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

GOODWOOD: 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.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Towards GOODWOOD, Four: The Green Fields Beyond

(This one is a day late, so I'm throwing in a freebie: my old notes on the British institutional tank design process. Which may or may not be so heavily plagiarised that Zizek would blush, since I originally intended to rewrite them before publishing them. But, hey, blog!)

Oh, the link. The "green fields beyond" is apparently not just a tag that is supposed to bring to mind fake-Faulkner's rendition of "Old Black Joe" in Barton Fink. (For a given value of "supposed.") It is also supposed to remind us of the Battle of Cambrai. I say that it can do both.

 It turns out that "Through the blood and mud to the green fields beyond" is the "unofficial motto" of the Royal Tank Regiment. Someone doesn't make the association that I make. Truth to tell, the story of the Royal Tank Regiment is not exactly full of triumphant breakthroughs onto the green fields beyond. It is mostly about terrific blows of the armoured fist that the Germans contain with sacrifice and courage in a bad cause. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. The Regiment has achieved its objectives. This is not a "dark future where there is only war."

Warhammer 40K figures, kits and painting By Ryogo Yamane

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Prolegomenon III: Ammunition and the Supply Bottleneck on the Beaches

Victory at Quiberon Bay. From Wikipedia. Plus, the weirdest version of Heart of Oak on Youtube.

Goodwood was not an unprecedented operation in kind. Sedan saw the use of (two) entirely armoured corps in a break-in operation. It also featured a main effort by the heavy bombing force of the attackers. At Sedan this was only heavy by the standards of 1940, but decisive, in my view, because it cut enough cable to paralyse the defending French artillery. Alexander McKee, on the other hand, has characterised the preliminary bombing at Caen as the "heaviest air raid" in history. I doubt that it will qualify for this record when the B-52 carpet bombings of Vietnam and Desert Storm are taking into account, but that's only because B-52s can lift so much weight. By scale of effort, Goodwood really was the heaviest bombing in history.

The point of this post is that however we justify this in operational terms, it makes sense from  a logistical one because the aircraft could carry bombs over from England, whereas conventional artillery (of which a little more at the tail of the article) had to bring their munitions in through the bottleneck of the beaches.

This suggests that I need to talk about that bottleneck.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Second Prolegomenon To Any Possible Discussion of Operation Goodwood

(Bonnie Dobson for the lyrics.)

Why Goodwood? I could begin on the start line, with the first light of dawn on August 8, 1944, with Hamilton, Ontario's "Rileys" and the Essex Scottish, the Lake Superior Regiment and the South Saskatchewans, the Fusiliers Mont-Royals and the Camerons of Canada, the South Albertas and the British Columbia Regiment and the Algonquins, lining up for TOTALISE. With I Canadian Corps, having learned the lessons of GOODWOOD, about to do it right. But that would be a bit bombastic. A small country shows the big powers how it is done, just like another August 8th, another black day for the German army. (The link you were expecting the first time.)

And, true, it would be bombastic. It would also have an essential truth to it. The crux of the matter, the point (I repeat), is that the battlefield dialectic of resources and means is pushing the world forward into technological modernity. A small country, at the frontier of a built and of a curated landscape is not unreasonably the place where these things might be focussed. If the men of the BCR come out of woods where things are done one way

And re-enter them as a place where things are done in another, well..

This is the context of that change.

But, first, let's talk about something different.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Towards the First Stakes: Some Prolegemena for Any Possible History of Operation Goodwood

Let's keep our eyes on the prize. It's not a car. It's the Luv Bandit. And by that I mean that if a war of choice is fought, not by the army you want, but the army you have, then a war of total social mobilisation is fought, not by the army you want, but the army that society will give you. It is an army that, however imperfectly, sees the future: and that future is cruising with your buddies in the Luv Bandit.

(Or your children. Your son, anyway.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Postblogging Technology, May, II: Overdue

Dear Mother and Father:

Please forgive this poor letter. I know how hard it must be for Sister to read, but we are confined to our camps and all outgoing mail is being impounded. So I write it on this stuff and out it goes in the laundry, just like a Republic serial! Mother's aunt's grand-daughter is going to take it up to the Wing Commander, and, from him, America. Queenie is one swell girl! She and her mother even took me around the town last week to see the sights! Keyham is a very small place, all English and sad. Not at all what I pictured. 

If Sister has to give up on this, I hope it sets your heart at ease that since it was made from a ditto, there is a fair copy in the Wing Commander's papers. If anything happens, you will have it after the war. 

Since my letter before this was all about my afternoon out with the Chungs, I shan't repeat myself, as the English say, although you may not have received that letter yet, so I am not really repeating myself! Instead, Father will surely want to know that I shall have my own ship for the Invasion! Well, not really a ship, an LCT, and it will not carry my name on D-Day, though, I hope, soon after. 

It happened this way. Commander Stump of the 510th Port Battalion, who I mentioned, has been staffing his unit by the old-fashioned method. White officers are no good for Coloured troops, but the Navy gets upset about commissioned Coloureds, so the Commander arranges Mess Chiefs to be transferred to the Battalion, then has a friend in Washington lose their jackets. No fuss, no muss, another "White" Officer who is good with Coloureds --at least until he gets it in his head that he can be promoted. 

Well, now that we're shut down, it is hard to play this game, so he has been looking further afield, since Admiral Hall is desperate to get some decent management on the ground. I mentioned Harry Sullivan, the Ojibway highliner from Grand Island? I set up an  LCI whose ramp won't drop with some radios and one of the new LORAN sets, and he'll be a breach guide, talking boats through the obstacles and mines and marshalling the rear echelon landings. I'll take over his LCT. From the look the flag gave me in the minute he spent approving it, I have a feeling that Hall's minded to wink at something a little irregular. (I knew I would make it into a frat some day, Sis!)

The scuttlebut around the fleet is that the swimming tanks are useless. The Admiralty Instructions say that there's a cross-current off the beach, and the tank drivers have no idea how to keep from being swamped by it, but the Army major who is in charge won't hear of any changes. Well, Dad, I hope that the next you hear of me won't be court-martial charges! 

Mom, once again, I can't thank you enough for introducing me to Gracie. She just knocks my socks off. Can't wait to see you guys again, even you Sis, and you see I didn't mention Douggie? Hah! Did you read that aloud?

With All My Love, Tommy 

My Dearest Reggie:

Not much of a note for you this time around. I should love to fill you in on the hijinks of the young and careless ("Miss V.C." has now conceived the idea that the university archives will reveal the secret of her "McKees." I cannot help but think that someone is pulling her leg. It is close enough to the story of Judith's people that I have actually mentioned it to her, but she denies it.) 

Well, that is already more than I intended to write. I really need to be going, and I think I linger at home because of the unpleasantness of my task, which is to somehow chivvy our mutual friend's young associate out of hospital, where he has booked in on pretext of tonsilitis in an attempt to escape a European tour. If I can. I fear that I have no leverage on him at all! In all likelihood, any chivvying to be done will be of our mutual friend, who is spooked of talk about "Section 60" in his contract, with much ominous shading to suggest that it will be the death of him if he breaks his contract. 

I hope that I am not flying between equally awful outposts on the continental lines when the invasion is announced. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

D-Day +25: Dig Yourself A Hole

Source: City of London*

Two things weigh on my mind today:

To put things out of the way first, one of them is not Canada Day. I mean, let's all celebrate up Canada way

 but as a country we seem to have taken this year's festival-of-celebrating-finding-a-way-to-be-a-binational-nation as a day of relaxation. Or I have. (Strange way to relax, I admit, but otherwise guilt would have driven me to write something more ambitious.)

For our country, there will be time enough to marvel at how "secular stagnation" can coexist with an incipient labour shortage tomorrow. Today, we can cheer on our our compatriots in generalised bilingual anxiety in their footie match! ("The Song of Brabant?" You know, if I were a Vlamand, I might be upset.)

The things that weigh on me are, first, a generalised fog of exhaustion. Curse split days off. Second, many, many defeats in solitaire Titan matches with my iPad. Which are both cause and effect here, but whatever. It's going to take a great many matches at sound mind to push my effectiveness rating up to where I had it.

Speaking of holes, there's a lot to cover this summer, and not posting is a way to not get it done. Time, then, to do something both unambitious and needful.