Operation Georgette Comes to a Halt

On April 29, 1918 the German offensive code named Operation Georgette ground to a halt.  It had come tantalizingly close, fifteen miles, of the Channel ports of Boulogne, Dunkirk and Calais.  The situation became so critical that on April 11 Field Marshal Douglas Haig issued his famous Backs to the Wall order:

 

Three weeks ago to-day the enemy began his terrific attacks against us on a fifty-mile front. His objects are to separate us from the French, to take the Channel Ports and destroy the British Army.

In spite of throwing already 106 Divisions into the battle and enduring the most reckless sacrifice of human life, he has as yet made little progress towards his goals.

We owe this to the determined fighting and self-sacrifice of our troops. Words fail me to express the admiration which I feel for the splendid resistance offered by all ranks of our Army under the most trying circumstances.

Many amongst us now are tired. To those I would say that Victory will belong to the side which holds out the longest. The French Army is moving rapidly and in great force to our support.

There is no other course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the Freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.

(Signed) D. Haig F.M.
Commander-in-Chief
British Armies in France

General Headquarters
Tuesday, April 11th, 1918

 

The British were saved by logistical problems that plagued the German offensive, and heavy counter-attacks by British, Anzac and French troops.  The Germans had more offensives in 1918, but they had just lost their best chance for victory, and, each day, thousands of American troops were landing in France.

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Published in: on April 29, 2018 at 11:55 pm  Comments (2)  
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Lost For Over a Century

I once sent the government a check for some $35,000.00 to pay estate tax on behalf of a client.  The check was lost for several months by the Feds.  At the time I recalled this historical event:

Robert E. Lee was an advocate of reconciliation after the Civil War.  This was demonstrated by his application for a Presidential Pardon on June 13, 1865, high confederate officers having been excluded from President Johnson’s general pardon and amnesty of May 29, 1865 and being required to appeal directly to the President.  Lee wrote:

Being excluded from the provisions of amnesty & pardon contained in the proclamation of the 29th Ulto; I hereby apply for the benefits, & full restoration of all rights & privileges extended to those included in its terms. I graduated at the Mil. Academy at West Point in June 1829. Resigned from the U.S. Army April ’61. Was a General in the Confederate Army, & included in the surrender of the Army of N. Va. 9 April ’65.

 

Lee was not aware that an oath of loyalty was required and he took such an oath on October 2, 1865:

 

 

“I, Robert E. Lee, of Lexington, Virginia, do solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Union of the States thereunder, and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves, so help me God.”

 

The oath went to Secretary of State Seward, and then it vanished from history for over a century until it was found by Elmer O. Parker, an archivist at the National Archives, in 1970 among State Department papers in a cardboard box  clearly indexed V for Virginia and L for Lee.  Lee had inquired frequently about his application over the five years he had to live from 1865-1870.  Whether his application was lost deliberately or lost through ineptitude is unclear.

On August 5, 1975 President Ford restored the citizenship rights of Lee, making these remarks: (more…)

Published in: on April 29, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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General Benjamin Butler

 

Something for the weekend.  General Butler sung by Bobby Horton who wages a one man crusade to bring authentic Civil War music to modern audiences.  Butler was cordially hated by the South due to his tenure as military governor of New Orleans during which time he issued his infamous “Woman Order”:

 

DQRS. DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF

New Orleans, May 15, 1862.
As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans in return for the most scrupulous non-interference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall by word, gesture, or movement insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.
By command of Major-General Butler:
GEO. C. STRONG,
Assistant Adjutant-General and Chief of Staff.

 

Jefferson Davis ordered that if he were ever captured Butler was to be executed as a common enemy of mankind.  This was ironic because at the 1860 Democrat Convention Butler voted 57 times to nominate Davis for President of the United States.  Without a doubt, however, Butler was the most hated Union general in the South.

However, due to Butler’s military incompetence, Union soldiers who had the misfortune to be under his command also had good reason to curse his name.

 

 

 

There are of course several generals in the running for the title of most incompetent Union general:  Ambrose Burnside, Don Carlos Buell, John Pope, Henry Halleck, Nathaniel Banks and the list could go on for some length.  However, for me the most incompetent general clearly is Benjamin Butler.  A political general appointed by Lincoln to rally War Democrats for the war effort, Butler in command was a defeat waiting to happen for any Union force cursed to be under him.  Butler during the Bermuda Hundred campaign in 1864 threw away chance after chance to take Richmond, with a timidity that rose to astonishing levels and an ineptitude at leading his forces that defies belief.  Grant summed up Butler’s generalship well in his Personal Memoirs when he recalled a conversation with his Chief of Engineers:

He said that the general occupied a place between the James and Appomattox rivers which was of great strength, and where with an inferior force he could hold it for an indefinite length of time against a superior; but that he could do nothing offensively. I then asked him why Butler could not move out from his lines and push across the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad to the rear and on the south side of Richmond. He replied that it was impracticable, because the enemy had substantially the same line across the neck of land that General Butler had. He then took out his pencil and drew a sketch of the locality, remarking that the position was like a bottle and that Butler’s line of intrenchments across the neck represented the cork; that the enemy had built an equally strong line immediately in front of him across the neck; and it was therefore as if Butler was in a bottle. He was perfectly safe against an attack; but, as Barnard expressed it, the enemy had corked the bottle and with a small force could hold the cork in its place. (more…)

Published in: on April 28, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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April 27, 1865: Sultana: Death on the Mississippi

After the massive bloodletting of the Civil War, one would have hoped that Death would have taken at least a brief holiday in the US.  Such was not the case.  On April 27th 1865, the SS Sultana, a Mississipi paddlewheeler steamer, constructed in 1863 for the cotton trade, was serving as a transport.  Its cargo was appoximately 2500 Union soldiers, many of them former POWS, some of them survivors of Andersonville.  The Union soldiers boarded at Vicksburg.  The Sultana while in port at Vicksburg had a patch put on its steam boiler.  The repair was clearly inadequate, a new  boiler being needed.  (more…)

Published in: on April 27, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on April 27, 1865: Sultana: Death on the Mississippi  
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April 26, 1962: Ranger 4 Crashes Into Moon

 

The US Space Program had several rocky moments in its early years, and so it was with Ranger 4.  Launched on April 23, 1962, its trip to the Moon was flawless.  After entering a lunar orbit,  a malfunction caused telemetry to cease, and the capsule to become unresponsive to commands. Ranger 4 crashed into the darkside of the Moon on April 26, 1962.  And thus the first American spacecraft reached a celestial object.  As always, NASA learned from the failure, with a successful lunar mission by Ranger 7 in 194.

Published in: on April 26, 2018 at 10:45 am  Comments Off on April 26, 1962: Ranger 4 Crashes Into Moon  
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Anzac Day 1918

 

 

Today is Anzac Day, in Australia and New Zealand.   It commemorates the landing of the New Zealand and Australian troops at Gallipoli in World War I.  Although the effort to take the Dardanelles was ultimately unsuccessful, the Anzac troops demonstrated great courage and tenacity, and the ordeal the troops underwent in this campaign has a vast meaning to the peoples of New Zealand and Australia.

At the beginning of the war the New Zealand and Australian citizen armies, illustrating the robust humor of both nations,  engaged in self-mockery best illustrated by this poem:

We are the ANZAC Army

The A.N.Z.A.C.

We cannot shoot, we don’t salute

What bloody good are we ?

And when we get to Ber – Lin

The Kaiser, he will say

Hoch, Hoch, Mein Gott !

What a bloody odd lot

to get six bob a day.

By the end of World War I no one was laughing at the Anzacs.  At the end of the war a quarter of the military age male population of New Zealand had been killed or wounded and Australia paid a similarly high price.  Widely regarded as among the elite shock troops of the Allies, they had fought with distinction throughout the war, and added to their reputation during World War II.   American veterans I have spoken to who have fought beside Australian and New Zealand units have uniformly told me that they could choose no better troops to have on their flank in a battle.

In 1918 four Australian divisions and the New Zealand division were locked in battle on the Western Front, grinding down the initial German offensives and then helping to lead the way in the battles of the Hundred Days that resulted in Allied victory.  In the Middle East two Australian mounted divisions and a New Zealand mounted brigade performed prodigies in the battles that ended the Ottoman Empire.  In 1919 Field Marshal Allenby praised the New Zealand troops who fought under his command:

 

“Nothing daunted these intrepid fighters: to them nothing was impossible.”

Let that stand as a tribute to all the Citizen soldiers of the Anzacs who fought in the Great War.

Published in: on April 25, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Anzac Day 1918  
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April 24, 1945: Death of Father Cyclone

Father Larry Lynch

 

Larry Lynch was born, the first of 12 kids in his family, in the City Line neighborhood of Brooklyn on October 17, 1906.  He grew up on some pretty tough streets while also serving as an altar boy at Saint Sylvester’s.   He came to greatly admire the Redemptorists, an order of missionary priests founded by Saint Alphonsus Liguori in 1732.  In America the order had distinguished itself by its work in some of the roughest slums in the country and thus it was small wonder that a tough street kid would be attracted to them.  Larry Lynch was ordained a priest in the Redemptorist Order in 1932.

His initial assignment was as a missionary priest in Brazil, in the parishes of Miranda and Aquidauana in the State of Mato Grosso, quite a change from Brooklyn!  In 1937 he served at Old Saint Mary’s in Buffalo, New York with mission assignments to Orangeburg, North Carolina and Ephrata, Pa.

Prior to Pearl Harbor, in September 1941, Father Lynch enlisted in the Army as a chaplain.  He served at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, Fort Polk, Lousiana, and in the Mojave Desert in California with the 31rst regiment of the 7th Armored Division.  In December 1943 he was sent overseas to New Caledonia in the Southwest Pacific.

Assigned initially to the 42nd Quarter Master Battalion in Noumea, Captain Lynch quickly began making himself unforgettable.  The commander of the outfit was Lieutenant Colonel Julius Klein, a remarkable man in his own right who had served as an American spy in Germany during World War I.  Klein, to his astonishment, found himself agreeing that he and all the staff officers in the battalion would be at Christmas Mass that evening, although he wondered what a Jew like him would be doing at a  Catholic Mass!  Father Lynch had that type of effect on people, his enthusiasm tended to overwhelm all opposition.  He decided that the chapel was too small for the Mass and it was held in the base amphitheater.  The amphitheater filled to capacity, the Christmas carols at the Mass were led by a soldier named  Goldstein, a great tenor, who Father Lynch had met on the troop transport.  Father Lynch explained the priest’s vestments prior to beginning for the benefit of the non-Catholics present:

“Father Stearns of the Navy will celebrate the Mass.   Before he begins, there’s a lot even Catholics should know and I’ll bet a nickel there are some right here who couldn’t explain why a priest wears all those vestments, for example.  Well, it’s time we all knew why and it won’t hurt you non-Catholics to know either.”

“Father Stearns will begin to put on his vestments, and while he does, well talk about them a little. First, as to the why. Every one of them is a symbol, a symbol of service to God.”

He picked up the amice and held it high. “This, for example. It’s just a piece of linen, and it is called an amice: A-M-I-C-E. Jesus was blindfolded, and the amice represents that blindfold. Okay, Father.”

He extended the amice to Father Stearns who put it on.

“Herod placed a garment on Jesus to make a fool of Him. You remember that.  This white robe white to signify purity is an alb: A-L-B, and the alb is symbolic of that garment.  Incidentally there are six colors used by the church and each one of them is significant: white for purity and joy, red for blood and fire, green is the symbol of hope, violet for penance. . . .”

The Mass had a huge impact on everyone present, and Colonel Klein announced that he was glad he came. (more…)

Published in: on April 24, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on April 24, 1945: Death of Father Cyclone  
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Chappaquiddick: A Review

From a distance, Kennedy has long seemed like a man playing a role: the role his staff expected him to play, the role his public expected him to play, the role his brothers and their retainers expected him to play, the role his father expected him to play. “Ted Kennedy, Liberal Icon” was performance art which dragged on for decades. One of his more vigorous opponents over the years, Raymond Shamie, pointed out that his signature issue was ‘national health insurance’, but that his proposal had never got out of subcommittee, and he was chairman of the subcommittee. Maybe all along what he really cared about was making waitress sandwiches.

Art Deco, commenter, The American Catholic, April 7, 2018

 

 

My son and I saw the movie Chappaquiddick on the  Saturday before last.  It is a superb evocation of time and place and a damning indictment of the cowardice of Ted Kennedy that led to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.  My review is below the fold, and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in full force. (more…)

Published in: on April 23, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Chappaquiddick: A Review  
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The Sherman Tank

 “A Tiger can destroy 10 Sherman tanks, but the Americans have 11.”

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel

 

 

 

 

A military maxim proclaims that quantity has a quality all its own.  Some 50,000 M4 Sherman tanks were manufactured by the US during the World War II.  A speedy and maneuverable medium tank, the M4 was designed to be shipped easily by sea and rail.  As an infantry support platform it was much loved by GI’s.  The only problem was that the Sherman was totally outgunned by  German Tigers and Panthers.  One dismayed tanker recalled seeing a Tiger fire through two buildings and still take out a Sherman.  The Sherman 75 gun could not penetrate the front armor of a Tiger.  Tiger and Panther shells had little problem penetrating the Sherman’s armor, causing American tankers to sometimes refer to their tanks as Ronsons, after a popular lighter of the period.  However, the Americans usually heavily outnumbered the enemy armor they confronted and almost always could call on air support to knock out enemy tanks.  Enemy armor also had to confront endless American infantry with anti-tank weapons and mortars, backed up by plentiful artillery and abundant tank destroyers, which made most German armored offensives against American positions risky propositions for them.

 

Most losses of the Sherman were not caused by German armor.  However, the fact that the Shermans were clearly inferior to the top classes of German armor was demoralizing for American tankers.  Variants on the Sherman saw service during the campaigns in France and Germany with heavier frontal armor and  mounting heavier guns partially alleviating the problem.

Published in: on April 22, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Spring

Something for the weekend.  Spring from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.  Until Thursday of this week I had been complaining to my wife and secretary that this was the most November looking April I could recall.  Then glorious Spring burst out in Central Illinois and all was well.

 

Published in: on April 21, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Spring  
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