The First Battle of Arakan

More than anything the British did, the monsoon season of 1942 prevented the victorious Japanese from continuing their drive from Burma into Eastern India (today’s Bangladesh). The victories in Ethiopia and the Western Desert, and the stalled German advance at Stalingrad which precluded any German attack across the Caucuses Mountains, allowed formations to be transferred to India to fight the Japanese. The British and Indian Army in Bengal began to rebuild, and Field Marshal Wavell, the new Commander in Chief – India (He didn’t get along with Churchill and was fired from CinC – Middle East) knew the reorganized, but demoralized and unexperienced troops, needed a victory if they were expected to stop a renewed Japanese offensive into India, or advance into Central Burma. The capture of the Arakan Peninsula in Western Burma fit the bill: it was lightly defended, geographically isolated, and Akyab Island at its southernmost tip was perfect for extending air power over the Bay of Bengal and south central Burma. The task fell to Lt-Gen William Slim’s VVV Corps in southern Bengal. The attack would commence as soon as the monsoon ended.

The Indians struck first. In 1942, the Indian National Congress (INC), who wanted to cut all ties with Britain, was decidedly pro-Japanese (The decision was just pragmatic politics: For the first eight months of 1942, the Japanese were victorious everywhere, the British nowhere). The INC assumed that India was too large and too populated to be fully conquered by Japan and the Japanese would just oust the British, and put the INC in charge, leaving them be. (The Japanese trend of not doing so in Taiwan, the Philippines, Manchuria, China, Malaya, Indochina, Korea, and the Dutch East Indies notwithstanding.) In August, Mahatma Gandhi called for mass peaceful civil disobedience to disrupt the British in preparation for the expected Japanese advance into India after the monsoon. Gandhi might have called for peaceful disobedience, but INC did not respond peacefully. Gandhi’s message of “Do or Die” was taken in its most aggressive interpretation. Massive protests occurred across India but those in Eastern Bengal were decidedly violent and specific in their choice of targets. (Today, the “Quit India Movement” is considered “mostly peaceful”…) Indians attacked British and Indian Army and government facilities, including factories, roadways, and railways that supported the war effort. For the months of August and September, the mostly untried troops of Wavell’s India Command did battle with INC formations, guerillas, and their supporters, mostly in Eastern Bengal. The British and Indian troops slowly gained control and when the Japanese didn’t attack, the uprising lost steam. (The Japanese pulled troops from Burma to reinforce New Guinea and Guadalcanal.) The Quit India Movement delayed preparations for the Arakan Offensive by several months.

But training troops, defending coastlines, and fighting guerillas was tedious stuff, and the Arakan Offensive looked to be a sure victory. The peninsula was defended by only a single Japanese regiment, and Slim’s VVV Corps could put the entire 14th Indian Division plus supporting troops into the attack. Slim was an excellent trainer of troops, had literally created his own hundred ship “navy” to patrol the long coastline in case of Japanese amphibious attack, and did exceedingly well in the chaos of the uprising. So the commander of the British Eastern Army, Lt-Gen Noel Irwin, a toxic martinet who hated anyone more competent than he, decided to “let” Slim continue with the static duties and train new formations in Bengal. Irwin took command of the Arakan Offensive directly.

On 17 December 1942, the 14th Indian Division launched its attack. The Arakan Peninsula is actually two peninsulas: the Arakan in the east and the separate Mayu peninsula in the west. The Mayu peninsula is separated from the coast of western Arakan by the wide Mayu River and is itself split in two by the Mayu Range which runs along its length. The 14th’s plan was to conduct a frontal assault in two prongs: one down the Arakan Peninsula proper, and the other down the Mayu Peninsula to the west of the Mayu Range. A separate supporting advance well inland to the east by a long range penetration group, Orde Wingate’s Chindits, and another separate amphibious assault at the tip of the peninsula, were cancelled. The attack was initially very successful and the surprised Japanese fell back. Japanese intelligence in Burma was so bad that they didn’t know about the Quit India uprising, much less the preparations for the Arakan offensive.

Nevertheless the Japanese stopped the 14th’s advance just before the New Year. The 14th Indian Division was a new formation that was raised and trained in the flat deserts of Baluchistan. They were sent east when the Russian counterattack at Stalingrad made their presence in the Middle East superfluous. The steep and jungle covered spurs and draws of the Mayu Range took its toll on the troops that had never completed, or in some cases, started their jungle training. The delay gave the Japanese a chance to dig in.

By December 1942, Japanese advocates of the banzai charge-at-all-costs were mostly dead for obvious reasons. On Guadalcanal and New Guinea, they figured out that although banzai charges were glorious, they were also wasteful, especially on the defensive. The Allies on the Arakan Peninsula had an overwhelming numerical superiority. To stop Irwin’s four brigades, Col Kosuke Miyawaki had just a reinforced battalion on the peninsula, the rest were defending Akyab Island. The 14th’s pause allowed them to dig in.

When Irwin resumed the advance, his men ran straight into one of the soon-to-be iconic features of the Second World War: the Japanese log and earth bunker. Each bunker was dug deep, had a four or five foot thick roof, and was manned by 5 to 20 men with 3-4 machineguns and anti-tank guns. Each was impervious to artillery fire and mutually supported by two or three other bunkers. Between 7 and 13 January 1943, a single Japanese battalion stopped a two brigade attack east of the range and river at Rathedaung. West of the range, a lone company at Donbaik, defending a tidal stream between the mountains and the beach, massacred a two brigade assault. At high tide, the stream was impassable, at low tide, its banks rose seven feet. Moreover, whenever the Indians and British managed to penetrate the stream-line, the Japanese company commander just called artillery on his own position, which murdered the attackers in the open, while the defenders sat impervious in their bunkers. The offensive stalled with heavy casualties.

Far to the north in what might as well have been his chateau, Irwin threw thousands of barely trained reinforcements into the battle, with the same result. By March, the Japanese themselves were reinforced. Despite growing evidence of Japanese buildup on the west coast of Burma given by Slim’s homegrown Burmese intelligence network, Irwin demanded another assault. Irwin sent Slim down to the 14th Indian Division, not to take command, but just to make sure the division commander was doing as he was told. He returned with bad news.

Slim reported the division commander was overwhelmed. The 14th’s commander had to control nine disparate and geographically separate brigades instead of the usual three. Slim offered to take his HQs down to help but was refused. Even worse, the Japanese were ready to attack. Slim had learned the hard way in Central Burma that mountainous jungle is not impassable by properly trained troops. The Japanese could isolate the eastern prong whenever they were ready. Then they could easily cross the mountains and smash the flank of the western prong. Irwin disagreed and fired the division commander. Then on 29 March, he headed south and Inwin, the Eastern Army commander, took command of the division.

The Japanese struck less than a week later, and in just the manner Slim predicted. A British brigade was overrun and destroyed, three were cut off, and the front collapsed. Irwin summoned Slim and his other division headquarters, the 26th Indian, to take control of the battle, but by then the situation was unsalvageable. The 14th Indian Division was subsumed under the 26th’s headquarters, and everybody fell back to India with the cut off brigades abandoning their equipment. And again, the monsoon saved India from Japanese invasion, just as it had the year before.

Irwin blamed Slim and attempted to relieve him and the 26th’s Division commander for the lost battle. However, Wavell could see through his bullshit and relieved him instead. The failure to properly train killed many good British and Indian soldiers on the Arakan Peninsula, the Allied troops in Burma and India wouldn’t make the same mistake again.

Valley Forge

On 19 December 1777, the 12,000 men and 3,000 camp followers of Lt. Gen. George Washington’s weary, exhausted, and demoralized Continental Army trudged into their winter encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Valley Forge was to be the Continental Army’s crucible.

Nearly one third of the army lacked shoes after the shoes disintegrated in the unseasonably wet autumn. Their lack made the twenty mile march unbearable. But Washington’s first problem at Valley Forge wasn’t shoes, it was water. There was just enough snow on the ground for the men to leave a visible bloody trail with their bare feet, but not enough to melt and drink. With a population of 15,000, Valley Forge became the 5th largest city in North America, and they quickly drank nearby Valley Creek dry or foul. Furthermore, they had few buckets, so the Schuylkill River a mile away might as well have been a hundred. Some men had to wait over two days to get a drink of water.

The water situation was typical of Washington’s logistics, or lack thereof. The Continental Army was short of everything – winter clothing, blankets, food, water, gunpowder, and especially tents. But they weren’t short of wood, and Washington put the men to building 12” by 14” log huts of his own design that could house 12 men a piece. Grouped by regiment, brigade, and division, Washington dipped into his own money and offered 12 dollars for the first completed hut in each brigade. Other officers offered similar incentives, which greatly hurried construction. The first hut was completed just two days later, but most troops took until after the New Year to complete theirs.

The winter of 1777-78 wasn’t particularly cold, but it was wet. There was snow, but the weather was freezing rain more often than not. Everything was soaked and had to be dried by the small fireplace in each hut. Those soldiers on sentry duty, particularly at night, were given all of the warm and dry clothing in the hut, and when they returned cold and soaked after being replaced, they stripped down to place everything near the fire. Then the next sentry would begin collecting dry clothes for his shift.

The constant wet, standing water and mud, close quarters, and the squalor inevitable of untrained troops caused a breeding ground for disease. Valley Forge killed more men than any battle with the British. Typhus, typhoid, and dysentery ravaged the camp, although small pox did not but only because Washington forced the entire camp to get inoculated. By January most men in the army were not fit for duty. However, Washington deliberately placed the hospital huts five hundred yards away from the barracks huts to segregate the sick. Only if a man was sick enough to be carried by his mates would they venture the trip in the cold. Still, more than 3000 Continental soldiers died at Valley Forge. The conditions were abysmal.

Valley Forge was so bad that desertion was a serious problem. By mid-February some brigades had dropped to less than a thousand men. In January 1778, Washington resorted to hanging deserters, but only after multiple desertion attempts. The problem became so bad that several of his officers politicked with the Continental Congress to get Washington replaced by Horatio Gates, the victor at Saratoga. At Valley Forge, two out of every ten Continental soldiers died from disease, and one in ten deserted. What kept the other seven around?

Food for one thing. After the initial chaos of the first month, food never became a huge issue. There was never enough of it and the Continental soldiers didn’t have a feast every night, but what they had was adequate, and more importantly, not transportable. They lived on “firecakes”, a mixture of four and water roasted over a fire, that had to be consumed immediately or it turned into a rock. They also had a steady diet of meat from the rich countryside. Pvt Jospeh Plum Martin was on duty in January when “the women of Philadelphia” drove “80 yoke of oxen” into Valley Forge from the British occupied city. Local farmers and townspeople set up small markets in camp to supplement the soldiers’ diet of firecake and boiled beef or pork. The markets were the idea of Jeremiah Wadsworth, who reorganized the army’s commissariat. He took the bold step of allocating part of his budget to commissions for his deputies and agents based not on what was purchased, but what actually arrived in camp. The deputies and agents therefore had a financial incentive to actually deliver food, and the end chain disbursements cut down on graft.

However, Washington’s supply situation was still chaos in the early days of Valley Forge. Just about everything was managed by the regiments with supplies coming directly from their respective states. The troops from the nearby Middle States and New England were well kitted and taken care of, but troops from New Jersey, Maryland, and the Southern states were not, because they were effectively cut off from their sources of supply by the British. Washington needed it organized and placed his chosen successor and most competent general in charge, Nathaniel Greene. Like any good maneuver officer, Greene didn’t want the job of Quartermaster General, but there wouldn’t be a Continental Army if he didn’t take it. He energetically reorganized its logistics’ systems, and got the critical supplies more evenly distributed. Moreover, Greene organized a series of foraging expeditions to gather supplies from the countrysides of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. Washington imposed limits on the foraging, such as receipts, payment, and leaving enough for the farmers to survive the winter. But if you were a suspected loyalist, the gloves were off. Like Sherman four score and seven years in the future, “Mad” Anthony Wayne cut a swath through Southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, whom he thought were infested with loyalists while denying the forage to the British.

Howe knew of the expeditions and Washington’s army at Valley Forge, but never attacked. Valley Forge was a strong position and the British were misled on the number of troops in the Continental Army, mostly by George Washington himself. When Washington wasn’t writing letters to Congress, or anyone else who would listen about his supply situation, he was forging fake reports to Congress that he had delivered to the British by double agents. When Howe recognized a report in Washington’s own hand, he believed every word of it. At one point in February, the Continental Army was down to just 5000 men at Valley Forge, but Howe, citing Washington’s captured “reports” assumed he had 40,000.

But the biggest problem for Washington wasn’t the cold, or the food, or the British, it was morale. The soldiers of the Continental Army were mostly barely trained militia, and their officers elected or based on their civilian influence. The professionals of the Continental Line knew how to fight but not train. Even if they wanted to train and drill, they didn’t know how. Baron De Kalb was capable of training the army but he wasn’t in command of anyone so he spent most of his time drinking with his fellow officers. The men simply didn’t have enough to do outside of foraging, work parties for wood and water, and standing guard. As anyone who spent more than ten minutes with Joe knows, idle hands are the Devil’s plaything. By the beginning of February, morale couldn’t have been lower without a mutiny.

However, the Continental Army survived its darkest period at Valley Forge. February 1778 proved pivotal and three critical events raised the morale of the army. The first occurred on 6 February when France recognized the United States of America. There was now a very good chance that America wasn’t going to fight the most powerful country on the planet alone anymore.

The second occurred on the 11th of February when Martha Washington arrived in camp to spend the rest of the winter with her husband. Mrs. Washington provided a much needed new dimension to the Army’s commander, and seemed to raise the hopes, and discipline, of everyone around her. Martha Washington had run Mt. Vernon by herself for many years, and a mere glance by her had soldiers standing straighter, if they weren’t scrambling to organize and clean whatever she walked past, with the hospital huts receiving most of her attention.

Though the soldiers and officers wouldn’t initially enjoy it, the third morale boost came by direct recommendation from Benjamin Franklin. Franklin wrote Washington that he had found a Prussian who was a former lieutenant general and a veteran of Frederick the Great’s victories in the Seven Year’s War. On 23 February 1778, Washington, his wife, and his staff road out to meet the famed Prussian soldier, and newest major general in the Continental Army,

Maj. Gen. Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben.

Operation Linebacker II

The Tet Offensives of 1968 and 1969 destroyed the Viet Cong as a viable military entity, and forced Gen. Vo Nguyan Giap to move PAVN regular units into South Vietnam to take their place. 1969 was an unsuccessful rebuilding year for the Communists in South Vietnam, and they couldn’t prevent the US and South Vietnamese invasions of Laos and Cambodia in 1970 which caused serious damage to hitherto untouchable PAVN base camps in those countries. PAVN’s weakness and the disruption of the Ho Chi Minh Trail gave Gen Creighton Abrams, the new commander of the Military Assistance Command – Vietnam, the opportunity to implement new tactics in Vietnam dubbed the “Inkblot Strategy”. American and ARVN troops secured the cities, town, hamlets, and then the countryside of S. Vietnam through counterinsurgency tactics the way ink blots spread on a piece of paper. (Combined with targeted strikes on high value targets and training of South Vietnamese troops and militias). From 1969 through 1972, the strategy was successful, and with President Richard Nixon’s policy of Vietnamization, the ARVN took over security of the country. Almost all American combat troops left Vietnam by the autumn of 1972.

Though Abrams’ strategy was successful, the South Vietnamese still needed American advisers, air support, supplies, and financial assistance to deal with the conventional PAVN attacks. The war in the south was being waged almost exclusively by North Vietnamese regular troops, not the indigenous Viet Cong. Contrary to what you learned in university, the PAVN were almost as alien to the South Vietnamese as the Americans. Giap decided to gamble on a conventional assault similar to the one that almost overran the south in 1964. However, Giap underestimated the destructiveness of the remaining American firepower, and the professionalism of ARVN, which by 1972 was relatively well trained and equipped. With American assistance, South Vietnam repelled North Vietnam’s spring offensive in 1972, the Easter Offensive, and inflicted debilitating casualties on forces that Giap had painstakingly concentrated throughout 1971.

With the North Vietnamese defeat during the Easter Offensive, the Paris Peace Talks took on a new fervor. By October, the US and North Vietnam had reached an agreement, but South Vietnam’s President Theiu would not sign, because he felt the US would abandon South Vietnam after the cease fire so he wanted better terms in case South Vietnam had to fight on itself. Theiu proposed many changes to the cease fire document, which convinced the North to renegotiate all the points in full to get their own better terms. Both sides infuriated Nixon. On 14 December 1972, the talks ceased completely when the North Vietnamese walked out and would not commit to a resumption of negotiations. Nixon sent North Vietnam an ultimatum to resume talks within 72 hours. Nixon needed a cease fire because the newly elected Democratic majority in the 93rd Congress would begin sessions just after New Year’s. They threatened to end all support to South Vietnam if there was no cease fire.

After the ultimatum deadline passed on 17 December, Nixon ordered Operation Linebacker II to bring the North back to the bargaining table and more importantly convince Theiu that America wouldn’t abandon his country after the cease fire. Unlike previous bombing campaigns, Linebacker II was a “maximum effort” and no targets not covered in Law of Land Warfare were off limits. Linebacker II would not consist of strictly tactical air support, but would unleash B-52’s over Hanoi and Haiphong. Furthermore, Nixon authorized the mining of Haiphong harbor which was the primary entrance point for support by North Vietnam’s primary sponsor, the Soviet Union. By 1972, the “Chinese” faction inside the North Vietnamese Communist Party had been thoroughly discredited by the defeats in 1968 and 1969. And the Sino-Soviet Split was permanent after Nixon’s policy of rapprochement culminating with his visit to China in February 1972. (China and Vietnam would eventually go to war in 1979.)

Starting the morning of 18 December, Operation Linebacker II pounded targets in North Vietnam. North Vietnamese infrastructure was smashed. But the repetitive and unimaginative nature of the strikes allowed the North Vietnamese to anticipate the third day’s strike and its Soviet-manned air defenses shot down several B-52s and other aircraft. Even worse a poorly placed B-52 strike destroyed a hospital outside Hanoi which galvanized the peace movement in America. Nevertheless, Nixon wasn’t backing down and ordered the US Air Force and Navy to continue strikes across North Vietnam. A-7 Corsair IIs from carriers in Gulf of Tonkin, F-4’s from bases in Thailand, and B-52s from Guam and the Philippines struck airfields, bridges, power plants, air defenses, storage areas, and military bases across the country. The operation was only supposed to last three days, but continued until 30 December. On 29 December, Hanoi asked to resume talks on the 2nd of January. That evening, Nixon ordered air operations against North Vietnam to cease the next day.

The next day, on New Year’s Eve 1972, Gen Giap wrote in his diary, “We have lost the war”.

On 27 January 1973, both North and South Vietnam accepted the original October 1972 draft of the Paris Peace Accords cease fire documents.

It didn’t matter. Though US ground troops were effectively out of the war, both Vietnam governments broke the accords almost immediately and both the US and the Soviet Union continue to supply their respective partners. Despite South Vietnam defeating Communist offensives in 1973 and 1974, the US Congress ceased all aid in 1975, and the well supplied PAVN forces overran the country that spring. Saigon fell on 29 April 1975.

The Last Jedi

*SPOILERS* Don’t read any further if you haven’t seen the movie. I mean it – Go see the movie first.

If you are reading this sentence then I am assuming that you know that Luke died, Leia sort of died, Snoke died, Phasma died (WTF!), Ackbar died (Seriously WTF!) the galaxy is ruled by a whiny, petulant, and incompetent child (actually, that *is* pretty scary), The Finn is now a character straight out of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the fate of the Rebelistance is on the shoulders of a Mary Sue who was sand-sledding a few weeks before (and she probably needs to wash), and in that time the Jedi have developed unbelievably new force powers that even the Jedi at the height of their training and scholarship didn’t have.

But at least we still have Poe, Rose, DJ, BB-8, and hopefully a few more from the Rebelistance survivors to carry the series forward (I kinda liked that A-Wing pilot too. I can’t remember her name though). But no decent Imperial characters are left alive except Ren, and he’s problematic.

But for some reason, the movie worked for me, even the second time when I knew what was going to happen. It was a fun movie even if it had issues. Like I said before, it’s no Rogue One. Rogue One with a John Williams score would be in my top five favorite movies of all time. But alas, we got John Williams-lite. There are three types of Star Wars Fans: Lightsaber fans, Blaster fans, and Turbo Laser fans. I am the latter. I love Star Wars’ space battles, and it’s going to take a long time for me to forgive Disney for what they did to Ackbar. And I love a good blaster fight as long as they get in their ships at the end. The Force is just a Deus Ex Machina for lazy writers and ruined The Extended Universe for me in the mid-2000s. And well, that’s what’s looking to happen with Star Wars after seeing The Last Jedi.

So let’s get what I didn’t like out of the way. The biggest problem with the The Last Jedi is the Force. I don’t care what the Force can do, but it has to be consistent. Consistency is key. Consistency leads directly to integrity, and without integrity there might as well be nothing. The Force has to follow the in-universe rules of its existence, and anything new has to retroactively fit. If it doesn’t the franchise dies. The Terminator franchise died because the time travel didn’t follow the in-universe rules established in the first and second films. If a plot device has no integrity, then there is no tension, because the audience will subconsciously say, “The writers will just add a new Force power. They’ve done it before”. The Last Jedi made this mistake twice. Once with Dead Yoda affecting the real world (which has never happened before even in the wildest fever dreams of the EU writers). And the next was with the Jedi telepathic/telekinesis/Force holes (which has also never happened before).

First, Dead Yoda lit the tree on fire. No Dead Jedi has ever affected the “real world” with anything except words before. We know the Dead Jedi are always watching. So if they can affect the real world (“world” as in universe created by George Lucas), why didn’t Dead Obi lightning the Death Star’s exhaust port in the original Star Wars? Or Dead Qui Gon come back and lightning Jar Jar before he fucked the galaxy? There’s a thousand examples over the previous seven movies when the Dead Jedi could have affected the world as Yoda did with that tree. Why didn’t they? At least it can possibly be explained away by saying Yoda forced (Ha!) Luke to channel the lightning without his consent. But again, no dead Jedi, or even a live one, has ever forced another Jedi to use the Force against his or her will before. That’d be “Force Rape”, wouldn’t it?

The bigger Force inconsistency in The Last Jedi were the telepathic/telekinesis/force induced worm holes. That’s never happened before. It was hinted at between Leia and Luke, and Luke and Vader in Empire, but until the big reveal that Leia was force sensitive, it was a liability and required proximity. In TLJ it’s plot centric and they have entire conversations. So why didn’t the Jedi use it before this? Was the power only learned from the ancient texts in the tree, that Rey never read? Surely Yoda and Sam Jackson knew about it when the Jedi for all intents and purposes ruled the galaxy? So why wasn’t it used when Order 66 was executed, when a simple “Beware” to the Jedi would have saved them? Or during the Clone War? The communication aspects alone would have made it a game changer: A person to person instantaneous communication system that doesn’t rely on connecting infrastructure or line of sight? And we know from the water on Ren’s hand that physical objects can be transported. That’s a whole other dimension to warfare. The Jedi could have formed an agile command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, information, surveillance, reconnaissance, targeting, and force (C4I2SRTF…) architecture and infrastructure that would be exponentially more powerful than a bunch of warriors wielding laser swords. The Separatists could never have competed. That’s the very definition of a Revolution in Military Affairs. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time did it with Tel’aran’rhiod but it had to at least follow its own logic. If Fake Luke could touch Real Leia, and Real Rey could touch Real Ren, why can’t Real Ren touch Fake Luke or Real Luke? The best Fantasy and Science Fiction follow their own internal logic, as whacked as it may be. The Last Jedi did not.

OK, enough about Hokey Religions, let’s talk about what Star Wars was always about, characters and relationships. As I alluded to in the beginning, most of the main characters at worst suck, or are irritating at best.

Rey is the very definition of a “Mary Sue”. If you don’t know, a “Mary Sue” is an annoying literary trope where a lead female character is perfect in every way, surpasses the other main characters in every way, is beloved by all who see her, and has no flaws that are not endearing. Rey is a better pilot than Poe, a better Jedi than Luke, a better shot than Han, a better gunner than Finn, a better swordsman than Vader, etc etc. And she learned this all in a week or so. She hasn’t even had time to change from what she was wearing as a slave, scavenging wrecked star destroyers on Jakku. Luke might have been a whiny bitch that almost put a lightsaber blade through his eye the first time he was given one, but he was just a moisture farmer and bush pilot. He was relatable. How could Rey learn to fly when she scavenged all day for a cinnabun? Take a shower, Wish Fulfillment.

The rest of the characters aren’t nearly as bad, though some were wasted. Phasma most of all. She could have been The New Boba Fett. But she’s like the last remaining stormtrooper from the original trilogy who were always getting knocked out, beaten up by teddy bears, or not hitting anything. I’d be pissed if I was Brienne. She was to the First Order what Finn was to the Rebelistance. I do not like the direction Finn is headed. He fucks up everything he touches. He’s like a TV dad with few redeeming characteristics. In Force Awakens, he was a great gunner, had intimate knowledge of the First Order, and tried to take care of Rey, even if she didn’t need it (I still consider that a positive, it’s the Romantic in me). In The Last Jedi he was a bumbling fool just along for the ride, literally. He contributed nothing after the first few minutes after waking up. He has been demoted to sidekick.

At least he was a sidekick to Rose, one of the better newly introduced main characters. Like I said before, I have a soft spot for supporters rising to the occasion. Too bad the occasion she rose to (Ha!) meant absolutely nothing. I mean, the trip to Monaco allowed Hollywood to get some preaching in. It’s 2017, I get it. When Hollywood isn’t raping itself, it’s virtue signaling, and you aren’t going to get a good rating on entertainment’s worst monopoly, the Tomato Meter, without some virtue signaling. But Finn and Rose’s mission was absolutely meaningless. Unless of course, it was meant to introduce some new tension in the form of a Twilight-Style love triangle. If it did then consider me on TeamRose (You heard it here first). TeamMarySue can suck it.

But again, their mission, though exciting, was a waste. In fact if it wasn’t for BB-8, who did all the actual work, and DJ’s magically convenient appearance, they’d still be rotting in jail waiting to be rescued, or frozen in carbonite hung up as a decoration to cover a hole in a casino wall. Actually, that would be awesome and make a great transition to the next movie, just like Empire and Jedi. And they would have accomplished more in the plot.

So I might be on TeamRose, but I also have a soft spot for magenta based short haired women, especially when they know how to handle a squadron of star cruisers. I was furious when my main Mon Calamari, Admiral Ackbar, died in the same explosion that caused Leia to go Michaelangelo. (Seriously, Disney, you did Ackbar wrong) But he was quickly replaced with Amiliyn Haldo. For a fleeting moment Vice Admiral Amilyn Haldo replaced Princess Leia as my favorite female character in the Star Wars franchise. I’ll be in ma bunk. Then she immediately went toxic and incompetent, even if she did have the baddest-ass scene in the movie (I wonder why no one thought of that for the Death Stars?). What a waste.

Poe said, “So what’s the plan”? And she didn’t tell him. “Do what you’re told and like it, peasant”. (That’s my exact quote that I said out loud at that moment). This isn’t the Empire, this isn’t the First Order. This isn’t a division headquarters or the State Department. This is the Rebelistance. This is the Republic. We have Flat Organizations. There was absolutely no reason Haldo shouldn’t have told Poe the plan. He deserved to know. Hell, the whole crew deserved to know. A simple, “Thanks for asking Poe, but I was just about to brief the crew. Please take a seat. Attention everyone. This is Vice Admiral Yummy Hot. We are going to fuel up these small transports that are magically equipped with super rare cloaking devices, and escape to a secret hideout on a nearby planet that doesn’t show up on anyone’s scanner. (*eyeroll*) When we are safely away, the First Order will destroy this ship and assume we are dead. Then we will rebuild.” And Poe will say, “Thanks, ma’am. Great plan; I’m proud to be a part of it. I was wondering when we were going to use these cloaking devices. Need me to do anything? No? Mind if I buy you a drink while we wait?” *They adjourn to the bar* Now, admittedly Rose would then just be the foil to prevent Finn’s plan to escape. But we would still have our Twillight-style love triangle when Poe and Finn try to out complement each other in front of Haldo at the bar. In that case, consider me TeamPoe.

But all we got were four of the five most interesting new characters in the franchise acting like morons with no effect on the plot at all. Their shenanigans did introduce us to Benicio Del Toro’s DJ. Can’t wait to see him in the next one. Is he a Lando or a Boba Fett? Only time can tell. Speaking of time, how about Snoke? Ha! That was a quick reign… what a waste. I’m still saying he was the whiny kid from Star Wars Rebels all growed up. At least Kylo Ren had a semblance of a character arc.

Thank God Ren ditched the helmet. (Oh, did you catch the references to Baby Jesus in this movie? That’s never happened before either) I hated his helmet. And getting rid of it alone saved him in my eyes. I might have bitched before about the fact that the new Jedi telepathy exists, but the actual content of the conversations was great acting and writing. And Rey and Ren had the best lightsaber battle in the franchise. I honestly wanted more Crimson Guard to burst into the room just so the fight wouldn’t end. And now he’s the supreme leader of the First Order. Kylo Ren is a suitable villain for this generation: An evil spoiled child with delusions of grandeur and wielder of a nearly unlimited power who has no leadership or teambuilding experience and has to rule through brute force, coercion, and intimidation. I think I might dig up the cache of blasters in my back yard and join the Rebelistance myself.

Just about everything else I really liked. BB-8 is a great character and a Hero of the Republic. Chewie stole every scene he was in but I still think he should have eaten the Cornish hen. Chewie rips people’s arms off! Screw your plush doll. Rawwwwrrrr! Leia were awesome and Carrie swirled the dust in the room. Mark Hamill did the best he could with the stupid direction Luke was headed, but that’s more a criticism for Force Awakens. They’re going to be missed. Great space battle in the beginning, Hollywood is obviously setting us up for the Eighth Air Force miniseries. I loved that the Cruiser was named after the admiral in Rogue One. I loved Maz’ extended cameo. I really thought she was talking about Chewie though. That would have been awesome. All of the other supporting characters were great and I really hope some of them get bigger parts in the next movie.

Now it may seem like I didn’t like the movie, but I am a bitter and cynical old man hardened and numbed by decades of After Action Reviews where my every action was a disaster mitigated only by the cross talk of my junior leaders and NCOs. Pointing out the negative is all I know how to do. If you got a “good job” from me you probably more than deserved it. I am not going to tell you why you did a good job because I’ve learned I probably don’t understand why anyway, and to be honest I don’t really care. I’m just glad you did a good job. So, that being said.

Good job, Disney. I’ll probably see it again tomorrow

The Rape of Nanking

In 1936, the League of Nations’ failure to prevent the Italian annexation of one of its members, Ethiopia, directly led to Hitler’s remilitarization of the Rhineland and Japan’s invasion of China in 1937. Between August and November 1937, nearly a million Nationalist Chinese and Imperial Japanese fought block by block and house by house for the city the Shanghai. Even though Shanghai was defended by Chiang Kai-Shek’s best troops, the Japanese were better trained and equipped, and their naval superiority allowed them to land anywhere on the coast they wished.
By the beginning of November, Shanghai was lost, and Chiang moved China’s capital to Nanking. Led by America, the Western nations were in talks to intervene to stop Japanese aggression, but the Japanese thought that the loss of Nanking would force the Chinese to surrender before that could happen. So to preclude Western intervention, Emperor Hirohito sent Prince Asaka to Japan’s Central China Area Army and ordered its commander Gen Iwane Matsui to immediately seize Nanking.
Matsui’s men made the 250 mile march in under a month. The speed of the Japanese advance and the incessant bombing by the Japanese air force prevented Chiang from consolidating a defense, and Matsui arrived outside the walls of Nanking on 9 December. The next day, he ordered his exhausted and worn, but so far victorious, troops for one last push, which he was sure would end the war. With the rising sun, Matsui’s entire army banzaied the Chinese defenses. Three days of brutal close quarters fighting and unremitting heavy artillery shattered the defending Chinese, who streamed back into Nanking. The jubilant Japanese followed close behind. And then the real chaos began.
Like all people who cannot see beyond the lens of race and ethnicity, the Imperial Japanese saw their adversaries as less than human. The Japanese had no ethical boundaries regarding the treatment of the Chinese civilians, and justified their increasingly brutal actions as if the Chinese somehow deserved it. In the six weeks after Asaka and Matsui overran Nanking, their troops engaged in both systematic and spontaneous mass acts of arson, murder, looting, rape, and other war crimes on a grand scale. Over 200,000 Chinese men, women, and children were killed, and afterwards, Westerners in the city were unable to find a Chinese female of any age who wasn’t under their personal protection who wasn’t raped multiple times.
Most Westerners fled the city before the final Japanese attack, but some did not. Those that remained formed the “International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone” ironically led by John Rabe, a German businessman and Nazi Party member. The Committee consisted of about 30 American and European missionaries, businessmen, and embassy staff. In anticipation of the fall of the city to the Japanese, they set up the Nanking Safety Zone in the Western end of the city, demarcated by Red Cross flags.
Rabe negotiated the Zone with Matsui through the radio on the American gunboat USS Panay, which the Japanese strafed and sank on 9 December while Rabe was on board. The survivors swam to shore, and the Panay Incident showed how far the Japanese would keep their word regarding the dealings with the West. Nevertheless, Matsui allowed the Safety Zone as long as there weren’t Chinese troops inside. The Japanese soldiers for all intents and purposes disregarded the Nanking Safety Zone, but fear of Western intervention prevented direct assaults on Rabe and the Committee members. It is through their accounts and photographs that we would even know of the Rape of Nanking today.
The Japanese did not believe that they would be held accountable for their actions, as long as they didn’t harm the Westerners. Small bands of Japanese soldiers roamed the city, looting, raping, and murdering along the way. All surrendering Chinese troops were taken outside the city and massacred. The worst incident occurred on 18 December, in the Straw String Massacre. The Japanese tied the arms of thousands of prisoners together, and laughed as the writhing mass frantically tried break free by ripping each other’s arms off as the Japanese slowly murdered them all for entertainment. 12,000 bodies were excavated later from “The Ten-Thousand-Corpse-Ditch” just outside the city. Ten of thousands more were murdered and thrown into the Yangtze River.
When the captured soldiers ran out, the Japanese continued with the civilians in the Safety Zone. Individual Committee members attempted to protect the Chinese, but they couldn’t be everywhere. Most times, the Japanese ignored them or even forced them to watch. The Japanese used the civilians as live targets on rifle ranges and bayonet courses. They forced the civilians to walk over mines to demonstrate their effectiveness, or doused them in petrol to see how long they would live before being consumed by the fire. Chinese were beheaded to prove the sharpness of their officer’s swords, or were buried alive for sport. Chinese corpses were piled high in the alleyways of the city. Mass graves were continually discovered for years afterwards.
The reports from Nanking convinced Chiang Kai-Shek that he was fighting for the very survival of his people, and his armies continued to fight the Japanese for the next seven years. But it would take a world war for justice to come to the people of Nanking. After Japan surrendered following the detonation of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and the separate Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal found Matsui and his subordinate commanders guilty of crimes against humanity. They were executed in 1946.
Asaka was not tried because he was a member of the Japanese Imperial family. As part of Japan’s surrender in 1945, MacArthur implied that the Japanese Emperor and his immediate family would not be tried for war crimes, and protected the Imperial family in order to prevent a bloody insurgency in post war Japan. Even in the 20th century (and the 21st for that matter), the aristocracy seems to have its privileges.

The United States Army National Guard

At the end of the 16th and early 17th century, three or four small pox epidemics wiped out the majority of the Native American population in what is now known as New England and created a power vacuum. Into this void came the first English and Dutch settlements such as the Plymouth, Saybrook, Connecticut, and Massachusetts Bay Colonies. Of the remaining tribes, the Pequot Indians (Mohegan for “destroyers”) warred on the other regional tribes, the Mohegan and Narragansett, in order to aggressively expand their hunting grounds and secure a monopoly on the lucrative fur and wampum trade with the settlers.

In the spring of 1636, the Pequot killed John Stone, an influential English trader, smuggler, and privateer, for the death of one of their traders by the Dutch. The Pequot paid a blood debt for the mistake, but didn’t hand over the culprits for trial, as demanded by the English. A few weeks later, a Narragansett hunting party killed John Oldham, a respected trader from the new Puritan colony of Connecticut for trading with the Pequot, which they wanted to discourage. After an English raid on Block Island the Narragansett offered to turn the wrongdoers over to the English but before that could happen they sought sanctuary with the Pequot. When the English tracked the murderers down, they demanded not only Oldham’s but also Stone’s killers. The Pequot stalled to evacuate the culprits, so the English attacked. They torched the village but didn’t catch them. The Pequot War had begun.

The Pequot called all their clients and allies to war, including the Nehantic, close neighbors of the Mohegan and Narragansett, whom joined the English. The offensive minded Pequot immediately went on the attack, and raided towns, villages, and farmsteads all across New England. In the autumn and winter of 1636. they besieged Fort Saybrook.

On 13 December, 1636, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony ordered the formation of three regiments of infantry from the existing militia companies of the colony, and any remaining able bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60. They were to protect the towns from Pequot raids and assist the Connecticut Colony in relieving Fort Saybrook.

Tulip Mania

In 1636 while Germany was ravaged by the Thirty Years War, the Dutch Netherlands were relatively untouched as they continued their on and off fight for complete independence from the Spanish Empire. In 1636 the Dutch were beginning their Golden Age. The Merchant Republic of the United Provinces of the Netherlands had a far flung trading empire with colonies and trading posts in the Americas, Africa, Ceylon, India, the South Pacific, and Japan. The Netherlands was easily as powerful as its much larger neighbors, Great Britain and France. As the Dutch slowly asserted their own foreign policy, they sent ambassadors around the world; one of them returned from the Ottoman Empire with bulbs from a plant hitherto unseen in the Provinces – the tulip.

The bright flowers took to the Dutch soil like peanut butter to jelly, or corruption to politics. With war with Spain winding down, economic resources poured into commerce, and Dutch cities became unimaginably wealthy. Grand city houses were used by the newly rich merchants to display their wealth, and the tulips gracing the small yards and windowsills became the centerpieces of their new status. The more exotic and multicolored the tulip, the higher the price, and thus the greater status accorded to its owners, the only exception being any dark violet bulb close enough to the elusive and coveted Holy Grail of the Netherlands – The Black Tulip. The trade in tulip bulbs had occurred for decades, but only during the months from April (when they bloomed) to October (when they had to be replanted). On 12 November 1636, the Dutch created the first formal futures market for the soon-to-be symbol of the country. Buying and selling of the next season’s tulip bulbs began five months earlier than normal, and without the bulbs actually trading hands.

The Dutch merchants went insane for the new bulb contracts. In taverns and salons across the Provinces, tulip contracts changed hands at a frenzied pace. Speculative buying pushed the prices higher and higher. The entire population dabbled in the tulip market as a quick way to get rich. Within a month, tulip bulb “exports” became the fourth most profitable product in the country without a single bulb actually leaving the ground. Some bulbs went for as much as 3000 guilders, at a time when a skilled craftsman made 300 guilders a year.

Just three months later on 3 February 1637, one of only two Semper Augustus bulbs in existence was used to purchase 12 acres of land. With a fixed supply, the bulbs had gotten extraordinarily expensive. Very soon, the prices for the bulbs had gotten so high that buyers became scarce, then nonexistent. The Tulip Market crashed and the speculative bubble burst. Fortunes were made, but debts more so. France threatened to invade to collect.

By the April tulip bloom in 1637, the prices were back to what they were on 12 November. Tulipmania had run its course, and nearly destroyed the new country.

Operation Winter Tempest

The Soviet encirclement of Paulus’ German Sixth Army Stalingrad doomed the German troops in the city and its outskirts. However, Hitler ordered the city held and the Luftwaffe supply it by air, as had happened for similar, albeit smaller pockets the year before. Field Marshal Erich Von Manstein’s Army Group Don was tasked to break through to Stalingrad.

Manstein knew that his men could not reach Stalingrad. Hitler’s refused to release most of his armored reserve, and much of what was released was sent to Tunisia. Although theoretically Manstein had the entirety of Army Group Don for the attack, only one Panzer corps was readily available to participate. The only hope of saving the Sixth Army was for Paulus to attempt a breakout at the same time. Paulus however would not do so without Hitler’s permission. At best, all Manstein knew he could do was get close enough, and then appeal to Hitler to give Paulus permission.

Army Group Don launched Operation Winter Storm/Tempest/Thunderstorm (whatever the hell historians want to call it these days) on 12 December 1942. The attack made excellent initial gains but the Soviets were massing troops for Operation Saturn, the encirclement of Army Groups B and Don, and shifted forces to the Stalingrad perimeter opposite Manstein. The Soviets then launched Operation Little Saturn to just cut off Manstein. With much shifting of troops Manstein stabilized the front but could not get any closer to Stalingrad.

Manstein was just 30 miles from Paulus, but might as well have been 300. The Sixth Army only had enough fuel to advance 20 miles, and its infantry was starving and frozen. The Luftwaffe’s ability to deliver more fuel and food took a body blow when Soviet troops in the Little Saturn offensive overran the two primary airfields from which the transports flew to Stalingrad. Moreover, an actual winter storm hit the area and the blizzards grounded all aircraft. Even if Paulus was allowed to break out, by the third week of December, it was no longer possible.

Manstein ceased offensive operations on 23 December 1942, sealing the Sixth Army’s fate in Stalingrad.

The Husaria

Monsieur Dalerac was the secretary of King Jan Sobieski’s wife and despised everything Polish. However just after the Battle of Vienna in 1683, even he said the Husaria were, “without a doubt, the most beautiful cavalry in Europe”. Poland’s famed Husaria were also the most deadly. From 1570 to 1690, 120 years, the Husaria never lost a major battle. They were the shock troops of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and only the best equipped and best trained of the Polish and Lithuanian nobility could provide them and afford their equipment. The Husaria were equivalent of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard – their charge decided battles.

The Husaria were a product of the peculiar nature of the Polish and Lithuanian nobility. The “Szlachta” in the centuries up to and including the 17th were a unique curiosity and stood apart from the nobility of most countries in Europe. The nobility of England, France, Germany and the rest of Europe made up about 2% of the population; in the Polish, Lithuanian, and Ruthenian lands, the Szlachta made up about 10% of the population. They were known as the “petty gentry”, and filled the role of the middle class before there was even such a thing in Europe. In addition to the magnates and traditional nobility, the Szlachta were the small landowners in the towns and the property owners in the cities. And woe betide any who insinuated that the owner of a small manor who worked his land no different than the peasants beside him was in any way less of a man than the magnate of great estate whose hands didn’t know the scythe.

The Szlachta were inextricably and symbiotically linked to that other middle class, the Jewish merchants and businessmen, whom were welcomed with open arms in Polish and Lithuanian Kingdoms when they were persecuted and murdered elsewhere. Together they formed the threads from which the Polish and Lithuanian tapestry was woven. Though the Szlachta’s origins are shrouded in myth, they claimed to be descendants of the Sarmatian horsemen who banded together in the 5th century with the Slavic tribes in the Oder, Vistula, and Nieman river valleys to defend against the depredations of the Huns. Whether that is true or not is lost to history, but one fact of life remains unchallenged among those who lived on the Ukrainian Steppe or the eastern edge of the Northern European Plain during the Middle Ages or the Renaissance – to be a member of the Polish or Lithuanian nobility, one must go to war on a horse.

But not all of the Szlachta could afford the heavy and expensive panoply of the medieval knight, such as those that broke the Teutonic Knights at the battle of Grunewald in 1410. The lower nobles armed and armored themselves as best as they could afford, and formed a mass of light cavalry behind their richer and better equipped counterparts. By the end of the Renaissance, the “Pospolite ruszenie” or levee en mass of the Szlachta had been called so often to repel invaders that the nobles began to standardize equipment. They were known as “Kozacy” from the freewheeling mounted adventurers then beginning to populate the man made desert known as the Ukrainian Steppe, but out of necessity they armed themselves as that light cavalry from Poland’s interminable friend to the south, the Hungarian hussar.

The Hungarian nobility and cavalry paralleled the Polish and Lithuanian, and their wars with the Ottoman Turks in the 15th and early 16th century standardized the petty gentry’s equipment in the form of the hussar. The destruction of the Hungarian nobility by the Turks at the Battle of Mohacs in 1526 put the hussar on two separate tracks of development. In the West, the hussar became the lightly armed and unarmored cavalryman “par excellence”, exemplified by Frederick the Great’s Prussian light cavalry used for reconnaissance and raiding, or Napoleon’s well-dressed and dashing foragers, scouts, and wooers of ladies. But in the East during the Golden Age of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, firearms made the knights’ heavy armor obsolete, but the hussars of the Szalchta became better equipped. With the development of gunpowder and pikes in Western Europe in the 16th and 17th century, the charge of heavy knights became ineffective. However, in the freewheeling and open battles of Eastern Europe where arquebusier fire could be avoided and pike phalanxes out flanked, not so much.

By 1570, not all of the Szlachta could call themselves Husaria, but many could. Poles and Ruthenians who were different ethnically but equipped the same as unarmored Cossacks were all still known as “Kozacy”, and this term for light cavalry would continue well into the 19th century. Those Szlachta who could armour themselves in chainmail, still effective against the saber slashes of the Tartar and Turk of 16th century Eastern Europe, were known as “Panzerini”. The rich nobles who could afford the firearms, long lances, heavy horses, and the plate cuirasses patterned off their Sarmatian forbears were known as the Husaria.

By the time Stephen Bathory was elected King of Poland in the 1570s and definitely by the time the Poles captured Moscow in 1610, the Husaria formed the heavy shock cavalry of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The less well equipped Szlachta of the Kozacy and Panzerini performed the traditional cavalry roles while the Husaria existed for one reason and one reason only – to break an enemy formation on the field of battle.

For honors’ sake, the upper strata of the Szlachta wanted to be at the forefront of battle and they armed and equipped themselves as such. Husaria had the heaviest warhorses in Europe, and Poland forbade their export for just that reason. Not wishing to change what was already good enough, Husaria were equipped with a Sarmatian style Roman breastplate and a composite German/Romano helmet, akin to a Spanish conquistadores’ with cheek and nose guard. Their arms consisted of a long 18ft lance topped with a pennant for identification, a straight long sword on the left of the saddle, an axe or war hammer on the right of the saddle, a sabre at the hip like any good noblemen, a brace of pistols like their contemporaneous musketeers, and a carbine for good measure.

But it was neither their arms nor armor that set the Polish Husaria apart. It was their accoutrements that garnered much attention. On his back, the Husaria could afford a bear, lion, tiger, or even an exotic leopard or jaguar skin. The exotic cape fluttered between wooden poles from which fluttered hawk, eagle, falcon, and even ostrich feathers: The “wings” of the Polish Hussars.

The purpose of the Husaria’s wings are a subject of much scholarly debate. Originally it was thought that the whistling of the wings unnerved enemy troops and horses. Also, the wooden uprights to which the feathers were attached were thought to prevent Turkish lassos from pulling riders from their saddles. More recent scholarship has accepted that that they just looked bad ass and scared the living shit out of those they were about to break. Whatever the reason, when the Polish Husaria charged, the enemy that survived took notice and usually fled – that is a historical fact.

On September 12th 1683, Poland’s King Jan Sobieski emerged from the Vienna Wood and his men fought their way through the Turkish lines to relieve the city which was about to fall to a Turkish siege. All morning and afternoon, his Panzerini and Kozacy pounded over the Turkish trenches until they came to the flat terrain that permitted a proper charge. That evening, 1,100 Polish Husaria charged the remaining 90,000 Turkish besiegers. The Husaria didn’t stop until they reached the Gates of Vienna and the Turks never threatened Central Europe again.

“Za wolność Waszą i naszą!”, “For your freedom and ours!”

The Cockleshell Raid

 The raids by Italian frogmen in the Mediterranean were the stuff of legend in commando circles in 1942. The British didn’t have any similar capability: the Italians were just too far advanced in the technology of underwater demolition. However, the British were quite skilled in the use of small boats to conduct similar type raids, which they had been doing for the last two years in the Aegean. After the disastrous raid on Dieppe over the summer, the British Combined Operations decided they had to up the ante and start small boat raids on German ships in France.
In late October 1942, the innocuously named Royal Marine Boom Patrol Detachment (one of the forerunners of today’s Special Boat Service) was given the mission to sink German ships at Bordeaux. The Royal Marine commandos would be transported by submarine to the mouth of the Gironde Estuary, where they would then paddle upstream to the port in special canoes code named “cockles”, and then plant mines on the ships.
The cockles were semi rigid collapsible kayaks that could fit through the torpedo doors of the British submarines. Each could carry two men and about 200 lbs of equipment. On the night of 7 December 1942, 12 men in six cockles of the RMBPD paddled from the HMS Tuna for the 70 mile trip up the Garonne River to Bordeaux. However, the mission started poorly.
One cockle was inadvertently torn pulling it from the submarine, so two men had to immediately swim back before the Tuna departed. All five remaining crews braved the heavy surf for the ten miles to shore. However, one cockle disappeared and their men were never seen again. Another capsized and the two commandos were dragged close to shore. They were told to make their way home by any means possible, but they died of hypothermia before that could happen. And then one cockle became separated. When that crew made landfall in the morning, they were spotted and captured by the French gendarmes. Only 12 hours into the mission, only two cockles remained.
For the next four days, the commandos paddled by night and hide on shore during the day. On the moonless night of 11/12 December 1942, the four remaining commandos placed limpet mines on eight different vessels in the harbor including a minelayer, a large cargo ship, and small ocean liner. The men then sank their cockles, and set off on foot for neutral Spain. Two were arrested by French gendarmes and turned over to the Germans. All of the captured raiders were immediately executed under Hitler’s “Commando Order” (That they be treated as spies, even in uniform). But two men did make it to Spain, and eventually back to Britain via Gibraltar in 1943.
The next morning the time delayed fuses went off, damaging five ships and sinking one. Unfortunately, the explosions came as a surprise to the Special Operations Executive team (the forerunner of the fun parts of MI6) that were in an apartment down the street. The SOE team spent the last several weeks infiltrating the port defenses to accomplish the same thing.
Even three years into the war, the Allies’ alphabet soup of intelligence agencies and special operations units still needed figure out how to coordinate with each other.
Some things never change. It;s probably for the best though.