Monday, April 20, 2015

Witchcraft


So, there I was…..*  Holy Saturday, in my workshop when I hear the sound of an airplane rapidly approaching.  
My personal sawdust factory, lawn mowing and hay hauling vehicle and tennis ball chasing canine

I rush outside in time to see a P-51C pass overhead.  By the time I get my phone, all I get is a dot in the sky.  My Son and Daughter-in-Law arrive shortly thereafter and we head to the airport to see what’s what.  But, you know all that, because you read last week’s post about the B-17 “Nine O Nine”.  

The B-17 is owned and operated by the Collings Foundation along with several other historic aircraft, including the aforementioned Mustang (which actually is a TP-51C) and the subject of today’s post the B-24J.  All three are parked on the ramp when we arrive at the airport.

We tour the B-17 first, primarily because it was located closest to the entrance.  I had two main impressions about the aircraft.  First, that it felt rugged, that it could sustain damage and return home.  It could and did.  Second, the aircraft was cramped, much smaller inside than it looked like from the outside.  While I am a bit plus sized now, even in my fighting days, the B-17 had spaces I’d have had a hard time getting in.

We spent a considerable period poking around and finally exited out the rear hatch. 

We decided the next aircraft to visit would be the B-24. 

This particular B-24 had been built in Fort Worth and transferred to the Royal Air Force participating in combat from India.  Abandoned by the British after the war, the Indian Air Force restored it to operational capability and used it until 1968.  It was eventually decommissioned then recovered, restored and now represents a B-24 named Witchcraft. 
The original Witchcraft
Source: Flickr
 
I’ll leave it to the Collings Foundation literature to detail that bomber’s history.

"The history of “Witchcraft” is a story that legends are made from. The original “Witchcraft” was produced as a B-24H, built by Ford at the famous Willow Run, MI plant in 1944. It was delivered to the 467th in Wendover, Utah and initially assigned to Second Lieutenant George W. Reed and his crew who flew the aircraft to England. “Witchcraft” safely arrived with her crew at Station 145 in Rackheath, England on March 19th, 1944, after a 20-day flight over the Atlantic. The aircraft and crew began their combat service on April 10th, 1944, flying the first combat mission of the 467th Bomb Group. Over the next year “Witchcraft” flew an incredible 130 combat missions with various crews. “Witchcraft” was never once turned back while on a mission, and never had any crewmen injured or killed. Her last mission was flown on April 25th, 1945 which also was the last mission flown by the 467th Bomb Group. “…Witchcraft” was there at the beginning and at the end.” After the war, she was returned to the United States and like many other B-24’s, was scrapped on October 3rd, 1945 at the surplus depot in Altus, Oklahoma."
So, an impressive history both in actuality (having flown operationally for almost 25 years) as well as the bomber it represents.  Well worthy of further exploration although I think "a 20 day flight" would have set some endurance records.  Ever the grammar nazi!

Compared to the interior spaces of the B-17, and with one exception, the Liberator felt spacious. My impression, however, was that it wasn't as "solid" as the B-17.  Nothing I can put a finger on, just an impression.  Perhaps it was the bomb bay doors.  They rolled up like old time garage doors and looked like you could drop your bombs even if they didn't open.  I don't know.  Just my impression.  Certainly, the original Witchcraft was tough enough to get the job done.


There's that bald guy again.  What's he so fascinated about?
The Bombardier's station had a windshield wiper

Well, in the European theater, I'm sure it helps the accuracy of the bombing if the Bombardier can actually see the target.

Boarding started at the back of the plane
After experiencing the B-17, the Bald Guy is inspecting this one for clearance issues.

Climbing in and the first things I see are the waist guns.  Channelling my inner Murphy (of boarding steps and most recently Great Lake Freighter fame), I immediately man the position and begin searching for Fokkers in Messerschmidts (old joke).


No Fokkers, but there is a hostile looking Ford out there.
After enduring several strange looks from other folks working their way through the plane (ok, maybe the sound effects and radio commentary were a little overboard), we move forward to the ball turret.



Again, my size 10 for relative size.  I don't think it was much bigger, if any, than the one in the B-17.  Not going to pull a Murph here and open it up.  I'd probably still be in there. On to the Bomb Bay.





At least double the size of the B-17, in that there were two separate bays.  Here was also the only place on the Liberator that was smaller than the B-17.  I wold have had to transit 3 of those support beams and  that just wasn't going to happen.  I jumped off the catwalk and walked the length of the bomb bay to move further forward.

Which left us in the front of the airplane.

Since they were getting ready to fly one of their orientation rides ($432 each), the cockpit was closed.  It did look less cramped than the B-17s and had the radioman and flight engineer on their side of the bomb bay which seemed to make more sense to me.

Later in the day, I'm back out in the workshop and I hear the sound of a multi-engine aircraft in the vicinity.  Step out and am treated by this.  

Learned quite a bit while studying up for this post.   There were 18,468 B-24s (including variants) produced for a total cost in today's dollars of $88 Billion.  They operated in all theaters in the war.  While I knew that, it didn't really sink in as there is one mission that pretty much focuses everyone on the Liberator's role in WWII.


Source:www.afhso.af.mil
That, of course, would be the raid on Ploesti.  While in ROTC, we learned about the raid and the attempt to deny the German's Romanian Oil.  Later in SOS, we learned about the execution of the raid, that casualties were high, as well as the fact that there were 5 Medals of Honor awarded, 3 Posthumously. However, I never learned until now, was just how much that mission cost.

178 bombers took off from Benghazi. 16 aborted or crashed. 162 reached targets around Ploesti. 51 were shot down or interned in Turkey. 22 landed at various Allied bases in the Mediterranean. Of the 89 that returned to Benghazi that day, 58 were damaged beyond repair.  Leaving 31 aircraft operationally ready the following day.  17% of their capability. 440 aircrewmen were killed along with another 220 captured or missing. A 37% casualty rate.

The painting above is of a B-24 named "Hell's Wench", piloted by Lt Col Addison Baker.
The lead navigator's plane had crashed, and the backup plane became lost.  Col Baker recognized that and turned a large portion of the formation toward the target area.  In the target area, his aircraft took a AAA hit and started on fire.  He remained in the formation until his bombs were dropped and then maneuvered away from the formation to minimize risk to them.  His B-24 exploded and he and his crews remains were never recovered.  There is a monument to him at the American Military Cemetary in Florence.

His Medal of Honor citation reads:
"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy on August 1, 1943. On this date he led his command, the 93d Heavy Bombardment Group, on a daring low-level attack against enemy oil refineries and installations at Ploesti, Rumania. Approaching the target, his aircraft was hit by a large caliber antiaircraft shell, seriously damaged and set on fire. Ignoring the fact he was flying over terrain suitable for safe landing, he refused to jeopardize the mission by breaking up the lead formation and continued unswervingly to lead his group to the target upon which he dropped his bombs with devastating effect. Only then did he leave formation, but his valiant attempts to gain sufficient altitude for the crew to escape by parachute were unavailing and his aircraft crashed in flames after his successful efforts to avoid other planes in formation. By extraordinary flying skill, gallant leadership and intrepidity, Lt. Col. Baker rendered outstanding, distinguished, and valorous service to our Nation."

Yesterday, Sarge posted a great one about community.  People like Col Baker and his crew are the type that populate my community.  Fighter Pilots all,  Shoe Clerks need not apply.**


*SJC

**"There are two types of People in the Air Force, Fighter Pilots and Shoe Clerks.  Both are attitudes not AFSCs."

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Communities

The Joint Service Color Guard advances the colors during the retirement ceremony of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Gen. Henry H. Shelton, at Fort Myer, Va., on Oct. 2, 2001. DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel. (Released)
Services represented are, from left to right: Army, Army, Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines.
Everyone belongs to some sort of community. For some it's the town where they were born, where they went to school and where they now have a home and a job. I suppose that in the large cities, one's community is synonymous with one's neighborhood. I've never really lived in a big city, I've lived near them, but not in them. I do get the concept of the neighborhood.

Having a sense of community is a good thing. While we humans are not a herd beast (regardless of how it seems now and then), we are tribal beings.

Early humans grouped together for both safety and efficiency. I think even Chuck Norris might have had trouble surviving for long out on the Serengeti back in the day. While Mr. Norris is a very skilled and tough fighter, lions are tougher, cheetahs are faster and leopards can climb trees for crying out loud. You think the world is dangerous now?

Try 15,000 BC.

I too belong to a community. Those who've been here a while know of which I speak. The opening photo also provides a clue.

My community, the group I most closely identify with, are those men and women who serve, and who have served, honorably in the Armed Forces of the United States of America.

I served 24 years in the Air Force, my kids have served or serve still in the Navy.

I have friends who served in the Army and friends who served in the Marines.

I think I may know a Coast Guardsman or two. While they aren't in the Department of Defense, they used to chop over to the Navy in wartime. Many of the landing craft which delivered fighting men to the beaches from Peleliu to Normandy were driven by Coast Guardsmen.

I also spent seven and a half years in NATO. I served with Canadians, Germans, Belgians, Dutchmen, Norwegians and Italians.

In my travels I've had the opportunity to associate with the Korean Army and Air Force and certain Highland members of the Royal Army.

All good lads and true.

I count them as members of my community as well.

All these good people are, in a very real sense, my brothers and sisters in arms. We all, at one time in our lives, stepped up, raised our right hands and swore an oath. We swore to defend our country, we swore to uphold the Constitution.

Some say we wrote a blank check to Uncle Sam that we would lay down our lives if necessary.

Trust me, very few of us actually thought that when we were swearing the oath. Though it did linger in the back of one's mind. The ultimate possibility.

When I retired from the Air Force, I actually got to make a speech. I worked on that little ten to fifteen minute speech for a few days. 
After all, how many times does one get to retire from the military? Once. (I checked.)

As I worked on that speech I thought about a lot of things. Mostly I thought about the people I had served with and their families. Not just the families who were with us as we traveled like nomads from assignment to assignment.

There were also the families back home. Back at the place we came from. We all have to come from somewhere. For most of us it's a home with a Mom and a Dad, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins. If you're lucky those folks cared about you and worried about you while you were out in the world, doing your military job.

In the "old days" those folks would also write letters to you. Letters which were looked forward to, letters which were read over and over and cherished.

Sigh, no one writes letters anymore.

On the other hand, though my military days are over, I'm now one of those "old folks back home." Both daughters are still on active duty and while we don't send letters, it's a pretty big deal getting an e-mail from them when they're out at sea.

When my son was still serving, he would start each e-mail home pretty much the same way. After his ship had been at sea for a few days, we'd get the "the Battle of Norfolk is over, the real mission begins..." e-mail. Seems that being in port in Norfolk can be a colossal pain in the stern. I've had a few other friends mention that as well.

I've not heard similar complaints regarding Sandy Eggo. Oh yeah, Norfolk is virtually within spitting distance of the Pentagon. Sandy Eggo has some elbow room. Three thousand miles of elbow room.

Unlike some in my community I don't make a big deal about serving, it's just something I did. I enjoyed it, I somewhat pity those who didn't have the opportunity to serve. But I don't look down on anyone for not having served.

Like I mentioned in my speech, a military by itself is pretty meaningless. Without something to protect and defend, what's the point?

People need to grow the crops, build the machines, maintain the highways and other facets of the infrastructure. Without the good folks of America doing their jobs and paying their taxes, I would have had no equipment, no uniform, no place to lay my head at night, no food and no pay.

Everyone has their role in life. Everyone has their job.

All who contribute are important. All who contribute are needed.

So that's my community. I'm proud of it. I'm proud that my children chose to join it.

But it isn't for everyone, as long as you can find your place in this world, contribute to your community and those dependent on it, you have my respect.*

And my gratitude.



*The original wording said "can contribute," Juvat is right (see his comment), so I dropped the "can."

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Iconic Aircraft

Spitfire Mk Vb #AB910, built in 1941, she is painted in the colors of the Polish 303 Squadron;
the Donald Duck symbol is the personal logo of Squadron Leader Jan Zumbach.

Photo by Adrian Pingstone (Arpingstone) - Own Work. (Source)
Those of you who have been following the blog for a while will know of my absolute love for the Supermarine Spitfire and all of its lovely variants. Some of you have taken me to task for this love.

"What about the P-51 Mustang?" they would ask. How could I possibly favor the British Spitfire over the P-51 Mustang? Well, that's a tough question.


Both are beautiful aircraft, deadly in the hands of a skilled pilot as many foes discovered during the years when World War Two raged. Both are solid designs, the P-51 perhaps a bit better as regards armament and certainly far superior in range.

No Spitfire would fly to Berlin and back. Many a Mustang did.

I do recall that the P-51 started out as a bit of a dog. (Hush now. It's true, read your history.) We gave (sold?) them to the Brits and it was they, our cousins across the pond, who had the inspiration to mount in that lovely airframe the engine they used for their own top of the line fighter.

The Rolls Royce Merlin.

"Rolls-Royce Merlin"
Photo by JAW at English Wikipedia - Own work. CC

So while I do have a deep and abiding affection for the magnificent P-51 Mustang (and all it's lovely variants), my first love is that elliptical-winged beauty designed by Mr. Mitchell.

The Spitfire.


Recently a comrade-in-arms of mine posted a video of an event which took place at Duxford back in 2010. A flyby of Spitfires in squadron strength.

Sixteen Spitfires, in formation, a sight seldom seen since the late summer and early fall of 1940. When a relative handful of brave young men in their Spitfires and Hurricanes stood tall against the might of the Deutsches Luftwaffe.

And won.


I love the sound of that Merlin engine, regardless of which aircraft it's mounted in!

Friday, April 17, 2015

C'est la Guerre

Winfield Scott leads his infantry brigade forward.
Chippewa - H. Charles McBarron (US Army Center of Military History, Public Domain)
In the paintings the uniforms are virtually spotless, the ranks perfectly aligned. The grass is green and there is but a hint of smoke in the background. Men who have become casualties drop to the ground as if they have but stumbled.

That is art. Not war.

Actual battle in the time of Wellington, Scott, Suvorov and Napoléon was seldom, if ever, so picturesque.

The night before the battle the troops, the lucky ones that is, usually slept under the open sky. In a fast moving campaign, tents and other baggage, even if an army used them, seldom could keep pace. More stress was laid on making sure ammunition was available. Shot and powder were much more important on a battlefield than creature comforts. Such as food and shelter.

The unlucky may have spent long hours in the night on the march. Driven by their officers to arrive on the field before the fighting commenced. Often times, many troops were still on the march when the fighting began. In the distance the powder smoke might be seen rising over the tree line or the next ridge.

The thump of artillery could be heard at quite a distance if the wind was right. Legend has it that the cannon fire on the field of Waterloo could be heard at Dover, over 170 miles away. But that was a large battle with over 400 cannon on the field.

Prussian Artillery Reenactors
(Source)

Commanders learned early to "march to the sound of the guns." The troops no doubt sweated and grumbled as they hurried onward. No matter how tired and footsore they might be, their officers and sergeants drove them on.

While battles did happen in winter, no one who survived would ever forget the frozen hell of Preußisch Eylau, most battles were fought in warmer weather.

The blazing heat of the march into Russia in 1812 killed thousands of men and horses. Try marching at a steady pace of 2 to 3 miles an hour, wearing a wool uniform and carrying upwards of 60 pounds of equipment. In the blazing sun, day after day, then offering battle. Sometimes the march would be in the pouring rain, the road muddy. Each time a battery of artillery needed to pass, the troops would have to move off the road, and then be splattered by the wheels of the limbers and guns passing by.

"Ingenieros" - Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau (Source CC)
The Spanish royal regiment of sappers (Regimiento Real de Minadores-Zapadores)
abandon Alcalá de Henares on May 24, 1808, to join the loyalist cause in Valencia.

The troops would often be tired, hungry and filthy at the start of a battle. Uniforms might be muddy and soaked through. Shoes might be worn through or falling apart entirely. These were mass produced items and could be expensive, as always the army would buy from the cheapest bidder. And always it was the fighting man who suffered his government's parsimony. (I say men here because women generally did not fight. Though some did, from time to time, dress as men and fight in the ranks. And died.)

French Fusilier Grenadiers and Fusilier Chasseurs
Richard Knötel (Public Domain)

Fancy plumes would be stowed in one's pack, fancy shakos would be wrapped in oilskin. The bright colors called for in the regulations would be faded and irregular.

The bright red of the British infantry might be a muddy looking sort of red, almost brown. The dark blue of the French could be anywhere from a sick looking bottle green to a faded grey-blue. Quality blue dye was so hard to come by that Napoléon actually planned on re-uniforming his infantry in white.

The cost of new uniforms for hundreds of thousands of troops, the horror of bloody wounds showing so well against a light colored uniform and the absolute disdain of the troops for white led the Emperor to back off on that particular uniform change. (The troops hated the idea of white uniforms because their hated foe, the Austrian white mice of the Hapsburgs wore white. And they always defeated the Austrians!)

So the men stand, and wait. They would normally be in column on the battlefield when not actually engaged. Each company of 60 to 120 men in three deep line, one company lined up behind another to form a battalion column. (There were four to ten companies per battalion depending on the nationality.)

Sometimes, if the army expected to be on the defense, the battalions in the front line would be in line formation. The companies formed as before, only now side by side. Most armies employed three-deep line, three men, one behind the other. The British allegedly preferred two deep line (though this may have been due to shortages in manpower more than a desire to cover more frontage). Theoretically, every man in a line formation would be able to fire his musket at once. Ofttimes though the fire of the third would only injure, deafen and annoy the men in the first two ranks.

(Note: There were essentially two types of column. One for the battlefield, 20 to 40 men across and four to six companies deep and another for the march. Just like nowadays, column of fours, forward march!)

So there they stand. It may be blisteringly hot, it might be pouring rain, it might even be freezing and snowy. But you stand in ranks and you wait.

The artillery opens the contest. Men must watch as the iron balls fly, ripping into the ranks and literally tearing men to pieces. Soldiers are splattered with blood and tissue from the men standing near them. There are recorded instances of troops being badly wounded, not by an enemy projectile but by bits of bone, teeth and stones thrown up from the solid shot of the artillery.

Standard practice was to bounce the shot into the enemy formations. If the ground was hard this would throw up dirt and stone and wound even more men. A ball which bounced after traveling 500 yards would, in theory, travel another 250 before it bounced again, then another 125 yards and so on.

Cannon shot, near the end of their run, could look most innocuous rolling threw the grass. Many a rookie soldier would put his foot out to stop the ball rolling. Only to have his foot torn off and then be left to bleed to death in the grass.

There were no medics or corpsmen to attend to you if you were hit. If you weren't killed outright, it could be a day or more before someone got around to hauling you back to a very rudimentary aid station. Back then, if a wound was in an extremity, they amputated it. In the torso anywhere, they might try to dig it out if it wasn't too deep, or they moved on to someone they could save. Military medicine was very crude and simple.

Eventually the battlefield became clouded by powder smoke. This smoke (I have seen it and experienced it on a small scale) varies from a dirty white to a dark gray, no billowing clouds of black smoke. That's for the movies.

Ponder that, hundreds of cannon firing, nearly continuously, followed by thousands of smoothbore muskets firing, all using black powder. That makes for a lot of smoke. There were instances in battle of opposing units nearly marching into each other out of the smoke.

Soon one could hear the drums of the enemy's advance, or one was in a formation marching to massed military drums towards a probably unseen enemy. Out there somewhere in the powder smoke.

When in effective range, which for a smoothbore musket was no more than a hundred yards, the infantry volleys would begin.

The Storming of La Haye Sainte
Richard Knötel (Public Domain)

Men would be falling all around, soon one side or the other might attempt to bring the battle to bayonet point but this seldom occurred. Usually one side or the other would have had enough of being shot at and give way, retreating back into the smoke.

Or the cavalry would dash in, out of nowhere, and smash into a wavering line of exhausted soldiers.

Battle of Albuhera
William Barnes Wollen (Public Domain)

The battle would seesaw back and forth until exhaustion, death and fear overcame the army. Sometimes both armies in the fight would be nearly finished, their reserves all in, ammunition running low, unit strength dwindling. You might notice other soldiers starting to slip to the rear, by ones and twos. Sometimes five or six men "helping" a wounded comrade off the field.

Officers would exhort their men to one more effort. One more push, one more volley.

Stand fast!

Les Grenadiers à Cheval de la Garde Impériale à Eylau
Édouard Detaille (Public Domain)

Wellington at Waterloo
Robert Alexander Hillingford (Public Domain)

Then one side would break...

And the slaughter would begin.

Battle of Salamanca
Artist Unknown (Public Domain)

The Aftermath of Battle
(Source)

The victorious army might pursue the defeated army but often most of the victors would spend the night on the field where they fought all day. Fresh reserves, if there were any, would pursue the beaten foe.

Men would not stray far from the campfires, for in the dark was horror.

Looters would stalk through the bodies, some still living were "helped on their way" by the thieves in the night. Sometimes they were civilians, sometimes they were soldiers. It was not the custom for the troops to help bring in the wounded. In those days discipline was fierce, a soldier allowed away from his sergeants and officers might not come back. You stayed with your unit.

One could also hear the moans and screams of the wounded. Not just men either. At Waterloo 10,000 horses were killed or injured. Artillery horses, cavalry horses, officers' horses, an army did not move without their equine comrades. They too suffered, they too died.

In the morning the sight of the field would be dreadful, if one were lucky, the unit would take to the road to chase after the enemy. If one were unlucky one would help to bury and/or burn the dead. Injured horses would be dispatched. Serviceable equipment would be collected, the wounded would be loaded on carts (or ambulances in the French army) for transport back to the surgeons. Who would already be exhausted by then.

War in the time of Wellington, Scott, Suvorov and Napoléon was brutal. It was nothing glorious like the paintings show. It was dirty, bloody and pitiless.

But then again, war is still that way. War has always been that way.

There is no glory, only death and suffering.

Sometimes war is necessary. Sometimes war is forced upon a nation. Then it must be fought to the utmost to bring things to a speedy conclusion. Make it as brutal and as violent as possible for your enemy. Make them regret the day they forced war upon you.

Lest they try again.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Primum non nocere


A recent post by The Skipper and another recent post by our very own Tuna kind of inspired me. I know the "kind of" seems rather like "damning with faint praise," but it goes beyond those two posts.

There is much in the world that troubles me these days.

The ever growing incivility in modern society.

The ever lessening impact of the Word of God in modern society.

The ever growing violence in certain parts of the world.

The ever growing incompetence in government at nearly every level.

Wouldn't it be a great thing, if everyone awoke in the morning, stretched, yawned and then, before considering the day ahead, said to themselves, "First, I will do no harm..."?

The Latin phrase Primum no nocere ("first, do no harm) is not actually a part of the Hippocratic Oath. Before starting this post, as part of my (ahem) due diligence I researched that oath, thinking that that's where the phrase came from.

Nope. No one seems to really know the exact origin of that phrase. Ganz egal...

While I have to admit that I'm not entirely comfortable with the "turn the other cheek" philosophy (from Matthew 5, Verse 39 - But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.) I will give someone a second chance, not always, which I suppose isn't right, but usually.

I also firmly believe in the old proverb (origin unknown) "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

Now I fear we shall all be made fools of once again. Why?

Well, election season, regrettably, seems to have begun already.

It seems as if the same tired and trite promises are being offered to an ever more uncaring populace. Some not caring because they are uninformed, some not caring because they are tired of it all. Tired of the lies and the broken promises.


What does the political establishment offer in the way of candidates?

I do see some interesting prospects on the Republican side, though I'm sure that they will be weeded out by the time it comes to actually vote and we'll be left with the same tired choices put forth by those who move behind the scenes. The puppet masters who never step into the arena but hide in the shadows, deciding what is best for us.


The Democrats? They too have their puppet masters and they seem to be very good at making us all dance to their tune. Look at what they last offered us. And now?

Seriously, Hilary Clinton?

Just what we need another completely unqualified candidate who will garner votes simply because of gender. As the last garnered votes because of the color of his skin.

I care not for a candidate's gender, the color of their skin or the nation their forebears sprang from. I only care that he or she has the best interests of the United States and her true allies in mind.

The United States and her natural, true allies are the last, best hope of this tired world.

Beyond lies chaos, never ending war and a new Dark Age.

First, do no harm.

If that cannot be accomplished?

Then I hope we would have the will to crush our enemies, see them driven before us, and hear the lamentations of their women...

Otherwise, we will be crushed. There will be no one left to lament.

This, I fear.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Pour encourager les autres...

"Admiral Byng's fleet getting underway from Spithead"
(John Cleveley the Elder circa 1712 - 1777)
There is little in human behavior which is new. Though there is much which could be called, unexpected.

The group of folks with whom I associate most closely are former military. They are my tribe, we swore an oath together. We served the same masters, under the same flag.

There has been much of late in military circles regarding officers being relieved of their positions and/or commands. There is truth to the old saw that it "is lonely at the top." One must needs be very judicious in what one says and what one does. People notice. People clamor that "something must be done!"

But as I mentioned above, this is nothing new. As the Teacher said,

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV)

Now I'm on something of an historical kick lately, particularly that period "between Agincourt and the Marne." Both of those places are in la belle France, physically some 162 miles apart, the significant historical events which took place in those locations being separated by nearly 500 years. We will get to both, eventually. Just not today.

Today I want to talk about an event which took place near the beginning of the Seven Years' War. That war, by the way, is known in my native land as the French and Indian War.

This particular war started out with the English attacking disputed French possessions in North America. Events which gave a certain colonial by the name of George Washington a great deal of military experience.

On the continent of Europe an English officer by the name of George Germain, Viscount Sackville was accused of refusing to obey orders at the battle of Minden. The same man, then known as Lord George Germain, became the Secretary of State for America in the cabinet of Lord North.

That particular ministry, during the reign of George III, was widely held responsible for the loss of the Thirteen American Colonies.

Sackville, by the way,  was court-martialed for his behavior at Minden and was found guilty of the charges.
The court found him guilty, and imposed one of the strangest and strongest verdicts ever rendered against a general officer. The court's verdict not only upheld his discharge, but ruled that he was "...unfit to serve his Majesty in any military capacity whatsoever", then ordered that their verdict be read to and entered in the orderly book of every regiment in the Army. The king had his name struck from the Privy Council rolls. W
I guess that being cashiered and declared unfit for military service was no obstacle to later government service. Nothing new under the sun, neh?

But that's not the man I wish to speak of today. No, this other fellow was an Admiral in the Royal Navy. He too was court-martialed and...

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The first sea battle of the Seven Years' War took place between the English and the French off the Mediterranean island of Minorca.

Google Maps
Twelve sail-of-the-line and five frigates under the command of Amiral Roland-Michel Barrin de La Galissonière, Marquis de la Galissonnière met a squadron of 12 sail-of-the-line and seven frigates under the command of Admiral John Byng.

John Byng
by Thomas Hudson (Public Domain)

La Galissonière
French school 18th century (Public Domain)

The French had had their eye on Minorca and it's British garrison for some time. Probably since 1708 when perfide Albion had seized the island during the War of the Spanish Succession. (You might note that the kings of Europe would go to war at the drop of a hat, or the loss of an ear and you'd be right.) So the French commenced to threaten Minorca and it's garrison.

The British government belatedly put together a force to counter the French move on Minorca. (It's worth noting that at the time things were not going well for the Crown in North America.)

On the 19th of May, 1756 Admiral Byng's force arrived off Minorca to find the island overrun by the French, with only the garrison of Fort St Philip at Port Mahon still holding out...
Facing 12 French ships of the line, Byng formed his 12 largest ships into a single line of battle and approached the head of the French line on a parallel course while maintaining the weather gage. He then ordered his ships to go about and come alongside their opposite numbers in the French fleet. However, the poor signalling capability of the times caused confusion and delay in closing. The British van took a considerable pounding from their more heavily armed French adversaries, while the rear of the line, including Byng's flagship, failed to come within effective cannon range. During the battle Byng displayed considerable caution and an over-reliance on standard fighting procedures, and several of his ships were seriously damaged, while no ships were lost by the French. Following a Council of War, at which all the senior officers present concurred, it was agreed the fleet stood no chance of further damaging the French ships or of relieving the garrison. Byng therefore gave orders to return to Gibraltar. W
(For those who might be interested, here is Admiral Byng's own account of the Battle of Minorca.)

Needless to say, London was most displeased by the outcome. Let us just say that they had "lost confidence" in Admiral Byng's ability to command. The admiral was brought back to England to be tried by court-martial for breach of the Articles of War, which had recently been revised to mandate capital punishment for officers who did not do their utmost against the enemy, either in battle or pursuit.
The revision to the Articles followed an event in 1745 during the War of the Austrian Succession, when a young lieutenant named Baker Phillips was court-martialed and shot after his ship was captured by the French. His captain, who had done nothing to prepare the vessel for action, was killed almost immediately by a broadside. Taking command, the inexperienced junior officer was forced to surrender the ship when she could no longer be defended. Although the negligent behavior of Phillips's captain was noted by the subsequent court martial and a recommendation for mercy entered, Phillips' sentence was approved by the Lords Justices of Appeal. This sentence angered some of parliament, who felt that an officer of higher rank would likely have been spared or else given a light punishment, and that Phillips had been executed because he was a powerless junior officer and thus a useful scapegoat. The Articles of War were amended to become one law for all: the death penalty for any officer of any rank who did not do his utmost against the enemy in battle or pursuit.
The court martial sitting in judgement on Byng acquitted him of personal cowardice and disaffection, and convicted him only for not having done his utmost, since he chose not to pursue the superior French fleet, instead deciding to protect his own. Once the court determined that Byng had "failed to do his utmost", it had no discretion over punishment under the Articles of War, and therefore condemned Byng to death. However, its members recommended that the Lords of the Admiralty ask King George II to exercise his royal prerogative of mercy. W
Following sentencing the Admiral was taken to HMS Monarch, anchored in the Solent*, and there on the 17th of March 1757, Admiral John Byng was shot by a firing party of Marines.

Twenty-two years after the Admiral's execution, the Articles of War were amended to provide "such other punishment as the nature and degree of the offence shall be found to deserve" as an alternative to capital punishment.

Many have decried the execution of Admiral Byng as a crime. His descendants still seek a pardon for him from Her Majesty's government which has already been denied once as recently as 2007.

There may have been one beneficial outcome from the Admiral's death -
Naval historian N. A. M. Rodger believes it may have influenced the behaviour of later naval officers by helping inculcate:

"a culture of aggressive determination which set British officers apart from their foreign contemporaries, and which in time gave them a steadily mounting psychological ascendancy. More and more in the course of the century, and for long afterwards, British officers encountered opponents who expected to be attacked, and more than half expected to be beaten, so that [the latter] went into action with an invisible disadvantage which no amount of personal courage or numerical strength could entirely make up for." W
Ever wonder where that phrase "Pour encourager les autres..." (to encourage the others) came from?
Byng's execution is referred to in Voltaire's novel Candide with the line: Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres – "In this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others." W
The Execution of Admiral Byng (Source)

Is that why we relieve commanders these days with the dreaded "loss of confidence"?

Does it encourage the others? Or does it simply discourage good men and women from seeking command?

I can't say. I wonder what Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson would say. I'm sure he, and all officers in the Royal Navy, knew of Admiral Byng. How could they not?

The only admiral of the Royal Navy to ever be executed.






* The Solent is the strait between the coast of England and the Isle of Mann, long an anchorage for the Royal Navy.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Trivia Tuesday

How long has it been since I've posted one of these?  Yes, it's been a while.  I suppose that trivia is plentiful, but finding interesting enough material that won't bore Sarge's audience to tears?  That's a little tougher to come by.   So today there's a little something for everyone.  We'll start with some stuff that has a little broad appeal- cars and movies, then I'll toss in some tougher trivia questions after each.  For the cars, just name the movie or TV show that they were featured in.



1. This is a 1975 Pontiac Firebird Esprit, but I don't know if you'll remember who drove it.   I'd bet some of you will, but I'm not much of a gambler.

2. A generation ago, everyone did this. Today, 1/3 of adults say they have never done this. Can you guess what it is?




3. The 1939 Buick Roadmaster was an excellent car, especially for an excellent driver.  

4. Between 1900 and 1920, this picnic game was an Olympic event.  What was it?



5. This one is probably a little tougher.  This is a 1971 McClaren M6GT Coyote, a pretty obscure car from a fairly short lived series featuring an ex-con racecar driver and a judge.

6. What substance sold for babies in 19th Century Britain was marketed under the name "Quietness."




7.  Ford Falcon Interceptor.  'Nuff said.

8.  Name the famous world leader who had an American mother named Jeanette Jerome. 
Jeanette Jerome        (Pinterest)
She was one of many American women who left the US in search of status elsewhere, becoming engaged a mere three days after meeting her husband, and giving birth less than 8 months after marriage, most likely at full term.



9.  This is a 1979 Porsche 928 which looks completely dried out to me.

10.  In 1999, the US Government paid $16 million for a film you've probably seen a hundred times.  What film was it?


11.  I'm sure this car, a 1967 Chevy Camaro RS/SS 350 costs significantly more than 2 dollars.  

12.  Which car sold more than 1 million units in the US in 1965.

a. Ford Falcon
b. Chevy Impala
c. VW Beetle
d. Ford Mustang


Mini-Cooper
13. These are from a semi-buono remake in 2003 of a 1969 film of the same name. 

14.  What is the most shoplifted item in the US?  How about in Europe?



15.  This is a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California.  Fortunately, the one that was wrecked in a 1986 film was one of 3 replicas built for it.

16. Name this candy bar which was originally split into 3 separately flavored pieces- chocolate, strawberry and vanilla.  When the other flavors became harder to come by during WWII, Mars decided to go with chocolate only.



17. This one is almost too easy.  It's from a 1968 film that was the same name as the lead character, and featured one of the most famous car chase scenes in movie history.  Extra credit if you can name the year, make and model.

 18. True or False.  Hydrox Cookies are a knock-off of the Oreo Cookie.



19.  A 1984 Porsche 944 like this was in a film during that same year that featured a geek driving a Rolls Royce, even though he wasn't the age required to get a license.

20.  The name of this state can be typed using only one row of keys. 


21.  I swear, there's not a single original thought in Hollywood- one remake after another. This is a 1970 Dodge Challenger RT which was in a 1971 movie about a Medal of Honor Viet Nam vet and ex-racecar driver who is hired to transport this car across the country.  The film was remade for Fox TV in 1997 updated with a Gulf War vet played by Viggo Mortensen.

***********************************

So how'd you do?  I expect that many of the movies were easy to name since a lot of those cars are fairly iconic.  The other questions are probably a little tougher, although the hints make it easier.

1. The Rockford Files
2. Written a check
3. Rain Man
4. Tug O' War
5. Hardcastle and McCormick
6. Opium
7. Mad Max
8. Sir Winston Churchill
9. Risky Business
10. The Zapruder Film (JFK assassination)
11. Better Off Dead
12. b. Chevy Impala, a record which still stands today.
13. The Italian Job
14. Candy and Cheese
15. Ferris Bueller
16. Three Musketeers Bar
17. Bullitt starring Steve McQueen
18. False. While many people think Hydrox are an Oreo knock-off, they actually came first in 1908, 4 years before the Oreo.
19. Sixteen Candles
20. Alaska
21. Vanishing Point