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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Ron Walker

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  1. Lacking as they did an airforce with much "throw weight", Germany found itself having problems trying to do the work of a strategic airforce with one that had been designed principally for supporting the army. Their solution was to use delayed action bombs. The normal assumption is that there's an air raid warning, the bombers come, drop their bombs, the all-clear sounds, and people come out of their shelters to inspect and repair the damage. No disrespect to the people who got bombed, but compared to what happened to (for example) Dresden or Hamburg... The Luftwaffe just didn't have the capacity to drop that number of bombs. Instead, they came up with the ZEUS fuze. The bombers would drop bombs, the all clear would be sounded, hours - possibly DAYS would pass, and then the bomb would explode. Teams of expert bomb defuzers VERY carefully removed the bomb and or the fuze, or both. On the other side, German Boffins began producing a wide array of variations on the Mk 1 ZUS40 "ZEUS" fuze, with increasingly complex anti-handling capabilities. The UXB squad would disassemble each new bomb while explaining exactly what they were doing (and seeing) to an associate at the far end of a telephone line. If the line suddenly went dead, the team knew that they'd come up against a new trick to look out for, and yet another of their colleagues hadn't survived the experience. At the peak of the campaign, UXB men had a life expectancy of not much over a week. Many of them were conscientious objectors, unwilling to take another person's life, but quite willing to lay down their own to protect their fellows. My (Paternal) grandparents came originally from the North East of England - one of them from Hull, the other from Grimsby. (I can never remember which came from which!) Hull was the single most bombed town in Britain.(By the time War began, the family had moved to Bristol, via Rotterdam!) Having been the first town in England to get bombed, and the target of the last air raid. But it was Grimsby which was the target for the first mass-dropping of so called "Butterfly bombs" by the Luftwaffe: a protracted air raid where a majority of the bombs dropped seem to have been delayed action.
  2. Hitlers underestimation of Russia.

    That's precisely my point. A nation of people who have developed a habit of doing what they were told - without question.And that in turn goes back to being conquered by the Mongols. The Mongols were at the time of their conquests, unbeatable. If you fought them YOU WOULD DIE.And then, furious at being defied, the Mongols would then kill your family, your friends, your dog, your farm animals... Wise people DIDN'T fight them. The Mongols had no need to leave behind a garrison to control their conquests: they just left the same rulers in charge, now tasked with fulfilling a list of payments as a form of "tribute" to the conquerors. Those payments stripped the conquered people down to starvation rations. But they paid, because if they didn't the Mongols would return, and they'd kill you, and your family, and your dog and...(you get the idea) Worse, if someone else paid a visit to the Great Khan, and claimed that HE could extract even MORE tribute.. he'd be given the opportunity to try. People lived their lives in total terror, and on the brink of starvation. Kind of like being a resident of Auschwitz, except that it lasted not for just a few years... but for several complete generations. Obviously, eventually the Mongol Empire imploded, and things "went back to normal" in Russia. But after several generations of being vassals, what "Normal" meant, had changed. Russia was now free to write their own laws... but, curiously, those laws didn't reflect the nation's aspirations, but instead continued to perpetuate the kind of society that had existed under the daily threat of extermination by the Mongol Hordes. And, to some degree that has continued down the generations. Random arrests, total absence of control over your life, shortages of everything... Life under Stalin can't have been that different to life under Ghengis Khan, except perhaps for the hope of a better future, brought about by the Communist Party.
  3. Hitlers underestimation of Russia.

    Worth remembering that Russia, back in the day, was NOT like other countries. Hitler was demonstrably worried about the solidity of his support by the German people. Not that long before, there had been a civil war, which concluded with a victory for the Army/Monarchists/Fascists, but NOT with the extermination of the Navy/ Communists; they were still around. True, their former leaders were being fished (in bits) out of the Landwehr Canal for several weeks after the war ended, but within Germany were a substantial number of former communist sympathisers. In Russia, people who disagreed with the leader simply disappeared.The NKVD was far more prevalent than the Gestapo. If Stalin said "Hop", The Russian people asked "How High?" I went on a guided tour of the Moscow Metro system a couple of years back - the guide seemed oblivious to the fact that it had been substantially built with slave labour: slaves in the form of political prisoners, who had increasingly become a mainstay of the Russian economy. People were arrested for the most trivial reasons - being late for work, not wearing the correct gloves with your uniform... Maybe merely because the Secret Policeman hadn't yet met his arrest quota for that week, and you happened to catch his eye.(It happened!) The point being that Russia's army wasn't exactly a paragon of professionalism. If all you're looking for is cannon fodder, all you need to do is point at a few thousand peasants and workers, hand them each a uniform, and... you've got a fresh new division.
  4. Hitlers underestimation of Russia.

    Worth remembering that the Brits neither invaded nor conquered India (and that back then, "India" didn't actually exist. Instead - much like Italy and Germany, the geographical space was occupied by a bunch of small princedoms. Some of them traded with British merchants, first for goods, then for services, The Honourable East India Company was the "Haliburton" of its day, providing off-the shelf civil service facilities, tax collection... you name it, they could provide it. Both sides made fortunes from the trading. Basically because the British merchants were far less corrupt, AND rather more efficient. Efficiency is a double edged sword. Leaving valuable assets unexploited is... inefficient. The HEIC sold off surplus stocks of foo, increasing profits thereby... but destroying the Punjab's ability to survive bad weather, and famine. Short term profits can just be TOO tempting.The British government took over from "John Company", which was already a military power in its own right - as providers of Jannisary style mercenary armies to the local princes. The creation of ad hoc "mutual defence" alliances by the bought-in diplomats increased the combined potency of those troops. Not all princedoms approved of the foreigners - the French particularly were very happy to support any who disapproved of British influence. One of Wellington's greatest battles (Assaye) effectively destroyed French influence in India. The Indian "Mutiny" arose because of claims that the paper cartridges with which the Indian soldiers were issued had been sealed with either Pork fat, or Beef fat, rather than the mutton fat with which they were really treated. During that conflict both sides behaved dreadfully. But it might be fair to claim that by the end of the war the British had REconquered India - which was now a country.
  5. Slightly more complicated than that.... The manufacturer declined to provide either some crucial spares or the information required to get them made elsewhere, claiming that the information was "commercially sensitive". FFS, this aircraft not merely is "old enough to be put in a museum", it already LIVES in a bloody museum! After the debacle of getting one of the last Vulcans in squadron service across the Atlantic to bomb Port Stanley, surely lessons had been learned? The V Bombers were so far ahead of their time that when the rest caught up, they'd done so by a different route. Refuelling the Vulcan on the way to Port Stanley was a nightmare, due to incompatible... pretty much everything. Reminds me of an old friend (now, sadly, departed) who made a good living as a highly skilled draughtsman, specialising in detailing VERY large concrete structures.(Like offshore oil terminals) He saw the rise of computers, and the age of the "Killer App" and ignored them. In his view, Computers were "womens' work" - they had a keyboard, like a typewriter. HIS skill on the other hand was masculine, expressed on a draughting table, using abilities born of long experience. AutoCAD came as something of a shock. Kiddies right out of technical college were suddenly able to do the things that my friend was highly skilled at, without his level of experience (making them a LOT cheaper to hire) He was an analog craftsman in a digital age. I'm astounded that not only the Vulcan, but also Concorde, were both designed effectively without the use of computers. And then FLOWN without the use of computers either. OK, the Lancaster and the B17 were also "designed and flown without the use of computers" - but they flew using MUCH older technology, and at a MUCH slower speed, As that same friend remarked to me: "When Henry Ford first sold the "Model T" there was almost no part of it that you local village blacksmith couldn't (1) understand or (2) replicate or repair at his forge.A modern vehicle, on the other hand, has essential components which monitor performance hundreds of times per second, and which he'd neither understand nor be able to repair nor replicate without the assistance of a multi-billion dollar factory. Things - the world - changed. And what makes the Vulcan stand out for me is that it ought to be a product of one side of that change, but in fact comes from the other side. When this plane was first built... it ought not to have been possible. Yet it was.
  6. Tommy Gun Mods

    Sten Guns were produced in a variety of formats, from the ultra basic all-steel Mk3 to earlier and later versions with wooden stocks. There were even experimental models with no stock at all... but retractable stocks? You must be thinking of some other weapon. you can have either a "T" shaped so called "spade" stock, or an "outline" stock.But NOT a retractable one. After WW2, the Sten was withdrawn from service and replaced first with the "Patchett" which was basically an improved Sten gun and then by the further improved "Sterling". NOW you get a stock that collapses and folds under the receiver. The Thompson went one stage better than a merely "retracting" stock. Press the recessed button in the top side of the stock, and it neatly slides right off to the rear.
  7. Sadly, the last flying Vulcan retired last year; so no more airshow appearances. It really was a crowdpleaser, able to be thrown around the sky to the delight of spectators.I saw it a few times, and each was a breathtaking as the first. Bombers just aren't supposed to be able to DO that stuff! That's what fighters are about. Given that it was tasked with flying into the USSR at not much more than treetop height, and then delivering an atomic weapon, the first they'd have known about it would have been the mushroom cloud.
  8. In my late teens I took a holiday job working in a family-owned hotel in Germany Tucked away in the bowels of the hotel was a mamber of the family that they preferred to keep under wraps: she was in charge of the laundry. A good looking but not particularly intelligent woman, she'd lived her whole childhood under the Nazis, and appeared to have soaked up their teachings. I was introduced to her as "Our English employee", to which she responded "Ach Ja: Die Englander waren auch einmal ein Herrenvolk" (Oh yes, the English were also once a master race".) My blood ran cold.
  9. Hitlers underestimation of Russia.

    I seem to remember a comment by a German general in 1941, that they had estimated the size of the Red Army before the war, but the figures for the units they'd completely destroyed and captured was already 17 divisions larger than their estimated size for the WHOLE Russian Army.
  10. The Avro Vulcan - a raity, in that you don't find many supersonic strategic bombers with aerobatic capabilities! Dating back to a time when the UK led the world in Jet design.
  11. The writer of this piece is clearly NOT a cigar smoker! If you're going to discard an unfinished cigarette, then it needs to be stubbed out, or it WILL continue to burn. A hand-rolled cigar on the other hand will simply stop burning when you stop drawing air through it. Put it down... it'll go out. Churchill developed his cigar smoking habit when serving as a military attaché at the British Embassy in Havana.He usually purchased his cigars from a tobacconist in Haymarket, London, named Friborg and Treyer, who would aquire a stock of Havanas for customers and hold the stock in the shop's own humidors. The customer could then collect the balance a cigar case full at a time. Friborg and Treyer were the first shop in England to stock and sell Cigars, which THEY called "Segars". And continued to call Segars right up until the time that they closed their doors for the last time in 1981. (After 260 years in business!)
  12. This is SO inaccurate as to be almost funny. English, Irish, AND Scottish nationals? Wow! Except there's a word for that: they're called "British".In legal terms, bac then, there was no such thing as an "Irish National", OR an "English National".Predictably "Welsh National" is overlooked.
  13. RCN sending Enigma Code Machine and CodeBooks to British Imperal Navy-Real Story

    My own Grandfather served in the Merchant Navy during WW2, as a cook. He was aboard one of the merchant vessels tasked with tempting the German commerce raider Graf Spee to reveal its location, and wound up in Montevideo in time to witness the "Battle" of the River Plate. The relevance may not seem obvious. In Montevideo, with both British AND German sailors went ashore, both navies established a list of bars that sailors from each navy could visit... or were out of bounds.("off limits") My grandfather commented that he'd been a sailor for a long time, and had his favourite bars in many ports. He wasn't going to be told which ones he could now use and which he couldn't. And besides... Just as during WW1. German commerce with countries other than those in mainland Europe was strangled. Germany's merchant navy was history. But the now redundant sailors were conscripted into the "Kreigsmarine": they were now "regular navy" sailors. The might officially be "THE ENEMY", but in reality, they were likely to be old mates from before the war. Nothing personal about them trying to sink you! Note that barely two decades before WW2, the mainstay of the Communist forces during Germany's brief (but vicious) civil war had been former members of the Navy. So, bottom line, in 1939 was the German Navy 100% loyal to Hitler? Answer... probably not. Under Admiral Raeder's direction the U-Boot service seems to have become progressively Nazified, but in 1939?
  14. Black Devils/ Devils Brigade

    First Special Service Force was the brainchild of Geoffrey Pyke, who was the chief scientific advisor to Lord Mountbatten.(And had a justified reputation as a lunatic for producing an endless string of "off the wall" crazy-seeming ideas.) One of his idea dovetailed neatly with a plan already under consideration, which was to bluff the Germans into thinking that the Allies planned to invade not Normandy... but Norway. Pyke was the kind of fellow who'd go away and think, "but what if we really DID invade Norway?" His plan was based on the idea that the German Garrison in Norway controlled the towns, but not the countryside. If a small invading force could be equipt with an (as yet not invented) form of transport that moved quickly cross country, they could "hit and run" destroying bridges, road, railways... with impunity. Germany would be forced to increase the size of Norway's garrison by as much as SIX DIVISIONS of combat troops (who'd be fighting very highly trained commandos fitter, better shots and tougher than a "normal" soldier.) Pyke punted the idea to Mountbatten, who thought it had considerable merit, (So did Churchill who wrote of the plan " Never in the history of human conflict will so few immobilize so many.[5 ") It became "Operation Plough" and while Pyke began experimenting with new, high speed snowmobiles, 1st Special Force was established specifically to create chaos in Norway. (Hence, as seen in the film, the ski training they got.) Pyke ran into trouble with the design of the Cross-country vehicle (Which nonetheless eventually went into production as the M29 Weasel.) As with several of Pyke's crazier-appearing schemes, the ultra-conservative Pentagon seemed to have no sense of humour whatsoever, and they scuppered his ideas as often as they could. Pyke had a reputation back at Combined Ops of producing what was undoubtedly the stupidest idea you've ever heard... except, if you really thought about it. it was crazy enough to work. The ideas were known as "Pykisms". Pyke suggested, for example, that if the Weasel transporters were taken to the nearest cover to the intended target, they could be left behind unguarded. All you'd need was a white-painted canvas screen, clearly marked (in German) "Urinal, for officers ONLY".And on the Weasel (concealed in this makeshift "urinal", you'd attach a large placard reading (again, in German) "Extreme Danger! Experimental Gestapo Death Ray, TOP Secret, DO NOT APPROACH WITHIN 50 METRES!" Let's say you're a regular German soldier, and you stumble upon the concealed Weasel. Who, exactly, are you going to TELL about it?! And WHAT are you going to tell them? (That really was an authentic Pykeism.) Along the way, Pyke became distracted. If you want to invent a Snow Mobile, you need to become an expert on Snow... Pyke discovered (It's not clear to me whether he actually invented it himself or not) a substance which became known as "Pykrete". If you take water, and you add wood pulp, and you freeze it - but STIR it as you freeze it, and then STOP stirring, you wind up with a material that has a crystaline structure that's very different to regular ice. For starters, it doesn't melt. And it's about as strong a steel, but a great deal lighter AND cheaper (It's just sawdust and seawater, after all!) Pyke suggested to Mountbatten (as another by-product of Operation "Plough" ) that it would be possible to make aircraft carriers out of slabs of Pykrete - with hulls thirty or forty feet thick, and bigger than even a nuclear carrier of today. Mountbatten took a lump of Pykerete to Chequers (The UK Prime Minister's private residence) where he was told that Churchill was taking a bath. He burst into the bathroom, and dumped the block of Pykrete into the bathwater... where it DIDN'T MELT. The two reputedly also fired a revolver at it, and the shot ricochet'ed. "Project Habakuk" was born (apparently a biblical quotation - "Yeah it shall be shown to you and STILL you will not believe it!") Despite a very promising prototype being built in Canada... Habakuk was ALSO scuppered by a total lack of American enthusiasm - just as the attack on Norway had been. You may have noticed that I'm a BIG fan of Geoffrey Nathaniel Pyke!!
  15. Why Nazis Lost the War

    Arising from a completely different thread... The key point here is the DATE at the start of the videoclip: 18th February 1943.That's shortly AFTER the collapse of von Paulus's VI Army, only a few days after Rommel's defeat at El Alamein,And the Russian push-back had just retaken Kharkov. Bombs were falling on Germany 24/7. This (18th Feb) day marks the point at which - for the first time(!) Germany decided that maybe it was time to divert 100% of the country's resources to fighting the war. It was ALREADY LOST!
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