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Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Steve Cole's thoughts on surprising and little known bits of military history.

1. Do you remember the movie Zulu? In it was Colour Sergeant Bourne, who was a stalwart supporter of the two young officers. Bourne was given an officer's commission for his heroism that day, and died a lieutenant colonel at the age of 91 on the day after Germany surrendered in 1945.

2. On 15 May, 1939, Dupont introduced nylon; within a year Japanese sales of silk to the US fell 30 percent. While this did not cause WWII, it was one of many things that aggravated Japanese attitudes toward the US.

3. During 1943, German intelligence overheard a string of reports from Russian spies in Switzerland telling Moscow every detail of German plans. This was the Red Choir or Lucy spy ring, and their messages to Moscow said the reports came from disgruntled German officers in Berlin. The German Abwehr frantically tried to find these spies and never did. They went so far as to not tell Adolf Hitler about the leak because it would upset him and they could not find the spies anyway. (He was likely to start executing "incompetent" Abwehr officers.) It turns out that much (and maybe even all) of the Lucy reports came from British codebreakers who didn't want to tell Stalin about the broken codes, so they had British spies in Switzerland pretend to be the German underground and feed the reports to the Red Choir.

4. After the Doolittle Raid, the Japanese launched a campaign in China to kill anyone who had helped the crews escape and to terrorize the population out of any thought of helping create bases from which bombers could hit Japan. Over 250,000 people were killed. I guess if you cannot exact revenge on the people who did it, you take revenge on whoever happens to be handy.

5. Sepp (Joseph) Dietrick was Hitler's bodyguard and chauffeur during the 1920s, and was rewarded with high commands of SS units in World War II. By late 1944 he was a four-star SS general commanding the 6th SS Panzer Army, the largest and most important SS combat formation. Sepp, however, was not a professional officer and (frankly) had no real clue how to be a four-star general, but no one was allowed to speak the truth to Hitler about good old Sepp. Being an honest man who loved his country and Fuhrer, he could not allow his own incompetence to cause lost battles. Sepp surrounded himself with SS staff officers who had professional military training from the Army, and let them run his command for him, providing only policy guidance in accordance with Hitler's orders. Sepp contented himself with morale-boosting visits to front-line units, which made him one of the most popular Nazi generals. His troops adored him, perhaps not least because he knew how to hire good staff officers and get out of their way.