Victor Belenko and his Foxbat

Flight Lt Victor Belenko was one of the Soviet’s best and most experienced pilots, and in 1972 was assigned to fly the newest fighter in the Communist arsenal: the MIG-25 Foxbat. (Cue ominous music)

In the early 70s the Foxbat was the Boogie Man. It’s radar could see farther than any comparable American or NATO system, and the plane itself could accelerate, cruise, and climb faster, with greater range, than any fighter in the Free World. The CIA, much less the US Air Force, knew precious little about it, and what they did was only picked up from electronic hints by SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance pilots trying to outrun its missiles.

Belenko was the training officer for a MIG-25P fighter squadron outside Vladivostok in eastern Siberia. As such, he was responsible for not only flight instruction but political indoctrination, which he considered a waste of precious time. He was a smart and practical man, and for several years, struggled with the cognitive dissonance inherent in a Communist society. The propaganda simply did not match reality. As a fighter pilot, he intimately knew the consequences of ignoring information that contradicts a perceived situation. But unlike most of his peers whom just became subdued cynics, Belenko turned skeptical of the entire system.

He was constantly bombarded by his commissars about “the greatness of the Soviet state and progressive society”, but he slowly noticed evidence to the contrary. His base conditions were horrible, and was called a “Bad Communist” for suggesting improvements to his men’s quarters. Due to a horribly inefficient and under funded maintenance system, he was routinely forced by his superiors to doctor training records, an act the commissars threatened with imprisonment. He found the entire system rife with corruption, and had to use his wife’s party connections to get anything done.

Belenko began to question everything. “If Communism worked, why did he, an elite fighter pilot, have to help with the harvest?”, “If America was backwards, why were their fighters so much better in Vietnam?” and, “If the West was falling apart why did they have so many more Nobel prize winners in science?” were just a few. Soon after his wife’s divorce due to their bleak existence in Siberia, Belenko reached the tipping point when he was presented with unmistakable proof of the commissars’ lies.

In June 1976, Belenko and his squadron were shown films of homelessness and poverty in American cities as affirmation of the failure of Capitalism. However, a closer analysis of the films’ backgrounds revealed stunning discoveries: he saw stores, but no massive queues. And they were lit with signs, and large windows that showcased huge varieties of goods. One film had a woman with bags of groceries with toilet paper poking out the top. (He “hadn’t used toilet paper in years”. He and his wife “cleaned themselves with old copies of the Pravda.”) Moreover, there were single houses completely at odds with the massive drab poorly maintained tenement block that he was forced to live in. Great swaths of Soviet society lived much worse than what he saw in the background of the propaganda films. The “‘Eureka!’ moment” came as cars drove past in all colors, shapes, and sizes. In a few frames passing by in a split second, he noticed “a Cadillac driven by a black man!”

The propagandists had said that African Americans were the most oppressed minority in the United States, but “how much worse must Communism be if a member of this oppressed minority can own a Cadillac, while I, an elite pilot high in the system, must wait for years on a list for a much smaller car?”

Belenko was convinced the propagandists were lying, and with no more ties to the USSR, decided to defect. Because the Soviets didn’t trust the pilots with a full tank of fuel for that very reason, he overstated his usage on a previous mission, and bribed his maintenance chief not to check. The next mission he received his allotment and with the prior overage, he figured he had enough to make the trip to Japan. Belenko smuggled operators and maintenance manuals into the cockpit, and hoped to buy his life in the West with his knowledge and his plane (the commissars told him the West tortured and killed prisoners).

On the afternoon of 6 September 1976, he broke formation, dove for the wave tops, slammed the plane into afterburner, and sped for Japan. Before his wingman could react, Belenko was gone.

He landed at Hakedate airport on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, with just 30 seconds of fuel left. Opening his cockpit, he fired two rounds in the air, and gave the startled white flag carrying Japanese officials a pre-written note asking for concealment of his plane, contact with American analysts, and asylum in the US (which he was eventually granted).

Belenko and his Foxbat were an intelligence windfall. The Air Force dissected the MIG-25 and found it to be far from the Boogie Man: it was a One Trick Pony. The Foxbat was the second fastest plane on the planet, but it was unmaneuverable, overly heavy, maintenance intensive, and extremely fragile. It was still a generation behind the contemporary the F-15 Eagle in all aspects but raw power.

Unfortunately, the Foxbat’s stay was much shorter than its pilot’s. The plane was ordered returned to the Soviets by President Jimmy Carter who wanted to increase goodwill with the Communists. The Air Force did exactly as the President ordered, but to their credit, with a bit of panache – the plane was completely disassembled down to individual bolts, and returned in thirty crates. Attached was a note that said:

“Dear Russian Bear, the US has everything we need anyway so here are the pieces to prove it. With best wishes, the Secretary of the Air Force.

PS: Nice plane, but nothing we need to keep.”

Don’t Give Up the Ship

On 1 June 1813 during the War of 1812, Captain James Lawrence of the 49 gun frigate USS Chesapeake sailed out of Boston Harbor to engage Captain Philip Bloke’s 38 gun HMS Shannon. Lawrence wanted to break the blockade of Boston and saw his chance when most of the patrolling British flotilla departed, leaving just the Shannon until she could be reinforced in a few weeks.

Unfortunately, Lawrence just finished outfitting the ship and most of the crew had been on board for less than two weeks. The Chesapeake’s crew was virtually untrained. Bloke’s crew on the Shannon had been together for almost seven years and was one of the most highly trained crews in the Royal Navy. In the ensuing battle, the Chesapeake was dead in the water in under 15 minutes and Lawrence laid mortally wounded on the deck. In one of the last orders to his crew, he muttered “Don’t give up the ship”. Inspired by their captain’s words, all of the officers and most of the crew fought on until they were either dead, or too wounded to fight. Their tenacity, however, didn’t change the outcome.

News of the fight and Lawrence’s words electrified Boston and a flag was commissioned in Lawrence’s honor. It was dark blue with “Don’t Give Up the Ship” written in large bold white letters across of it. The flag was presented to Lawrence’s friend, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who was in the process of building a squadron of ships at Presque Isle, Pennsylvania, in order to clear Lake Erie later that summer of the British. Perry would fly it as his rank flag on his flagship, the USS Lawrence.

The Battle of Roncevaux Pass

On 15 August 778, one of Charlemagne’s ablest lieutenants, Roland, Prefect of the Breton March and commander of the Frankish rearguard, was killed at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass in the Pyrenees Mountains against Basque and Gascon guerillas. Charlemagne’s army was returning from a very successful campaign against the Umayyad Muslims on the Iberian Peninsula when his rear guard was overrun and baggage train sacked by the Christian Basques. Charlemagne lost much of his court whom were traveling with the baggage and most of the plunder of the campaign to the small force. The Basques were just interested in the booty and not affiliated with Charlemagne’s adversaries at all. Roland’s death would be immortalized and heavily romanticized in Medieval and Renaissance literature, most famously in the French epic poem, “The Song of Roland”.

The New Yardbirds

After a lackluster year, blues rock legends and psychedelic rock pioneers The Yardbirds needed a change. Their last album was a dud, and they had been coasting on the release of their Greatest Hits album for most of 1967 and 1968. They hardly played their new stuff live. In fact, they hardly played any of their songs as they were produced, just mostly mixes and long solos. Moreover, former Yardbirds’ members Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton were becoming bigger than the band that spawned them: The Jeff Beck Group, with front man Rod Stewart on vocals, had finally broken big in the summer of ‘68, and Eric Clapton’s supergroup Cream ruled the charts. Vocalist Keith Reif and drummer Joe McCarty wanted to move in a folk rock direction, while guitarist Jimmy Page wanted to continue to experiment with the heavy psychedelic blues that was so popular with Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Bassist Chris Dreja didn’t give a shit either way, at this point he was more interested in being a rock photographer. Session bassist John Paul Jones, who was a longtime collaborator of Page’s from his own session days, played in Dreja’s stead more often than not, sometimes even live.
 
The Yardbirds played their final show just outside London in July 1968, and then Reif and McCarty permanently departed the band. However, the Yardbirds still had a contract to perform a Scandinavian Tour. Dreja and Page saw an opportunity to form a new band and the tour would quickly get them noticed, but they had to keep the name “Yardbirds” because the promotional materials were already published and distributed.
 
The Yardbirds quickly found a replacement for Reif but their chosen young vocalist couldn’t break his previous contract to make the tour. However, he did recommend Page go see the band Obs-Tweedle then performing in Birmingham. Page obliged, and after just one song (Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love”) offered the 19 year old front man Robert Plant the job for the Yardbirds. Plant immediately accepted and recommended his childhood friend John Bonham as replacement drummer for McCarty. With the fast pace of the changes, Dreja decided to leave to pursue his career in photography. John Paul Jones, practically a member of the band anyway, quickly stepped into the vacancy.
 
The New Yardbirds played their first gig on 7 September 1968 at Egegård School in Gladsaxe, Denmark, a suburb of Copenhagen. The new band had barely played together before and rehearsed all morning and afternoon in preparation. That night was the school’s “Teen Club Ball” and almost 1400 people were in attendance. The young audience was not happy. They had bought tickets to see the legendary Yardbirds and were upset to find out that only Page was still in the lineup. Nonetheless, the New Yardbirds quickly won over the skeptical crowd. The Teen Club Ball in Gladsaxe Denmark was the first time Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham played together on stage in front of an audience.
 
The New Yardbirds recorded their first album later in the month based on their live performances from the tour. The album never happened. Although Dreja was OK with the band using the “Yardbirds” name to finish the Scandinavian tour, he was not cool with them recording new music, unless of course he got a cut. The New Yardbirds needed a new name.
 
So when the band completed their Scandinavian tour in October, they decided to make a clean break with their Yardbirds’ past. Two year’s previously, Page and The Who’s Keith Moon toyed with the idea of forming their own supergroup to rival Clapton’s Cream. The Who’s John Entwhistle said the band would go down “like a lead balloon”. The conversation stuck with Page. The “a” in “lead” was dropped for pronunciation purposes, and “balloon” was changed to “zeppelin” to presage the “lightness”, “heaviness” and “combustibility” of the new group’s sound.
 
Led Zeppelin was born.

The Battle of Lens

By 1648, Europeans were tired of the Thirty Years War. What started as a religious war between Catholics and Protestants in the Holy Roman Empire turned into a power struggle between the Bourbons and the Hapsburgs, and then into national struggles between the Spanish, French, Austrians, Czechs, Poles, Swedes and Dutch. Semi-autonomous bands of soldiers and mercenaries roamed the countryside, especially but not exclusively in the German and Italian lands of the Holy Roman Empire, looting, foraging and raping while they waited for the summons to battle. What separated them from brigands *spit* was whether or not they responded to the call.
 
The Thirty Years War had taken its toll and all of the major and many minor belligerents were involved in the peace negotiations at Muenster and Osnabruck in Westphalia. Despite some small setbacks, the victories at Rocroi (1643) against the Spanish, and Nordlingen (1647) against the Bavarians cemented French power on the continent. However, Cardinal Mazarin continued Richelieu’s policy of centralization of French royal power at the expense of the nobles, the effects of which came to a head in 1648.
 
In the spring and early summer of 1648, the exhausted parties pushed the negotiations forward, but each jockeyed for a better position in the final treaties. Unfortunately for France, Mazarin levied a tax on the judicial officers of the Parliament of Paris which finally pushed the parliaments and the French gentry to take action in opposition to Mazarin. Taking advantage of France’s domestic troubles, and seeing an opportunity to regain territory lost after Rocroi, a Hapsburg Army under Austrian Archduke Leopold Wilhelm invaded the French occupied Spanish Netherlands in August 1648.
 
Leopold Wilhelm was successful in recapturing several towns and fortified cities before the French could respond. However, Louis II de Bourbon Prince de Condé, known as “the Great Conde” and one of Louis XIV’s best commanders, was recalled from the failing campaign in Catalonia. Condé cobbled together an army from French Lorraine, Champagne, and Paris as he marched to meet Leopold Wilhelm. On 20 August 1648, Leopold Wilhelm was besieging the city of Lens. Condé’s smaller army arrived to the west but the Archduke’s Spanish/German/Walloon army was in a strong position on the heights outside the city. Condé feinted a withdrawal and the proud Spanish officers, led by the commander of the Archduke’s center, the Governor of Luxembourg General Jean de Beck, persuaded the cautious Leopold Wilhelm to attack and avenge Rocroi.
 
At dawn, the impetuous Hapsburg army initially overwhelmed the French rear guard, and almost killed Condé, but the situation stabilized as Condé spread his troops into a battle line. Nonetheless, de Beck’s assaults into the French center were successful and the deep Hapsburg infantry formations, a habit born from the tercio, threatened to break the pike blocks and musketeer lines of the French center. However, in Leopold Wilhelm’s quest for overwhelming mass and depth of attack, he placed too much cavalry in the center. They were wasted waiting to break through, or even worse, just functioned as mounted carbineers who could not charge, took up too much space, and could not provide the requisite firepower to break an infantry formation. Both sides had cavalry in the center, but part of the Hapsburg’s mass was desperately needed on the wings.
 
On the Spanish right, the notoriously unreliable Walloon cavalry fired, then broke, under a French cavalry charge. (The Catholic Walloons, French speaking Belgians today, had much more in common with the French than they did the Flemings and Protestant Dutch just to their north. Needless to say they didn’t think much of their distant Spanish and Austrian overlords, certainly not enough to die for.) On the French left, Condé led the cream of the French cavalry, personally leading the regiment of his mentor Jean de Gassion, who died the year before. Over the last several years, Condé became impressed with German cavalry’s fire discipline. In the standard cavalry battle tactics of the day, both sides would ride up to each other and stop to fire. Whoever fired first usually lost as they’d be charged while they were concentrating on reloading. What usually happened was a standoff where each sides’ officers would cajole the other side to fire first, sometimes very politely, as most horsemen were aristocrats. Condé knew he could easily break the Hapsburg Lorrainer cavalry to his front with a charge, but only if his cavalry was able to get over the dead and dying men and horses of those who received the volley before they charged. If the French cavalry charged before receiving the first volley, the casualties of the first two lines, when the Hapsburg did eventually fire, would break the momentum of the charge.
 
So Condé waited to give the order until the Lorrainers fired first. And for the next long minutes, they stared at each other.
Events in the center forced the issue, but it was the Lorrainers who eventually fired first. They saw de Beck’s successful assaults and didn’t want to lose out on the glory of victory. So they fired and instantly charged. And though they killed, wounded or incapacitated the first two French lines, they couldn’t withstand the French countercharge led by Condé himself, ever the cavalryman, and followed up by the entirety of the French reserve. With complete success on both wings and a center that held out just long enough, the French encircled the remains of the hitherto successful Spanish center under de Beck. However, unlike Rocroi, there was no Spanish last stand: the Hapsburg army of Leoplod Wilhelm was not cut of the same cloth as the Army of Flanders under de Melo and de Fountaines five years before. The Spanish had had enough: Thirty Years War had taken its toll on the men.
 
The Battle of Lens was the last major action of the Thirty Years War. (Technically, the “Battle of Prague” was the last battle of the war, but it has more in common with a smash and grab art heist than a battle) Condé’s victory at Lens cemented the French position and forced the Hapsburg’s to seek peace at the negotiations in Westphalia, which was agreed upon soon after. The battle ended the war and brought peace between most of the major belligerents, though not to France and Spain whom would continue their war until 1659, eleven year later.
 
Finally, five days after the battle, the parliaments of Paris rose up against Cardinal Mazarin who, upon hearing the news of the victory, arrested parliamentarian leaders. Taking advantage of the army’s departure to fight at Lens, the parliaments and their supporters through barricades and forced the child-king and cardinal to flee the city. However, Condé returned with his victorious army and besieged Paris, ending the “Fronde Parlementaire” in March.
 
Young Louis XIV would not forget.

Case White. The Failure of the Interwar Theories

On 1 Sep 1939, Germany invaded Poland from the north, west and south. The Germans invaded with 1.5 million soldiers against Poland’s 300,000, though Poland had 1.6 million still mobilizing in its reserves. This three pronged attack made Greater and Lesser Poland untenable, so Poles did what they’ve done for a millennium: delay until they could make a stand along one of the various river lines that bisected the country. Or failing that form a redoubt in the Carpathian Mountains along the Romanian border. They chose the Warta River first but because the French insisted that Poland not mobilize before hostilities commence, in order to “not provoke” the Germans, the Germans broke through that on 6 Sep.

The battle for Poland was a bit more evenly matched than the German propagandists, and the historians that took them at face value, suggest. The German Army that invaded Poland was 1.5 million strong but of the 60 or so German divisions that participated, only five were Panzer, and five more motorized. The vast majority were still foot and horse bound. Additionally, the German tanks of the panzer divisions were mostly obsolete, even by 1939 standards. Of the 2500, most were PzI or PzIIs, little better than machine gun carriers. Only about 1000 were the better Czech Pz35 or Pz38s, or the PzIII or PzIVs. The Poles had 800 tanks: about half obsolete Polish Tankettes, Brit Mk6s, and French Ft-17s, but the other half were the Polish 7TPs or French R35s which were equivalent of the German armor. The difference was in how these resources were used, though not as how you might have learned.

The Germans used a form of JFC Fuller’s Breakthrough theory called Blitzkrieg or Lightning War but in Poland it hadn’t come to fruition yet. The short version of Blitzkrieg is the armor punches a hole and surrounds the enemy while supported by airpower, and the infantry and artillery reduce the pocket. This is precisely what did NOT happen in Poland. JFC Fuller envisioned massive armored columns smashing through lines and continuing on. Even a casual perusal of the various panzer commanders’ memoirs, particularly Guderian, Von Luck and Manstein, show that in Poland the panzers smashed through the lines… then ran out of fuel or broke down. The vehicles were not reliable enough and supply systems could not keep up. These highly touted panzer breakthroughs devolved into immobile columns subject to the very effective French 37mm anti-tank gun or French artillery, which the Poles had oodles of, or being cut off and surrounded by counterattacks of mobile Polish cavalry brigades (whom rode to battle on horses but fought on foot… just like the German cavalry). The panzer divisions, almost universally, had to wait for the German infantry to break through to them so they could get some fuel and spare parts, and then continue on. (It’s a credit to the Wehrmacht that they figured this problem out by the campaign in France the next year).

Though the panzer portion of Blitzkrieg was a complete failure, the infantry were having much more success. Blitzkrieg’s mission style orders and the Wehrmacht’s reliance on machine guns and mortars at the very lowest level meant that German squads and platoons were consistently outfighting Polish companies and battalions. Furthermore, if there was a particularly tenacious strongpoint, they had the help of the Luftwaffe or German air force which had control of the air.

The Luftwaffe had 2500 planes to about 700 Polish planes. In the beginning, the Poles knew this but made the mistake of saving their strength for a massive aerial counterattack. Unfortunately, the Luftwaffe wiped out the Polish air force’s command and control in the first days of the war, so for the next month Poland’s air force was destroyed in uncoordinated penny packet counterattacks. Although the Poles shot down 40% of all German planes in theatre, they couldn’t prevent the real war winner for the Germans: Luftwaffe close air support of the infantry divisions.

As the infantry fought toward the cut off panzer divisions, the Luftwaffe shifted its supporting attacks from the immobile panzers, to the much more successful foot bound infantry, if only to save the panzers more quickly from Polish anti-tank guns. This went on for about a week in Sep 1939, until the Poles were fully mobilized to a strength of 2 million and prepared to defend the hills and forests of Masovia along the Vistula River, particularly the traditional fortress city of Warsaw. There they would hold out and wait for France and Great Britain’s promised attack from the west.

The Brits and French attacked and failed.

The French were big fans of Fuller also, and after the defensive fortifications of the Maginot Line were built, they built tanks with a vengeance. The nice thing about starting production late was you produced the latest models. The H35, Char B1 bis, the S35, the R35, AMR 35, Char D1 and D2, were all either equivalent or superior to the PzIIIs or PzIVs, and the French had more, many more. To great fanfare and in the largest and most literal expression of JFC Fuller’s Breakthrough Theory, the French launched their Armored Leviathan at the Germans on 8 Sep 1939… and promptly ran into large fields of inexpensive German mines. The French tankers were stuck. At least the Germans had infantry traveling with the panzers in trucks, the French didn’t even have that. They were completely flummoxed by the mines and had no way forward. So they went home.

The British launched their own offensive against the Germans, but they used bombers. The Brits were big fans of the Italian airpower theorist Giulio Douhet. Douhet’s theory is basically Fuller’s theory applied to bombers and he believed “that the bombers will always get through”. Douhet envisioned heavy bombers protected by on-board machine guns that would rain death upon the enemy’s cities. This would continue until the population’s will was broken and they sued for peace. To Douhet, land power was obsolete. The British Bomber Command launched its bombers against Germany the day after Britain declared war… and were promptly shot down by German anti-aircraft guns. The German 88mm, which was designed with Douhet in mind, was especially deadly. When the British tried flying lower to avoid them, they were shot down by the magnificently made Swedish Bofors 40mm or Swiss Oerklion 20mm anti-aircraft guns. The British Bomber Command took so many losses in the first weeks of the war that if it continued they wouldn’t have any bombers by November, so they switched to ineffectual nighttime bombing. The Poles were on their own for a while.

But this wasn’t war ending because by 9 Sep, the Poles outnumbered the Germans and were holding their own along the Vistula and in the Carpathians. They even launched a large counterattack at Bzura and repulsed the initial German attacks on Warsaw. Unfortunately on 9 Sep the German propaganda minister Josef Goebbels announced to the world that the Germans had reached Warsaw. The German people thought they had won and were jubilant. Goebbels ran with it. Poland had no way of contradicting Goebbel’s message. The British, French, and Soviets all soon believed Poland was lost. This absolved the Brits and French from any further assistance, and on 11 Sep, 1939 Stalin decided he’d better invade Poland before the Germans took it all.

On 19 Sep 1939, ten days after the Poles were supposedly defeated by the Germans, Soviet forces crossed the Polish frontier from the east, and made defense along the Vistula pointless. On 25 Sep, the Polish government announced the evacuation of the country. The last Polish army unit only surrendered on 6 Oct – a month after the war had supposedly been lost.

Fuller and his disciples: the Germans and French with their tanks, were defeated by unarmored fuel trucks, exposed supply lines, and inexpensive mines; Douhet and his disciples: the British with their bombers, were defeated by simple anti-aircraft guns; and Poland was defeated by bad diplomacy, information operations, mission command, and close air support.

The Schweinfurt-Regensburg Raids: The Bombers Don’t Always Get Through

In the 1920s Italian airpower theorist Giulio Douhet stated that “The Bombers will always get through.” He expounded further by advocating that any military spending not on bombers was just wasted money. The British and American “bomber generals” were enthusiastic, even fanatic, advocates of Douhet. At the beginning of the Second World War, the British quickly learned by their experience with German high velocity anti-aircraft guns and improved interceptors the flaws in Douhet’s theory. Almost immediately, they abandoned daylight bombing raids in favor of marginally effective, but much safer, nighttime bombing. American bomber advocates ignored British experience, and in 1942, began a precision daylight bombing campaign.

Winston Churchill once said, “America will always do the right thing, once they try everything else.” And the bombing campaign over Europe was no exception. Armed with the B-17 Flying Fortress which was equipped with the Norden Bombsight, American bomber generals boasted that B-17s conducting precision daylight bombing could “put a bomb into a pickle barrel.” American accuracy would supposedly nullify the need to re-attack targets, and thus mitigate losses. In 1942, only six bomb groups were available and mostly attacked targets in France, well within fighter cover from England. With the liberation of North Africa and the invasion of Sicily complete by August 1943, more bomb groups were released to the Eighth Air Force in England for the bombing campaign over France and Germany. The American bomber generals then had enough bombers to attempt deep penetration raids into the German heartland.

In June 1943, the Allied Combined Chiefs of Staff issued the “Pointblank Directive” for the British Bomber Command and US Eighth Air Force to concentrate on the destruction of German fighter production. Moderate damage was achieved against the factories producing the new German Focker Wulf-190 fighter in July. But most German fighter squadrons were still equipped with the older Messerschmitt-109, and their production was concentrated in Regensburg. Moreover, American intelligence analysts concluded that the German aircraft industry’s critical vulnerability was the ball bearing, the entirety of whose production was located not far from Regensburg in Schweinfurt, Germany.

Allied planners conceived Operation Juggler to strike both Regensburg and Schweinfurt on the same day in sufficient force to cripple the German production of defensive fighters. Fighters could only escort the force as far as mid Belgium which meant that the bombers would fly unescorted to the targets for almost 2 ½ hours. Allied planners assumed that tight formations of numerous B-17s, each armed with ten .50 calibre defensive machine guns, would provide the overlapping fields of fire that would protect the bombers from the prowling German interceptors. Moreover, the first strike against Regensburg would then fly south over the Alps to airfields in North Africa to avoid fighters on the return leg. The second strike on Schweinfurt was supposed to arrive over target as the German fighters were refueling and rearming from the Regensburg raid, and would return to England while the return leg German interceptors were also refueling and rearming. If all went according to plan, only the Regensburg strike would have to fight to the target, while their return leg and both legs of the Schweinfurt raid were relatively fighter free.

All did not go according to plan.

Weather delays and fog over the English Midlands meant that the Regensburg raid, led by Colonel Curtis LeMay, departed well before the Schweinfurt raid which ensured that German fighters would have time to rearm and refuel to attack both raids as they crossed the Dutch coast. Also, the Regensburg bomber formation was so large that the escorting P-47s couldn’t cover all of the bombers. LeMay’s formation also had a weak spot in the rear where only two groups formed a defensive box, instead of the usual three. German tactics hitherto had been to take the formations head on to maximize time among the bombers, but the weak spot was too good to pass up, especially with the inadequate escort concentrated forward. By the time LeMay bombed Regensburg and turned south across the Alps (which worked perfectly: the Germans were completely surprised and few fighters bothered the Americans on the way to North Africa), the Regensburg Raid lost 24 bombers of the 146 that started out that morning.

The Schweinfurt Raid fared worse.

The German fighters were rearmed and refueled and prepared for the second strike. After the morning’s melee, additional RAF fighters were tasked to escort close to the coast, while the longer ranged P-47s would take over in Belgium. But again the formation was too large, and although the defensive boxes were solid (because of prior rehearsals of large formations with the veteran bomber crews of the groups that had been in England for ten months at that point), the Germans just took them head on, as usual. Even worse, the P-47s arrived late and barely had time to engage the marauding Germans before they had to break off and return home. By the time the Schweinfurt Raid reached its target 22 bombers were shot down, mostly from the lead wing. When the bombers did unload on the Schweinfurt factories, only the lead wings’ were accurate; the smoke from their explosions obscured the target factories. Even Norden bombsights couldn’t see through smoke. The return leg saw German fighters focusing on the damaged bombers, forcing them out of formation for an easy kill. By the end of the raid, 37 bombers of the original 230 “maximum effort” were shot down.

German armaments minister Albert Speer reported to Hitler that ball bearing production suffered an immediate 34% loss in production and Me-109 production slowed for several months. However, extensive stockpiles of both covered the gap, and because there was no immediate follow up production returned to normal within weeks. The Americans claimed over 300 German fighters shot down but German records show just 27. The Eighth Air Force lost 60 B-17 bombers and 5 escorting fighters, and more than 100 bombers damaged, 55 so bad that they would never fly again and were scrapped for spare parts. At that rate of loss, it was statistically impossible for bomber crews to survive 15 missions much less than the 25 they needed to rotate back to the United States.

Douhet’s, and his American acolytes’ vision of unescorted deep penetration raids by heavy bombers was shattered. But as Winston noted, the Americans had to try again, just to be sure. Eventually, they would do the right thing and wait for a long range fighter escort to make that vision a reality.

The Invasion of New Georgia

Guadalcanal was declared secured on 9 February 1943, but the Japanese continued air raids on the island for several months afterwards. The Japanese raids were staged out of their main air bases at Rabaul on New Britain, and used the smaller airfield at Munda Point on New Georgia further down the Solomon chain as a convenient refueling point to and from Guadalcanal. The airfield made New Georgia the painfully obvious next major target for Adm Halsey’s South Pacific command.

The Japanese pulled all of its remaining troops in the southern and central Solomons back to New Georgia, and the smaller nearby Rendova and Kolombangara islands, in anticipation of the American assault. The American invasions of the evacuated islands in the Central Solomons were unopposed, and in one case, was met by the local Australian coastwatcher with tea in celebration. Nevertheless, the Japanese troops were much more effective concentrated in the New Georgia archipelago. The defense of New Georgia was one of the few instances where the extreme rivalry between the Japanese Army and Navy did not affect combat operations. New Georgia was initially defended by Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces (marines) and reinforced significantly with Japanese troops of the 38th and 51st Divisions. Guadalcanal was the template, and the Tokyo Express began running supplies and troops to the island in anticipation of the American invasion.

Since the capture of Guadalcanal in February, the Munda airfield on New Georgia was subject to increased American air attack and naval bombardment in sort of a reverse to what the Japanese did to Guadalcanal. And with the same results: Munda Airfield wasn’t going to permanently cease operations because of bombardment any more than Henderson did ten months before. The invasion was so obvious the Japanese targeted the invasion fleet off Guadalcanal several times with air attack but took heavy losses in the process, with negligible effect on the fleet.

The initial landings in the New Georgia archipelago by US Marine Raiders occurred at the end of June 1943, and were tasked to capture an airfield at Segi, or survey a suitable location for one. The Raiders ended up coming to the assistance of a local coastwatcher, Donald Kennedy, whose exploits as an insurgent were legendary, if controversial, and it was his men who gave early warning of every Japanese air attack on Guadalcanal from Rabaul during the previous ten months. A Japanese battalion was ordered to shut him down once he was isolated on Segi Point.

The main landings for “Operation Toenails” occurred on 30 June. The invasion force was built around a composite force centered on the US Army 43rd Division and included US Marines, Marine Raiders, and the 1st Commando Fiji Guerrillas, an elite unit of volunteer Fijians under picked New Zealanders. The initial landings, on the island of Rendova, Wickham Anchorage, and Viru Harbor in preparation for the main landings on 3 July, were chaotic to say the least. The highly trained “Barracuda Scouts” of the US 172nd “Blackhawk” Infantry Regiment, the regiment tasked with seizing Rendova, landed on the wrong island. The main body landed in the correct spot and expected no resistance based on the information the scouts gave them the night before. Fortunately, there were only 250 Japanese defenders on the island and the 172nd overwhelmed them. It set a costly precedent for the 43rd that led them to underestimate the Japanese to their front, at great cost, for the rest of the battle. At Viru, the landing depended on a column of Marine Raiders from Segi to march overland and attack the Japanese from behind during the landings. However, the Marines grossly underestimated the amount of time they’d need to make the march through the thick broken jungle and didn’t arrive until the 2nd. All three of the initial objectives were eventually secured, but the terrain rendered them ineffective for their proposed roles in future operations. They were simply too far away, not in distance, but in time necessary to traverse the unforgiving jungle to the main objective of Munda Point. Miscalculating the effects of the terrain would prove to be the defining feature of the Battle for New Georgia.

The two other regiments landed in the south coast of New Georgia Island on 3 July and in the north on 5 July. The two landings were not mutually supporting and were intended to surprise and overwhelm the Japanese. Moreover, the southern landing didn’t land at the beach closest to Munda, Lainana beach, again in an attempt to surprise the Japanese, but at Zanana beach three miles further away from Munda. The two beachheads were expected to link up on 7 July for an assault on Munda airfield on the 8th, but the Japanese isolated both beachheads. Furthermore, the farther the Americans got from the invasion beaches, the more difficult the logistics situation became due to the near impossibility of hauling the supplies over the rough and narrow jungle track. The three miles to Lainana beach took almost ten days and nearly depleted the division.

On the night of 6 July, the northern invasion force bumbled into the Tokyo Express bringing Japanese reinforcements to New Georgia in the Kula Gulf. Both sides managed to land their troops, the Americans just before the contact and the Japanese just after. However, the American task force was savaged by a spread of Japanese “Long Lance” torpedoes, about the only remaining asymmetric advantage that the Japanese retained after the crucible that were the surface actions off Guadalcanal the autumn before. For the next two weeks, both invasion forces were isolated and attritted through a skillful Japanese defense. On 13 July the southern force captured Lainana beach which considerably shortened their supply line, but by then the damage was done.

The Tokyo Express continued to pour troops on to Kolombangara and New Georgia nightly and there was a very real threat that the American would be defeated in detail and thrown back into the sea. The Americans dug in but the Japanese seemed to be everywhere, with Japanese patrols attacking the lines and trail at will. The fresh Japanese troops would silently sneak into the exhausted American foxholes at night and slit the occupants’ throats. They called out individual commanders and reminded them they “weren’t in Louisiana anymore”, a reference to the training validation exercise the year before. The Japanese even managed to overrun the 43rd’s headquarters at Zanana beach.
The 43rd’s reports were bad but did not indicate disaster. They were reinforced by the 37th Infantry Division and only on a visit by the XIV Corps commander did the true situation emerge. Halsey’s Army Air Force commander happened to visit the island also, and being the ranking three star on the island immediately ordered the corps commander to stay and take charge. The he told Halsey that they’d need “at least another division”. Halsey sent three.

It wouldn’t have mattered had the Allied navies not secured the narrow waters and isolated New Georgia and Kolombangara. The US Navy again came off worse at the Battle off Kolombangara on 12 July, and it was up to air power and PT boats to stop the Tokyo Express for the next several weeks. The PT boats especially took serious casualties, including one boat cut in half by a Japanese destroyer – Its skipper was Lieutenant (junior grade) John F. Kennedy.

By early August, the tables were turned on the Japanese, and they were exhausted and weren’t getting the support they needed to continue. The US Navy finally caught the Tokyo Express by surprise in Vella Gulf on the night of 6-7 August which ended any hope of the Japanese continuing the fight for much longer. About the same time, the overwhelming number of Army and Marines on the island had slowly and painfully squeezed the Japanese Munda pocket. Sensing the inevitable, the Japanese evacuated New Georgia for Kolombangara on 20 August. The Americans would let them rot, and bypassed the island in September with the invasion of Vella LaVella. The Japanese stealthily evacuated Kolombangara in October.

Historian Samuel Elliot Morrison called the operations on New Georgia “the most unintelligently waged land campaign of the Pacific war”.

The American Declaration of Independence

On 4 July 1776, the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence. The vote to break with the Kingdom of Great Britain and its Empire actually occurred two days before on 2 July 1776 when the Second Continental Congress unanimously approved the independence clauses of the Lee Resolution. That day, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America”.

The vote on the Lee Resolution had been postponed for nearly a month since it was submitted on 13 June. The decision for independence needed to be unanimous and that wasn’t going to happen until the colonies formally approved. Most colonial legislatures had already approved of independence (North Carolina was first on 12 April 1776) and had directed their delegates in the Continental Congress to do the same. The only holdouts were New York, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. New York and Rhode Island were the most loyal of the North American colonies contemplating Independence, and Pennsylvania’s Quakers didn’t want to make a complete break with Britain. However, as the “keystone” of the twelve colonies (Delaware was still technically part of Pennsylvania), Pennsylvania had the most to lose from independence but also the most to gain. If Pennsylvania could be convinced then the other two would follow its lead. The Double Benjamins of Colonial America, Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush, dedicated their very considerable talents of diplomacy to bringing around the pro rebellion, but anti independence Quaker delegates in the Pennsylvania Upper House.

Franklin and Rush had a cunning plan to sway their fellow Pennsylvania delegates. First Franklin convinced Delaware to formally secede from Pennsylvania. It didn’t take much because the Delawarians (?) were tired of waiting for the delegates from Pennsylvania’s upper counties to make a decision and were unwilling to wait on Franklin and Rush to persuade the anti independence Penn family Old Guard. So on 15 June 1776, the Assembly of the Lower Counties of Pennsylvania declared itself independent of Great Britain AND Pennsylvania, and became the Thirteenth Colony: Delaware.

Then Rush seized the moment and implemented Phase Two: He formed the Pennsylvania Provincial Conference consisting of the more pro independence elements of the Assembly of Upper Counties of Pennsylvania. They were almost exclusively from Philadelphia, the largest and most prosperous city in the now Thirteen Colonies. Rush floated the idea of a Fourteenth colony, Philadelphia. After letting the idea marinate for a few days, Franklin landed the coup de grâce: He addressed the staunchly Quaker and anti violence Penn family delegates to the effect of: nice province we have here, it would be a shame if we lost any more of it…

The Assembly for the Upper Counties of Pennsylvania voted for independence from Great Britain on 23 June 1776.

While Benjamins’ worked over the Quakers, the Second Continental Congress appointed a five person committee to draft a declaration to publicly release once the independence clauses in the Lee Resolution passed. “The Committee of Five” consisted of John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut.

For the next several weeks, the Committee of Five debated the exact wording of the declaration. However, the tedious job of physically writing it out went to the youngest member of the committee, 33 year old Thomas Jefferson, after the rest of the committee refused. The declaration went through several revisions and the last edits were completed on the morning of 2 July, 1776, just before the vote on the Lee Resolution. When the independence clauses of the Lee Resolution were approved by a unanimous vote (though New York abstained), the actual Declaration of Independence document that was releasable to the public still had notes in the margins.

The next day, Jefferson rewrote the entire document. This final draft was then circulated among the committee and members of Congress for approval on the evening of the 3rd and all morning on the 4th of July. That afternoon the Second Continental Congress approved the wording of the Declaration of Independence. But it wasn’t announced yet, as Congress wanted the Declaration of Independence read simultaneously across the Thirteen Colonies. Copies were made of the written, but unsigned, Declaration and sent by fast dispatch rider to each of the Thirteen Colonies.

But the word was out and that wasn’t going to happen. On 8 July 1776, COL John Dixon, commander of the Philadelphia militia regiment, “The Associators”, publicly read the Declaration of Independence for the first time from the steps of the Pennsylvania State House. The next day, Washington had the Declaration read to the Continental Army and citizens of New York, while British troops and Hessian mercenaries were landing on Staten Island in full view of the audience. When the Declaration was read to the local 4th New York Regiment, the inspired residents of the city marched over to Bowling Green Park, and pulled down the statue of King George III at its center. The statue ended up at the house of General Oliver Wolcott, where it was broken up (Loyalists stole more than a few pieces, including the head). As a local blacksmith had the king melted down for musket balls, the delegates from New York formally approved the Declaration of Independence, even though they never actually approved the independence clauses of the Lee Resolution. Nonetheless, from that point on all Thirteen Colonies were united in their war for independence from Great Britain.

It would take seven more years of war to make American Independence a reality.

The Raid on Lindisfarne

Roman settlements in Britain were sparse near Hadrian’s Wall as the area was subject to continuous raids from Scots and Picts. When the Romans departed, the invading Germanic Angles and Saxons conquered the Celtic kingdoms of Deira and Bernicia, and established the Kingdom of Northumbria. In the early 7th century CE, King Oswald of Northumbria invited Irish monks from Iona to Christianize his people and the troublesome Scots and Picts. Saint Aiden established a priory off the coast on a small windswept tidal island in the North Sea named Lindisfarne.

The Priory of Lindisfarne quickly became the center of Christian evangelism in the north of England and present day Scotland. After a long and fulfilling life spreading Chrisianity, Lindisfarne’s greatest bishop, Saint Cuthbert, became the patron saint of Northumbria. Linidisfarne soon was known as the “Holy Island of Lindisfarne” and its greatest treasure was the “Gospels of Linidisfarne”, an immaculate illuminated manuscript of the four canonical gospels of the Christian New Testament. The Christian settlements of the north of England lived in peace and prosperity for decades. The isolated farmsteads and river communities lived far from the cutthroat politics of the Anglo, Saxon, and Jute rulers further south in the much more populated southern portion of Northumbria, Mercia, and Wessex. That all changed at the end of the 8th century, when the first invaders from Scandinavia appeared on English soil: the Norse.

The Norse, known colloquially as Northmen or “Vikings” (from the Old English word “wicing” or “pirate”) had first appeared on English shores in 789 CE in Wessex where they killed a sheriff who was sent to bring the newcomers to the local magistrate. The Wessex killing wasn’t officially a raid, as the Norse ships from Norway were a trade expedition blown off course. The first raid occurred four years later in Northumbria.

Three Viking longboats appeared in the spring of 793 in the river valleys of the northern Northumbria where they found wealthy, prosperous, and most importantly, unarmed inhabitants. The surprised Angle farmers and townsmen quickly informed the equally surprised raiders that the most lucrative and undefended settlement was an island inhabited mostly by peaceful monks, Lindisfarne.

On 8 June 793 CE, the three Viking longships descended upon the island. The “ravaging of wretched heathen men destroyed God’s church at Lindisfarne”. They “came to the church at Lindisfarne, laid everything to waste with grievous plundering, trampled the holy places with polluted steps, dug up the altars and seized all the treasure of the holy church. They killed some of the brothers, took some away with them in fetters, many they drove out, naked and loaded with insults, some they drowned in the sea…” A contemporary Northumbrian scholar wrote, “Never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race … The heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the streets.” The Viking raiders had destroyed “a place more sacred than any in Britain”.

The Christian world was shocked; the Viking Age had begun.