Sunday, August 17, 2014

Postblogging Technology, July 1944, I: Victory Comes Late

My Dearest Reggie:

I see that I have once more broken the first rule of home front correspondents. I have worried you. No need for you to worry any longer. Firstly, Wong Lee and I have returned home, and there is no tong war in the offing. It turns out that even east coast "men of respect" have their limits. Our friend was delegated to break the news to his acquaintance that even his closest relatives had no time for malingering. There was a war on, and all he was being asked to do was tour and sing, something which he had taken on as an amazingly lucrative career, and he should get on with it.

Regrettably, men of respect only respect strength. Someone had to be seen to pay for encouraging the young man's selfishness, which is why I arranged an arrest even before D-Day brought this to  a head. You will, I am sure, have heard of that. What you may not have heard is that the case is quite thin. The arrested fellow has been an irritation for so many reasons that I do not feel the least guilty about moving forward, even though it is likely that this will degenerate and require even more extreme measures.

Well, that was a terrible attempt to lighten the mood! You may have heard that with school out, "Miss V.C.'s" research trip to Monterrey went ahead. Certain papers were seen that supplement the annals of old Monterrey, and I had an interesting conversation with the young lady on her return. She confirmed in the Santa Clara university library that Maquinna's daughter, Maria Jesus de Nutka, arrived in the old town in 1794, attended school in Santa Clara, married into an old Californian family, and had descendants. The portfolio at Monterrey added information about the "prince of Nootka" who accompanied her, of which of course I need tell you nothing, and led her to a family name (besides, obviously, her own, as she would have to be dense not to see the similarity) --and so, of course, back to the county records and to a reference to that old map in the family papers from the 1871 lawsuit.

"Do we still have it?" She asked. I did not see the point in denying it. It is not outside the realm of possibility that she will still need it. So I produced it from Grandfather's papers, seeing much else that I had forgotten for years, and waxing  nostalgic.

"1820 is awfully old for a house in these parts, especially such an Oriental-looking one," she observed from the date on the map. I shrugged. Even in those days there were wealthy sea captains in the Bay, involved in the tallow and coastal fur trades, I pointed out. And Chinese styles were in fashion in those days.

"Why is the name written in Chinese?" She asked. I shrugged again. I pointed out that the building was erected by Chinese artisans, and that this version of the property map had been drawn by one of them. "It means 'Arcadia,'" I said. No point in bringing up the awful Hilton book. Did you know that the Lady wanted to complete the estate with a pagoda on the south ridge? Imagine what our neighbours would think if we completed the bequest!

"Et in Arcadia Ego," "Miss V. C." said. I started, and had difficulty controlling my expression. I had had no intention of feeding that clue to her. But it turns out that she was just quoting some snatch of popular writing.  "It's an odd place to find Chinese carpenters," she continued.

There were not many other places to find them around the Pacific in those days, I observed. Arcadia was quite a sight. I am just glad that it was never reported by someone whose reminiscences  went into print --at least, not into print in a fashion that the good fathers of the Mission were not as eager to see suppressed as was Grandfather. So many things were lost in the Earthquake....

"Is that why Meares brought Chinese carpenters to Nootka? And no-one ever says what happened to them."

You would be so proud of the artful way that I let my face slip at this point. What can I say? I shall be in Vancouver inspecting the refit, and it is a beautiful summer, I have a line on good tyres, Vancouver Island is beautiful at this time of year. and I can probably find an elder who is willing to lead her down the next step on this little journey of discovery of hers.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Postblogging Technology, 1944: A Technical Appendix for July 1944: Making the World Safe for B-29s

A bit of an amuse-bouche here. This is Highway 19, completed in 1979 between Campbell River, British Columbia and Port McNeill, in the same province.

This is not what it looks like on the ground, because Google fails me, or people are reluctant for some reason to put up pictures that show that the roads to their town are awful or little used. Fortunately, the residents of the old Canadian Forces Station, Holberg, have a certain perverse pride in the tradition: here's Elephant Crossing:

It was not, by a very long shot, the worst stretch of road in northern Vancouver Island in 1979, nor today, either. There are many fewer now, though, because we have got a great deal better at building good, cheap roads. This is why I think it is time to look at the B-29, seventy years after the summer in which Hobo Queen toured Britain, intending to give the Germans the impression that Twentieth Air Force might fly against them as well as against Japan.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

What Is Goodwood To Us, Or We to Goodwood? Totalising Change

Terry Copp summarises: "After a successful assault on a defended coast, General Eisenhower's naval, air and ground forces destroyed two powerful German armies in just seventy-six days. Enemy losses of close to half a million men included the combat elements of thirty-seven divisions deployed in Normandy as well as another six left behind to delay Allied access to ports. Other large fragments of Army Group B --about 25,000 men from twenty different divisions-- were encircled at Mons on 4 September." Allied operational researchers counted more than 8000 damaged, destroyed or abandoned vehicles, including 456 tanks and self-propelled guns and 367 other AFVs. An estimate of uncounted vehicles suggests that the actual total was 12,000. Twenty thousand vehicles, including 250 tanks and self-propelled guns, escaped across the Seine to continue the fight."

For those inclined to think graphically, we have Terry Copp's research in the OR group's files to thank.

(Fields of Fire, 251).

That's one sense of a "Grand Finale," although the one embedded above for the sake of the thumbnail is of the end of a shindig thrown for the Canadian gunners by the highways folks. The Gunners have a sweet deal with the Federal Highways department where they send guns up into the passes in the winter to shoot at snow. The idea is to start an avalanche before the snow pack builds up to the point where a slip can climb up the other side of the valley and bury the road.

Sometimes, the deal means that you get a party thrown in your honour. Other times, it means setting up a gun position in Rogers Pass in February, which is not as nice as you'd think. 

The metaphor here gets highways, mountains and guns in it, but I am leading with it because it is an anthropogenic intervention that transforms the steady state of a resting snow slope into a chaotic transformation-of-state. The gunners choose to fire the shell. What happens to, say, a log caught in the avalanche a moment later is utterly beyond their control. In this comparison, "log" means just about everyone and everything involved in World War II. Wikipedia's "Battle for Caen"  framing article lists eight named, corps-level operations between PERCH (9 June) and  GOODWOOD (18-20 July), better than a major operation a week. With the weight of 2nd British Army shifted west for BLUECOAT and a first, jarring encounter with the Jagdpanther (sometimes confused with the Jagdtiger (link; better link), 1st Canadian Army was left to fight SPRING (25 July).  intended to capture the social changes enacted by World War II. They were not chosen; indeed, were beyond intervention. All one could do was fire the shell, and see what happened. The metaphor also serves because it has semis and guns in it. The great changes launched byand coming to their culmination with TOTALISE (7 August), and TRACTABLE (14 August).

Put this on a calendar. Imagine it in your life. There is a two week delay between SPRING and TOTALISE. That is very, unusually long by the standards of planning and preparation for one of the major Normandy operations. It was long because it allowed the Canadians to reconstitute the abused infantry battalions of 2nd and 3rd Canadian infantry divisions and establish 4th Canadian Armoured and 1st Polish Armoured Division in the staging areas freed by GOODWOOD. The length suggests an usually well-planned operation. GOODWOOD, recall, matured over about 10 days. Fourteen implies another four to think and prepare! But, again, put this in perspective of your own life and remember that it is nineteen days from GOODWOOD to TOTALISE. Do not expect revolutions in human thought in that length of time. There is change here: great change. But it is the change of the avalanche, carring all before it.

Etc. Etc: I do not mean to be vague here. The change I am thinking about is very specific. The men who fought TOTALISE came from farms where horses still pulled things. They went home and erected the awesome (and awesomely ugly) reinforced concrete pillars that allowed the original Park Royal shopping mall of my childhood to park cars on its roof less than thirty years later. This is our modern built environment. At its best, at least, the brightly lit urban caves that you guide your vehicle through in Lego Racers. (Not that I could find footage of those levels on Youtube, but you know what I'm talking about. I hope.) Our idealised modernity is a a LEGO world made in 100 ton blocks. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Postblogging Technology, June 1944, II: The Storm is Coming

Wing Commander R_. C_, D.F.C.
L_. House,
Isle of Axholme,
Lincs., U.K.

My Dear Father:

Time seems to have gotten away from us here in California, which is my way of apologising that this is so late. It would be later still if it were left to your cousin, who has been in New York for several weeks now, lately avoiding the telephone and telegraph, so that we are behind on news here. (Although it appears from the entertainment news that his main mission has been successful.) We are expecting him, and Wong Lee, in company with the westbound courier, who will turn around for Montreal without so much as a night's rest with this package, and so on to you.

You will no doubt be amused by the latest steps in Uncle's campaign for financial freedom of maneuver. You know your cousin's stubbornness and pride! Needless to say, the recent gains on the NYSE are a problem for him as Uncle's main objective is to remain free to buy what he wants to  buy, although I beg you not to be so frank with the Earl. With Time trumpeting the success of Wilys-Overland, Uncle has to argue that it is all froth. Who in their right mind would put their money behind Sorensen at this point in his career? On the other hand, IBM and Honeywell are up nicely since his purchase. A stopped clock is right twice a day and all of that. 

You will be pleased to know that Uncle has set his best people to work on answering the question put by the Earl. (Or, rather, that he tasked the household. But good people are we!) We came up with a curve of the discount on expected returns on housing units per year that I append. Now I have to explain why it is nonsense and should be disregarded, even though to complete it I ended up in that library in Palo Alto where one is pretty much obligated to call upon the Engineer. I must say that the more that I see of him socially, the more I fancy that I detect the man that the electorate rejected twelve years ago, matters not being eased by  a lunch date with his eldest, at which fulsome were the complaints about the injustice of the Engineer's illegitimate son being to all appearances his "true" heir. What can I say? Once his grandfather decided to divert investor's money into the subterranean stream that is his little college, it could hardly emerge into the sun except to bubble up and water hidden roots, and that is all. As for favoritism, what counts for the Engineer is politics, and all of his sons, on whichever side of the blanket (how me must have struggled to do his duty!) are disappointments on that score. Imagine an actor in that office! Especially one who likes to tattle to the Feds about his enemies. You will be pleased to heart hat I held my tongue. 

So: the research. "Miss V.C.," has had some practice in this matter, and was willing to be persuaded to divert herself from her little family history. (Especially as she realizes that her trip to Monterrey can only be authorized by wheedling an indulgent Uncle, and he is not around right now.) To reinforce the troops, your youngest offered his eager assistance, and we also got something out of Uncle's housekeeper, and rather more from Lieutenant A., who turns out to have some grip on staff work. (I was beginning to wonder.) More usefully, Suzie Wong is available, now that school is out. In short, we compiled what poor numbers we have, both on housing stocks and the science of "demography," put our best statistical acumen to work, and came up with a curve of discounts on expected returns on housing investments in the United Kingdom 1944--1975, although James likens it to reinforcing concrete with rust-flavored gelatin. (Because rust is iron; never mind, it is funnier when James delivers it with his best BBC pronunciation.) 

Now I have to tell you why it is all rubbish, and that the Earl should disregard it and go all in for housing. The long and the short of it is that while a more careful reader would no doubt deliver more nuance, it seems to me that demographers are absolutely mad! Some of the finer details of the lunacy are rather indelicate for a letter from a daughter-in-law. I asked James to append something about "neo-Malthusianism," but he seems scarcely more comfortable talking about it with you than I! The argument, as I synthesize it, is that for a very long time, the human population of the Earth scarcely grew at all. Then, in the Great Prosperity of Ch'ien Lung-Ti, and in England as well, population began to grow quite quickly. The gentlemen scholars explained that in terms of proper rulership unlocking the fecundity of the Earth, but in England a clergyman named Malthus pronounced that it was "scientific," and a bad thing, since unchecked population growth must eventually overrun the Earth. by scientific, he vaguely meant a fedback process, although he perceived strictly negative feedback, and distinguished two kinds. These were "positive checks" by which Protestants restricted population growth through late marriages from the "negative checks" of poverty that afflicted themselves upon the superstitious poor of various places. The latter not actually being checks, as they did not work. The Reverend Malthus was no great engineer, although he is more highly regarded as an economist, and his point about "positive checks" was prescient.

Then, in the course of the Nineteenth Century, while population growth slowed under the late and vicious Ch'ing, that of England redoubled, to be followed in its turn by other Protestant nations such as Germany, but not, conspicuously, France and Ireland. So a new explanation was needed, which was generally given in terms of a fall in the death rate due to improving health. Then, about 1890, population growth in England and America began to fall, and yet a new one was required. Civilization had advanced, there had been a "demographic transition," and Malthus' positive checks were in general practice. 

A farrago of arguments followed that seemed to evade this obvious point, mainly by pointing at other countries where population expansion continued, such as Germany, Italy and Japan. Population expansion happened on its own, and caused war, or migration, or poverty, or checked itself by the sufficient cause of population density itself. Races might or might not flourish in various parts of the world, and some races  might be committing "racial suicide" by reducing their birth rate below the death rate. Mr. Thompson, whom Uncle ridicules, somehow came up with the argument that the Japanese were entitled to the lands of Manchuria, or of New Guinea on the other hand. (His views of whether the Japanese are best suited to Siberian or jungle airs have developed, much like civilization, over time.) The rather more obvious resort of California was ruled out by the fact that California, with thrice the land mass of Britain, was full up by his calculation of "optimum population density" at less than 6 million people! An English socialist and scientist calculated that the English are on their way to racial extinction. This is the view, refracted through the Luce press, which panicked Uncle.  This reading allows that the solution is socialism. Australians think that Australia is underpopulated and needs vastly more people, but for some reason these must be only White persons. Their solution is "neo-natalist" policies to promote the native birth rate. Mr. Thompson whimsically offers the Chinese Australia, or Australia the Chinese, and an Indian replies by offering them British Columbia and California. 

Is it unfair to notice that while we as a family like to complain about how unfair the Exclusion Act was, it has been a source of great profit to us? Continuing, my eyes began to roll even before I discovered the Icelandic Canadian explorer who thinks the high islands of the Arctic to be an unexploited frontier destined for populations in the millions.  
Source and Boookings

I am sometimes inclined to roll my eyes at Uncle's belief that racial passing is the secret key to American public life. He is so smug sometimes! But when I stare into the eyes of Vijhalmur Stefansson, I ask myself, "Mad? Or insecure?" 

Vijhalmur Stefansson:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Techblogging June, 1944, I: Come the Day!

Dear Suzie:

Sorry about the blotting paper again. Mom and Dad will get a proper V-Mail in a few days, now that the segregation's lifted. Right now, though I should say some things the censor shouldn't hear, and maybe Mom and Dad, too. At least, not in my words. You're the only person I can trust to dress it up right, Sis, honest injun.

 Does that sound curious enough? Well, my LCT has been going so fast I hardly have time to collect my wits. You might hear from Douggie's brother that my boat's ramp wouldn't lower, so we couldn't launch our tanks, and so we ran up on the beach under fire to do it. I don't think Mom needs to hear any more about that, whatever Douggie says. Then, soon as we were back off the shingle, it was back to Jolly Old to pick up our next load. 

First, though, I had to go on the carpet with the Admiral. He knows that the reason my ramp wouldn't lower was because of a sledge hammer in the bilge of my boat called "The Assistant Bo'sun." I had to, Suzie! It was choppy as all heck. The tanks obviously weren't going to get to shore. So the Admiral lays it out for me. Harry gets the credit, as I don't go on the list as boat commander until the 7th. He gets a "Mention in Despatches" with no mention of the 510th and its officers I get my boat. "That's way we did it in Manila," the Admiral says. 

Dad should hear that, I think. What I can't figure out how to tell them is that I somehow ended up taking Queenie to the midnight promenade the other night. Well, not quite midnight, as she had to be home by 11. Me in my officer's cap(!), her in a broad hat, in case some wise guy started something, dancing at the edge of the crowd to some nice jazz. We kissed, Sis, and now I can't think of anything else but Queenie. Not even the war.

Love, Your Brother, Tommy.

Dearest Reggie:

Just a short note this time. I know that I am supposed to share warm pictures of the home front and not my troubles, but I've flown across continent three times in the last week, and the last was particularly awful, though at least I got my reading done. I was summoned to see our friend's young acquaintance, still feigning tonsilitis. He wouldn't see me, and I flew back to San Francisco, and was on the plane when the Invasion was announced.

When I landed, Wong Lee was waiting for me to tell me that our friend had called "Mrs. J. C." to say that we should make another press, now that it was obvious why the USO tour had been booked. So back I went. This time we're not talking with that little thug at all. We are talking with a big thug, a fellow named Mr. Gambino. Wong Lee went out the back window of the hotel an hour ago (Hoover's boys have their eye on Gambino) and is meeting with him to see if the "men of respect" have a more reasonable take on the tour than their protege. If not....

Oh, Reggie. Whatever will I say to Amy, Tommy and Suzie if Wong Lee does not come back?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

GOODWOORD: An Unplanned, Hasty and Somewhat Speculative Technical Appendix

Reader Alex writes: 

OK. The 6 pounder comes on the scene in early 1942 with a plain AP and a HE ammo nature. The AP round keeps getting upgraded. Sabot comes along in March 1944, well in time to be used in Normandy. That takes the maximum armour penetration from a baseline of 88mm up to 142mm. The US also buys the six-gun, but it doesn't do the ammo upgrades and as a result doesn't get value from the weapon except when units beg APDS rounds off the Brits, which they do whenever they can because they don't want to die.
The six-gun is installed in a variety of British tanks. As you have discussed, Shermans start to flow into the RAC, to begin with in the Middle East. They bring with them the US 75mm. The combination of US pushing of Sherman, and after-action reports wanting a better direct fire support weapon, leads the UK to accept Sherman and also to introduce the ROQF 75. The important point here is that the ROQF 75 uses the same ammo natures as the US M2/4/6.
Per Wikipedia, there is never a decent AP round for the M2/4/6 or therefore the ROQF, while there most certainly is for the six gun and the 17. In fact, the M61 AP shells were even delivered without the burster fill, so their ballistics may also have been screwy if the weight in the tail wasn't replaced with something.
So. HEAT or whatever doesn't turn up in time to be relevant, but sabot certainly does. In fact, run the tape back to Villers Bocage.
Wittmann kills a Sherman, another gets stuck across the road due to its shitty drivetrain so the rest of the squadron can't gang tackle him. He rips into the RHQ squadron, and then...well, Bill Cotton and a handful of Jackets scrabbling about like untermenschen get a mobility kill and he wanders off leaving his crew. The point here is that the Jackets' AT platoon are loaded for bear or rather tiger with 6 pdr APDS while the CLY tanks have nothing like it. Cotton pulls this off again and again through the day. It happens again in EPSOM - German armour smashes everything until it hits an infantry AT platoon and then it, er, doesn't.
Question. Why wasn't there a sabot round for the 75? A 75 round weighs about as much as a 6, so the energetics ought to be OK. The Americans never got it for their own 6s - couldn't their industry manage it? In which case, why did ROF not make one as they obviously could? The British were clearly aware they were short on tank killing capability, hence the effort to upgun Shermans and M10s.
Further question. The requirement for better suppressive fires out of a tank wasn't bullshit - engaging German anti-tank guns was something all armour that fought them needed to do. It turned up as a requirement from Tunisia and AFAIK Sicily - is there some really fascinating deep history of the landscape you're going to tell me about? Or is it more that 1st Army's artillery fire control and forward air control was a bit wank compared to 8th, which after all had learned the hard way?

 Sabot. Wouldn't have noticed. It's a gendered thing. Who would want a shoe that slips off so easily? It's not really until you see what you can accomplish working within the limitations that you can see and advantage.

Apropos of not very much, Nineties club music before the break, technology (and the secret history of tanks and the Norman landscape) after the break.