Thoughts on the military and military activities of a diverse nature. Free-ranging and eclectic.

Sunday, March 27, 2005


This is coolbert:

During both World War One [WW1] and World Two [WW2], the soldiers of the Imperial Russian Army and the Soviet Red Army were instantly recognizable from a distance by the fact that on their person they either carried or wore ALL the time a greatcoat.

[for this blog entry soldiers of the Imperial Russian Army and the Soviet Red Army will be referred to as Russian soldiers.]

The issued greatcoat was a heavy thick wool garment that stretched almost all the way down to the ankles. Intended of course to keep the troop warm. And DID!

This greatcoat was intended to be used in lieu of a sleeping bag!

The Russian soldier has never been and will not be weighed down by unnecessary impedimenta. During times of frost, when the temperature would go below freezing, [32 deg. F., 0 deg. C,] the Russian soldier was EXPECTED to and DID sleep in the open, wearing only his greatcoat for protection.

Soldiers WERE able to do this, even sleeping in the snow, without further protection other than that greatcoat.

  NO one can say that the Russians command ever mollycoddled their troops. Keep in mind the dicta of S.L.A. Marshal, the American military historian, "when you mollycoddle soldiers, you make mollycoddles of them!!".

It seems that in the years subsequent to the end of WW2, the Russian soldier HAD become a sissified mollycoddle. During the encounters and combat between Russian and Chinese forces in 1969, some Russian troops [KGB Frontier Troops] had frozen to death. These troops were not prepared to sleep in the open in the snow protected only by the greatcoat.

Stavka, the Russian High command, duly noted this deficiency of troops freezing to death. A remedy had to be found.

According to Suvorov:

"The winter of 1969 was an exceptionally bitter one in the Soviet Far East. When the first clashes with the Chinese took place on the river Ussuri, and before combat divisions reached the area, the pressure exerted by the enemy was borne by the KGB frontier troops. After the clash was over, the General Staff held a careful investigation into all the mistake and oversights which had occurred. it was quickly discovered that several KGB soldiers had frozen to death in the snow, simply because the had never received elementary instruction in sleep out in temperatures below zero.

This was alarming news. A commission from the General Staff [Stavka] immediately carried out experiments with three divisions, chosen at random, and came to a depressing conclusion. Wartime experience had been irrevocably lost and the modern Soviet soldier [sissified and mollycoddled??] had not been taught how he could sleep in the snow. Naturally he was not allowed a sleeping bag and of course he was forbidden to light a fire. Normally a soldier would spend nights when the temperature was below freezing-point in his vehicle. But what was he do if the vehicle was put of action??

The chiefs of staff of all divisions were immediately summoned to Moscow. They were given a day's instruction in the technique of sleeping in the snow at freezing temperatures, using only a greatcoat. Then each of them was required to convince himself that this was possible by sleeping in the snow for three nights. (It should remembered that March in Solnechnogorsk, near Moscow, is a hard month, with snow on the ground and temperatures below zero.) Then the chiefs of staff returned to their divisions and immediately the entire Soviet Army was put to a very hard test -- that of spending a night in the open in numbing cold and without any extra clothing. It seemed as if those who were stationed in deserts in the south were in luck. But no - - they were sent by turns to either Siberia or the north to be put through the same tough training. Thereafter, spending a night in the snow became a part of all military training programmes."

There you have it. A remedy was found and implemented. In draconian fashion, but then that is the manner and way of the Russian. And it does work for them!!


Tuesday, March 22, 2005


This is coolbert:

It is generally recognized that leadership in the military is a constant necessary for success in combat.

At whatever echelon of command, leadership is seen as the key to success or failure.

Leadership is sound when the enlisted men have inspired CONFIDENCE in their officers. The officers are said to be leaders in that they are able to inspire their charges [the enlisted] to do things beyond the norm, sometimes in very dangerous and drastic situations [combat].

If leadership is sound and leads, the unit usually succeeds. Without leadership, the unit will generally fail.

[the failure at Abu Ghraib prison can be instantly seen as a gross failure of leadership. NOT only a failure of leadership, but almost the total absence of leadership.]

And the military does recognize that among leaders, some are born to command while others are not. Yes, certain basics of leadership can be understood and taught. And attempted emulation of successful leaders is quite often the norm among leaders, especially leaders of officer rank.

It should be stressed that there ARE some persons, who, for whatever reason or combinations of reasons, are just natural leaders. People just look up to the natural leader and EXPECT to be led.

Quite often natural leadership is demonstrated by a commander going against the grain. Against the generally agreed upon norms of behavior, and doing so with a positive intent in mind. A commander who in a demonstrative way SHOWS that they got what it "takes".

One such person was John Jacob Pershing. Known during his career as "Black Jack".

Pershing acquired this nickname as a result of his being WILLING to command black cavalry troops in the years prior to 1900.

When a command vacancy for a black cavalry regiment was made available, the U.S. Army found to it's chagrin that no officer [the officer corps was almost exclusively white at the time] was willing to fill this vacancy and command the black cavalry troops.

This duty [command black troops] was felt to the worst and most demeaning in the whole Army. Conditions for commanders and their families mirrored the poor conditions that the famous "Buffalo Soldiers" were forced to endure by a segregated and biased society.

The willingness of Pershing to command was evidently noticed, and this was taken as a sign of natural leadership ability on the part of Pershing. Later in his career, Pershing found that this prior command experience was a BOON to him. Experience in leading the forget-me-nots enabled Pershing to be considered for promotion and high rank, passing over many older men that had seniority over "Black Jack".

Another man who demonstrated natural leadership was William C. Westmoreland.

Early in his career, Westmoreland became the ONLY officer willing to talk with Benjamin O. Davis, a black officer and fellow West Point grad.

It seems that during his four year stint at West Point, the entire cadet corps gave Davis the silent treatment, so great was the dislike of having a "negro" around.

Upon graduating West Point, this silent treatment, a "gentlemen's agreement" continued.

With one exception.

That being Westmoreland.

 It seems a special bond was forged between Westmoreland and Davis. This is even more remarkable in that Westmoreland came from a patrician South Carolinian family, at a time when lynching in the south was still not unheard of. Again, a man going against the grain and showing leadership in doing so.

[it is a little known fact that all during the Vietnam War, General Westmoreland had a house on Clark AFB where his wife had set up housekeeping. On weekends, the General would fly into Clark for a weekend of relaxation with his wife. All during that time, Benjamin O. Davis, himself by then also a General, was commander at Clark. It seems that Davis did not forget the friendship of Westmoreland, even many years later.]

General Westmoreland has himself expressed surprise at the fact that he seems to generate such natural leadership.

That people place a lot of confidence in him, look to him for guidance, and accept that guidance. Westmoreland first experienced this at the World Boy Scout Jamboree in Scotland when he was FIFTEEN years old.

He describes how the younger scouts DID look to him for leadership. To him, this was totally unexpected and surprising. Westmoreland also said that he was mystified when he was chosen as First Captain of his graduating class at West Point. The point is that Westmoreland did exert leadership, and did so in a natural manner.

[my personal opinion is that General Westmoreland "looks" like a leader. A man of physical stature [not overwhelming so] who has PRESENCE. When he is there, you know he is there. Still, even Westmoreland will admit that this is all somewhat of a mystery to himself. Perhaps he is being modest.]


"Kill Bill".

This is coolbert: Movie review:

The movie being reviewed today is "Kill Bill I and II".

I consider "Kill Bill II" to be a continuation of "Kill Bill I". I believe this was the intent of the director, Quentin Tarantino.

These movies are said to be homage paid by the director to genres of the martial arts movie and the "spaghetti" western. Indeed, music is heavily borrowed from the latter to set the scene for final show downs, etc.

In "Kill Bill I" [more so than in II], the director DOES an excellent job of portraying the Japanese "way of the warrior" [bushido] as NOT only being about warfare. Bushido has an entire "world view" for the practitioner [samurai], and is a philosophy as well. This has been talked about in previous blog entries.

To the samurai, aesthetics play a powerful role in design and manufacture of weaponry. This is again shown in I more so than II. A weapon has not only a utilitarian value to it, it has [and must] have an aesthetic value as well. Beautiful is the correct word. The master sword maker, played by Sonny Chiba in this case, now only makes katana samurai swords of the highest quality, but does so for, in his own words, "for aesthetic and sentimental value". Such concepts seem to run counter to the western image of weaponry. [This is not entirely true! Weapons that "look" good quite often ARE good. Humans seem to have an intuitive sense that when it "looks good", it probably IS good.]

Strangely enough, Sonny Chiba plays the role of the retired sword maker Hattori Honzo, who now works as a sushi chef. Perhaps NOT so strange. Perhaps the last use of swords in modern Japanese society is the wielding of four foot long flensing swords by big, beefy Japanese men [yes, there are such people], who have the job of dividing a seven hundred or eight hundred pound tuna carcass into manageable pieces. The men that make these swords to this day are extremely conscious of quality, and are reputed to have only one or two swords meet standards for each five attempted.

Contrasting imagery is used by the director during the filming of the climactic sword fight between the heroine [Uma Thurman], and the villainess [Lucy Liu]. Such images as the appearance of blood sprinkled on newly fallen snow and the working of a Japanese garden Shishi-Odoshi - Deer Chaser contrast the seeming contradiction of violence on one hand, and beauty on the other.

See these movies for the entertainment that they are. Contradictions to westerners yes, but to the Japanese, NO!!



This is coolbert:

Movie review.

The movie being reviewed today is "Troy".

I feel "Troy" was well done, albeit a little long and drawn out.

Some aspects of the "epic" were not followed with regard to the story as told in the Iliad.

Hector, the champion of the Trojans, is shown as killing both Menelaus and Ajax.

In the case of Menelaus, I don't even think his death is even mentioned in the Iliad.

And certainly not for Ajax. According to the Iliad, Ajax is said to have gone insane, his death not described.

The general melee of the cast of "thousands" is shown without regard to machines of war, catapults, siege towers, etc. 

NO sapping or mining efforts is even attempted. This sort of thing would probably not appeal to the audience and the inclusion of same is not worthwhile.

It can be seen that during these general melees, only a very small portion of the thousands on either side would actually be involved in the fighting. ONLY those in the very front of their formations would be in contact with and engaged in battle with the enemy. Those behind the front ranks would have to wait for their "turn" to move forward and engage the enemy as battlefield casualties mounted.

It is important to remember that the fighters on either side in "heroic" warfare were warriors and NOT soldiers. The latter fight according to a plan, as a team, and accepting discipline. Warriors of the heroic age DID NOT follow such a philosophy. If the warrior wanted to challenge a foe to single one-on-one combat, this was totally acceptable. [besting an opponent in single one-on-one combat was the ideal for the "heroic" age warrior.]

Brad Pitt DOES an excellent job of portraying Achilles, the great demi-god hero of the Achaeans.

Achilles in the movie IS a warrior.

Achilles, landing on the beach and seizing same in advance of the rest of the Achaean fleet, disregarding the wishes of King Agamemnon, the Achaean commander.

Achilles storming ashore and sacking the temple of Apollo, in disregard for the consequences.

Achilles driving a chariot and challenging Hector to single one-on-one combat.

A very good job was also done of portraying combat as we best understand how it was done during the "heroic" age. The large shields of the combatants should not be thought to be merely defensive in nature. They also were used in an offensive manner, and quite effectively too.

Liberties were taken with the movie story as compared to the story as told in the Iliad, but then this is Hollywood, isn't it.



This is coolbert:

In the U.S. Army, perhaps one of the hardest courses, just in terms of physical and mental demands placed upon the soldier, is the basic parachutist course.

A three week course that places a lot of stress upon the aspiring parachutist. This course can be thought of as analogous to a filter mechanism. Only those troops that possess the physical and mental wherewithal are able to complete the course and graduate.

Troops not able to complete the course cannot be considered to be "elite" material.

As was stated, the basic parachutist course is three weeks long.

First is ground and PT [physical training] week. Second is tower week, and the third is jump week. The grad will have to make five jumps on consecutive days to qualify.

During the grueling PT training that is administered, this aspect of the course is explained by the "black hats" [trainers] is this manner, "now, the parachutist in this course is subject to endless and grueling physical training for a reason. All this PT will make your body stronger and you will be much less susceptible to injury when landing while making a parachute jump."

[the aspiring paratrooper must pass a PT test before being admitted into the program to begin with. The novice is tested with regard to push-ups, sit ups, run, and pull-ups. Superior performance is required just to get into the paratrooper course.]

The comments of the "black hats", however, regarding the necessity of extreme PT are erroneous. And the "black hats" will not tell you this, but I have a suspicion that they know it all along.

A lot of research demonstrates that if you had two groups of persons, one group of say 10,000 physically toughened trained paratroopers, and a second group of say 10,000 sedentary and physically inactive persons, both groups jumping out of airplanes at the same time, the injury rate for both groups would be about the same!!

This does fly in the face of intuition, but it is so. And the army knows it and has known this for a long time.

It is true that a paratrooper HAS to be physically robust, strong, and capable of pushing his body beyond normal in an impossible manner.

More important is the fact that when the paratrooper goes into battle and jumps, what he has with him is all they will have. The staff officers will undoubtedly load the paratrooper down with all manner of impedimenta to be carried on the parachutists person.

And this excessive load DOES create a lot of stress when landing [it is common for the paratrooper prior to jumping to be carrying about 150 lbs. of weight on his person beyond what the average stripped down infantryman would carry.

This includes the fighting load, the existence load, and two parachutes. Quite a load at that!! The main concern at this point, upon landing and then moving off into combat is that the paratrooper must carry all that he needs on his back. Superior physical fitness IS a requirement in this instance.

But extreme PT helping to prevent injury to the jumper?? NO!

[the German parachutists of World War Two must have aware of the injury problem.

As a possible remedy, the Germans had a stripped down trooper parachute make the jump carrying one parachute, a dagger, and a pistol.

And that was that.

Combat equipment for the paratrooper and his fellow jumpers would be parachuted separately in specially designed containers, with appropriate colored parachutes signifying what was in the container. Red parachute had medical supplies, white parachute had small arms. Yellow parachute had ammo, etc. This method was not always successful. On Crete, excessive casualties was the result when the German jumpers could not connect with their gear in the containers.]

[That the German paratroopers on Crete were able to defeat the British Commonwealth must be then seen as being amazing. The British troops DID outnumber the German attackers, and DID have Ultra intelligence on the exact time and place of the airborne landings. And yet the Germans DID prevail. This was a very big defeat for the British. And with good reason to be thought so!! Knowing when and where your enemy is attacking, and then having the attacker not able to fully utilize their equipment normally would allow the defender an easy victory. German paratroopers were, as they put it, "nimble as the greyhound, tough as Krupp steel". Crete showed that this WAS SO].


Sunday, March 13, 2005


This is coolbert:

It is universally recognized that the highest award this nation [U.S.] can bestow upon a person is the Medal of Honor [used to be called the Congressional Medal of Honor]. An award to a military man who acts upon the battlefield in such a courageous manner in a single heroic manner that one and all that witness the feat of heroism recognize that what has happened merits the medal. Words that are generally applied to those that win the medal are, "at the risk of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty", etc.

A single act of great heroism exemplified by such persons as Alvin York [WW1], Audie Murphy [WW2], Captain Millett [Korea], and Shughart and Gordon [Somalia]. Of course, there have been occasions when the medal was awarded to persons NOT for a single heroic act, but rather a continuous series of actions that merited the medal as well. Major Bong, the American air ace of World War Two [WW2], exemplifies this type of heroism. [Bong is credited with shooting down forty Japanese aircraft during the war, and led all American aces with the most kills of enemy aircraft].

And, it cannot be denied, that there is also a political element to awarding the Medal of Honor also. A political element that seems to cheapen the medal.

A perfect example of politics involved with the awarding the Medal of Honor occurred in the case of Arthur Mac Arthur. The father of the famous Douglas. It was not until twenty years after the fact that Arthur was finally awarded his Medal of Honor. This was for leading an unauthorized and impromptu charge up Lookout Mountain during the American Civil War. Mac Arthur either lead or inspired the charge, and is reputed to have carried the American flag aloft as the Union troops scaled and captured this key Confederate position. NOT being awarded the medal immediately must have rankled Arthur, as he had his uncle, who was a Congressman, lobby on his behalf, and the medal was eventually awarded.

In the cases of Douglas Mac Arthur and Jonathan Wainwright, politics undoubtedly played a role in the awarding of the medal to both of these men.

It should be thoroughly understood that the defeat suffered by the U.S. forces in the Philippines at the outset of WW2 is the worst defeat EVER suffered by the U.S. military anywhere, in any war fought by the U.S.

Rather than inspired, the U.S. military for the most part fought an inept and uninspired campaign. A campaign that resulted in ignominious and total defeat. And immense suffering by American POW's in the years to follow. This is not to say that the American military fought to the best of their ability. They did fight and did inflict heavy casualties upon the Japanese. But defeat was total, although NOT IN shame [John Toland].

Normally, commanders such as Mac Arthur and Wainwright, commanding the U.S. forces, would have been censured in the strongest terms for such a calamity.

But NO.

Upon escaping to Australia upon the orders of the President, Mac Arthur was awarded the Medal of Honor for his gallant defense of the Philippines. Mac Arthur in a radio address, described himself as having, "broken through enemy lines", and made his way to Australia to organize a counter attack. The truth is that Mac Arthur and his entourage made their way to Australia by a combination of PT boat and B-17 bomber. This was not "breaking through enemy lines" in the conventional manner the term would be used.

In the case of Jonathan Wainwright, the situation is even more clear that politics DID play a strong role in the awarding of the medal. The commander on the ground at the time of the American surrender, Wainwright does not have seemed to exercised the normal chain-of-command or command authority that should have existed in American POW camps. During the three and one half [3 1/2] years of POW status, Wainwright and his officers do NOT seem to have done much to exercise control over American POW's being held by the Japanese. Rather the contrary. American officers seemed to totally ignore the plight of the enlisted and did not make a serious effort to control the predatory gangs of U.S. servicemen that preyed upon weak and helpless last-legger POW's. And yet, Wainwright, upon his release, was immediately flown back to Washington and awarded the Medal of Honor. In his own words, Wainwright expressed shock and surprise at being given this honor. He felt he was being flown back to Washington to face courts martial.

It is also reasonable to infer that the awarding of the Medal of Honor twice [a mere handful of persons have won the medal twice] to the famous Marine General Smedley Butler is another example of politics intruding into the entire awards process. It is undoubtedly true that General Butler was a brave and true Marine that fought gallantly. It is also true that during the entire time General Butler was making headlines as the commander of Marine expeditions to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua, his uncle was a Senator who displayed and wielded considerable clout on the behalf of his nephew.

Did these men deserve the Medal of Honor?? Let the citations speak for themselves:

For Douglas Mac Arthur:

"Citation: For conspicuous leadership in preparing the Philippine Islands to resist conquest, for gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against invading Japanese forces, and for the heroic conduct of defensive and offensive operations on the Bataan Peninsula. He mobilized, trained, and led an army which has received world acclaim for its gallant defense against a tremendous superiority of enemy forces in men and arms. His utter disregard of personal danger under heavy fire and aerial bombardment, his calm judgment in each crisis, inspired his troops, galvanized the spirit of resistance of the Filipino people, and confirmed the faith of the American people in their Armed Forces."

For Jonathan Wainwright:

"Citation: Distinguished himself by intrepid and determined leadership against greatly superior enemy forces. At the repeated risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in his position, he frequented the firing line of his troops where his presence provided the example and incentive that helped make the gallant efforts of these men possible. The final stand on beleaguered Corregidor, for which he was in an important measure personally responsible, commanded the admiration of the Nation's allies. It reflected the high morale of American arms in the face of overwhelming odds. His courage and resolution were a vitally needed inspiration to the then sorely pressed freedom-loving peoples of the world."

For Smedley Butler:

"Citation: As Commanding Officer of detachments from the 5th, 13th, 23d Companies and the marine and sailor detachment from the U.S.S. Connecticut, Maj. Butler led the attack on Fort Riviere, Haiti, 17 November 1915. Following a concentrated drive, several different detachments of marines gradually closed in on the old French bastion fort in an effort to cut off all avenues of retreat for the Caco bandits. Reaching the fort on the southern side where there was a small opening in the wall, Maj. Butler gave the signal to attack and marines from the 15th Company poured through the breach, engaged the Cacos in hand-to-hand combat, took the bastion and crushed the Caco resistance. Throughout this perilous action, Maj. Butler was conspicuous for his bravery and forceful leadership."


"Citation: For distinguished conduct in battle, engagement of Vera Cruz, 22 April 1914. Maj. Butler was eminent and conspicuous in command of his battalion. He exhibited courage and skill in leading his men through the action of the 22d and in the final occupation of the city."

You the devoted reader to the blog decide the facts for yourself!!


Tuesday, March 08, 2005


This is coolbert:

Sandwiched between the modern countries of Lithuania and Poland is the political and geographic anomaly of Kaliningrad. The capital city is also Kaliningrad. Part of the Russian Federation. Used to be known as East Prussia [capital city was known as Konigsberg]. Until the end of World War Two [WW2] had a presence of ethnic Germans that thrived and prospered as a community for almost one thousand years. This was an area along the Baltic that had great emotional value to the German population. Indeed, the whole pretext for the start of WW2 was for the Germans to be given by the Poles the Danzig corridor connecting Germany proper to the ethnic enclave of East Prussia.

The February 2005 issue of National Geographic has an excellent article dealing with the little known but portentous events that occurred in the Baltic off the coast of East Prussia in the latter days of WW2.

These events included the greatest maritime evacuation in history, and the greatest maritime disasters in history.

In January, 1945, just prior to the defeat of Germany, Soviet forces trapped enormous numbers of Germany army troops and civilians within the East Prussia area. Cut off from escape by land, sea evacuation was still possible. The Germans put into effect "Hannibal", the maritime evacuation operation. The object was to evacuate as many German troops and civilians as could be done before Soviet troops totally overran the East Prussian enclave.

And "Hannibal" was successful. Became the greatest maritime evacuation in history. Over 2 1/2 million German troops and civilians were evacuated. Compared to Hannibal, the evacuation of 300,000 British troops at Dunkirk is a nothing.

[Hannibal stands in contrast to the relatively poor performance of German naval forces in both World Wars. Toward the middle part of WW2, Hitler himself berated his Admirals for the poor performance of the German Navy, curtly dismissing their abilities and record [the submarine force notwithstanding].

This evacuation was not without cost. On three occasions, Soviet submarines torpedoed and sank transport vessels of Hannibal that were just terribly overcrowded. These ships were the Gustloff [9,000 dead], the Goya [7,000 dead], and the Steuben [5,000 dead]. These civilian transports, not suited for military operations but used nevertheless, sank with such rapidity that there were almost no suvivors among the refugees, soldiers, and wounded [priority was always given to wounded troops] aboard. Civilian maritime disasters, such as the Titanic [1,500 dead], the Empress of Ireland [1,100 dead], and the Eastland [1,000 dead] pale into comparison with the former sinkings of the German transports.

The survivors from these sinkings were few. Those did that survive remember a mass panic as people tried to get off the ship and into the water [the water was just at the freezing point, chances of surviving were almost nil]. And gunshots. Survivors report hearing gunshots from within the ship. These were wounded troops committing suicide. Either the wounded had sidearms of had retained their weapons and decided that there was no hope and quick death by gunshot was preferred to slow death by drowning. This has been mentioned before as what occurs in war when soldiers find themselves in an irreversible, irreedemable situation. Death by suicide is sometimes to be preferred.



This is coolbert:

Here is another innovative way that can be used to expedite the demining process.

Is only the pilot stage, but holds promise.

A form of cress, the plant, has been genetically modified [GM] so that it responds to chemicals that are leached from a landmine into the soil [nitrogen dioxide].

The leaves of this cress, growing around where a land mine has been planted, will turn purple [normally are green].

I assume that the idea is to fence off a large area of land to be demined, and then sow the entire area with the GM cress. When the cress is sown, where ever the cress grows above or adjacent to a land mine, the cress leaves turn purple, not green, and you know where the land mine is.

Contrary to what people think, human industry CANNOT create a package, in any form, that will not LEAK.

It may be that the leakage of chemicals [nitrogen dioxide] from a land mine will be minute, but it will still be adequate for the cress to respond. After sowing an area with the cress, waiting a while, the deminers job of locating the mines will be greatly simplified.

Or so the idea goes.

 Like I said, still in the pilot stage. The best comment on demining is by a land mine expert, Bill Reid, who states that, "there is no silver [magic] bullet to demining operations." GM cress will be just one facet of a whole lot of facets.