Sunday, June 29, 2014

D-Day +23: First Stakes

So, seventy years ago today, Operation EPSOM is closing down. Three days ago, General Sir Richard O'Connor, star a few World War II counterfactuals,* launched 15th Scottish Division across the River Odon as the first echelon of newly-arrived XXX Corps' first attack in the Battle of Caen, with 11th Armoured Division, 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division, with 31st Army Tank Brigade attached to the !5th Scottish, and 4th Armoured Brigade attached to 11th Armoured for the operation. 


It has not gone well. Some workmen are blaming their tools.

Because the 15th Division was the "Scottish Lions." Right?

Monday, June 23, 2014

D-Day +17: Ducks

Serious business, today, folks. Armies fail; states fail; gasoline prices rise; people worry about their jobs and put off purchases; at the extreme, they put off life itself. That kind of thing just can't go on.

So, obviously a blog about technology and society and war and grass should start an entry about the day after the Great Channel Storm with this, right?

This is a lot more frightening than it looks. Surf tries to roll you over. It takes some getting used to, and DUKWs are not particularly safe vehicles.

Nah. Instead, I'm going to lift some classic material. (Art by Carl Barks and  Don Rosas. Buy this! Or don't, because it seems to be out of print. How could that happen?)

The English pirate, El Draque (he's a duck!), has captured a "lost library" from the Spanish on the Pacific. On an unexplored shore, he builds a fort to store this treasure. (If you care about the imaginarium, this is the source of the Junior Woodchuck Manual.)

By 1818, El Draque's old fort is occupied by the British (who are Beagles), who are being attacked by the Spanish. Because reasons. Cornelius Coot ends up with the deed to the fort and 10 acre hill. Which, as far as early West Coast landgrabbing goes, is pretty unambitious, but whatever. And while this may not sound like history of California the way you learned it in school, but don't worry, we're talking about Calisota, not California. You also don't have to worry about the JWM. It's safe underground. 

So Scrooge McDuck has come to little Duckberg on the Calisota coast, intending to build the world headquarters of his (mostly) mining empire on the site of the old fort on the hill, now known as "Killmule Hill," and soon as "Killmotor." And the Beagle Boys get wind of it, and then Teddy Roosevelt, who is also a Beagle, gets upset, and so on. I'd call it a "long story," but comic book writers hadn't invented "decompression" yet, so it's actually pretty short. A lot shorter than this introduction is turning out to be

It all gets sorted out, and Scrooge McDuck builds what you obviously need for a global corporate headquarters (a giant bin of money), and promises to build industries such as railroads to make Duckburg a might city. The blonde girl duck is his sister. Not the one who becomes Scooge's nephew, Donald Duck's, mom. That one has anger management issues, because bipolar disorder is always hilarious. Donald Duck's Dad is a duck, too. But not a Scottish Duck, so his last name is "Duck," as opposed to "McDuck." Which you were always wondering about.

Oh, yeah. Closure. The Carl Barks version:

And Sigvald Grøsfjeld Jr.'s more sophisticated version:

"Based on the geographical short distance to Silicon Valley and that most modern duck-stories (even though they're not Carl Barks or Don Rosa stories) show a very modern and high-tech city, we may assume that Duckburg is one of the leading cities in the world within electronics and hi-tech at the dawn of the new millennium.."

You will notice that I link to a chapter of Grøsfjeld's fan site. That's because of a shortage of internal HTML links in an otherwise awesome fansite, which is well worth wasting your time on.

Speaking of which, I do have a reason for exploring the funny book version of the folk version of California history here, which is, of course, to bring out the funny book version of racial essentialism here. You will notice that it has been thoroughly deracialised and classless. Both criminals and Presidents are beagles, and both beagles and ducks come from any number of countries. The point is that in Calisota society, ducks marry ducks, and beagles marry beagles. To do otherwise would be a zoological absurdity, one that we do even need to think about.

Just like we do not have to think about the transition from "El Draque" to 1818, or allow for a Spanish interlude. History goes, as someone much smarter than I once put it, through tunnels that link two eras that need to be linked, avoiding the messy stuff in between. 

Also,  I do not notice many working class ducks. Which is odd, because if there is one thing that a DUKW was, it was working class. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

D-Day+13: Silk Road

Seventy years ago today, the wind is picking up. Hitler weather is coming, the worst spring storm in the Channel in more than sixty years, one last chance to "gather together to greet the storm." The world could hardly be more perverse.


But we will win. The storm will pass.

The story of the fiasco of the first V-1 salvo is not in Michael Neufeld's Rocket and the Reich. What is, is a horror story. The Germans are good people, their academy as good as any other. And yet there came a day when, in squalid underground factories, good German Weltburgherrn found themselves the masters of slaves, and behaving like masters of slaves, not only to the slaves, but to each other. It was a moral degradation that came not because ballistic missiles had even the remotest hope of "saving the Fatherland," already past saving by anything short of unconditional surrender but because the state had given them a chance to make rockets. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, when they are given a chance to make rockets again, and do so, the ones that get to the Moon and back are made by well-paid, free labour. 

This is not, however, a meditation on the V-2, but, rather, its proper rival. The technologically utopianism of the Third Reich is a proper counterpoint to the totalising inhumanity of its genocidal vision. So what do we say about the fruit of the mulberry tree?

(Here's some Mulberry tow footage on Youtube.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

D+11: Robot Solution

Yesterday morning, 70 years ago today, Herbert Morison rose in the House of Commons. The Home Secretary had something to say to the nation.


Yes, it is a little facetious. Three V-1 flying bombs will strike the Borough of Beckingham, two in Southwark, one in Lambeth, one in Lewisham, and one in Wandsworth, but the two that struck Deptford in the early morning, killing 24, would have been more on the minds of parliamentarians than the dribble of bombs that came in through the rest of the day. Deptford Dockyard is a major staging area for the Invasion, and an area a quarter mile square around the dockyard will be struck by 7 V-1s and a V-2 during the campaign, doing significant military damage as well as pretty much wrecking the local housing stock. The rain and damp of a dismal summer (not to mention the coal-less winter to follow), penetrating through opened building envelopes, will complete the work of the high explosive blasts. 

On the other hand, with the techno-utopians arguing that NOW is the moment of the robot revolution, it is as well to remind ourselves that they have been with us for a very long time indeed, and General Sir Frederick Pile told the  Chiefs of Staff what Google is telling us now:  A “robot defence” was needed against a “robot target.” (Dobinson, 423.)

Monday, June 16, 2014

D-Day +10: Neptune'sTriumph

Or, given, seventy years ago today, 6000 ton concrete caissons are being towed across the Channel at a stately 4 knots, a more appropriate soundtrack. 


Today is the big day. This morning, the first LST will dock in Mulberry A, the artificial port built off Omaha Beach to support the invasion of France. Paradoxically, haste has been urged on its commander again and again, for it is not certain how well, or how long the Mulberries will work. Cherbourg must fall, and it must fall quickly. This is not something that just happens to a fortress of a century's standing, long built under the assumption that it must hold against invaders across the Channel. By controlling the port, the French deny the British the ability to land the battering train that can take the port. The chicken-and-egg problem offers France a measure of protection against a British bolt form the blue as the army does various very important and necessary things in Spain, Italy or Germany. Or Mexico, because if there's one country that needs a Habsburg monarch...

See? They wear funny hats when they're annihilating our forces. Not a real country. Wiki. 

France's civilising mission is conserved by the genius of its engineers. Too bad about those Germans.

For whatever reason, the Allies have not been deterred, and the situation has developed as long anticipated. An amphibious assault has been made on the beaches to the south of Cherbourg, and an army has advanced inland, cutting off the fortress and presenting its garrison with a contravallation, while defending its own flanks with a circumvallation. The latter is, unfortunately, naturally strong. The inundations of the Douve River, which the Allies have had to cross in the first place, strengthen the line and allow them to resist counterattack with the glamorous, hard-fighting parachute troops of 17th Corps, while three plebeian infantry divisions face north towards the fortress city with the task of reducing the fortress before the Germans can organise a relief. (A fourth division is in reserve.) 

Within the besieged fortress are elements of four German divisions: 920th and 921st Regiments of the 243d Division; 1049th and 1050th Regiments of the 77th Division; fragments of the 1049th Regiment as well as elements of the 1057th Regiment (91st Division; elements of all three regiments of the 243d Division, Sturm Battalion AOK 7, all three regiments of the 709th Division, and artillery and antiaircraft batteries.* Some of these units had suffered heavy casualties in the past thirteen days and all were understrength. Sturm Battalion AOK 7, for example, was whittled down to a strength of about one hundred men. This intelligence appreciation omits the fortress units of the Cherbourg garrison, including the coastal artillery, above all the key batteries on Cap de la Hogue, whose importance to the whole port situation will soon become clear.

The composition of the American force is strikingly different from the one facing the Germans in the east, around Caen. There are no armoured divisions, not even any independent armoured brigades/regiments. That does not, however, mean that there is no heavy metal slated for the Cherbourg front. Unlike the British, who have skipped a second round of intensive ordnance development, the United States artillery has invested in a new generation of siege guns. They are not quite the colossal monsters that reduced Sevastapol, but the 240mm M1 Howitzer is a 29 ton monster, pulled in two parts by 38 ton tractors, twelve-and-a-half ton barrel on one trailer, 20 ton carriage on the other. It can loft a 360lb shell with a muzzle velocity of 2300ft/second, something that proved surprisingly hard to correlate with reinforced concrete penetration in a swan around the Internet this afternoon, but this may perhaps be beside the point. The Brialmont works at Liege used 4 meters of unreinforced concrete, and were reduced by Austrian 8.4" howitzers. The higher velocity American 9.2" howitzer was specifically designed to better that performance, and was not going to be left out of the battle, any more than the somewhat lighter 6" and 8" guns, however little discussed the performance of the corps-level heavy artillery. (1, 2, 3, 4)

It was also not going to be unloaded from an LST onto a beach, which brings us back to the port. Unimpressed with the British schedule, the Americans have pressed their port ahead by all possible shortcuts. Captain Augustus Dayton Clark, a constant, unsleeping presence directing the American effort for months, has responded by completing his port three days ahead of schedule. Last night, an unresisting, mute, nervously fidgeting Captain Augustus Dayton Clark, USN (Class of '22) was led off his bridge. In a cynical, upper-addled age, we recognise the symptoms. Captain Clark will die at 90: he is no meth-head; but he has clearly been indulging more than is good for him.** 

There is precious little, in the end, that we can say of Captain Clark. The scene of his death, the person who took charge of his funeral, these suggest a comfortable life, as does the ease with which a search for "Augustus Dayton Clark" turns up distinguished Americans of earlier eras. We can understand, given what is soon to follow, why his naval career is soon to end. It is filling in the blanks between 1945 and a death at the age of 90 that is hard. A working career spent in the advertising department of The Philadelphia Bulletin? I suspect that Captain Clark, in his own way, left a vital part of himself on the beaches of Normandy. Romulus buried Remus as a foundation sacrifice to the city of Rome, and when Achilles raised a barrow over the grave of Patroclus on the ringing plains of Troy, he gave twelve Trojan youth to his companion.

Nor twelve youth, or a goddess-borne hero will be enough for the Mulberries,

So the modern age settles for a man's career.

The image here is pretty staggering. That's why I lifted it from the Beckett Rankine Archives. Beckett Rankine is the firm which originated as Brigadier Sir Bruce White's civil engineering partnership, Sir Bruce White, Wolfe Barry & Partners, and after seventy postwar years of building and improving ports, it has every right to be proud of the wartime accomplishments of its founder, and of Trn.5 more generally. There is, however, far more to it than this. Enough so that a little context and a bit of history is more than enough for a single post. The context, obviously, is the siege of Cherbourg. The history is, well, interesting. As I have suggested, we are lingering over a moment in British history, when peopl who were good at something (civil engineering in general, building ports specifically), picked the country up by the scruff of its neck and set it on a new course. We may suppose that offshore oil was a natural thing for Britain to develop in the postwar era, but there are plenty of petrochemical resources still in the ground (not least among them a great deal of Britain's coal) because it is  "not technically feasible" to exploit them. It has to become technically feasible before something like North Sea oil can be brought to market. I do not think that anyone disagrees that this is the way that it became feasible. Conscious intent, or "failing forward?" More likely the latter. 

Anyway, enough speculation: time for more history.

On the outskirts of the New Forest, on the estuarine banks of the River Test, across from Southampton in Hampshire, the New Forest tapers to a halt. Erected out of an old wilderness, William the Conqueror's hunting reserve lies on bad soil suitable for pannage the practice of fattening the annual hog herd on fall acorns. That, in turn, requires land in which to hold the hogs, and at the estuarine banks, the problem turns from poor soil to too m uch water. Here lies the old manor of Marchwood Romsey, and, as the Nineteenth Century expanded its mastery over the landscape, manor turned to suburb. By the time World War I came along, it had acquired four churches, a power plant, railway station, and a powder magazine.

World War I presented Britain with novel problems. Dover, its traditional gate to the continent, is a tiny port. That is why the railway connection developed through Devonport instead. Then, the BEF set up shop right across the narrow seas. The solution was the "secret" military port of Richborough: pretty much the same kind of thing, for the same reason, and in the same location as the old Roman base of Reculver.


For the railway units of the British Army, this was a revelation. To support the army in siege operations, the RE had developed the capacity to build and operate railways on a limited basis. Now the corps came to realise that it would have to be able to conduct rail operations on a much larger scale in order to support a major modern military campaign. Moreover, unlike its continental rivals, it would have to operate rail ports, as well. Veterans of the effort went on to redevelop Dover as a "ro-ro" port in the interwar era, which could take trains across the Channel as trains. (Here is a planning document with more details than you would ever need, although not necessarily a historical focus.)

Jump through World War II, and we get the Marchwood Military Port, the Sea Mounting Centre, today the home of 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, Royal Logistics Corps. That is, the British Army has a specialised unit for conducting port operations, with its own private port. Originally developed during World War I as a support area for the Richborough Port, it came into its own as the site where the Mulberries were developed --although certainly not built.

 It is, it seems, on its own face, utterly normal,utterly modern, utterly quotidian.*** The British Army has a regiment -two regiments, in fact-- of port builders and operators. They descend from 931 Port Repair and Construction Regiment of the Royal Engineers (Transportation). This is the unit that has accreted around projects, beginning with the port at Richborough and culminating with an organisation that proposes to repair and even build new ports with the equipment developed for replacing roads and railway bridges with modular equipment. 

If you can build a new railway bridge in a hurry with modular equipment, why can you not build a new port with the same? It will, admittedly, have to be quite a big port if it is to be sited off the Normandy coast. If ships drawing 21 feet are to unload at it, the pier heads must be four miles off the beach. A jetty that long is unthinkable, and the Prime Minister is hardly the first to note that one that "rises and falls with the tide" will be required. That insight is to be had in the official history of the Gallipoli campaign, I am assured by some review or another writing in the interwar Army Quarrterly. Not that I can check this claim, now that the copyright trolls have squatted the book (seriously, Australian National Archives? Seriously?) but I think it's in there somewhere. 

So that's the project: build a modular port that contains 1400 acres of harbour space --bigger than the Dover port!-- at high water, tow it across to Normandy, install it under fire, and operate it until winter, and perhaps longer. Or, no, build two ports, and give one to the American, considering that it's not going to be possible to find the necessary manpower and tugs without American help. Notice that the whole "railway-Mulberry" thing is pretty organic. There is no way of getting the heavy construction supplies needed to rebuild Cherbourg as a rail port except through the Mulberries. The Mulberries cannot be a substitute for Cherbourg in the long run, because they cannot be rail ports. That does not mean that the Allies do not have plans for an artificial rail port on or near the invasion beaches of France --but that plan is going to have to wait for another post, even if I have highlighted its crucial failing already.

So: transportable, modular port. It's just a bit of civil engineering. How hard can it be? This is probably the place for the only semi-facetious observation that since all major civil engineering projects are today impossible, wrong, too expensive, evil, and surely not worth it in the end, why even try? 

@A moment here: Sure, I cite Elgin. Who wouldn't at a moment like this? But there's an actual "Neptune's Triumph" in the all-too-short British classical play list. It lacks the hook that has made Elgin famous, but it's supposed to be quite good, in a Twentieth-Century-Classical-Music sort of way. Take it away, Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners:

*Ruppenthal, Utah Beach to Cherbourg, 150. Hyperwar link here; bibliographic information for the US Army official histories is too easily discoverable to be worth including here. 
**Details from Stanford.
*** No playlist, regrettably. If that seems obscure, for the sake of those who do not click on links, I will just observe that it goes to 17 Regiment's Territorial component's Youtube Channel. Because it has one, is my point. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

D-Day +7: The Roads Must Roll

I can imagine conversations between something (let's go full Novocento and call it the Zeitgeist) and the state order.

Some are simple:

Stalin: The Germans are invading! I'm going to lose my job! Do something!
Russian Zeitgeist: More tractors.
Stalin: I...I'm sorry, what?
Russian Zeitgeist: MOAR TRACTORS!
Stalin: Let's get this straight. You'll save my ass if I give you ...more tractors?
Russian Zeitgeist: Long Live Comrade Stalin!

You need to get the grain in before the first rains of autumn. Others are more complicated. What in Heaven's name was the nature of the implicit negotiation that led to Britain's major military effort being exporting ports, for example? 

That's your randomly discursive introduction to the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Villers-Bocage and the first flight of V-1 Fieseler Fi-103 pulse jet flying bombs launched against England. (autoplay sound effects; Wickipedia technical writeup.)

(Source.) Appropriately enough to the theme of this post, although coincidentally, of five weapons launched, the one that did significant damage struck the Great Eastern viaduct over Grove Road. Six people were killed. It is going to get much worse. 

Services on the Great Eastern were also interrupted for a few hours. 

I am not ready to write about the Baby Blitz yet. I am, however, going to tie it together with what I am going to claim is a great reversal of course. There are signs that society was coming apart in the late 1930s, in much the same way that it is coming apart now. How did we move from social dehousing (the sketch is crofters being evicted during the Black '47) to massive housing via blowing up houses? It seems paradoxical, of a piece with the bizarre mutual escalation in mine warfare influence triggers that seems driven as much by what the mine warfare establishments on either side of the North Sea want to do as by the actual effects of the more sophisticated weapons (not that I want to underestimate that) suggests an element of tacit social manipulation. Instead of making war with the weapon you have, society is going to make the state raise the army that it wants.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Normandy+3: The Fatherland Sends Its Best Regards

I am sure I've done this one before, because I distinctly recall cringing at the introductory, " Bertold Brecht said..." I just like this version a little better than Stan Roger's original, just like I prefer this version of Northwest Passage. My apology for the repetition is that it was that or this.

Call me a Gen Xer, but I prefer Rogers to Lightfoot. Plus, the Mary Ellen Carter rises again.

Let me put this in bald terms once again. Human society tends to get itself levered into corners where state orders can find their only escape in war. The question is: how do state orders get actual people to fight their wars for them? And by actual people, I mean until now above all young men. The conventional answer is that young men are stupid, and can be manipulated into making war. Stupid, stupid young men. 

Without at all denying that young men tend to be stupid, I propose that this is a little simple-minded, that young men have some agency after all, and historically have often declined to take part in the wars of state orders. 

Last time, I tried to connect Bernard Montgomery to Prince Eugen of Savoy. The connection was a musical link, so the connection more specifically implied is the 1717 siege of Belgrad with the 1944 invasion of Normandy. Nor am I entirely relying on a logically-illegitimate poetic convergence of a cover of "It's Raining Men" with the Prinz Eugenlied. 1717 was the last act in a generation of war that broke though constraints on manpower mobilisation that had held since Roman times. The great wars of the turn of the Eighteenth Century reached the limit of available manpower before they reached the limit of available money. The winning hand in the labour negotiation was thrown from finance to labour, and labour was allowed to negotiate its terms. 

Labour got what it wanted out of the War of the Spanish Succession: and so it remained through the Victory Campaign in Northwest Europe. My claim: these are the bookends of an era in which the state had to offer skilled trades learning on an as-offered basis in order to obtain the labour it needed to make war. 

Having set up the problem over the last three weeks to the limit of my poor narrative ability and available time, it is time for the payoff: sequels to the set-up. 

This is a sequel to D-3. I know, I know. It should be a sequel to D-15, but, like I said, I'm reaching the limits of my ability to organise myself. It is time to talk about the defeat of the oyster mine.

 Travel writer Saneka  includes this picture of the arches at Etretat, Normandy, in an article for that does not really seem to fit the implied mandate of the site. It is not as though this town is obscure. You are not going to understand Normandy unless you understand that it is close to Paris. That goes for the invasion, it goes for "the Normans," and it goes for 1066. It also goes for Etretat's tourist trade, but I digress. The point, other than a bit of scenery porn, is that this is a classic mining coast, with lots of shallow water that large ships have to cross in order to unload their cargoes, under threat from bottom-laid influence mines all the way. 

Big deal: I am not talking about strategy, but about the bargain: the "economy of knowledge." 

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day: Monty's Storm

Seventy years ago today, 120,000 men hit the beach. We have a story about what motivated them.

It's not a very good story. It's not untrue, but although Rick Atkinson's Guns at Last Light lyrics-checks The March of the Cameron Men and The Battle Hymn of the Republic, it is the Beer Barrel Polka that comes up again and again, and when a fighter-bomber dropped a package to the Paras at Pegasus Bridge that happened to include a copy of the Daily Mirror announcing the D-Day landings, the men lined up to read the latest installment of Jane. 

The truth is, they stormed ashore to impress people. Their fiance? Girlfriend? Boyfriend? Secret crush? Their general? Nigel Hamilton's reinterpretation of Monty's generalship makes much of the homoerotic attachment that Montgomery could not hide, and makes the fairly obvious point that it was important to young men. At home they were boys, and, given that they had ended up private soldiers in the infantry, often little regarded boys, some from difficult homes, most from bad schools and bad neighbourhoods.

"Some of our men enlist from having got bastard children — some for minor offences — many more for drink; but you can hardly conceive such a set brought together, and it really is wonderful that we should have made them the fine fellows they are."

It is proprietary, and patronising, but it captures an essential truth. Their general is the first to recognise the change in them, the first to want to touch them, to love them. But that only goes to prove that he is smart, because soon the world will know this of them, that they will deserve what is coming to them when they get home. It is a surprisingly successful style of generalship. (Inevitably.)

Now here is the hidden secret: a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Postblogging Technology, May 1944, I: Pent Up

My Dearest Reggie:

I find after finishing my personal note that it has evolved into a long complaint about the local sept of our kin across the divide of 1822. It should not be that way, and I would wish instead to raise a smile on your face by recording that your youngest was actually permitted to escort "Miss V.C." to a dance at the college. He was over the moon before he conceived the idea that she was only trying to make Lieutenant A. jealous, at which point he crashed back to Earth with the moody speed of his age. Your eldest will be flying back from Boston next week, and writes with Kodaks of the jumpers he has bought for the babies enclosed. Your daughter-out-of-law has resumed walks with Mrs. Murphy, who recovered from her own delivery more quickly. Judith is a marvel with the babies. It is as though experience counted in this matter of being a grandmother --or in this case a substitute grandmother.

(Included in this package are pictures for you, and another package that you will direct to Chungking via the usual channels for your  counterparts.)

And now to return to the more depressing matter of challenges and questionable investments. I am glad to  hear that the Earl has taken note of the febrile condition of the London Exchange, and stopped pressing, however temporarily, for an agreement with "Cousin H.C." I do not know how I shall wiggle out of the trap, in the end though.

That depressing thought was occasioned by an uncomfortable interview with the Engineer and his son,  a  miserable day

brightened by his daughter, brought to meet her grandfather. Though it is still a depressing thought that the girl will not see her grandfather between what is deemed in that cursed line the age of reason and such maturity as signifies discretion. (Not that we do things that differently.) In any case, "M" was there to ensure that I would bit my tongue when the Engineer urged me to get on with making our investment in Fontana. He knows that I think the idea potentially disastrous. I am sure that he agrees with me; and, therefore, I am sure he is doing it out of pure malice.

Since I can hardly say what I think in front of a three-year-old, I need bite my tongue, only gesturing in the direction of the Invasion --and, floating a trial balloon, the Election. That is where the Engineer went queer, scorning the prospects of the European war, and sure that the election will go against the Democrats, in 1948 if not 1944. which he seems to think will end as it did in 1918. "Look to the Pacific," he told me. "It will be MacArthur in Tokyo in 1945, and MacArthur in the White House in 1948. It is about time that this country did away with one party, one section rule." I levelly asked him if he really believed that, and he shrugged. The idea of MacArthur winning in 1948 is a long shot, but, on the military side, he seems much more firm, persuaded that Nimitz will eventually take one risk too many, and that the Army will rescue the Navy. The air admirals, he told me, are all either idiots or square pegs, and will make sure of it. He should know, he observes cynically. He appointed many of them.

I can hardly argue with that. I did point out the Fortune poll, mentioned below, which found MacArthur more popular amongst Southern business managers than Roosevelt. Is it not the case that the problem with the "Solid South" is that voters there are too deferential to local leadership? The Engineer waved me away, but his son's eyes showed a certain alertness. Incurious, but not unintelligent, I will say again. "M" may yet see her father in high office. 

Speaking of gradual initiations, a most interesting conversation with "Miss V.C." she now knows that there can have been no McKee commanding Spokane House in 1811, as it was not founded until 1812. How then to account for her mother's certainty that "McKee" was in the country that year --the year before Astoria? It must be California, she concludes. The McKees were involved in Upper California before the Companies came to the Northwest.

But what was their business, she asks, sharply: fur to Canton, even then? If so, by the Maritime Trade? She pulls out her copy of Irving's Astoria. Her finger hovers over the name of Alexander McKay, an inspired, if entirely mistaken guess, and swoops off to the romantic heather to draw in Thomas Muir, spinning a tale of international intrigue rather more plausible than the truth.

D-1: Before Dawn: Coup d'Oeil: The Landscape

The 6th, 82nd and 101st are in the air, flying to war in darkness. By moonlight they will land on their EUREKA beacons.

Twenty-three thousand men are going into battle. It is a ridiculously large number of precious infantry, and, large as it is, it could have been more had there been enough aircraft. British 1st Airborne is in the United Kingdom, while the American 17th is held up in Boston by shipping priorities. A parachute division looks like this (in truncated form from here):

Divisional HQ
3rd Para Brigade HQ 
 8th (Midland Counties) Parachute Battalion
Battalion HQ (inclusive:  Signals Platoon; Anti-Tank Platoon; Medium Machine Gun Platoon; Mortar Platoon ;
3 Cos., each of 3 platoons
  9th (Home Counties) Parachute Battalion
1st Canadian Parachute Battalion
3rd Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, RA: 4 troops, 8 17 pounders, 8 6 pounders
 3rd Parachute Squadron, RE; 224th Parachute Field Ambulance, RAMC
  5th Para Brigade
  6th Airlanding Brigade ( 3 battalions, mostly to follow on the evening of the 6th)
   Under Division
 53rd (Worcestershire Yeomanry) Airlanding Light Regiment, RA (arrived by sea); 
2 Forward (Airborne) Observation Unit, RA; 
2nd Airlanding Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, RA; 22nd Independent Parachute Company
6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment
  Regimental HQ (Includes Light Aid Detachment; Mortar Section; Despatch Rider Troop
  A Squadron (Light Tanks*)
  B Squadron (Reconnaissance)
  R Squadron (Support)
286th (Airborne) Field Park Company, RE
6th Airborne Divisional Signals
63rd Composite Company, RASC
 398th Composite Company, RASC
716th Light Composite Company, RASC
 6th (Airborne) Divisional Ordnance Field Park, RAOC
 6th (Airborne) Divisional Workshops, REME
 Two Airlanding Light Aid Detachments, REME
 6th (Airborne) Divisional Provost Company, CMP
317 (Airborne) Field Security Section, Intelligence Corps
 6th Airborne Divisional Postal Unit (note that the parachute posties record two wounded in the campaign; no word on whether they jumped into battle)
  Attached units: The Glider Pilot Regiment (39 deaths)

Although my intent in reproducing a divisional order of battle is to emphasise how many non-infantry badges jumped into battle, this is a lot of airborne rifles.


Now let's take an impression of  landscape instead of seascape. Yes, the scaling will be extreme, but I used a pasted in Order of Battle to push it below the box!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

D-2: Postponement: Weather Forecasting

Trial Balloon
Incredible, but true: Two futures hang. Weather forecasters gave D-Day a go in the fine weather of the 2nd, demanded a postponement with the sun still shining on the 4th, and then recommended that the invasion go ahead on the dark and blustery morning of the 5th. It would not take much in the way of adverse conditions to defeat this invasion. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

D-3: Mine Warfare Operations: Approach March

D-Day is not going to happen if the mines aren't swept. It is hard work and an honourable job, but also a boring, quotidian one. Quotidian is boring: Rick Atkinson deals with it in a single paragraph on page 37 of Guns at Last Light (2013; (36--7). The largest mine warfare effort in history with the gathering of "some 255" vessels in Area Z, the marshalling area south of the Isle of Wight from whence the convoys will make their departures to the Norman shore. One paragraph. What else is there to say?

This is the "Tree" class trawler Acacia (Image credit: Wikipedia). Six of 20 taken up from the Ardrossan Dockyard Company were lost in WWII, an honourable total from amongst the over 400 trawlers either taken up from the British fishing industry or built to the Admiralty account, although "trawler" unambiguously identifies a working boat, a relatively small craft intended to be used to fish the open banks with large nets dragged behind the boat. It is a big business in Britain. Though, to be fair, it is a big business most everywhere in the world with a seacoast. 

I have taken this image from a fairly typical book about the fisheries of Britain , typical in the sense that it salutes the productivity of the industry, notes its historical importance to Britain's seapower, and then switches tone with an elegant pirouette from the vital importance of the business to recipes that will encourage people to eat more fish. Apparently, you can have it both ways. I have talked about the industry's hard dynamics elsewhere

The fisheries are a hard business, is what I am saying.  What it appears that I have not talked about is the way that the Admiralty subsidised the business, which was by enrolling fishermen in the Royal Naval Reserve and subsidising the outfitting of a standard type of "Admiralty" trawler with radio direction finders and depth sounders. High technology for 1939! It also set aside 250 simple sonar sets to equip the fleet on mobilisation. So they could fish for mines instead of herring! While German fishermen laid them. "You know, what this town needs is two lawyers."

I must have talked about this before, even if I can't find the details. Anyway, point is, on the outbreak of war, Britain was ready to mobilise a vast fleet of Captains Courageous to do the hard work of sweeping up German mines.

Monday, June 2, 2014

D-4: Truck!

C. W. McCall's "Convoy" is corny,and tries way too hard to be authentically corny. It is pointing us in the direction of the Reagan Revolution, which may not have done as well by the everyday trucker as they thought in the day, but...

"It was the dark of the moon on the Sixth of June..."  It's right there in the song. There was a day when it all changed, and now we live like we live now.

This is Nakusp Esso, photo by kuschk, who has just about single-handedly documented an entire region of my province for Google Earth. There's a reason for that. No-one lives there.

The map snip here fits in Kamloops, Kelowna, Nelson and Castlegar in the margins, with Nakusp in the centre, to orient you. That's on the unlikely possibility that you have heard of even those towns. Nakusp is one of the communities strung together by Provincial Route 6, which is the road you take if you have an allergy to getting places quickly. Mainly, it is for loggers doing loggery things, and tourists. Not surprisingly when this is the gate of the region:

The Fauquier ferry. Get it? Trucked? Fauquier? Get it? Picture by 2point71
It's a bit of an exaggeration to say that this entire region in the middle of continental British Columbia is only linked to the rest of the province by ferry, as one of the four roads out of it does not have a ferry leg, but it is true enough in spirit to its landlocked isolation. 

To come back to the original photo, let me tell you a story about Nakusp Esso, which is only untrue in matters of fact. It was founded by a guy named Al, who went to Normandy with 3 Canadian Division on 6 June 1944. He never talks about it, though, because he drove a truck onto JUNO Beach that day, and for the rest of the campaign, and for all the horrors he saw, Al was privately guilty that he was never actually a real soldier. His ancestors, if he cared to own them, which he did not, rural Canada being what it was in his day, were warriors, ranging up and down the Columbia from the Great Bend north of Revelstoke down to Spokane. At the end of a southwards rove, they would shoot their weapons into the great rock at the narrows that was flooded by the dam at Castlegar, which is why this long stretch of flooded river is called the Arrow Lakes. Al, though, did not canoe. He ran a gas station, and fixed people's cars, following the fitter's trade he learned in the Army. 

Marc Bloch, in his French Rural History, (if you don't mind me repeating a bit that I've probably done before) makes heavy going of the way that the profound cultural differences between northern and southern France were shaped by the northern class of "Laboreurs," rural peasants who had the land and the wealth to support a team of horses, and who rented them out to plough farms and haul hay and the like in season. The name and the occupation suggest "peasant," but, at the level of everyday rural life, the laboreur stands out as a veritable working-class aristocrat. From which large farms: hierarchical society, village communes, bocage, Normandy!

Never mind that. That little ferry, parked day in and day out at the tiny community of Fauquier, British Columbia, is part of the world that D-Day made. One more by kuschk:

Just a place, a very ordinary place, that someone calls the "old homestead." Maybe Al's grandchildren. Yeah, Al's grandchildren. We'll say that. We live there the way we do because of the way we live now.