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Author Topic: Breaking History
Timothy-
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Post Breaking History
on: November 11, 2018, 08:37
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I decided to add a thread for small bits of interest in history. Too bad I didn't think of it a few days ago, when I mentioned the Night of Broken Glass. But this would be good for short pieces that don't quite fit anywhere else.

I'm sure everyone here knows that the Great War ended on "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" 100 years ago. But the armistice was actually signed at dawn. So what happened in the few hours before it took effect? Mark Steyn pointed out that they continued fighting until then, and as a result nearly 11,000 Americans, Brits, Frenchies, and Germans were killed. This was more than on D-Day in 1944. No one likes to be the last man killed in a war, especially a war that has already ended. I wonder if anyone knows who it was.

Something similar happened earlier in Italy. Many of the Italian gains after the Battle of Vittorio Veneto came between the signing of the armistice between Italy and Austria and the time it came into effect. Perhaps the most significant was the sinking of an Austrian battleship by an Italian raid just as it was being handed over to the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (which was then the official name of Yugoslavia).

Of course, this is hardly unusual. Peace agreements require time to take effect. The famous Battle of New Orleans happened after the Treaty of Ghent had been signed. This was typical in that era -- as wars spread all over the globe, it wasn't hard for action to take place after the peace. C. S. Forester, in discussing Beat to Quarters in The Hornblower Companion, pointed out that as a result peace agreements would official come into effect on very different dates at different places.

Timothy-
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Post Re: Breaking History
on: November 29, 2018, 19:41
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The end of November has some interesting military significance. On November 30 (Gregorian; it was November 19 to the Russians and November 20 to the Swedes), Tsar Peter I of Russia attacked Swedish forces under Charles XII at Narva. Peter had a lot more men, but their performance didn't match their numbers, and in the end Charles won a decisive victory. Fortunately for Peter, he then went after the Poles and tied himself down overrunning the country while Peter recovered, started grabbing weakly defended Swedish territories on the Gulf of Finland, and even started constructing St. Petersburg on some of the newly conquered land.

On November 23, 1863, the Army of the Cumberland seized two hills in advance of the main Confederate positions on Missionary Ridge, initiating the Battle of Chattanooga. This continued the next day with the minor but much-hyped Battle of Lookout Mountain. Meanwhile, Sherman was attacking Pat Cleburne's division defending Tunnel Hill, where the Western & Atlantic Railroad passed on the way from Chattanooga to Atlanta. Unfortunately for Sherman, Cleburne was the best division commander in the Army of Tennessee, earning the nickname of the Stonewall Jackson of the West for his performance in the campaign. Eventually, trying to prevent reinforcements going to Cleburne (who certainly didn't need them), 4 divisions of the Army of the Cumberland stormed Missionary Ridge on November 25. The ridge was theoretically impregnable, but a very poorly designed defense line belied that. The first 2 divisions to reach the top were those of Thomas J. Wood and then Philip H. Sheridan, both of which sought redemption for failures at Chickamauga. (At least the commanders did; after a major reorganization of the army, the divisions had been totally reconstructed). The campaign finally ended November 27, when Fighting Joe Hooker's pursuit ran into Cleburne at Ringgold Gap.

Meanwhile, James Longstreet had been sent away from Bragg's army (which could have used the troops) to besiege Ambrose Burnside in Knoxville. At Fort Sanders on November 29, Burnside got a tiny measure of revenge for the assaults on Longstreet's lines on Marye's Heights behind Fredericksburg a year earlier. Longstreet abandoned the siege on December 4, and retreated up the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad toward southwestern Virginia.

On November 30, 1942, Japanese Admiral Reiso Tanaka took 8 destroyers on a supply run to Guadalcanal. The US decided to interfere with a force of 4 heavy cruisers and a light cruiser with 4 destroyers (soon joined by 2 more). In the resulting battle, the US destroyed the lead Japanese destroyer. The remainder launched their Long Lance torpedoes and scored hits on all 4 American heavy cruisers, sinking the Northampton. It was a great tactical victory, though Tanaka didn't unload any of his supplies. (He later said that he would have proceeded if he known there were only 6 destroyers instead of 8, as in the First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.) The wikipedia entry called it the third-worst US naval defeat of the war, after Pearl Harbor and Savo Island.

Timothy-
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Post Re: Breaking History
on: November 30, 2018, 08:09
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As an addendum to this entry, on November 30, 1939 the Soviet Union invaded Finland after claiming that the Finns had attacked them. (This was the Stalin Variation of the Gleiwitz Gambit.) They advanced rapidly for a day or so, and had enough space to set up a puppet Finnish Communist government at the town of Terijoki on the old border. Then they came up against the Finn defenses, and things started to go haywire for the invaders for a few months. It was most embarrassing, though it did help Hitler underrate their ability to fight.

Brad-
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: Breaking History
on: November 30, 2018, 08:58
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That's certainly a remarkable day in history for the Finns.

Timothy-
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Post Re: Breaking History
on: December 7, 2018, 12:25
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I assume anyone reading here needs no description of events at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese sank and damaged a large part of the Pacific Fleet and devastated the Army Air Force on Hawaii. Of the various US ships lost, only a target ship (the former battleship Utah) and 2 battleships (Oklahoma and Arizona) were permanent losses, though in fact the Arizona was never decommissioned (hence the riddle, "What is the only US naval ship with water-cooled handrails?").

There were many problems at Pearl Harbor, though it's unfair to say that the US forces were totally unprepared. In the first place, no one expected a bombing raid even though at least one pre-war exercise tested it (and may even have helped give the Japanese the idea). Admiral Kimmel was mostly concerned about the danger of submarine attack, and in fact the Japanese did attack with regular and midget submarines. General Short was mainly concerned with sabotage from disloyal Japanese -- and there were at least some disloyal Japanese, hence the Niihau Incident in which a downed Japanese flyer and at least one Japanese farmer terrorized much of the island for a while. Unfortunately, at the airfields the best defense against sabotage was bunching the planes together, which was a big disadvantage when Japanese planes showed up.

Kimmel and Short failed in anticipating the main threat against them (and higher authorities made no effort to correct their error). They also supplied inadequate reconnaissance, partly because of a severe shortage of PBYs and the fact that they assumed an attack would come from southward, not the north. But Kimmel and Short also had another major duty: training. And this they did well. In particular, the Japanese pilots were impressed with how quickly and how well the American ships started fighting back against a surprise raid.

The Philippines were also hit hard. The Japanese carrier Ryujo bombed Davao on Mindanao early on (but after Pearl Harbor), and later (after the fog was cleared over the Japanese airbases on Taiwan) Luzon was hit, especially the main airbase at Clark Field. US fighters had been covering the field in anticipation of attack, but eventually they had to refuel. Someone blundered in not making sure there would always be cover, and (as usual when such blunders occur) Murphy's Law struck -- the Japanese hit Clark Field at just the right time (for them).

The Japanese campaign to conquer Malaya also began, with a morning landing at the port of Kota Bharu just south of the Thai border. I'm not sure about the timing relative to Pearl Harbor. Additional attacks came against Guam and Hong Kong, and soon against Wake as well. And all this was just one day after Zhukov led a counterattack on the Moscow front, finishing off what infinitesimal chance Germany had left of a quick victory there.

Kung Fu Zu
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Kung Fu Zu
Post Re: Breaking History
on: December 7, 2018, 12:39
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The Japanese campaign to conquer Malaya also began, with a morning landing at the port of Kota Bharu just southof the Thai border.

I might have previously mentioned that signs of WWII were still evident in peninsular Malaysia when I first moved to Singapore. I drove up the East Coast Road of Malaysia a couple of times from 1980 until 1983 and one could still see the old British pill boxes, on the side of the road, which had been built in anticipation of a Japanese invasion.

There was even an old Bailey Bridge still in use in the state of Johor.

In Singapore, the old British fort on Sentosa was turned into a tourist attraction. The big guns were still there pointing out to sea. As I recall, the tour guide mentioned that the guns turned out to be useless because they could not be turned North to shell the Japanese flooding down the Malaya Peninsula. But this is not correct. The guns were used to some degree.

There are a number of reasons given for Singapore's surrender, but I believe lack of spirit by the British commander had a lot to do with it. The old Ford factory in which the surrender took place was still standing when I first worked in Singapore.

Timothy-
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Post Re: Breaking History
on: December 7, 2018, 12:54
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That point about the guns pointing out to sea has become very famous. Almost any discussion of the capture of Singapore mentions it. The Japanese were already outnumbered, but had the advantage of inept British command even aside from the guns. General Percival had nothing to do with that, but he still performed poorly enough to earn a chapter in a book on the psychology of military incompetence.

Fans of Lawrence of Arabia will recall that Aqaba had the same problem. Of course, the difficulty of crossing the desert behind it was reason their defenses faced seaward. Similarly, at Singapore the British didn't expect any enemy to conquer Malaya, which in essence covered Singapore's rear. But the guns probably didn't cover the eastern and western coasts of the island, where a sea-born landing was probably possible. In both locations, the guns were probably meant more to protect from naval raids (such as the German battlecruiser raids on British ports during the early stages of the Great War) than against an actual landing.

Brad-
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: Breaking History
on: December 7, 2018, 14:06
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Monster Guns

You can see a glimpse of what's left of the Johore Battery on Google Maps.

Timothy-
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Post Re: Breaking History
on: December 7, 2018, 14:27
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The Germans had coast defense guns as large as 15 inches. There were also a few truly monstrous siege guns over 30 inches in caliber, mainly used at Sevastapol. The bombers of the 1942 Halpro bombing raid on Ploesti saw the shells, or light reflecting off of them, as they flew from Egypt to Constanta and then to Ploesti. The distance from Constanta to Sevastapol is considerable. Given the expense of the guns, and the rarity of their use, Hanson considered them a waste in The Second World Wars.

Kung Fu Zu
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Kung Fu Zu
Post Re: Breaking History
on: December 7, 2018, 14:43
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You can see a glimpse of what's left of the Johore Battery on Google Maps.

I must have been near this battery several times without knowing it. You can see part of the Changi Airport runway when you pan out, but when I first moved to Singapore there was no Changi Airport. There was Changi Village in the area with pretty good local food though. The Changi Yacht Club was not so far away, nor was the old Changi Pier from where I once took an old boat, something like the one in "The African Queen", to I believe it was, Pengarang, Johor which is close to the southern tip of the Malaya Peninsula. That was really something out of the past.

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