On 5 October 1961, Breakfast at Tiffany’s was released in theaters starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard. The adaptation of a Truman Capote novel is about a high priced American geisha (for lack of a better term) Holly Golightly (Audrey in her iconic role), and her neighbor, a kept boy toy (a young Hannibal from the A-Team) in a pre Great Society New York that probably only ever existed in the minds of rich Manhattan socialites. Audrey’s part was originally meant for Marilyn Monroe but she refused to take a part that involved playing a prostitute. The crew and producers initially complained that Audrey was miscast, but I think we can agree she brought a depth and charm to the role that might have been shallow and stereotypical in Marilyn’s hands. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is another absolute classic and movie of its time. Henry Mancini’s score, as always, elevated everyone’s performance. (My father is a huge Henry Mancini fan). However it must be said that the movie is not without controversy. Breakfast at Tiffany’s can’t be shown today in polite society because the perpetually offended will not see it for what it is, but will use a few scenes as an excuse to signal their virtue. So if you are going to watch it, know your audience. In any case, as a classic of American cinema you absolutely should, tonight even, if only to see the movie that created the modern romantic comedy, a Hollywood icon, and dare I say an American icon.
Like the island of Corfu the day before, Don Juan of Austria, the Hapsburg commander of the Holy League’s fleet, splashed ashore on the island of Cephalonia at the mouth of the Gulf of Patras to find it devastated. The Turkish fleet anchored at Lepanto barely fifty miles away scoured the nearby Greek islands for extra galley slaves, provisions, and gunpowder for the upcoming clash with the coalition fleet. He was doing the same, even though he paid his rowers, well if they were Christian, not a convict… and if they lived.
With few exceptions, Don Juan’s 208 galleys would seem familiar to the Turks across the bay, or even the Greek and Roman sailors that plied these waters in the ancient past. Naval warfare in the Mediterranean remained remarkably stagnant for two millennia: oared vessels, whether biremes, triremes, or galleys, packed with soldiers attempting to ram, board and either capture or sink the enemy ships until one side broke. But a recent phenomenon changed that equation: industry produced gunpowder and cannon.
Both the Holy League’s and the Ottoman Empire’s galleys were equipped with cannon, usually one large cannon in the bow, flanked by two or four smaller cannon all pointed forward over the massive ram. But the Ottomans had little indigenous armaments industry and relied mostly on cannon either captured or purchased from arms dealers, whereas Don Juan’s galleys had the largest cannon forged in the latest metallurgical techniques by the finest German and Italian cannonsmiths at the time, that is to say in the world at the time. His guns were heavier, larger, and more numerous. Furthermore, his ships were newer: the Ottomans had been raiding since March, and many were in dire need of repair and maintenance this late in the season. Some of the Holy League’s galleys were so new they had no ornamentation – sixty were created at the Arsenal of Venice over 90 days at the end of spring. (Conventional wisdom says Henry Ford invented the assembly line, the Venetians did the same thing 340 years earlier. To impress a Genoese delegation, the Arsenal once built a galley Ikea-style in 24 hours from the stocks of pre made parts. A record that wouldn’t be broken until America started pumping out Liberty ships every eight hours in 1942. The only difference between Ford and the Arsenal was Ford moved the cars along the line, the Arsenal moved the parts and labor along the line.) But the issue with the Venetian galleys weren’t their number but their manning. They had the largest contingent of vessels, but even with every convict, household guard, citizen volunteer, and condottieri in the city that can pull an oar or man a gun, the Venetians still lacked the weight of mass to close with and engage the packed decks of the Turkish galleys. Don Juan had to augment them with infantry, and the only excess infantry he had were Spanish.
Venice in the east and Spain in the west were natural Mediterranean rivals. Since the expedition’s onset, their contention threatened to unravel the Holy League. Don Juan understood that a coalition of this size would probably not repeat in the near future. But Spain, bankrolling the whole endeavor with gold from the New World, wanted to protect its investment, and instead of fighting for Venetian holdings in the Eastern Med, wanted to wait until the inevitable Turkish attack on Italy the next year. Prior to leaving Messina in September, Don Juan placed thousands of Spanish harquebusiers (soldiers with primitive matchlock firearms) on the Venetian ships. Conflict between the crews and soldiers was inevitable.
Off of Corfu on 4 OCT 1571, a Spanish soldier stepped on a Venetian crewman’s toe, which set off a pitched battle on deck that resulted in the Spanish capture of the galley, and subsequent storming of the ship by nearby Venetian crews. Hundreds were killed and wounded. Only the direct intervention of Sebastiano Venier, the overall Venetian commander, prevented the conflict from spreading to more ships. The charismatic, energetic, tactful, but youthful 26 year old Don Juan was barely holding the coalition together. If the Turks refused to sail out and fight he didn’t think he could convince the Spanish to force the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth to engage the Turkish fleet sheltered in their well protected anchorage.
The next day, as his men searched Cephalonia, they found a single Cretan ship whose crew brought news from Cyprus: the fortress at Famagusta had fallen, and the island surrendered to the Turks. This was disconcerting for Don Juan, not because the island fell but because the relief of Cyprus was the raison d’etre of the expedition. The Spanish would surely depart.
That night, Don Juan called a council of war on his flagship, the Real (Re-Al, Spanish for “royal”) between his various commanders where he disclosed the news. The smaller Italian states, Naples, Sicily, Tuscany, Urbino, and Savoy all recognized they were next year’s target, and wanted to continue. The Papal commander, Marc Antonio Colonna, whose boss, Pope Pius V, went through so much trouble to assemble the coalition, of course wanted to attack, as did the Knights of Malta, whom had been at the forefront of the Crusade against the Ottoman Turks for nearly 300 years. But the Spanish were not the only concern of Don Juan’s: he also feared the loss of the Venetians. He thought that without Cyprus as an objective the Venetians would cut their losses. The Ottomans were their biggest trading partner, and this war was draining their coffers. Peace, even a bad peace, would return trade.
However, the Cretans also brought more disturbing news from Famagusta – the Venetian commander Antonio Bragadin was promised safe conduct for his men and the island’s Christian population if he surrendered, but once the gates were opened, the Turks, who lost 50,000 in the siege, turned on the defenders with a vengeance. The soldiers were killed, the civilians sold into slavery, and the officers tortured to death. Bragadin himself was flayed alive, his skin stuffed with straw, and along with the heads of his lieutenants, was displayed aloft on the Turkish flagship, Sultana. Venier, and his supremely competent second Agostino Barbarigo, demanded Turkish blood. The Spanish commander, the fiery veteran admiral Alvaro de Bazan recognized it was now a matter of honor, and threw his support into an attack. Only the wily Giovanni Andrea Doria from Genoa, on secret orders from King Philip II of Spain, advised caution.
Don Juan replied, “The time for advising is over, the time for fighting has begun.”
Doria, not wanting to be labeled a coward, disregarded Phillip’s instructions and agreed to attack.
Although the first snows had fallen around Leningrad in mid-September, south west of Moscow the skies were clear and sunny. On 1 October 1941, Field Marshal Fedor Von Bock’s 750,000 men and 1000 panzers of Army Group Center finally launched Operation Typhoon to capture the cultural, industrial, administrative, and communications center for the Soviet Union, the Communist Party, and Stalin’s regime. But the month long respite given to Moscow by Hitler (German generals wanted to launch Typhoon in August at the expense of the drives on Leningrad and Stalingrad, Hitler overruled them) was used to great effect by the Soviets, though not initially.
In a week, Von Bock’s men made great gains and encircled and captured more than 500,000 Soviet soldiers. Moscow looked doomed, but on 8 October the weather abruptly changed, not to snow, but to rain. The rain turned the terrain to mud and the roads to a swampy morass, which were impassable to all but tracked vehicles. The Germans struggled through the Rasputitsa, the seasonal mud of Eastern Europe. On 13 October, they hit the well prepared defenses of the Mozhayek Line, still 100 miles from Moscow, which were built during the previous month and allowed the poorly trained, poorly led, and hastily formed Soviet divisions to halt the nearly immobilized Germans, albeit with drastic measures.
On 15 October, Stalin’s fireman, Georgy Zhukov, took control of the Moscow front after stabilizing Leningrad. He stationed thousands of NKVD troops behind the Mozhayek Line with orders to shoot deserters, and then more infamously, report their names back to Moscow so their families were shot also. The controversial order and impending German capture caused widespread rioting in Moscow, but the Germans made no headway for a month.
On 5 November, the temperature plummeted and the mud froze. Two days later the revitalized Germans broke through the Mozhayek Line, and surged 80 miles toward the Soviet capital. But by this point the cold weather was a double edged sword: the terrain was passable but the Wehrmacht was not prepared for it. Although the lack of winter uniforms made soldiers’ lives miserable beyond compare, it was the lack of winterized lubricants and antifreeze that slowed the offensive. German soldiers were required to light fires underneath their vehicles to warm up the frozen engines every morning.
On 4 December, 1941, the lead elements of Von Bock’s Army Group Center reached the western suburbs of Moscow, about 12 miles from the city center, and within sight of the spires of the Kremlin.
They would get no further.
On 19 September 1941, the Wehrmacht’s Army Group C captured Kiev in the Ukraine. The Germans were initially welcomed as liberators (Stalin starved 7,000,000 Ukrainians to death less than ten years earlier) but the brutal treatment of civilians by the occupiers quickly turned the Ukrainians against the Germans. On 25 September, the German military governor, the rear area police commander, and the SS Obergruppen commander for Army Group C, and the Einsatzgruppen C commander decided to execute “Action T4” in Kiev.
Action T4 was originally the nickname for the National Socialist directive of forced euthanasia of handicapped and mentally ill people, but by the program’s formal cancelation in August 1941 the term Action T4 had grown to be used to justify the death of all “undesirables”, such as Jews, Poles, Gypsies, the disabled, Communist party members, capitalists, teachers, local leaders, intelligentsia, and anyone deemed a threat to National Socialist ideology. Action T4 in Kiev would be carried out by Einsatzgruppen C.
Einsatzgruppen is German for “deployment group”, a typically innocuous term that Nazi’s like to use for the various parts of the “Final Solution”. They were charged with the forced “de-politicization” of occupied territories, or more accurately the de- politicization of everyone who disagreed with National Socialism. They acted as judge, jury, and executioner, and were answerable to no one outside of the SS chain of command. The executions would occur at Babi Yar (Old Woman’s Gully) near several cemeteries inside Kiev.
On 28 September, 1941, a trench 150 m long by 30m wide by 15m deep was dug by Soviet prisoners. Posters were placed around Kiev demanding all Jewish residents report the next day with all of their valuables, documents, and warm clothes to a street corner in Western Kiev. The next morning more than 30,000 showed up expecting to resettle.
Many arrived before dawn, hoping to get a good seat on the train. Many packed for a long journey, and one survivor noted that many women wore strings of onions about their necks. The massive group was “processed” down Melnyk Street toward Babi Yar. First they gave up their luggage, then valuables, then they progressively lost more clothes. By the time they heard the gunshots and figured out what was going on they were naked, vulnerable, and hustled between rows of German SS and Ukrainian collaborators in groups of ten to the trench. Anyone would resisted was beaten and pushed along.
At the trench, the Jews were forced to lie down in rows on top of the corpses of the previous ten, then an Einsatzgruppen officer walked by and shot each in the head. When the bodies reached near the top, they were covered over. The process lasted all day, and into the next.
33,771 Jews were murdered in the largest mass execution to date in the war in Europe. But the National Socialists were only just beginning.
With the German U-boats and Japanese submarines prowling between America and any potential future battlefield, the United States needed a cheap and easily constructed cargo ship to quickly replace the inevitable losses. On 27 September 1941, the SS Patrick Henry is launched: the first of 2700 Liberty class ships constructed during WWII. These large welded cargo ships formed the backbone of the American merchant fleet. They were the prime targets for German U Boats and surface raiders and the US Merchant Marine took the highest proportion of casualties of any service during the war. By 1943, a new Liberty ship was being launched every 8 hours.
In September 1066, William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy and direct descendant of Rollo the Viking (the founder of Normandy), was waiting for an opportunity to seize the crown of England from Harold Godwinson, his cousin once removed, whom he considered a usurper and believed only had the crown because he was at Edward’s deathbed. On 22 September, William was granted his opportunity when his spies reported that Harold marched north in great haste with his army (to Stamford Bridge). William loaded his ships but there was no wind: the finicky weather of the English Channel prevented him from sailing.
On 27 September, a storm blew in but the wind was in the correct direction so William ordered his Norman-French army to sail north. The storm dispersed his ships and the Normans landed all along the southern English coast, but with Harold gone there would be time to consolidate. William landed with a large force at Pevensy in Sussex after scattering Harold’s weak navy. Then in an act that would be emulated by Hernando Cortez 450 years later, William dismantled his ships to signal to his men that there was no return to Normandy. He used the wood to build a castle near the town of Hastings.
William had to wait until the English army moved away from Sussex to land, but now that his army was on the ground, William desperately needed a battle with Harold. With only 11,000 men he could not seize London, and with no way to resupply from Normandy so late in the season (which was why he was ok with dismantling his ships) his army would eventually starve. So William decided to force Harold south before he could gather even more reinforcements from the furthest reaches of England and overwhelm him.
As the former Earl of Wessex, Sussex was part of Harold’s own personal holdings, and nearby Kent belonged to Harold’s brother Leofine. Any on goings in those lands would eventually reach Harold, and more importantly, the nobles and fighting men who left their wives and children to head north. If the news was bad, Harold would be forced to react. So William unleashed the Norman army on the English countryside.
William scourged the undefended Sussex and Kent.
The Normans and French ravaged Harold and Leofine’s lands. They foraged anything useful from the villages and farms, and then fired them. They killed any men they found, and brought the women back to be wives for the army in arranged marriages. The children became pages and servants to the nobles. William wanted the future generations to be Normanized, or “normal”. And his men went about the task with a fury worthy of the Vikings whose descendants they were.
The devastation of Sussex and Kent was so thorough that thirty years later the most common town description in the Doomsday Book (the very detailed tax record of all of England) for those areas pillaged by the Normans was simply,
“Laid to waste”.
Even though King Harold Godwinson and his men marched 50 miles a day for four days straight, York still surrendered to the Viking King Harald Hardrada before they could arrive. Hardrada, his army still disorganized from the Battle of Fulford, didn’t sack the city but demanded supplies and hostages lest he would burn it to the ground. The supplies and hostages were to be delivered to the bridge over the River Derwent at Stamford on 25 September 1066. That morning, Hardrada and Tostig Godwinson, Harold’s exiled brother, took about two thirds of the Viking army to the bridge to help carry the supplies and escort the hostages. Most didn’t wear armor as they weren’t expecting resistance, and well, it was hot and armor is heavy. While they waited many Vikings lounged on the river banks or sunbathed in warm September sun.
Around mid-morning the English arrived, but cresting over the small rise into the valley weren’t supplies and hostages. The glint of the sun was first seen off of thousands of spear points, then the steel caps, and finally the metal kite shields of Harold Godwinson’s huscarls and fyrdmen in battle formation. The Norse Sagas record the moment as,”Their shining arms were to the sight like glancing ice”. The surprise was complete. Tostig attempted to stall the English and negotiate with his brother, whom offered him his earldom back if Tostig switched sides. Tostig counteroffered and asked what Harold would offer Hardrada. Harold replied, “Seven feet of good English soil, as he is taller than normal men”. The Vikings on west side of the Derwent were quickly overwhelmed and crushed, and Tostig fled.
Hardrada needed more time to form a shieldwall on the eastern end of the bridge, and it was given by a single Viking berserker. This lone greataxe wielding wildman prevented Godwinson’s entire army from crossing the bridge until an enterprising young fyrdman found a boat, rowed it underneath the bridge, and stabbed the berserker in the groin through a gap in the planks.
Godwinson’s men rushed across the bridge and crashed into the half formed Viking shield wall on the other end. The Viking’s lack of armor was balanced by the English exhaustion of having marched in full kit 220 miles in the last five days, and twelve to this battlefield. Nonetheless, weight of armor and numbers told, and Tostig and Hardrada’s army were slowly wrapped and massacred. The king was killed by an arrow to the throat during a savage charge in a desperate attempt to breakout. For a brief moment near the end, the Viking’s fortunes changed when Eystein Orre, Hardrada’s son in law, led a furious assault into the flank of the English army by the fully armored Vikings just arrived to the battle from guarding the ships. But “Orre’s Storm” was too little too late, and they too were crushed.
Godwinson chased the remaining Vikings back to their ships where he accepted a truce from the survivors to never set foot on English soil again. Hardrada’s original army arrived on 336 longships, just 24 returned to Norway. The Vikings would never again raid or try to conquer England. The Viking Age was over.
In January of 1066, Harold Godwinson was crowned King of England after the death of Edward the Confessor. His exiled older brother Tostig Godwinson (he was such a bad ruler of Northumbria that Edward threw him out) felt that he had a better claim than Harold and began looking for allies. The King of Norway, Harold Hardrada, also had a claim, and accepted Tostig’s offer of help in overthrowing Harold Godwinson. Tostig and Hardrada, with a large Viking army, landed in Yorkshire in the north of England in early September 1066. Harold Godwinson’s spies knew they were coming, and his fully mobilized armies of his Earls Edwin of Mercia and Mocar Northumbria met them at the town of Fulford.
The first English charge almost broke the Vikings but Harold and Tostig managed to form a shield wall which held until men still disembarking from the ships could reach them. The battle then devolved into two rival shield walls attempting break each other. This lasted for several hours(!) but eventually the English sobered up and the arriving Viking numbers were still boozed up enough to continue to push. (Just about every source on fighting in a shield wall at this time mentions that one had to be drunk to get up enough courage to attack a shield wall or defend in one against a determined charge.) The English broke, and due to the swampy terrain were trapped and annihilated.
King Harold Godwinson was in the south preparing for the inevitable invasion by another claimant to the English thrown, Duke William of Normandy. When he heard that his armies in the north were destroyed, Godwinson hurried north with his household guard, the Huscarls, and every Anglo Saxon thegn enroute. Godwinson needed to protect the largest city of the north, York, and the only defensible terrain between it and Fulford was the bridge at Stamford on the River Derwent. For a week he marched night and day – he had to arrive before the Vikings reorganized.
After the defeat at the Battle of Long Island, LTG Washington was desperate for information regarding British operations against Manhattan. On 8 September 1776, CPT Nathan Hale of the 7th Connecticut Regt, a graduate of Yale and a former schoolteacher, volunteered to infiltrate Long Island and ascertain British intentions. He posed as an unemployed schoolmaster, and made his way from Connecticut, to Long Island, and eventually Manhattan, after the British landing at Kip’s Bay.
However, Hale was probably the worst possible choice for a spy: he was tall and “impossibly good looking”. He stood out in crowds. He was earnest, forthright, outspoken, and according to his friends, “incapable of duplicitous action”. Finally, he had a distinctive powder burn on his cheek from a skirmish with the British during the Siege of Boston.
On 20 Sept, Hale collected his notes and sketches of the British Army and Navy in and around New York City, and decided make his escape back to Washington on Harlem Heights. Unfortunately that night, a fire, which started at The Fighting Cocks Tavern, destroyed one third of the mostly abandoned city. The British blamed American spies (and the Americans blamed the British who used the fire as an excuse to loot the rest of the city… but let’s be honest: it was probably the Americans), and the next morning rounded up more than 200 ”suspicious men”, including Hale.
Hale was captured by none other the Major Robert Rogers of the Queen’s Rangers who was unconvinced with the school teacher story of the tall, ruggedly handsome blonde man with a nearly fresh powder burn on his cheek (even though he was actually a schoolteacher). Rogers spun a tale that he was also an American spy and had set the fires. Unfortunately the naive Hale believed him and gave himself away.
Of the 200 men rounded up as American spies, Hale was the only one who admitted he was a Patriot when he looked Gen Howe in the eye and told him so. According to the customs of war at the time, soldiers not in uniform were illegal combatants and were summarily hanged without a trial. At dawn on 22 September, 1776, CPT Nathan Hale was led to a tree outside of Dove Tavern in New York City, surrounded by only a few British officers and soldiers. But when the hangman asked the 21 year old if he had any last words, Hale, with “great composure and resolution” paraphrased a passage from a popular play at the time and said,
“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
The ships of the Italian Navy might have been neutralized during the Raid on Taranto and the Battle of Cape Matapan, but the Regina Maria itself was still in the fight. The Italians were years ahead in the use of underwater demolitions to attack shipping in port. Between June 1940 and August 1941, the Italians made nine attempts on British ports in the Mediterranean, but only one was successful. It was simply an issue of stamina.
The men of the secret Decima Flottiglia MAS, the 10th Assault Vehicle Flotilla, were the best combat divers in the world, but no human being had the strength and endurance to swim several miles underwater with enough equipment and explosives to cut through any obstacles and sink a ship, and then swim out again without being seen. Their only success was through the use of speedboats to sink the HMS York in Suda Bay in May 1941, which would never work again. But by July of 1941, the Italians perfected the use of the “human torpedo”: a self-propelled and nearly silent miniature submarine that divers could attach equipment to and ride or hold on to the outside of during the approach swim to the objective.
On 20 September 1941, eight divers on three human torpedoes departed from the Italian submarine Scire docked in Cadiz, Spain to attack British ships in the port of Gibralter. They avoided the extensive minefields, cut through the torpedo netting, and attached limpet mines to three ships, two tankers and a cargo freighter, which were all subsequently sunk. The frogmen swam to Spain, rejoined the Scire, and went back to Italy to be decorated.
The frogmen of Decima Flottiglia MAS would carry out monthly (mostly successful) attacks until Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943. The raid on Gibraltar fascinated the nascent “Observer Group” and “Navy Combat Demolition Units” that were just being formed by the US Military in 1941 to tackle the problems of amphibious assault, specifically beachhead reconnaissance and destruction of beach obstacles, and their training was altered accordingly. These groups would go on to be the Underwater Demolition Teams, and eventually the Navy SEALs we know today.