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Warfare History Network

History, Europe

https://www.reutersconnect.com/all?id=tag%3Areuters.com%2C2017%3Anewsml_RC165F41CEC0&share=true The Eastern front was a terrible place to be.

Key point: The Soviet Union was no easy prey for Nazi Germany. Instead, millions of Nazis would die during as the Red Army slowly pushed them back.

In 1941, the northwestern corner of the Ukraine was not what one would call tank country. With the exception of a few narrow, poorly maintained highways, movement was largely restricted to unpaved roads running through terrain dominated by forests, hills, small marshy rivers and swamps. Yet, during the first week of Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, a tank battle involving up to 3,000 armored vehicles took place there. This struggle in a roughly triangular area bounded by the cities of Lutsk, Rovno and Brody, became the forerunner of the brutal armored clashes on the Eastern Front.

On June 22, 1941, Panzer Group 1, the armored spearhead of German Army Group South, breached the Soviet lines near the border town of Vladimir-Volynski at the juncture of the Soviet Fifth and Sixth Armies. As a result of this skillful tactical move, a gap 40 kilometers wide allowed the jubilant Wehrmacht troops to pour into Soviet territory. The Soviet Fifth Army, commanded by Major General M. I. Potapov, bore the brunt of the enemy thrust desperately attempting to slow the German tide.

The German operational plans called for a rapid advance to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, capturing it and reaching the Dnepr River just beyond the city. After achieving this objective, the German troops were to swing south along the river, trapping the bulk of forces of the Soviet Southwestern and Southern Fronts (Army Groups). The capture of Lutsk, an important road nexus, would allow the mobile German units an opportunity to break out into open terrain and advance along two axes to Kiev: the Lutsk-Rovno-Zhitomir-Kiev thrust and the Lutsk-Dubno-Berdichev-Kiev thrust.

Kirponos’ Unrealistic Orders

At the end of the first day of war, Lieutenant General M. P. Kirponos, commander of the Southwestern Front, received instructions from the Soviet National Defense Committee to immediately counterattack in the direction of Vladimir-Volynski, destroy the German forces operating from that area, and occupy the city of Lyublin by the end of June 24. The fact that the city of Lyublin was located over 80 kilometers inside German-occupied Poland caused General Kirponos to wonder if the Soviet High Command really understood the unfolding situation on the border.

Even though he realized that his mission was unrealistic, Kirponos was obliged to carry out his order. The problem facing him was two-fold. Not only was the Soviet defensive situation unstable, but the five mechanized corps earmarked for the counteroffensive were spread throughout the northwestern Ukraine. It would take some units up to three days to arrive in the area of operations. Therefore, all five mechanized corps would be committed into combat piecemeal, with marginal or non-existent cooperation among them.

The tight schedule did not allow Kirponos sufficient time to concentrate his forces and adequately prepare for the counterattack. To further complicate the situation, many units of Soviet mechanized corps were mechanized in name only. Many regiments of the motorized infantry divisions lacked wheeled transport, and many artillery regiments were woefully short of prime movers. There were widespread shortages of communications equipment and artillery, especially armor-piercing ammunition.

As the Soviet mechanized formations began moving toward the border, the German Luftwaffe launched relentless and merciless air attacks on the armored columns strung out along the narrow roads. Often, the Soviet drivers, desperately trying to maneuver for cover, became bogged down in the difficult terrain and had to abandon or blow up their vehicles. The attrition of poorly maintained armored vehicles due to mechanical breakdowns began to reach alarming proportions. Due to losses from air attacks and mechanical failures, some Soviet tank formations eventually went into action with less than 50 percent of their operational strength.

Still, the forces converging on the Panzer Group I were formidable, almost double the number of panzers available to Lieutenant General Paul L. Ewald von Kleist. The actual pre-war strength of the five Soviet mechanized corps consisted of roughly 3,140 tanks. Even allowing for a large percentage of non-combat losses during the approach to battle, these numbers still dwarfed the approximately 618 tanks that were available to the German commander.

In the early afternoon of June 24, one of the tank divisions of the 22nd Mechanized Corps came into contact with the advancing Germans west of Lutsk. This division, the 19th, was severely brutalized by the German air attacks during its approach and was plagued by mechanical breakdowns. Its remaining 45 light T-26 tanks and 12 armored cars were combined into one provisional regiment and committed into action after a short preparatory artillery barrage. A seesaw fight with the units from German 14th Panzer Division raged for two hours during which the Soviet unit lost most of its remaining armored vehicles and was forced to fall back to nearly 15 kilometers west of Lusk.

The fight was costly for both sides. The commander of the 22nd Mechanized Corps, Major General S. M. Kondrusev, was killed, and the commander of the 19th Tank Division was wounded. All the regimental commanders in the division were also killed or wounded. However, as the result of their sacrifice, the 14th Panzer Division suffered heavy losses as well and was not able to take Lutsk.

During the night of June 24-25, elements from the other two divisions of the 22nd Mechanized Corps began to take up their positions alongside the remains of the 19th Tank Division. Fuel shortages were severe, and the Soviet officers partially overcame this problem with a field expedient solution of siphoning fuel from disabled vehicles and distributing it to still operational machines.

Panzers Versus KV-2s

The Soviet units were hardly in shape to fight when the Germans seized the initiative in a dawn attack. In a savage battle that lasted into late afternoon, the Soviet forces disputed every inch of ground. The Germans, steadily grinding down the outgunned light T-26 and BT tanks, came up against a dozen of the monstrous Red Army KV-2 heavy tanks. German shells simply bounced off the thick armor of the KV-2’s ungainly high and boxy turrets. On those few occasions when the KV-2s did manage to bring their 152mm howitzers into play, they were able to temporarily check the German advance.

The best defense the Germans had against these monsters was to wait them out, allowing the Soviet tanks to run out of ammunition and fuel. On one occasion, the crew of a KV-2 tank, its turret ring jammed, out of ammunition and almost out of fuel, drove their vehicle off a steep bank into a river, the driver bailing out at the last moment. More suitable as self-propelled artillery, the small numbers of KV-2s that actually entered the fight did not pose more than a minor local inconvenience to the German panzers.

Germans Grab Lutsk and Dubno, Then Head South

Finally, in fading daylight, and silhouetted by the fires of the burning suburbs around them, the 13th Panzer Division broke into Lutsk after a successful flank attack, forcing the Soviet units to evacuate the city. The desperate fight of the 22nd Mechanized Corps bought valuable time, slowing down two German corps for a day and a half. It also allowed time for the Soviet 9th Mechanized Corps to arrive and deploy in the Rovno area, 65 kilometers east of Lutsk.

At the same time that the Germans continued to exploit the gap breached between the Fifth and Sixth armies, they also advanced south from Lutsk toward the towns of Brody and Dubno, taking Dubno by nightfall. The situation of the Fifth Army was indeed grave. Many of its units found themselves surrounded and fighting for their lives, scattered all the way from the border to Lutsk. The remains of the 22nd Mechanized Corps were streaming in disorder along the highway to Rovno, spreading panic as they went. Only the direct involvement of some of the staff officers from the headquarters of the Fifth Army restored partial order.

Throughout June 26, the Germans attempted to batter their way into Rovno along the Lutsk-Rovno and Dubno-Rovno highways. Unable to do so due to the stubborn resistance of the Fifth Army, they switched their aim south to Rovno, along the secondary roads to the town of Ostrog. The fall of Ostrog would have allowed the Germans to surround the Soviet forces defending Rovno or, at least, force them to pull back.

The Soviet 19th Mechanized Corps, under Major General N. V. Feklenko, moved to intercept this new threat and crashed in behind the 11th and 13th Panzer Divisions, which formed the German spearhead. The furious Soviet attack scattered several German supporting units and advanced up to 30 kilometers into German-held territory. In the early afternoon, the Soviet 43rd Tank Division, the vanguard of the attack, fought its way to the eastern outskirts of Dubno. German anti-tank artillery inflicted heavy casualties on the light T-26 tanks, which made up the bulk of the 19th Mechanized Corps.

With impressive tactical handling, the German commanders reacted to this new threat and counterattacked the two dangerously overextended Soviet tank divisions. Caught between the anvil of two German infantry divisions and the hammer of two panzer divisions, Major General Feklenko ordered his corps to pull back to its starting positions in the vicinity of Rovno. By nightfall the fighting had died down, and Dubno remained firmly in German hands.

The T-34 Medium and KV-1 Heavy Tanks Surprise the Germans

While the fighting raged around Dubno, two more Soviet mechanized corps, the 8th and 15th, joined the fray. These two strong corps attacked from Brody, advanced 35 kilometers and cut German lines of communication around the small town of Berestechko, 45 kilometers west of Dubno. For a short time a real possibility existed of encircling the Germans around Dubno.

The 8th and 15th Mechanized Corps were the strongest encountered by the Germans thus far. Even after losses to air attacks and mechanical failures, these two corps still contained approximately 1,500 tanks between them. More significantly, these Soviet formations included approximately 250 new T-34 medium and KV-1 heavy tanks. Unfortunately for the Soviets, the T-34s and KV-1s were not concentrated into large formations. Rather, they were dispersed in small units throughout the two corps.

The appearance of T-34s and KV-1s took the Germans by complete surprise. The German tankers quickly found that their new adversaries were in many ways more than a match for the panzers.

The majority of German field artillery pieces proved only marginally effective in countering these tanks. However, the 88mm antiaircraft cannon, acting in a direct-fire anti-tank role, proved very effective.

German Tactics Pay Off

The German panzer commanders had to quickly improvise new tactics in dealing with superior Soviet tanks. Utilizing their superior tactical proficiency and the higher training levels of their drivers, the German panzers would maneuver out of the way of T-34s and KV-1s, all the while whittling away at lighter BT-5/7s and T-26s. The German field artillery, taking advantage of its greater mobility, would act in a close-support role and soak up the attack of the Soviet tanks. The Germans PzKpfw IIIs and IVs, after dealing with the lighter Soviet tanks, would circle back and attack the T-34s and KV-1s from their more vulnerable sides and rear.

The higher German rate of fire was a significant contributing factor which allowed the Germans to successfully counteract superior Soviet tanks. For every round managed by the Soviet tankers, the Germans could usually respond with two to four rounds in return. The sheer volume of fire would often result in hits on vulnerable areas like gun barrels, turret rings and tracks. Immobilized due to combat damage, mechanical failure or difficult terrain, the Soviet tanks would then succumb to a barrage of fire. German combat engineers displayed significant courage in approaching the immobile but still firing Soviet tanks and destroying them with satchel charges.

Often, the inexperienced Soviet drivers moved along the most easily negotiated routes, even if that meant exposing their tanks to greater enemy fire. For example, many of them would guide their vehicles along the tops of ridges or hills, presenting large silhouettes to German gunners.

The behavior of Soviet crews in combat was extremely uneven as well. On some occasions, they would abandon the fight or bail out of their vehicles at the slightest setback. On other occasions, the Soviet soldiers would fight with fatalistic determination even when the tactical situation did not dictate it and when nothing would be gained by their sacrifice.

The lack of radio communications among the Soviet tank forces was a major factor of their relatively poor performance and higher casualties. Below the battalion level, very few Soviet tanks had radios. Motorcycle drivers were used to carry messages over distances longer than the line of sight, while Soviet tank company and platoon commanders had to resort to hand and flag signals. This resulted in a tendency for Soviet tanks to bunch up close to their leaders so as to see and follow their signals. After losing their leaders, the Soviet crews, who were not trained or encouraged to display tactical initiative, were much easier prey for the skilled German tankers

The Ineffective T-35s

Mixed in among the Soviet armor, 41 monstrous T-35 heavy tanks rumbled toward the Germans. Mounting five turrets, manned by a crew of 10, too heavy and too slow, these obsolete tanks suffered multiple mechanical breakdowns or became otherwise immobilized before ever coming to grips with the enemy.

In early July, an after-action report forwarded to the headquarters of the Southwestern Front by the staff of the 8th Mechanized Corps stated that all 45 of its T-35 tanks were lost. Four machines had been abandoned when the advancing Germans overran the 8th Corps bases, 32 suffered mechanical breakdowns, and two were destroyed by the German air attacks during the approach to battle. Only seven T-35s actually entered the fight, and all of these were destroyed by the enemy. Since the Soviet forces were virtually without any means to retrieve and evacuate the disabled combat vehicles, all the T-35s were lost.

The Battle for Berestechko: A Fire-Breathing Nightmare

The battle around Berestechko turned into a grinding, fire-breathing nightmare that chewed up men and machines on both sides. German aircraft pounded the Soviet positions without let up. In one attack they succeeded in wounding Major General Karpezo, commander of the 15th Mechanized Corps, at his command post.

In his war diary, the Chief of German Army General Staff, General Franz Halder, noted: “ … the heavy fighting continues on the right flank of Panzer Group 1. The Russian 8th Tank Corps achieved deep penetration of our positions … this caused major disorder in our rear echelons in the area between Brody and Dubno. Dubno is threatened from the south-west … ”

Even though they were causing severe problems for the Germans, the two Soviet armored formations were exhausting themselves. The attrition of men, machines and equipment was reaching alarming proportions. Despite Lieutenant General Kirponos’ pleas to pull his forces back for rest and reinforcement, Stavka, the Soviet High Command, ordered him to continue the offensive.

On the morning of June 28, the Germans launched a counter-offensive of their own against the depleted Soviet formations. German reconnaissance was able to find the exposed left flank of the 8th Mechanized Corps, and a four-division attack began to roll up the Soviet units. By afternoon, each of the three divisions of the 8th Mechanized Corps found itself surrounded. They received orders to fight their way out and two were able to do so. The third however, the 34th Tank Division, was completely destroyed, losing all of its tanks and other vehicles. Its commander, Colonel I.V. Vasilyev, was killed as well. Only about 1,000 men led by the commissar of the 8th Mechanized Corps, N.K. Popel, fought their way out. During the day’s fighting the corps lost over 10,000 men and 96 tanks, as well as over half its artillery.

The 15th Mechanized Corps was taking severe casualties as well, and during the night of June 29, both corps were finally permitted to retreat south of Brody. The Soviet formations began to fight desperate rearguard actions, trying to disengage from the enemy. On the evening of the 30th, German aircraft conducted a major attack on Soviet mechanized columns retreating in the direction of Zolochev and turned the highway around the city into a huge funeral pyre of vehicles.

Rokossovksi Attempts to Stem the Retreat

At the same time, that the 8th and 15th Corps were entering the fight, the 9th Mechanized Corps was finally able to concentrate for its own attack on Dubno. Coming up on line, its commander, Major General K. K. Rokossovksi, a future marshal of the Soviet Union, observed large numbers of Red Army soldiers aimlessly wondering around the woods. He quickly detailed several of his staff officers to round up the stragglers, arm them as best as they could, and put them back into ranks.

To his dismay, Rokossovski found several high-ranking officers trying to hide among the stragglers. In his memoirs, Rokossovski wrote that he was severely tempted to shoot one “panic-monger,” a colonel with whom he had a heated conversation. Tough-as-nails Rokossovksi, a survivor of Stalin’s prewar purges of the military officer corps, allowed the colonel to redeem himself and lead a makeshift unit into combat. In the morning of June 27, it was Rokossovski’s turn to launch his corps, numbering only 200 light tanks, into action against Dubno. The 9th Mechanized Corps met heavy resistance right away, and the Germans began to probe around its unprotected flanks and infiltrate the gaps between its units, threatening to surround the corps.

Like the commander of the 19th Mechanized Corps the previous day, Rokossovski was forced to order a retreat by nightfall without achieving his objective. His attack, however, delayed the German advance and relieved pressure on the 19th Mechanized Corps, which was retreating in the direction of Rovno.

Together with mauled infantry formations of the Fifth Army, the two mechanized corps continued to stubbornly defend Rovno for another day despite the best German efforts to take the city. Their valiant stand was in vain. On the evening of June 28, the German 11th Panzer Division captured the city of Ostrog and established a bridgehead across the Goryn River. The Soviet forces defending Rovno were suddenly threatened with an unpleasant possibility of being left on the wrong side of the river, with German units breaking into their rear echelons. Reluctantly, the Soviet forces abandoned Rovno and pulled back across the river to take up defensive positions in the Tuchin–Goschi area.

The Soviet’s Dubious Strategy Results in Huge Losses

With the fall of Ostrog, the battle of the “Bloody Triangle” was effectively over. The battered Soviet formations managed to hold the line at the Goryn River until July 2, before finally being forced further back.

On July 7, the five Soviet mechanized corps that participated in fighting in the “Bloody Triangle” mustered 679 tanks out of a pre-war strength of 3,140. The Soviet Fifth Army, though bled white, was not defeated, and the majority of its combat formations, although having suffered appalling casualties, were not destroyed. The Fifth Army, clinging to the southern edge of the Pripyat Marshes, continued to pose a threat to the left flank and rear of the German advance on Kiev, capital city of the Ukraine. It constituted such a major thorn in the German side that Adolf Hitler specifically called for its annihilation in his Directive No. 33, dated July 19, 1941.

After the fall of Kiev in September, the Fifth Army was finally destroyed and its commander, Major General Potapov, taken prisoner. He did manage to survive the war in a POW camp. Lieutenant General Kirponos, who so valiantly tried to shore up his crumbling Southwestern Front, was killed trying to break out of the same encirclement. General Rokossovski came back through the same area in 1944, only this time his victorious T-34s were pushing the exhausted enemy troops westward toward Germany.

What was the reasoning of the Soviet High Command for so promiscuously using up five mechanized corps? Did the generals not realize the severity of the situation and futility of holding the forward positions? It is possible that the Soviet High Command, relying on incomplete or false information, was under the impression that this was not a major invasion but a border provocation. After all, the Soviet Union had fought two border conflicts against Japan in the late 1930s without either of them expanding into a full-scale war.

Perhaps the Soviet leadership realized the severity of the situation all too well, buying time to conduct full mobilization. Every day that the frontline echelons bought with their blood allowed reserves to be formed, armed and sent into battle.

Perhaps the truth, as it is prone to do, lies somewhere in between. Either way, the tank battles in the “Bloody Triangle” demonstrated to the Germans that the Soviet Union was not a “giant with the feet of clay” after all. Even though the Fifth Army and the five Soviet mechanized corps did not accomplish their mission of destroying the German mobile group, they managed to slow the German offensive for nine days.

This delay, from June 24 to July 2, significantly disrupted the German timetable of operations in the Ukraine. After easy German victories in Western Europe, the tenacity of the Soviet soldiers and their willingness to dispute every inch of ground came as unpleasant surprise. A long and painful struggle loomed ahead.

This article by Victor J. Kamenir originally appeared on Warfare History Network.

Image: Reuters

[Author: Warfare History Network] [Category: History]

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[l] at 7/9/20 10:30am

Charlie Gao

Security, Americas

American Rifleman states that the pistol’s original intent was to serve as a super-sidearm of sorts for a private military company (PMC) in the Middle East.

Here's What You Need To Remember: As hunting is already far more expensive and tend to be undertaken by those with more disposable income in Europe compared to the United States (classes for a hunting permit in Germany can cost up to €3,000, along with costs for leasing hunting grounds). For German hunters looking for a premium option the Field Pistol could be an attractive alternative to pistols in more regular calibers.

The FK BRNO 7.5 Field Pistol made quite a splash when it landed in the United States. A $7,500 pistol that fired a proprietary 7.5mm round, most derided it as a mantlepiece pistol for the extremely rich. But marketing for the pistol suggests a variety of practical uses for the pistol, from combat to hunting. Is there any validity to those claims?

A good first place to start looking is the 7.5mm round. When one looks at the proprietary 7.5x27mm FK Brno round used in the Field Pistol, it resembles a PDW cartridge with an almost-spitzer bullet and a necked down case. This dovetails with what the NRA’s American Rifleman’s account of how the pistol was created.

American Rifleman states that the pistol’s original intent was to serve as a super-sidearm of sorts for a private military company (PMC) in the Middle East to bridge the gap between 5.56x45mm carbines and 9x19mm pistols for engagements between 50–100 meters. As such, the 7.5 round and pistol were meant to provide better than 9x19mm ballistics but also a very flat trajectory to hit targets at extended ranges.

However, while the round and pistol might be capable of achieving that, landing a 50-meter shot in stressful conditions with a pistol is incredibly difficult. Using a carbine at that distances makes far more sense. Most military and police qualify at 25 meters with pistols at most. Thus it’s doubtful that the 7.5 Field Pistol would be of much use as an extended-range sidearm. Also, at over 1.3 kilograms it’s incredibly heavy to carry. A combat role for the 7.5 doesn’t make sense in a world where most combat handgun users are looking for lighter pistols that are fast to employ within short distances.

So, what is the Field Pistol useful for?

As a hunting backup in the European market the Field Pistol makes more sense. Backup handguns are often carried by hunters in Germany to deal with charging boars in the brush. Normally these are SIG P220s in .45 ACP. But the 7.5 field pistol outperforms the .45 ACP on almost all targets.

But as hunting is already far more expensive and tend to be undertaken by those with more disposable income in Europe compared to the United States (classes for a hunting permit in Germany can cost up to €3,000, along with costs for leasing hunting grounds). For German hunters looking for a premium option the Field Pistol could be an attractive alternative to pistols in more regular calibers.

Said hunters also tend to value craftsmanship and precision in their weapons and the Field Pistol has it in spades, though some reviewers have said that it doesn’t stack up to other guns around its American price point. Almost every surface is polished and beveled, there are no sharp edges on the pistol. It also features a sliding mass on the recoil spring that moves back and forth under recoil to alter the center of gravity and reduce muzzle flip.

The “Field Pistol” is not a pistol for most people, but it’s not meant to be. While not a mantlepiece, the practical use it’s designed for is incredibly niche.

Charlie Gao studied Political and Computer Science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national security issues. This article first appeared in December 2019 and is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Reddit.

[Author: Charlie Gao] [Category: Security]

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[l] at 7/9/20 10:00am

Paul Richard Huard


World War I is often called “the machine gun war” because of the devastating use of automatic weapons such as the Maxim gun.

Here's What You Need To Remember: Even today, there are serious efforts to bring back the BAR. The Heavy Counter Assault Rifle by Ohio Ordnance Works is a modernized version of the classic weapon. It has a 30-round magazine, adjustable Magpul buttstock, polymer pistol grip and Picatinny rails – and is chambered in .30-06 just like its venerable grandfather.

World War I is often called “the machine gun war” because of the devastating use of automatic weapons such as the Maxim gun. It’s also when some of the drastic developments in machine gun technology occurred.

Artillery fire actually killed more men than machine guns, but statistics simply don’t convey the horror of European armies on the Western Front facing automatic fire. For example, during just one day in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme the British lost 21,000 men – many of them killed by Spandau machine guns, the German version of the Maxim. 

But the Maxim was heavy. It weighed 60 pounds before it was loaded with an ammunition belt and water in its cooling jacket, and it took four to six men to move and operate it.

It didn’t take long for both military men and weapons designers to consider what it would be like to deliver “walking fire” with a lightweight, man-portable automatic weapon.

The French attempt in 1918 was called the Chauchat, named after chief designer Col. Louis Chauchat. The 8 x 51-millimeter Chauchat was portable — it weighed about 20 pounds — and had a detachable box magazine. It could fire in both semi-automatic and full-auto … and it was piece of crap.

Its flimsy metal parts and a magazine that was open on one side were cost-cutting decisions made by individuals clueless about how filth from the mud-clogged trenches caused the Chauchat to malfunction frequently.  Soldiers issued the Chauchat referred to it as “damned and jammed.”

But by then, the United States had entered the Great War. That not only meant the influx of American manpower but also the nation’s industrial might and ingenuity — including the formidable abilities of John Moses Browning, the Thomas Edison of weapons design.

The result was the Browning Automatic Rifle, one of the most influential and frequently-used machine guns ever designed.

“For nearly fifty years the hard-hitting, mobile Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR, served in U.S. infantry units as a light squad automatic ‘base of fire’ weapon, providing quick bursts of concentrated fire,” wrote weapons historian Robert R. Hodges, Jr., noting the BAR saw action from the waning days of World War I through Vietnam and beyond.

In July 1918, a new weapon arrived in France and was quickly placed in the hands of the U.S. Army’s 79th Infantry Division. Dubbed “Rifle, Caliber .30, Automatic, Browning, M1918,” one of the men who received the weapon was 2nd Lt. Val Browning, son of the new rifle’s designer.

He quickly put it to good use. Browning and the men under his command advanced on German positions, firing the M1918 with devastating effect and complete reliability.

John Browning designed a light machine gun that fired the formidable .30-06 caliber round, the same ammunition used by U.S. soldiers in their M1903 Springfield bolt-action rifles. “Light” didn’t mean lightweight — the weapon with a loaded 20-round box magazine weighed more than 20 pounds — but compared to the Chauchat it was a godsend.

A War Department official commenting on the BAR’s use said, “The rifles were highly praised by our officers and men who had to use them. Although these guns received hard usage, being on the front for days at a time in the rain and when the gunners had little opportunity to clean them, they invariably functioned well.”

Soon, the French army began swapping its Chauchats with BARs.

“The two things that stand out about the BAR are it represented a huge advance in infantry squad weapons when it first appeared in 1918, and its reliability – it worked when it was needed,” said John C. Nystrom, former Indiana State Police trooper and firearms trainer who advised Iraqi and Afghan police. “The BAR gave the infantry squad an automatic weapon that could be taken anywhere a man could carry it.”

After World War I, the U.S. military took the BAR everywhere. True, the rifle has its weaknesses, including a tendency to overheat if shot too rapidly (the BAR has a fixed rather than a removable barrel) and difficulty to fire from the shoulder. But it became a de facto squad automatic weapon because there was really nothing better and its reliability was legendary.

In Europe during World War II, the tactical doctrine was to use one BAR in the form of the updated M1918A2 per squad. Doctrine soon went out the window in many cases when G.I.s begged, borrowed, or stole additional BARs to lay down suppression fire in the face of Germans who carried many more portable machine guns.

In the Pacific, the BAR was a staple weapon of Marines who used it in jungle warfare and during “island hopping” campaigns. In both theaters, one of the BAR’s more interesting uses was as an anti-sniper weapon. Once troops identified a sniper’s position, a rifleman with a BAR could pepper the “hide” with automatic fire more precisely than machine guns or submachine guns.

In Vietnam, special operators sometimes selected the BAR as their personal weapon. Nystrom, who is also a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, National Guard, and the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, recounted the story of a high school acquaintance who joined the U.S. Air Force Air Commandos and became the most experienced BAR shooter he ever knew.

Sent on a mission to Laos to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the man wanted a weapon he could trust. At his base, he decided to try a few.

“There were crates of weapons from all over the world, and he tried them all.  He settled on the BAR,” Nystrom said. “With and unlimited supply of guns and ammo, he decided one day to shoot a BAR until it couldn’t shoot any more – he wanted to know just how much abuse the rifle would take in an emergency situation.”

“In the end, the barrel glowed red, the wooden front hand-guard caught fire, rounds finally stuck in the drooping barrel, but the gun didn’t blow up,” he continued.  “It was thrown away as unsalvageable, but there were crates full to replace it, and it was the gun he trusted to take in battle.”

Eventually, the M60 general purpose machine gun replaced the BAR, as did the M240 and M249 series of squad-level machine guns.

But the BAR is far from gone and forgotten.

Even today, there are serious efforts to bring back the BAR. The Heavy Counter Assault Rifle by Ohio Ordnance Works is a modernized version of the classic weapon. It has a 30-round magazine, adjustable Magpul buttstock, polymer pistol grip and Picatinny rails – and is chambered in .30-06 just like its venerable grandfather.

The company hopes that the Pentagon will take a serious look at the HCAR. Their argument is a 21st century incarnation of the BAR with its .30-06 round has more stopping power than the 5.56 x 45-millimeter M249 squad automatic weapon or the 7.62 x 51-millimeter M14 battle rifle.

Whether the Department of Defense shows interest remains to be seen. What is obvious is the BAR, a weapon designed almost a century ago to bring portable and reliable firepower to the stalemate of the Western Front, remains an influential firearm that still turns heads today.

This first appeared in WarIsBoring here.

This article first appeared last year.

Image: Wikipedia.

[Author: Paul Richard Huard] [Category: Security]

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[l] at 7/9/20 9:30am

Zachary Keck

Security, Asia

As terrifying as this is, there is at least one nuclear-armed leader who has Kim Jong-un beat on nearly every count: Mao Zedong.

Here's What You Need to Remember: The Mao example does suggest that the United States shouldn’t rule out the deterrence option simply because of the nature of the Kim regime.

North Korea’s July 4 test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) has forced Americans to confront a possibility that was once unthinkable: Kim Jong-un armed with nuclear weapons and the ability to use them against the United States. While the spread of nuclear weapons is always a bad thing, it’s the nature of the North Korean regime that is truly terrifying. As one observer recently put it: “It isn’t the nukes that ought mainly to worry us. It’s the hands that hold them.”

These concerns are hardly unreasonable. After all, the Kim family has ruled North Korea in cult-like fashion for three generations. Along with over-the-top propaganda, the regime has maintained control through some of the most oppressive policies in the modern world, including the liberal use of forced labor camps that punishes dissidents and three generations of their family. While all of its neighbors have grown rich, the government’s gross mismanagement of the economy has impoverished the country and led to a widespread famine in the 1990s that killed as many as one million people. And although Pyongyang has been deterred from starting any general wars since the 1950s, the Kim regime has regularly committed lower-level aggression against more powerful countries like the United States, South Korea and Japan. To top it off, North Korea constantly make bellicose threats against these countries.

As terrifying as this is, there is at least one nuclear-armed leader who has Kim Jong-un beat on nearly every count: Mao Zedong.

To be sure, Mao was a transformational and historic leader who helped unite a China that had descended into war and chaos for decades. But from the moment he assumed power, his reign was nothing short of disastrous for the Chinese people. Abroad, he was a rogue leader’s rogue leader who took a cavalier attitude towards nuclear war.

For many Chinese, the first years of Communist rule were hardly different from the brutal civil war that preceded it. One of Mao’s first orders of business was land redistribution. As the eminent historian Frank Dikötter tells it in his fantastic book on the time period: “Violence was an indispensable feature of land distribution, implicating a majority in the murder of a carefully designated minority. Work teams were given quotas of people who had to be denounced, humiliated, beaten, dispossessed and then killed by the villagers, who were assembled in their hundreds in an atmosphere charged with hatred. In a pact sealed in blood between the party and the poor, close to 2 million so-called ‘landlords’, often hardly any better off than their neighbours, were liquidated.”

The worst was yet to come. In 1958, Mao turned his sights on the economy by ordering a huge collectivization effort called the Great Leap Forward. The stated goal was to modernize the country in record time. Dikötter again has the best account of this era, having gained unprecedented access to Chinese archives. As he tells it, the Great Leap Forward turned Mao into “one of the greatest mass murderers in history, responsible for the deaths of at least 45 million people between 1958 and 1962. It is not merely the extent of the catastrophe that dwarfs earlier estimates, but also the manner in which many people died: between two and three million victims were tortured to death or summarily killed, often for the slightest infraction.”

This debacle was too much for many Chinese leaders, and Mao briefly lost absolute power over the party. To win it back, he launched one of the most tumultuous and bizarre periods in modern history: the Cultural Revolution. Beginning in 1966, Mao unleashed the masses—and especially the youth—against party leadership, intellectuals and other “class enemies.” Chaos quickly spread as students turned on teachers, children turned on parents. Millions of people, including Deng Xiaoping and a young Xi Jinping, were forced into the countryside to perform menial work. There were mass killings in the cities, as factions of Red Guards and the military turned on each other, and even reported bouts of cannibalism. All told, roughly one million people died, although estimates range from five hundred thousand to eight million.

Mao left a similar legacy abroad, where he regularly fought with the superpowers, as well as neighbors like India. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, China had barely been at peace for a year after over a decade of nonstop war. That did not stop Mao from ordering three hundred thousand Chinese “volunteers” into battle. By the time the armistice was signed in 1953, China’s military had suffered six hundred thousand casualties.

China’s revolutionary leader did not let persistent hostility with the United States get in the way of picking a fight with his country’s most important patron, the Soviet Union. Sino-Soviet tensions built up over many years because of issues like disagreements about how to export communism, Khrushchev denouncing Stalin and myriad other disputes. The dispute reached its apex in 1969, when Chinese troops ambushed Soviet border guards, killing fifty soldiers. Once again, Mao was risking war with a much more powerful and nuclear-armed country.

Arguably the most terrifying aspect of Mao was his views on nuclear weapons, which Beijing first tested in 1964. Initially, the Soviet Union had agreed to help China build its own nuclear weapon, but later cut off all assistance, in part because of concern over Mao’s seemingly cavalier attitude about nuclear war. And indeed, Mao did say the darndest things about nuclear war. In 1955, he told the Finnish ambassador in Beijing:

The Chinese people are not to be cowed by U.S. atomic blackmail. Our country has a population of 600 million and an area of 9,600,000 square kilometers. The United States cannot annihilate the Chinese nation with its small stack of atom bombs. Even if the U.S. atom bombs were so powerful that, when dropped on China, they would make a hole right through the earth, or even blow it up, that would hardly mean anything to the universe as a whole, though it might be a major event for the solar system.

Even more troubling, he seemed to welcome a nuclear holocaust as a means of promoting communism worldwide. At one point, Mao confided to Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru: “If the worst came to the worst and half of mankind died, the other half would remain while imperialism would be razed to the ground and the whole world would become socialist; in a number of years there would be 2,700 million people again and definitely more.” This was not the only time Mao made such an argument. Little wonder, then, that both the United States and the Soviet Union seriously considered launching a preventative attack on China’s nuclear program.

Ultimately, neither side pulled the trigger, and China became a nuclear-weapons state with Mao at the helm. Deterrence held. That is not to say that the United States shouldn’t be extremely concerned with North Korea’s rapid nuclear progress. Past performance doesn’t guarantee future results. Nonetheless, the Mao example does suggest that the United States shouldn’t rule out the deterrence option simply because of the nature of the Kim regime.

Zachary Keck is the former managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

This article first appeared last year and is being republished due to reader interest.

United States Department of Defense (either the U.S. Army or the U.S. Navy)Derivative work: Victorrocha ( talk ) - Operation_Crossroads_Baker_(wide).jpg, Public Domain, Link">Image: Wikimedia

[Author: Zachary Keck] [Category: Security]

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[l] at 7/9/20 9:02am

Paul Heer

Security, Asia

Reuters The Korean War helps explain the nature of the U.S.-China confrontation today, which is based in part on some similarly problematic assumptions.

Seventy years ago this summer, the United States was grappling with the implications of the outbreak of the Korean War.  The North Korean attack on South Korea on June 25, 1950, aided and abetted by Soviet and Chinese Communist leaders, made the Korean Peninsula the epicenter of the Cold War and transformed Washington’s approach to East Asia. As historian Warren Cohen has written, the Korean War changed the U.S.-Soviet confrontation “from a systemic political competition into an ideologically driven, militarized conflict.” This legacy helps explain the nature of the U.S.-China confrontation today, which is based in part on some similarly problematic assumptions. 

Prior to June 1950, Washington had largely dismissed the Korean Peninsula as strategically irrelevant. U.S. military forces that had accepted the Japanese surrender there in 1945 had mostly been withdrawn, and the Peninsula was excluded from the U.S. “defensive perimeter” in the western Pacific in a retrospectively famous speech delivered by Secretary of State Dean Acheson at the National Press Club on January 12, 1950—less than six months before the North Korean attack.  Nonetheless, the administration of President Harry Truman immediately decided to intervene militarily (under United Nations auspices) to repel the attack rather than tolerate such a blatant and aggressive extension of Communist influence and control. 

The cumulative strategic consequences of this abrupt shift were profound. The Korean War essentially ended the debate over NSC-68 (“United States Objectives and Programs for National Security”), a seminal National Security Council document that had been submitted for Truman’s approval in April 1950 but which was still undergoing interagency deliberation when the war broke out. NSC-68 proposed a dramatic increase in military spending to affect a “rollback” of Soviet Communist influence, and thus represented a stark departure from an emphasis on political and economic strategies of containment—as originally intended by diplomat George Kennan, the author of the containment doctrine. Central to the document was its aggressive and expansive characterization of Soviet strategic intentions and designs. The North Korean attack largely decided the argument in favor of the authors of NSC-68, which has since been viewed as the historical blueprint for the “militarized” version of containment that Washington pursued for the remainder of the Cold War. 

Within East Asia, this was manifest in a broad array of policy shifts that expanded the U.S. military presence and U.S. military commitments across the region. In addition to providing the rationale for the U.S. military alliance with South Korea, the Korean War also provided the impetus for the U.S. military alliance with Japan and resolved what had been a debate over whether to retain U.S. military bases there. The war also prompted the Truman administration to extend military protection to Taiwan, after having earlier withdrawn from intervention in the Chinese Civil War; this led eventually to the U.S.-Taiwan Mutual Defense Treaty. Finally, fears of Communist expansion in the wake of the Korean attack provided the basis for increasing U.S. military support to French efforts against the Communist insurgency in Vietnam—thereby setting the stage for eventual American inheritance of that conflict from France. 

Yet all this was arguably based on some misunderstanding and an exaggeration of Communist motives and ambitions. The presumption in Washington at the time was that the North Korean invasion was first and foremost a Soviet operation, directed by Moscow to expand its geographic control and influence.  North Korean leader Kim Il-Song was viewed as a pawn of Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin, and even statements by Beijing that were critical of the U.S. intervention in Korea were presumed to be directed by Moscow. Although it is certainly true that Kim launched the attack only after securing the concurrence of both Stalin and Chinese communist revolutionary Mao Zedong, hindsight and historical archives have revealed the extent to which both the Soviet and Chinese Communist leaders had reservations about granting their support, and how Kim extracted it from them, partly by playing them off against each other.  These fault-lines were not known or contemplated in Washington in 1950. U.S. policymakers were also slow to recognize or acknowledge the possibility of Chinese intervention in the conflict. 

The idea that Moscow’s intentions were limited, or that Kim was anything more than an agent for Soviet designs, received little consideration in Washington. Kennan, as the Truman administration’s top Russia expert, was centrally involved in the summer of 1950 in assessing Soviet motives as the administration deliberated over how to respond to the crisis. He and other Soviet specialists judged that Stalin was not seeking a general war or a showdown with the United States, and was probably as surprised by and apprehensive about the motives behind the U.S. military intervention as Washington was about Stalin’s intentions. Kennan was frustrated by his colleagues’ unwillingness to acknowledge or give credence to this possibility, and recorded so in his diary on July 12, 1950: 

“Plainly, the government has moved into an area where there is a reluctance to recognize the finer distinctions of the psychology of our adversaries . . . In such times, it is safer and easier to cease the attempt to analyze the probabilities involved in your enemy’s mental processes or calculate his weaknesses.  It seems safer to give him the benefit of every doubt in matters of strength and to credit him indiscriminately with all aggressive designs, even when some of them are mutually contradictory.”

A month later, Kennan lamented that “utter confusion” reigned in American foreign policy:  “The President doesn’t understand it; Congress doesn’t understand it; nor does the public, nor does the press.  They all wander around in a labyrinth of ignorance and error and conjecture, in which truth is intermingled with fiction at a hundred points, in which unjustified assumptions have attained the validity of premises, and in which there is no recognized and authoritative theory to hold on to.” 

This no doubt was compounded by the domestic American political environment prevailing in 1950.  The Truman administration was under fire from Republicans (who had been denied the White House since 1933) for being “soft on Communism” after the Chinese Communist Party seized control in October 1949, and Sen. Joseph McCarthy launched the aberrant movement that took his name in a February 1950 speech accusing the administration of harboring Communist sympathizers. No doubt this helped fuel the decision to take a hard line in response to the North Korean invasion, regardless of the absence of a clear and accurate understanding of what dynamics and calculus on the Communist side had brought it about.

Seventy years later, we see many of the same ingredients driving U.S. policy in East Asia, and especially Washington’s approach to China—which has replaced the Soviet Union as the challenger in an “ideologically driven, militarized conflict.”  The military alliance network that the United States constructed in East Asia in the wake of the Korean War remains the primary vehicle for U.S. policy in the region, which is still focused more on military rather than political and economic strategies—as per NSC-68.  And U.S. policy is still based on an exaggeration of Communist motives—in this case a belief that China is pursuing a hostile, exclusive hegemony in East Asia and is seeking to impose its model of governance and economic development on the rest of the world.  Notwithstanding Beijing’s global ambitions and assertiveness and arrogance, little attention is given to the insecurities and defensiveness that are among the drivers of Chinese international behavior, or to Beijing’s desire for peaceful coexistence with the United States. As Kennan wrote, “it is safer and easier” to give Beijing “the benefit of every doubt in matters of strength” and to credit it “indiscriminately with all aggressive designs, even when some of them are contradictory.” 

As in 1950, domestic American politics is fueling this inflated threat perception and rush to confrontational foreign policies. The polarization and dysfunctionality of political discourse in the Trump era has heightened Americans’ sense of resentment and vulnerability, and spawned a new version of McCarthyism that chastises anyone deemed “soft on China.” In this environment, as Kennan also wrote, “truth is intermingled with fiction at a hundred points” and “unjustified assumptions have attained the validity of premises.” This has facilitated the current trend of holding China accountable for many of America’s problems and advocating a Cold War-style pushback against Beijing as the solution to those problems. (Although Beijing merits blame for its failure to do more to contain the global spread of the coronavirus, it is not responsible for the failure to prevent or contain the spread of the virus within the United States.)   

The risk the United States faces today is that of replicating a prolonged cold war like that which lasted another four decades after the Korean War.  China certainly poses a profound strategic challenge to the United States. But it is not one that can be approached with a seventy-year-old playbook. 

Paul Heer is a Distinguished Fellow at the Center for the National Interest dealing with Chinese and East Asian issues. He served as National Intelligence Officer for East Asia from 2007 to 2015. He has also served as Robert E. Wilhelm Research Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for International Studies and as Adjunct Professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. He is the author of Mr. X and the Pacific: George F. Kennan and American Policy in East Asia (Cornell University Press, 2018). 

[Author: Paul Heer] [Category: Security]

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[l] at 7/9/20 9:00am

Warfare History Network

History, Asia

By a U.S. Air Force Airman - http://www.af.mil/shared/media/photodb/photos/020903-o-9999b-042.jpg (dead link as of 17 February 2017) https://media.defense.gov/2004/Jan/20/2000595348/-1/-1/0/020903-O-9999B-042.JPG (current as of 17 February 2017), Public D It killed more civilians than a single atomic bomb did.

Key point: In one particular raid, fire bombs were used and more people died than in any other air raid of the war. It was one of the most devestating attacks ever carried out.

Major Sam P. Bakshas woke up that morning with the secrets in his head.

Bakshas was one of the men flying B-29 Superfortress bombers from three Pacific islands—Guam, Saipan, and Tinian. A writer dubbed these men “the thousand kids.” There were actually several thousand, and they were giving heart and soul to bombing the Japanese home islands—what they called “the Empire”—with no success. They were dropping bombs from high altitude and not hitting much. The air campaign against Japan was failing.

Bakshas believed the situation could be turned around.

Bakshas was 34. He was older and bigger than the Superfortress crewmembers around him. He was six-feet-one and almost 200 pounds. He was from Fergus County, smack in the center of Montana, and had courted his wife Aldora with the gift of an airplane ride. Today, Bakshas commanded the 93rd Bombardment Squadron, part of the 19th Bombardment Group.

In Guam’s affable climate, many B-29 crewmembers had taken scissors to their long khaki trousers to create frayed and sloppy-looking shorts. Not Bakshas. Sammy Bakshas—always Sammy, never Sam—did not understand sloppy. Bakshas was wearing long khakis and low-quarter shoes as he prepared for a day that would end with an evening takeoff.

Bakshas would be one tall guy among many today in a B-29 that was named Tall in the Saddle because no one in its regular crew was less than six feet in height. Bakshas was not a regular crewmember but would command Tall in the Saddle, relegating airplane commander Captain Gordon L. Muster to co-pilot duty.

“There was a wonderful urgency and an exhilarating secrecy about the B-29 outfits in the Marianas,” wrote St. Clair McKelway in a perspective. Even after other crewmembers began learning the two key secrets—low level, no guns—Bakshas kept them locked up, much like his buttoned-up expression, as his morning unfolded.

A Low-Level Bombing Run

It was 10:30 am, Chamorro Standard Time (Guam time), March 9, 1945, the morning of the great firebomb mission to Tokyo. The B-29s would arrive over the Japanese capital in tomorrow’s early hours. It was the mission for which 21st Bomber Command boss Maj. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay changed tactics in hope of changing the war against Japan.

Staff Sergeant Carl Barthold, radio operator of a B-29 named Star Duster, began the day in his Quonset hut on Saipan by writing a letter home. The right blister gunner on Carl Barthold’s bomber crew was certain that none of them would return from tonight’s mission. He stuffed everything he owned into his B-4 bag—the multipocketed, fabric-covered equivalent of a travel suitcase—and left his belongings tidily packed in the center of his cot.

“He said he was looking at his possessions for the last time,” explained Barthold.

Barthold, a radio operator with the 870th Bombardment Squadron, 497th Bombardment Group—a rail-thin, 21-year-old Missouri boy at five-ten and a lightweight 142 pounds—wore underwear and clogs trudging to and from the shower, a hundred yards uphill from his Quonset.

Outdoors, he had a spectacular view of Aslito airfield, now renamed for Navy Commander Robert H. Isely, who had been killed a year earlier strafing the place when it was in Japanese hands. Isely’s name was spelled wrong when the name was bestowed, and the airfield was now Isley Field. Its two parallel 8,500-foot runways were straddled by parking spots for 100 aircraft, looking like giant silvery cigars with wings.

“That guy has me spooked,” Barthold said aloud when he looked at the B-4 on the cot. That’s how it would have looked if Didier had gone to heaven, but as far as Barthold knew he had only gone to chow.

Two months ago, Barthold had had a bombardier die in his arms high over the Empire. Last night, Barthold and the rest of the crew of his B-29 had gotten a casual heads up from airplane commander Captain James M. Campbell, who had been told the secrets—low level, no guns. Barthold and his crew would take off this evening, climb into the night, and assault Tokyo not from the usual height of 28,000 feet—from which their bombing hadn’t been accurate—but at low level at around 8,000 feet.

Saipan, with its tall cliffs from which so many Japanese had flung themselves in suicide leaps when the Marines were in the process of securing the island, was a place of raw beauty with deep blue, wave-capped ocean readily visible on all sides. And it was a place from which a B-29 Superfortress could plummet down toward the sea after leaving the runway’s end, taking a pronounced dip before gaining sufficient power to climb aloft—or go smashing into an ocean that could crumple it and swallow it up.

Code Name: Meetinghouse

It was 11:30 am, Chamorro Standard Time, March 9, 1945. Within easy eyesight of Saipan was Tinian—38 square miles of coral rock, dust, jungle, and cane fields, crowded with B-29 hardstands. Tinian was a little green slab formed by prehistoric volcanoes and dead coral animals. Tinian’s North Field boasted three crushed-coral runways 8,500 feet long and 200 feet wide, running parallel, with a fourth soon to be added and with parking revetments for 265 Superfortresses, making it the busiest airport in the world.

Tokyo (code name: Meetinghouse) was Japan’s largest city, built along the edge of a big, gently curving bay. It was the center of Japanese life. For symbolic reasons, the Americans planned not to bomb the Imperial Palace, but the rest of the city was fair game with its military assembly plants and vehicle factories. Moreover, it was home to a cottage industry in which tens of thousands of Japanese families manufactured small parts for the military. The wood and paper houses that would fall beneath LeMay’s firebombs were also factories.

About six million people lived in Tokyo on the eve of the B-29 strike that would kill many inhabitants, send more fleeing to the countryside, and reduce the city’s population by fully half. Astonishingly, the city had only a token fire department and almost no civil defense infrastructure. It was a city of fragile houses with sliding shoji screens, floored wooden roka or passageways, and fusuma, or partitions of wood and paper. It was no accident that the Americans were coming to Tokyo with fire.

On tonight’s mission, E-46 chemical incendiary bombs would rain down on Japan like giant firecrackers. They came in bunches of 47 small bomblets called M69s, strapped together inside a metal cylinder fused to break open at 2,000 or 2,500 feet. Three to five seconds after the big firecrackers hit, they would go off. An explosive charge would violently eject a sack full of gel that would burn intensely.

The sack held the gel in one spot, thereby igniting a hotter fire. Other weapons being employed today were the E-28 incendiary cluster bomb and the M47, a petroleum-based bomb that would be carried by the lead B-29 piloted by the in-air commander of the mission, Brig. Gen. Thomas “Tommy” Power—and would penetrate buildings and scatter gel in all directions to burn out the insides.

Briefing the Crews

It was 1 pm, Chamorro Standard Time, March 9, 1945. In the terminology of Field Order No. 43 issued at 8 am on March 8, 1945, by 21st Bomber Command, Tokyo was “the urban area of Meetinghouse.” The order tasked men like Bakshas on Guam (in the 314th Bomb Wing) to attack at 5,000 to 5,800 feet, those on Tinian (313th Bomb Wing) to strike at 5,000 to 5,800 feet, and those on Saipan (73rd Bomb Wing) to bomb at 7,000 to 7,800 feet. No armada of warplanes had ever before been launched in such numbers without flying in formation. No American heavy bomber had ever flown so low on a mission against a major target.

Depending on the island—Guam, Saipan, or Tinian—and depending on the bombardment group (a dozen in all), the briefing for the March 9-10 mission to Tokyo was held at different times throughout Friday the 9th. Most B-29 crewmembers shuffled into giant Quonset huts where crews sat together and stared up at maps and charts. The group commander, the intelligence guy, and the weather officer each took his turn to strut and fret on the stage.

At the briefing for the 19th Group on Guam, some kind of conversation with a bit of an edge took place between 93rd Squadron commander Bakshas and airplane commander Muster. Apparently, there was tension between the two over the risks in tonight’s journey to the Empire.

At the 497th Bomb Group on Saipan, Carl Barthold’s briefing was held inside a large concrete building. The intelligence officer talked too long about Japanese antiaircraft guns, fighters, and mistreatment of prisoners. Said Barthold, “My plane was a pathfinder and we would be taking off 45 minutes before the rest of the wing. The intel officer, who’d never seen the Empire from the air, wasn’t much help.”

Similar briefings took place on Tinian. Fears were quietly discussed. Many of the “thousand kids” were terrified of the prospect of ditching at sea. Of 48 Superfortresses known to have put down in the Pacific so far with 528 airmen aboard, air-sea rescue had picked up just 164. An elaborate system that used PBY Catalina and PBM Mariner aircraft, seaplane tenders, and submarines was taking shape, but B-29 crewmembers knew that the ocean was vast and a bomber could be reduced to a tiny speck bobbing on the waves. Worse, many B-29s were short of Mae West flashlights because crewmen borrowed them for use in their quarters and forgot to bring them along.

Pre-Flight Checklists

At Saipan’s Isley Field in late afternoon with the dull yellow sun sneaking in and out of tropical rain clouds, Barthold and the Campbell crew piled out of a truck at the hardstand in front of their looming, four-engined heavy bomber.

In brighter light, the plane’s silver surfaces would have gleamed. It was a thing of beauty to some, but mostly, the B-29 looked functional, its cigar-shaped fuselage confronting Barthold, its 141-foot wing spread in front of him with the four-bladed propellers ready to turn. The ground crew was finishing its final checks, having spent many hours since last night inspecting systems, loading bombs, and loading fuel.

“There were 12 pathfinder planes in our group,” Barthold said. “We were to take off a half hour before everybody else. We were to arrive first and put a big X across Tokyo for those coming behind us to see.”

Some airplane commanders required a lineup inspection at planeside. Barthold said, “Our plane commander [Campbell] had confidence in us. We didn’t hold a formal inspection. The ground crews had our gear, including our Mae Wests, already on the plane. Our plane commander let us behave like adults as we checked our own gear, climbed aboard, and prepared to take off.”

With the rest of the crew, Barthold entered the aircraft by climbing up into a dark space behind the nose wheel. Once seated in his radar compartment he could hear the pilots and flight engineer on the interphone, running through the engine-start checklist.

“I was the radio operator,” Barthold said. “I sat next to a bulkhead facing the right side of the plane. I had my radio, key, and codebooks. I was jammed in there. I was in a little chair that infringed on the upper and lower gun turrets, and I was facing to the right. My head pressed up against the four .50-caliber machine guns in the upper turret, and they always used to rattle in my head.

“Across from me was the navigator, who faced forward. In front of me but separated by a partition was the flight engineer, who faced to the rear. Were we all a little more nervous than usual because we were going to Tokyo at low altitude? Yes. Yes, we were.”

The Margin of Safety

Barthold’s B-29 trembled, and the noise level went up as the engine-start procedure began. It was 5:15 pm, Chamorro Standard Time, March 9, 1945.

Takeoff was a tense time. Takeoff for Tokyo in a B-29 fully loaded with fuel, bombs, and ammo was a dangerous proposition. Almost everyone on Guam, Saipan, and Tinian had seen one crash. If you lost an engine past the halfway mark of the takeoff run, you probably would not be able to stop before the end of the runway, and the plane would crash off the cliff or go into the water and explode.

But, as Barthold was well aware, on Saipan at least there was a margin of safety if it was used correctly. At Isley Field it was common on takeoff for the pilot of a fully loaded B-29 to hold the wheels to the runway until the final few hundred feet (the last two percent of the runway’s length), hauling back at the last possible instant to lurch over the road along the cliff edge, then diving full throttle for the sea far below, gaining airspeed while retracting the wheels and finally beginning the long takeoff climb as the belly of the plane virtually skimmed the water. More than one of the crews failed at this maneuver, especially at night.

LeMay Looks On

Before dusk, the pathfinders were in the air while crewmembers of the remainder of the attack force of 334 B-29s on three islands were climbing aboard their planes. Because Guam was farther from Japan, its B-29s were already taxiing out.

Closely observing the noisy, busy preparations was LeMay. To St. Clair McKelway, the general’s public relations officer, there was “something deeply, bottomlessly disturbing in this stocky, plain-looking new commanding general.” LeMay was only one of many who had thought of using firebombs to ignite Japanese urban areas, but he alone bore responsibility for ordering his men to attack at low level and to leave their ammunition behind.

LeMay wasn’t at the controls of a B-29 for today’s Tokyo mission because General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold had made him part of a small inner circle who knew about a super secret U.S. program to create a new weapon—the atomic bomb. No one with that knowledge could be permitted to risk falling into Japanese hands.

LeMay and his chief of staff, Brig. Gen. August Kissner, were in a jeep at North Field, Guam, as late afternoon blended into evening. They watched as Power led the first B-29s into the sky. It was 5:36 pm, Chamorro Standard Time, March 9, 1945.

Tall in the Saddle, with Sammy Bakshas in the airplane commander’s seat, made a smooth takeoff not far behind Power. They climbed into the early evening sky while B-29s were still warming up on Saipan and Tinian. Bakshas and Muster were now among the most experienced of B-29 pilots and, when teamed with their flight engineer 2nd Lt. Leland P. Fishback, they could make the huge bomber perform miracles. This was a B-29 crew at the top of its game.

Tall in the Saddle, climbing, was in fine shape. Not a nick, not a scratch spoiled the smooth, natural metal skin of the Superfortress. Her four R-3350 engines, treated lovingly by the ground crew assigned to Muster, were purring smoothly—something the trouble-prone R-3350 did not always do.

It was 6:05 pm, Chamorro Standard Time, March 9, 1945.

Takeoff For Tokyo

When they began their takeoff roll, many B-29 crewmembers believed that their humorless, cigar-chomping commanding general, LeMay, was sending them to die.

Not sure they were wrong, LeMay spent the early evening hours watching B-29s take off from Guam in fading daylight. He told McKelway, “If I am sending these men to die, they will string me up for it.” LeMay later told aide Lt. Col. Robert S. McNamara, “I was under pressure from people who didn’t want a change in the way we were doing things. I felt I had to ignore them and take a chance.”

It took two hours and 45 minutes for 334 B-29 Superfortresses to take off, one to three minutes apart, from six runways on Guam, Tinian, and Saipan. No one had ever sent this many bombers aloft in so short a span of time. Some planes were tucking in their gear and climbing out while others were still turning engines. The choreography may not have been perfect, but the beginning of the mission to Tokyo was going as smoothly as anyone could expect. The largest force of bombers ever assembled in the Pacific was off to a good start.

One of the first pathfinders to lift skyward was radio operator Carl Barthold’s airplane. Once he could reassure himself that he had survived takeoff, always a tense time, Barthold was gifted with time to do what military men have done since war was invented—hurry up and wait. His radio operator’s station was a mini-office surrounded by gadgetry, wires, and codebooks. Barthold sat facing the outer skin of the fuselage with the back of the flight engineer’s panel to his left and the bomb bay bulkhead to his right.

He had enough room not to feel claustrophobic but only one small aperture that gave a glimpse of the sky and sea outside, growing darker as night descended. Much of his world consisted of the wires and dials of his four-channel, high-frequency SCR-522 command radio set. He wore earphones and had a microphone handy.

“Goddamn LeMay’s going to get us killed,” somebody said on the interphone.

“Cut it out,” said the voice of airplane commander Campbell. “Let’s have some interphone discipline, gentlemen.”

Going At It Alone

The Tokyo mission was in the air. Of the 334 aircraft that took off from three islands, 279 were going to make it all the way while the remainder aborted for technical reasons.

There was no formation. Each aircraft was on its own, its airplane commander entrusted with the souls on board, its navigator and his special skills never more important than now. The pathfinders were way out in front with most of the bomb groups from Guam coming next, having taken off early enough to overtake the Superfortresses from Tinian and Saipan.

Power’s 314th Wing from Guam was assigned to approach Japan flying between 5,000 and 5,500 feet. Brig. Gen. Emmett “Rosy” O’Donnell’s 73rd Wing from Saipan was to fly between 3,000 and 3,500 feet while Brig. Gen. John H. Davies’ 313th Wing on Tinian was to make the long journey to the Empire at 4,000 to 5,000 feet. The separation of bomb wings by height above a dark and cruel sea was the best hope of preventing air-to-air collision—and, in fact, none occurred.

Anyone familiar with precision daylight bombing formations in Europe—stepped, spaced, boxed aerial assemblages of bombers proceeding together in book-like unison—would have believed that LeMay’s entire B-29 force had lost all sense of discipline or, even, of common sense. Perhaps the men at the controls of these planes were completely mad.

A B-29 gunner recalled, “Occasionally on a night I would look out my blister at the ocean down below and it would look like we were passing over a series of connected super highways with lights. What I was observing were lines formed in the currents of fluorescent sea life. It was eerie, not in a comforting way but in a troubling way.”

The Value of a Navigator

While a bomber was droning toward its target there was too much time to think. Another Superfortress gunner recalled dwelling on the terrible danger of an over-water bailout, which was even more fearsome than a ditching. “Many opened their chute harnesses early so they could get out and not be fouled by their chute in the water. The admonition was, ‘Do not attempt to judge your height and jump from your harness until your feet are wet.’ Over a calm sea it is very difficult to tell if you are at 100 feet or 1,000 feet—even in daylight!”

The weather in and around Tokyo painted a confusing picture. Because the bomber men planned to burn down the Japanese capital, their leaders had waited for a night when the air was dry and there was wind in the target area. The wind, of course, would spread the fire. It was indeed dry and windy at the capital, but all manner of weather conditions were roiling up in the region. Snowstorms were churning in several locations near Tokyo.

It was 9:30 pm, Chamorro Standard Time, March 9, 1945.

Boring through the night sky was Tall in the Saddle with Bakshas in the left front seat watching instruments, keeping a grip on the control yoke, working with Muster and Fishback, monitoring changes in the behavior of the four engines, and checking in frequently with navigator John Hagadorn. Muster was annoyed. He and Bakshas had gotten along famously until today, but Muster felt his squadron commander was overstepping by taking the pilot-in-command role.

In many ways, the most important crewmember on the long journey toward the Empire was Hagadorn.

If he screwed up, nothing else would matter.

Hagadorn kept up with the position of the plane at all times through dead reckoning (keeping track of speed, direction, and changes in course) and making observations of celestial objects. When he wanted to make a “fix” with his hand-held sextant, Hagadorn crawled into the tunnel above the bomb bay and looked up into a transparent astrodome. It was 11:30 pm, Chamorro Standard Time, March 9, 1945.

Two Coca-Colas For LeMay and McKelway

Hours passed. The dark sea rushed beneath the B-29s. Tokyo drew nearer. On Guam, many on LeMay’s staff caught up on their sleep with the general’s permission. LeMay usually had no difficulty sleeping, but tonight he was wired up. He would not know until the main force began to bomb Tokyo two hours after midnight whether his shift in tactics was a brilliant stroke or a death warrant. LeMay always looked grim because of a condition called Bell’s palsy, which paralyzed facial muscles near his mouth and made it almost impossible for him to smile.

The general in command of thousands of bomber crewmembers was alone in his Quonset headquarters but for St. Clair McKelway, who had become a confidant and who had been told to wait to hear the “bombs away” message expected in early morning. LeMay and McKelway exchanged small talk. Neither was good at it. Both felt the tension as they awaited news from Tommy Power at the cutting edge of the attack force.

LeMay talked of his wife and child back in Cleveland. This was out of character. McKelway wrote that LeMay had no life “beyond games of medicine ball to keep fat off a body that tends toward fat, games of poker to relax as best he can a mind that actually never stops thinking about how to do the job better the next day, and a little reading, mostly fairly serious, to improve a mind he considers inadequate.”

With midnight approaching and the first pathfinders due over the Japanese capital, a curious kind of loneliness bonded McKelway and LeMay. McKelway sensed it was as if there was no difference in rank between them. “We won’t get a bombs-away for another half-hour,” LeMay said, looking at his watch. “Would you like a Coca-Cola? I can sneak in my quarters without waking up the other guys and get two Coca-Colas and we can drink them in my car. That’ll kill most of the half hour.”

They drove the hundred yards to LeMay’s tent in his staff car, and he sneaked in and got the sodas. “We sat in the dark, facing the jungle that surrounds the headquarters,” McKelway wrote—two men, no rank between them now, pulling on the six-ounce Coca-Colas and knowing that within a very short time the thousand kids would be arriving over the Empire. It was 11:50 pm, Chamorro Standard Time, March 9, 1945.

Tokyo Alight

So were Tokyo’s streetlights really lit up before the bombers arrived? Some B-29 crewmembers said the city was aglow when they arrived, with no sign of a blackout in effect.

Some B-29 crewmembers listened to Japanese radio stations while they flew toward the Empire. A crew led by Captain Thomas Hanley of the 497th Bomb Group entered the final hours of the approach to Tokyo listening to a song whose title they would remember with irony: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”

The weather that night was a quarter-moon. Most B-29s were making a key turn at Choshi Point, east of Tokyo, the IP, or initial point, where they would turn west to begin their planned run-in. Crewmembers squeezed into their flak vests, heavy and cumbersome garments with steel plates that could absorb shrapnel. Some donned helmets that interfered with earphones but promised head protection. None saw any night fighters. Antiaircraft gunfire would be a formidable adversary, but the fighters were somehow missing.

The defense of Tokyo was a paradox. Americans were warned about and on occasion reported seeing barrage balloons, gas-filled aerial bags that were used to string vertical cables in the path of approaching airplanes. Yet, the Japanese had never had any. Japan had night fighters and very capable night-fighter pilots, yet most Americans never saw one. At night, Japan’s network of antiaircraft guns and searchlights could be terrifying, and sphincters tightened whenever a searchlight beam locked onto a bomber, yet there appeared to be little coordination between the guns and the lights.

An intelligence summary credited the Tokyo region with 500 antiaircraft guns, “as many guns as ever protected the German capital of Berlin.” Bomber crewmembers feared these guns, yet they were never as effective as their German counterparts.

Radio operator Carl Barthold remembers being briefed that the Japanese antiaircraft guns were effective from the ground up to 5,500 feet but that a “gap” existed going up to about 10,000 feet where coverage resumed. The need for coverage above 10,000 was obvious because the Americans had wasted many months flying at great heights. “We were told that we were going in through a ‘window’ where they wouldn’t have the capability to shoot us.”

Sammy Bakshas of Tall in the Saddle would learn that that wasn’t quite true. Yet the Americans were approaching a city where every manner of lip service had been paid to defending the urban area and its population, but few practical measures actually had any impact.

Japanese cities had been equipped with air-raid sirens, blackout facilities, and underground shelters for almost 20 years, yet people at home and on the street often ignored them. In Tokyo, shelter construction, especially in the area near the bay, was complicated because they could not be dug more than a few feet without encountering ground water. Many people simply stayed where they were when the bombers approached. Perhaps inured by the apparent inability of the Americans to hit anything with their bombs, urban residents dismissed the appearance of the bi ni ju ku, the B-29, as a “mail run.”

The previous day, a strong wind had been rattling the panes in doors and windows all over the city, the same wind the Americans hoped would spread the fire they were bringing, and most people had gone about their day routinely. For the past few nights single B-29s had appeared over the city, not dropping any bombs but flying very low and setting off the searchlights and antiaircraft fire. This was reconnaissance and it made many in the capital uneasy, yet routine activities continued, and after dark the lights may have stayed on.

Or they may not have. Yukiko Hiragama, called Yuki, an eight-year-old schoolgirl who happened to be outdoors that night, remembers nothing about street lights. “Before the bombers came it was a night of darkness and shadows,” said Yuki. “The sirens made their powerful sounds in the evening and then night came and there were no B-29s. The sirens were silent and the lights were off when the B-29s arrived.” While Yuki remained awake, most in Tokyo went to sleep after the sirens halted, many of them hungry because food supplies were short.

“If We’d Lost the War, We’d All Have Been Prosecuted as War Criminals

The bombers came, beginning with the pathfinders.

Also awaiting the arrival of the B-29s were Japan’s fragmented air defense network and Tokyo’s nearly dysfunctional civil defense system.

Airfields were scattered all over the Tokyo region, but the job of defending the capital belonged to the Japanese Army’s 10th Flying Division, with 210 fighters. Tonight, as it would turn out, the low-level B-29 approach took the fighter force by surprise. In the early minutes of Saturday, March 10, 1945, they were receiving little direction from ground controllers, and their flights were not coordinated with searchlight and antiaircraft batteries. Fighters prowled the Japanese coast, but their pilots had no guidance from ground radar stations and never came within eyesight of a B-29.

The Army was responsible for antiaircraft gun batteries in and around Tokyo. As LeMay had hoped, they were not prepared to engage B-29s at low altitude.

It was 00:15 am, Chamorro Standard Time, March 10, 1945.

The B-29 main force arrived over Tokyo, Barthold working his radio as part of the Campbell crew and listening in the night for signals; the Bakshas crew in Tall in the Saddle … they were arriving, all of them, and as fire began to spread in Tokyo, the sound of R-3350 aircraft engines overhead grew to a rolling thunder.

LeMay’s B-29s dropped nearly half a million M69 incendiary bomblets on the Japanese capital in the early hours of March 10, razing 16 square miles of the city, transforming darkness into an eerie artificial light, and immersing tens of thousands of human beings in raw heat against which there was no defense.

Joseph Coleman of the Associated Press wrote, “The M69s released 100-foot streams of fire upon detonating and sent flames rampaging through densely packed wooden homes. Superheated air created a wind that sucked victims into the flames and fed the twisting infernos. Asphalt boiled in the 1,800-degree heat. With much of the fighting-age male population at the war front, women, children and the elderly struggled in vain to battle the flames or flee.”

McNamara quoted LeMay as saying, “If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.” “And I think he’s right,” added McNamara. “He, and I’d say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost.”

The real crime in Tokyo on the morning of March 10 was that the authorities were unready. Civil defense, emergency response, and firefighting personnel were shamefully—criminally—unprepared to handle an all-out assault from above.

There was no defense ordinary people could take against a confetti of exploding M69s. Smothering a bomb with a blanket didn’t work. In Tokyo, the authorities had sought to equip each household with a grappling hook, a shovel, a sand bucket, and a water barrel. They were useless. In all of Tokyo, there were almost no air-raid shelters.

The Tokyo fire department was pitiful. In recent months, its strength had increased from 2,000 to 8,100 firefighters. The fire department of New York, which no longer faced any likelihood of being bombed from the air, was made up of almost 10,000 firemen. In 1943, the Tokyo department had 280 pieces of fire apparatus. In early 1945 it had 1,117 pieces. A shortage of mechanics idled more than half of them.

Heat and Horror

It began just after 11 pm Tokyo time, or midnight according to the Chamorro time by which the Americans set their watches. Sirens sounded.

The pathfinders, radio operator Barthold among them, began dropping the self-scattering incendiaries the Japanese called molotoffano hanakago, or “Molotov flower baskets,” inscribing an “X” throughout the target zone. After a brief pause, the main force of B-29s—400 miles long—spent 21/2 hours passing over Tokyo.

They unleashed a fire that was more severe than the conflagrations that razed Moscow in 1812 and San Francisco in 1901, even the fire that followed Tokyo’s terrible earthquake of 1923. Even taking the subsequent atomic bombings into account, they ignited the hottest fires ever to burn on Earth.

Once the flames came, there was no escape. In 30 minutes, the fires were out of control.

The conflagration quickly overwhelmed Tokyo’s wooden residential structures. The firestorm replaced oxygen with lethal gases, superheated the atmosphere, and caused hurricane-like winds that blew a wall of fire across the city.

Kiyoko Kawasaki, a 36-year-old mother, ran into the street with two buckets on her head for protection, jogging into a sea of fire and seeing burning bodies floating in the Sumida River. “The prostitutes who hung out by the riverbank jumped into a nearby pond,” she recalled. “But the pond was boiling so they all died.”

Twelve-year-old middle school student Yoko Ono saw the inferno from nearby and felt the heat. Yoko was part of the privileged elite in a society where stature meant everything, a stern-looking child whose father, a banker, was being held in an Allied prison camp in Hanoi in Indochina. She hoped to break away from the privileged class of her upbringing to become an artist.

As the firebombing progressed, Yoko took shelter with her mother and two tiny siblings in a special bunker reserved for those near the top of the social hierarchy. It was in the Azabu district of Tokyo, within eyesight of the burning carnage but at a safe distance. As soon as they could get free, Yoko’s mother and the three children joined neighbors in a headlong flight away from the burning city, out into open country.

But farmers in the countryside were starving and unenthusiastic about sharing food with a horde of urban refugees. In the weeks ahead, reduced to foraging from farm to farm, Yoko’s family experienced hard times. She begged for food while homeless and pushing family belongings in a wheelbarrow. “I did not need to be told about hardship,” she said. “I experienced it.”

30 Seconds Over Tokyo

One of the casualties in the flickering sky near a burning Tokyo was Zero Auer, a B-29 piloted by airplane commander 1st Lt. Robert Auer of the 19th Bombardment Group from Guam. An Auer family member later wrote of “the brute physical challenge” of controlling the 65-ton Superfortress while it was being batted around like a toy—demanding every ounce of muscle that Auer and 2nd Lt. Harold D. Currey, Jr., could muster.

An antiaircraft shell hit the Zero Auer dead center, possibly detonating inside the open bomb bay. Zero Auer traveled several miles north of Tokyo and then was seen to break into three distinct pieces, with red-orange torrents of fire pouring out of the gaps. One crewmember bailed out, but the others perished. It was 2:05 am, Chamorro Standard Time, March 10, 1945.

A third of the way through the procession of B-29s over Tokyo, Japanese antiaircraft artillery connected with Tall in the Saddle and its 11-man crew.

Just after “bombs away,” an exploding flak shell made a direct hit on Tall in the Saddle. According to the missing aircrew report, the B-29 was shot down in a location that is “unknown” and at a time that is “unknown.” Directly over the gathering firestorm, the Bakshas bomber appeared to halt in mid-air, tilted strangely, and descended, fire spurting back from its wing fuel tanks.

Tall in the Saddle was the only Superfortress to be shot down directly over the Japanese capital and to fall into the center of the target area. It would have taken between 30 seconds and one minute for a B-29 to traverse the nearly 16 square miles of densely-packed Tokyo that were now white-hot with flames—burning so intensely that ashes streaked the noses of B-29s a mile overhead, while crewmembers could smell burning flesh. Tall in the Saddle appears to have been struck by a direct hit squarely at the mid-point of that traverse.

Brigadier General Thomas S. Power—Tommy—the overall air commander of the mission, stayed over the target for 90 minutes. Power was making red crosses on a hand-held map to show blocks where fires broke out. He wore his red crayon down. Crewmembers were becoming nervous. No one liked lingering this long over a well-defended target.

In a report, Power wrote, “The best way to describe what it looks like when these fire bombs come out of the bomb bay of an airplane is to compare it to a giant pouring a big shovelful of white-hot coals all over the ground, covering an area about 2,500 feet in length and some 500 feet wide.”

Power may have been the hardest man among the thousands of Americans over Tokyo that morning, but he was not unmoved by the human suffering beneath his wings. As he kept looking down, he occasionally wiped his eyes. One crewmember believes the words “poor bastards” escaped from his lips.

Power’s was one of the last B-29s to depart the target. It was 3:05 am, Chamorro Standard Time, March 10, 1945.

Second Lieutenant Hubert L. Kordsmeier was airplane commander of a B-29 Superfortress of the 498th Bombardment Group flying from Saipan. For reasons that may remain forever a mystery, shortly after depositing their firebombs on a burning Tokyo, three B-29s from three different bomb groups—two from Guam and one from Saipan—flew into the same mountain in Japan at about the same time. Kordsmeier’s was first. It was 3:40 am, Chamorro Standard time, March 10, 1945.

How could three planes fly into the same mountain? And how did three B-29s end up a hundred miles northeast of Tokyo? Kordsmeier and his pilot, 2nd Lt. Claude T. Dean, must have struggled with the controls before slamming into 5,657-foot Mount Fubo in the Zao Mountains.

Cherry the Horizontal Cat, commanded by Firman Wyatt of the badly battered 29th Bombardment Group operating from North Field, Guam, was the second of the three B-29s that went into the slope of Mount Fubo. Captain Samuel M. Carr was airplane commander of the unnamed third Superfortress to collide with the looming slope in darkness and swirling snow. Again, all aboard were lost.

“The Great City of Tokyo is Dead”

It was 3:30 am, Chamorro Standard Time, March 10, 1945. The great firebomb mission was wrapping up.

The “all clear” sounded at 2:37 am Tokyo time, or 3:37 am on the clock used by the Americans. Stacked blackened corpses were being hauled away on trucks. Tokyo resident Fusako Sasaki said she saw “places on the pavement where people had been roasted to death.”

Mark Selden, who wrote in Japan Focus, contends that the widely seen figure of 100,000 who ultimately died in the bombing is misleading. Wrote Selden, “The figure of roughly 100,000 deaths, provided by Japanese and American authorities, both of whom may have had reasons of their own for minimizing the death toll, seems to me arguably low in light of population density, wind conditions, and survivors’ accounts.

“With an average of 103,000 inhabitants per square mile (396 people per hectare) and peak levels as high as 135,000 per square mile (521 people per hectare), the highest density of any industrial city in the world, and with firefighting measures ludicrously inadequate to the task, 15.8 square miles of Tokyo were destroyed on a night when fierce winds whipped the flames and walls of fire blocked tens of thousands fleeing for their lives. An estimated 1.5 million people lived in the burned out areas.”

Weeks later in an Army publication, Staff Sergeant Bob Speer wrote, “The great city of Tokyo—third largest in the world—is dead. The heart, guts, core—whatever you want to call everything that makes a modern metropolis a living, functioning organism—is a waste of white ash, endless fields of ashes, blowing in the wind. Not even the shells of walls stand in large areas of the Japanese capital. The streets are desolate, the people are dead or departed, the city lies broken and prostrate and destroyed.

“The men who accomplished the job study the photographs brought back by their recon pilots … and stand speechless and awed. They shake their heads at each other and bend over the photos again, and then shake their heads again, and no one says a word.”

Vast warehouse areas, big manufacturing plants, railroad yards, stocks of raw materials, the whole complex of home factories—all of it was gone. The broadcast studio JOAK, from which the voice of Tokyo Rose was sent out to taunt B-29 crewmembers, was heavily damaged. The Imperial Hotel, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, needed serious repair. The biggest railroad stations in Asia—Ueno and Tokyo Central—were completely wiped out.

The torching of Tokyo and Emperor Hirohito’s subsequent viewing of the ravaged sections of the city are said to have marked the beginning of the emperor’s personal involvement in the peace process.

104,000 Tons of Bombs Dropped on Tokyo

After 15 hours and four minutes in the air, the great Tokyo firebomb mission’s on-scene air commander, Brig. Gen. Thomas S. Power, landed at Guam’s North Field. There were dark circles around Power’s eyes. The aircraft came to a halt, and two of its engines were still running when Power dropped to the ground.

LeMay greeted Power with a hint of a smile. St. Clair McKelway looked on and tried to read the two men. Power told LeMay that antiaircraft fire had been lighter than he’d expected, Japanese night fighters had not been seen, and the fires in Tokyo, which ultimately combined into a single vast conflagration, had been more devastating than anyone expected.

Three B-29s ditched after the mission to Tokyo. Of 334 bombers launched against Japan in the early evening hours of March 9, 1945, some 279 aircraft arrived over target and passed over the primary aiming point at “Meetinghouse,” the center of Tokyo. B-29 Superfortress crews brought home with them the stench of burnt death.

Back from the mission, in the sunlit morning, 1st Lt. Bill Lind of the 497th Bombardment Group taxied into his parking slot, pulled back the window next to his seat, and yelled down to his ground crew, “Hey, boys! Come over to this aircraft and smell Tokyo!”

It was 8:30 am, Chamorro Standard Time, March 10, 1945.

By the time the guns went silent, B-29s had dropped 104,000 tons of bombs on Japan, reducing to rubble 169 square miles in 66 cities. The bombing missions left homeless 9.2 million civilians, including 3.1 million in Tokyo.

Between June 1944 and August 1945, 402 B-29s were lost bombing Japan—147 of them to Japanese flak and fighters and 255 to engine fires and mechanical failures. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when combined, inflicted less damage than the great Tokyo firebomb raid.

It is the author’s opinion that the defeat of Japan without an invasion was caused by the overall B-29 campaign and not solely by the atomic bombings. Remarkably, the plan for the firebombing of Tokyo worked. U.S. casualties were painful but small in proportion to the magnitude of the mission’s success.

Fighting ended August 15, 1945. The formal surrender was inked aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, on Sunday, September 2, 1945.

Speaking to Allied and Japanese officers, General Douglas MacArthur, now the supreme Allied commander for the occupation of Japan, said, “The issues, involving divergent ideals and ideologies, have been determined on the battlefields of the world and hence are not for our discussion or debate.” He might have been referring to the great Tokyo firebomb mission.

This article by Robert F. Dorr originally appeared on Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia

[Author: Warfare History Network] [Category: History]

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[l] at 7/9/20 8:56am

Stephen Silver

Economics, Americas

https://www.reutersconnect.com/all?id=tag%3Areuters.com%2C2020%3Anewsml_RC2MCH95IKS5&share=true Is that the only way for most theaters to survive the coronavirus?

A report in early May stated that Amazon was in talks to purchase AMC Theaters, in a deal that put the e-commerce giant in control of a traditional brick-and-mortar business.

The deal hasn’t materialized in the two months since, as AMC—which was known to be in financial distress even prior to the coronavirus pandemic—has since engaged in a variety of financial machinations in order to avoid bankruptcy. Following going concern in June, AMC, as of Wednesday, was “nearing a restructuring deal that would help stave off a near-term bankruptcy filing,” Fox Business reported.

So is the idea of Amazon buying movie theaters dead? Not necessarily. In fact, Bank of America this week made the case that both Amazon and Netflix should get into the movie exhibition game.

Per Seeking Alpha, Bank of America has pitched the two companies on making just such an acquisition.

“First, both Netflix and Amazon are reaching scale in movie output. We estimate that Netflix put out ~60 English language movies in 2019 vs. 131 wide releases by the Major 6 (87) and other studios (44). Many of these, like The Irishman or Extraction are big-budget films that would typically be seen as box office blockbusters,” the Bank of America note said.

“Second, movie theater chains are distressed due to COVID-19 and social distancing. Finally, competition in maturing markets like the U.S. is rising, with most major media houses we cover set to offer a subscription service by the end of 2020. Bundling movie theater access with a membership could serve as a differentiator.”

BofA, however, speculated that existing Hollywood studios, such as Disney, would likely object to Amazon or Netflix—both of whom are in the movie production business—getting into movie theater exhibition.

Netflix has, in fact, gotten into the movie exhibition business in a limited manner. The company bought the single-screen New York movie house the Paris Theater in 2019 and has used it to host movie premieres and also exhibit its own films. Earlier this year, Netflix purchased the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, but due to the pandemic has not yet used it for any screenings.

Much of the speculation about Amazon purchasing AMC has centered on the company applying some type of Amazon Prime-like subscription scheme to buying movie tickets, or possibly including discounted ticket purchases as part of Prime itself.

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Image: Reuters

[Author: Stephen Silver] [Category: Economics]

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[l] at 7/9/20 8:30am

Warfare History Network

History, Asia

By Unknown author - Unknown source, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2577937 And the damage they did to Tokyo's war effort. 

Key point: America's subs hit Japanese shipping and troop transports. They even took out larger craft like an aircraft carrier.

Sunsets over Manila Bay are nothing less than spectacular. Once the sun dips below the horizon there is a lingering illumination known as “blue hour” as the sky gradually shifts from pale azure to deep indigo before fading completely into the black tropical night. But for the men of USS Seawolfthere was no blue hour that warm January evening in 1942. Their submarine rested on the inky bottom of the bay awaiting nightfall, when it would be safe to surface.

At 7:30 pm, Lt. Cmdr. Frederick “Fearless Freddie” Warder, gave the command. The submarine broke the calm waters off the besieged island of Corregidor, sailing cautiously toward South Dock. When Seawolf was securely moored, the crew began transferring her cargo: 36 tons of antiaircraft shells destined for the island’s desperate garrison.

Though Pearl Harbor was barely a month past, this was already Seawolf’s third war patrol. And it was to become a landmark, for it was the first of nearly 300 “special missions” undertaken by American submarines during World War II.

After unloading her cargo, Seawolf embarked 25 passengers for transport to Surabaya on Java’s eastern coast. It must have galled Freddie Warder that his warship had been used as a truck and was about to become a bus. But most of his refugees were VIPs—Very Important Pilots—men who had lost their planes in the first days of the war. It was Seawolf’s mission to deliver those flyers to new aircraft to rejoin the fight.

In those first, dispiriting months of the war, Asiatic Fleet submarines were kept busy on similar missions—so many that the chief, Admiral Thomas Hart, complained bitterly in a report to Washington: “This Command has been continuously attempting to satisfy numerous demands for use of submarines for various evacuation and ferrying trips.” Those trips included transporting high-ranking officials, more pilots, members of a top-secret radio intelligence unit, and 20 tons of gold and silver from the Philippine treasury. They also carried in as much ammunition and foodstuffs as the boats could fit. Hart noted that these special missions detracted from offensive operations, but Washington seemed to pay no heed.

The last trip to Corregidor was made on May 3 by USS Spearfish, redirected from a war patrol off the Lingayen Gulf to pick up 27 passengers. Twelve were Army nurses; two were unauthorized stowaways. The island fortress fell to the Japanese just three days later.

Two Cruiser Submarines and a Minelayer

The typical modern diesel-electric “fleet submarine” of the time was 311 feet long and displaced 1,525 tons. The Navy had three boats greatly exceeding that size: the minelayer Argonaut and the cruiser subs Narwhal and Nautilus. Each was more than 370 feet in length, displaced over 4,000 tons, and was armed with pairs of six-inch guns. Built between 1927 and 1930, the boats were big, slow, and ill-suited for the underwater attack role. It was said that Argonaut’s diving time was four or five minutes.

However unsuitable the trio may have been for deployment offensively, their sheer size proved attractive to Navy planners for special missions.

One of the first was deployment of Nautilus and Argonaut for landing a Marine Corps raiding party on Makin Atoll in the summer of 1942. The assault was meant to divert enemy attention from Guadalcanal, where a full-scale invasion had begun a week before. In all, 252 Marines were crammed into the boats’ torpedo rooms, where the “fish” had been replaced by tiers of bunks.

In the predawn darkness of August 16, the men of Colonel Evans Carlson’s 2nd Raider Battalion launched their rubber boats and paddled ashore to destroy Japanese facilities. While the Marines were on the island, Nautilus had an opportunity to unlimber her six-inch guns. Firing blind, over the island and into the lagoon, the ship managed to sink an enemy patrol vessel and a 3,500-ton freighter.

Nautilus and twin Narwhal were used in a similar capacity 10 months later, when they supported the American assault in the Aleutians, landing 214 Army Scouts on Attu Island. As they had at Makin, the big subs amply demonstrated their versatility as transports.

Aiding Guerillas in the Philippines

At the beginning of 1943, a whole new phase of special operations began. In January, six agents were landed on Negros in the central Philippines by USS Gudgeon. Code-named Planet Party, the group was led by Captain Jesus Villamor, a much decorated Filipino pilot and war hero. The unit’s task was to set up a communications network that could radio intelligence back to General Douglas MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Area headquarters (SWPA GHQ) in Brisbane, Australia.

Villamor discovered a flourishing guerrilla organization in desperate need of arms, ammunition, and more. That news excited GHQ, which made arrangements in February for USS Tambor to deliver 70,000 rounds and $10,000 in cash to the rebels on the southern island of Mindanao while en route to her patrol area. Even as she was sailing north, commanders in Brisbane were discussing the feasibility of establishing a regular submarine transport service to the Philippines. “It is suggested that every effort be made to provide [the Philippine] sub-section with undersea boats,” wrote Lt. Col. Allison W. Ind, deputy controller of the Allied Intelligence Bureau on February 25, 1943.

Like Gudgeon, Tambor was also carrying a group of agents, led by an unassuming naval reserve officer, Lt. Cmdr. Charles “Chick” Parsons. He was an old Philippine hand, arriving there in 1921. Before the war he had been an executive at Luzon Stevedoring Company in Manila and seemed to have knowledge of every channel and bay and inlet throughout the islands. He was widely connected and widely respected. After disembarking from the sub, he began an island-by-island investigation of the situation, talking to rebel leaders, observing daily life, forming opinions on the state of the country. He would become, in a very real way, MacArthur’s eyes and ears in the Philippines.

SWPA continued to send men and supplies north—but in ad hoc dribs and drabs. In April, Gudgeon went back with four men and three tons of supplies for Panay Island. And that July, Trout put ashore another reconnaissance party on Mindanao, evacuated four escaped POWs and, after four months in country, Chick Parsons.

On August 20, 1943, Parsons submitted a lengthy report to MacArthur on the state of the Philippines. There were sections on political and economic conditions, on military and civilian internees, and on the morale of the nation under Japanese occupation. Parsons then offered up some thoughts on how the United States might aid the resistance movement. Among them he recommended submarines be employed to supply the guerrilla districts. This idea had been kicking around GHQ for months, but it took another old Philippine hand, Colonel Courtney Whitney, a close friend of MacArthur’s, and before the war a very sharp Manila lawyer, to get the ball rolling.

Spyron’s Inaugural Trip

Until then the Navy had been reluctant to commit a boat full time to the Philippine guerrilla campaign. Whitney, frustrated by the lack of cooperation, persuaded the general to threaten to take the issue to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It still took six more weeks to convince the Commander Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Arthur S. Carpender, that the Navy’s assistance in inserting intelligence teams would produce “information of direct benefit to [the Navy’s] operations against the enemy,” through the establishment of a network of coastwatchers reporting Japanese ship movements, valuable information that would be of paramount interest to patrolling submarines. Carpender went to his boss, Admiral Ernest J. King, commander in chief, United States Fleet, with a recommendation that a Nautilus-class submarine be made available to SWPA to make two trips into the islands toward the end of the year. The plan was approved.

Because of his experience and expertise, Commander Parsons was handed the job of organizing the sub supply system under the aegis of both Whitney and the Seventh Fleet’s director of Naval Intelligence, Captain Arthur H. McCollum. In time the unit came to be called the Spy Squadron, or “Spyron.” From an office in Brisbane, Chick coordinated the materiel requisitions from rebel commanders. Once the freight was assembled, it was forwarded to Darwin on Australia’s north coast for loading aboard the submarines.

Narwhal was made available to Spyron late that autumn after receiving a complete refit, including removal of her torpedo-handling gear to clear space in the torpedo rooms for cargo, though 10 fish were left in her tubes just in case.

And so it was, on October 23, 1943, USS Narwhal, Lt. Cmdr. Frank D. Latta commanding, departed Australia bound for Mindoro and Mindanao. For this inaugural Spyron trip she was transporting two Army radio intelligence teams, 92 tons of cargo, and Chick Parsons. The supplies ran the gamut from rifles, pistols, machine guns, ammunition, grenades, radio sets, medicines, cigarettes, lubricating oil, uniforms, and typewriter ribbons and carbon paper (the rebels had a well-organized bureaucracy of their own), to communion wafers, propaganda, and chocolate bars wrapped in labels emblazoned with “I Shall Return, MacArthur.”

“Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John”

The voyage was routine, at least until November 10, when, at 10:35 pm, lookouts spotted a Japanese tanker escorted by three warships, range 12,000 yards. Latta decided to attack, waiting until the range dropped to 3,100 yards before firing four torpedoes at the target. All missed.

Less than three hours later two of those escorts spotted the old girl and took off in pursuit, one of them opening fire. Latta screamed for more power. The engine men gave him enough to push the boat through the Bohol Sea at an astonishing 19 knots (she was built to top out at 17). In time, Narwhal pulled ahead. When the ordeal was over, Latta christened the diesels that had saved his boat, “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”

Two days later the sub reached Paluan Bay on the northwest coast of Mindoro, where half the cargo was unloaded along with one of the Army teams.

Narwhal then sailed down to Nasipit in northern Mindanao. While maneuvering into the tiny port, the sub ran aground on a shoal.  Though it took less than an hour to back her free, those were tense moments for the crew in waters alive with Japanese patrols. When the boat finally reached the dock an enthusiastic Filipino band, resplendent in neatly pressed uniforms, struck up a warm welcome with a rousing rendition of “Anchors Aweigh.”

It took just a few hours to get the remaining supplies ashore. That accomplished, 32 evacuees boarded the boat for the trip back to Australia. Chick Parsons stayed behind with the guerrillas.

Narwhal arrived at Darwin on November 22, 1943, did a three-day turnaround, and headed back to the Philippines with another 90 tons of materiel and 11 men. The trip up was uneventful. The supplies were quickly unloaded, seven evacuees and Commander Parsons embarked, and the boat was steaming back toward Australia by December 2. The voyage was not without some excitement. Latta attacked and sank a Japanese freighter.

Recovering the Z Operations Order

Spyron was off to a promising start. Thereafter, resupply missions were run every four or five weeks. The addition of Nautilus in July 1944 doubled the unit’s carrying capacity. It seems President Roosevelt had urged her reassignment after being nudged by Philippine President Manuel L. Quezon, who sought ever greater support for his country’s guerrillas. In August, two smaller boats, Freddie Warder’s old Seawolf and Stingray, were added to the Spyron fleet.

Even while Spyron operated, other boats continued to run special missions into the Philippines, usually diverted from a regular war patrol to effect an emergency evacuation. In March 1944, USS Angler was sent to Panay to pick up 58 civilians who had been stranded there since the beginning of the war. There was some urgency to her assignment. The Japanese had brutally murdered 17 missionaries and their children just before Christmas, and MacArthur wanted to remove the remaining Americans on the island as quickly as possible.

In May, USS Crevalle was diverted to nearby Negros to bring out 40 people, a mixture of missionaries, civilian contractors, and more escaped POWs. But that was not why she was sent there. A month before, the guerrillas had come into possession of a briefcase full of top-secret Japanese Navy papers following the crash of a flying boat carrying a high-ranking officer. When rebels radioed MacArthur that they had these mysterious documents, GHQ hastened to send a submarine to pick them up. Crevalle just happened to be the closest.

Embarking the 40 provided a neat cover story for the real mission In fact, they would have been evacuated by Narwhal or Nautilus within a few weeks. When the papers got back to MacArthur, they were quickly translated and analyzed. The cache turned out to be the Z Operations Order, a strategic battle plan for the defense of the Western Pacific. American forces used the intelligence to their advantage that June in the invasion of Saipan and the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

From Spyron to the Lifeguard League

In early 1945, when most of the Philippines was back under American control, Spyron was dissolved, and any special missions required were once again assigned to operational subs.

When the great offensive across the Central Pacific opened in late 1943, another phase of special missions began. During air strikes against enemy-held islands and atolls, subs were stationed offshore to rescue any pilots that went down. Over the next 18 months, more than half the boats in the submarine force participated in what came to be known as the Lifeguard League. Perhaps the best known incident was USS Finback’s September 1944 rescue of a young Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber pilot, Lieutenant (j.g.) George H.W. Bush. Perhaps the hairiest was USS Harder’s April 1944 extraction of a pilot at remote Woleai Atoll in the eastern Carolines.

The sub, commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Samuel D. Dealey, was assigned lifeguard duty there to cover a bombing raid by carrier-based planes. On April 1, Dealey received a radio message telling him that a fighter pilot was down on the beach. Harder sped to the scene, easy to find because other aircraft were circling overhead.

The skipper conned his boat as close to the reef as he dared. “White water was breaking over the shoals only 20 yds in front of the ship and the fathometer had ceased to record,” he wrote in his patrol report. Harder was literally between a rock and a hard place, so the flyers suggested backing off and trying a different approach. No sooner had the sub begun to maneuver away than the stranded pilot, Ensign John R. Galvin, fell to the ground in profound despair, thinking his saviors were abandoning him. “My heart stood still,” he said.

The new spot did not pan out, so Dealey returned to the first and began in earnest to execute a rescue. He put over a rubber boat that had no paddles and three volunteers. Word came up from the forward torpedo room that the sub’s bottom was scraping the coral. Dealey, worried that Harder might get pushed broadside by the surf, “worked both screws to keep the bow against the reef.” If that was not enough, enemy snipers hiding in the palms along the beach kept up a continuous fire. “Bullets whined over the bridge, uncomfortably close,” the skipper noted.

The volunteers had a 1,200-yard swim to the beach. It took them half an hour to reach Galvin, who had by then climbed into his own raft and was being pushed by the currents away from his rescuers. Finally, they got the pilot into their boat. Sailors on the sub began to haul in the line to the raft, but an over-exuberant, would-be rescuer in a Curtiss floatplane managed to sever it while taxiing toward Galvin. Another Harder crewman had to swim out with a second line, and slowly the raft was pulled alongside the sub.

Despite the mishaps, the entire rescue took just an hour and 19 minutes. But to all involved, it must have seemed an eternity.

The Hellcats

Throughout the final months of the war, fleet submarines continued to conduct special operations. Many involved landing intelligence teams throughout Southeast Asia. But in April 1945, Tigrone and Rock teamed for an unusual mission to use their five-inch guns to knock out an enemy radio station on Batan Island in the Luzon Strait.

Also that spring a group of boats conducted a series of special missions as guinea pigs for a new kind of Frequency Modulated (FM) sonar designed to detect underwater mines. It was not a particularly popular assignment. In June 1945, a group of nine FM-equipped submarines dubbed the Hellcats successfully penetrated the minefields guarding the southern entrance to the Sea of Japan. In 15 days they managed to sink 28 enemy ships at the cost of one of their own, USS Bonefish.

The final official submarine special mission was run by USS Catfish. On August 15, 1945, the boat began an FM sonar sweep for mines off the coast of Kyushu. None were detected, but after surfacing at the end of the day, the ship’s radioman picked up a flash. “Received War News and heard war was over,” the skipper wrote in his report. “News was received in ‘proper’ manner by all hands. Now the topic is ‘When can I go home?’”

Stunning Successes of Spyron and the Lifeguard League

When the record of the submarine force was compiled after the war, the results were impressive. The boats had accounted for 55 percent of all Japanese maritime losses. And the record for special missions was equally impressive. In fact, 15 percent of all patrols were either wholly special operations or had a special operations component.

Chick Parsons’s Spyron unit delivered 1,325 tons of supplies and 331 personnel and evacuated 472, most of them civilians, many of these women and children. Parsons himself made eight round trips to the Philippines. A 1948 SWPA assessment of Spyron said, “The practical importance of this efficient supply service by cargo submarine can scarcely be overestimated. It became the ‘life-line’ of the guerrilla resistance movement.” Narwhal was withdrawn from service in January 1945, having made nine cargo runs. Nautilus was sent home in April with six under her belt. Spyron had one tragic loss. Seawolf went down with all hands during an October 1944 mission, very likely sunk by an American warship.

The Lifeguard League delivered 504 flyers from certain death or capture by the enemy. The record rescuer was Tigrone, which plucked 31 airmen from the Pacific. The valiant Harder, heroine to Ensign John Galvin, did not survive the war. She was lost with all hands on August 24, 1944, after a brutal depth charging in the South China Sea.

On hundreds of special missions throughout World War II, American submarines performed myriad tasks, always at enormous risk to the crews and their boats. In the process they played a manifest role in winning the war in the Pacific.

Originally Published December 3, 2018.

This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia

[Author: Warfare History Network] [Category: History]

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[l] at 7/9/20 8:14am

Claes G. Ryn

Politics, Americas

Reuters Donald Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech was another example of the inconsistency of his presidency.

President Donald Trump likes to portray himself as fighting the Washington Swamp. In foreign policy, he represents something new, America First, a break with interventionism and globalism. But the substance of his foreign policy has been largely at odds with his rhetoric. Making key appointments he has repeatedly turned to people on record as having the opposite of his stated views, interventionists like H. R. McMasters, Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, Robert O’Brien, and Mike Pompeo. He then fights with them to moderate their hawkishness.

This is just one example of the curious incoherence of the Trump presidency. The president has managed thoroughly to offend the Washington establishment, sending Democratic leaders and the media into paroxysms of outrage. Yet there is a striking element of overlap between Trump and his enemies and predecessors. In important ways, he is defaulting to the same old same old, possibly because people in his vicinity keep pushing him in that direction.

The president’s primary purpose at Mount Rushmore was to leave no doubt as to how he views attacks on monuments, civil disturbance, looting, and vandalism. He probably was quite successful conveying to the American people why none of this can be tolerated.

While most listeners probably did not pay close attention to the president’s extended argument for why America’s heritage must be defended, the speech was in this respect another example of the inconsistency of the Trump presidency.

The speech’s overall message regarding the worthiness of America was virtually indistinguishable from the “idealistic” sentiments that neoconservatives and other exceptionalists have expressed in recent decades to promote American intervention and, in particular, to create momentum for war with Iraq. Their fundamental idea, simply put, is that America is—here we go again—exceptional. America is God’s gift to mankind, and America is in a position to work marvels for humanity. These notions have formed the core for what this writer has called “the ideology of American empire.”

Over the past several decades, American exceptionalism has served as the primary justification for the push for American armed global hegemony. The speech at Mount Rushmore was in its appeal to these sentiments remarkable only for its lack of originality. The president was careful to say: “We declare that the United States of America is the most just and exceptional nation ever to exist on Earth.”

Standard fare, you say? Precisely. But how does it square with criticism of interventionism?

Untutored and ill at ease in the world of ideas, Trump, like President George W. Bush before him, seems to have signed on to what speechwriters put before him. That it did not occur to him or his speechwriters that some other way of defending America’s heritage might be preferable indicates the continuing deep influence of the ideology of the American empire. Is any other defense of America even conceivable?

Having told Americans that “you live in the most magnificent country in the history of the world,” Trump did for a brief moment violate one central tenet of exceptionalist ideology. He said that 1776 represented “the culmination of thousands of years of Western civilization.” That sentence suggested that America was the creature of many generations, a product of history—which flatly contradicts the exceptionalist assertion that America was founded on newly discovered abstract, ahistorical principles that gave Americans a fresh start.

But the president quickly contradicted himself by asserting, as neoconservatives and their academic supporters think others ought to do, that America was born out of revolution. For exceptionalists, it is irrelevant what was actually on the minds of Americans when they protested British rule. The colonists were upset that the British government was introducing radical innovation. What the colonists wanted was respect for long-established traditions. As could have been predicted, the U.S. Constitution became a reaffirmation and creative development of a Western heritage that stretched all the way back to Rome and Greece.

But, no, exceptionalists insist, America must be understood as rejecting the bad old days of history and as based on abstract universal principles. Since these principles belong to all peoples, America must help liberate them. For these ideologues, the Declaration of Independence is not a lengthy, elaborate list of American grievances for British violations of the rights of Englishmen and long-standing practices, but consists of the few introductory phrases about “equality” and “happiness” penned by one who was strongly attracted to French revolutionary ideas.

American exceptionalism can be studied in pure form in the thought of the late Harry Jaffa, an influential disciple of Leo Strauss. The latter declared that only abstract “natural right” has any moral authority and is always in conflict with tradition. “To celebrate the American Founding,” Jaffa writes, “is to celebrate revolution.”

And what does Trump believe? In his Mount Rushmore speech, he said that “Our Founders launched not only a revolution in government, but a revolution in the pursuit of justice, equality, liberty, and prosperity.” In apparent agreement with the exceptionalist idea that America must promote its universal principles around the globe, he praised Teddy Roosevelt for recognizing “the towering grandeur of America’s mission in the world.” Roosevelt “sent our great new naval fleet around the globe to announce America’s arrival as a world power.”

“Americans,” the president said, “are the people who pursued our Manifest Destiny across the ocean, into the uncharted wilderness, over the tallest mountains, and then into the skies and even into the stars.” He added that “we will teach our children . . . that nothing can stop them, and that no one can hold them down.”

One might defend this aspect of Trump’s speech by saying that at this time of upheaval he has no choice but to appeal to sentiments that the American public thinks have a familiar, uplifting, and self-applauding sound. Yet this dubious American ideology has been tremendously costly for America in every sense of that word. It is a measure of the pervasiveness of this unctuous idealism that even the Great Disrupter should want to employ its rhetoric. It does go well with his foreign policy appointments.

Claes G. Ryn is Professor of Politics and the Founding Director of The Center for the Study of Statesmanship at the Catholic University of America. His many books include America the Virtuous and A Common Human Ground: Universality and Particularity in a Multicultural World, now in an expanded paperback edition.

Image: Reuters

[Author: Claes G. Ryn] [Category: Politics]

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[l] at 7/9/20 8:00am

Warfare History Network

History, World

USAF - http://afhra.maxwell.af.mil/, Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8287604 This workhorse was one heck of a plane.

Key point: This spunky plane would serve in many vital roles. It could also survive better than other aircraft.

Losses were high and morale low when the U.S. Eighth Air Force intensified its heavy bomber missions over Nazi-occupied Europe in late 1942.

As the Americans persisted with their daylight offensive, complementing the Royal Air Force’s nightly raids, the air crews were eager and gallant, but misgivings mounted. The major threat came from the German fighter force, with its experienced pilots and rugged planes ready to maul the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Consolidated B-24 Liberator formations.

Some planners had promised that the fabled Flying Fortress with its 10 machine guns could easily hold its own against enemy interference, but this proved to be a pipe dream. Effective escorts were desperately needed.

The first U.S. bombardment groups were accompanied to targets in France by RAF Supermarine Spitfires, but their limited range precluded them from longer forays. There was a clamor in the USAAF high echelons for the rapid development of a fighter that could stay with the bombers and fend off the Luftwaffe’s predatory Messerschmitt Me-109s and Focke Wulf FW-190s, but help was on the way.

It came from Republic Aviation Corp. of Farmingdale, Long Island, following a conference in June 1940 at which Army Air Corps leaders explained the urgent need for a high-performance fighter that could compare with European planes. One of the attendees, Republic’s brilliant, Russian-born chief designer, Alexander “Sasha” Kartveli, began work on the back of an envelope, and then he and his team drafted blueprints for an improved version of the former Seversky Aircraft Corp.’s disappointing P-43 Lancer fighter.

The result was the P-47 Thunderbolt, a big single-seat fighter powered by a 2,300-horsepower Pratt & Whitney radial engine, with a top speed of 428 miles an hour, a range of 1,000 miles, and a ceiling of about 42,000 feet. It mounted six or eight .50-caliber machine guns and could carry up to 2,500 pounds of bombs or rockets. The P-47 would prove to be one of the most effective and widely used Allied fighters of World War II.

A prototype, XP-47B, flew for the first time on May 6, 1941. In addition to the Farmingdale plant, production lines were established in Evansville, Indiana, and Buffalo, New York. Many teething problems were encountered in getting the new planes operational, and the XP-47B crashed on August 8, 1942. But deliveries of P-47B models to Army Air Forces squadrons began on March 18, 1942. The early P-47s were called “razorbacks” because of their raised rear fuselage leading to the framed cockpit hood. Several hundred of the planes went to British, Soviet, and Free French fighter units under the Lend Lease Program. The RAF used Thunderbolts extensively in North Africa, India, and Burma.

The first P-47s to see service under American colors were received in June 1942 by the Army Air Forces’ 56th Fighter Group, which, by January 1943, had joined the Eighth Air Force in Britain. It was reinforced by the 78th Fighter Group, and they began operational sorties on the following April 13. They flew their first escort mission on May 4, 1943, when the 56th Fighter Group accompanied B-17s to Antwerp.

Initial encounters with German fighters showed that, while the Thunderbolt was lacking in performance and maneuverability, it was rugged and could out-dive any other fighter. It was the first USAAF fighter to provide the sorely needed protection to the Eighth Air Force B-17 and B-24 streams.

Colonel Edward W. Anderson’s 4th Fighter Group, based at the Debden RAF station near Saffron Walden, Essex, was equipped with the new planes in March 1943. Formed the previous September from the 71st, 121st, and 133rd Eagle Squadrons of the RAF, the group’s experienced pilots, who had been blooded in graceful Spitfires, were less than enthusiastic when they climbed into the bulky Thunderbolts. The P-47 weighed almost three times as much as the British fighter, and the Eagles had doubts about its firepower—eight machine guns compared with the Spitfire’s four 20mm cannons.

Enemy kills came slowly, but the P-47 scored its first aerial victory south of Dieppe on April 15, 1943, and the American fliers came to appreciate the plane’s qualities. In fact, they soon fell in love with it. The Thunderbolt was nicknamed the “Jug” because it was thought to resemble a container for homemade whiskey.

Major (later Lt. Col.) James A. Goodson, who had joined the RAF in 1940 and downed a total of 14 German planes, said, “The P-47, in spite of its weight and size, was an amazing aircraft, and we continued to build up our score, almost in spite of ourselves.”

At Debden, Goodson checked out Captain Don Blakeslee on the Thunderbolt. Blakeslee, a bold natural flier who had piloted Spitfires with the RAF and the Eagle Squadrons since May 1941, was not impressed. “Of course, he didn’t like it,” Goodson observed. “It was daunting to haul seven tons of plane around the sky after the finger-tip touch needed for the Spit.” After his initial flight, Blakeslee griped to Flight Cmdr. James E. “Johnny” Johnson, the RAF’s leading British-born ace of the war, that the bulky, low-slung P-47 seemed reluctant to leave the ground and anxious to get back on it. It was the largest and heaviest piston-engine fighter ever to have served with the USAAF.

RAF pilots who looked over the plane shuddered and politely informed their American comrades that they were about to die. The largest single-engine fighter of the war was considered too slow and unresponsive to survive in the sky against Luftwaffe Me-109s and FW1-190s. The men of the 4th Fighter Group and other units had to be convinced otherwise by their commanders.

During a P-47 sortie over Belgium on April 15, 1943, Blakeslee blasted an FW-190 and sent it flaming into a suburb of Ostend. At the debriefing, Major Goodson told him, “I told you the Jug could out-dive them.” Blakeslee grudgingly conceded, “Well, it damn well ought to be able to dive; it sure as hell can’t climb.”

Blakeslee went on to down three more FW-190s but was twice badly shot up. He eventually led the 4th Fighter Group and emerged as one of the outstanding U.S. flight leaders of the European war. In the air continually for three years, he logged more than 1,000 combat hours during 500 sorties and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross twice.

Despite its weight and size, the P-47 proved to be a highly effective fighter that performed sterling service through the rest of the war. It was a devastating dive bomber and more than satisfactory in dogfights. Many USAAF aces in the European Theater racked up high scores in Thunderbolts. The plane could absorb considerable damage and still bring its pilot home.

Colonel Francis S. “Gabby” Gabreski of the 56th Fighter Group, who shot down 31 enemy planes while flying P-47s, reported that one of his comrades took five direct 20mm cannon hits in his right wing but still managed to return to base. During one sortie, Blakeslee’s Thunderbolt was hit by 68 cannon shells. Yet, he returned to England, escorted by Major Goodson.

Gabreski, also a veteran of RAF Spitfire squadrons, praised the P-47’s roomy cockpit, “nice” handling, and “truly spectacular” dive performance. He and the other pilots loved and trusted the plane. One flier who preferred the Thunderbolt to the sleek, elegant North American P-51 Mustang remarked, “When flying the Jug, I always felt as if I was in my mother’s arms.”

Lieutenant Will Burgsteiner of the 359th Fighter Group wrote in his diary, “We never realized we loved the old barrel and her eight guns so much.” Boyish Captain Marvin Bledsoe of the 350th Fighter Squadron, based at Raydon, Suffolk, rhapsodized, “How I loved to fly that airplane…. I felt a surge of pride that I was a member of a combat fighter squadron and was flying the most powerful fighter ship in the world…. The P-47 Thunderbolt was the hottest American fighter plane. The more I flew the Thunderbolt, the more I liked it.”

A veteran of the Normandy invasion and Operation Market Garden, Bledsoe flew 70 combat sorties in his P-47 named Little Princess,was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with oakleaf clusters, and published a memoir, Thunderbolt,in 1982.

Among many other fliers who were impressed with the P-47 was Luftwaffe ace and Battle of Britain veteran General Adolf Galland. After flying a captured Thunderbolt, he reported that the cockpit was big enough to walk around in. A standing joke during the war was that the best way to take evasive action in a P-47 was to undo the straps and run around the cockpit. The plane’s attributes included a low internal noise level, little vibration, prompt control response, and an efficient cockpit heating system, which, unlike the Spitfire, kept the windshield clear of frost when diving.

One distinction of the P-47 was that it probably gathered more nicknames than any other Allied plane of the war. Besides the Jug, it was affectionately known by its pilots and ground crews as “Big Ugly,” “Bucket of Bolts,” “Cast-Iron Beast,” “Repulsive Scatterbolt,” “Seven-Ton Milk Bottle,” “T-Bolt,” and “Thunder Mug.”

Although the P-47 was a force to be reckoned with in the air, it was sluggish in a climb and difficult to handle in takeoffs and landings. Lieutenant Harold Rosser, who flew the plane in the China-Burma-India Theater before his unit received twin-boom Lockheed P-38 Lightnings, reported, “The P-47 had no nose wheel, and instead of leaning forward to take off, it held back, leaning on its tail wheel, its tilted-up nose obstructing our forward view until it gained speed. Not until it reached a speed of 60 miles an hour did the tail come up, and until it did, we could not see the runway in front of us. The opposite was true when landing. To compensate for the blind spot, we ‘essed’ when we taxied, turning from side to side, looking to the front between turns.”

Limited pilot vision was a drawback in the early Thunderbolt variants, but this was improved when a clear-view teardrop cockpit was introduced with the P-47D model. This gave the pilot all-around visibility.

While its pilots loved and trusted the Thunderbolt, some USAAF officers in Europe thought that it used up too much runway to take off, was difficult to pull out of a dive, and that its landing gear was weak. In the Pacific Theater, however, few doubts were voiced. General George C. Kenney, the able, Canadian-born commander of the Fifth Air Force, was impressed by the performance of the plane and requested that more of his fighter groups be equipped with it.

The Thunderbolt made a significant contribution to the downfall of the Luftwaffe, the destruction of the Third Reich’s transportation system, and the eventual defeat of the German and Japanese Armies. A total of 15,579 P-47s were built, more than any other USAAF fighter, and they equipped 40 percent of overseas fighter groups in 1944 and 1945. The only American fighter that surpassed the Thunderbolt in all-around performance was the lighter P-51 Mustang, generally regarded as the best single-seat, piston-engine fighter of the war. As Colonel Gabreski observed, however, the P-51 fell short of the Thunderbolt in dive bombing and could not withstand the kind of punishment it absorbed routinely.

With double the range of the P-47s, Mustangs eventually took over escort duties for the Eighth Air Force bomber streams. The Thunderbolt pilots had acquitted themselves heroically, but even when fitted with disposable fuel tanks the planes lacked the necessary range. The final push for P-51s was accelerated by a disastrous B-17 mission on October 14, 1943. On that “Black Thursday,” 291 unescorted B-17s attacked the ball-bearing plant at Schweinfurt for the second time. They inflicted considerable damage, but 60 Fortresses were destroyed and 140 damaged. A further 88 Eighth Air Force planes had gone down in the previous week, and the losses were intolerable.

The first mission escorted by Mustangs was mounted on December 5, 1943, and they then routinely accompanied B-17s and Liberators to Berlin and back. By the end of the European war, all but one of the Eighth Air Force fighter groups were equipped with Mustangs.

The arrival of the P-51s changed the tide of the air war in Europe, but the P-47 pilots remained fiercely loyal to their corpulent Jugs and insisted that they were superior. Improved Thunderbolt variants continued to render gallant service on all fronts, from northwestern Europe to North Africa and from Italy to the Pacific. They were based in Australia from late 1943, and P-47Ns escorted Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers of the Twentieth Air Force on long over-water missions.

The last of a dozen variants of the famous Thunderbolt, the P-47N was built solely for deployment in the Pacific Theater. A total of 1,816 were deployed. The P-47Ns specialized in bombing and strafing Japanese shipping, rail lines, and airfields.

During the big Marine-Army invasion of Saipan in mid-June 1944, Thunderbolts of the Seventh Air Force’s 19th and 73rd Fighter Squadrons supported Navy planes in blasting Japanese caves and other strongpoints with napalm. They also flew in support of U.S. and Allied troops in many other Pacific actions, including the reconquest of New Guinea, the Philippines campaign, and the invasions of Guam, Tinian, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

The RAF used Thunderbolts for training in England and Egypt, and they were widely deployed for strafing, reconnaissance, and “rhubarb” sorties in the Far East. While several squadrons in India and Burma converted from Hawker Hurricanes, RAF P-47s armed with 500-pound bombs, rockets, and napalm specialized in low-level assaults on Japanese troop concentrations and their long supply lines. They covered British-Australian landings in Burma and continued to harass the retreating enemy during the last year of the war. A total of 830 Thunderbolts were used exclusively against the Japanese during the bitter Burma campaign.

RAF Thunderbolts in the Far East bore white recognition bands to prevent confusion with Japanese Nakajima Ki-84 Hayate fighters, which closely resembled them. USAAF Thunderbolts, meanwhile, escorted Allied C-46, C-47, and C-54 transport planes flying over the Himalayan “Hump” from India to China.

It was in the European Theater, before, during, and after the momentous invasion of Normandy by the British, American, and Canadian Armies on Tuesday, June 6, 1944, that P-47s found a new role and came into their own with a vengeance. Along with 10 Eighth Air Force fighter groups and the RAF’s deadly Hawker Typhoons and Tempests, Thunderbolts took off daily from English airfields to sweep across the English Channel and pound German tanks, convoys, airfields, supply dumps, trains, and communication lines with bombs, rockets, and machine-gun fire. After the Allied troops broke out from their beachheads, the planes operated from hastily laid airstrips in France.

As long as weather conditions permitted, the Thunderbolts, Typhoons, and Tempests kept up the pressure as the Allied armies pushed across France, Belgium, Holland, and into Germany. They cheered the embattled riflemen in the foxholes and terrified their opponents. Over the front lines of northwestern Europe in 1944-1945, the P-47 proved itself a fearsome weapon. The effect of it firing eight .5-inch Colt-Browning machine guns in its wings was described by one observer as being like “driving a five-ton truck straight at a wall at 60 miles an hour.”

Thunderbolts were the frontline workhorses of General Hoyt S. Vandenburg’s Ninth Air Force, history’s largest tactical air command, which had been reformed in the fall of 1943 after operations in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy, to support ground units in Normandy. It boasted 3,500 aircraft.

By May 1944, 13 of the Ninth Air Force’s fighter groups had been equipped with P-47Ds, tailored for their critical role as low-level strafers and bombers. They had upgraded engines and propellers, and racks were fitted beneath their wings to carry 500-pound bombs and, later, rocket projectiles. After the Normandy landings, the Ninth Air Force followed the example of the RAF’s “cab rank” tactics with Typhoons. U.S. Army tank crews with VHF radio sets were able to summon bomb-carrying Thunderbolts to attack specific targets.

With an overall loss rate of only 0.7 percent, the P-47s destroyed or damaged 6,000 enemy tanks and armored cars, 68,000 trucks, 9,000 locomotives, 86,000 pieces of rolling stock, and 60,000 horse-drawn vehicles. Flying 545,575 sorties and logging an estimated 1.35 million combat hours, they shot down 3,752 enemy planes with the loss of 824 in aerial battles. By August 1945, Thunderbolts had flown on every front and destroyed more than 7,000 German and Japanese aircraft in the air and on the ground.

The most aerial victories in the European Theater were scored by Colonel Hubert A. “Hub” Zemke’s 56th “Wolfpack” Fighter Group. His P-47s racked up 665.5 kills, and he himself was credited with 17.75 enemy planes destroyed in the air and 8.5 on the ground. The conservative, gentlemanly Zemke was described as the “fightingest” fighter commander in Europe because he regularly led his pilots into action. He also was an innovative tactician. Both he and the gallant Colonel Gabreski, the third-ranking American air ace of all time, ended the war in German prison camps.

The production of Thunderbolts ended in November 1945. P-47Ds and P-47Ns remained in service with the USAAF and when it became the U.S. Air Force in September 1947, and a few flew with Air National Guard squadrons before being phased out in 1955. P-47s also operated with the air forces of Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Dominica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Iran, Italy, Mexico, Nationalist China, Peru, Turkey, and Yugoslavia.

When the Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950, Defense Department planners decided that piston-engine fighters were sorely needed for ground support. They tried to find enough P-47s for the task, but the planes, which had perfected such tactics in World War II, were almost out of inventory. A few Thunderbolts saw action in Korea, but the Air Force had no choice but to rely mainly on P-51s and the new breed of jet fighters.

Thunderbolts were featured on the screen in an acclaimed documentary and a Hollywood feature film. On direct orders from General Henry “Hap” Arnold, commander of the Army Air Forces, directors William Wyler and John Sturges went to Corsica in 1944 and spent nine months creating a documentary film, Thunderbolt.It focused on the 57th Fighter Group as it fought in Italy, supporting Allied ground troops on the Gustav Line and raiding the northern port of Spezia. Cameras mounted in a converted North American B-25 Mitchell medium bomber were used to photograph the P-47 raids, and Lieutenant Colonel Wyler’s unit was awarded a citation and four battle stars. The film was released in October 1945, and hailed as “brilliant.”

P-47 fighter group actions in the Normandy campaign were vividly depicted in the rousing 1948 Warner Brothers release, Fighter Squadron. Directed by Raoul Walsh and laden with combat footage, it starred Edmond O’Brien, Robert Stack, Henry Hull, and Shepperd Strudwick, with a young Rock Hudson making his film debut in a bit part.

This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network. Originally Published April 26, 2019.

Image: Wikimedia.

[Author: Warfare History Network] [Category: History]

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[l] at 7/9/20 7:55am

Stephen Silver

Technology, World

https://www.reutersconnect.com/all?id=tag%3Areuters.com%2C2016%3Anewsml_S1AEUIPASIAA&share=true Would people even pay for it?

Twitter, for as long as it’s existed, has been free to use. In fact, it’s become a cliché on the social network for users to post particularly crazy discussions and exchanges, along with the caption “this website is free.”

Is there a chance it might one day not be so free? There’s indication of that—and it was enough to send Twitter’s stock price soaring on Wednesday.

Per CNBC, the company posted a job listing this week that strongly indicated some type of subscription product is on the horizon.

“We are building a subscription platform, one that can be reused by other teams in the future,” the ad said, per CNBC. “This is a first for Twitter! Gryphon is a team of web engineers who are closely collaborating with the Payments team and the Twitter.com team.” 

Twitter went on to edit the job listing, but not before its stock surged more than 7 percent on speculation that a new revenue stream is on the way for the company. The stock, which had been traded in the $33 a share range the day before, jumped as high as $36.43 during the way Wednesday, and had dipped only to $35.41 as of Thursday morning.

It’s not clear if Twitter would go to an entirely subscription-based model, add a paid tier, or create some separate product, away from the main Twitter service.

Twitter’s market cap, as of Thursday morning, is about $27.8 billion.

CNBC also speculated that Twitter’s performance may have been strengthened by the comments by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the Trump Administration is “looking at” at a ban on the social media app TikTok.

Twitter has found itself at the center of a variety of controversies in recent months. In June, the company began putting fact-checking warnings on some of President Trump’s tweets, something it had resisted doing up until that point.

Trump, who famously used his Twitter following to propel his rise to the White House, responded with an executive order aimed at limiting the influence of Twitter and other social media companies, but most observers concluded that the order was probably unconstitutional.

Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, vowed earlier this spring to donate a third of his wealth to coronavirus relief.

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Image: Reuters

[Author: Stephen Silver] [Category: Technology]

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[l] at 7/9/20 7:53am

Ethen Kim Lieser

Technology, World

How do they stack up?

Korea’s two dominant tech companies, LG and Samsung, each released their new soundbars as they aim to expand their presence in the highly competitive home-audio market.

Samsung, the world’s biggest TV maker, announced the global launch of its two new premium soundbars—the HW-Q950T and the HW-Q900T—which settle in to complete the company’s full 2020 Q-Series soundbar lineup.

These new soundbars will begin retailing in major markets in stages—starting with Australia. Both products will be available to purchase in South Korea beginning next week, with the HW-Q950T priced at 1.9 million won ($1,590) and the HW-Q900T at 1.4 million won ($1,170).

Both of Samsung’s models will support the much-coveted Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio technologies. They also include eARC support to produce richer and fuller sounds that will add to any cinema-like experience.

Improvements have also been made to the design, as Samsung has decided to reduce the height of both models, so that they fit perfectly with its 2020 QLED TV offerings.

“In collaboration with Audio Lab in the U.S., we have been able to develop multi-dimensional surround sound that can be more accessible at home, which was previously only possible with a separate home-theater system,” Seong Cho, senior vice president and head of global product marketing of the Visual Display Business at Samsung Electronics, said in a news release.

“In addition to improving sound quality, we also focused on fine-tuning the soundbar’s design aesthetic by using eco-friendly textiles, made by Danish premium brand Kvadrat.”

Meanwhile, LG Electronics introduced the GX soundbar, which visually will be a perfect complement to the company’s GX Gallery lineup of OLED TVs. Priced at $1,299, the GX delivers superior sound thanks to Dolby Atmos and DTS:X capability, giving users a remarkable three-dimensional audio experience.

The speaker is Dolby Vision compatible via 4K pass-through, and the included subwoofer connects wirelessly to the soundbar to deliver thumping bass from anywhere in the room. Not to be outdone, the GX is Hi-Res Audio certified and boasts easy connectivity options, including eARC and Bluetooth.

The GX soundbar will start rolling out this month in Europe, North America, Asia and other key markets, LG said in a release.

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

Image: Samsung.

[Author: Ethen Kim Lieser] [Category: Technology]

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[l] at 7/9/20 7:51am

Ethen Kim Lieser

Technology, Americas

It's all about the right moment to snatch up this beauty.

Perhaps within the next five years, the endless hype surrounding 8K will finally drive people to go out and purchase an 8K TV, making this next-gen panel as mainstream as 4K today.

If that happens, it would indeed be a monumental shift in the TV universe. However, if you already had the foresight to see that change coming, you would likely already have an 8K set sitting in your living room.

Sure, you probably overpaid because this tech is still in the early innings, but you did successfully future-proof your set. If this sounds like you, make sure to get a panel that’s going to be relevant for the next five to ten years—and it appears that Samsung has the perfect solution.

The 85-inch Q950TS QLED 8K TV is huge and expensive. There is no question that an 85-inch panel will still be looked upon with awe in five years, but the price will definitely need to be more reasonable.

This beast is currently retailing for $13,000, but there has been hints of 10% off sales events popping up in other international markets. So, it would be smart to keep an eye out if and when those discounts will roll into the U.S.—a solid bet is perhaps as soon as the Christmas shopping season.

The Q950TS is the Korean tech giant’s best TV of 2020. Its appearance is just gorgeous, as you can barely even make out any bezel at all when looking at it straight on. The panel also boasts top-notch image-quality specs, including the much-coveted full-array local dimming and the aforementioned 8K capability, which flaunts sixteen times more resolution than a regular HDTV. In short, on planet Earth, only LG’s OLED TVs offer a better viewing experience than this QLED beauty.

Equipped with the AI Quantum Processor 8K, the Q950TS comes with a strong feature called Adaptive Picture, which can optimize the screen to both ambient conditions and individual images. The processor also helps power Samsung’s open smart-home platform Tizen—a mixed bag for some, but a system that has made noticeable strides in recent years.

Further supporting the picture quality of the Q950TS is the adoption of AV1 codec, allowing for improved compression rates. This also enables the support of HDR10+ technology, image dimensionality, brightness optimization and contrast ratio.

However, when it comes to 4K content, know that Samsung’s 8K TVs can only do so much. Yes, the Q950TS has built-in 8K AI upscaling and deep-learning capabilities that can automatically upscale non-8K content by adding in the “missing” pixels—but this will never be a substitute for the real thing. Here’s hoping that there is more 8K content to work with in the near future, so that the Q950TS can really showcase its full potential.

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

[Author: Ethen Kim Lieser] [Category: Technology]

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[l] at 7/9/20 7:30am

Sebastien Roblin


The logic of nuclear deterrence: while a first strike might wipe out a country’s land-based missiles and nuclear bombers, it’s very difficult to track a ballistic-missile submarine patrolling quietly in the depths of the ocean—and there’s little hope of taking them all out in a first strike.

Here's What You Need To Remember: The Ohio class will serve on until the end of the 2020s, and may even receive some additional acoustic stealth upgrades until they are replaced by a successor, tentatively dubbed the Columbia class. With estimated costs of $4–6 billion each to manufacture, the next-generation boomers may be fewer in number and will use new reactors that do not require expensive overhauls and refueling, allowing them to serve on until 2085.

Nine years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Ishirō Honda’s Godzilla depicted a monster awakened from the depths of the ocean to wreak havoc on Japanese cities. A giant fire-breathing reptile, however, was less horrifying than what was to come. In less than a decade’s time, there would be dozens of real undersea beasts capable of destroying multiple cities at a time. I’m referring, of course, to ballistic-missile submarines, or “boomers” in U.S. Navy parlance.

The most deadly of the real-life kaiju prowling the oceans today are the fourteen Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines, which carry upwards of half of the United States’ nuclear arsenal onboard.

If you do the math, the Ohio-class boats may be the most destructive weapon system created by humankind. Each of the 170-meter-long vessels can carry twenty-four Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) which can be fired from underwater to strike at targets more than seven thousand miles away depending on the load.

As a Trident II reenters the atmosphere at speeds of up to Mach 24, it splits into up to eight independent reentry vehicles, each with a 100- or 475-kiloton nuclear warhead. In short, a full salvo from an Ohio-class submarine—which can be launched in less than one minute—could unleash up to 192 nuclear warheads to wipe twenty-four cities off the map. This is a nightmarish weapon of the apocalypse.

The closest competitor to the Ohio-class submarine is the Russia’s sole remaining Typhoon-class submarine, a larger vessel with twenty ballistic-missile launch tubes. However, China, Russia, India, England and France all operate multiple ballistic-missile submarines with varying missile armaments—and even a few such submarines would suffice to annihilate the major cities in a developed nation.

What possible excuse is there for such monstrous, nation-destroying weaponry?

The logic of nuclear deterrence: while a first strike might wipe out a country’s land-based missiles and nuclear bombers, it’s very difficult to track a ballistic-missile submarine patrolling quietly in the depths of the ocean—and there’s little hope of taking them all out in a first strike. Thus, ballistic-missile submarines promise the unstoppable hand of nuclear retribution—and should deter any sane adversary from attempting a first strike or resorting to nuclear weapons at all. At least that’s the hope.

As such, the Trident-armed Ohio-class submarines will have succeeded in their mission if they never fire their weapons in anger.

The Ohio-class boats entered service in the 1980s as a replacement for five different classes of fleet ballistic-missile submarines, collectively known as the “41 for Freedom.” Displacing more than eighteen thousand tons submerged, the new boomers remain the largest submarines to serve in the U.S. Navy—and the third largest ever built. With the exception of the Henry M. Jackson, each is named after a U.S. state, an honor previously reserved for large surface warships.

In the event of a nuclear exchange, a boomer would likely receive its firing orders via Very Low Frequency radio transmission. While a submarine’s missiles are not pretargeted, like those in in fixed silos, they can be assigned coordinates quite rapidly. The first eight Ohio-class boats were originally built to launch the Trident I C4 ballistic missile—an advanced version of the earlier Poseidon SLBM. However, by now all of the boomers are armed with the superior Trident II D5 ballistic missile, which has 50 percent greater range and is capable of very accurate strikes, which could enable them to precisely target military installations as a first-strike weapon.

Ohio-class submarines also come armed with four twenty-one-inch tubes that can launch Mark 48 torpedoes. However, these are intended primarily for self-defense—a ballistic missile submarine’s job isn’t to hunt enemy ships and submarines, but to lie as low and quiet as possible to deny adversaries any means of tracking their movements. The submarine’s nuclear reactor gives it virtually unlimited underwater endurance and the ability to maintain cruising speeds of twenty knots (twenty-three miles per hour) while producing very little noise.

While other branches of the military may be deployed in reaction to the crisis of the day, the nuclear submarines maintain a steady routine of patrols, and communicate infrequently so as to remain as stealthy as possible. Each Ohio-class submarine has two crews of 154 officers and enlisted personnel, designated Gold and Blue, who take turns departing on patrols that last an average of seventy to ninety days underwater—with the longest on record being 140 days by the USS Pennsylvania. An average of a month is spent between patrols, with resupply facilitated by three large-diameter supply hatches.         

Currently, nine boomers are based in Bangor, Washington to patrol the Pacific Ocean, while five are stationed in Kings Bay, Georgia for operations in the Atlantic. The end of the Cold War, and especially the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, resulted in the downsizing of U.S. nuclear forces. However, rather than retiring some of the oldest boats as originally planned, the Navy decided to refit four of the eighteen Ohio-class subs to serve as cruise missile carriers to launch conventional attacks against ground and sea targets—starting with the USS Ohio.

Meanwhile, the New START treaty which came into effect in 2011 imposes additional limits on the number of deployed nuclear weapons. The current plan is to keep twelve Ohio-class subs active at time with twenty Trident IIs each, while two more boomers remain in overhaul, keeping a total of 240 missiles active at a time with 1,090 warheads between them. Don’t worry, restless hawks: that’s still enough to destroy the world several times over!

The Ohio class will serve on until the end of the 2020s, and may even receive some additional acoustic stealth upgrades until they are replaced by a successor, tentatively dubbed the Columbia class. With estimated costs of $4–6 billion each to manufacture, the next-generation boomers may be fewer in number and will use new reactors that do not require expensive overhauls and refueling, allowing them to serve on until 2085.

Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring. (This first appeared several years ago.)

[Author: Sebastien Roblin] [Category: Security]

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[l] at 7/9/20 7:00am

Kris Osborn

Security, Asia

https://www.reutersconnect.com/all?id=tag%3Areuters.com%2C2018%3Anewsml_RC1C79587AB0&share=true Here's why it is open to debate.

A Chinese-government backed newspaper is reporting that U.S. carriers in the South China Sea are “fully within the grasp of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army…..which has a wide selection of anti-aircraft carrier weapons like the DF-21D and DF-26 ‘aircraft carrier missiles.’”

The Chinese report comes in response to U.S. dual-carrier training operations in the region using the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz. The U.S. drills involve decided efforts to prepare for the possibility of a coordinated, multi-carrier attack. These types of operations succeed by virtue of elaborate networking, and command and control and air-confliction efforts. They also deliver a massive advantage to maritime attack options by, essentially, doubling firepower, surveillance potential and weapons capability. 

Not only would a dual-carrier attack option extend the Navy’s ability to hit inland targets to a larger extent, extend target-searching dwell time and enable coordinated multi-platform strikes, but they also greatly improve destroyer-and-cruiser launched missile attacks. Each Carrier Strike Group consists of a carrier, cruiser and two destroyers, bringing a large, integrated combination of sea-launched assets.

Also, perhaps of greater importance, the Chinese claim that U.S. carriers are extremely vulnerable is a question open to debate and varied interpretation. The missiles are reported to have ranges as far as 900 nautical miles and have been considered a significant threat to U.S. carriers. At the same time, U.S. Navy leaders have been clear that U.S. carriers are able to operate where needed at any time. There are a range of factors to consider with this. First, the reported range of these kinds of Chinese carrier killer missiles does not present as serious of a threat to closer-in carriers unless it has precision-guidance systems and an ability to hit moving targets. Also, while much is naturally not discussed for understandable security reasons, the U.S. Navy continues to rapidly advance new technologies improving its layered ship defense systems. 

Carriers regularly travel in strike groups, meaning they are defended by destroyers, cruisers and various airborne surveillance and attack assets. Secondly, the Navy continues to make rapid strides arming its surface ships with new laser weapons and advanced EW systems likely to “jam” incoming missiles, stopping them, destroying their trajectory or simply throwing them off course. 

Furthermore, the Navy’s layered defense system not only includes new longer-range aerial, space and ship-based sensors, but deck-fired interceptors that continue to receive software upgrades for improved accuracy. For instance, the Navy’s SM-6 missiles and Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile Block II are now engineered with software and sensor upgrades which enable them to better discern and destroy approaching “moving targets.” SM-6 technical upgrades, for example, engineer a “dual-mode” seeker into the weapon itself which enables it to better distinguish moving targets and adjust in flight to destroy them. 

The ESSM Block II, also, has a sea-skimming mode which allows the interceptor to destroy approaching missiles flying parallel to the surface at lower altitudes. Some newer, advanced interceptors, by extension, no longer rely purely upon a ship-based illuminator but rather semi-autonomously receive electronic “pings” and make in-flight adjustments to destroy an approaching anti-ship missile. 

New aerial sensors as well, such as advanced drones and the ISR-capable F-35C stealth fighter are likely to be successful in proving an “aerial node” surveillance asset able to help cue surface commanders of approaching missiles. They would also help ships attack and, in some instances, intercept or destroy an approaching anti-ship missile from the air. In fact, this very capability is already deployed by U.S. Navy destroyers; it is called Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air. This is a system that uses an aerial node such as a Hawkeye surveillance plane or even F-35 to detect approaching threats from beyond the horizon, network with ship-based command and control, and enable a well-guided SM-6 interceptor missile to take out the approaching missile at long ranges. 

What all of this means is that, despite Chinese claims that its carrier killer missiles make carriers “obsolete,” it seems reasonable that aircraft carrier battle groups could successfully defend against them. This would be particularly true should carriers be flanked by well-armed DDG 51 destroyers. Perhaps these factors may be part of why U.S. Navy leaders continue to say its carriers can successfully operate wherever they need to. Finally, successful intercept of 900-nautical mile anti-ship missiles may prove to be less pressing with the arrival of the carrier-launched MQ-25 Stingray refueler which, at very least, promises to nearly double the attack range of deck-launched fighters such as the F-35C and F/A-18 Super Hornet. 

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Reuters

[Author: Kris Osborn] [Category: Security]

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[l] at 7/9/20 6:30am

Charlie Gao

Security, Europe

Here are what could be considered the best rocket artillery systems NATO has to offer.

Key Point: Russian and Soviet rocket artillery has gotten a lot of press lately, but NATO has impressive systems of its own.

Rocket artillery is one of the most destructive weapons on the modern battlefield. Designed to pump out a high volume of fire within a short period, rocket artillery systems are particularly dangerous in their ability to obliterate a position before units have a chance to take cover.

This capability, while less relevant in Western counterinsurgency doctrine, has proven useful in recent conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. However, most rocket artillery systems used in those conflicts are Russian or Soviet. What does NATO have to compare?

Here are what could be considered the best rocket artillery systems NATO has to offer:

1. M270 MLRS

In the 1980s, the United States developed the M270 MLRS, the most common rocket artillery system in NATO. It is fielded by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Turkey.

It shoots 227mm rockets, twelve of which are held in two six-rocket pods. During the Cold War, the standard rocket was the M26 cluster rocket, which held 644 dual-purpose submunitions. Nowadays, due to treaties on cluster munitions, a new rocket with a unitary high explosive warhead is being fielded.

The system is designed to be quickly reloaded via swapping the pods. The MLRS is also designed to fire the ATACMS tactical guided missile, which can be set in place of one rocket pod.

2. M142 HIMARS

The HIMARS in some ways can be considered the MLRS’ smaller cousin. Featuring more modern fire control (which is being retrofitted to the M270 in the M270A1 variant), the HIMARS only can mount one six-rocket pod to the MLRS’ two.

The system is significantly more strategically mobile compared to the M270, as it is C-130 transportable. It is also cheaper to maintain than the M270 since it is mounted on a truck chassis. However, this limits its tactical mobility.

The system has seen recent interest with NATO nations, with Poland buying twenty launchers in late 2018. Romania also bought the HIMARS in early 2018.

3. RM-70

Although designed for Warsaw Pact countries during the Cold War, RM-70 launchers continue to serve in NATO arsenals in Central Europe.

Based on the proven Tatra truck chassis, RM-70 launchers can even serve as a budget alternative to the HIMARS, as Slovak companies have offered to convert RM-70s to be able to mount a NATO-standard 6-round 227mm rocket pack.

However, even with the original 122mm rockets (the same as on the Soviet BM-21 Grad), the RM-70 is a formidable launcher. Unlike the Grad, the long 8x8 truck chassis allows for the carriage of a single full 40-rocket reload in front of the launcher.


In addition to the HIMARS, Romania also fields a lighter Grad-alike rocket system. The LAROM is a version of Israel’s LAR-160 rocket launcher mounted on a simple truck chassis. The ability to use Israeli 160mm rockets provides a significant increase of capability over a regular Grad launcher.

The Israeli rockets have cluster munition warheads and are mounted on pods to allow for fast reloading in the field. In contrast, a regular Grad launcher like those found on the BM-21 or RM-70 has to be loaded tube by tube by a crew. However, a podded reload requires a crane on an ammunition support vehicle.

The LAROM can use both a standard Grad array as well as Israeli pods depending on its configuration.

5. T-300 Kasirga

The Turkish T-300 Kasirga is perhaps the only NATO rocket artillery system that could truly be considered a “heavy” system like the Russian/Soviet BM-30 Smerch.

Firing massive 300mm rockets, the T-300 is one of the longest ranged rocket artillery systems in the NATO arsenal, with the rockets capable of reaching out to 100 km. This is significantly longer than the 70 km that the M270 can reach with M30/M31 GMLRS rockets, although rockets in development may extend the M270’s range out to 150 km.

The T-300 also has one of the largest warheads of an artillery rocket in NATO inventory. The M31 has a unitary warhead weight of 90 kg. This is far less than the T-300’s 150 kg warhead or the Smerch’s massive 243 kg.

Charlie Gao studied political and computer science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national-security issues.

This article first appeared last year.

Image: Reuters.

[Author: Charlie Gao] [Category: Security]

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[l] at 7/9/20 6:21am

Mark Episkopos


And it has the money and technical know-how to pull it off. 

Amid rising military tensions in East Asian waters, the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) looks to forge a path that balances the need to respond to local threats with Seoul’s long-standing ambition to become a blue-water navy.

In the decades that followed the Korean War, South Korea’s burgeoning defense industry revolved around a singular and overriding national security concern: creating an indigenous defense force to dissuade, deter, and-- if all else fails-- defeat a second North Korean invasion. The ROKN was, in accordance with this purpose, a lean littoral navy composed largely of Chasmuri-class fast-attack patrol craft, Ulsan-class missile frigates, and Donghae/Pohang-class corvettes. Later additions to the ROKN included several waves of coastal minehunters; a legacy of the grim lessons learned from the Korean War, in which the North Korean People’s Army (KPA) successfully exploited South Korea’s lack of dedicated anti-mine capabilities to inflict massive naval casualties through the systematic use of minelayers.

Throughout the 1990’s, the ROKN sought to broaden its operational horizons from a small coastal defense force tailored to counter North Korea to a “green-water” navy capable of maintaining a credible presence in the larger Pacific region. Gwanggaeto the Great, a domestically-built destroyer class meant to phase out the increasingly obsolete US Fletcher, Gearing, and Allen M. Sumner-class vessels transferred to the ROKN throughout the 60’s and 70’s, became emblematic of Korea’s naval middle-power aspirations. These development plans were hampered by a somewhat sluggish execution during the early 2000’s, stemming from a larger strategic debate about the proper extent of Seoul’s military reliance on Washington in the face of a rising China and unresolved territorial disputes with Japan.

South Korea’s military-industrial shipbuilding capacity grew exponentially into the 2010’s, with large swathes of Korea’s naval inventory being phased out and replaced by modern variants. In particular, the littoral role previously played by Pohang corvettes and Ulsan frigates was consolidated into the Incheon-class frigate line and its block II Daegu-class revision.

These were important additions to help modernize ROK’s coastal defenses, but there was still no clear guiding vision of what the ROKN should strive to become over the coming decades. The turning point came in 2019, with South Korea’s new five-year defense plan and the accompanying introduction of an ambitious developmental roadmap entitled “Navy Vision 2045.” According to this plan, the ROKN will receive its first aircraft carrier-- the  LPX-II-- in the early 2030’s. The LPX, or “Landing Platform eXperimental,” is a light aircraft carrier being developed by Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI). Details are scant and liable to change, but current reports suggest that the LPX-II will accommodate around 20 F-35B stovl variants. Also in the works is a 5,000-ton “Arsenal Ship”-- a mobile missile platform, derived from South Korea’s existing KDX-II destroyer design, capable of saturated cruise missile strikes against land and surface targets. Finally, the ROKN confirmed prior rumors that HHI was awarded a contract to develop the second revision of the KDX-III Sejong the Great-class destroyer, equipped with Raytheon’s advanced RIM-161 ship-based missile defense system.

Navy Vision 2045 represents the ROKN’s full-throated commitment to building a blue water force capable of running large-scale operations far away from South Korea’s shores. The existential need to ensure ROK’s littoral defenses against the DPRK continues to weigh heavily on the ROKN, but Seoul’s security establishment has shown increased flexibility in balancing the immediate North Korean threat against the long-term strategic realization that ROK cannot secure its status as an East Asian middle-power without the capacity to project naval power beyond its borders and across the Pacific.

Mark Episkopos is a frequent contributor to The National Interest and serves as a research assistant at the Center for the National Interest. Mark is also a PhD student in History at American University.

[Author: Mark Episkopos] [Category: Technology]

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[l] at 7/9/20 6:00am

Sebastien Roblin


Quantum technology could also serve as advanced navigational sensor—one that could circumvent submarine dependence on orbiting satellites to stay on course

Here's What You Need To Remember: China has also famously made breakthroughs in using quantum entanglement for encrypted communications by teleporting molecules over long distances.  This could conceivably have application to communications with submerged submarines, a technically challenging task—with implications particularly for transmission of orders from a national command authority to launch nuclear weapons.

According to some evaluations, today’s cutting-edge submarines like the Virginia- and Sea Wolf-class attack submarines have been evaluated to run only five decibels louder than average oceanic background noises.  Even less-expensive Swedish air independent propulsion submarines have successfully passed undetected to sink U.S. carriers during exercises.

Yet some naval analysts are decidedly bearish on the prospects of submarine stealth in the twenty-first century, looking ahead to highly sensitive low-frequency sonars, advanced satellite-based optical sensors that may bypass acoustic-stealth entirely, and powerful computer processors that can churn through vast quantities of data to discriminate faint contacts from background noise. China is even developing a satellite-based laser surveillance system aimed at detecting vessels submerged as deep as five hundred meters.

Recently, the field of quantum mechanics has increasingly shown its potential to disrupt established paradigms in multiple domains of warfare—particularly due to the concept of quantum entanglement, the uncanny phenomenon by which bonded particles continue to uncannily reflect each other’s behavior even across long distances.

Though still facing by range coherence limitations, quantum sensors and communicators could potentially bypass many of the limitations and vulnerabilities of traditional radio-frequency sensors, remaining effective despite jamming or stealthy-aircraft profiles.  As detailed in this article, China appears to have taken an early lead in ‘quantum radar’, though how soon the technology can be developed into an operationally viable system remains to be seen.

Today, acoustic detection remains the primary methods to detect and track submarines.  Besides active and passive sonars mounted on ships and submarines, they are also fixed in underwater surveillance systems, dropped in buoys by maritime patrol planes like the P-8 Poseidon or Japanese P-1, and hoisted down into the water by anti-submarine helicopters like the MH-60R Seahawk.

However, anti-submarine warriors can draw upon an array of supporting technologies beyond sonar that have historically played a major role.

During World War II, aircraft-borne surface-search radars led to the doom of many German U-Boats, allowing patrol planes to detect and swoop down upon diesel-powered submarines while they were surfaced at night to recharge their batteries.  Though snorkels gave submarines a way to sip air without detection, they too are susceptible to detection by modern synthetic-aperture radars.  However, though many diesel-electric submarines remain in service, a large share of modern submarines use air-independent propulsion or nuclear-power allowing them to cruise weeks or months respectively before surfacing.

Sub-hunter can also employ “sniffers” that can ‘smell’ the chemicals in the submarine’s diesel exhaust

The SQUID Magnetometer

Another famous submarine-hunting ploy is to use Magnetic Anomaly Detectors triggered by the submarine’s metallic hull.  The threat posed by MADs has led navies to de-gauss submarine hulls to minimize magnetic profiles.  Germany has specially developed Type 212 and 214 submarines with non-metallic hulls.

However, MADs have very short range, and the P-8 and MH-60R omit a MAD entirely.

Enter, therefore, the SQUID, or Superconducting Quantum Interference Device.  Though it might sound like Star Trek technobabble, SQUIDs leverages quantum technology to offer an ultra-sensitive magnetometer.  Too sensitive, in fact, as SQUIDs have picked up background noise from stuff as distant as solar flares.

But on June 21, 2017, a Chinese periodical announced that Professor XIamong Xie of the Shanghai Institute of Microsystems and Information Technology had developed cryogenic liquid-nitrogen-cooled SQUID which reduced the noise-problem—and in field-tests, had proven capable of detecting ferrous objects deep underground even when mounted on a helicopter.

After a South China Morning Post article speculated on whether it amounted “to the world’s most powerful submarine detector?” the original article was taken down.

Dave Hambling noted in the New Scientist that Xiamong’s new sensor used an array of SQUIDs to help cancel out background noise.

“Researchers estimate that a SQUID magnetometer of this type could detect a sub from 6 kilometres away, and [Imperial College researcher David] Caplin says that with better noise suppression the range could be much greater.”

A typical MAD, by contrast, is only effective to a few hundred meters, meaning the new SQUID could potentially cover thousands of times more square meters.

In April 14 2019, an article by Defense Procurement International revealed Australia too was researching quantum magnetometer technology for submarine detection—this time apparently intended for a fixed submarine surveillance system.

Professor Andre Luiten of the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing is quoted thusly: “These magnetometers can detect very small magnetic fields.  The goal of this project is to build sensors that go on the seabed which detect the presence of submarines through their properties. You’d essentially set up a trip wire around assets that are of importance to Australia.”

Quantum Compass?

Quantum technology could also serve as advanced navigational sensor—one that could circumvent submarine dependence on orbiting satellites to stay on course

The Jamestown Foundation’s Elsa Kania and Stephen Armitage note that:

“[Q]uantum navigation could allow for a “new generation of inertial navigation,” enabling high-precision navigation without GPS . . . This so-called “quantum compass” would be particularly useful for submarines and other maritime platforms for which it could enable the pinpointing of their position with high levels of accuracy. Quantum navigation could thus potentially liberate Chinese operational platforms from dependence on space-based positioning systems, which can be easily jammed.”

Kania also notes that Quantum navigation also has implicit offensive potential: these technologies might also be applied to improve missile guidance and enhance precision strike capabilities.

However, satellites, too, could use quantum sensors to influence submarine warfare.  Satellites using quantum gravimeters, which could improve sensitivity of sensors designed to detect and measure gravity fields, could potentially detect submarines, or more likely, map out seafloors with new levels of precision.

China has also famously made breakthroughs in using quantum entanglement for encrypted communications by teleporting molecules over long distances.  This could conceivably have application to communications with submerged submarines, a technically challenging task—with implications particularly for transmission of orders from a national command authority to launch nuclear weapons.

Time will tell which, if any, of these technologies can be developed into practical operational systems. However, it’s clear that scientists in China and Australia are betting that developments in the field of quantum physics will play their part in changing the rules of undersea warfare in the twenty-first century.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring. This article first appeared last year.

Image: Reuters.

[Author: Sebastien Roblin] [Category: Security]

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[l] at 7/9/20 5:45am

Warfare History Network

History, Asia

One fearsome plane.

Key point: Imperial Japan's bombers killed many ships. In fact, they took out two large battleships, shocking the British.

The two types of aircraft responsible for sinking the Prince Of Wales and Repulse represented the best of Japanese aviation in 1941. The older, more numerous type consisted of Mitsubishi G3M twin-engine aircraft, known simply as “Nells” to Allied pilots. (The Allies gave boys’ names to Japanese fighters and float planes, girls’ names to Japanese bombers and recon planes.) Manned by a crew of five, the Nell first flew in July 1935 and went into widespread production the following year.

Defensive armament consisted of three 7.7mm machine guns. Early versions were able to obtain a maximum speed of 188 knots and had an exceptional range of over 2,200 miles—improvements later in the war considerably extending both. Although chiefly a high-level bomber, the G3M was adapted to carry an 800-kg torpedo in an antishipping role. G3Ms were little known in the West, being used chiefly by the Japanese against the Chinese, although they achieved a notable distinction on August 14, 1937, when a force of them based in Formosa attacked targets in mainland China 1,250 miles away, thus realizing the first transoceanic air attack in history.

G3Ms remained in service throughout the war, though by 1943 they were mostly employed in second-line duties or used as transports. In all, 1,048 were eventually produced, 636 by Mitsubishi and an additional 412 under license by Nakajima.

It was Nell’s successor—the Mitsubishi G4M or “Betty”—that went on to become one of the most famous Japanese aircraft ever produced. Serving in almost every Pacific battle in every role imaginable, the G4M became a powerful symbol of Japanese strength and airpower second only to the vaunted Zero.

Re-Imagining The Aerial Bomber

Charged by the Imperial Navy in September 1937 to develop a new, more modern twin-engine bomber, Mitsubishi was faced with challenges that pushed the limits of both speed and range. It more than rose to the challenge and produced what was then considered the best land-based naval bomber in the world. The G4M won its honors through a combination of high-powered engines, a clean low-drag airframe, and minimal weight. Because long range was essential, the wings were designed to include fuel tanks; but to hold down weight in favor of range, the designers omitted armor or a self-sealing feature for the tanks. Similarly, there was no armor protection for the crew, and defensive weapons were severely restricted. The fuselage, basically a circular tube, was of a diameter sufficient to accommodate an uncluttered bomb bay beneath the center wing-section, intended to make it easier for the crew to move about the aircraft during long, over-water flights.

The Betty first flew in October 1939 and was manned by a crew of seven. Early versions of the aircraft as deployed against Force Z could fly at up to 230 knots (265 mph) with a maximum range of 3,250 miles. It carried one 20mm cannon and four 7.7mm machine guns. It could hoist either one 800kg torpedo or 1,000kg of bombs.

Despite the G4M’s speed and exceptional range, it’s fatal flaws were the lack of armor and self-sealing fuel tanks, thus making the plane especially vulnerable to enemy fire—often one or two bursts were all that were required to set it aflame. In fact, it became known derisively to Allied pilots as the “Flying Cigar.” Ironically, as the war continued and the Japanese were pushed back closer to their homeland and interior Pacific bases, the need for range diminished.

The Betty’s most outstanding success came in the early days of the war with the sinking of the Prince Of Wales and Repulse, the first capital ships ever to be sunk by air attack while at sea. In fact, only three other battleships have ever been destroyed under such conditions: Japan’s own Yamatoand Musashi late in the war, and the Italian battleship Roma in the Mediterranean in 1943.

In all 2,416 Bettys were produced by Mitsubishi and saw action in almost every engagement in the South Pacific. They also served as transports and special-attack aircraft. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was aboard a Betty when it was shot down in 1943. Late in the war Bettys were used as Kamikazi aircraft. Indeed the Betty, which was there at the very start of the conflict, was also there at its end, being used as special transport aircraft for the Japanese delegation who arranged Japan’s surrender to the Allies in August 1945.

Originally Published October 6, 2018.

This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Reuters

[Author: Warfare History Network] [Category: History]

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[l] at 7/9/20 5:30am

Sebastien Roblin


East Germany was hardly alone in selling ex-Nazi armaments to the Middle East, nor of selling German rifles in particular.

Here's What You Need To Remember: For four years, the weapons were widely photographed and filmed in combat with Syrian rebel factions, including ISIS and Kurdish fighters, as you can see with this link. However, by 2017 the ammunition had become so scarce that the weapon’s black-market value in Syria collapsed and its appearances grew more infrequent.

In 2012, rebels of the Free Syrian Army posted a video in which they uncovered an arms cache containing five thousand assault rifles. Though not an uncommon episode in a civil war then in its early stages, what was truly bizarre was that the rebels had uncovered a cache of Sturmgewehr 44s—an assault rifle designed by Nazi Germany seventy years earlier.

How did a weapon only produced in the final years of World War II begin appearing in a Middle Eastern civil war seventy years later?

Despite its limited impact on World War II battlefields, the Sturmgewehr is already legendary for being the first successful, mass-produced “assault rifle”—a weapon capable of accurate single shots at a long distance and deadly automatic bursts at shorter range.

The standard infantry weapon during World War II was the bolt-action rifle, long bulky weapons with heavy bolts that needed to be manually pulled before each shot. These used high-powered rifle cartridges that remained accurate at long distances. However, infantry squad leaders were often assigned less bulky submachineguns using pistol rounds. These were much deadlier at close quarters than a rifle but lost power and accuracy beyond one hundred meters (roughly the length of a football field.)

However, battlefield research showed that except for highly-trained snipers, the average soldier rarely fired at long range, and rifle rounds accounted for few casualties compared to machineguns capable of accurate automatic fire.

Exceptionally, the Soviet Union experimented with equipping entire companies only with PPsH submachineguns instead of rifles, making them extremely deadly in close combat in urban environments—but ineffectual in longer-distance fighters over open ground. Meanwhile, the U.S. made large-scale use of semi-automatic M1 Garand rifles and M1 carbines, which were better but still lacked automatic fire capability save for the latter’s M2 variant. (Germany and Russia also deployed semi-automatic rifles on a more limited scale.)

Based on research showing that infantry rarely fired at targets further than two hundred to three hundred meters away, the German Army became interested in developing a rifle using intermediate-strength 7.92x33 millimeter kurze cartridge that could fire accurately beyond three hundred meters, but could still switch to automatic fire for a close engagement without excessive recoil. The weapon produced a muzzle velocity of 685 meters a second, nearly twice that of a submachinegun round, and 92 percent as powerful as a standard German Kark 98k bolt-action rifle.

Using a curved thirty-round magazine, the StG-43 could achieve a cyclical rate over five hundred rounds per minute. While burst fire tends to be inaccurate, it is also more effective at suppressing opponents, preventing them from firing back. This ability to provide covering fire while assaulting an enemy position to its designation as a “Sturm” (“storm” or “assault”) rifle.

German paratroopers had already been issued a small number of FG.42 rifles capable of automatic fire, but the expensive and complicated weapons used 7.92x57 millimeter rounds that produced greater flash, noise and recoil.

However, Hitler objected to the German army’s plan and demanded new submachine guns instead. Accounts claim he either insisted that the bolt-action rifle’s better long-range accuracy remained essential or perhaps more astutely worried that the beleaguered Third Reich lacked the industrial resources to scale up production.

However, the German armament office went behind the Fuehrer’s back and ordered the weapon anyway, disguising it with the designation Machine-Pistol 43. Hitler learned of the deception, halted the program, then changed his mind after a successful trial program, and allowed it to enter full-scale production. This led to the weapon being variously designated the MP-43, the StG-43 and the StG-44.

Germany managed to churn out over 426,00 StG-44s out of 4 million planned before its defeat. Initially assigned to elite units, StG-44s were increasingly delivered to low-quality Volksturm militias in the hopes increased firepower would counterbalance inferior training and physical fitness. Thus, while the weapon performed well, its battlefield impact was inevitably limited.

The Nazis characteristically devoted resources to developing exotic specialized variants it probably could not afford. The Vampir, for example, had an infrared night-fighting scope with a battery life of 15 minutes and a range of 200 meters, while the Krummlauf featured a barrel curved at a thirty-degree angle to safely shoot around the corners of street blocks!

However, the implications of the StG-43’s versatility were widely appreciated, particularly in the Soviet Union. In 1947, Soviet weapon designer Mikhail Kalashnikov combined the features of the StG-43 with the American M1 Garand rifle to form the Avtomat Kalashnikova—the AK-47. The rugged assault rifle soon proved deadly, reliable and iconic in conflicts across the globe.

However, Communist East Germany’s police and army continued using MP-43s through 1962 until they were replaced with AK-47s, SKS carbines and PPsH submachineguns. Yugoslavia also used MP-43s with select units and its successors continue very limited-scale production of the rare 7.92x33 millimeter ammunition. And the weapons were only slightly modified to appear as the rebel sci-fi blasters in wintery in The Empire Strikes Back.

This brings us to the real-life rebels using StG-44s in Syria today. As East Germany began receiving new weapons from the Soviet Union, sold 4,500 of its World War II-vintage assault rifles to Syria in 1964, along with ammunition, conducted under relative secrecy. This was followed by additional shipments to Syria and Palestinian militant groups which also included T-34 tanks and PPsH-41 submachine guns.

East Germany was hardly alone in selling ex-Nazi armaments to the Middle East, nor of selling German rifles in particular. The Third Reich’s genocidal regime made extensive use of slave labor factories, particularly in occupied Czechoslovakia. Afterward, the Czechs not only exported the Nazi weapons on they had on hand, but even manufactured their own versions both for domestic service and export.

An extremely breakdown-prone Czech variant of the famous Messerschmitt 109 fighter was also adopted by nascent Israeli Defense Force. Four of these undertook a near-disastrous strafing run on an Egyptian column advancing on Tel Aviv that nonetheless may have saved the newborn Jewish state by bringing the attack to a halt.

Later, the Czechs began exporting Nazi Panzer IV medium tanks and turretless Jagdpanzer IV tank destroyers to Syria which saw use against Israel during the 1960s. The Czechs also exported 10,000 “self-loading rifles” including StG-44s, along with 500,000 rounds of ammunitions—deals for which Syria eventually still owed $900 million in payment by 1990.

As Syria acquired a more complete inventory of Cold War-era weaponry and the rare 7.92x33 millimeter ammunition grew scarce, the guns were eventually placed in long-term storage—which is how they came to fall in the hands of Syrian rebels in 2012.

For four years, the weapons were widely photographed and filmed in combat with Syrian rebel factions, including ISIS and Kurdish fighters, as you can see with this link. However, by 2017 the ammunition had become so scarce that the weapon’s black-market value in Syria collapsed and its appearances grew more infrequent.

Thus, hopefully closes the final chapter on the combat employment of a weapon that continues to impact how wars are fought to this day.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring. (This first appeared last year.)

Image: Wikipedia.

[Author: Sebastien Roblin] [Category: Security]

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[l] at 7/9/20 5:00am

Charlie Gao

Security, Middle East

A Free Syrian Army fighter aims his AK-47 rifle through a window in Aleppo's Salaheddine neighbourhood April 28, 2013. Picture taken April 28, 2013. REUTERS/Aref Hretani In the future, more and more rebels around the world might be found armed with weapons all made in China.

Key Point: The appearance of Chinese-made guns is a sign of proxy involvement and smuggling networks.

The Syrian Civil War is being fought with firearms from around the globe. While American and Russian weapons are currently the most common, Chinese guns are rapidly increasing their “market share” of the battlefield.

While China has taken a notionally neutral position on the war, Chinese arms ending up in the hands of rebels, IS, and regime forces. How are they getting there? Do they hold any advantages over their Russian and American counterparts?

Probably the most common Chinese weapon in the Middle East is the Type 56 rifle, a variant of the ubiquitous AK. Characterized by the full ring surrounding the front sight, the Type 56 was exported in great numbers to the Middle East during the 1970s and 1980s, arming both Iran and Iraq during the Iran-Iraq wars. This has caused it to pop up everywhere in the region. It’s been seen in the hands of Iraqi insurgents and forms the bulk of the Islamic State’s arsenal. Type 56 rifles are also common sights within the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian regime National Defense Force.

Type 56 rifles on the battlefield could come from anywhere, with both old stock being widespread and Norinco still manufacturing the rifle for export. They are common on international arms markets and often bought up by nations looking to arm groups with some level of deniability.

The W85 heavy machine gun is a more interesting case. In previous wars in the region, most common heavy machine guns used by insurgents were of Soviet design. However, in the Syrian Civil War the Chinese W85 has reached prominence, showing up in many photos and videos from all sides.

The W85 is a modernized version of the Soviet DshK heavy machine gun, using a new front sight gas block and changing the receiver to reduce weight and improve simplicity. The similarity to the older machine gun means that crews trained on the older Dshk have an easy time utilizing the W85. The W85 is half the weight of the Dshk, making it far more mobile and faster to set up.

They are used primarily in the anti-aircraft role against Syrian regime aircraft. Many examples seen in pictures feature a wide angle anti-aircraft optical sight, possibly indicative of new-production W85s. It’s speculated that money used to procure these weapons came from Gulf states who support rebel forces. Interestingly, the W85 has also been seen on a small unmanned ground vehicle produced by an Iraqi militia.

Another surprisingly common weapon is the Norinco CQ, a Chinese copy of the American M16. These weapons have shown up on gun markets in the Middle East at significantly lower prices than original M16s and M4s, making them a good choice for a rebel who wants to look more “tactical” than his peers.

Where they are coming from is not certain. Iran is known to have purchased CQ rifles and produce it under license, but rifles similar to those seen in the Middle East have been seen and manufactured under license in Sudan.

The Norinco NP-20 pistol has also been widely seen on gun markets in the region Malhama Tactical, a notorious jihadi “PMC” has been filmed training with the pistol, which is said to be the most common 9 millimeter pistol in some areas of Iraq and Syria despite the proliferation of Glocks and Iraqi Tariqs.

Due to their resemblance to western pistols, NP-20s have often been stamped with western markings in an attempt to increase their value.

It’s not sure where the NP-20s are coming from, but they are likely new production smuggled in via proxies. The design only began production in 1989 and was not known to be in widespread use in any local military or police force prior to the conflict.

Other Chinese arms have seen use in the conflict in smaller numbers, primarily heavy weapons like the QLZ-87 automatic grenade launcher and M99 anti-material rifles. China’s neutral stance and large arms manufacturing capability have allowed it to produce arms for other parties to provide under deniable cover to their local proxies. In the future, more and more rebels around the world might be found armed with weapons all made in China.

Charlie Gao studied Political and Computer Science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national security issues.

Special thanks to Calibre Obscura for assistance on this article.

This article first appeared in 2019.

Image: Reuters.

[Author: Charlie Gao] [Category: Security]

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