Fist Of History

Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of France – two cases of the same mistake

December 17th, 2014

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If you study military history in the 20th century at all, one of the thorny issues you will inevitably bump into is the conduct of France in 1940 and its loss to an invasion by Germany.  In particular the highly successful thrust into central France of Germany’s Army Group A through the Ardennes forest.  The usual presentation in many western histories of the conflict holds a viewpoint that the French military commander was foolish (at worst) and antiquated (more common) in its belief that the rough terrain of the Ardennes forest would prove too much of an obstacle to German tank units, thereby allowing the central region to be held by a thinner French military force.

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As evidenced by the above humorous description from College Humor that captures that very outlook on the battle.  So I find it somewhat amusing that this week is commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, as mentioned on the History Channel website, a tactical and strategic battle that the United States normally writes up as an epic conflict that is a credit to the United States Army and Air Force – where a major force of German army and armor units were driven back after launching a surprise winter assault upon the American lines.

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What is often not mentioned in describing the Battle of the Bulge is that the territory being fought over was the same location where in 1940 the German army had surprised the French, and furthermore, that American military forces in the region were weak and unprepared for the attack for many of the same reasons that the French were unprepared for the attack.  Furthermore it can be argued that the Allied high command, and American military commanders in particular, allowed their perceptions of how they thought the war was proceeding to overly color their strategic assessment of the situation.  In fact the initial reaction of the American military in response to the attack reflected a similar level of shock and initial inflexibility comparable to that which paralyzed the French military in 1940.  Yet these failings are usually glossed over lightly in histories of the war and the emphasis shifted to the counter-attack and eventual American success in the field.

Dwight_Eisenhower

Why the emphasis shifts is an interesting question – personally I would consider it heavily influenced by the strong feelings of “hero worship” attached to many key American commanders by historians, especially American historians, when writing about World War II.  The core names in the battle, Eisenhower in overall command, Patton as the “saving angel of a general” who swept into the fight, Bradley as a key area commander, and the storied 101st Airborne Infantry fighting in Bastogne and holding out against German encirclement put a high gloss of success on the battle.  The reality though was that the American forces in the region were caught unprepared and were badly mauled, although the attack was a high-risk gamble by the German military it wasn’t because of the American military units opposing them, it was instead a combination of the weather, a tight timetable, and fuel shortages plaguing the German military.  Had Hitler gone with a less ambitious plan, like one of several advocated by his generals, the Battle of the Bulge would have probably been a successful backhanded slap to the Allies that would have helped stall the overall Allied advance temporarily.

What is particularly surprising is the broad dismissal historians make of what can only be described as a colossal error by Eisenhower in putting the weakest American military units on the line in the same spot, with the same overall defensive importance, as the French did in 1940 and trusting in the same terrain to prove too impassable to tank assault.  The only real mitigating factor is the season, winter versus fall, but one might ask why didn’t Eisenhower put a few stiffer units in the line, or at least some limited armor, having had only four years earlier seen the fact that German armor could smash through that region with great success as a surprise?

Sources:  Wikipedia articles on the Battle of France and the Battle of the Bulge

 

The Kapp Putsch of 1920

December 15th, 2014

Kapp-Putsch, Berlin

That isn’t an image of really bargain basement Nazi’s – that is an image from March 1920 during the Kapp Putsch, an attempt by members of the German military to overthrow the newly created Weimar Republic and replace it with a totalitarian regime with a restored German monarchy.  This particular attempt at a coup is a powerful moment in German history and an excellent reflection of the confused chaos that can occur in a post-war political environment when old foundations of society are overturned and the new ones still very fresh.  With the conclusion of World War I for Germany the period between 1918 – 1920 was an awkward one, the fighting was over but the peace treaty had not been created or signed, the German military was shrinking but still powerful, and units of paramilitary forces called Freikorps were roaming around working with the new Weimar government suppressing social unrest, with an emphasis on stomping out leftist uprisings and labor agitation.  The Kapp Putsch’s roots like in the Versailles Peace treaty of 1919 and its requirement that Germany reduce its military rapidly to a token force, this requirement involved a demand that all Freikorps units be disbanded as well.  In attempting to implement this order the Weimar government angered two of the most powerful Freikorps (and overall military units in Germany), the Marinebrigade Lowenfield and Marinebrigade Ehrhardt.  Rather then disband the units, and with a failure to negotiate an acceptable compromise with the Weimar government, the leaders of these two units, in collaboration with other German military figures, marched on Berlin.

Berlin, Kapp-Putsch, Putschisten

On 13 March 1920 the conspirators successfully occupied Berlin and forced the Weimar government of Germany to flee Berlin entirely, the government had to flee to two different cities and, when reassembled, called upon the German military to fire on the rebelling units and restore order.  The German military leadership refused to undertake such an activity, with almost the entire German officer corps either openly supporting the military coup and its new government or favoring it while remaining officially neutral to see how things panned out.  The Weimar government placed its hopes instead in a different strategy, calling on 13 March 1920 upon the citizens of Germany to take part in a general strike and shut down the rival government by simply refusing to interact with it.

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It worked, to put it simply, the overwhelming mass of German citizens simply stopped working and refused to do any activities that supported the new government.  Services in Berlin collapsed entirely with the city suddenly having no gas, electricity, or water, the military government was forced to give orders to its units within the city by courier only.  Despite threats by the new government of mass shootings, along with offers to try to win the German working class back into the fold, had no impact and the military government collapsed entirely by 18 March 1920, with the rebelling units leaving Berlin and its major leaders either surrendering to the Weimar government or fleeing the country.

Yet the Kapp Putsch had unfortunate legacies which had yet to be fully corrected however it stands as one of the more impressive examples of what can be achieved by mass citizen resistance and effective major strikes on impacting government policy and even survival.

Sources:  Wikipedia article on the Kapp Putsch, Encyclopedia Britannica entry on the Kapp Putsch, Spartacus Educational entry on the Kapp Putsch, entry in the Rutledge Companion to Nazi Germany

Nazi Secret Map and the United States in 1941

December 8th, 2014

 

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What you see above is a broad map that depicted Germany’s long term ambitions in South America – discovered in 1941 as part of a British espionage effort to capture files from the German ambassador in Brazil the map was shared with the United States in October 1941.  Roosevelt reacted with anger and announced the secret map in a speech to the American people in which he denounced the ambitions of Nazi Germany in the “American Hemisphere” – of particular concern to the United States Congress, the President, and the American public was how the handwritten notes on the map discussed air fuel supplies and locations for airbases potentially within range of the United States mainland.

The reaction by the United States Congress and the American people was powerful – both houses of Congress within a week repealed the Neutrality Act and shifted from an isolationist view to one more open to intervention in Europe.  Although the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor would settle the issue of involvement by the United States in December 1941, this map paved the way towards American intervention in Europe.

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What is of particular interest is the map was a fake, created by the British government to push the United States towards entry into the European war.  It was created under Churchill’s direction by Station M, a forgery producing espionage unit located in Toronto, Canada.  Although the question that historians have yet to answer is was the map entirely fiction or was it based off a real Nazi map used to outline German ambitions and attract the diplomatic interest of South American nations.

Either way the map itself was a highly skilled bit of espionage that helped push the United States down a path towards full intervention in World War II.  In particular the work of this map helped the British cause even after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the American public were in December 1941 of a mixed outlook on joining the war in Europe, but generally leaned towards the need to intervene in Europe.  This map, and the argument it established that Nazi Germany was already working to intervene in the “American” sphere of influence, probably helped ensure that the wrath of the United States and its people would be shared in both major theaters of the war.

Sources:  Wikipedia article on the New Order (Nazism) and its interests in South America, article in the Daily Mail on the secret map, entry in Napoleon’s Hemorrhoids and Other Small Events that Changed History by Phil Mason, pp. 91

Civil War Intrigues – the Northwest Conspiracy

December 3rd, 2014

Copperhead_Cartoon

The Civil War was a major defining conflict for the United States, one of the simplest ways to describe the change in the United States was how the average citizen referred to the nation, prior to the war it was often called “these United States” and after the war it changed to “the United States.”  But forging that new sense of unity involved a considerable amount of blood and stretching the powers granted the federal government under the Constitution to hold the various parts of the nation.  In particular President Lincoln throughout the war made a point of exercising “expansive” federal powers in the Midwestern states due to a strong pro-South, pro-Democratic party leaning in the region.  Lincoln, although not directly approving extreme actions, often allowed by inaction military commanders to take extreme steps to keep the region loyal, including using intimidation tactics, targeted arrests, suppressing the press, and expelling dangerous political figures to ensure that the American Midwest remained solid in its allegiance.  This in turn sparked its own problems, mainly the growth of groups that advocated separation from the United States and the formation of a new third nation from the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri.

Clement_Vallandigham_-_Brady-Handy

The center point of this plan was a combination of a local organization that called itself the Sons of Liberty (hailing back to the American Revolution) and lead by Clement Vallandigham (pictured above) working with Confederate raiders to enact a complicated plan in 1864 to split these four states from the rest of the union and create a new nation, the planned working name for this new entity would be the Northwest Confederation.  (The name hails from the regions original designation in the early post-Revolution period as the Northwest Territory.)  The plan was ambitious in its goals – Confederate cavalry raiders would head into the state of Illinois to link up with Sons of Liberty militia units – the combined force would liberate a series of Confederate prisoner of war camps and arm the freed soldiers with weapons taken from state arsenals.  This newly combined force, it was  hoped, would total over 100,000 soldiers in arms and provide enough force to spark other pro-South leaning individuals to join the effort and create a new nation.  This was all to start at the Democratic Party National Convention in Chicago.

The plan collapsed though, a combination of secret police/spies loyal to the federal government discovered the plot and arrested a few key leaders, but mainly internal bickering and the fact that most Sons of Liberty when faced with the call to actually rise up in arms against the federal government and the other Union states backed out of the plan.  It did have one lingering impact though, from 1864 till the Spanish American War the Republican Party was able to bring up this event to brand the Democratic Party as the party of “traitors and backstabbers.”  It was one more effective election tactic that helped ensure the Republicans maintained a dominant political position in the United States for nearly twenty years.

Sources:  Encyclopedia.com entry on the Northwest Conspiracy, Wikipedia entry on Clement Vallandigham, The Northwest Conspiracy by Thomas Fleming in What Ifs? of American History edited by Robert Cowley.

American Protective League

November 24th, 2014

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In 1917 the United States was faced with a challenge, on 2 April 1917 Woodrow Wilson had asked the United States Congress for a declaration of war, by 6 April 1917 he had it in hand, and the United States faced a war with Germany.  At the time the United States had a massive population of first and second generation German-Americans and concerns were raised that these individuals might form a solid source of sabotage and espionage against the United States.  Furthermore the U.S. government did not have the federal manpower to investigate the sheer number of individuals suspected, so a new organization was needed to fill this perceived gap in federal enforcement.  Fortunately an organization had already been created to handle just such a situation, the American Protective League, organized by an Chicago advertising executive named Albert M. Briggs and informally approved by Wilson on 30 March 1917 in a cabinet meeting to serve as a semi-official extension of the Justice Department.  The theory was that citizen volunteers could provide the needed manpower to allow the government to rapidly expand its ability to examine its citizen base for disloyalty and cut the risk of sabotage and espionage.

APL-Membership-Card

Claiming a peak membership strength of 250,000 members the American Protective League deployed its volunteers to serve as spies on the entire population of the United States, claiming that over 52 million Americans lived in a city which had an active American Protective League presence.  After quickly exhausting any risk of sabotage or espionage the American Protective League instead focused on rooting out domestic “disloyalty” and reported on individuals who shirked on voluntary activities to support the war, who broke food ration regulations, who engaged in “slackerism” or “defeatism” in vital war industries, and those who expressed “defeatism” or who supported “political views” that were in opposition to the goals of the United States in a time of war.  To put it more simply – anyone who didn’t have wholehearted support for the United States in World War I was subject to being reported to the Justice Department and pursued by federal agents.  Combine that with the broad sweeping powers granted to the government under the respective Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917 and you had a perfect combination for civilian participation and legal crushing of individual political and social rights throughout the United States.  But of course it got so much worse…

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In 1917 and 1918 local police agencies used American Protective League members as auxiliaries or deputies, as the local laws permitted, to engage in more “direct action” activities to deal with “disloyalty.”  In Chicago the police used League members to beat members of the International Workers of the World (IWW members of “Wobblies”) who attempted to protest or hold meetings.  In Arizona members of the League, along with vigilantes, locked 1,200 IWW members and their “collaborators” (families) into box cars, rolled them over the border into New Mexico’s desert, and abandoned them with no food or water and a warning to not return on pain of death.  Local Arizona authorities supported, and applauded, the action.  In Illinois the army used support from the American Protective League to extract confessions from twenty-one African-American soldiers who were accused of “assaulting white women.”  No records exist on the methods used to extract these confessions.

As well throughout the United States members of the American Protective League made a point of hiding their members in key factories and production centers to sniff out any sense of disloyalty in the workforce.  They even got into such mundane activities as “helping screen jury members” prior to a trial, as testimony before Congress showed.

The American Protective League was disbanded after the war when the government no longer felt it necessary and the leadership of the Justice Department changed, however the government did maintain the extensive files the League’s members helped it collect.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on the American Protective League, testimony before the House that discussed American Protective League Activities, entry at Sewanee University on the American Protective League, Salon article on the American Protective League, The Great Influenza by John M. Barry.

Net Neutrality and the Interstate Commerce Commission – a lesson from history [OPINION]

November 14th, 2014

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Usually I try to avoid using the Fist to talk about current political issues by bringing history to bear, but in this case I decided it was appropriate to do so, as long as I flagged it as an opinion piece.  The current debate on net neutrality seems to rest, in part, on a debate about whether or not internet service providers should be forced to treat all content identically when delivering, i.e. if internet providers should be bound by the idea of the “common carrier.”  This in turn is challenged by others who argue that the government should not be allowed to get into the business of regulating the internet, should not treat internet providers as “common carriers”, and also it is perfectly reasonable for internet providers to charge different amounts based on the need, or ability to buy preferential treatment, of certain internet businesses over other internet businesses.  The last is the topic that I find personally most concerning, as the United States has dealt with this issue in the past, in the form of the Standard Oil Company, John D. Rockefeller (pictured above), and eventually the Interstate Commerce Commission.

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John D. Rockefeller eventually formed the Standard Oil Company (unflattering depicted above) but he began building an oil producing combination through a combination of buying up local oil producers and negotiating special rates for his product to be shipped on the railroads.  Furthermore he negotiated that in the event his rivals product was shipped, the railroads would pay him a bonus equal to the difference between his special rate and his competitors shipping rate.  This plan was codified in the South Improvement Company.  (It also agreed to share all his competitors rates, shipping schedules, and costs with Rockefeller.)  In turn the oil traffic was divided up among the various member railroads to provide a fixed rate of shipment and a guaranteed market share to each member, cutting the “chaos of cost cutting competition.”

Now the South Improvement Company never took off, Rockefeller’s rivals called foul and public pressure, along with near violence in some areas, led to the collapse of the scheme.  Rockefeller though simply continued with his previous method of operation, including negotiating secret deals and rate rebates so that his oil shipped at lower prices than his competitors, despite it being the same oil.  This in turn was the foundation upon which the Standard Oil monopoly was based, and although it was later broken up through the Sherman Anti-Trust Act this naked favoritism in the use of a commonly valued commodity moving network led to the Progressive’s pressuring the United States government to reform railroad.

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This led to the passage of the Interstate Commerce Act in 1887 and, with it, the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission.  Now the commission was not all success and wonder, it ended up becoming to some a major regulatory burden on the free market and a point of protection for the industries it was trying to regulate, but what it did do was eventually force a system of uniform rates on the railroads and made them into a true “common carrier” of cargo.  This was done solely to prevent a future deal in which “sweetheart” deals could be struck by some companies to gain favor in using a common freight delivery system over their competitors, competition considered unfair.  Considering the role the internet plays in commerce today, and its commonalty with the railroads of the past, it seems to my eye history provides a solid lesson in what happens if regulation to enforce uniform rates and fair access is not enforced.

Hint – it ends up with a lot of independent producers being gobbled up by one sneakier/more success competitor that uses rate manipulation to gain an edge.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on South Improvement Company, Interstate Commerce Commission, Interstate Commerce Act, John D. Rockefeller, two different articles in the Marquette Law Review on the Interstate Commerce Act, a Wired article that discusses the connection between the act and the internet, and a contrary blog post on the subject

Heinkel He 162 – Germany’s Super-Cheap Jet Fighter

November 12th, 2014

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By 1944 Nazi Germany was facing a rather serious problem, the combined British and United States heavy bomber attacks on occupied Europe and Germany were proving disruptive to Germany’s ability to wage war, more critically though the widespread deployment of the United States P-51 Mustang had led to the German air force suffering massive casualties in both pilots and equipment.  The need appeared for an aircraft that met three seemingly conflicting design goals:

  • A high-speed fighter capable of evading the P-51 Mustang and being able to attack massed bomber formations successfully
  • A high-performance fighter capable of succeeding in a dogfight with a P-51 Mustang
  • The new plane had to be made of non-strategic materials as much as possible, with a preference for the use of wood as much as possible
  • The plane had to be cheap enough that it was cost-effective to simply ditch damaged planes and replace them with an entirely new fighter
  • The plane had to be simple enough to fly that it take minimal training to fly it successfully

Despite the challenging requirements every German aircraft manufacturer submitted a design, due to the expected high volume of fighters produced, the winner of the contest though was the entry by the Heinkel corporation, specifically the eventually designated He 162 (pictured above.)  A light-weight fighter the Heinkel He 162 is the epitomizes the idea that “four out of five ain’t bad.”

The aircraft had an impressive top speed and test pilots who took the Heinkel He 162 into the air described it as a pleasure to fly, nimble and reactive.  It also featured an advanced retractable landing gear system that didn’t require hard to maintain parts, had a decent armament, and was constructed of a blend of wood and metal that was cost effective.  In fact the only goal it utterly failed on was being simple to fly – due to a combination of its design and sensitive controls it required a highly experienced pilot to operate the aircraft successfully.  It also had one other minor problem…

Bei Mödlingen, unterirdische Flugzeugproduktion

The Heinkel He 162 was a hybrid plane of metal and wood, wooden wings and secondary structures attached to a metal aircraft body, and to achieve this production quickly and successfully the German manufacturers used glue.  Unfortunately the glue they had to use was not particularly good and the wings had a penchant for falling off – when the plane was taking off, flying, landing, sitting still on a calm day, the wings would just drop off the plane.  The production timeline for the fighter though was so tight and the need so great the German air force did not pull the fighter from production or deployment due to this (and other design problems) – units simply had to “make do” as best they could under the circumstances.

Although only moderately deployed before the end of the war had Germany had more time, and more trained pilots, the Heinkel He 162 might have been a useful addition to its air defense that was viable, rather than insane like some other ideas that appeared in the increasingly desperate years of 1944 and 1945.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on the Heinkel He 162 and an entry in German Aircraft of the Second World War, including Helicopters and Missiles

 

Danegeld (otherwise known as Taxes Never Die)

November 10th, 2014

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Danegeld (Dane Gold) was a tax paid by the English between the late 10th century and the end of the 12th century – a tax based upon land holdings.  Originally the Danegeld was first collected in 991 AD when the English king, Ethelred the Unready (pictured above) lost a key battle against Danish raiders and was advised by Sigeric the Serious, Archbishop of Canterbury, to pay off the Danes rather than having them trash the countryside in a raiding frenzy.  This payment of about 6,600 pounds of silver, about three tons total, was sufficient to convince the Danes to leave rather than trashing the English countryside.

Sweyn_Forkbeard

In 994 AD the Danes returned under their king Sweyn Forkbeard and laid siege to London, where they received another massive payoff in silver sufficient to convince the Danes of two valuable lessons:

  • Raiding is less productive than forcing the locals to pay you not to raid their countryside
  • Being really terrifying can produce large amounts of money without incurring the expense of actual conquest

Using this successful capital raising plan the Danes proceeded to extract increasing large payments from the English:

  • In 1007 AD the Danes agreed to a two year peace in exchange for about 27,000 pounds of silver, or roughly 13 tons of silver
  • In 1012 AD after the Danes raided and killed the Archbishop of Canterbury and burned the abbey they got a payment of 36,000 pounds of silver, or roughly 18 tons of silver
  • In 1016 AD a Dane became the king of England and, after paying off his invasion forces, paid the Danes about 54,000 pounds of silver, or roughly 27 tons of silver

william_the_conqueror

Now in 1066 William the Conqueror took over England and was a powerful enough military force, plus changes in Denmark, that Danish raids on England were far less of a threat.  However the newly established Norman aristocracy/monarchy looked upon this huge amount of silver regularly raised and figured “I want to get some of that.”  So the Dangeld was maintained as a new tax to be paid directly to the English/Norman crown, for use by the king on whatever projects happened to fit his fancy.  From 1066 through to the late 12th century this tax funded foreign conquests, internal military activities, and infrastructure improvements that interested the king.  The tax was collected using the same method as previous collections of Dangeld and only ended when a new system of taxation was designed that rested upon the consent of Parliament and involved taxing a larger overall economic base, taxes on “moveable” property.  It also reflected a change in tax philosophy with the Parliament consenting to taxes, but not granting individual exemptions to influential groups or individuals.

Now I would argue what was key in this taxes history is the name, Danegeld, because of the necessity of extracting the tax to buy off Danes people found the silver, and once they were used to paying the tax they kept on doing so as an expected cost of life even when the threat of raiding had ended.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on the Danegeld, entry on Studies in the History of Tax Law, entry in Encyclopedia Britannica on Dangeld.

 

Election Fun – 19th century style

November 4th, 2014

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In honor of the 2014 election I thought it fitting to talk about elections during the “Good Old Days” of democracy, specifically the early to middle 19th century in the United States.  Back in those days voting was not really an “individual” activity but was considered more of a “community endeavor” in which your vote was a broader reflection of the general feelings of your neighbors and those who made up your social and economic class.  Enforcement of this outlook came from many sources, including pressure and patronage from your local political machine, active pressure from the clergy on the subject, and of course the very real possibility of being brutally beaten for voting incorrectly.

19th century street gangs played a pivotal role in many local urban elections, through the fine tradition of “cooping” – an activity in which these adorable ruffians would grab random citizens who were unwilling to exercise their right to the franchise, beat the crap out of them, often force alcohol down their throats, and then deliver them to the polling station where they could cast their ballot with the help of the street gang members.  To further enhance their voting presence the street gangs would often take the drunken and injured voter back outside of the polling place, change their clothing and give them a free shave or haircut, and then run them through the ballot lines again.  Quite often with the help of these “voting enhancement” gangs some citizens got to vote a large number of times throughout the city.  One theory on the death of Edgar Allan Poe is he was a victim of a street gang helping him exercise his franchise in this manner.

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Another fine 19th century voting service provided for the general citizens was ballots with built in extra-convenience, specifically ballots were printed by local party organizations and came with the entire parties ticket pre-printed on the ballot to assist you in speeding your way through the polls.  If a citizen happened to want to split their votes in most electoral districts this was considered undesirable and inefficient and was simply not an option in early to mid 19th-century elections.  After all a voter was encouraged to support a specific party in its totality as this further assisted the efficiency of local government on many levels.  The parties also helpfully printed these prepared ballots on colored paper, to allow for easier identification of which party you happened to be supporting.  As an added bonus hired street thugs who stood outside the pooling place could tell, based on the color of the ballot paper you were carrying, if you were voting for the right party in the right district.  Often those who misunderstood how this arrangement operated were escorted, violently, from the voting booth before they could cast an incorrect ballot.

Ah the good old days of elections – so efficient, so streamlined, and so much more of a community building experience for everyone!

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on the Death of Edgar Allan Poe, Cooping, the Five Points Gang, and Straight-Ticket voting

Operational Ariel – the forgotten 1940 evacuation

October 30th, 2014

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The Dunkirk evacuation of 1940 is a famous example of pulling semi-success out of a disaster, with over three hundred thousand British and allied troops being pulled from the beaches of Dunkirk amidst air attacks by Germany and with the threat of a sudden tank assault shattering the beachhead entirely.  Less well known is the follow-up evacuation from western France code-named Operation Ariel, where roughly an additional two hundred thousand British and allied soldiers were removed back to England.  Unlike Dunkirk, with its flash and explosions, Operational Aerial was conducted without much German interference and the troops being evacuated were not front-line combat troops but instead were mostly made up of support troops and administrative staff, as well as some major combat units.  Although the operation was marred with some minor casualties overall the maneuver was successful, skillfully carried out, and the rescued troops and equipment made up a key core of the reconstituted British army that was able to resume the war later in 1940.  (It was from these and the men at Dunkirk that re-enforcements could be drawn to take part in the British North Africa campaigns.)

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What makes Operation Ariel more interesting than just a second-round version of Dunkirk though is the somewhat daffy plan developed by Winston Churchill in 1940 to create a national redoubt in Brittany (pictured above) to provide a last bastion of defense against Germany and a point where continued resistance on the European continent could take place against the German army.  Churchill actually sent two fully equipped and fresh defenses into France after the Dunkirk evacuation to combine with the support troops trapped in western France to form what he grandly called “the Second British Expeditionary Force.”  The general in charge of this new venture, Sir Alan Brooke, arrived in France on 13 June 1940, a full nine days after Britain had abandoned its positions in Dunkirk.

Alan_Brooke_at_desk_1942

Brooke (pictured above), upon reviewing the situation, decided that France had been crushed and any additional British troops staying in France would be wasted resources.  He spent his first day calling the British high command, which quickly agreed, and Churchill, who did not quickly agree, that the national redoubt idea was foolish.  It took much arguing but eventually Brooke carried his argument and saved an additional two hundred thousand troops from being turned into a bonus prize for the victorious German army to capture.  The Brittany national redoubt was one of many ideas Churchill desperately put forth in an effort to keep some sort of French commitment in the war – other ideas he advocated were that France continue the war from its colonies and a permanent French/British national union, which would have made the two nations into one single legal entity and transferred the remaining French military assets into British assets.  None of these plans came to fruition and France, as a nation, dropped out of the war shortly after Operation Ariel was concluded.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on Operation Ariel and Sir Alan Brooke, entry in Ian Flemming’s Commandos by Nicholas Rankin, entry in Blood, Sweat and Arrogance by Gordon Corrigan.