Thursday, September 24, 2015

Britian's secret weapon in the war against Hitler

This is it.

Calvocoressi points out that next to the decodes from Hut 6, the most important tool in Hut 3 was the indexing system. His Air Index, of which he is justly proud, was in a large room just off the watch room. On each shift of the watch a team of indexers would take each decoded message and underline key words and to be put on cards-- names of people, places, units, weapons, code words, scientific terms, and such special subjects as oil. It was a huge job, and the Air Index grew to many thousands of cards, so precious that they were photographed and duplicates stored away in another location in case Bletchley should be bombed. Over and over again, reference to the index would be essential to proper interpretation of a decoded message.

Hut Six Story
Breaking the Nazi codes was a vital step in the intelligence war, but it was only a first step. Secrets are more often hidden by fragmentation than by encryption.

[There are] no secret documents in the romantic sense of the words. On any important subject, there is no single document or even group of documents that contain "the secret." No spy could know enough to spot such a document if it existed, and no vacuum cleaner approach to espionage, even should it gather up two or three documents of the highest importance, would lead without all the analytical skills of the humanists to any valid conclusions. Documents do not speak:

Cloak and Gown

Meticulous extraction of figures, names, dates and so on from the multitude of incoming signals meant that the Index contained not only the most minute and accurate details about the enemy's order of battle, developing plans and production states, and personalities high and low in the German commands, but also records of points which, when they first cropped up in a signal, might have seemed trivial and meaningless; later however, when they appeared in another intercept the item already noted on a card in the Index could help to throw a sudden light on some secret, unsuspected weapon or the hidden deployment of a German unit

Ultra Goes to War

A picture of the combat effectiveness of German divisions could be built up by painstaking study of their supply returns, so the likelihood of an attack by corps or army had often to be inferred from separate scraps of information suggesting that several units were assembling in the same area or that a large number of aircraft was under orders to support ground troops at a certain time and place.
ULTRA in the West
This video has a good demonstration by a former Bletchley Park officer Peter Calvocoressi who shows how decrypts and the Index were used together to produce intelligence. It is around the 27.00 minute mark.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Looks like that re-virgining process is complete

Changes at NYT Mag:Ana Marie Cox Takes Over ‘Talk’ and ‘Ethicists’ Goes Solo

Nearly seven months after its much-heralded relaunch, The New York Times Magazine is changing yet again. Ana Marie Cox has been named its new Talk interviewer, conducting weekly question-and-answers in the back of the book, and Kwame Anthony Appiah, a professor of philosophy and law at New York University, will take over as the magazine’s sole Ethicist.
Predicted here when AMC was in her heyday as Wonkette and represented everything the MSM hated about bloggers.

How does that re-virgining process work again?

But what happens when she leverages this blogging gig to reenter the world of serious journalism? Will the CSM write about the scandal of falling journalistic standards at Newsweek? Will the Times editorialize about moral failure at the NYRB? Will Joel Klein scold ABC for putting a shameless, partisan scandal whore on its staff?

I think we know the answer. But it still raises an interesting question. How does the process work? What makes a serious journalist? How can you be one yesterday, not one today, and be restored to grace tomorrow?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Iraq: A blunder and an intelligence scandal

From the indispensable John Schindler:

We've heard tales of 'cherry-picked intelligence' before—it hasn't ended well

It’s happening again. A White House fumbling with the violent mess of Iraq finds itself surrounded by mounting accusations that it’s played dirty games with intelligence. A Pentagon facing charges that its analysts have skewed assessments on Iraq to tell top policymakers what they want to hear, rather than what is really happening in that troubled country.

This is a telling bit of information:

Reports that James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, talks to Major General Grove almost daily raise troubling questions.

Clapper is a very busy man charged with running America’s vast seventeen-agency Intelligence Community. That he makes time practically every day to talk to the CENTCOM intelligence director is, to be charitable, highly unusual. To any longtime spy, this smacks of political interference from the White House and President Obama.

The Pentagon’s inspector general now has to untangle this mess.

I headed a multiagency intelligence task force focused on Iraq back in 2002-2003, and the interference from the Bush White House then did not reach the level of daily calls to CENTCOM spies. What’s been going on in Tampa recently has the appearance of being even worse.

As is this:

Stories of White House interference with CENTCOM headquarters, commonly heard in the military, paint a disturbing picture, with Susan Rice’s bloated and confused National Security Council waging war against the Islamic State in a micro-managerial style reminiscent of President Johnson’s failed efforts against North Vietnam a half-century ago.

Susan Rice just goes from strength to strenth: Rwanda, Benghazi, and now the floundering effort to stem the advance of ISIS.

From 2013:

Susan Rice and Benghazi

From this we learn three critical facts: 1. Susan Rice is a diplomat who had no qualms about considering domestic politics when making diplomatic decisions. 2. She is an Obama loyalist who was an early passenger of the Hope and Change Express. 3. Her loyalty to Obama made her quite willing to kneecap her old patrons the Clintons.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The "Hut Six Story" story

Gordon Welchman's The Hut Six Story is one of the best books on intelligence I've read. So I was somewhat surprised to find out that the publication triggered a government investigation that cast a pall on the final years of his life.

Bletchley Park Code breaking's Forgotten Genius

Field Marshal Dowding's verdict on the Battle of Britian

I pay my homage to those dear boys, those gallant boys, who gave their all that our nation might live; I pay my tribute to their leaders and commanders; but I say with absolute conviction that but for God’s intervention the Battle of Britain would have been lost. Now, therefore, as I lay down my sword, I take up my pen and testify. ....

I have left the most important thing till the last. We are not too proud to organize National Days of Prayer, and we should not be too proud to acknowledge the results. Some people are inclined to say, “Good Lord deliver us from this grievous afflication” and afterwards to attribute their deliverance to their own efforts. I have a deep personal conviction of divine intervention in this war, which I believe we should otherwise have lost some time ago ......

[The Germans] were beaten because it was not ordained that they should win. In those days, the nation prayed to God for victory and their prayers were answered

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The forgotten man who saved the world

If the Battle of Britain saved the West, then we should remember the one man, above all others, who won that battle.   Air Chief Marshall Hugh (Lord) Dowding did not win it by himself; he did not shoot down a single plane.  Looking back, however, it seems almost certain that the battle (and perhaps the war) could not have been won without him.

His story is especially poignant because his achievements played out against a background of repeated professional disappointments.  Before the war he was passed over for promotion and slated for retirement.  Then, at the moment of his triumph, he was relieved of command.  Decades would pass before the public came to understand how much they owed the quiet man who inflicted the first strategic defeat on Hitler’s war machine.

Dowding stands out from the other senior commanders of the war because his prewar contributions were as important as his wartime work.  As the senior RAF officer for research and development he pushed for the creation of modern fighters and radar.  These were the crucial tools of the Battle of Britain.  Without Dowding’s efforts, it is almost certain that England would have faced the Luftwaffe with fighters of inferior quality than the Hurricane and Spitfires that took to the skies in 1940.

In 1936, Dowding became the first commander of Fighter Command.  He immediately set to work building a force capable of defending England against threats from the air.  His work here may have been his greatest contribution to the Western victory.  Under his leadership, Fighter Command developed the first thoroughgoing doctrine of air defense.  He also built the revolutionary system of radar, observation posts, and command centers tied together with protected communications that allowed Fighter Command to apply their meager resources for maximum effect.

As Churchill wrote:

All the ascendency of the Hurricanes and Spitfires would have been fruitless but for this system of underground control centers and telephone cables which had been devised and built before the war by the Air Ministry under Dowding’s advice and impulse.

Half a century later historian Williamson Murray was even more effusive in his praise of Dowding’s achievement.  The development of Fighter Command doctrine, he declared, was ‘the only clear-cut case of revolutionary innovation in the twentieth century.’  Dowding ‘built an effective air defense system that altered the entire context within which air forces operated.’

The system was not merely an example of technical innovation.  Instead, it offset technical deficiencies with a quantum leap forward in the theory of air warfare.

While Germans may have possessed better equipment and even tactics, the British operated in a broader framework of contextual change.  By doing so they created a new logic within which the Luftwaffe was incapable of winning.

Dowding’s work is all the more impressive because it flew in the face of the conventional wisdom of professional soldiers and pundits alike.  In the 1930s nearly everyone believed that ‘the bomber will always get through’.
In 1940, British planners estimated that 600,000 people would die in the first two months of a Luftwaffe civilian bombing campaign. ‘We thought of air warfare in 1938,’ recalled Harold Macmillan  ‘rather as people think of nuclear warfare today.’  Beyond the physical destruction, officials worried that strategic bombing would tear apart the social fabric.  Panic, peace strikes or revolution all seemed possible consequences of a sustained bombing campaign.

The only strategic options were appeasement/surrender or deterrence through a countervailing bomber force.  Dowding was the only senior commander willing and able to think through the ‘bomber problem’ in sufficient depth to understand the vulnerabilities of offensive air power and to formulate and develop effective counter-measures.

The evidence suggests that there was no other senior officer in the RAF with the requisite imagination and drive to carry through the contextual innovation that Dowding executed.
Williamson Murray

Britain survived for all the other glorious reasons, but mainly, and quite simply, because Dowding got it right.
Ronald Lewin
Of all the men who commanded the great victories in the war, only Dowding was responsible for significant doctrinal  and technological innovation in the peace that preceded it.  Nimitz, for example, played no role in the development of amphibious doctrine or the design of fleet carriers.  The German generals who invented the tactics of blitzkrieg (like Rommel and Guderian) were fairly junior commanders in the victories of 1939-42.  Most of the men who created the Red Army’s doctrine for modern combined arms warfare died in Stalin’s prisons before the war started.

If Dowding had retired as scheduled in July 1939, his peacetime work would still earn him a place among the most important military leaders of the twentieth century.  All the more remarkable, then, is the fact that his appointment to those posts represented severe professional disappointment.  The R&D section of the RAF was seen as a career dead-end.  This was confirmed in 1937 when he was passed over for the highest command in the RAF

Dowding, then, is a near perfect exemplar of the patriot and the professional soldier.  He did his best at all times because it was his duty.

Fortunately for Britain Dowding did not retire in 1939.  He was in charge of Fighter Command in the crucial weeks when the fate of the nation hung in the balance.  His conduct of that campaign marks him as both a great battlefield commander and a superlative strategist.

Britian could have lost the Battle of Britain before it even began.  As the blitzkrieg drove the Allies back in May 1940, the French insisted that the RAF send more fighter squadrons to the Continent.  Churchill initially supported this transfer.  Dowding refused to deplete his home forces.  He faced down Churchill at a meeting of the War Cabinet and kept the last of his Hurricanes and Spitfires at home.

His resolve hurt his standing with Churchill, but that was of little importance to the air commander.  As Kenneth Macksey noted, he ‘possessed that inner strength of conscience … that enabled him to stand firm in his resolve even at the risk of forfeiture of office.’  What mattered most to Dowding was that Fighter Command preserve its strength for the decisive battle to come.

Courage is of two kinds: courage in the face of personal danger, and courage to accept responsibility, either before the  tribunal of some outside power or before the court of one's own conscience

If the mind is to emerge unscathed from this relentless struggle with the unforeseen, two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light that leads to truth; and second, the courage  to follow the faint light wherever it  may lead.  The first of these qualities is described by the French term coup d'oeil; the second is determination.
Clausewitz, On War
The whole war may have turned on Dowding’s refusal to send fighters to France.  As Churchill later wrote of the Battle of Britain:

The odds were great; our margins small; the stakes infinite.
The challenge before Dowding was even greater than anyone could have imagined at the beginning of 1940.  The home defense systems were designed to stop German bombers operating from German airfields.  It was assumed that there would be no fighter escorts because no fighter had the range to cover the distances involved.  The French surrender now gave the Luftwaffe bases which put fighters within range of southern England.  Fighter command would be tested in ways no one had foreseen.

Dowding’s conduct of the battle was a masterful orchestration of limited resources.  His strategy was essentially Fabian.  He understood that like Adm. Jellico in the Great War, he was ‘the only man who could lose the war in a day.’  Using radar and Fighter Command’s control centers, the RAF denied the Germans the air superiority they needed for Operation Sea Lion.  Try as it might, the Luftwaffe could not destroy Britian’s last defenders.

The foresight of Air Marshall Dowding in his direction of Fighter Command deserves high praise, but even more remarkable had been the restraint and the exact measurement of formidable stresses which had reserved a fighter force in the North through all these long weeks of mortal conflicts in the South.  We must regard the generalship shown here as an example of genius in the art of war
Churchill, Their Finest Hour

But in the many authoritative analyses of the Battle of Britain now available one salient feature emerges: in this, perhaps the most critical conflict fought in the war, the margin was indeed narrow.  It was a battle fought on a razor's edge.  Many well-recognized factors contributed to the ultimate success-- the pilots' devotion, the quality of British radar, Goring's errors.  But it was in the mind of the Commander-in-Chief Fighter Command-- Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding-- that those delicate, difficult, day-to-day judgments were made which, in the end, drew the fine decisive line between victory and defeat.  Often they were judgments as urgent and taxing as any commander has had to take.
Ronald Lewin  Ultra Goes to War

On 15 September 1940 Goering and Hitler launched their largest raids of the campaign. The Luftwaffe chief expected this to be the decisive battle that finished Fighter Command once and for all.  To his surprise and chagrin, Dowding still had sufficient forces left to inflict disproportionate loses on German bomber formations.  The Luftwaffe still did not hold air superiority over the English Channel.

British intelligence soon picked up indications that Hitler had ordered the indefinite delay of the planned invasion of Britan.  The most dangerous period of the war was over and the RAF had won.

And then, abruptly, Dowding was gone. Dismissed. As Arthur Harris of Bomber Command put it: Dowding became ‘the only commander who won one of the decisive battles of history and got sacked for his pains.’

Dowding’s problem was that his victory was clear-cut  only in retrospect.  The Battle of Britain had elided into the Blitz. Bombers were now getting through and bombing cities nearly every night.  Only a few men at the highest levels knew that this meant that the worst danger had passed.  Others believed that the failure to stop the bombing meant that Dowding and Fighter Command were not doing their job.  Eventually, the latter camp was able to force Dowding out.

The anti-Dowding camp were not gracious winners. When the Air Ministry published a pamphlet history of the Battle of Britain in March 1941, they omitted his name altogether.

Later historians have rectified that grievous error.  Now we can see that he was the indispensible man at a key pivot point in history.

Six weeks that saved the world

Originally posted 10 August 2012

In this post, Rev. Donald Sensing makes a powerful case that 6 June 1944 is the most critical day in Western history:

The awful stakes of D-Day

There are many "pivot" days in human history, when the course of human events swung in a new direction because of discrete actions. It is hard to find another moment in all history when so much rested on an outcome of one day as rested on the success of the Allies' landings on Normandy. In military history, no other day in American history compares. The only single day that comes to mind for me right now is the day of the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, when an Athenian army repelled a Persian landing force. The entire future of Western civilization and the idea of democracy itself lay in the balance. And yet even that may day not stand alone as D-Day does because the Persians persisted and the later battles of Plataea and Salamis were probably even more important. So there was no "one day" of paramount importance in the Persian War, even though it was almost certainly the most important war of ancient times.

The success at Normandy validated the strategic assessment of Churchill in the dark days of June 1940:
This is not the decisive point and this is not the decisive moment. That moment will come when Hitler hurls his Luftwaffe against Great Britain. If we can keep command of the air and if we can keep the seas open, we will win it all back for you.

It was an astute judgment but it seemed like wishful thinking to the French. Their generals assured the government that "in three weeks, England will have her neck wrung like a chicken." France made peace with Hitler and left Britain to stand alone.

There is no D-Day in 1944 unless Britain remains defiant and unconquered in the summer and fall of 1940. As Churchill understood, the first crucial battle in the liberation of Europe would take place in the skies over England.
The great French Army was very largely, for the time being, cast back and disturbed by the onrush of a few thousand armoured vehicles. May it not also be that the cause of civilisation itself will be defended by the skill and devotion of a few thousand airmen?

(Speech to Parliament 4 June 1940)

On 1 August 1940, Hitler issued Directive No. 17:
The Luftwaffe will use all the forces at its disposal to destroy the British air force as quickly as possible.

The RAF proved equal to the great challenge. Throughout the summer and fall they battled the Luftwaffe in hundreds of actions in the first great air campaign in history. The Germans never attained control of the air over southern England; without air superiority no invasion was possible.

On 15 September, Hitler put Operation Sea Lion-- the invasion of England-- on hold.

Der F├╝hrer had suffered his first strategic setback. Britain remained undefeated and unbowed. The great triumphs that came in the years that followed were only possible because of that momentous victory in 1940.

After the war German Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt was asked to name the turning point of WWII. His interlocutors expected him to pick the destruction of the Sixth Army at Stalingrad or, perhaps, the failure to capture Moscow in 1941. The old Prussian demurred. The war turned, in his mind, on the Luftwaffe's failure to win the Battle of Britain.
Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few

Like the battle of Midway, the Battle of Britain stands out from the most other military turning points in the modern era. Sedan, Verdun, Stalingrad and Normandy were struggles contested by armies numbering in the hundreds of thousands or even millions. The Battle of Britain was on an altogether smaller scale. A few thousand pilots and ground support personnel were the first and main line of defense against Hitler and his war machine.

As Churchill put it:
The odds were great; our margins small; the stakes infinite

The free world can give thanks that England prevailed against those great odds.

This website let’s you follow the course of the campaign as it unfolded.

Battle of Britain Day by Day

More on the the Battle of Britain here

Six weeks that saved the world (II)

The forgotten man who saved the world

Monday, September 14, 2015

1940: A season of miracles: Dunkirk

History is inspiring. Bravery is inspiring. It is shameful we no longer teach this to our children.
David Gelernter, Drawing Life

The Allied armies had disintegrated or fallen back so rapidly in the face of a powerful enemy advance that Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay, commanding the naval base at Dover, was ordered to implement Operation Dynamo, ‘with a view to lifting up to 45,000 of the BEF within two days, at the end of which it was probable that evacuation would be terminated by enemy action.’ During three critical days, 26-28 May, Churchill seriously considered seeking peace: ‘if we could get out of this jam,’ he said on the 26th, ‘by giving up Malta and Gibraltar and some African colonies, I would jump at it.’ On the 28th, he told his ministers that we should be able to get 50,000 men away from Dunkirk; 100,000 ‘would be a wonderful performance’. One week later, when nearly 340,000 men (two-thirds of them British) had been rescued, he concluded that this ‘transformed Britain’s prospects’.
Vincent Orange, Dowding of Fighter Command
The resounding success of Operation Dynamo was only possible because of the bravery and performance of 700 "Little Ships": civilian merchantmen and fishing boats that went into the inferno to rescue the troops.

An even bigger self-organized boatlift happened in New York on 9-11:

"I never want to say the word 'I should have'"
Dr. Gelernter is exactly right. It is shameful that episodes of such selfless courage are ignored. We are all the poorer for it.

Defeated but still defiant (in a completely understated British way)

Between the collapse of France in May/June 1940, and the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Great Britain faced Hitler alone.

Meanwhile, in England, once it was apparent that Hitler was not going to follow up Dunkirk with an immediate invasion, the shock of defeat turned into a kind of relief that, somehow, strangely enough, life had at least become simpler. King George VI spoke for many when he wrote to his mother: 'Personally, I feel happier now that we have no allies to be polite to and pamper.'
Alister Horne, To Lose a Battle
When the news of the surrender appeared in the papers, a London newsstand chalked the following on their sign

A common sentiment apparently:

An elderly general stopped stopped at the entrance to his club shortly after Dunkirk and said to the porter, ‘this is very serious, isn’t it?’ To which the man replied, ‘Oh, I don’t know sir: we’re in the final and we’re on our own ground.
Vincent Orange Dowding of Fighter Command
And this from a salty Yank

But the British are a most illogical and stubborn race. Had they been more logical and less stubborn, they would swiftly have surrendered to Hitler after the Fall of France, and the question later of how successfully to stage an invasion impossible of success would never have risen to plague them. But running true to British doggedness even in the face of inevitable defeat, they neither accepted defeat after Dunkirk nor the impossibility of landing once again in Europe, even after their disastrous attempt at Dieppe.
Edward Ellsberg, The Far Shore

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

The woman beneath the crown

One especially interesting chapter of Chapman Pincher’s autobiography recounts his encounters with the Royal family. A couple of glimpses of the Queen when she is not in the public eye.
The informality of her visits to Highclere, where she stayed in the Carnarvons’ unpretentious, lakeside home, Lady Carnarvon being a close friend, was a great joy to her for she could relax there with minimum security. Unlike many monarchs, wherever the Queen stayed informally, which was usually for shooting, she is remembered as an easy, undemanding guest with a minimal retinue.
While the Queen never wanted to shoot, she has experienced life-long satisfaction from ‘picking up’ game with her dogs, usually behind her husband, Prince Philip, on the royal shoots and on those which they visited as guests. Her Majesty usually picked up with two Labradors, working with a whistle and hand signals, and sometimes changing for another pair in the afternoon.
And, perhaps, my favorite anecdote in the book. This took place back stage at the opera as the Queen met a touring company:

A large, over-enthusiastic baritone was commenting so profusely and with so many gestures on Her Majesty’s qualities and, especially, on her ‘beautiful smile’ that Sir Charles guided her away but she broke free and returned to the Italian with, ‘You were saying about my smile…’

Remembering another desperate September

Winston Churchill, Speech to the nation, 11 September 1940

Behind these clusters of ships or barges there stand large numbers of German troops, awaiting the order to go on board and set out on their very dangerous and uncertain voyage across the seas. We cannot tell when they will try to come; we cannot be sure that in fact they will try at all; but no-one should blind himself to the fact that a heavy full-scale invasion of this Island is being prepared with all the usual German thoroughness and method, and that it may be launched now — upon England, upon Scotland, or upon Ireland, or upon all three.

If this invasion to going to be tried at all, it does not seem that it can be long delayed. The weather may break at any time. Besides this, it is difficult for the enemy to keep these gatherings of ships waiting about indefinitely while they are bombed every night by our bombers, and very often shelled by our warships which are waiting for them outside.
Therefore we must regard the next week or so as a very important period in our history. It ranks with the days when the Spanish Armada was approaching the Channel, and Drake was finishing his game of bowls; or when Nelson stood between us and Napoleon’s Grand Army at Boulogne. We have read all about this in the history books; but what is happening now is on a far greater scale and of far more consequence to the life and future of the world and its civilisation than those brave old days.’

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Siege of Vienna

First posted 12 September 2003

In the summer of 1683 the Ottoman Turks advanced up the Danube, occupied Hungary, and, in July, laid siege to Vienna. They had 200,00 men and over 300 cannon. The defenders of the city numbered less than 22,000 only 6,000 of whom were regular soldiers; the remainder were civilians pressed into service at the start of the siege.

The relief of the city was complicated by European politics. Louis XIV of France hoped to gain German territory on the Rhine while the Hapsburgs were occupied in the east. To that end, he worked to create am anti-Hapsburg alliance with Hungary and Poland which would deny Austria aid against the Turks. (Incidentally, the Ottoman artillery were commanded by a Frenchman, a former Capuchin no less).

By September, conditions were desperate inside the city- low supplies, disease, and weakening defenses. The Hapsburgs had raised a relief army of only 21,000. But, fortunately, Poland had spurned Louis's maneuvers and sent an army of 24,000 under their King John Sobieski.

On September 12, the two relief armies and the forces inside the city attacked the besiegers. The critical moment came in mid-afternoon when Sobieski sent his cavalry into the heart of the Ottoman camp. The battle became a rout. The next day the Polish king wrote his wife: "the Vizer took such hurried flight that he had time to escape with only one horse."

He also noted the Turks "left behind a mass of innocent Austrian people, particularly women; but they butchered as many as they could." Separate from that slaughter, the Ottomans had sent 67,000 Austrians east as slaves and 14,000 girls to the harems of Constantinople.

Sobieski's troops captured the Ottoman battle flag ("The green standard of the Prophet") in the fighting. This he sent to the Pope with the message "Veni vidi, Deus Vicit" ("I came, I saw, God conquered").

The lifting of the siege is usually marked as the turning point for the Ottoman empire. For centuries they had advanced against Europe, conquering the Byzantium empire, capturing lands in the Balkans and islands in the Mediterranean. After 1683 they began 250 years of retreat. (Funny how many of these critical turning points find the Poles fighting on the right side).

Today is the 332d anniversary of the lifting of the siege.

Friday, September 11, 2015

"Our God doth hear us, Never will we yield!"

In battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles at their post in the third hour of the bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism (such as Gaius and Titius would wince at) about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use. We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule mere appetites by means of the 'spirited element'. The head rules the belly through the chest-- the seat as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The chest-- Magnanimity-- Sentiment-- these are the indespensible liasson officers between cerebral and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetitie mere animal.

C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

‘Stand And Never Yield’

"Today is a day to be proud to be American"

"This story shall a good man teach his son"

Monday, September 07, 2015

The 'Strategic Corporal' Lie

Bing West:

Concerning command during combat operations, the military claims it operates under mission-type orders; that is, the senior commander says my intent is to do so-and-so, and leaves execution to the junior commanders on the battlefield. In theory, the staffs at higher headquarters provide instantaneous information and firepower support to dispersed small units at sea, in the air or on the ground. The junior commanders of these small units then make the critical decisions at the point of the engagements.

Indeed, the U.S. military is keenly aware that many future battles must be conducted without electronic emissions; that is, forward-based units will receive data, but not expose their locations by communicating back to home base. This means allowing junior commanders to make strategic decisions, as Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance did at the decisive Battle of Midway seven decades ago. After mulling his decision for less than one minute, Spruance ordered every plane available in his task force—many with half-empty fuel tanks—to take off, search for and attack the Japanese fleet. One 40 year-old lieutenant commander ordered his squadron to continue across the red line beyond which there was not enough fuel to return.

That was 75 years ago. Would any rear admiral or squadron commander have that authority today? The answer is no. In practice, our military has been doing the opposite. Those at the very top—meaning the commander-in-chief and his trusted political staff in the White House—make the critical war-fighting decisions. Even rules of engagement are decided inside the White House, causing two successive Secretaries of Defense—Gates and Panetta—to voice their frustration.

Return of another Vietnam syndrome

Von Moltke said that no plan survives contact with the enemy. This is as true for disaster response as for a military campaign. Von Moltke's solution was to create an army whose officers could improvise when faced with the unexpected. But improvisation is career suicide when the media is second guessing every step of the process.

Responding to the Monday morning quarterbacks sucks up time, attention, and critical resources. At the tip of the spear, all of these are scarce.

When it was OK to defend 'Christian Europe'

Winston Churchill, 18 June 1940

What General Weygand called the battle of France is over. I expect that the battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Poland: First to Fight

Originally posted 1 September 2010

The popular image of Poland in WWII is of a small nation that became the first victim of the Nazi blitzkrieg and the proximate cause of the war when Great Britain and France rallied to its side.

History records a different story. Poland fought Hitler’s Reich longer than any other nation. Her contributions to the Allied victory were significant and should be reclaimed from the memory hole.

First, about the defeat in September 1939:
The Polish Army-- almost completely unmechanized, almost without air support, almost surrounded by the Germans from the outset and, shortly, completely surrounded when the Red Army joined the aggression-- fought more effectively than it has been given credit for. It sustained resistance from September 1 until October 5, five weeks, which compares highly favorably with the six and a half weeks during which France, Britain, Belgium, and Holland kept up the fight in the west the following year
(John Keegan, The Battle for History)

Despite the defeats of 1939, the Polish nation never stopped fighting. Not only did the Home Army resist the Nazis inside of occupied Poland, but Polish forces fought on every major front of the European war.

The existence of a legitimate government in exile and of a strong army abroad--Poland, even in 1944, had the fourth largest number of men fighting German after the Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom-- lent a powerful heart to the Poles, who produced few collaborators and no puppet chief, a unique distinction in the record of European response to German aggression.

Polish airmen filled whole squadrons in the Battle of Britain at a time when Britain barely had enough fighter pilots to hold off the Luftwaffe. (The Kosciuszko Squadron shot down more German planes than any other fighter squadron during the battle). Ground units fought heroically in key battles in Italy and France.

Perhaps the greatest contribution Poland made to the final victory was in the realm of intelligence. They played a vital role in breaking the Enigma cipher system used by the German high command and shared their discoveries with the French and British.

The Poles eventually designed a whole array of mechanical aids -- some of which they passes to the British, some of which the British replicated independently, besides inventing others themselves-- but their original attack, which allowed them to understand the logic of Enigma, eas a workd of pure mathematical reasoning. As it was done without any modern computing machinery, but simply by pencil and paper, it must be regarded as one of the most remarkable mathematical exercises known to history.
(John Keegan, Intelligence in War)

In the first desperate years of the war, Engima/ULTRA intelligence enabled Britain to hold off the Luftwaffe and then the U-boat menace.

The Nazis never discovered the ULTRA secret in five years of war. That is an amazing testament to the Poles and the French still on the Continent who knew the secret but never divulged it, not even under Gestopo torture.

The Polish Underground was the number one source of HUMINT in occupied Europe for the British. They provided vast amounts on information on the German V-1 and V-2 secret weapons, the movements of U-boats, and the German military preparations in advance of D-Day.

Witold Pilecki is a name every student should know. He carried out what the Times of London called “perhaps the bravest act of espionage of the Second World War”: he volunteered to go inside of Auschwitz. His reports documented the Nazi’s extermination campaign against the Jews.