldiers, both Russian and German, were sticking out of the melting snow. It was a gruesome sight as we marched on.

One of the guards pulled me from our group and motioned me to sit down at the side of the road. I surely assumed again that I would be shot. He pointed to my fur-lined flight boots and said something in Russian, gesturing by pointing to himself. Much relieved, I realized he only wanted my boots. He removed his well-worn ones and slipped into mine. Satisfied with the obvious fit, he handed me his pair to put on. Surprisingly, they fit me too and I was glad that this exchange was all he wanted.

He shouted, and I got up and rejoined our marching column. I did not mind the holes in my “new” boots because I was still alive. Later, he handed me a big piece of Komissbrot and a handful of tobacco (machorka). Pointing to my boots, he smilingly asked: “Karascholl?” (It’s OK?) I nodded and smiled back at him, so relieved to still be alive.

The Cattle Cars to the Gulags

The “death march” lasted about a week, maybe more, I cannot remember. Finally, we arrived at Jasbereni, a town south of Budapest, Hungary, where the Russians had changed the width of the European rails to their wider railroad system. At the railroad station was a long train of cattle cars waiting for us. We found many hundreds of other German soldiers already loaded into it. The empty train came from Russia, and when not in use to transport prisoners, it was used to reload and transport dismantled German and Hungarian factories that came to Jasbereni. The machinery, parts, and supplies were loaded onto their trains to be transported to Russia.

Each of our cattle cars had been loaded with 100 soldiers. We entered them from sliding doors that were in the center of both sides of the cars. As you looked in, to the right and to the left, there were something like wooden platforms, or berths built about four feet up from the wooden floor. All four berths had a thin layer of straw as mattresses. The upper berths were centered between the floor and the eight-foot ceiling. Twenty-five men were packed in each berth, 50 on each side of the car.

In the middle space, about eight feet between the two sides, stood a potbelly stove that had a chimney pipe going straight through the roof. A small metal bin filled with black coal was near the stove and a small pile of firewood next to it. Through an opening of about six inches was a sort of gutter mounted in a downward angle, sticking out a few inches from the side of the car. It protruded about two feet inside and a little over two feet above the floor. Believe it or not, that was our toilet!

Each cattle car had one guard riding along with us. He of course had his sleeping place next to the warm stove and also had blankets to keep him warm. Next to the passenger car there were three flatbed cars loaded with a German field kitchen and a shed for the cooks and supplies. Whenever our train stopped for the night we were fed our familiar kapusta and bread.

In the meantime, I had acquired one of the German Kochgeschirr containers and a set of the spoon-fork combos from one of the poor dead POWs. I could now stand in line and get my kapusta without having to ask someone to lend me his set.

And so the days and nights went by. We had lost track of time and now never knew what day of the week it was.

Along the rail route more and more transports of factory equipment were passing us on the way deep into Russia. We rolled mostly at night because during the day our train was held at the stations’ sidetracks so that those priority transports could go ahead of us. Because of all the delays, I estimate that the trip took six to eight weeks.

The Camp

We POWs counted ourselves lucky to get a steady diet of Komissbrot as well as kapusta while on that transport. It must have been the very beginning of May when we reached our destination. The train was unloaded at Grüntal (Greendale) near Penza-oblast (Pensa), a town and big railroad station located on the Volga River in the Kazan region. We were marched to the POW camp, or gulag, just outside town.

A high barbed-wire fence was the boundary line of the prison camp. Our living quarters consisted of a stable-like post and beam structure located halfway underground in dug-out trenches about 50 feet long. They were about six feet below ground level and about 15 feet wide.

A roof starting at ground level and angling up at about 30 degrees was built over them with tree trunks packed side by side, and the cracks between them were stuffed with moss. A layer of straw and branches had been placed on top. It was then finished off with a layer of topsoil about one foot thick. The disadvantage of this style of structure was that during a heavy rainstorm some water seeped through. In the winter, the roof became frozen and was watertight.

At both open ends of the trench there were steps leading down into our bunkhouse. Heavy canvas sheets hung as end walls and doors. Inside on both sides there were posts with girders supporting the roof logs. Large two-story bunks made of wooden planks and crosspieces had been built between and attached to those posts, accommodating about 10 POWs.

There was no provision to heat our bunkhouse, so we had to rely on our own body heat. At first not more than three army blankets were provided to cover 10 prisoners. About one hundred men filled that entire “barrack” or bunkhouse. Later, one blanket could to be shared between every two men—five Russian army blankets on each lower and upper bunk.

In the mornings our breakfast consisted of about a half tin of kapusta that was nothing more than greenish water and sometimes a portion of kasha made from barley and like a soupy puree. The heads of cabbage that were delivered to the camp for our consumption were stripped of their limp outer green leaves, and that was what they used for our soup. The clean heads of cabbage, less their withered outer green leaves, were regularly sold on the black market by the Russians.

A Textile Worker

Our workday began at 5 am. Our first assignment was in the local textile factory. They manufactured brownish-gray woven fabric used for Russian uniforms. My first job was to pull apart the freshly sheared fleece of sheep and goats and sort them by color tones. Next we inserted them into a machine that converted the fleece into particles that would be spun into thread and then into cloth. The final products were bolts of woven woolen uniform cloth fabric. An advantage of working there was that we were served lunch because we were working with civilians. They were mostly women of German descent.

Some of the women had young children with them. I was able to speak with one little schoolboy who was maybe seven years old. I asked him if I could have something to write on. He gave me several small notebooks. Among them was one with graph paper which had squares less than one quarter of an inch in size. Another had a hardcover, and along with it a small colored red pencil. We were allowed to keep a swatch from the scraps of the newly produced fabric. I also was able to take a sewing needle and some thread that they used in a sewing machine.

We also went to the local forest and had to fell trees. We made beams which were then transported by horse-drawn wagon to the Volga River. At the riverbank we later had to build boxes like honeycombs with those log beams. These were later to be filled with rocks to prevent further erosion to the shoreline.

Back at the camp at night we were supposed to get the promised ration of 500 grams of bread. Instead, we were told we did not fulfill our required tasks, so we only got 125 grams of that lousy so-called “bread.” But we considered ourselves lucky if we got a nice crusty end piece. Each portion of bread was actually put on a scale for exact weight. Supplements were attached if the portion was under the required weight.

“The War is Over!”

On May 10, 1945, when the war in Europe ended, the camp commander gave a speech to the daily count of 4,864 prisoners. “The war is over!” he called out and promised us that we would be returning home soon. This “good news” turned to bitter disappointment as days became weeks and weeks became months and months eventually turned into years without any action or intention of sending us home. By the spring of 1946, only 348 POWs were left in our camp.

Starvation and illness took their toll on the majority of the prisoners in a very short period of time. Every day 40 or more of our comrades were found dead. The slightest onset of an illness overpowered the already weakened immune systems of the overworked POWs.

I remember, as I was lying next to an older comrade on the crowded bunk and trying to get some sleep, that he just kept coughing. I had to turn my face away from his constant coughing, while I held my breath so that I would not inhale any of his germs. I was terribly afraid that I would also get sick. When the coughing finally stopped, I fell asleep. In the morning, there was his cold, stiff body at my side, a victim of pneumonia. It was a horrible sight seeing him there with a wide-open mouth and open glazed eyes. Just terrible! This was happening all too often throughout the camp.

I wore the piece of scrap material that I could keep from the textile factory wrapped around my chest, over my shirt. Every day it was of great comfort and kept me warm. I continued to trade my portions of machorka. I was reading my Bible every day, especially my favorite books from the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I kept the Bible and all my small possessions in my canvas bread bag.

“The Moon is Eating the Sun!”

By the late spring, we were assigned to work on the “Kolkhoz,” a state-owned farm. The land had been confiscated from the former owners who were allowed to keep their farmhouses and a small parcel of land as a backyard. Then they were forced to labor at their own land for the state and for the “common good.”

Our job was to plant seed potatoes. Our work group consisted of about 100 men, and we were ordered to form a wide line shoulder-to-shoulder. Each one of us had a shoulder bag of seed potatoes that had to be planted. We worked in unison, stepping forward foot by foot in a straight line and depositing a potato into the ground.

While we were working, the guards were facing us from about 15 feet in front, shouting commands and cursing at us. They were watching us closely to make sure that we did not dare eat any of the potatoes. When some guys indeed ate some, they were struck hard with a gun butt and knocked down, kicked, and cursed at.

Those guards were a bunch of Barbarians. Mostly they were young Russian soldiers, fanatic communists, thoroughly indoctrinated into their system. We were always glad when we had older Russian guards. They had more compassion for us and even gave orders in a friendlier, humane manner.

One very strange incident I recall while we planted those potatoes was a total eclipse of the sun that occurred on July 5, 1945, several weeks after the war had officially ended. It was an eerie, almost total darkness that lasted for quite a few minutes. We were all awed and wondered about that occurrence. One of our older guards was evidently scared, pointing up to the sky and shouting something in Russian. A fellow POW who was fluent in Russian started to laugh hysterically and told us what that guard was shouting: “Look, look, the Moon is eating the Sun!”


Once a month we were marched to a delousing facility. There we had to strip naked and put our uniforms and underwear in a bundle onto a metal hook. Footwear was lined up on the floor, but I no longer had the pair of boots that I had to exchange earlier during the death march. Now most of us had a pair of canvas shoes with wooden soles. The canvas top was nailed to the sole, and since the stiff wood could not bend, eventually the canvas separated at the heel and often fell totally apart from the stress of walking. So, for a while I had to walk barefoot until later when I received a replacement.

Our bundles of clothing were hung up in rows in a hot room where the temperature was raised to exterminate lice. While that was being done, we walked into the large shower room where pipes hung across the ceiling with numerous showerheads attached. We all showered simultaneously in a fairly warm water stream and occasionally got a small cube of gel type soap. When done, we drip dried. We received a clean set of underwear, but before putting them on we had to search all the seams for lice and eggs. If we found any, we squished them with our two thumbnails, and they popped.

The undergarments were not of a soft quality. They were made of a cotton bedsheet material. You pulled the long sleeved undershirt over your head, and it had an opening at the neck and one at the ends of the sleeves that you would tie closed. There weren’t any buttons. The underpants were the length of longjohns and also had a slit at the calf with laces to tie.

I was fortunate enough that lice never took a liking to me, so I never needed an in-between delousing and never picked lice up from anyone else either. Also during this process our heads were shorn to the skin. Those who had a lot of body hair had to be clean-shaven over those areas. In addition, everyone’s pubic hair had to be shaved off.

Once all of this was completed, you then put on a clean uniform. You never got the same one back that you came in with.

A 19-Hour Workday

The next work assignment was going back to the same forest area that we had been working in before. Now we were paired in two-man teams. Using a pick and shovel, we had to dig straight down to a depth of about four feet where there was a horizontal layer of granite-like stone. It was about two to three feet thick and with the pick, fist-hammer, and flat stone chisel we had to break the layers apart, then excavate the loosened slabs to ground level.

We constantly strained to achieve our daily production quota or “norm” to earn 500 grams of bread but could never reach that goal. When a team came close to it, the daily norm was immediately raised to an unreachable level. Our long workdays were up to 19 hours.

We often talked among ourselves. Some men had heard rumors that there possibly had been some sort of agreement among nations establishing prisoner rights. If that was the case, we certainly had no such rights. The Quakers from America had been sending vast amounts of gift food to prisoners all around the world. I know this for a fact because I saw the empty cartons and read the printing in English. I could interpret it, having learned that language at school. We never got any of the food, yet those cartons were lying empty on the garbage piles. The Russians used those shipments for themselves or sold the food on the black market. I also saw large empty wooden barrels of curded butterfat that were also labeled as given by the Quakers.

It was about that time that I was approached by some of the prisoners who were smokers. They had noticed me reading my Bible and wanted me to part with a few pages from it for rolling. At first, I was reluctant and did not think that would be a good thing to do. I gave it a lot of thought because I cherished my Bible and prayed about that as well. But driven by hunger, I finally gave in. Slowly, I sacrificed a page or two from the Old Testament part of my Bible. I prayed for forgiveness to God as I watched page after page from my Bible actually go up in holy smoke. I was so happy to get extra nourishment in return. Now I was running a trade business and playing a game to stay alive.

We estimated that in the Penza region of Russia alone there were at least 25 separately operated gulags. Each one originally held up to 5,000 prisoners. That gives one some idea as to how many men the Russians actually had to feed. We discussed the various facts we knew or heard from others regarding these numbers. When a prisoner was transferred from a hospital back to a camp it was not necessarily to the same one he came from. So we were able to find out more about what was really going on in the other camps and places.

A few prisoners who were transferred to our site came from the Moscow area. They were sharing information with us about where they had been and what went on there. Around Moscow the Russians had set up so-called “parade camps” for inspection purposes by dignitaries or foreign reporters so the rest of the world would know how well the prisoners in Russia were treated. In those camps the POWs were served better food and received better care and treatment.

Another “task” of ours was working in a stone quarry or processing plant. Earlier I mentioned that we had dug up layers of granite stone in the area where we felled the trees and also made the hand-hewn beams for the reinforcement along the Volga River bank. Following that, we had to load those harvested stone slabs onto trucks to be transported to that plant. The trucks were all American Studebakers, given to the Russians through the Lend Lease agreement with the Americans. The help they received with that agreement was a tremendous military advantage for the Russians. The equipment enabled the Russians to gain time to replace the losses the Germans had inflicted on them.

After they were transported to the processing plant, the slabs were unloaded to form huge piles. A stone-crushing machine that produced gravel to be used as roadbeds was located there. But the machine could accommodate stones no larger than the size of a man’s fist. So, our job was to knock those slabs into smaller pieces and then load them onto rail carts that could be tipped and unloaded into a pit at a lower level.

First Postcards Home

Late in 1946 we were allowed to write our first postcards home. We were supposed to receive and send one per month, but often a month was skipped. We could only write 25 words or less, we were told, or else it would never make it home. Those postcards were pre-printed double cards with the sending and return address. One side of it was blank to write to our family, and the other was identical as a return card for our loved ones to use in reply, also with only 25 words. We didn’t have a pen or ink and only the rare pencil that one or the other had made the rounds among us.

Once again I had one of my brilliant ideas! Why not make my own ink and writing stick? From the workshop at our camp I obtained some iron file dust and mixed it in a spare tin cup with the juice from gall apples, which were ball-like growths that could be found under numerous oak leaves. The grown oak trees around our camp produced quite a good number of these, and I had no trouble finding green and juicy ones suitable for my new project. The acid juice mixed with the iron file dust resulted in genuine, nearly black ink. It did not even smudge after the writing dried if it had accidentally become wet from spilled water. I used a dried oak twig with a carved point as my writing stick for my first card home. I still have it today.

At a later time I traded a page or two from my Bible and some of my ink to a metal worker for a penholder and pen that he had made at the camp workshop. Since I was making a good amount of ink, I managed to trade some of my supply to fellow prisoners for some of the usual foods and so saved my Bible pages for later trades.

At the tool shop there was a foot-operated grindstone stand. The rotating stone wheel was half submerged in an attached trough, creating a whetstone effect for sharpening our tools. Some of them were spades, shovels, picks, and yes, even knives as well as cold chisels that we used to separate layers of granite stones in our quarry holes, as well as pick points that needed sharpening. Our hatchets and axes got sharpened as well.

On Mondays, the workday routine started all over again. The only reprieve we got was when there was an extremely heavy and steady downpour of rain, which we welcomed. Then we could stay in the camp, although we had to deal with the mud plopping down from the ceiling of our underground barracks. At each end of our bunkhouse where steps led down to the floor level of our living quarters, the rain collected when the gullies at the bottom were overflowing. We had to bail the water out.

We did get lunch on those rainy days and were not as exhausted as on those hot sunny days when sweat soaked our clothes during long hours of hard labor. During our march in the evening back to camp, the cooled air did dry our shirts and pants, so we did not take them off before going to sleep.

Injuries in the Gulag

I remember one hot day, while laying asphalt on the new road that we were building, one of our fellow prisoners became seriously injured. For the two layers of asphalt of the road building we had a spreading machine. It distributed the asphalt evenly over the entire width of the road and rolled on rails, temporarily placed at both sides of the road. At the front of it was a long open trough in which a rotating worm-screw type of gear was located. It moved the hot asphalt from the center toward the sides of the trough, evenly distributing it. The worm gear was so constructed that one half of it spun to the left and the other half to the right, while the single jointed axle turned in just one direction.

Studebaker dump trucks brought the asphalt and dropped the mixture slowly into the center of the trough. Thus, the machine spread it evenly over the entire width of the road because at the bottom of the trough was an open slot that by hand control widened and closed depending on what thickness the layer had to be. The machine rolled slowly forward on its rails as the asphalt was laid down in a controlled thickness. Before each truck dumped a new load into the machine, two men had to shovel and scrape some misplaced asphalt back into the trough. I was one of the two men assigned to do that job this particular day.

My partner collapsed and fell rear end first into the rotating worm gear. The machine operator stopped the gear in an instant. But unfortunately not before he could prevent the sharp worm gear from cutting deep into the poor victim’s left buttock. It was almost severed from his body. It also tore his hipbone bare. This was an extremely gruesome sight! Not much blood came out of the wound, but the terrible sight of the reddened flesh and the exposed bone was sickening. We lifted the unconscious victim onto an empty asphalt truck that brought him to the prison hospital in Grüntal (Greenvale).

As a result of all the hard, physical labor, I developed a hernia in my lower abdomen. It was the size of half an egg, and it had popped out from my lower right groin. Building a road between Moscow and Stalingrad, lifting and placing heavy iron rails for the asphalt spreader, had taken its toll on me. We just had to accept and deal with those unpleasant realities in our own personal way. What a life we had.

A Series of Mini-Journals

Creating little notebooks gave me inspiration, and I started to record some information about myself in a series of mini-journals and in the form of letters to my family. It is important to remember that at the camp anything in writing with the exception of Bibles and prayer books if found would be confiscated. I managed to hide all well. Some time in the hospital also gave me the opportunity to acquire little stacks of Russian cigarette paper for rolling machorka. Since I already had enough paper for my booklets I traded my portions for more food supplements. I was writing my journals in hopes of being able to eventually send my work back home with one of the prisoners who would be lucky enough to be released with the occasional transports.

I wrote to my family that I had a fever and compared myself to some starving soul from the poorer caste in India. My recovery in the hospital was not the greatest, but I could slowly gain some weight back. In addition to malnourishment and dystrophy, I got sick from some type of malaria, but it was not the familiar tropical kind. In fact, once you got over it you were not immune from getting it again. Unlike the tropical type that stayed with you, this non-tropical one occurred only by another bite from some kind of insect. This type of malaria caused a high fever that could be fatal. I contracted that three times and got over it, thankfully. But as was later discovered, my heart was affected and enlarged, and that caused it to develop an irregular heartbeat.

By February 1946, I had the opportunity to give my first journal to a fellow prisoner who was a Czech. He was supposed to be on the first transport home, and so I asked him to keep it, hide it, and when he reached the homeland to please send the little journal to my parents. I wrote their address on it for him. I sent two other journal booklets with released POWs returning home, but only this first one made it through, and my parents saved it for me. I still have it today.

The Journals of Gottfried P. Dulias

The following, for the first time in more than 60 years, is what I am reading and translating today. It is very painful for me to reminisce over these sad but true facts, but at the same time I am finally able to share my story and release what I had hidden, even from myself, for too long. In the cigarette paper booklet, I withheld from my parents the more unpleasant happenings.

“My Dear Ones,
“Paper is scarce, as is the case with everything else here. Up to now writing to you was impossible. I want to give you a small review about my past here. In March of 1945 I became a POW at Naggi Sallo in Hungary at the River Gran, not far from Budapest. We marched many kilometers until we were loaded into railroad cattle cars. At Jasbereni (Hungary) there were wider railroad tracks for our transport to Russia. Once in Russia we had to pass through numerous temporary campsites and were interrogated and everything we had was confiscated. The train made many stops and we were de-loused and so on. By May 9th we arrived in Grüntal, near Kasan (Kazan) at the Volga River, west of Moscow. There we worked on the “Kolkhoz.” It was hard work for sometimes 16 to 19 hours with very little food. Many of us became sick, many died. In October 1945 there was a rumor that the zone behind the Volga had to be cleared of all POWs and the sick were put into the Lazarett (camp hospital) and the others were dispatched to a camp in the vicinity of Pensa. I counted myself as one of the lucky ones and was admitted to the Hospital….”

I continued writing and telling my parents that I had a job at the hospital doing errands, such as picking up potatoes and helping the medics to take care of the other sick and wounded comrades. I guess I was something like an orderly. I was also told that I had to stay until the last prisoners would be transported home and that it would not be in that same year. I continued writing in that first journal:

“You will be astounded about what I will personally reveal to you later when we are together again. My future is all set. I am very anxious to see how my sisters look [my two younger sisters would be 19 and 17]. I don’t have my photos anymore because they took everything away from us. Only in my dreams can I see all of you. Soon I’ll be making it to my 21st year of life and I’ll be of legal adult age. Can you imagine that? How fast time goes by? Hopefully things are not too rough by you? For all the time that I have been away from you, it can be made up, well, mostly in reference to the food. I am also curious about what happened to my dear friend Irmi. I’m sure that she stopped at the house to inquire about me. Please convey my ‘heartfelt greetings’ to her and tell her that soon I will be home. Here in the hospital and so far throughout my stay, I was together with a comrade who is also from Fürstenfeldbruck. His name is Hans Weber. Please contact and let his wife know that he is still alive and surely will come home soon. If he comes home first, he will visit you and tell you about me. Once we are both home then, that day will be celebrated every year as a ‘New Birthday’ and that will be the right thing to do. So now I close for today, and, God willing, we will see each other soon, healthier and happier. My ‘heartfelt greetings and kisses’ to all of you, and my friends, relatives and acquaintances, Gottfried.”

In March, Hans was fully recuperated and was sent back to the camp.

On July 2, 1946, I continued writing.

“My Dear Ones,
“It turned out differently than we had expected. Until now, no more transports left here. But now in July there are supposed to be some more returning home. Sorry to say that I got notified that I was to be dispatched back to the camp. It seems they need more men to finish the new road between Stalingrad and Moscow. They wanted to have it completed by October. Everyone who was capable of working was required to go on this project. Therefore, that’s how we became involved. All the patients from here are supposed to be sent home within a short time, but those of us left behind have to get stuck with it once again. So we are being promised that by the winter we will be sent home. Let’s hope so! It looks like tomorrow we will be sent to the camp. Therefore, I am writing these few lines quickly and will leave this letter behind as well as two more. Whoever is able to get on the transport back will dispatch these letters to you in hopes that you will receive at least one.”

There were rumors and more rumors and one disappointment after the other.

Actually, the German chaplain at the hospital had been a wonderful man and most inspiring. We were able to spend quality time together in discussions as well as with prayers. My friendship with him strengthened my spirituality. Actually he helped me in finding the fellow patients and prisoners who would be going home so that they could carry my messages with them.

I lived with the positive hope and outlook that not only my parents would know that I was indeed still alive, but also the fact that one day soon I would rejoin them.

About that same time in camp we were issued our first postcard, which was given to us by the Red Cross. Finally, we were given permission to write one card home. The card had a return portion on it with our address. I decided that I would hold on to the postcard until a later date because I had no idea what my new location would be and if I was moved from one place to another, they would not forward it. Instead, I stuck to my original plan of sending my own messages home along with men who would be released soon.

My journal continues:

“I heard that the new camp where I am supposed to go is much better managed than the one I was in earlier. Some of our patients came from there and told me that they got more to eat than at the hospital.

“All I can say is, who knows why it’s good that I am being sent back to the prison camp? The good Lord will lead me the right way and not forsake me. Someday He will lead me on the road home. So let us not lose our faith and courage and let’s keep hope for finding freedom.

“Greetings and Kisses, Your Gottfried.”

Additional thought: “By the way, I am here with the former top Pastry Chef/Baker Herr Maschinski, now called ‘Maschner.’ He is from Osterode and had his business across the street from the Catholic Church. He was there to the last days and reported that Osterode was surrendered to the Russians without a battle and that it seemed that most of the city appeared undamaged.”

On July 8, I continued writing:

“My Dear Ones, until now we did not yet leave the hospital. It looks like it will not happen because the doctor said that now in July the transports leaving here are leaving directly for the homeland. If there are not enough passengers then maybe we would have the possibility of being one of the ‘lucky ones’ to be part of it. Here anything can happen! The Russians are in every way ‘unpredictable.’ Therefore, let’s hope for the best. If I should not be one of those lucky ones, we have to console ourselves with God’s word. The good Lord has so intended and He knows when it is time for me to be sent home. I remain in God’s hands; He will lead me and guide me when it will be best. The Bible verse at my Confirmation is again and again my consolation. ‘Do not be afraid, because I freed you, fear not, because I redeemed you. I called you by your name, you are mine. I belong to Him and He is in me and beside me, what should I be afraid of? The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.’ Better to go through God’s school than be forsaken by Him….”

I continued writing by telling my parents that these nice scriptures I remembered were embroidered and hung framed on the wall over the sewing machine in our home. “I am clinging to these scriptures and again and again they comfort me. Therefore, the good Lord already knows when it’s my time to be sent home and He will lead me to you, now we just have to patiently wait.”

So, I continued writing in my journal, sharing whatever I could day by day, week by week.

Finally, on January 4, 1948, Gottfried Dulias was released from Soviet prison. He was repatriated to West Germany through the American occupation zone. Although he endured great hardship, Dulias was indeed among the fortunate. Thousands of German prisoners of war were marched into Soviet captivity and never returned. Dulias was a frequent guest and exhibitor at historical enactments and other events.

This article first appeared at the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikipedia.

The 12,000-Mile Battlehship Voyage That Helped Win the Spanish-American War

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 02:33

Warfare History Network

History, Americas

During the Spanish American War, the USS Oregon raced against time and distance to evade Spanish and make a case for the Panama Canal.

Key Point: Following the Civil War, the United States saw enormous industrial progress. A sense of nationalism also developed, and public opinion was continually enlisted behind an aggressive foreign policy.

Media Fans The Flames Of Nationalism During Cuban Revolution

During the 1880s the American news media exploited the Cuban revolution to the hilt. Spain was depicted as a decadent nation, and the policies of the Spanish monarchy were pictured as cruel, oppressive, and “too close to American shores.” All the elements of “good copy” were at hand and the rag sheets of Hearst and Pulitzer made the most of it.

The sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898 was the catalyst that brought it all together. Sylvester Scovel of the New York World wrote: “Whether Spanish treachery devised, or Spanish willingness permitted this colossal crime, Spain is responsible for it. No number of millions of mere money could compensate for the cowardly slaughter of these brave men and the treacherous destruction of a noble ship. The only atonement at all adequate for such a deed would be the liberation of Cuba.”

Spain Downplays American Naval Influence

On February 26, Spanish Admiral Pascual Cervera was aboard his flagship at Cartagena, Spain. He wrote a letter to the Spanish marine minister, Segismundo Bermejo, reporting the seriousness of the Cuban situation, and the dim prospects of defending an island three thousand miles from Spain.

Bermejo was angered by Cervera’s assessment of the situation. The minister assured the admiral that American naval strength in the Caribbean had been vastly overestimated, and that the USS Oregon, one of only four first-class battleships in the American fleet, was anchored at San Francisco. Bermejo argued that the Spanish Pacific Squadron constituted a threat to American West Coast ports and shipping. He was certain that the Oregon would remain in California. But, he told Cervera, even if the U.S. Navy Department decided to send the Oregon to the Caribbean, it would mean steaming the battleship 16,000 miles around the southern tip of South America. The voyage would be long and difficult, and before the Oregon completed the trip, Spain would have concentrated her naval forces at Cuba to defend the island.

The Oregon was the last of four Indiana-class battleships authorized by Congress, and the only one built on the West Coast. Her contract was awarded to the Union Iron Works of San Francisco in November 1890, and she was commissioned on July 25, 1896.

Oregon State-Of-the-Art Warship

The Oregon was the newest man-o’-war afloat and incorporated all the latest naval innovations. The battleship was 351 feet in length and 69 feet abeam. Her main battery consisted of four 13-inch guns in double turrets and eight 8-inch guns. The turrets were hydraulically operated, while those on her sister ships were powered by steam.

In addition to her heavy armament, the Oregon carried 20 six-pounders, evenly distributed from bow to stern. She also mounted eight one-pounders and six Whitehead torpedo tubes. She displaced 10,000 tons and had a cruising radius of eight thousand miles. An armored belt, 18 inches thick, ran two-thirds the length of her hull at the waterline.

When the Maine incident occurred, Oregon was based at San Francisco and under the command of Captain Alexander H. McCormick. As the national clamor for war increased, McCormick received orders to take his ship to Callao, Peru and await further instructions.

Oregon Changes Captains At The Last Minute

Secretary of the Navy John D. Long theorized that in case of open hostilities, the Oregon would be in an ideal position to be sent to either the Philippines or the Caribbean.

The battleship was hurriedly coaled and provisioned. The sailing date was scheduled for March 18, but then McCormick fell suddenly ill. The voyage could not be postponed, however; a replacement had to be found—and fast.

Captain Charles E. Clark, commanding officer of the monitor Monterey, was stationed at San Diego, when he received a cable from the Navy Department ordering him to assume command of the Oregon. Clark arrived at San Francisco on March 17, and at 8 o’clock on the morning of the 19th, the battleship hoisted anchor and passed through the Golden Gate.

Spanish Have Sights On Oregon

Oregon carried a crew of 30 officers and 438 men. The battleship rode low in the water—packed with 1,600 tons of coal, 500 tons of ammunition, and enough supplies to last several months.

While Oregon steamed south, Navy Secretary Long made his momentous decision. He would send the battleship to join Admiral Sampson’s Atlantic Fleet. Segismundo Bermejo had made a serious error in judgment.

On March 26, when Oregon was almost halfway to Peru, Long received a report that the Spanish torpedo boat Temerario had left Montevideo, Uruguay—destination unknown.
Long worried that the Spanish vessel might be heading for the Straits of Magellan to intercept the Oregon. He was doubly concerned for the gunboat Marietta. She had left the West Coast several days before the battleship and was also bound for the Caribbean.

Tropics And Hot Water Make For Tough Conditions Onboard

Theodore Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, suggested that it might be safer to route Oregon completely south of Cape Horn. He felt the battleship would be at a tactical disadvantage in the narrow waters of the straits. The decision, however, would be left up to Captain Clark.

The Oregon continued to plow south at 12 knots. Three of the battleship’s four boilers had a full head of steam. Clark wrote: “Our run from San Francisco to Callao was uneventful. But as we approached the tropics, life below decks became almost intolerable from the weather, plus the heat that was generated by the ship’s boilers.

“When Chief Engineer Milligan informed me that he thought we should never use salt water in the boilers, I felt it was asking too much of the endurance of the crew. It not only meant reducing their drinking supply, but that the quantity served would often be so warm as to be quite unpalatable. However, when I explained to the men that salt water in the boilers created scale, and scale would reduce our speed and might impair our efficiency in battle, the deprivation was borne without a murmur.”

Not Able To Rest Easy, Even In Port

On the afternoon of March 27, someone saw smoke coming from one of Oregon’s coal bunkers. After four hours of digging through the compartment, the burning coal was reached and extinguished. The cause of the fire—spontaneous combustion.

At 5 in the morning of April 4, Oregon dropped anchor in the harbor at Callao, Peru. The battleship had made a continuous run covering 4,112 nautical miles in 16 days and burned 900 tons of coal.

While at Callao, Clark received a dispatch from the Navy Department warning about the Temerario. Clark reportedly said, “I am ready to sink the Spanish ship—war or no war!”

But the captain of the Oregon also had other concerns. Because Peru was a Spanish-speaking country, he was aware there might be sympathetic Spaniards in the area. Clark ordered two steam cutters to patrol the harbor 24 hours a day. A double watch was posted at all times, and sharpshooters were stationed in the fighting tops.

The Next Leg Of The Voyage Begins

Oregon’s crew worked day and night loading coal, water, and provisions. Payday was April 6, but there was no shore leave. Every man was needed to get the ship ready for the next leg of her journey.

At 4 am on April 7, Oregon weighed anchor and set a course for the Straits of Magellan. Over 1,700 tons of coal had been loaded in her bunkers, and a hundred more tons packed in sacks on the deck. A thick layer of coal dust covered the sides of the battleship, but there was no time to wash it off. The Oregon would remain a dingy-looking vessel for a long time.

Captain Clark fired up the fourth boiler on April 9, and speed was increased to 14 knots. He ordered target practice. Empty boxes and barrels were tossed over the side, and all guns were tested for operating efficiency.

Storms Pummel Oregon

As the Oregon continued south, the weather began to change for the worse. The heavily laden warship continually dipped her bow into mountainous waves and struggled against gale- force winds. Oregon pitched and rolled in the raging ocean. At times her deck disappeared completely under solid sheets of water that swept over the vessel. Whenever the battleship’s bow plunged beneath the churning sea, her propellers lifted clear of the water and whirled around at tremendous speed, shaking the ship like a quivering leaf. The strain on both hull and machinery was enormous, but Captain Clark shouldered the responsibility and raced on ahead.

On April 16, Oregon reached the western entrance to the Straits of Magellan. Clark wrote: “Minutes after entering the straits, a violent storm struck us. The wind-driven rain obscured the precipitous rockbound shores, and with night coming on, it seemed inadvisable to proceed. The ship running before the gale as she was made it almost impossible to obtain correct soundings, and making a safe anchorage was therefore largely a matter of chance. I decided to anchor as the lesser risk.”

Oregon dropped two anchors, which plummeted 50 fathoms before finally grabbing the ocean floor.

“Mountain After Mountain Of Glacier”

At daybreak the next morning, the battleship was once again under way. This time she fought a blinding snowstorm through the narrowest passage of the straits—many places less than a mile in width. With sheer cliffs on either side, and unknown water depth below, it was not a place for faint hearts.

By midday, however, the weather cleared and the crew of the Oregon was treated to a breathtaking landscape. One sailor wrote: “I have never seen such beautiful wild nature in all my travels. There is mountain after mountain of glacier, and they seem to have all the colors of the rainbow. It was cold, and the ice sparkled like diamonds. We soon passed the wrecks of two steamers that had left their bones to mark the perils of the passage.”

At 6 pm, the Oregon anchored at Sandy Point, Chile. Captain Clark knew that the Spanish torpedo boat had plenty of time to reach the straits and might be waiting for the Oregon when she entered the Atlantic.

The Endless Task Of Hoisting Coal Aboard

Clark ordered the battleship cleared for action and all guns manned and loaded. The two cutters were also put back on patrol. In addition, around midnight, the Marietta arrived; her orders were to escort the Oregon up the east coast of South America.

The following morning, Captain Clark went ashore to make arrangements for fuel and supplies. The merchant from whom he purchased the coal was very suspicious of the Americans. Clark reported: “The coal had to be removed from an old hulk in which wool had been stored on top. It was by no means an easy job. The merchant added to delays in handling by insisting that the hoisting buckets be frequently weighed. Finally, Murphy, one of the boatswain’s mates, relieved the growing exasperation by calling out, as a loaded bucket reached the deck, ‘Here! Lower again for another weigh—there’s a fly on the edge of that bucket!’”

The Oregon needed 800 tons of coal to fill her bunkers and the job seemed to take forever. The crew worked day and night hauling the small containers of fuel up the sides of the battleship. Provisions, such as meat and canned goods, were tossed in the same buckets and hoisted topside. Everything was covered with coal dust.

Out Into The Turbulent Waters Of The South Atlantic

Captain Symonds of the Marietta also had trouble with the merchant. He had been allowed to take on only 40 tons of coal. Clark went on the warpath. He told Symonds to move his vessel alongside the coal ship and load up the gunboat.

Finally, at 6 in the morning on April 21, the Oregon and Marietta steamed out of Sandy Point and headed for the turbulent waters of the South Atlantic. Marietta led the way, but she was the slower vessel and the battleship was forced to reduce speed. After leaving the straits, Captain Clark sounded general quarters, “just to shake the boys up,” and the Marietta threw barrels over the side for target practice.

The Oregon had been stripped for battle during her stay at Sandy Point. But after five days at sea in the rough South Atlantic, the tension of the voyage was beginning to take its toll on the frazzled nerves of the tired crew. One grumbling sailor stated: “Boxes, benches, and all extra mess chests have been stowed away. We have no place to sit down, except on deck, and then have to let our feet hang over the side. The men can’t seem to get enough water, and the cook’s sourbread would make good shrapnel for clearing the decks.”

Crew Learns America Is At War

When the Oregon neared Rio de Janeiro, the battleship dashed ahead of the Marietta and raced for the port at top speed. Clark anchored in Rio Harbor at 3 in the afternoon of April 30.

A dispatch boat immediately pulled alongside the Oregon with Navy Department telegrams. Clark was notified that the United States had been officially at war with Spain since April 25.

Captain Clark solemnly read the war message to his crew. But the pressures of 42 days at sea were too much for the men to take the news lightly. Lieutenant E.W. Eberle recalled: “All hands were anxious for information, and the shouts that greeted the news that war had been declared were thrilling and memorable. In a few moments our ship’s band was on deck, and between continual rounds of cheers, the strains of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ and ‘Hail Columbia’ drifted over the bay.

“Remember the Maine!”

“The crew uncovered and stood at attention during the playing of the national anthem. More cheering followed, along with the inspiring battle cry ‘Remember the Maine!’ The men then turned to the coal barges and worked as they had never worked before.” Marietta arrived at about 7 o’clock and another celebration rocked the harbor.

Clark was also informed that the Temerario was probably heading for Rio. He wrote: “This was disturbing information. If the torpedo boat should arrive, and it had an enterprising commander, I felt he would not hesitate to violate the rights of a neutral port—if by doing so, he could put the Oregon out of action.”

On May 2, the American consul came aboard the Oregon with news that four Spanish cruisers and three torpedo boats had sailed from the Cape Verde Islands—destination unknown. He learned also that Secretary Long was reluctant to risk a valuable ship like the Oregon in case the Spaniards were intending to intercept the battleship near Rio. Long had purchased an auxiliary cruiser, the Nictheroy, from the Brazilian government, and both the Marietta and Nictheroy were assigned to accompany the Oregon on the final leg of her journey.

Unsure About The Direction And Intentions Of The Enemy

Captain Clark did not agree with the Navy Department. He believed the Spanish fleet was headed for the Caribbean, and if that was the case, his battleship’s presence in the West Indies was essential. He said: “If the Spaniards were heading for Rio, they would arrive in the vicinity before we could get away. But it did not seem likely to me that the enemy would make this attempt to cut us off, especially if there was the possibility of missing us altogether.”

In event that the Spanish were close to Rio and attempted to engage the Oregon, Clark intended to make it a running fight. He was confident that, by steaming at full speed, he would be able to string out his attackers and fight them separately.

On May 4, Oregon and her two escorts steamed out of Rio de Janeiro. It soon became evident that the accompanying vessels were too slow for the battleship, and Clark worried that they would be more of a hindrance than help in a battle. He ordered the Marietta and Nictheroy to Cape Frio, and the Oregon headed north alone.

Tense Crew On Lookout For Suspicious Vessels

Captain Clark called his crew aft and explained the situation. He read them the dispatches concerning the strength of the Spanish squadron and its unknown whereabouts. Clark added: “Should we meet, we will at least lower Spain’s fighting efficiency upon the seas. Her fleet will not be worth much after the encounter.” The men gave their captain a round of cheers. They were ready for the Spaniards and confident of victory.

Clark posted lookouts around the clock. They were authorized to sound the alarm if any ship was sighted—without waiting for orders.

At 5 in the morning of May 7, the general- quarters alarm sent the anxious crew to their battle stations. A lookout had spotted a strange vessel in a rain squall. This turned out to be, however, a vintage sailing ship. But as long as the men were already at their gun posts, target practice was held to relieve the anxiety and frustration of the early-morning wake-up call.

Ship Gets Supplies And A Fresh Coat Of Paint

The following day, Oregon steamed into Bahia, Brazil. Captain Clark requested permission to anchor in the harbor. He used the excuse of “engine trouble,” and notified the port authority that the battleship might be at Bahia for several days. In reality, the purpose of the stopover was to apply a fresh coat of warpaint and replenish the ship’s coal and water supply. Clark’s comment of “several days” was intended to deceive any Spanish agents lurking in the vicinity.

While his crew was busy wire-brushing and painting the Oregon, Clark sent a cable to the Navy Department: “Much delayed by Marietta and Nictheroy. Left them near Cape Frio with orders to come here [Bahia], or beach if necessary to avoid capture. The Oregon can steam fourteen knots for hours, and in a running fight could beat off and even cripple Spanish fleet. With present amount of coal on board we will be in good fighting trim and can reach the West Indies. Whereabouts of Spanish fleet requested.”

Secretary Long replied: “Proceed at once to West Indies. No authentic news of Spanish squadron—avoid if possible.”

Hunted Oregon Sneaks Out Of Port

It was very probable that the Spaniards were close by. Intelligence reports revealed that the enemy ships had been at Curaçao four days previously—only 500 miles from Bahia.

At 11 on the night of May 9, the Oregon sneaked out of the Brazilian port and headed at full speed for Barbados, arriving at Bridgetown at 2 in the morning, May 18.

Clark was told that, due to neutrality regulations, he had to leave within 24 hours. The American consul sent a cablegram to the United States announcing the Oregon’s arrival, while the Spanish consul sent the same news to the governor of Puerto Rico.

Numerous unconfirmed rumors had been circulating in Bridgetown, including a story that the Spaniards were waiting outside the harbor for the Oregon to emerge. Moreover, by this time, the enemy fleet had swelled to 18 vessels.

Oregon Sets Its Sights On Florida

Oregon rapidly loaded 250 tons of coal and left port at dark the next night. Owing to the danger of running into a trap, Clark decided to make a detour instead of taking the direct route through the West Indies. He wrote: “With lights showing, we ran for a few miles toward the passage between Martinique and Santa Lucia. Lights were then extinguished, and we headed back toward Barbados. Our course swung clear of the Virgin Islands, then off the Bahamas, and finally for the Florida coast.”

During the two days the Oregon was anchored at Bridgetown, Clark was told that units of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet were concentrated near the Dry Tortugas and at Hampton Roads. After conferring with his officers, the captain decided to set his course for Jupiter Inlet, Florida, where he could telegraph the Navy Department for further instructions.

The Jupiter lighthouse was sighted on the early evening of May 24. A whaleboat was sent ashore, and the news that the nation had breathlessly been waiting to hear was flashed to Washington: “Oregon arrived at Jupiter Inlet. Have enough coal to reach Dry Tortugas in 33 hours—Hampton Roads in 52 hours.”

The Grueling Odyssey Of Oregon Comes To An End

Secretary Long cabled an immediate reply: “If ship is in good condition go to Key West—otherwise Hampton Roads. The Navy Department congratulates you on your safe arrival, which has been reported to the President.”

There was no hesitation on the part of Captain Clark. The Oregon and its crew had jelled into a powerful and efficient fighting machine. The men were hell-bent to get at the Spanish, and the sooner the better. The battleship dashed for Key West at top speed.

About 4 am on May 26, Oregon was only a few miles from landfall. Suddenly a small dark object was spotted on a collision course. General quarters sounded, and as the weary crew scrambled to their battle stations, many wondered whether this trip—which seemed to last forever—would ever end.

The “dark object” turned out to be the revenue cutter Hudson. She had been detailed to escort the battleship into port.

After 68 grueling days, the odyssey of the Oregon had finally ended.

Long Journey Makes Strong Case For Canal

The fact that the battleship could make such a hazardous journey, and arrive at her destination safe and sound, testified to both the excellence of the vessel and the efficiency of her crew.

But Oregon’s famous voyage had significance far beyond the part she played in the Spanish-American War. The trip itself advertised to the public as well as to the military, as nothing else could have, the strategic necessity for building a canal across the Central American isthmus. A canal would have allowed the Oregon to steam 4,000 miles rather than 12,000. Accordingly, the United States entered into a treaty in 1901 to build a canal, one wide enough to accommodate battleships.

The cruise of the Oregon was described as “unprecedented in battleship history, and one which will long preserve its unique distinction.” Every American was stirred by the excitement of the adventure, and a few expressed their emotions in verse. John James Meehan, in his poem “The Race of the Oregon,” wrote:

“When your boys shall ask what the guns are for,
Then tell them the tale of the Spanish War,
And the breathless millions that looked upon
The matchless race of the Oregon.”

This article first appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Why Russia's Su-35S Flanker Exceeded Expectations

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 02:00

Mark Episkopos


“A unique machine, a deadly aerial fist.”

Here's What You Need To Remember: As is typically the case with next-generation platforms, the VKS is not concerned with immediate value. Rather, they see the Su-57 as a long-term investment that will incrementally phase out older aircraft to become Russia’s staple air superiority platform over the coming decades. In the meantime, the Su-35S continues to occupy the upper echelons of Russian aerospace design as the VKS’ top air superiority fighter.

“A unique machine, a deadly aerial fist,” is how the official television channel of the Russian Ministry of Defense introduced the Su-35S superiority fighter earlier this week.

TV Zvezda’s three-minute clip of a recent Su-35S training sortie over Syria provides close-up shots of the fighter jet being prepped for flight, taking off, cruising over the Syrian coast, and firing flares. On their youtube account, they published slightly extended footage of the same exercise.

The first Su-35S fighters arrived at Russia’s Khmeimim Air Base in 2016, relatively late into the Syrian Civil War. They performed well in their role of covering for Russian ground-strike aircraft during bombing missions against Syrian opposition targets, but then again-- there were no immediate airspace threats facing Russia’s Syrian forces in early 2016. The Su-35S was therefore limited to an air deterrence role amid an ongoing diplomatic row between Moscow and Ankara that wound down only in the latter half of 2016.

Today, airpower continues to be the crucial military ingredient in the enforcement of Russian “de-escalation zones” strewn across the western parts of Syria, and in intermittent bombing runs against opposition stragglers and ISIS targets.

From the conflict’s earliest days through 2019, the Syrian venture continues to yield military value as a training and proving grounds for the next generation of Russian servicemen. As a Su-35S pilot told Zvezda, “here, we can realize the potential of the aircraft-- the tactical potential. For every pilot and co-pilot, this is a tremendous opportunity to hone their skills.” In a less covered but no less important development, it also provides Russian engineers with aircraft maintenance know-how after real, albeit low-intensity, combat missions.

Barring a brief and nondescript Su-57 outing, the Su-35S is among the most advanced Russian military aircraft to be deployed in Syria. As a deep modernization of the prolific Soviet-era Su-27 fighter, the Su-35S boasts updated avionics (onboard electronics), a new lightweight frame, and 3d thrust vectoring capability, and vastly more expanded armament suite. Notably, the latter includes Vympel R-77 air-to-air missiles that are meant to compete favorably with the US AIM-120 AMRAAM platform, and an air-launched anti-ship variant of Russia’s prolific Kalibr cruise missiles

The Su-35S was intended as an interim solution; as a modernized air superiority fighter to sustain the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) through the 2010’s until the Su-57 fifth-generation stealth fighter enters serial production. But the Su-35S was almost too successful for its own good, ticking so many performance and role versatility boxes that it seems to cannibalize its more expensive Su-57 successor. In the short term, it’s likely true that there will be a minimal operational difference between the latest Su-35S units and the first serially-produced Su-57’s. As it currently stands, there is even a chance that the two fighters may use the same AL-41F1 engine.

But as is typically the case with next-generation platforms, the VKS is not concerned with immediate value. Rather, they see the Su-57 as a long-term investment that will incrementally phase out older aircraft to become Russia’s staple air superiority platform over the coming decades. In the meantime, the Su-35S continues to occupy the upper echelons of Russian aerospace design as the VKS’ top air superiority fighter.

Mark Episkopos is a frequent contributor to The National Interest and a PhD student in History at American University. This first appeared last year.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Explosive Story of How Shrapnel Got Its Name

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 01:30

Warfare History Network

History, Europe

Henry Shrapnel set his fertile mind to explosive shells and helped win the Battle of Waterloo.

Key Point: Henry Shrapnel’s name lives on in military nomenclature.

“And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air …”

That, as most people know, is a line from the American national anthem, words by Francis Scott Key, to the tune of Anacreon in Heaven by John Stafford Smith.

The incident that precipitated the anthem took place during the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British on September 14, 1814 during the War of 1812. Bursting, or exploding, bombs (shells) had been in use in one form or another for quite awhile. Some authorities credit the Venetians in 1376 as the originators. Others, such as W.H. Greener, in his book The Gun and Its Development, give the honor to the Dutch.

Basically, the exploding shell was a hollow cast-iron sphere filled with explosive, the filling hole being plugged by a fuse that was timed to detonate the gunpowder during the projectile’s travel. Its use was mainly confined to land operations, the shooting of any form of incendiary missile onboard ships being considered too dangerous. However, several tests were carried out by Deschiens in France and Sir Samuel Bentham who served with the Russian navy. The latter’s shells had considerable success against Turkish ships.

The French General Henri Paixhans also developed guns that gave the shell not only a high angle and muzzle velocity, but substantially increased the range. Additionally, tests had been carried out in England during the middle and late 1700s, but these had been delayed, to some extent, by premature exploding of the projectiles while still in the barrel.

It was around this time that a certain Lieutenant Henry Shrapnel was experimenting with his own exploding shells, and there is little doubt that it was the perfected variety of these that inspired Key to pen his immortal lines. The very first recorded tryout of his musketball-filled shells took place during the attack on Dutch Guyana. This resulted in the capture of Surinam (1804) and made an obscure artillery captain, one might say, into an overnight celebrity. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel and given the post of Assistant of Artillery. This enabled him to carry out tests of his various inventions and innovations at the iron foundry at Carron near Falkirk in Scotland.

Shrapnel Possessed an Imaginative Mind for Invention

Henry Shrapnel was the youngest of nine children born to Mr. and Mrs. Zachariah Shrapnel on June 3, 1761 at Midnay Manor House, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, England. Apparently his brothers died childless, so what little money existed passed on down to him. With this he was able, by living carefully, to have just enough to finance the numerous inventions that flowed from his fertile brain. Although his service life was spent in the army, it didn’t prevent him from submitting ideas to the navy. These included plans for improving the design and shape of certain warships and advocating replacing wooden vessels with iron-clads!

At age 18, Shrapnel entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, known to generations of budding engineers and gunners as “The Shop.” Among its many graduates may be found the following who achieved fame in the British Army: General Charles “Chinese” Gordon, Field Marshal Herbert Lord Kitchener, General Alan Cunningham and Maj. Gen. Orde Wingate, all “Sappers,” as the Royal Engineers are known. Shrapnel was the odd man out—he was a gunner.

‘Grapeshot’ Cannon

Right from the start there seems no doubt that Lieutenant Henry Shrapnel fully embraced every aspect of the science of artillery. Although most cannon fired some form of exploding (or perhaps disintegrating would be a more correct description) antipersonnel shell, they lacked the range so crucial in most battles. Generally known as “canister” and “grape-shot,” their maximum range rarely exceeded 300 yards. Canister shot consisted of a thin, metal, cylindrical case the same size as the caliber of the gun. This was filled with metal balls of either iron or lead. (Cases have been recorded where even stone pebbles were used.) Fired directly against the opposing forces, there was no exploding device inside the case. Air pressure, combined with centrifugal force, caused the shell to break up, after leaving the cannon, and shower the enemy with its contents.

“Grapeshot,” on the other hand, generally fell into two categories: “Caffin’s” Grapeshot consisted of a number of iron balls placed in layers between thin circular iron plates. These were arranged in banks (generally three) and held together by an iron bolt that passed through the center of the plates.

Quilted grape (thought by many to be the earliest type), on the other hand, was shot arranged around a spindle that was bolted to an iron tampion, or round bottom plate. The whole assembly was placed inside a canvas bag which, in turn, was intertwined with a quilting line or cord. The top of the bag was then drawn together and tightly tied under the cap at the top of the spindle.

Both types resembled a bunch of grapes—hence the term “grapeshot.” When fired, the shot disintegrated, distributing the balls with quite a deadly effect. But, as previously stated, the range was very limited. By way of interest, grapeshot could only be fired from an iron cannon as it needed a hard parallel bore. Bronze guns, which fired solid shot, were taboo. Long-range solid shot was fine for punching holes in fortifications, but, otherwise, it merely cut a narrow path through attackers.

It was during his four-year tenure at Woolwich that Shrapnel began seriously experimenting with an effective long-range bursting shell that could be used against massed troops. At first, he tried to improve on ideas already in use (e.g., a hollow ball filled with explosive and relying on the shattering of the outer shell into jagged fragments), but none met his exacting requirements. Finally, he took a similar hollow sphere and only partly filled it with explosive. The rest of the space he filled with musket balls. He added a fuse to the filling hole.

Perplexing Problems for Improving Ammunition

Two main problems bedeviled him. First, the casing had to be strong enough to withstand the initial propellant, but weak enough to be shattered from the bursting charge. Second, he required a fuse that would explode the shell at the required time.

But even when Shrapnel had finally solved these problems (as with most inventors) he had considerable difficulty in selling his product to the authorities, in this case, “The Ordnance Board.” Finally, on his return to Britain in 1784, he was able to demonstrate his “Spherical Case Shot” to the War Office. Even so, it wasn’t until 1803, as a captain and company commander of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Artillery, that his invention was finally adopted and went on to be successfully used, as previously stated, in 1804.

The succeeding years were to prove how effective Henry Shrapnel’s device was. Reports came in from around the world, and British gunners testified to its terrible power. The Royal Navy was quick to realize the new weapon’s potent capabilities in sea battles, for instance, clearing the decks of enemy ships. It is reported that Admiral Sir Sydney Smith (famous for his defense of Acre against Napoleon in 1799) was so impressed that he ordered a large quantity of the bursting shells, paying for them out of his own pocket.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops had emerged mostly victorious from engagements with some of the world’s finest armies, but received a nasty setback when they encountered the new weapon for the first time. This occurred during the Peninsular War at the battle of Vimeiro on August 21, 1808. It is recorded that, when Napoleon heard of the British victory, he sent an order that a secret tour be made of the battlefield in case there were any unexploded cannon balls still lying about. He wanted his ordnance specialists to examine and determine how the shells worked. If this account is true, it would show the importance Napoleon, an artilleryman himself, placed on this new weapon.

Indeed, there are many military students who are of the opinion that Shrapnel’s murderous creation went a long way to being one of the decisive factors at Waterloo. General Sir George Wood, Wellington’s artillery commander, went so far as to state, “Without Shrapnel’s shells, the recovery of the farmhouse at La Haye Sainte, a key position in the battle, would not have been possible.”

An Unrewarded Genius

Yet, in spite of all this, fate and fortune in the main eluded Henry Shrapnel. Visitors to the United Kingdom will search in vain for any statue or monument. The principal reason, paradoxically, was the importance of his invention. For one thing, it was purposefully kept secret by order of the Duke of Wellington himself. Even while Shrapnel was alive, financial reimbursement was slow, although the government finally awarded him a pension of 1,200 pounds.

In the 1820 Royal Military Calendar, Shrapnel was accorded a mere eight lines, while numerous other minor martial men were given copious writeups. Probably the unkindest cut of all was when, nearing retirement as a major general on relatively modest means, he heard that his monarch, William IV, who had promised him a baronetcy, had died before conferring it! Shrapnel died aged 81 at Peartree House in Southampton in 1842. His wife of over 30 years buried him in the family vault in the chancel of the church at Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire.

Shrapnel’s son, Henry, Jr., made a collection of his father’s effects, which included drawings and letters of commendation from the Duke of Wellington and other dignitaries of the nation. Taking them with him, he emigrated to Canada where, to all intents and purposes, the artifacts have remained.

With the development of breech-loading field guns and howitzers and the perfection in rifled barrels (circa 1885), Henry Shrapnel’s hollow ball took on a new shape, i.e., cylindrical with a cone-shaped head. The latter consisted of a time-and-percussion fuse and was screwed to the hollow body. This contained the balls imbedded in resin. Beneath these was a steel diaphragm and the bursting charge. This was set off by a flash down the central tube coming from the time fuse which, in turn, drove the balls forward, forcing off the cone-shaped head.

Various methods were tried to ensure that the shell gripped the rifling. One of the earliest systems was Sir William George Armstrong’s (Engineer of Rifled Ordnance at Woolwich), by which the whole shell was coated with lead. Not only was this necessary to give the shell its spin, but also to guarantee complete sealing of the gases following the shell, thus giving maximum propulsion. Unfortunately, it was found that, owing to the heat generated during discharge, a great percentage of the lead tended to melt and fall away. After trying numerous other ideas, it was found that the copper driving or rotating band at the base of the shell proved the most effective.

Shrapnel’s Legacy

World War I proved to be the nemesis of the shrapnel shell. Once the opposing armies had dug in, the shower of balls that had been so effective against massed troops in the open were of little consequence against soldiers ensconced in fortified dugouts. Shrapnel shells were not even potent enough to destroy barbed- wire defenses, the destruction of which was so necessary before making an attack on the enemy’s position.

Shrapnel’s name lives on in military nomenclature, although, to most people, it refers to the jagged fragments of an exploded shell or grenade casing. (Technically speaking, these should be referred to as shards, splinters, or shell fragments.) My own mother could make this mistake. I can recall that while on a leave in London during World War II, and during a lull in the course of an air raid, I wished to leave the family shelter and bring back some refreshments. My mother cautioned me to put on my “tin hat” because she was sure she could still hear “shrapnel” from the antiaircraft shells hitting the ground!

This article first appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Russia's Mach 2.0 MiG-21 “Fishbed” Could Serve for 100 Years (Maybe)

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 01:00

Robert Farley

Technology, Europe

The USSR would build 10,645 Fishbeds between 1959 and 1985.

Here's What You Need To Remember: Few of the Fishbeds in service today bear much resemblance to the fighter that rolled off the line in 1959. They carry different, far more sophisticated weapons, including the R-60 AAM, the Magic 2 and the Python III. This makes them far more lethal than their older cousins. Moreover, upgrades to their electronics have improved their radar and communications equipment, and have made possible the delivery of precision-guided munitions.

Military aircraft can have notoriously short lifespans, especially during periods of technological ferment. The most elite aircraft of World War I could become obsolete in a matter of months. Things weren’t much different in World War II. And at the dawn of the jet age, entire fleets of aircraft became passé as technologies matured. The advanced fighters that fought in the skies over Korea became junk just a few years later.

But a few designs stand the test of the time. The B-52 Stratofortress first flew in 1952, yet remains in service today. New C-130s continue to roll off the production line, based on a design that became operational in 1954.

But those are bombers and transport aircraft; they don’t fight one another. Fighters face a special problem of longevity, because they must compete directly with newer models. Thus, very few fighters have had long lifespans, either in production or in service.

The MiG-21 “Fishbed” is an exception.


Initial suitability studies for the MiG-21 began in 1953. The success of the MiG-15 and MiG-17 suggested that Soviet aerospace engineers could compete with their Western counterparts, and with the MiG-19 the Soviets had their first supersonic fighter. However, technology changed so quickly in the first two decades of jet flight that the fighters that had dominated the Korean War were effectively obsolete by the mid-1950s. MiG-15s could cut apart a formation of B-29s, but couldn’t even catch modern American bombers. The Soviets intended the MiG-21 to change that, while also providing an effective air superiority option.

The MiG-21 (eventually dubbed “Fishbed” by NATO) would exceed Mach 2.0, with an internal cannon and the capacity to carry between two and six missiles (the Fishbed actually preceded the missiles into service). Like most fighters the MiG-21 would eventually serve in a ground attack role, in which it can carry a limited number of bombs and rockets. As with many of their fighters, the Soviets preferred to operate the MiG-21 from ground control, eliminating the need for bulky, sophisticated radar equipment.

Altogether, the USSR would build 10,645 Fishbeds between 1959 and 1985. India would construct another 657 under a licensing and technology transfer agreement with Moscow, while Czechoslovakia built 194 under license. Under complicated and somewhat dubious circumstances, the People’s Republic of China acquired sufficient aircraft and technical documents to reverse engineer the MiG-21 into the Chengdu J-7/F-7. China produced around 2,400 Fishbeds between 1966 and 2013. The combined numbers make the Fishbed by far the most produced supersonic aircraft in world history.


With the MiG-21, engineers sorted through a set of basic problems that future research could not substantially improve upon. Modern fighters don’t fly much faster than the MiG-21, or maneuver much more capably. While they do carry more ordnance and have more sophisticated electronic equipment, many air forces can treat these as luxuries; they simply want a cheap, fast, easy-to-maintain aircraft that can patrol airspace and occasionally drop a few bombs. The Fishbed fits the bill.

To be sure, the Fishbed would not have been a particularly useful fighter in Western service. It has short legs, cannot carry a great deal of ordnance and lacks the space for sophisticated electronic equipment. The shape of its cockpit limits pilot awareness. However, it aptly fulfilled the Soviet need for a ground control intercept fighter that could fly and fight over the battlefields of Western Europe, as well as act in a limited interceptor role.

During the Cold War, the United States came into possession of a number of MiG-21 variants (eventually purchasing a squadron of J-7s from China). Generally speaking, American pilots spoke well of the plane, and it performed more than adequately in aggressor training situations. Indeed, highly trained American pilots probably pushed the MiG-21 farther than most Soviet pilots could have done.

The Fishbed at War

The MiG-21 never saw combat on the Central Front in a NATO-Warsaw Pact war, but it certainly has seen its share of action.

In Vietnam, pencil-thin MiG-21s found that they could take advantage of American rules of engagement by using their size and speed to cut through bomber packages before U.S. fighters could visually identify and target them. The size and maneuverability of the Fishbed also allowed them to evade early air-to-air missiles. After attacking, the MiGs would run for home.

One exception to this pattern came on January 2, 1967, when a group of F-4 Phantom IIs under the command of legendary pilot Robin Olds tricked North Vietnamese commanders into a disastrous engagement. The Phantoms shot down seven Fishbeds that day, including one flown by Nguyen Van Coc, who would survive the crash and accumulate nine kills over the rest of the war. This would mark Nguyen as the most successful Fishbed pilot of all time, although several other Vietnamese and several Syrian pilots would achieve ace distinction while flying the MiG-21.

The MiG-21 saw extensive service in wars across the Middle East. The fighter-bombers of the Israeli Defense Force devastated Egyptian and Syrian Fishbeds in the opening strikes of the Six-Day War. Fishbeds fought Israeli fighters in the War of Attrition, the Yom Kippur War and the Lebanon War, generally suffering badly at the hands of outstanding Israeli pilots. In one case, Israeli fighters ambushed and destroyed several MiG-21s flown by Soviet pilots.

The success of Western aircraft against the Fishbed in the Middle East, as well as in Angola, caused many to conclude that Soviet fighters were outclassed by their Western counterparts. However, pilot training issue make comparison difficult. The MiG-21 performed more than adequately in comparable pilot training contexts. For example, Indian MiG-21s flew in the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War, and achieved kills in the 1971 War and the Kargil War. Fishbeds also acquitted themselves well in air combat in the Iran-Iraq War.


The number of operational MiG-21s began declining in the late 1980s and 1990s, as more modern models replaced them in front-line service, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union led to the dramatic reduction of Russian strength. Soviet client states felt the pinch as well, and could no longer keep their aircraft in service. However, numerous air forces continue to use the MiG-21 and its Chinese variants.

The MiG-21 currently serves in eighteen air forces worldwide, including two members of NATO (Romania and Croatia). Fishbeds flew in about forty other air forces (counting is difficult because sometimes countries ceased to exist before the MiGs that served them) since 1960. The J/F-7 serves another thirteen countries, and has been retired by four. China, Russia, and Ukraine still carry out maintenance and update work on existing aircraft. The advent of 3D printing may make it even easier for current operators to keep their Fishbeds in service, as they can produce spares and upgrades in country.

Few of the Fishbeds in service today bear much resemblance to the fighter that rolled off the line in 1959. They carry different, far more sophisticated weapons, including the R-60 AAM, the Magic 2 and the Python III. This makes them far more lethal than their older cousins. Moreover, upgrades to their electronics have improved their radar and communications equipment, and have made possible the delivery of precision-guided munitions.

Will the MiG-21 (Or a Variant) Remain in Service in 2059?

China has ended production on the J-7, meaning that we have seen the last MiG-21 variant roll the assembly line. Croatia and Romania will dispose of their Fishbeds in the next five years. After a spate of accidents, India is finally retiring its MiG-21s (assuming it can ever actually acquire or produce a replacement). Chinese J-7s have been relegated to local defense and training duties.

This hardly means the end of the Fishbed, however. Many of the J-7 and F-7 models remain of fairly recent vintage, and can stay in service for quite some time. Bangladesh acquired the last dozen F-7s in 2013, and won’t need a replacement anytime soon. And plenty of air forces simply have no requirement for anything much more sophisticated or expensive than a Fishbed. There may never be a hundred-year fighter (although the B-52 may quite possibly reach that number before final retirement). The MiG-21 will easily reach sixty, however, and probably seventy without breaking a sweat. It remains one of the iconic fighters of the supersonic age.

Robert Farley, a frequent contributor to the National Interest, is author of The Battleship Book. This article first appeared last year.

Image: Reuters

Maryland Sees No Coronavirus Deaths, Other States See Deadliest Months

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 00:56

Rachel Bucchino

Health, Americas

The coronavirus remains a pressing concern for voters heading into the election. To date, it has infected more than 7.3 million Americans and killed nearly 207,000 people.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced Thursday that the state experienced a full day without any reported coronavirus deaths for the first time since March 28, while other states simultaneously approached their peaks in the number of cases or deaths relating to the deadly disease. 

“This encouraging milestone is a tribute to the incredibly heroic efforts of our doctors, nurses, and health care workers on the front lines, and the courage and perseverance Marylanders have demonstrated in response to this unprecedented challenge,” Hogan said in a statement

“As we continue on our road to recovery, it is absolutely critical for all of us to remain vigilant,” he added.

Maryland has 125,510 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 785 reported on the last day, bringing the testing positivity rate to 2.88 percent, according to state data. There have been 3,805 deaths and there are currently 331 people hospitalized for the virus.

While Maryland has experienced widespread success in combating the virus due to Hogan’s aggressive response to it, more than twenty states are seeing a rise in the number of confirmed cases or deaths caused by the infection, according to Johns Hopkins University coronavirus data.

During the month of September, North Dakota experienced nearly an 80 percent increase in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases. On August 31, the state reported under twelve thousand cases, but at the end of September, North Dakota reported more than twenty thousand—that’s a massive increase in just one month. Monthly deaths also rose, as May’s monthly figure doubled in September.

Wisconsin also hit some record-setting numbers, as 125,161 people tested positive, with 7,409 patients hospitalized and 1,348 fatalities, up twenty-one deaths from one day earlier.

The Tennessee Department of Health reported 197,432 coronavirus cases on Thursday, with 2,501 deaths, bringing the positivity rate to 7.31 percent. The department also reported that Tennessee—a state that doesn’t have a statewide mask mandate—experienced its deadliest month during September, as the state announced an average of twenty-three deaths per day and reported its second-highest day spike of fifty-seven deaths on Sept. 10.

Other states like Arkansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Florida and South Dakota are also seeing surges in confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths as of Thursday.

Locals in these states say increases in hospitalizations, crowded hospital units and an increase in the number of positive tests have contributed to the spikes in overall deaths in each state.

A Wisconsin-based doctor studying the impact of the coronavirus credited the upswing in coronavirus cases and deaths due to the lack of medical resources in the state, compared to major cities that have a massive staff of nurses and doctors with stockpiles of medical equipment.

“But if you look at large cities in Texas such as Dallas, when they have a 20 percent positivity rate, their health care systems are significantly larger than ours. We’re not really designed for that here in Brown County,” Dr. Ashok Rai, president and CEO of Prevea Health, told a local network on Thursday.

Brown County has the third-highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases, according to the state’s data.

Public health experts in North Dakota point to the fact that the state has few coronavirus restrictions, including no limitations on travel, the scope of gatherings or the reopening of businesses. North Dakota residents blame the governor’s “lack of leadership” during the pandemic, as the state doesn’t have a statewide mask mandate.

The coronavirus still remains a pressing concern for voters heading into the election. To date, it has infected more than 7.3 million Americans and killed nearly 207,000 people. President Donald Trump’s response to the deadly infection has been a major weakness for him given that many Americans believe he downplayed the threat of the virus when it first struck the United States back in February and failed to implement a national response strategy to mitigate its spread.

Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill. 

Image: Reuters

After Pearl Harbor, Sailors On The USS West Virginia Battleship Suffered A Cruel Fate

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 00:30

Warfare History Network

Security, Americas

Since the ship couldn’t be quickly salvaged, it was stripped for useful items.

Here's What You Need To Remember: In the aftermath of the attack frantic efforts were made to save survivors trapped below decks on the sunken and damaged ships. Hulls were cut open and divers darted beneath the waves in desperate attempts to save them.

During the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 the primary target was Battleship Row. These capital ships had to suffice since the American carriers were away. Among the battleships lined up alongside Ford Island was the USS West Virginia, a twenty-year-old warship with a crew of over a thousand. During the battle the ship took seven torpedo hits along the port side along with two bomb strikes around its superstructure. The ship rapidly flooded, settling on the floor of the harbor with her superstructure above water.

In the aftermath of the attack frantic efforts were made to save survivors trapped below decks on the sunken and damaged ships. Hulls were cut open and divers darted beneath the waves in desperate attempts to save them. The minesweeper Tern lay alongside the “Weevee,” as the battleship was nicknamed, playing water over the fires burning aboard her. When the fires were extinguished at 2PM, the Tern moved over to the Arizona. Commander D. H. Clark, the Fleet Maintenance Officer, reported on December 9 that West Virginia was “doubtful,” estimating twelve to eighteen months for repairs if she could be saved at all.

Stripped for Useful Items

Since the ship couldn’t be quickly salvaged, it was stripped for useful items. Guards were posted on the ship starting on December 8 to protect against looting, theft or espionage. Sentry duty aboard the half-sunken wreck of their former home was a sad time for them. During the quiets times some sailors reported hearing tapping noises coming from below decks. They believed the noise came from trapped crew members signaling desperately for help. There were some 70 men missing from the ship’s complement. Their officers told them it was only the sound of wreckage and loose items floating in and around the ship, banging into the hull.

Not As Bad as First Suspected

Several 5-inch guns were removed and installed on other ships and shore batteries. Weeks later divers inspected her damage and learned it was not as bad as first suspected; the ship could be refloated and repaired sooner than expected. On December 23 inspectors went through the upper decks, finding burn damage and opened lockers as if someone looted the ship in the aftermath. Larger items such as the main guns, masts and stacks were removed, lightening the ship in preparation for refloating her.

Next began the process of sealing her hull. As diver’s inspected the ship, they found a previously unseen torpedo hit at her stern. The ship had suffered extensive damage; whole compartments were essentially open to the sea. Painstakingly, these holes were patched and covered in order to refloat the ship so permanent repairs could be made. Eventually, these efforts paid off and they were ready to return the battleship to life.

Disturbing Discoveries

Pumps began to slowly send water flowing out of the ship. Decomposed bodies were found and carefully placed into waiting body-bags. Valuables were collected and cataloged. If the owners could be identified the items were returned; the rest were auctioned for the crew’s emergency fund. On 17 May West Virginia was floating again after over five months. Work went on to prepare the ship for dry dock and finish cleaning out the flooded decks. Even a few .50-caliber machine guns were mounted in case of another Japanese air attack.

It was only on May 27 the most disturbing discoveries of the salvage operation were made. In the aft engine room, several bodies were found lying on steam pipes. They had evidently been able to survive a short time in an air pocket, suffocating when the oxygen finally ran out. Worse still was found in compartment A-111, a storeroom. When the door to this compartment was opened, only three feet of water was inside. On the shelves of the storeroom lay the bodies of three sailors, Louis Costin, 21, Clifford Olds, 20, and Ronald Endicott, 18. With them was a calendar with the dates December 7 to 23 marked off in red pencil. There were emergency rations and access to a fresh water tank in the compartment.

Each man had a watch, enabling them to mark the passage of time. The crew was horrified by the news, especially divers that had sounded the hull and listened for replies but heard nothing. The sentries who reported hearing banging below were angry, though whether anything could have been done at the time is debatable. The matter was a subject of quiet discussion among crew members for years after.

West Virginia was rebuilt and served out the war mainly as a fire support vessel for amphibious landings. She did serve at the Battle of Surigao Strait, the last big-gun ship battle. West Virginia was also present at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay. Decommissioned after the war, she was sold for scrap in 1959.

Originally Published September 17, 2018.

This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikipedia.

The Russian Navy's Growing Submarine Fleet Is Ready To Contest NATO Waters

Fri, 02/10/2020 - 00:00

David Axe


NATO should be wary.

Here's What You Need To Remember: With its tenfold spending advantage, the U.S. Navy aims to maintain a fleet of around 50 attack submarines, roughly the same number the Russians possess. The cash-gap underscores the importance of submarines to Russian defense planning.

It’s no secret that the Russian navy is investing heavily in new classes of submarines, even while overall Russian military spending flatlines amid a wide economic crisis. But it’s less clear exactly what the Russians intend to do with potentially dozens of modern submarines in the event of war.

Western analysts should think creatively in order to suss out the Kremlin’s undersea intentions, Norman Polmar, a leading American naval analyst, wrote in Proceedings, the professional journal of the U.S. Naval Institute.

“Submarines appear to have a high priority in Russia’s current efforts to rebuild its armed forces,” Polmar wrote in the October 2019 edition of Proceedings. “How will the submarines most likely be employed? The answer must be determined by thinking outside the box.”

Where the Russian navy is all but abandoning the production of new aircraft carriers, cruisers and other “blue-water” surface warships, it has recommitted to sustaining a large fleet of big, long-range submarines.

“Although the navy is mainly made up of Soviet-era surface ships and submarines, an extensive modernization program is underway, focusing first on the submarine force,” the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency reported in 2017. “Progress in submarine modernization is underway.

As recently as 2017, the Russian fleet operated 61 submarines. “Historically the backbone of the Russian navy, 75 percent of the 61 operational submarines are over 20 years old and are slowly being replaced,” the DIA explained.

Three new classes account for the bulk of new production. The Borei- or Dolgorukiy-class, nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarine, the Yasen-class, a nuclear-powered attack submarine and an improved version of the Kilo-class diesel-electric attack submarine.

“Russia will continue production of its fourth-generation Dolgorukiy-class submarines through 2020,” the DIA reported. “There are currently three in service, with an additional eight scheduled to enter service in the coming years.”

The first of up to 10 Yasens was delivered to the navy in 2014, “but the program has encountered delays,” the DIA noted. “The flagship of the class (hull one) required 16 years to complete; hull two should soon be completed after seven years.”

The improved Kilos, by contrast, have speeded through production “without significant delays,” according to the DIA. “The initial order of six was expanded to 12 in early 2016. The first three Kilos were delivered to the Black Sea Fleet in 2014 to 2015.”

Assuming budgets remain at their current level, in the 2020s the Russian submarine fleet could include the 11 Boreis, 10 Yasens and 12 improved Kilos plus a couple dozen older submarines including early-model Kilos, the one-off experimental diesel boat Petersburg plus upgraded Akula, Oscar and Sierra attack submarines, for a grand total of probably fewer than 50 vessels.

It costs Russia around a billion dollars to build a new nuclear submarine. An American sub, by contrast, costs around $2 billion. But the Russian military budget is around $70 billion annually. The U.S. defense budget tops out at around $700 billion.

With its tenfold spending advantage, the U.S. Navy aims to maintain a fleet of around 50 attack submarines, roughly the same number the Russians possess. The cash-gap underscores the importance of submarines to Russian defense planning.

But Western analysts risk understanding exactly why the Russian subs matter. After all, they’ve erred before, Polmar explained. “In the past, Western intelligence often got it wrong with respect to Soviet submarines,” he wrote.

The massive Soviet submarine force peaked at almost 400 units during the Cold War, and throughout those 45 years the West feared those undersea craft would be employed to sever the sea lines of communication connecting the United States and Western Europe.

Thus, as intelligence sources detected the Soviet Union producing hundreds of submarines—obviously to fight the “Third Battle of the Atlantic”—the U.S. Navy and other NATO navies responded with massive investments to protect the ocean convoys that would carry troops, weapons, bombs, bullets and fuel from North America to Western Europe.

Germany in 1939 had begun World War II with just 57 U-boats and had threatened to sever the oceanic ties to Britain; the Soviet order of battle—according to U.S. intelligence—could begin a war with hundreds of undersea craft.

But the Soviets never actually planned to carry out large-scale attacks on merchant shipping, Polmar explained. Instead, Soviet doctrine called for submarines to focus on nuclear deterrence and attacks on NATO submarines and aircraft carriers.

That mission-focus became evident in the late 1970s when new intelligence sources became available. The CIA in 1978 circulated a top-secret report, “The Role of Interdiction at Sea in Soviet Naval Strategy and Operations,” which revised downward the threat Soviet subs posed to NATO shipping.

“The number of merchant ships likely to be sunk over an extended period—four months—indicates that the Soviets have only a limited capability to impair the flow of shipping across the Atlantic, even if they were to reorder their priorities and allocate large forces to interdiction,” the CIA noted.

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The Russians are building submarines again. It’s important for Western experts to understand why. But if analysts misread Soviet intentions during the Cold War, they risk misreading Russian intentions now, Polmar warned. “The men and women who collect, analyze and provide that intelligence must be more efficient than those dedicated personnel who, in the Cold War, got it wrong with respect to the Soviet navy.”

David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels  War FixWar Is Boring and Machete Squad. This article first appeared last year.

Image: Reuters.