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Wednesday, January 28, 2015


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

1. After WWII, Stalin insisted that no one ever really feared for the loss of Moscow, that everyone was confident that the city could be held. In reality, the NKVD was preparing teams of saboteurs and assassins to stay behind in a German-occupied capital. One team of actors was told to prepare to entertain German generals; during their act, the juggler was to throw explosive bowling pins into the audience.

2. During WWII, the US regularly updated the Australians on their Pacific War plans. The Australian Foreign Minister was very pro-Russia and his staff promptly gave copies of the plans to the Soviet embassy. The really surprising part is that the Soviets then gave the plans to Japan! Why? To slow down the US advance in the Pacific so that the USSR could defeat Germany and then move troops to Siberia for an invasion of Japan. Stalin wanted to be sure that the USSR ended up occupying at least half of the Japanese home islands. This would provide security (Japan would then be unable to attack the USSR) and the USSR could confiscate Japanese labor and technology for the Soviet Union's benefit.

3. The next US atomic bomb was just a few weeks away and was scheduled to be dropped on Tokyo itself. That might have killed the emperor and decapitated the command structure, leaving nobody with the authority to surrender.

4. Everybody knows that the Germans crushed the French in a few weeks in May 1940. One of the little known aspects of this is that the collapse began with the Dutch. The small Dutch Army was badly trained, had not fought a war in a century, honestly expected to be left alone, and had virtually no anti-tank weapons. After 12 hours of combat, their high command ordered all troops to retreat to a tiny part of the country (on the coast, where most of the population lived). This left the southern half of Holland empty, and the Germans barreled right through it, collapsing the Belgian flank and meeting the French and British troops days before they expected to be fighting and miles behind the defense lines they had planned on using.

5. I was reading a history book which compiled interviews with many soldiers who served in Russia during World War II. In one incident, a group of Russian soldiers cut off behind German lines just two weeks after the war started ambushed a lone car, killing the three occupants. These were found to be a German general and his driver and a Russian nurse. The Russian soldier being interviewed assumed that the nurse had defected to become the mistress of the general. It is far more likely that the nurse spoke German (and her native Russian) and was being used as an interpreter. Until the 1960s, German was "the medical language" and virtually every doctor and nurse in Europe and the US spoke it because the medical journals of the day were published in German. (Remember in the old movie "Von Ryan's Express" that the British doctor inexplicably spoke German and impersonated a German officer? This is why it was the doctor, and not some random other officer, who spoke German.)