Fireside 2.1 ( Danger Close Blog Tue, 07 Nov 2023 14:00:00 -0800 Danger Close Blog en-us SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 53: To Be or Not to Be Tue, 07 Nov 2023 14:00:00 -0800 1f3a2b68-008c-42e5-b3fd-7552027db83b Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E53: To Be or Not to Be Jack Johannessen
Secret Police Podcast - host

We mentioned Poland-Lithuania in episode 1 and 2 regarding their relationship with Moscow. I
won’t go in depth on Polish history but let’s at least go back to World War I. Poland reemerged
as a state after being partitioned between Germany, Austria, and the Russian Empire -- a triple
subjugation that existed since 1795.

We saw the USSR and Nazi Germany form a tenuous peace in the Molotov-Ribbontrov Pact in
Augist 1939. Both regimes invaded Poland -- the Nazis from the west and the Soviets from the
east, and if you’ve been following this show thus far, you know one secret police group is bad
enough. Poland had the rare and horrific experience of two secret police subjecting the Polish
people to their respective torment. Of course we are focusing on the NKVD today. The Gestapo
will have its own episode. 

During the 1939 invasion, the Soviets advanced to a predetermined line, called the Curzon Line,
stipulated by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Curzon ran approximately on the San, Vistula, and
Narew rivers.

Remember, the NKVD practiced their techniques to cull non-Russians from annexed territories
in Finland around the same time, and they practiced those techniques in Poland. The annexed
portion of Poland suffered an estimated 1.2 million civilians deported from their homes and an
additional 250,000 Polish military personnel deported during hostilities with the Soviets. Deputy
Commissar of the NKVD, and future chief of the KGB, Ivan Serov, was the deportation master in
Poland. Serov took control of every detail, eliminating every perceived threat to the USSR -
bankers, business owners, hotel owners, restaurateurs, prison wardens, clergymen, and
members of political parties other than Communists, and people who were expelled from the
Communist party -- a lot of people from the Polish bourgeoisie. The NKVD even kidnapped Red
Cross workers; deported people who’d traveled abroad or had some kind of contact with
outsiders, and people who study a language called Esperanto.

I did not know what Esperanto was before this episode. Esperanto is what’s called an
International Auxiliary Language. Created by Polish ophthalmologist Ludwik Lazarus Zanenhof
in 1997, Esperanto is like an amalgamation of various Indo-European languages and was
intended by Zamenhof to lower the language barriers between people.

To me this seems like an odd criterion to deport somebody but, as we have seen with the
Russian government historically, anybody who has even looked at anything Western is viewed
as being dangerous to the integrity of the state.       

Military prisoners were distributed over several locations: Kozelsk, south of Moscow; Starobelsk
in the Luhansk region of Ukraine; and Ostashkov south of Leningrad. 

In April 1940, the NKVD rounded up over 4,000 prisoners and drove them to a forest at Katyn
about 10 miles from the town of Smolensk. They were all massacred, each shot in the back of
the head and thrown into a mass grave. When the  Germans occupied Smolensk, they found
the mass grave and published the findings. It was a massacre the Germans didn’t commit with
high propaganda value. The findings did cause friction between the Soviet government and the
Polish government in-exile, but the Soviets pointed fingers at Germany, saying they committed
the Katyn Massacre. In hindsight, this would be plausible but the Soviets didn’t start finding
concentration camps, for example, until 1944. And beyond the NKVD, more recently we saw the
Kremlin explain that Ukraine itself committed the massacre at Bucha. It’s the same BS tactic

Furthermore, the NKVD handed over many German citizens, Jews, and other people deemed
“undesirable” by the Nazis to the Gestapo. Those unfortunate individuals had the unenviable
ability to compare and contrast which secret police treated them worse.

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 51: Judgment at Nuremberg Wed, 13 Sep 2023 17:00:00 -0700 04ddff7a-3895-45c2-84d3-8c3670bfed6a Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E51: Judgment at Nuremberg Judgement at Nuremberg: A Perspective
Jim Randall

My appreciation of this movie comes from the way Abby Mann took on the
theme of German guilt and accountability for the war crimes they committed. The
victors, of course, chose to put on the trials, and while there were problems with
how the trials were carried out, the idea of accountability was enshrined and
continues to this day in the International Courts at The Hague.

I appreciate the way the courtroom scenes were shot with the actors allowed
to give their speeches whole without a lot of editing. The camera perspective
moves around while the character speaks being admirable. I never saw the
Playhouse 90 version but I think the film version aheive a live feeling. The
intense courtroom drama centers on two men: the presiding judge (Spencer
Tracy) who must render a monumental decision, and the principal defendant
(Burt Lancaster), at first a silent, brooding figure, but ultimately the one who rises
to pinpoint the real issue and admit his guilt.

Tracy delivers a performance of great intelligence and intuition. He creates a
gentle, but towering, figure, compassionate but realistic, warm but objective.
Schell repeats the role he originated, with electric effect, on Playhouse90, and
again he brings to it a fierce vigor, sincerity and nationalistic pride. Widmark is
effective as the prosecutor ultimately willing to compromise and soft-pedal his
passion for stiff justice when the brass gives the political word.

Lancaster, the elderly, respected German scholar-jurist is on trial for his
participation in the Nazi legal machine. A pivotal moment is when he makes his
statement to the court admiting his and the German nations complicity in the
madness. Madness it was, as Albert Speer wrote: "I was not choosing the
NSDAP, but becoming a follower of Hitler, whose magnetic force had reached
out to me the first time I saw him and had not, thereafter, released me."(1) The
whole nation fell into it. A psychologist, Mattias Desmet (Professor Clinical
Psychology, Ghent University) (2), has termed it “mass formation psychosis.” As
Hannah Arendt states, “totalitarianism is ultimately the logical extension of a
generalized obsession with science, the belief in an artificially created paradise:
“Science [has become] an idol that will magically cure the evils of existence and
transform the nature of man.” Sound familiar in our current context? Obsession
and psychosis characterize the behavior of the whole nation during the Nazi
period. To illustrate the absolute denial that whole sections of German society
were in, Herr and Frau Halbestad denied knowing about the death camps and
being political. Marlene Dietrich is persuasive as the aristocratic widow of a
German general hanged as a war criminal, but the character is really superfluous
to the basic issue which is justice for the victims and a warning to future tyrants
that the world will hold them accountable.

Montgomery Clift and Judy Garland portray two victims of the Nazi period.
Both give outstanding performances. Clift kept forgetting his lines but the
stumbling delivery was left in because it reinforced his character. Irene Hoffman
fought off Rolfe’s cross examination when he attempted to discredit her.

As the story proceeds some nuance develops. Frau Bertholt takes the Judge
in hand to try to influence him towards the German people being innocent on
some level. Towards the end the American and Allied commanders are
convinced the Soviets are going to attack West Germany. The Americans, British
and French suddenly realize they need the Germans on their side. They put
pressure on the judges to be lenient. In the end Judge Haywood decides to find
them guilty and give the four defendants long sentences. Side note: the four were
released within 6 years as were many of the guilty from the first trial.

The film was released in Berlin in 1961. The audience reaction was subdued
and left in silence. The nation was not prepared to face the atrocity of Nazi
Germany. That would come later.


  1. Speer, Albert 1969 “Inside the Third Reich” Orion Books

  2. Desmet, Mattias (6/16/2022) “The Psychology of Totalitarianism” Chelsea
    Green Publishing

  3. Arendt, Hannah – Died 4 December 1975 (aged 69) Her entire body of

  4. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's
    Berlin is a  2011   non-fiction  book by  Erik Larson . [1]
    Larson recounts the career of the American Ambassador to Germany,  William
    Dodd , particularly the years 1933 to 1937 when he and his family, including
    his daughter  Martha , lived in Berlin. The Ambassador, who earned his Ph.D.
    in Leipzig 40 years earlier; and, at the time of his appointment, was head of
    the History Department at the University of Chicago initially hoped that
    Germany's new Nazi government would grow more moderate, including in its
    persecution of the Jews. [2]  Martha, separated from her husband and in the
    process of divorce, became caught up in the glamor and excitement of
    Berlin's social scene and had a series of liaisons, most of them sexual,
    including among them Gestapo head  Rudolf Diels  and Soviet attaché and
    secret agent Boris Vinogradov. She defended the regime to her skeptical
    friends. Within months of their arrival, the family became aware of the evils of
    Nazi rule. Dodd periodically protested against it. President  Roosevelt  was
    pleased with Dodd's performance while most State Department officials,
    suspicious of his lack of background in their area of expertise, as well as his
    inability to finance embassy activities from his own wealth, found him
    undiplomatic and idiosyncratic.
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 50: The Woman King (2022) Mon, 31 Jul 2023 19:00:00 -0700 51e03ad8-3787-4a19-a0b1-f211d067437e Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E50: The Woman King (2022) Bill Fischer
PhD in Modern Latin American History, Prof of history

Long-Term background on slavery and the slave trade

West African societies had slavery long before the beginnings of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. However, it was of a different nature from how slavery was practiced in Europe and, later, the Americas. In most West African states, the private ownership of land was not allowed, since all land was considered to belong to the king or state. Therefore, elites in West African society couldn't accumulate land as a "means of production"-- so they had to accumulate labor instead. The purchase of enslaved people was the primary way to accumulate wealth and productive power. Many enslaved people were also owned directly by the king or state.

In these societies, slaves were considered an extension of the family that owned them, and they were usually put to many uses besides agricultural labor. In fact, those slaves owned by the state were often used in high-ranking positions, as administers, royal advisors, and as soldiers. These categories of slave could often become quite wealthy and prestigious.

For those slaves owned by individuals, evidence suggests that they were usually treated well since they were the primary wealth of their owners; unlike in, say, Brazil, where the slaveowner would also own a lot of land, a sugar mill, etc.

But because of the importance of slavery in all of these ways, many West African states engaged in warfare to acquire more slaves. Because these West African states were usually very small in size and land couldn't become property, warfare to acquire more slaves was functionally equivalent to the way a European state might go to war to acquire more land. And because most of these African states were small, they were usually vulnerable to attacks by their neighbors.

So when Europeans came to West Africa for the first time in the mid-1400s, they could see that there was already a trade in slaves in the various African states, and they could easily become a market for those slaves.

As historian John Thornton puts it, "The Atlantic slave trade was the outgrowth of this internal slavery. Its demographic impact... even in the early stages was significant, but the people adversely affected by this impact were not the ones making the decisions about participation."

In the mid-1400s, the Portuguese were pretty much the only European power purchasing slaves from West Africa, and the numbers were perhaps 1,000-2,500 per year. Around 1650 is when the numbers really start to spike, because by then the Spanish had been active in the trade for a long time, and the British, French, and Dutch were just starting to get into it. This is when the demographic impact on African society started to become dire-- while before the numbers were small enough that African societies and economies were not all THAT harmed on a macro-level, after 1650 certain states came close to serious decline due to all the people being trafficked.

European firearms and horses did play a role in making certain African states more powerful, and it led to a desire by other states to acquire those things, too. The evidence shows that most slaves were taken as part of military conquest by militarized African states. This is vital to understand-- as Thornton states, "the fact that military enslavement was by far the most significant method is important, for it means that rulers were not, for the most part, selling their own subjects but people whom they, at least, regarded as aliens."

I highlight this because I've heard dumbasses over the years repeat the lie that "Africans sold their own people into slavery"-- which is only true if you consider all of Africa to be one "people" because they are all the same "race." This is doubly stupid because the concept of race is a European invention that Africans didn't recognize. Indeed, there is more human genetic diversity within Africa than without. To be clear, I don't think any Danger Close host would think this!


The Kingdom of Dahomey started to assert itself in the 17th century as the trans-Atlantic slave trade was really increasing. Then, around 1700, the British, French, and Portuguese built trading forts around the Bight of Benin which perpetuated and regularized this trade.

While most kingdoms in that region operated according to familial principles, Dahomey was different. As historian Robert Harms writes, "Dahomey...depicted the state as a water pot perforated with holes. The king was the water, and the idea was that the state could not function unless each citizen put a finger in one of the holes to keep the water from leaking out. In other words, anyone who was willing to serve could be a citizen, and all citizens had to do their part to support the king." This was a model of statecraft that could lend itself to the expansion of Dahomey into a large and powerful state.

King Agaja took power in 1718 and oversaw a lot of that expansion. He created a professional army that was extensively trained and drilled. He saw them equipped with muskets. Each soldier had an apprentice shield carrier who took the musket after it was fired so the main soldier could use hand weapons. Switching to the use of muskets did make Dahomey dependent on continued trade with Europeans for more guns and ammo.

Agaja's wars yielded many prisoners of war. When they were taken, the king first got to choose which ones to take as slaves. Then some were awarded to Dahomian elites and military officers. The rest could be sold to Europeans. At first, Dahomey had to sell the captives to middlemen, who then sold them on to Europeans. But Agaja wanted to cut out the middlemen, which led to his conquest of the kingdoms of Allada and then Wyadh in the 1720s. By the 1730s, the monarchy of Dahomey established a royal monopoly over the slave trade. A new class of rich Dahomian merchants arose who served as middlemen in the slave trade for OTHER African states. Evidence shows that some of these wealthy merchants in Dahomey were women.

Dahomey probably sold about 1.3 million people as slaves during the 1700s, which implies near-constant activity by the Dahomian military.

Dahomey was indeed a tributary state to Oyo during this time period, which would have drained them of some of their wealth, but that doesn't mean that Oyo dominated the internal affairs of Dahomey.

Women in Dahomey

Women did indeed enjoy a high status in Dahomian society. The king had many wives, and the palace had many other women in it, including slaves. But these women were sometimes very influential, serving as ministers, attending council meetings, and giving their opinions to the king regularly (and he paid attention).

Wealthy women in Dahomey could do something called "woman marriage," in which the elite woman would take as a "wife" a younger woman of lower social standing. That lower-caste woman could have a male partner. According to the historian Robert W. July, this wasn't a homosexual relationship, but rather a way for elite women to inhabit the top of a familial structure that gave them control over wealth and labor.

Women in Dahomian society had the power to initiate divorce, while men did not.

And, indeed, there were female warriors. Many of them were slaves. King Agaja began by having armed women as palace guards and personal bodyguards. King Tegbesu (1740-1774) used women in warfare. In 1764, there was an incident in which a male Dahomian army was sent to attack a hostile neighbor, and came home in failure, having taken no slaves. The king sent an 800-woman force instead, and they succeeded where the men could not.

King Gezo

After the British navy started cracking down on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1808, Dahomey remained an active participant in the now-illegal trade. The swampy nature of the coastline made it harder for the British to crack down.

King Gezo was in power when Dahomey threw off the tributary control of Oyo-- and this opened up a wider area for Dahomian armies to raid for prisoners. Gezo financed a lot of warfare during his reign.

A Brazilian mixed-race slave trader named Francisco Felix de Sousa played a very important role during Gezo's reign. He became Gezo's chief agent for the trade in enslaved people, and de Sousa controlled all the commerce going on at the port city of Quidah. He sold some slaves on behalf of Gezo, and some for his own profit. Between 1820 and 1840, De Sousa was a "master smuggler" who had a very lavish compound with a lot of luxury goods from all over. The British captured about 20 of his vessels during these decades, but despite that he probably successfully sold and smuggled a quarter of a million people.

The British Foreign Office saw King Gezo as a very important figure in the region and spent a lot of effort trying to convince him to switch from the slave trade to "legitimate commerce." Gezo resisted getting rid of the slave trade. In 1848, as historian Richard J. Reid describes, he said, "he could not possibly give up the slave trade: the army had to be kept active, and if Gezo himself tried to alter 'the sentiments of a whole people' Dahomey would be thrown into anarchy and revolution, which 'would deprive him of his throne.'" But Gezo represented the elites who profited from the slave trade.

The alternative was palm oil, which did start becoming important in Dahomey by the 1840s. Much of the labor on these palm oil plantations was slave labor, owned by the Dahomian state and elites. One historian says that ordinary peasant producers were also involved. And the Dahomian army remained active even after the Atlantic slave trade was over, going to war over access to trade route.

The British spent a lot of effort trying to end the slave trade in the Atlantic, but then definitely bought a lot of palm oil from Dahomey even though it was produced with slave labor.

Brazil (this is perhaps more information than you require)

When the movie takes place, Brazil had just gained its independence from Portugal. Brazil was arguably a wealthier and more powerful country than Portugal at that time, because the Portuguese royal court had been living in Rio de Janeiro for more than ten years. Brazil had an enormous slave-based economy that was, at that time, really ramping up coffee production in southern Brazil. This created a demand for enslaved people despite the fact that the Atlantic trade was illegal. Brazilian smugglers were probably the most active perpetuators of the Atlantic slave trade in the 1820s and afterwards, but the Spanish and Americans would have participated, also.

The mixed-race Brazilian character in the movie struck me as very plausible -- the manumission of children resulting from a white slaveowner and a Black slave woman was more common in Brazil than in the United States. This is due to a few factors. First, the Catholic religion looked favorably upon manumitting slave children-- it was a "good work" that would help your soul get out of purgatory more quickly. Protestants in North America didn't really care about this. Second, the racial system of Brazil was not quite so "Black and white," so to speak, as in North America. People of a mixed race background with wealth and the right connections could rise to a position of comfort that you just didn't see in the USA at that time to the same extent. Finally, because Brazil still participated in the illegal slave trade, they didn't have to rely only on "natural increase" of their slave population. You could manumit a child because you know that new arrivals from Africa were still possible.

Some editorial remarks (my take)

I really enjoyed the movie-- I hadn't seen it before now, and The Woman King is a lot more of a kick-ass Hollywood movie than I thought it would be-- in a good way. In other words, it's got a lot more in common with something like Gladiator or Top Gun than it does with Twelve Years a Slave or Amistad.

People on the Internet criticize the movie for being historically inaccurate-- they say that it portrays Dahomey as being anti-slavery when in fact it was one of the major slave trading states. I do think the movie fibs a lot about King Gezo-- there doesn't seem to be any evidence that Gezo came around to an anti-slavery stance in the 1820s, or that he started to think about a broader "African" identity. That's some optimistic historical revisionism to be sure-- but it's no more egregious than PLENTY of other historical epics have done.

Nanisca is a fictional character, but she seemed very plausible to me. Yes, most Dahomians were probably fine with the slave trade since it benefited them, and it had been going on for generations, so it would have seemed "normal." But certainly there would have been people who had a different view. The movie asks us to consider-- what if one of those dissenters rose to prominence and actually had power? It's not all that outlandish, even if it didn't happen.

It's like if 200 years from now somebody made a movie about a person who spoke out against fossil fuels during the twentieth century. The vast majority of political and economic power was devoted to fossil fuels-- but there were dissenters all along, too.

Works Cited

Robert Harms. Africa in Global History With Sources. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2018.
Robert W. July. A History of the African People, 5th edition. Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press Inc., 1998.
Richard J. Reid. A History of Modern Africa: 1800 to the Present. Second Edition. Maldon, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.
John Thornton. Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800, Second Edition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.


Some podcast episodes we listened to on the history:

AfriWetu, an African history podcast
Rooted In Our Story. Celebrating Africa's History, People, Culture & Folklore.
AfriWetu Podcast Dahomey Kingdom Pt 1 S2 E5
AfriWetu Podcast Dahomey Kingdom Pt 2 S2 E6

Black History Bites: The Ancient Kindom of Dahomey
A short, bite sized, and accessible global Black history and cultural podcast episodes to aid you in your Black history learning.

Africa's Untold Stories: The Dahomey Amazons: A Lesson on Bravery

Stuff You Missed in History Class: The Amazons of Dahomey

[Ye Olde Crime: Dahomey Amazons ep137](Ye Olde Crime: Dahomey Amazons ep137)

African History Network: The Woman King & The Real History of The Kingdom of Dahomey' - Prof. James Small


New World Encyclopedia - Kingdom of Dahomey

Encyclopedia Britannica - Dahomey, Historical Kingdom, Africa

Smithsonian Magazine: The Real Warriors Behind ‘The Woman King’

Collider: The True Story Behind ‘The Woman King’ and the Agojie Warriors

LA Times: The truth behind ‘The Woman King’: Crew responds to claims of historical revisionism

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 48: Top Gun (1986) Fri, 21 Apr 2023 08:45:00 -0700 60228f00-718e-4a4b-9d15-e3d96760a7db Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E48: Top Gun (1986) Notes from Peter Cox

On the motorcycle and short male actors

"[I have to mention] the motorcycle scene with Tom Cruise belting down the side of the runway on his bike as aircraft are taking off. Kawasaki paid an undisclosed sum of money to get their bike into the movie. It was huge for the company as that bike was the start of naming Kawasaki sport bikes "Ninja" in the US market. The rest of the world called it the GPz900R and was happy. But since Top Gun all the Kawasaki sport bikes have taken the Ninja tag and it's gradually leached around the world market.

Apparently Honda were given first offer but weren't keen on a helmetless rider on a flat out sports bike. That GPz900R (sorry, I just can't go with Ninja) was part of a completely new generation of high performance motorcycles as the companies moved from big, heavy air-cooled engines in naked bikes to lighter, more compact bikes and liquid-cooled engines with full aerodynamic fairings - and much higher top speeds. In the new Maverick movie Kawasaki is back with their supercharged H2 sport bike so the generational motorcycle change played again - not that anyone thinks supercharging is a mass market thing. So the Kwaka in Top Gun is as important as the Harley Fat Boy in Terminator!

Watch the sequence carefully though and you will see, in some shots, that the GPz900R Tom is "riding" is actually strapped to a trailer being dragged along the side of the strip. The tie down straps are clearly visible. Apparently Tom hadn't ridden a motorcycle before Top Gun and was just taking lessons.

I used to do a joke about the hardest working guys on the set of Top Gun and Days of Thunder being the ones with shovels digging a trench for the love interest to walk in so she'd look shorter than Tom Cruise. I'm around 5'7" myself so no shade on Tom for his height, it's just that filmic stereotype of the man always being taller than the female in a relationship . . ."

Rich Stephens

cue Danger Zone

NOTE: to easily differentiate between the film and the program, I’ll be using Top Gun to refer to the
film, and NFWS (Naval Fighter Weapons School) to refer to the real-world Top Gun program.


  • Don Simpson saw an article about the Naval Fighter Weapons School - Top Gun - in
    California Magazine, inspired him to make a film about it.

  • The script originally did not have any in-cockpit dialog. The lead Naval technical advisor
    to the movie (John “Smegs” Semcken) talked Tony Scott into filming some scenes with
    the actors in the cockpit with masks on so that dialog could be added. Smegs had to
    convince Scott that there is a lot of dialog between Pilots, RIO’s (Radio Intercept
    Officers), CATCC (Carrier Air Traffic Control Center), etc.

  • Principle over-land photography was filmed at (NAS) Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada.
    NFWS was moved to Fallon in 1996. On-board photography was filmed aboard the USS

  • Tony Scott requested some shots that were not technically possible and/or safe. Going
    Mach 1 for the “buzzing the tower” scene, as well as the aileron roll immediately after
    launching off the carrier.

  • Original script called for mid-air collision, which Maverick somehow survived, to be the
    cause of Goose’s death. Smegs convinced them that was too unrealistic. There had
    been an incident with a RIO hitting the canopy on ejection recently at Pax River Naval
    Base (either getting severely injured or killed – stories differ.) Either way, this was the
    inspiration for Goose’s death scene.

  • Due to legal troubles encountered after the filming of the Final Countdown, the C.O. of
    NFWS kept his distance during the filming (he wanted deniability) and the Lt. technical
    advisor (“Smegs”) was given free range to film what was needed as long as it was, “safe,
    legal and didn’t make us look bad.”

    GOOF – In the “I’m going to slam on the brakes, and he’ll fly right by” scene, Maverick is
    seen jamming the throttles FORWARD, this would increase thrust and speed, not slow
    him down.

Research and Talking Points

  • Glossary: See Iron Eagle entry.

  • Art Scholl: acrobatic pilot who was to film some first person “in the cockpit” footage of a flat
    spin for the sequence in the movie (not in an F-14, but in a stunt plane.) He attempted to may
    spins, couldn’t recover, and was killed. The footage he recorded was not used in the film.

  • Grumman F-14 Tomcat: The real star of the movie! Developed in the 60’s and deployed from
    1974 – 2006.

    The F-14 Tomcat was the first of the “teen” series of fighters the dominated the
    80’s and 90’s. Originally designed for long-range fleet air defense, it evolved into a capable air
    superiority fighter as well as and air-to-ground weapon system.

    The F-14 was the only aircraft to equip and fire the AIM-54 Phoenix missile – a long range,
    active-radar homing, missile generally described as “the size of a Volkswagen.”
    [See Gruman ad of F-14 with six AIM-54’s and two AIM-9 Sidewinders below]

  • “Mig 28”: The “MiG 28” is a plane that doesn’t exist. F-5 Tiger / T-38 Talon trainers were
    painted black to stand in for the fictional plane.

  • Gulf of Sidra Incidents: similar to Iron Eagle, the American interception of Libyan planes in the
    Gulf of Sidra partially inspired the story (see research for Iron Eagle for more details).

    Analysis by Growling Sidewinder (DCS content creator) with actual cockpit voice recordings.

    Gulf of Sidra Incident - F-14 versus Mig-23

  • HUD and Avionics: the F-14 heads up display (HUD) is not accurately represented in the movie.

    At the time of release, the F-14 would have been the Navy’s top of the line fighter. Very little of
    the avionics and electronics are accurately represented (radar, HUD, etc.)
    Indisputable - that throttle “clicking” sound is one of the best sounds in any movie!

  • Top Gun vs TOPGUN (NFWS): Obviously, it’s not a documentary. The spirt is much more
    cooperative than competitive, and everyone helps each other our to graduate. “A movie with
    three hours of debrief after a sortie would be pretty boring.” - “Smegs”

  • Cultural Impact: Top Gun entered the popular culture and made Tom Cruise a superstar.
    Everyone knows the lines “Talk to me Goose” and “I feel the need, the need for speed.” Many
    fighter pilots who have given interviews over the past three decades point to Top Gun as their
    inspiration. Most films that depict a particular job or skill tend to be picked apart by people
    who actually do the job, and the film mocked by their real word counterparts. Top Gun doesn’t
    seem to have that – pilots love it for what it is.

    Naval recruitment increased by 8% after the release of the film in 1986, held roughly the same
    until 1989 at which time Naval recruitment began a downward trend. It did NOT increase, as is
    often quoted, by “500%”

  • Swear Jar: There is apparently the equivalent of a “swear jar” at NFWS, and any pilot caught
    quoting the film must pay up.

Works Cited

Grumman ad

F-14 flying over Iraqi oil fields

F-14 tied-down on the carrier deck

VF-84 "Jolly Rogers"

VF-84 F-14 on DCS

DCS aerial refueling

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 47: Iron Eagle (1986) Tue, 28 Mar 2023 08:00:00 -0700 ac5b7b71-5d4d-455e-9b70-4c7d18a89b7c Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E47: Iron Eagle (1986) Iron Eagle (1986)

Rich Stephens

*Quick Take: * This movie does for military aviation what Billy Madison’s answer does for Reflections of Society in Literature: “What you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

Research wise, there isn’t a historical event the film is based on. This may come as a shock, but kids have never conspired to steal F-16s from an Air Force base, fly to the Middle East from somewhere in the U.S. (which would require multiple in-flight refuelings and hand off to various ATC authorities), attack another country, LAND on an enemy airfield, rescue a downed pilot, take off from said enemy airfield, and fly back to Germany. The access these kids have, and the overall plot strains all credulity.

The only real event even resembling any part of the film would be the beginning of the movie and the several Gulf of Sidra incidents (covered below).

There are several movies that are compared to Top Gun. Usually along the lines of, “It’s the Air Force's Top Gun” (for Iron Eagle) or “It’s the Army’s Top Gun” (for Firebirds - another terrible movie that needs to be on the list with Nicholas Cage flying an AH-64 Apache helicopter.)

This is a type of movie that you don’t see anymore, but was prolific in the 80s. The ‘kids save the day against the adults and/or do impossibly technical things’ movie. See films like Toy Soldiers, Real Geniuses, Flight of the Navigator, the Last Starfighter, and The Explorers.


While Iron Eagle is frequently thought of as a Top Gun knockoff, it was actually released a few months earlier in January 1986 (Top Gun was released in May of '86.)

Acrobatic pilot Art Scholl flew “the snake” sequence/race. He would die tragically soon after, while filming the flat spin footage for Top Gun when his Pitts Special biplane entered a spin he was not able to recover from.

The US Air Force pulled their support for the movie after they realized the plot involved kids hacking into base computers and stealing equipment. Production was moved to Israel, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Air Force's F-16I Sufas were used instead. This also explains why the enemy “MIG-23” planes are actually IDF Kfir fighters (based on the French Mirage 5.)

The IDF has purchased export versions/licensed manufacturing of several NATO aircraft over the years. These include U.S. made F-4, F-16, F-15 and now F-35 variants, as well as French Dassault Mirage III and Mirage 5.

Several 80s movie “second bananas” are in this. Stiles from Teen Wolf (Jerry Levine) and Lamar from Revenge of the Nerds (Larry B. Scott) appear as friends of Flybaby. Fun fact: Anthony Edwards was also in Revenge of the Nerds before appearing in Top Gun as Goose. Also, Jan from the Office (Melora Hardin.)

This film did give us an excellent Family Guy bit:

(551) Family Guy - Faster than the Speed of Love - YouTube

*Research and Talking Points *


MiG: Short for Mikoyan and Gurevich design bureau. A soviet/Russian aircraft manufacturer.

Su: Short for Sukhoi design bureau. The other major soviet/Russian aircraft manufacturer.

NATO reporting name: An easy and unambiguous English word for Russian, Chinese or Eastern Bloc military equipment. The Soviet Union did not always give their aircraft official nicknames (ala Tomcat, Eagle, Falcon, etc. in the west.)
Su-22 = Fitter
Su-27/30/35 = Flanker
MiG-23/27 = Flogger
MiG-29 = Fulcrum (this name was adopted by Soviet pilots, as they liked how it represented how pivotal the aircraft was.)

Fox Codes: NATO brevity code called out when a specific type of missile is fired.
Fox 1 = A semi-active radar homing missile (SARH). Relies in the firing aircraft’s radar to track the target. NATO example is the AIM-7 Sparrow.
Fox 2 = An infrared guided missile. A “heat seeker”. Typically shorter range. NATO example is the AIM-9 Sidewinder.
Fox 3 = An active radar homing missile. The missile initially tracks the target using the launching aircraft’s radar, but as it closes with the target switches to its own on-board radar. NATO example is the AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-54 Phoenix (F-14 only.)

Pitbull: NATO brevity code for when a Fox 3 missile has gone active and can track on its own.

AWACS: Airborne Warning and Control System. An aircraft with a large, omnidirectional radar that can detect other aircraft from much farther away than traditional fighter-sized radars.

Gulf of Sidra Incident:

The closest thing to an “event that inspired the film” would be the 1981 Gulf of Sidra Incident. This involved two U.S. F-14 Tomcats (of Top Gun fame) shooting down two Libyan Su-22 Fitters. As depicted in the movie (via a fictional Libyanesque country,) Libya claimed the Gulf of Sidra as part of its territorial waters. The U.S. Navy conducted Freedom of Navigation operations in the Gulf to counter this claim, which Libya in turn challenged – with both sides sending multiple aircraft sorties into the contested area.

On August 19th, 1981 an S-3A Viking was flying a pattern inside the Libyan claimed zone, but outside of the internationally recognized 12 mile territorial water zone (Freedom of Navigation.) Two Su-22 Fitter aircraft were launched from Libya to intercept. U.S. Navy AWACS detected the Su-22’s, and vectored two USN F-14’s flying CAP in the area to intercept (the planes were callsigns Fast Eagle.) The Libyan 22’s fired on the F-14’s with an AA-2 Atoll short range, infrared, air-to-air missile. The F-14’s returned fire with infrared AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles splashing (shooting down) both Fitters.

A second Gulf of Sidra Incident happened in 1989 in which two Libyan MiG-23 continuously altered course to intercept a pair of USN F-14’s. As before, the F-14’s successfully engaged and splashed the Libyan aircraft. Audio and gun camera footage of this engagement is publicly available.

Mr. Peanut: This comment caught me off guard. Very obviously political dig at former President Jimmy Carter vs. current (at the time) President Ronald Reagan. Just seems like a “rah rah” comment at odds with the rest of the films take, and how inept the movie makes the military establishment look.

Iron Eagle: It has always baffled me that this movie is called IRON EAGLE. The F-16 is known as the Viper internationally and the Falcon within the USAF. The F-15 is named the Eagle. So why not call this movie Iron Falcon? Or Iron Viper? Why Eagle?! It's just confusing! My suspicion is that the producers originally wanted to use F-15C fighter aircraft – they are larger, sexier, and unbeaten in air-to-air combat (101 combat victories with no losses.)

Two theories: When the USAF pulled their support and the filming was moved to Israel, the IDF didn’t want to use their F-15s for filming (they have fewer F-15s than F-16s.) The plot involves air-to-ground attacks, and the F-15C is strictly air-to-air (the F-15E Strike Eagle, which is a highly capable air-to-ground attack aircraft was not introduced until the year this film was made.) Iron Eagle sounds cooler than Iron Viper/Falcon so they went with it. Honestly, it’s perhaps the least offensive thing in this movie.

F-16 Cockpit, Hud, and Rivet Counters:

Throughout the movie, the in-cockpit scenes depict displays that do not exist. The producers clearly saw the inside of an F-16, as the movie depict the cockpit layout correctly in several respects (the yellow emergency stores jettison button and gear handle can be seen on the left in several scenes.) The cockpit mockups also look very “cheesy and cheap.” I’m not going to catalog all of the minutia. One aspect that IS depicted accurately is the HUD (heads up display) footage. This appears to be actual green illuminated HUD footage (although it is clearly in simulation mode – to practice dogfighting without weapons release – as the word SIM can be seen in the lower left).

Throughout the movie, the weapons loadout on the aircraft continuously changes regardless of what they have released/fired.

Plug for Digital Combat Simulator (DCS) – the best and most accurate combat flight sim on the market: Compare this screenshot from (DCS) vs. a real F-16 cockpit:z

During the Snake Scene, in which Doug Masters races his Cessna 150 against a motorcycle-riding Knotcher, the pilot of the Cessna 150 Aerobat was renowned aerobatic pilot Art Scholl. He was killed later that year when his Pitts S-2 camera plane crashed while filming in-cockpit footage for the flat spin sequence in Top Gun (1986).

The character of Colonel Charles "Chappy" Sinclair was inspired by the real life U.S. Air Force General Daniel "Chappie" James, Jr. General Chappie James was a member of the famed all-black Tuskegee Airmen, and also flew fighter jets in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He later became the first black four-star General in U.S. history.

According to the DVD liner notes, the U.S. Air Force was going to consult on this film, until they realized that a major part of the plot hinged on Doug and his friends hacking into the base computers, stealing equipment, et cetera. They didn't like the idea of the ease with which they had control of the base.

In some scenes, some of the ordinance carried on the F-16s was real, rather than props. At one point during filming the Israeli Air Force (IAF) was called upon to carry out a strike against terrorist targets in Lebanon. A ground controller saw a pair of IAF F-16s already in the air with the required load-out, and vectored them toward the target. They were halfway to the target when someone realized the aircraft that had been ordered to attack were attached to the film shoot, and that the planes were emblazoned with American markings and insignia. They were recalled from the strike in time to avoid an international incident.

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 46: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) Thu, 02 Mar 2023 00:45:00 -0800 cffb403f-9c6a-4945-8536-c9f96af0b62d Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E46: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) Peter Cox

A timeline of Bligh's history

If you’ve ever wondered how many mutinies it takes to get promoted sideways out of trouble, the answer is three. Because William Bligh is a prime example of the problems you get when you take a skilled practitioner and make them a people manager.

Signed to the Royal Navy at the age of seven he actually went to sea at 16 as a seaman waiting for a slot as a “young gentleman” midshipman. Signing on years before actually going to sea was common practice at the time as a way of generating time in service for later advantage in competing for promotion. It’s the kind of minor corruption endemic in the system of patronage, fraud and theft that characterised systems of government service at the time. But who are we to criticise :)

Bligh was a career sailor and, very early in his career, was marked out for roles emphasising navigation, mapping and ship management. This included appointment as sailing master - basically the senior navigating officer - on Cook’s third (and final) voyage to the Pacific.

While Bligh’s navigation to Timor after being cast adrift shows impressive skills it remains miraculous that weather, thirst, starvation and infighting didn’t kill the party en route.

So, he’s a hell of a seaman. How’d he get the gigs? Skills are part of it, also patronage! The time with Cook brought him close to Sir Joseph Banks, the influential aristocrat, botanist and president of the Royal Society (the key British science organisation of its time). And noted pants man. Banks’ influence got Bligh the job on the breadfruit cruise and also helped him get his later job as Governor of New South Wales. So that’s patronage.

Fraud and theft? All that stuff about the cheeses and coconuts is a reference to the fraud in the Naval establishment that had the various middlemen - from suppliers to chandlers to ship captains to their senior crew - “clipping the ticket” as goods passed through their hands. Readers of Patrick O’Brian’s Maturin/Aubrey series or C.S. Forester’s Hornblower series will be familiar with the Captains’ battles to make sure their ships left harbour with fresh food and water - not the condemned garbage from the back of the warehouse that would leave their crews rotten with scurvy and dying of thirst mid ocean. Did Bligh really do that? More research required, but the scriptwriters assembled every example of every type of rough behaviour in the Royal Navy to make their case against Bligh while Fletcher Christian got to be loved up (with the ladies of Otaheite) and heart hurt by the Captain’s insults.

The script writers had plenty of torture porn with whipping around the fleet, keel hauling (a capital punishment), flogging, reduced rations and water, exposure at masthead or in the rigging . . . they only missed “grog stoppages”, where the sailors were not allowed their daily allowance of rum and water. Perhaps it was too soon after prohibition for drinking?

But even if the screen writers laid it on pretty thick, you can’t deny that Bligh suffered three mutinies. Bligh’s first mutiny was the subject of the movie, set in 1789. But, showing what absolute horseshit the end roll is, Bligh was captain during a second mutiny during the infamous 1797 Nore and Spithead mutinies that also feature in O’Brian and Forester books. These were more about conditions on board ships in home harbour, lack of pay etc so Bligh wasn’t specifically responsible for that.
There is no way, as the end roll suggests, that the Mutiny on the Bounty created a new relationship between officers and men and set the Royal Navy up for future success. The mutinies that followed showed that the harsh service, ferocious discipline and god-like powers of the senior officers did not change until well into the 19th century. Dip into C.S. Forester’s book Lieutenant Hornblower (or watch the BBC Series with Ioan Gruffudd) for a sense of the hell a Captain with powers of life and death can make a small, crowded ship.

Bligh’s final mutiny was in the colony of New South Wales in 1808. He was sent to put an end to the endemic corruption of the NSW Corps, the soldiers sent with the First Fleet. The “Rum Rebellion” in 1808 came when the troops and some settler supporters rose up against Bligh’s “tyranny” - his attempt to follow his instructions and stop the profiteering and commercial enterprise of the troops and some settlers trying to set themselves up as what a more recent politician would call a “bunyip aristocracy”. In a repeat of the post-Bounty, anti-Bligh agitprop, the NSW mutineers did a great job blackening Bligh’s name with accusations of his outrages against their sensibility and some lovely propaganda of him being dragged out from under a bed where he was alleged to be hiding during the takeover. While the NSW Corps was disbanded, mutineers (gently) punished and the rum trade and rampant colonial profiteering suppressed (somewhat) Bligh didn’t get another major assignment. He knew his trade but, after only three mutinies and a couple of courts martial (acquitted), senior Royal Navy management decided his people skills were not up to snuff. He was parked as Vice Admiral of the Blue when he was benched.

The focus here is on Bligh rather than the mutineers largely because he’s the most fascinating character in real life - a brilliant navigator and sailor but not someone you’d want in your work team or as a boss - and his story is deeply intertwined with early Australian history. The mutineers are less interesting in life and left a troubling legacy on Pitcairn Island (covered by Rich).

Bits and pieces

Like most war movies, everyone is too old. Bligh was only 33. Fletcher 25. Byam - Peter Heyward in life - was 16.

After immersion in C.S. Forester and O’Brian - all the ceilings were too high in the internal ship shots on Bounty. Clark Gable was 1.85m - around six foot - and would surely have had to crouch to get around below deck. After the Mary Rose rolled over in 1545 the Royal Navy was more particular about engineering to avoid top heavy ships. High ceilings across three or four decks, especially with a couple of gun decks full of artillery, move the centre of gravity up. I often look at cruise ships in Sydney Harbour and wonder at their massive height but apparently shallow draft. Must be a lot of weight in engines, fuel and stuff below the waterline.

You can’t ignore that this whole Bounty breadfruit enterprise was to prop up enterprises relying on enslaved labour. Cheap, high yield food found in one part of the tropics transplanted to another part of the tropics so that a convenient food source would be available without diverting arable land or enslaved labour. The enslaved people didn’t like the breadfruit so the successful second cruise Bligh undertook to transplant the trees didn’t work out despite the successful delivery. I’m not across the detail of Caribbean cooking but this reference suggests that St Vincents is the place where breadfruit was, and remains, a hit. I’ve only eaten Caribbean a couple of times in London so IDK. But it is interesting that favourite traditional foods often had their origin as foods of last resort or poverty. Corned meat in Australia, for example, remains popular but only exists because salted meat was the only meat that would last in our heat before canning or refrigeration. Haggis looks like the last act of a starving population to me. Presumably collard greens and grits - the foods of oppression - in the American South?

In Tahiti Byam tries to explain the relative value of a nail and a coin but the Chief is unconvinced. Theft of goods, especially metals, from ships trafficking through the Pacific was a major source of conflict between locals and visitors.

It’s a bit difficult to watch the lust Tahitian women show for visiting sailors in the movie when you’ve read Alan Moorehead’s The Fatal Impact: The Invasion of the South Pacific, 1767-1840. Which goes into the way trading sex was actively used across the Pacific to get valuable goods, especially metal, from visiting ships. The Fatal Impact, a mandatory read at school around 14, completely rewired my adolescent brain about European colonisation in my region. Kind of surprising the conservative state government of that time let that happen.

The good old Barrier Reef. Cook ran into it. The Pandora ran into it (not with Bligh on board). If we don’t have Brit’s crashing into the reef trying to get up to the Torres Strait we’ve got Dutchmen crashing into Western Australia when they're riding the roaring forties and don’t turn left in time. Navigation’s not that exact a science even with timepieces. Which makes Bligh’s feat of navigation to Timor and not hitting the reef or running aground in the Torres Strait even more astonishing.

Rich Stephens


Roger Byam was a fictional character based on Peter Heywood – a 15 year old “young gentlemen” aboard the Bounty; similar to the role of cadets or officer candidates in modern navies.

Chief Hitihiti has a fairly prominent small pox vaccine scars on his upper arm.

Bligh wasn’t on the Pandora when it visited Tahiti in search of the mutineers.

Research and Talking Points

Breadfruit – the HMAV Bounty was to sail to Tahiti to obtain breadfruit saplings that were to be distributed and transplanted to British colonies in the Caribbean – primarily Jamacia. They were trying to find an inexpensive and nutritious way to feed the large number of slaves who worked the island’s sugar plantations. A single breadfruit tree can produce between 50 and 250 fruits per season for 50 years. A mature fruit weighs about 10 pounds (4.5 kg) and contains about 100 calories per 100 g serving. After the Bounty expedition, Bligh was once again tasked with brining Breadfruit from Tahiti to Jamaica – this time successfully – arriving in Jamaica in 1793 with 678 breadfruit trees.

Keelhauling – A form of punishment whereby a sailor is dragged – bow to stern – underneath a ship. The barnacles and other marine organism that grow on the hull will cut the person, possibly becoming infected and scarring them.

Press Gangs - groups of soldiers or sailors sent out to enforce naval or military service on able bodied but unwilling men, often by violent coercion. The press gang, a group of 10 - 12 men, led by an officer, would roam the streets looking for likely 'volunteers'. Merchant seamen were particularly prized as they already had seagoing experience and needed less training.

British Classes – The Royal Navy of the time adhered staunchly to the British class system. The dividing line between officers and enlisted sailors aboard ships was defined by much more than mere rank and time in service. The officers were made of gentlemen (in the most titled sense) of upper-class families. The enlisted, the lower classes. (the paper linked below makes an interesting case that in certain “Admirals of the Fleet” families, progeny were essentially raised to become naval officers.)

Courts-Martial – Ten of the Bounty prisoners captured by the Pandora were court-martialed for mutiny. Four were acquitted based on Testimony from Bligh that they had been detained against their will. The other six were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. Two of the men – Heywood (the lone officer-class defendant) and Morrison were recommended to “his Majesty’s Royal Mercy” and was pardoned. Another, Muspratt, was also pardoned.
On the morning of October 29th, 1794 three of the mutineers – Burkett, Millward and Ellison – were hanged by the yardarm aboard the Brunswick in Portsmouth harbor. The prevailing feeling that men with patronage or connection could live, but those without were doomed.

Warning – this next section deals with sexual abuse of young girls. I won’t go into many details here, but there are links to several articles below if you would like to learn more about this, what I can only call, tragedy.

Pitcairn Islands Today and Sexual Assault Trials – Today, Pitcairn Island is the least populated national jurisdiction in the world – with only 47 permanent inhabitants (2020). The inhabitants are a biracial ethnic group descended mostly from nine Bounty mutineers and several Tahitians (six men, 11 women, and one baby girl.) Pitcairn has been the subject of multiple instances of widespread sexual assault since at least the 1950s, with the 2004 trial being the most recent. Seven men (1/3 of the island male population) faced 55 charges of sexual abuse against children. Six were found guilty of raping and indecently assaulting girls as young as 12 on the island – including the town’s mayor, Steve Christian.

One quote from an article in the Independent shows up in multiple articles, and it really encapsulates the issues:
“Supporters are arguing that the entire affair is based on a misconception. They claim, variously, that the age of consent on the island has long been 12 or 14, and say that if girls become sexually active earlier than in Western societies, it stems from their part-Polynesian ancestry and should be respected.”

The tragedy of the Mutiny on the Bounty reverberates through history and into today.

Works Cited
Ridiculous History: Breadfruit, the Bounty and the Birth of Globalization | HowStuffWorks. Accessed 08/05/22.
Captain Bligh's Cursed Breadfruit | Travel| Smithsonian Magazine. Accessed 08/05/22.
Press gangs and Royal Naval recruitment or impressment ( Accessed 08/05/22
Turner, George. Social Mobility in the Royal Navy during the Age of Sail: investigating intergenerational social mobility in the Royal Navy between 1650-1850. The London School of Economics and Political Science. Economic History Student Working Papers. No: 008. SWP-008.pdf (
The Court-Martial of the Bounty Mutineers: An Account ( Accessed 08/08/22
Pitcairn Islands - Wikipedia. Accessed 08/08/22.
Evil under the sun: The dark side of the Pitcairn Island | The Independent | The Independent. Accessed 8/8/22
6 Are Guilty in Pitcairn Island Sex Abuse Case - The New York Times ( 6 Are Guilty in Pitcairn Island Sex Abuse Case - The New York Times ( Accessed 08/08/22.
The paradise that's under a cloud | The Independent | The Independent. Accessed 08/08/22

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 44: Das Boot (1981) Wed, 14 Dec 2022 23:00:00 -0800 968ac198-cb5b-49d6-b5f0-be98c543e782 Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E44: Das Boot (1981) Rich Stephens
Minor on History, focusing on military history

[Quick Comments: Jesus! Pick a longer movie next time why don’t cha!]


Two, full size, Type VII-C U-Boat models were constructed for filming. One for the top of the sub used for above water scenes; and one a tube on a motion mount used for interior scenes. The models were built according to plans found at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. The exterior model was also used in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The Type VII U-boats were the most common type used by Germany in WWII. It is the prototypical “U-boat” most often represented in films and in the public’s perception of U-boats.

Jurgen Prochnow off-handedly references Das Boot in Beerfest when he says, “I had a bad experience once” while in a submarine (in Colorado? Very Top Secret-esque.)


*Battle of the Atlantic – Overview *

In short, Germany tried to win a war of attrition against Britain using submarines (a strategy it tried, and failed, in WW I as well.) The campaign was based on Tonnage Warfare. The German Navy’s calculations were that if 750,000 tons of British shipping could be sunk monthly, over a 12 month period, Britain would be forced to surrender. They only achieved this goal one quarter throughout the war; between April – June, 1942 with 2,213,573 tons sunk that quarter during the Second Happy Time (mostly due to U-Boats, but aircraft , mines, surface ships and other operations accounting for about a fifth of that total.)

The U-Boats were most successful in the Summer of 1940 (the First Happy Time,) after the fall of France when the German Navy could move the U-Boat fleet to French ports in Brest, Lorient, St. Nazaire and La Rochelle (the home port depicted in the film,) and Bordeaux. This put them closer to British shipping lanes and gave them immediate access to the Atlantic without having to move through choke points around the British Isles.

The Second Happy Time lasted for most of 1942 after America entered the war, and it took America awhile to realize the importance of the convoy system.

Regardless of this early success, once the United States entered the war and was able to bring its full industrial capacity to the Allied cause, the hope of ever winning a tonnage war against Britain was…ahem...sunk! Thank you, thank you.

U-Boats and Torpedo Attacks:

Submarines in WWII operated by the immutable mathematics of triangles and trigonometry.

Subs ran on the surface most of the time, only submerging below the waves (in most cases) once they had spotted an enemy (they were faster on the surface and had only limited battery power to remain submerged.)

Triangle #1 – Spotting a target: A submarine on the surface of the water only has a few feet of conning tower above the waves (roughly 15 – 20 feet.) Conversely, a larger freighter has masts and superstructure that rise a few hundred feet above the surface. As such, the submarine can see the target before the target can see the submarine. This gives the sub time to plot an intercept course and submerge.

Triangle #2 – Intercept: The submarine navigator had to determine the speed and bearing of the target, from the sub’s location, and solve for the course and speed the sub should take to arrive in a favorable position to attack.

Triangle #3 – Torpedo Gyro Angle: The hardest to solve. As WWII era torpedoes were not guided, the sub had to set a gyro angle instructing the torpedo to turn a certain degree after firing so that it intercepted and collided with the target. To accomplish this, submarines were equipped with a Torpedo Data Computer (TDC) that information such as target range, speed, angle of the bow, torpedo speed, submarine speed, etc. was entered to determine the correct torpedo gyro angle before firing. Essentially continuously solving a triangle.

Sub Pens

We see the Sub Pens – massive concrete port bunkers to house submarines and protect them from attack while in port (perhaps U-96 should have sailed into one at homecoming?) The pens at La Rochelle are still there and used by the French navy.


Several scenes depict sailors eating or sucking on lemons. This would have been to prevent scurvy, caused by a Vitamin C deficiency. Fresh fruits and vegetables are the primary source of Vitamin C, but most will not hold up for weeks at a time without rotting. Citrus fruits can be stored for weeks. We also see an officer make a “cocktail” by mixing lemon juice with milk. The acid in lemon juice would react and make the milk curdle, essentially making a form of cottage cheese.

Children’s Crusade

This is a reference to the 1212 crusade in which thousands of children follow a young boy who claims to have been visited by Jesus to embark on a crusade to convert Muslims to Christianity. Accounts vary, but they all end in disaster with the children boarding boats and then taken to Tunisia and being sold into slavey or die in a shipwreck. The young officer from Mexico who returned to Germany to fight is a “true believer’ and an idealogue.


Grand Admiral Karl Donitz was the head of the U-boat arm of the Kriegsmarine (BdU) and in 1943 the Supreme Commander of the Navy. He was a dedicated Nazi and supporter of Hitler. The influence of Nazism and Hitler had on traditional German/Prussian institutions like the Army and Navy was seen as corrupting an otherwise noble pursuit (hence the fly on his picture scene.) Donitz was officially the last leader of Nazi Germany as President of Germany from
April 30th – May 23rd 1945.

Enigma Machine

The film shows several radiograms being decoded, and it was used extensively by the Kriegsmarine. For more information, see the research for The Imitation Game, as that movie dealt with the Allies efforts to break the cipher.

Works Cited

Williams, Andrew. Battle of the Atlantic: The Allies’ Submarine Fight Against Hitler’s Gray Wolves of the Sea. 2004

High Command of the Navy. The Submarine Commander’s Handbook. 1943.

Republished by Thomas Publications. 1989
(I purchased this as a companion to the Silent Hunter video game series.)

Keegan, John. Collins Atlas of World War II. 2006.

Dan's research:


"La Rochelle, France. Autumn, 1941. Germany's vaunted U-boat fleet, with which Hitler hoped to blockade and stamp out Britain, is beginning to suffer its first major setbacks. British freighters are now sailing the Atlantic with stronger and more effective destroyer escorts, inflicting heavy losses on the U-boats. Nevertheless, the German High Command orders more and more U-boats, with ever younger crews, into battle from their ports in occupied France. The battle for control of the Atlantic is turning against the Germans. 40,000 German sailors served on U-boats during World War II. 30,000 never returned."


Germany maintained its unrestricted submarine warfare was in response to the Royal Navy's blockade, which was illegal under international law as it violated Article X of the Hague Convention of 1907.

The film, as well as the book by Lothar G. Buchheim on which it's based, are both loosely adapted from the wartime career of the Type VIIC boat U-96, and its skipper, Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock. In late 1941, Buchheim, who was then a war correspondent in the German Navy's propaganda office, joined the crew of U-96 for one tour in the Battle of the Atlantic. This tour became the basis of Buchheim's book. (In the film, the character Lt. Werner is based on Buchheim.) During the war, Capt.-Lt. Lehmann-Willenbrock ranked seventh among U-Boat skippers in terms of shipping tonnage sunk (183,223 tons on three boats, the U-5, the U-96, and the U-256). After transferring to a new skipper, the U-96 was retired on 5 February 1943, one of the few U-boats to actually survive its tour of duty in the Atlantic. Far from being killed in an air attack (as depicted in the film), Lehmann-Willenbrock survived the war, and later served as captain on various German merchant cargo ships. Lehmann-Willenbrock and Buchheim both served as technical advisers for this film (although the volatile Buchheim fell out with director Wolfgang Petersen, who refused to let the author write the script based on his book). Lehmann-Willenbrock died in Bremen in 1986. Buchheim died in Bavaria in 2007.


The screenplay was inspired in part by exploits of the real life U-96, a Type VIIC-class U-boat.
Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock, the actual captain of the real life U-96 and Hans-Joachim Krug, former first officer on U-219, served as consultants for the production of the film.


All the cast members were fluent in English and dubbed themselves for the English version.


Petersen had a fanatical obsession with regard to the structural detail of the U-boat set. He pointed out that “every screw” was an authentic facsimile of the type used in WWII U-boats.

Two full-size mock-ups of a Type VIIC boat were built, one for use in outdoor scenes, and one for the interior scenes. The mock-ups were built according to U-boat plans found in Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. The appearance of interior and exterior was duplicated as closely as possible; however, the controls were non-functioning. The outdoor mock-up was propelled with a small engine. Additionally, a mock-up of a conning tower was placed in a water tank in the studio to simulate outdoor scenes not requiring a full view of the boat's exterior. The interior mock-up was mounted 16 feet off the floor and was shaken, rocked, and tilted up to 45 degrees by means of a hydraulic apparatus. Several models of varying scales were used for exterior shots; in some cases the camera speed was altered so that the wave action and model movement matched that of a full-size U-boat in the open Atlantic. A scene near the beginning of the movie shows a long row of occupied submarine pens; to achieve this shot using the single full-scale outdoor U-boat mock-up, the model had to be set up and filmed in one pen at a time, in varying stages of loading and repair.

Three scale models were built for special effects work. The first, a 35 foot remote controlled model, could sail in high seas and dive; the other two, 18 feet and 8 feet in length, were used for underwater shots. Scale models of tankers, destroyers and other ships were also built to complete the armada.


Production of Das Boot took three years (1979-1981). Most of the filming was done over a period of one year; in order to make the appearance of the actors as realistic as possible, the scenes were filmed in sequence over the course of the year. This allowed the camera to record the growth of beards and hair, the increasing pallor of skin, and the general signs of strain which marked the faces of the actors, who had, just like real U-boat men, spent many months in a cramped, unhealthy atmosphere.

Steadicams were not yet in use during the production of the movie. In order to get the fast tracking shots through the U-boat without a shaky image, director of photography Jost Vacano created a system of heavy gyroscopes together with his father that kept the camera steady as he ran through the hallways. The set of the U-boat had intentionally been built slightly bigger to give Vacano more room to work. Even so, as he had to look through the camera, he had to wear a helmet because he would regularly bump his head.

The claustrophobic interior shots owe much of their power to the work of cinematographer and chronic Paul Verhoeven collaborator Jost Vacano. As Vacano explains in 'Das Boot Revisited', his creative goals were restrictive in nature: "the camera has to be squeezed into a tight space. And be limited in space, just like the people who are in there. The camera is not allowed to leave that space at any point. It must physically stay there." Speaking to CraveOnline, Wolfgang Petersen explains: "we thought, in the beginning, we might kill ourselves after a few weeks because it's just such a small place [but] because we shot in sequence, the actors got more and more really into it, into their part."

Klaus Wennemann, who portrays the Chief Engineer, was forty one years old when the film was produced. The actual Chief Engineer of U-96, Hans Peter Dengel, was just over twenty five during his first patrol onboard the submarine. Dengel survived the war patrol, was promoted to Captain Lieutenant in 1943, and assigned as Chief Engineer of the type IX U-boat U-543. He was killed when the boat was sunk by an allied air attack in July 1944.

Jürgen Prochnov was 38-40 during filming, while Capt.-Lt. Henrich Lehmann-Willenbrock was 30.

In order to further sell their nautical purgatory, the actors in Das Boot were discouraged from being in the sun and instructed to grow their beards out. All the foodstuffs in the submarine, which dangle abundantly in the film's opening moments, were real and began to rot over the course of production. "Disgusting but very authentic," recalls Claude-Oliver Rudolph, who plays the burly mechanic Ario, in the 2021 documentary. Prop master Peter Durst even recalls pouring heaps of cologne into the increasingly foul water in a last-ditch attempt to improve the working conditions.


The movie was shot silent because of exaggerated camera noise in the submarine interiors. All German and English dialogue had to be looped.


The picture was nominated for six Academy Awards which was at the time the highest number of Oscar nominations ever received by a foreign language film. The record has since been beaten by such films as Life Is Beautiful (1997) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).


The original TV mini-series was severely criticized in Germany for portraying World War II Germans sympathetically. When the film opened at the Los Angeles Film Festival, no one was sure how a former enemy nation would react, especially in a city with a large Jewish population. The audience applauded the opening caption saying 30,000 of 40,000 German men who went to war in submarines didn't come back. At the end, the audience gave the film a standing ovation.

Lothar G. Buchheim was incensed when he first saw the scene of one crew member dancing like some sort of tropical girl while the rest of the crew shouted out catcalls and wolf whistles. He said that no U-boat crew would ever behave in such a way.

The film was accused of exaggerating the extent to which U-Boat crewmen and officers were anti-Nazi.

In the scene in the La Rochelle bar, Otto Sander was really drunk.

The names of the Captain, Chief Engineer, 1st Watch Officer, and 2nd Watch Officer are never given.

Rutger Hauer was offered to play the Captain, but turned it down to do Blade Runner (1982).


In the depth charging after the torpedo run, the boat goes deeper and deeper until finally rivets start to 'pop'. In fact, the pressure hull of the Type VIIc boat was welded, not riveted. This was also one of the reasons the type was able to survive depths of 220 meters and beyond in the first place.

War History Online

Wolfgang Peterson comments in interview with Scott Roxborough:

We have to talk about "Das Boot," the movie that made you famous. Do you think it is still your most important film?

Oh yeah, definitely. So many directors have their one film. It's the one that changed everything for you and the one people will talk about forever. I am lucky enough that I have that film.

What was it about "Das Boot" that made it special?

First of all, I think for the world to be forced to relate to or even identify with Nazis in a submarine was quite an unusual thing, and the film managed that in the end. In the beginning, when the film was first screened in Los Angeles, it read on the screen, "Of 40,000 German submariners, 30,000 died." There was a big applause. They thought it was good that they died. At the end of the film, after two and a half hours, they all clapped and there was a standing ovation. The film turned this hostile audience around. That is a quality of the film to show that war is war and young people die for horrible reasons. And of course the film was done in a very realistic way. You really felt that war is hell - especially submarine warfare, where they felt like sardines. The claustrophobia in the film was there.
And then there's the focus we brought on these characters inside, the captain and all these people. Even in the most horrible situation, something beautiful can happen: They were brought really close together. They would die for each other. That is a good lesson that even in the worst, most horrible situation, something beautiful and human can happen. And that goes way beyond being German, American, or English. It's universal.

Buckheim’s thoughts on the film:

Info on U-96:

U-96 Patrol record:

U-boat history:

Typ VII U-boat:

Excerpts from Buccheim’s novel:

Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock’s military record:

Based on a True Story podcast episode page:

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 43: All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) Wed, 16 Nov 2022 13:15:00 -0800 94838fa4-f260-40bc-893d-4f818c6823e6 Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E43: All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) Jason Harvey
BA in History

Background to the novel and its author

The novel All Quiet on the Western Front (hereafter All Quiet, or the novel), was first published in 1929
by author Erich Maria Remarque. Remarque had been born Erich Remark in Osnabruck, Germany on
June 22, 1898(1) and was conscripted at age 18 into the 2nd Guards Reserve Division until suffering serious
shrapnel wounds on July 31, 1917.(2) He then spent the remainder of the war in an army hospital in
Germany being treated for his wounds.

After the war, Erich Remark worked at several jobs, including teaching and journalism, all while trying to
get his literary career started. He was first published (as Erich Remark) in 1920 with his novel The Dream
Room. Remark did not publish another novel until All Quiet in 1929, which he published as Erich Maria
Remarque, a tribute to his mother, as well as the original French spelling of his last name. He had
written the novel in 1927 but struggled to find a publisher. The German publication went on to sell 1.2
million copies the year it came out, and the English translation, published the same year, saw similar
success. Remarque’s novel has gone on to sell over 30 million copies worldwide since its original release.
The highly acclaimed movie was released in 1930 by Universal Pictures in the USA.

Despite this initial success and international acclaim, when the National Socialists (Nazis) came to power
in 1933 they were quick to ban the book and denounce Remarque as descended from French Jews and
claimed that he had not seen active duty in the Great War. The regime even went so far as to publicly
burn his books.(3) Remarque had already left Germany for Switzerland by this time, and in 1928 the Nazis
revoked his German citizenship. In 1939 Remarque and his wife moved to America, becoming
naturalized citizens in 1947.(4)

One particularly sad note from the Nazi era was that Remarque’s sisters stayed in Germany, and in 1943
his sister Elfriede was arrested for “undermining morale.” After a short trial she was found guilty and
executed, with the judge noting that since her brother was beyond their reach, she could not escape.
The cost of her trial and execution was billed to their other sister, Erna by the German state.(5)

All Quiet on the Western Front: the novel

All Quiet as a novel was written in the sparse, straightforward prose of the time that shares space with
writers such as Hemingway and Dos Passos. This is not surprising as all three served in the Great War,
and their struggle to come to terms with their experiences is reflected in their writings. Not afraid to
confront human needs and frailties, such as soiling one’s pants during the first barrage, makes All Quiet
both very real, and markedly different from novels written prior to this time.

The novel begins in medias res and plops the reader down in the rear of the front with our protagonist
Paul Baumer and his unit having just returned from the lines where they were pummeled by the enemy.
The unit is much depleted, but the cooks won’t feed them until the other half of the company appears
as seen with this exchange "They won't be fed by you to-day. They're either in the dressing-station or
pushing up daisies. The cook was quite disconcerted as the facts dawned on him. He was staggered.
"And I have cooked for one hundred and fifty men--".(6) It finally takes a passing officer to tell the cooks
that this is it, the men before them are all that remains. The men are finally fed, and each received
double rations (their own, plus those due the men who aren’t returning). With his opening, the reader is
immediately shown the harsh reality of the war, as well as the pettiness of army rules. I was reminded of
this scene when I read Catch-22 for the first time.

Remarque leads the reader down a path of contrasting scenes. We see the harsh reality of the war:
being nearly buried alive in a bunker during a barrage, an explanation of the utility of a trenching shovel
in hand-to-hand fighting, and the terror of being gassed. These compare with flashbacks to the boys’
enthusiasm at enlisting, their training under a petty little martinet, and the unease felt at returning
home on leave where everything is the same as it was before, except that Paul has changed completely.

Paul progresses through the war, becoming ever more disillusioned with the army and their chances of
surviving. Each lost friend is another step closer to his own death, finally culminating in the death of his
father figure Kat, despite Paul’s best efforts to get him to an aid station. With that death, Paul resigns
himself to the inevitable.

The final scene, of Paul basking in the serenity of the front, despite the destruction that lays all around,
is the ultimate contrast to his own death, peaceful though it may be. The final postscript that, “He fell in
October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined
itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front. He had fallen forward and lay on the earth
as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an
expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come”(7) echoes in the mind of the reader and
drive home the point that even the quietest days of war still have their casualties.

A comparison of the novel and the 1930 film

The film begins with the opening bookend quote found in the novel stating, “This book is to be neither
an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who
stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may
have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.”(8)

The opening scene, however, immediately marks the film out as different from the novel. Perhaps it is
harder to tell the story visually through the flashbacks in the novel, but it is jarring to open on an old
couple commenting on the crowds outside while cleaning, and the audience sees through their windows
and then open door the marching soldiers and crowds waving them off ecstatically in the streets.

The viewer then follows the marching troops to the school where Paul and his classmates are lectured
by their professor on the role of them as young men, the “iron men of Germany”, to enlist and fight for
the Fatherland. The professor then offers the rather trope line of Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori
(it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country). This is not in the novel and is perhaps a nod to the
audience of the day that may have been familiar with the poem Dulce et Decorum Est, by Wilfred Owen,
a British soldier and war poet in the Great War.

The entire class ends up in the same training barracks and later in the same unit in the film, in contrast
to the novel where they are parceled out to different units so that it is only a small number of boys from
the class that end up together. The boys are also depicted to know Himmelstoss, their training sergeant,
having been their postman prior to the war. While his pre-war career was discussed in the novel, the
boys have no prior relationship to him in the original writing.

We are introduced to the Company they will serve with when it is behind the lines, and we meet several
older men, experienced veterans, including Tjaden. Kat is mentioned as being out scrounging for food,
which establishes his primary trait from the novel. Kat returns with a whole butchered pig, not
mentioned in the novel, unless the film conflated the suckling pig’s vignette from the book, and
immediately makes the new recruits pay him for the food. While eating, an officer arrives and orders
them to send out a wiring party.

This contrasts with the novel where we meet Paul and the others after they have been together for
some time, and they have an easy rhythm of jokes and a comfort with each other’s lives. The wiring
party also occurs later in the novel when the men have some experience with the front. The thick gloves
Paul mentions in the novel to grab the bundles of wire are missing in the movie, but the film does a
good job depicting the parachute flares sent up by the enemy.

The film is at the 37-minute mark when we first experience an artillery barrage, and it is shown well with
the men in a bunker suffering a long bombardment. As the novel tells us, “The first bombardment
showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces.”(9) One soldier
is shown to grow hysterical and must be beaten into submission, as depicted in the novel as well. The
film audience is also introduced to rats for the first time. The rats here are show as a nuisance, not at all
like the ever-present menace in the book. The book also goes into much more detail about their rat
hunting parties, and the dangers they posed to cats and even dogs brought into the trenches. It is here
during the barrage that Kemmerich is wounded, an act that has already happened when the novel opens.

The bombardment ends with an attack by the French. Paul and the others have left the dugout to find
their trenches in tatters, a good detail for the film to show. The French slowly emerge from the haze and
smoke and at a run attack the German lines. It seems like the film was sped up in many of the fighting
sequences, which adds a sense of urgency to the scenes. When the Germans break and fall back, their
system of defense in depth is well depicted as they move into reserve trenches. I did notice one German
soldier grabbing an MG-08 by the barrel with bare hands though...

After beating the French attacks off from the reserve lines, the Germans counterattack. They rush
forward and several are shown leaping over their own front line of trenches in pursuit. The lack of
parados and narrowness of the trenches stand out as inauthentic. Several Germans get into the French
lines, but the counterattack is checked, and the German troops fall back to their original lines. Here the
film follows the novel and shows the troops falling into their trenches exhausted, too tired to even eat
the bread and tins of meat they had stolen from the French.

It is here, at the 50-minute mark, that we get to the scene that opens the novel at the cookhouse, with
Paul and his mates, the 80 left in their company, lined up for food made for a company of 150 men.
Here again the film depicts Paul as a leader of his group, speaking up to the cook and even the officer. In
the novel he is much more of a passive narrator, and lets others take the lead.

After Kemmerich’s death we quickly move into the introduction of Himmelstoss at the front where he
tries, and fails, to order the now veteran soldiers about. They refuse and nothing seems to come of it as
they immediately go on the attack where Paul witnesses Himmelstoss cowering in a shell hole. The
movie does correctly show the change that comes over Himmelstoss once he is ordered to advance and
attack, and he leaps out of the hole and runs forward. The film then quickly moves into a sequence
where Paul is forced to take cover in a graveyard among the dead. This is somewhat jarring to a fan of
the novel and appears as thought the film makers are trying to quickly jam several notable scenes from
the novel into the movie. This is compounded by the next sequence showing Paul leaving the graveyard
only to find shelter in a shell hole where he meets, and stabs, a French soldier.

This meeting between the two is a pivotal part of the novel, but the film portrays it at the end of a long
sequence of action that makes it feel anticlimactic. We see the French soldier slowly dying, and Paul
alternating between hating him, and pleading with him to live, as depicted in the novel, “But now, for
the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your
rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too
late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as
ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony--Forgive me,
comrade; how could you be my enemy?”(10) The acting is effective in this sequence, but it would have
held more weight for the audience if it had not been depicted as the bookend to a long series of action

We are three quarters through the film when we are introduced to the three French girls that come
upon the men while they are bathing in the river. This interaction follows quite closely to the novel,
although depicted quite a bit later. The film is clearly made pre-code as we see the women bartering for
food and later in the scene quite obviously sleeping with the men.

The final thirty minutes of the film gains momentum and we see Paul wounded and sent to the hospital.
While there are some discrepancies from the novel, for instance it is not Paul sent to the ‘dying room’ in
the novel, the overall depiction on their treatment is quite good. Paul then goes on leave, something
that occurs much earlier in the novel. Here Paul sees that his mother is dying of cancer. He also spends
time in the beer garden being lectured by the older men about how the war should be fought. Here the
film does a good job showing the unease Paul feels trying to relate to civilians, and the disconnect
between their views of the war, as Paul asks in the novel, “What is leave? – a pause that only makes
everything after it so much worse.”(11)

By the time Paul returns to the front he is one of the only veterans left. He sees no familiar faces at first,
until Tjaden shows up, and to Paul’s relief tells him that Kat is out foraging for food. He runs to meet Kat,
and here is the climax of the subplot of the novel focused on soldierly comradery. Kat is wounded and
Paul must carry him to the aid station. While the novel slowly spools out their journey and builds the
tension as they talk and stop to rest occasionally, the film has Paul arriving at the aid station to find that
Kat has died while he carried him.

The final scene of the movie shows a lonely, dejected Paul manning a rifle slit in the trenches when he
notices something just beyond the sandbags. As he reaches for the butterfly that has landed, a shot
rings out and his hand goes limp.

The film is missing the final postscript of the novel, “He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet
and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the
Western Front. He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw
that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end
had come.”(12)

What is missing from the film?
In addition to the missing postscript, there are several other key scenes or moments from
the novel that are missing in the film.

  1. The death of the horses, which was omnipresent in the war, and noted in the book with:

“The cries continued. It is not men, they could not cry so terribly.”

“Wounded horses.” says Kat.

It's unendurable. It is the moaning of the world, it is the martyred creation, wild with anguish,
filled with terror, and groaning. (13)

  1. The absence of gas. Again, this was an ever-present threat in the war once Germany introduced
    it in April 1915 with their attack on Canadian and French North African troops during the 2nd
    Battle of Ypres. The book notes how the men died of gas, "choke to death with hemorrhages
    and suffocation."(14)

  2. The novel shows Paul scrounging for food with Kat and coming across some geese. This brings
    some lighthearted scenes and shows that the soldiers were resourceful and took whatever
    chance they could to eat well.

  3. Similarly in the film we don’t see Paul and his mates get put in charge of guarding a supply
    dump. The novel spends a good amount of time showing the men setting up comfortable living
    quarters, eating well, and sharing their largess with passing troops. When they are finally forced
    to leave by the retreating of the German army, their sadness marks another turn in the war for
    the men.

  4. Remarque depicts, in several scenes in the novel, the standard outdoor toilet scenario in the
    army. Rows of men squatting in outdoor privies with no doors or screens so that they may all be
    viewed at once by officers. He even describes movable toilet boxes in the field that Paul and his
    friends move into a circle so that they may commune with nature and each other at the same
    time. Remarque writes “...we have learned better than to be shy about such trifling
    immodesties. In time things far worse than that came easy to us.”(15)
    Of course, this would be difficult to show in a film made at that time, but by leaving it out we miss
    the statement such scenes make on how the army and war breaks down individuals to base functions
    and recreates them all as equals.


(6) Page 3 of the online version found at
ERICH MARIA REMARQUE - All Quiet on the Western Front - Translated from the German by A. W. WHEEN FAWCETT CREST
(7) Page 140 of the edition noted above.
(8) Page 1 of the above noted edition.
(9) Page 7, ibid.
(10) Page 106, ibid
(11) Page 84, ibid.
(12) Page 140, ibid.
(13) Page 30, ibid.
(14) Page 62, ibid.
(15) Page 5, ibid.

Jim Randall
Navy Veteran, WWII enthusiast

The novel vs the 1930 film

Comparing the novel to the first film version, here’s my take. The
secreenplay sticks to the novel pretty closely. All the vignettes covered in the
novel are in the film. Maybe not in the same order, or exactly the same but
still demonstrating what I think Remarque was getting at: That war ruined a
whole generation of boys (for example Adolf Hitler) to no one’s ultimate
benefit. Paul’s inner thoughts as expressed many times was hopelessness.
As the novel wore on Paul became convinced that he could never go back to
his old life. When he was on leave at home he felt out of place and isolated.
Often soldiers during war feel out of place on leave and would just as soon
want to go back to their unit no matter what kind of st storm awaited them.
As time passed Paul came to accept he wasn’t going to survive.In the final
scene of the movie he’s reaching out to capture a butterfly. In the novel “He
fell in October 1918...All Quiet on the Western Front...Turning him over one
saw...his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had

In the beginning, even after the baptism of fire, there were moments
of levity: “Kropp proposes a declaration of war should be a kind of popular
festival with tickets and bands... Then in the arena the ministers and
generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing- drawers and armed with
clubs, can have it out among themselves. Whoever wins, his country wins.”
In the film, Kat proposes this but propose a cow pasture.

Then there is the episode where three of them sneak over to have a
date with three French girls. Well done in the movie. The movie precedes
the censorhip era, I suppose.

There is plenty of combat in both versions. The senseless slaughter
of WWI was fathfully portrayed. Especially gruesome is the scene with the
French soldier who Paul stabs. The poor man takes a long time to die. Paul
is trapped with him for a day. He harbors a lot of guilt. He promises to write to
his wife. In the novel, he obsesses over it for a few days then forgets it.
Better to concentrate on surviving. The death was faithfully captured in the

The anti-war message is clear in this scene when Paul is on leave: “
After I have been startled a couple of times in the street by the screaming of
the tramcars, which resembles the shriek of a shell coming straight for one,
somebody taps me on the shoulder. It is my German-master, he fastens on
me with the usual “how are things out there?” Then the school master says
“But first you have to give the Froggies a good hiding.” It’s maybe 3 years in
to it and these civilians think one more breakthrough will give Germany
victory. He tries to explain the reality but they won’t have it. No wonder he
wants to escape his home town.

Apparrently Paul and his comrades arrive in 1914 and are at the
front through 1918. The first part they wear picklehaube then we see them in
coal shuttles. Over that period all of Paul’s comrades fall until he remains. He
must have felt alone.

Now for some opionating: This was a very popular anti-war film. It
didn’t glorify war or celebrate it. It was rather stark, unforgiving. We need
more of these. New ones. Something like “Thin Red Line” or “the
Deerhunter.” “Private Ryan” or “Platoon” celebrate war too much in my
opinion. I mean it’s great to see the good guys win but if twenty years of war
in Afganistan have reinforced for me one thing: it’s the futility of war no
matter how the politicians try to justify it. Especially now that the chicken-
hawks are ginning up a bigger war in Ukraine.

Ben Curley
History enthusiast

What we know of the real history behind the book and Remarque's military service

For much of the greater context of WW1 on the Western Front you can see my write up from 1917. As
for the specifics of what is going on in the context of All Quiet on the Western Front we are left with
some generalities. No specific battles or locations are mentioned in the book, this is a specific attempt
by the author Erich Maria Remarque to make the book not about his specific experiences but a general
“this is the war WE experienced as soldiers” for the people who served in the German Army as a whole.

Remarque was an aspiring writer at the time of WW1 and so we can easily imagine him as every “writer”
character from an ensemble war film. The guy on the squad who’s always talking about how they are
going to take these experiences and turn them into a great novel. The important part is that’s what he
did when creating an absolute masterpiece of literature. If you are wondering if you can make an anti-
war war novel this is a great example. The keys of what he is trying to convey are the horrors of this
new modern warfare. In Germany at the time of WW1 they were not unfamiliar with being at war. It
was a country that had to go to war for its own existence in The Franco-Prussian war and between that
war in 1870 and WW1 was involved in 12 other wars. The speeches of the teacher in the book were
things that Remarque would have experienced. German had won an important war against France
during recent memory, and since then not lost a war they had been involved in. So when our stand in
for Remarque, Paul Baumer, experiences the juxtaposition of the nationalist themes he was being fed
against the realities of modern trench warfare he is revealing the same experiences that he and other
young Germans were feeling.

Remarque was surrounded by a host of young quickly disaffected men, who rapidly learned that love of
country wont protect you from an artillery shell, that killing a man takes something from you, and that
there are few things that can take the place of being fed. Unlike Baumer who volunteered, Remarque
was drafted into the German Army in 1916 as he turned 18. We know his unit, the 2nd Guards Reserve
Division of the German Empire, was on the Western Front for the entirety of the war taking part in the
First Battle of the Marne in 1914 and the battle of the Somme in 1916 which Remarque would have
arrived at the very end of. In 1917 they took part in the battle of Arras. We know he took part in the
Battle of Passchendaele (The Third Battle of Ypres), a battle famous on the Allied side of the war for its
absolute brutality and incredible loss of life (more Germans died in just the battle of Passchendaele than
in all other German wars since its unification combined). Remarque was wounded by artillery at
Passchendaele (one of the five times he was wounded during his years of service) during July right at the
very beginning of that over three month long battle and was sent back to Germany to covalence.

The German Army, as opposed to the Entente forces, did not rotate out units as the war went on. So
Remarque’s experience would have been to join soldiers who had already been fighting for as long as
they had been in service as the unit had been in action for 2 years already. They would have been
constantly under combat conditions for the entirety of their service. Men who had been serving under
the Schlieffen Plan to invade France via Belgium and The Netherlands would then find themselves
constantly serving until they were now experiencing the horrors of trench warfare for years on end.

This time of convalescence is mirrored in the book with Baumer’s return home. The experiences of the
German soldiers are ignored or deflected by the people back home because he “doesn’t see the whole
picture” and while Baumer is happy to get back to the front, where he then sadly meets his fate,
Remarque was forced to remain. Surrounded by people who could not, or would not, try to understand
his experiences. Remarque was briefly recalled to service in October of 1918, shortly before the war
ended. He then went on to finish his education, briefly becoming a teacher before his writing career
found success. Unfortunately his works were not welcome when the Nazis rose to power, with a
showing of the film version of the book sabotaged by a Nazi riot organized by Joseph Goebbels. Once
again Remarque was left in a world where the truth of the horrors of war was detrimental to the
narrative of nationalism and therefore subversive.

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 42: The Hunt for Red October Thu, 20 Oct 2022 10:00:00 -0700 cfa020d0-8f69-453f-897d-4e795e3cbbaf Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E42: The Hunt for Red October Alistair Pitts
Russian film expert, Host of Russophiles Unite! A Russian & Soviet Film Podcast

Krasny Oktyabr – Red October (3 mins?)

One of my few gripes with the script is that it has Alec Baldwin’s Jack Ryan explain that the
eponymous nuclear sub is named after the second of Russia’s two revolutions of 1917 to a roomful
of military top brass. I find it extremely hard to believe that a savvy chap like Ryan would think that
Cold War-era Situation Room types would be in the dark about the name’s derivation. That said,
maybe he’s just supposed to be a patronising jerk; after all, a few minutes before this we witnessed
him attempting to enlighten a flight attendant on the mysteries of turbulence. 4

It’s probably more charitable to write both instances of Ryansplaining off as being for the audience’s
benefit. I suppose long distance air travel was something a smaller proportion of American movie-
goers would have been familiar with in 1990. Anyway, as a name in itself Red October is very

To this day, one of Russia’s leading confectionary brands is Red October and it’s no coincidence that
the only subway station in Moscow named after a month is Oktyabrskaya. Red October or just
October was a solid choice for naming anything in the Communist era, that or Vostok (East). The
problem with naming things after people was that you usually had to wait till they were safely dead,
and therefore probably beyond finding themselves in the General Secretary’s bad books.

Place and institution names, the hammer and sickle emblem, and Lenin statues are the most obvious
examples of the legacy of communism in present-day Russia.

As for the title card itself, I really don’t understand what happened here. The first word, Красный
, is fine, but then we get three letters into Октябр (Oktyabr) and the designer decided that
actual Cyrillic letters didn’t look cool enough and just went for some strange pseudo-Russian
characters instead of the real thing. It’s weird and pointless and I don’t get it. Fortunately, this is one
minor detail in an otherwise very well constructed movie.

17 min There’s been a dreadful accident

The Hunt for Red October features not one but two significant tea spillages, which gives the props
department the chance to demonstrate admirable attention to detail. You might have spotted the
slightly unusual drinking vessels that consist of a glass mounted inside a metal base with a handle.
The bottom part is a podstakannik, literally an ‘under drinking glass thing’. While not super common
in my experience, they seemed to be a fixture on long distance trains. Traditionally, they would
often be elaborately decorated, and would make a cool present for any tea drinkers in your life, if
they weren’t quite so expensive.

As far as the beverage itself goes, unlike the British and Irish, Russians typically won’t allow milk
anywhere near their tea. They will often drink it with sugar and or lemon, and sometimes with
honey, or even with a spoonful or three of strawberry or raspberry jam.

27 mins – Let them sing!

What better way to celebrate embarking on a perilous mission for the Motherland than by bursting
into song? As you’ll have guessed, the ditty the Red October’s crew are belting out is the Soviet
national anthem.

An existing tune by Alexander Alexandrov was joined by lyrics by poet Sergei Mikhalkov to replace
the Internationale as the Soviet Union’s official song. There’s a cinematic connection here;
Mikhalkov had two sons, Nikita Mikhalkov, who directed Julia Ormond and the OG Dumbledore and
Duck of Death himself, RIchard Harris, in The Barber of Siberia 1 , and Andrei Konchalovsky, who
directed, um, Tango & Cash 2 .

In the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union a different song was used as Russia’s national
anthem, but following Boris Yeltsin’s resignation from the presidency, Alexandrov’s tune was
brought out of retirement and kitted out with revised non-communist lyrics and continues to be
used as the Russian national anthem. And it’s a very stirring tune. I’m British, and it’s fairly difficult
to get excited about the plodding, stately dirge that is God Save the Queen! so I will admit I’m quite
jealous of the Russians tune-wise, it’s just a shame about the connotations...

1hr 15mins – Montana or Arizona? Why not both? 3

At this point, two of the Soviet officers talk about what they plan to do with if they make it to
America. They discuss where they will live and one of them says he’d like to divide his time between
Montana and Arizona–if that’s even allowed. This statement reflects the fact that in the Soviet Union
restrictions on citizens’ freedom of movement were not limited to travel outside of the country.
Movement within the borders of the USSR was also strictly controlled and all citizens were obliged to
carry a rather paradoxical sounding ‘internal passport’.
Many population centres, such as Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod once more), were ‘closed cities’ and
were completely off limits to foreign visitors. This meant that Soviet citizens who fell out of favour
with the regime, such as nuclear physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov could be sent into ‘internal
exile’ to one of these cities to keep them out of reach of western journalists.
Most of that has gone away since the USSR collapsed. There are still a small number of closed cities,
and Russians are still issued internal passports although they can now live almost anywhere they
want to.
One remnant of the old system still in place when I lived there was that as a foreigner, I was
supposed to re-register if I visited another town for more than a couple of nights, although the time
allowed before being required to inform the local authorities (in reality, your hostel or hotel would
handle this on your behalf) increased during my time over there.

1 Mikhalkov also directed Burnt by the Sun, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film the same year
that Forrest Gump won Best Picture. Although massively talented, he is now a pro-Putin dingbat.
2 To be fair to Konchalovsky, he’s directed plenty of well-regarded films too.
3 Many thanks to Tanya Lukyanova for her input on this section.
4 Mike DeAngelo had some commentary in our facebook group on Jack Ryan's background with flying/turbulence that sheds a little light on this:

There is a reason why Jack Ryan was explaining turbulence.

Jack Ryan graduated from Annapolis. During his time as a brand new 2nd Lieutenant in the Marine Corps he was in a severe helicopter crash. He had a broken back and was hospitalized for many months. Then he had to wean himself off of opiates for several more months. He was early retired from the Marine Corps because he had a bad back.

There is nothing that scares Jack Ryan more than flying. So he isn't so much explaining to the stewardess that it is just turbulence. He is trying to calm himself by saying it aloud. He also doesn't want to take any sedatives because he doesn't know what will trigger his opiate addiction. And kicking that was incredibly painful. Opiates block the pain receptors. Kicking opiates causes those pain receptors to be triggered even when they shouldn't be. It can be terribly painful.

Jack Shows up on the carrier in a naval officer uniform. He apologizes and says it was Admiral Greer's idea of keeping a low profile. The captain makes some snide comment to Fred Thompson (Admiral Painter) about him wearing that uniform. Admiral Painter says that the captain should notice his Annapolis class ring, and that he had been in a helicopter crash while in service. Admiral Painter suggests that the captain should cut him some slack.

This background on Jack adds more to the character when he has to ride the helicopter out in the storm to meet with the Dallas. Commercial flights are bad. Riding the Grumman C-2 Greyhound underway replenishment aircraft out to the carrier is worse. Now he is in abject terror being in a helicopter.

Here is the rest of Mike's research:

Sail vs Conning Tower:

The tower on the top of most submarines could be called a conning tower, or it could be called a sail. I don’t recall which is which, but the difference is whether the structure is water tight or whether it is flooded when the submarine submerges. It is something that submarine pedants get upset about. Kind of like gun people with a clip vs a magazine. I recommend acknowledging it then saying that the difference isn’t material to the rest of the discussion.

The Nuclear Triad:
During the Cold War peace was maintained through deterrence. Nuclear bombers were vulnerable to fighter interceptors and SAMs (Surface to Air Missiles). An adversary with sufficient air defenses might be willing to risk a war, counting on their ability to shoot down most of the bombers.

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) were essentially invulnerable to intercept in flight until very recently, so they complemented the bomber forces. Additionally, bombers would take several hours to reach their targets. There was no risk of a surprise attack from a bomber force. But ICBMs can reach their targets in under 30 minutes, so they might be able to achieve surprise.

But ICBMs are launched from a limited set of prepared locations. The US exclusively used hardened silos. These were monitored and mapped by Soviet intelligence. The Soviets used a combination of hardened silos and truck or train mounted ICBMs. China and Russia still rely on truck mounted ICBMs. The launch sites for these mobile launchers still need to be prepared ahead of time. So the US maps the locations of silos and also pre-prepared launcher locations.

This reliance on known locations is a vulnerability. A surprise first strike might destroy the ICBMs on the ground before they can be launched. The idea of directly hitting a missile silo drove the increase in accuracy of these weapons over time.

It also drove the downsizing of weapons. A 500 megaton nuclear weapon might be useful for taking out a city. But missile silos are deployed in fields where they are relatively close together. Because the silos are hardened, it takes a near direct hit to disable the missile. A hit 200 meters away will not disable the ICBM in the silo. But a 500 megaton weapon might be so powerful that it actually destroys the weapons aimed at the silos 1000 meters away. So in order to take out an ICBM silo, the military wants not a 500 megaton weapon, but a very accurate 80 kiloton weapon. That weapon, placed directly on the silo, might take out that ICBM without interfering with another weapon targeting a nearby silo. The weapons used in the 1980s and now are much smaller in yield than the weapons from the 1950s and 1960s.

As ICBMs became more vulnerable, the submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) became important. A nuclear submarine equipped with 20 SLBMs can hide in the vast ocean. They are extremely difficult to destroy, so they almost guarantee that a surprise first strike cannot be effective enough to make a war worth it.

The removal of the first strike scenario means that the SLBM increases the stability of the deterrence system. A perceived incoming first strike by one’s enemy forces one to launch an ICBM counter attack before the ICBMs are destroyed on the ground. There is a very short period of time to determine whether the inbound attack is real and respond properly. The ticking clock is a great risk. The SLBM hiding in the ocean can respond a week later, a month later. There is no rush.

The counter to this is the fast attack submarine. These are the hunters in the ocean. They are trying to find the missile subs - the so called boomers. But the ocean is huge.

These three weapons - the bomber, the ICBM, and the SLBM - make up the nuclear triad.

Finding Nuclear Subs:

Nuclear subs are very difficult to make silent. The problem is that the nuclear power plant, even when turned off, is generating a lot of waste heat. The nuclear reaction produces lots of different radioactive isotopes. These isotopes naturally decay, some in milliseconds, some over a period of years, and some in between. This nuclear decay generates heat. If the heat gets too much it will damage the power plant.

Consequently, pumps to circulate coolant have to be running all the time. Even when the submarine is running as silent as possible these pumps need to run. And the pumps will generate some vibration and noise.

Non-nuclear submarines can actually be more silent than nuclear subs. They don’t need cooling pumps. But they have limited range and endurance. A modern diesel electric sub with air independent propulsion might be able to stay submerged for two weeks at its slowest speeds before surfacing for air. But nuclear subs regularly stay submerged for 6 month patrols, while using lots of power. They literally leave port, get safely out to sea, submerge, and don’t surface again until they return to port 6 months later. They might travel at 30 knots for significant time while doing that. A modern diesel electric sub might be able to travel at 30 knots for a few hours before they need to surface.

The US and the West in general took the approach of making boomers as silent as possible. They refine the design of the pumps, for example, to make them as vibration free as possible. The west was generally developing very precise manufacturing methods that allowed, for example, ball bearings to be made extremely round so they don’t introduce vibration.

The Soviet Union did not have the same manufacturing capability. So they could never make their submarines quiet enough. The US and NATO set up lines of sonar sensors on the bottom of the ocean from Canada to Greenland to Iceland to the UK and then to Scandinavia. Soviet subs could not make it into the Atlantic without being detected. Once they were detected a hunter submarine would be assigned to follow it. In case of war, this hunter sub would try to sink the Soviet boomer before they launched their missiles.

The process of launching missiles is very noisy. Sound travels very far in the ocean. When a boomer opens the launch doors everyone in a thousand miles knows about it. Opening the launch doors is also potentially seen as a hostile act. The western navies and the Soviet navy would have back channel talks and make sure that the other side knows ahead of time about tests and exercises. They would agree on rules about how to do these things. If a boomer opens their missile launch doors without following these protocols, the hunter submarine will assume they are about to launch and sink the boomer.

Over time, the Soviets stopped using the Atlantic to hide their boomers. Instead they adjusted to using bastions in the Arctic Ocean. The surface fleet in Murmansk would use active sonar to flush out any western submarines, then they would create a box where the boomer could hide free of hunter subs.

In addition, the Soviet subs would hide under the Arctic pack ice. The ice is not perfectly solid, but is made of plates that are constantly crashing together or rubbing along each other. That all makes a lot of noise. Soviet subs could hide under the ice packs very effectively. Soviet subs were built with lots of reserve buoyancy. The conning towers and control surfaces of Soviet subs were built with reinforcement. The buoyancy and construction yields a boat designed to be able to bust through the ice.

Mike’s Problem With The Movie:

The Soviets had a workable solution to hiding their boomers. They didn’t need to invest in a new innovative propulsion system because their cooling pumps could still be heard by the sonar of western hunters. It doesn’t make sense to build the “Red October”.

If the Soviets had made an advance like this, they would have used it to build hunter submarines that might be able to pursue American, UK, and French boomers. That is the capability they were lacking.

Hunter submarines are normally smaller, and they would have been able to use smaller circulation pumps for the nuclear reactor. They would have had an easier time building a quieter boat. The underlying premise of the movie is flawed.

Richard Stephens
Minor in History, focusing on military history

Glossary: All branches of every military have their own jargon. The US Navy takes it a step farther and
has their own next level of jargon and tradition. The submarine service adds yet another layer of jargon.
As such, I think it may help to include a list of US Submarine terms.

Boat – Submarines are referred to as “boats” instead of ships. Early submarines were smaller
vessels and did not meet the size requirement to be called ‘ships.’

Boomer – A ballistic missile submarine. Capable of launching long range ballistic (and nuclear
armed) missiles. During the cold war these were Typhoon class (Soviet, NATO reporting name)
and Ohio class (U.S.) submarines.

Fast Attack – non ballistic missile subs. Used to “hunt” (i.e. tail and observe in most cases) other
subs, surface ships and for recon and other clandestine missions. Akula (Soviet, NATO reporting
name) and Los Angeles (U.S.) in this time period.

SSBN – Ship, Submersible, Ballistic, Nuclear.

Active Sonar and “Ping” – A pulse of sound sent from one ship (surface or submarine) that
creates an echo reflection of anything it hits, which the sending ship/boat can listen for and
determine an accurate range. Analogous to radar for aircraft.

Passive Sonar – Sonar that detects the source of a sound or noise and determines the bearing to
the source. Over time, a database of known sounds produced by different types of ships
allowed for the identification of another vessel by passive sonar.

Screws – Propellors

Baffles – Area of wake behind a vessel where passive sonar is “blind” due to the need to insulate
the sonar from cavitation caused by the screws (else all the passive sonar would hear is it’s own
ship.) Due to this blind spot, towed sonar arrays – far enough behind the screws – allows for a
vessel to monitor sonar from all directions.

SOSUS – Sound Surveillance System. Passive SONAR array stations placed in areas to monitor
for Soviet submarines.

GIUK Gap – Choke Point to the North Atlantic formed by Greenland, Iceland, United Kingdom. Any
Soviet ship operating out of the North Fleet HQ in Murmansk (or any other Baltic or Barents Sea
locations) would need to pass through this gap to enter the greater Atlantic. Monitored by SOSUS
throughout the cold war.

Roderick-verse trivia - John has claimed on multiple shows/occasions that, “the history of Europe is
just Russia needing a warm water port to access the Atlantic.” (a statement that’s not entirely without

Carrier Air Ops Lingo – When Ryan lands on the carrier USS Enterprise he is introduced to the Admiral,
and there is a brief exchange between ‘Charlie’ (the XO?) and the Admiral.

“That Hawkeye from Weymouth Trap?” “4-wire, caught a gust over the fantail.” This refers to an E-2
Hawkeye tactical airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft (AWACS in common parlance) landing –
“trapping” - on the carrier. The planes arresting hook caught the last of four wires strung across the
deck to stop the plane (catching the 3 rd wire is the most preferable.) Charlie explains that a gust of wind
coming off the fantail – small deck at the stern of a carrier - is the reason for the “4 wire.”

Laurentian Fan or Laurentian Abyss – An actual underwater valley off the coast of Canada, about 19,685
feet deep (3.7 miles.) For context, the Marianas Trench is about 36,000 feet.

Selected Works:

Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage. Sontag and Drew. 2016
Commander’s Handbook. High Command of the German Navy.

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 41: Mister Roberts Sat, 08 Oct 2022 08:00:00 -0700 9007c39b-b9fb-470d-8e44-912cd5e27100 Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E41: Mister Roberts Dave Feldmann
Undergrad and unofficial medievalist, current practitioner of Historical European Martial Arts.

Mister Roberts is a movie based on a play that was based on a book called Mister Roberts, written by Thomas Heggen. I’m one of the only people I know who has read it, and my dad owned the book in one of its original printings in 1946. The movie shaves some of the bawdy stuff from the novel but keeps the episodic and comic nature intact.

Both the book and the movie are highly autobiographical. Thomas Heggen performed cargo duty during World War Two in the Caribbean and the Pacific, and frequently butted heads with his commanding officer, Herbert Ezra Randal, a Naval Reservist and former Merchant Marine officer. Like the fictional Mister Roberts, Heggen felt a personal call to participate in the war against fascism, and frequently requested transfers to combat duty, all of which were declined. Out of frustration, Heggen wrote vignettes of his experiences, collected them after the war, and the result was the novel Mister Roberts.

The novel was a literary sensation upon release, selling over a million copies and making Heggen famous, something he was not prepared for ultimately. Divorced following the publishing of his novel, and unable to complete a second book, Heggen descended into alcoholism and drug abuse. He died in 1949, drowning in his bathtub after taking sleeping pills -- friends argued that the death was an accident, whereas the authorities ruled it a possible suicide.

The historical context is incredibly interesting. The Allied war effort required gigantic logistics and supply, and the vast majority of those who served performed logistics duties of one kind or another. Thousands of Liberty ships like the USS Reluctant delivered munitions, troops, food and all other war material to the various theaters of the war. It should be noted that while not glamorous, the obsession with proper supply was one of the key advantages that the Allies had over the Axis. (Half of all Tiger tanks, for example, broke down and were abandoned due to a lack of spare parts.)

In the Pacific theater, the Japanese had conquered a vast territorial area with the intent of forcing the Allies to fight a grueling war of attrition. Japanese soldiers and Marines were ultimately isolated throughout the South Pacific on island strongholds that could not be re-supplied. For the Allies, the common ratio is that ten men would be needed to keep one man fighting in the field. Whereas Allied soldiers, sailors, and Marines faced monotony, boredom, poor food, and little female company, Japanese soldiers were in a far more existential struggle. Starvation and disease followed the Japanese on every front, and even cannibalism was reported in New Guinea and Burma.

So the bored, miserable guys in Liberty ships delivering toilet paper very much won the war.

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 40: Apocalypse Now Fri, 16 Sep 2022 16:00:00 -0700 021e5e29-4761-4452-85a4-beae7aac7ef3 Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E40: Apocalypse Now Jim Randall
Navy Veteran, WWII enthusiast

The Brown Water Navy

The movie features a non-human character: the boat, a Patrol Boat Riverine, that the crew takes
up-river. I was a young sailor in 1968. My ship was stationed for a time off Vung Tau resupplying
the brown water navy. I went on several short patrols on a PBR that needed someone to man the
50, a skill I had acquired. We rarely had to fire a shot. We patrolled the shorelines and searched
sampans during daylight. Going out at night was left to the crazies. At that point the Navy and
Army had chased the VC into the deep swamps.

The boat in the movie was a Mark II and had the twin 50s in the bow and a M60 aft. Several boo-
boos involve the boat, such as they had one boat gutted to lighten it so a Huey could lift it. In the
scene when the Huey was carrying the boat when it gets dropped from quite high. When it hits
the water you can see the canopy collapse. Also in that scene the radar dome is gone. The dome
appears and disappears throughout the film. The canopy catches fire, replaced by palm fronds,
then later reappears when they get upriver.

From my readings, the production crew acquired two PBRs with armaments, probably from a
country such as Thailand which still operated them. Actually the PBRs were still based in the
Napa Sonoma Marsh north of SanFrancisco in the late nineties. But in the seventies the DOD
probably wouldn’t let the production company use them any more than Huey choppers.

“The PBR, workhorse of the River Patrol Force, was manned by a crew of four bluejackets, all
enlisted, equipped with a Pathfinder surface radar and two radios, and commonly armed with a
twin-mount .50-caliber machine gun turret forward, M-60 machine guns or Mk18 40mm grenade
launcher port and starboard amidship, and a .50-caliber aft. The initial version of the boat, the
Mark I, performed well in river patrol operations but was plagued with continual fouling of its
water-jet engines by weeds and other detritus. In addition, when Vietnamese sampans came
alongside for inspection they often damaged the fragile fiberglass hull of the PBRs. New Mark IIs,
first deployed to the delta in December 1966, brought improved Jacuzzi jet pumps, which reduced
fouling and increased speed from 25 to 29 knots, and more durable aluminum gunwales.”
From Rivervet.

PBR-Other details:
Detroit Deisel 180 hp 6V53N engines each driving a Jacuzzi Brothers 14YJ water pump-jet with
thrust buckets for reverse thrust. Capable 25 to 30 knots Displacement approx 17,000 lbs. fully

Many boats carried as much extra ammo and fuel as possible. Some up-armored around the
crew, guns, fuel tanks and engines. Accepting that extra weight would slow them down, the boats
were still fast and maneuverable. If ambushed the best thing was to get out of Dodge rather than
slug it out. Even though the twin 50s were a fearsome weapon it was best to bug out. Small arms
bullets would go in one side and out the other if nothing solid was encountered. An RPG (known
as B40 and B50 by the VC) could devastate a boat. Two tactics emerged, put as much armament
as possible or go light and run away then call in an air-strike. Some boats mounted 20mm heavy
machine guns, carried two Mk18 grenade launchers, etc. There was considerable leeway.
Whatever the crew could lay hands on or steal from the Army was tolerated.

The Nung River is fictional. No rivers connect the south coast of Vietnam with the Cambodian
highlands. The huge delta formed by the Mekong and Soia Rivers go all the way up beyond
Phnom Pehn. A boat trip into the Cambodian highlands would be a long trip of many days. Up
around Danang going west you run into Laos. Verisimilitude? The willing suspension of disbelief
is the way someone described it. A lot like the novel “Heart of Darkness,” Coppola used lots of
creative license in setting the movie, creating the characters etc. to achieve his objective which
was a literary masterpiece on film, greater than “The Godfather.” He pursued his dream
relentlessly and achieved it in my opinion. I highly recommend “Hearts of Darkness” for the
background to the making of.
Viet Nam War Era PBR Mk IIs

Source: Wikipedia

Dennis Meyers
U.S. Army Intelligence, 1974-1980, BA & MA Economics, Economist for over 30 years for State
of California, Community College Adjunct Faculty

Historical Context:
Joseph Conrad and Heart of Darkness, the Congo Free State, U.S. Special Forces & The Civilian
Irregular Defense Group

Joseph Conrad
The English novelist Joseph Conrad is one of the great modern writers of England. Józef Teodor Konrad
Nalecz Korzeniowski (Joseph Conrad) was born in December 3, 1857 in Berdyczew, Poland to Joseph and
Evelina Korzeniowski. In 1862 the family was forced to move to Russia because of his father's Polish
independence political activities. His mother died in 1965 and he and his father returned to Poland in

From the time spent with his father—a writer and a translator of William Shakespeare—Conrad became
a lover of literature, especially tales of the sea. His father died in 1869 whereupon he went to live with
an uncle. In 1874 Conrad went to Marseilles, France, where he entered the French marine service to
begin a 20-year merchant marine career. To avoid possible conscription into the French navy, in 1878
he signed on as a deckhand on a British freighter. In June 1878 Conrad went to England for the first time
and began working on British merchant ships. In 1880 he had become an officer in the British merchant
service, rising from third mate to master. His voyages took him to Australia, India, Singapore, Java, and
Borneo, places which would provide the background for much of his fiction. In 1886 he became a British
citizen. He received his first command in 1888. In 1890 he traveled to the Belgian Congo, Zaire, and
Africa, which inspired his great short novel Heart of Darkness.

In 1890, to satisfy a lifelong desire to visit Africa, Conrad secured an appointment with a Belgian trading
company to serve on one of its steamers in the Congo Free State. While sailing up the Congo River from
one station to another, Conrad assumed command when the captain became ill. He guided the ship up
the tributary Lualaba River to the trading company's innermost station, Kindu, in Eastern Congo Free
State. Heart of Darkness is based on what Conrad saw and did felt in the Congo.  Charlie Marlow, its
central character, has experiences like Conrad’s.

In the early 1890s Conrad had begun to think about writing fiction based on his experiences. In 1894 he
retired from the merchant marines and completed his first novel, Almayer's Folly, which was published
in 1895. It received favorable reviews and thus began his writing career.

He settled in Kent, England after marrying Jessie George, an Englishwoman, in 1896. Conrad befriended
and collaborated with several English and American writers including John Galsworthy, Henry James,
Arnold Bennett, Rudyard Kipling, Stephen Crane, and Ford Madox Ford.

His earliest novels, including Heart of Darkness published 1899, were based on places he visited as a
merchant marine. His next novels reflected Conrad's political psychology views. His novel Chance
(published1914) was a such a financial success that he was able to live without worrying about money
for the rest of his life. Victory (1915), his last important novel, further examined the theme of solitude
and sympathy.

Conrad’s view of life is very pessimistic. Idealism sets the scene for corruption, and the uncontested
standards of honorable men fail to defend them against assaults of evil. 

Conrad received many honors for his work, including a celebrated visit to the United States in 1923 and
an offer of knighthood in England in 1924, which he declined. He died on August 3, 1924, of a heart
attack and was buried at Canterbury, England.

Heart Of Darkness

The famed American literary critic literary critic Harold Bloom claims that Heart of Darkness had been
analyzed more than any other work of literature that is studied in universities and colleges due to its
"unique propensity for ambiguity". It was first published as a serial in 1899 in Blackwood’s Edinburgh
Magazine and then in his book Youth: and Two Other Stories in 1902.

Heart of Darkness examines the horrors of Western colonialism as exemplified by the Congo Free State.
According to Conrad, colonialism tarnishes not only the lands and peoples it exploits but also those in
the West who support it.

It closely follows the events of Conrad’s Congo journey in 1890 during King Leopold II of Belgium’s
horrific rule.  The story’s narrator is fascinated by a mysterious white man, Mr. Kurtz, the manager of a
trading station deep in the interior. Based on his eloquence and hypnotic personality, Kurtz dominates
the brutal tribesmen around him. 

The story centers around Charlie Marlow, an introspective riverboat captain, and his long, difficult
voyage up the river up the Congo River to meet Kurtz. Marlow encounters widespread inefficiency and
brutality in the trading stations run by the Company, a Belgian concern organized to trade in the Congo.
The indigenous people have been forced into the Company’s service, and they suffer terribly at the
hands of the Company’s agents.

On the voyage, dense jungle, oppressive silence and furtive glimpses of native villages and the sound of
drums works the crew into a frenzy. At one point, after taking firewood from a mysterious source, the
ship enters a dense fog. When the fog clears, the ship is attacked by an unseen native firing arrows from
the safety of the forest. The ship’s African helmsman is killed before Marlow frightens the natives away
with the ship’s steam whistle.

When Marlow and his crew arrive at Kurtz’s Inner Station they are met by a half-crazed Russian trader,
who assures them that everything is fine. He claims that Kurtz has enlarged his mind and cannot be
subjected to the same moral judgments as normal people. To the natives Kurtz is a god and has gone on
brutal raids in search of ivory. Severed heads sit atop fence posts around the station attests to his brutal
methods. Marlow’s men bring an ailing Kurtz out of the stationhouse on a stretcher, and a large group of
native warriors pours out of the forest and surrounds them. Kurtz speaks to them, and they disappear
into the woods.

When Kurtz is loaded on the steamer his native mistress appears on the shore and stares out at the ship.
The Russian implies that she is somehow involved with Kurtz and has caused trouble before through her
influence over him. The Russian reveals to Marlow, that Kurtz had ordered the attack on the steamer to
make them believe he was dead in order that they might turn back and leave him to his plans. Kurtz
disappears in the night, and Marlow goes out and finds him crawling toward the native camp. Marlow
stops him and convinces him to return to the ship. They set off down the river the next morning, but
Kurtz’s health is failing fast.

On the return voyage Kurtz entrusts Marlow with a packet of personal documents, including an eloquent
pamphlet on civilizing the savages which ends with a scrawled message that says, “Exterminate all the
brutes!” The steamer breaks down, and while waiting for repairs Kurtz dies, uttering his last
words—“The horror! The horror!”. Soon after Marlow falls ill and barely survives.

Eventually Marlow returns to Europe and goes to see Kurtz’s fiancée. She praises Kurtz and asks what
his last words were, but Marlow cannot bring himself to shatter her illusions with the truth. Instead, he
tells her that Kurtz’s last word was her name.

First and foremost, Heart of Darkness was taken to be a critique of Colonialism. The Belgian Congo was
the most notorious European colony in Africa because of the Belgian colonizers' extreme greed and
brutality. Heart of Darkness shows that European colonizers used the idealistic goals of colonization—to
civilize and educate the "savage" African—as a cover to allow them to brutally rip whatever wealth
theycould from Africa. By focusing on the Europeans, the story reveals the damage done to the souls of
white colonizers, which extends the criticism of colonialism back to its corrupt source— “civilized”

The Congo Free State

Henry Morton Stanley (of ‘Stanley and Livingston’ fame) completed an exploration of the Congo River
in 1877. After failing to attract British interest in colonizing the region, Stanley was contracted to do so by
King Leopold II of the Belgians. To avoid overt competition among the European powers for the region,
the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 was held that recognized the sovereignty of King Leopold II of Belgium
over the Free State of the Congo to be ruled by King Leopold. He convinced other European states that
he was interested in pursuing humanitarian and philanthropic work rather than personal gain.
The Congo Free State operated as a separate nation from Belgium, privately controlled by Leopold II.

Under Leopold’s rule, from 1885 to 1908, the Free State endured systematic exploitation of its natural
resources, especially ivory and rubber. The colonial administration controlled the native population
with a reign of terror that included frequent mass killings and mutilations. European mercenaries were
hired and organized into a private army, the Force Publique, that was both an army of occupation and as
a police force which served the interests of the trading companies. The Force dealt with several
rebellions, which were put down with horrifying savagery. Force Publique troops often cut off the hands
of natives, including children, to serve as a punishment and to terrorize the people into submission.
Severed hands were also used as a measure soldiers used to prove that they were actively crushing
rebellious activity. It is estimated that between five and 10 million people died because of the colonial
exploitation under King Leopold II.

The loss of life and atrocities inspired literature such as Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness and
raised an international protest. As word of Leopold’s atrocities spread, indignation in Britain and other
parts of Europe grew so great that Leopold was forced to transfer his authority in the Congo to the
Belgian government. In 1908 the Congo Free State was abolished and replaced by the Belgian Congo;
a colony controlled by the Belgian parliament.

U.S. Special Forces and the Civilian Irregular Defense Group Program

The 5 th Special Forces Group (SFG) used a variety of unconventional and conventional warfare tactics to
fight the Viet Cong insurgency. As early as 1957, four years after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu,
U.S. Army Special Forces were deployed to train, advise, and assist the Army of the Republic of Vietnam
(ARVN). By 1967, the Special Forces were advising and assisting over 40,000 paramilitary troops, along
with another 40,000 Regional Forces and Popular Forces soldiers.

Up to 1961 the counterinsurgency strategy had primarily focused on developing the regular ARVN
military forces, which excluded ethnic and religious minority groups. The U.S. Mission in Saigon initiated
several programs in late 1961 to broaden the counterinsurgency effort by developing the paramilitary
potential of some of these minority groups. This came to be known collectively as the Civilian Irregular
Defense Group (ClDG) program.

There were two principal reasons for the creation of the CIDG. One was that the U.S believed that a
paramilitary force developed from the minority groups of South Vietnam would strengthen and broaden
the counterinsurgency effort. The other was that the Montagnards and other minority groups were
prime targets for Communist propaganda, partly because of their dissatisfaction with the Vietnamese
government. It was important to prevent the Viet Cong from recruiting them and taking complete
control of their large and strategic land holdings.

Originally attention was concentrated on the Montagnard people who lived in the strategic Central
Highlands. The first step was taken in October 1961 with the beginning of a project designed to prevent
the Rhade tribesmen in Oarlac Province from succumbing to Viet Cong control.

The Vietnamese had not only made no attempt to gain the support of the Montagnards and other
minority groups but in the past had antagonized them because the Vietnamese had traditionally
regarded them as an inferior people.

The Montagnard constitute one of the largest minority groups in Vietnam. The term Montagnard applies
to more than a hundred tribes of primitive mountain people spread over all of Indochina. In South
Vietnam there were some 29 tribes, all told more than 200,000 people.

Recruits for both village defenders and the local security force were obtained through local village
leaders. Before a village could be accepted as a part of the development program, the village chief was
required to affirm that everyone in the village would participate in the program and that enough people
would volunteer for training to provide adequate protection for the village.

All villages were lightly fortified, with evacuation the primary defensive measure and some use of family
shelters for women and children. Strike force troops remained on the alert in the base center to serve as
a reaction force, and the villages maintained a mutually supporting defensive system wherein village
defenders rushed to each other's assistance.

The pilot program around the village of Buon Enao in Darlac Provence was considered a resounding
success. Village defenders and strike forces accepted the training and weapons enthusiastically and
became strongly motivated to oppose the Viet Cong, against whom they fought well. Toward the end of
1962 the province was declared secure. Based on this success, more Montagnard and other tribal
groups were drawn in and more Special Forces detachments became involved.

The general mission of a CIDG camp was to train strike forces and village defenders; hire local populace
under the influence of the South Vietnam government; employ paramilitary forces in combat operations
to reinforce organized hamlets; carry out interdiction activities and conduct joint operations with ARVN
units. Other operations included psychological operations to develop popular support for the
government; establish area intelligence systems including, but not limited to, reconnaissance patrols,
observation posts, and agent informant networks.

By mid-1963 the CIDG camps had completed the training of enough strike force troops to allow U.S.
Special Forces to shift emphasis from training to operations against the Viet Cong. A higher priority was
given to border surveillance which led to a shift of the CIDG efforts from interior to border sites.

The major task of the Special Forces during 1968-1971 was to complete the turnover of the CIDG
program to the Vietnamese in order to conduct the war with less and less assistance from the United

During 1970, combat continued, but at a reduced tempo. The incursion into Cambodia in the spring of
1970, had significantly weakened the insurgents. In April 1970, 5th SFG began reducing its number of
personnel in Vietnam. The participation of the 5th SFG in the CIDG program, like the program itself,
ended on 31 December 1970. However, members of the unit continued to conduct intelligence
operations in Southeast Asia until the collapse of the South Vietnamese government on 29 April 1975.


Heart of Darkness, Britannica,
Colonel Francis Kelly. Viet Nam Studies, U.S. Army Special Forces, 1961-1970. 2004.
Congo Free State, Britannica,
The Free State of the Congo, a hidden history of genocide, Barcelona Cultura,
Joseph Conrad, Britannica,
Joseph Conrad Biography, Encyclopedia of World Biography,
Heart of Darkness, sparknotes,
Wikipedia articles: Montagnard (Vietnam), 5th Special Forces Group (United States), Harold Bloom,
Congo Free State, Henry Morton Stanley

A few words from Jeff Kuykendall (our resident gun expert and author of most of our
Danger Close: Armory posts)about his uncle A.D. Flowers, who worked in special effects in Hollywood:

I don't have much to contribute currently for the historical research, but I can tell you how AD did the
napalm scene. Basically, the team dug up a massive ditch in the treeline, line it with a waterproof liner, and
filled it with over 1200 gallons of gasoline. Then AD had the team set up right behind and off to the side of a
roughly 200 foot long, 6" diameter pvc pipe filled with additional gasoline, rigged with small explosives tied
underneath the pipe. Part of the pipe was submerged into the gasoline pool, to ignite it as the charges were
blown. As the Filipino A-5's flew overhead and dropped dummy canisters, they'd use a remote to blow the
charges sequentially to mimic the effect of multiple napalm canisters going off as they all hit the ground
individually. As the initial pipe went up, it then set the entire ditch on fire. Since true napalm can't really be put
out in cases of emergencies (given how much was going to be ignited for the shot), they just stuck with straight
gasoline, in case something went horribly wrong. Coppola said that he could feel the strong flash of heat from
across the lagoon where they were filming.

And lastly, here is the link to the making of AN documentary, Hearts of Darkness, free on youtube:

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 39: The Bridge on the River Kwai Wed, 31 Aug 2022 12:15:00 -0700 3792597d-2c70-492d-b0f8-4a3e6badb79a Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E39: The Bridge on the River Kwai Researcher: Mike DeAngelo
Autodidact, history enthusiast, general nerd.

The movie is entirely fictional, so I’ll mostly comment on the environment. surrounding it all.

First, a major point of Japanese propaganda was “Asia For Asians”. Japan advertised itself as expelling colonial powers from Asia. In actuality, Japan often treated the countries it subjugated worse than the European colonial powers. But the idea of “Asia For Asians” was powerful.

Some Japanese military officers actually took this to heart. After the war ended, some officers did not surrender and return to Japan. Instead they worked as military advisers to native independence movements such as the Viet Minh movement in French Vietnam.

With the fall of France, Japan used its position as a member of the Axis to take over French Indochina - Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and incorporate them into the “Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.”

Thailand is the only nation in the region that was not colonized. The Thai Kingdom had been able to maintain its independence. At the time of WW2, however, Thailand was ruled by a fascist dictatorship that sought friendly relations with Japan.

Next to Thailand was Burma, modern day Myanmar. Burma was a British colony at this time. The Burmese independence movement invited the Japanese in and cooperated with the Japanese as an attempt to push the British colonial masters out.

The British were using Burma as a path to supply the Kuomintang (KMT) - the nationalist Chinese controlled by Chiang Kai-shek - in their war with Japan. They moved supplies to China over the Burma Road and via an air route called “The Hump”. Burma bordered British India.

In order to cut off the flow of supplies to China, Japan wanted to invade Burma and eventually India. India was way too big for Japan to consider conquering, but Japan wanted to create the conditions in India for the Indians to revolt against Britain. India had already been seeking independence, which the British hoped to delay until after the war.

French Indochina, particularly the Mekong River Delta, is one of the most productive areas in the world for rice production. If rice could be moved from French Indochina to Burma, it could support the army that was needed to eliminate the British from Burma and touch off a violent anti-colonial movement in India. To move this rice, the Japanese decided to build the Thailand Burma railway to connect Bangkok, Thailand and Rangoon, Burma.

The railway was built by about 61,000 western POWs and about 180,000 locally impressed laborers. The largest group of POWs were from the 85,000 soldiers of Lt. Gen Percival’s British Garrison at Singapore in early 1942. Of the 85,000 soldiers at Singapore, about 40,000 were Indians who were allowed to enlist in the Japanese allied “Indian National Army”. They would fight alongside the Japanese against the British.

In addition to the British and Australian soldiers from the Singapore garrison, there were British, Australian, and Dutch soldiers that were captured when the Japanese took the Dutch East Indies. About 30,000 British, 18,000 Dutch, and 13,000 Australians formed the POW workers. They suffered a 20% death rate, more than 12,000. The conditions depicted in the movie actually understated the horrific living conditions.

The Japanese initially tried to recruit workers with promises of high pay. But they turned to impressment. Conditions were equally harsh for impressed laborers. Some documents suggest 100,000 Malayan Tamils were brought into the project and around 60,000 perished. Approximately 90,000 Burmese and 75,000 Malayans worked on the railroad. It is estimated that as many as 50% of these workers perished.

The jungle is a difficult place to live and work; disease is always a problem. For comparison the Japanese guards suffered an 8% death rate.

The “Bridge on the River Kwai” actually crossed the Mae Klong River. The Khwae Noi River is nearby, and Khwae gets confused for Kwai by non-Thai speakers. In 1960 the portion of the Mae Klong near the railroad crossing was renamed Khwae Yai to better align with the fictional book and movie.

The Japanese did reach India. On 8 March 1944 the Battle of Imphal began. It was an attack on the Northeast Indian city of the same name in the state of Manipur, part of the Japanese “U Go offensive”. The Japanese did not think that the British could have any heavy weapons in the mountainous terrain, and so left their own artillery behind. The combined force of British, Indian, and Gurkha units successfully held the defensive line then counterattacked with light tanks. Without artillery the Japanese could not counter the tanks. The battle officially ended 3 July 1944.

Perhaps the chief reason the offensive failed is that the Japanese did not have the ability to feed their troops effectively so far from Rangoon. They had insufficient transports to move enough food to the front, and so the Japanese Army finally collapsed from hunger.

Researcher: Jim Randall
Navy Veteran, WWII enthusiast.

A Personal Experience
Eric Lomax, The Railway Man.

Eric, an officer in communications was part of the British Army that surrendered to Japan at Singapore
February 1942. He was liberated after spending 3 years in captivity. His is not the only story to come out of the war
about captivity and torture but his writing about his experience is especially pointed. Initially, he was sent to a camp at
Kanchaburi, Thailand where he was employed by the Japanese in the rail repair shops. During his time there he was
part of a group that made a radio shortwave receiver that was used to listen to Radio India to gather news from a source
that wasn’t propaganda from the Japanese. The information was spread far and wide within the POWs in Burma and
Thailand working on the railroad. Later he discovered several other radios were secretly constructed but the Japanese
discovered most of them. This radio proved to be his downfall. When the radio was discovered and he was implicated
in it he was arrested by the Kempeitai, tortured, tried for anti-Japanese activities and imprisoned in Outram Road Prison
in Singapore along with four others involved in the effort. He merged extremely ill and malnourished (he lost 60#) The
privations suffered by these POWs was profound and stayed with him for the rest of his life. Later, around 1986, he met
one of his torturers, Takashi Nagase in Thailand and reconciled with him. The meeting was part of a documentary,
Enemy, My Friend? (1995) He devoted himself to helping other victims during his life. He was one of the first patients
at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture in the 1980s. We know the condition now as PTSD.
Something that stuck me was the resilience of these people in captivity. While they died by the thousands,
mostly of starvation, they never gave up, partly owing to the news that came to them via the jungle telegraph. And they
supported each other to the extent possible.
After the war the UK, Austrailian and New Zealand governments made a concerted effort to find as many
bodies as possible and identify them. That involved a team of soldiers and a couple Japanese going along the whole 260
mile plus railway. Some 10,000 POWs were found.
Another thing that struck me was the complicity of the Government of Siam (now Thailand) in all this.
Lomax was jailed by the Kempeitai for months in Bangkok. The railway started in Siam. All the supplies Japan wanted
to ship would have gone through Siam. The Siamese government made a deal before the war to collaborate in exchange for avoiding occupation.

The following pictures are of the cemetery, museum, and bridge at Kanchanaburi. We toured Thailand in 2009.

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 38: Beau Geste Wed, 17 Aug 2022 19:00:00 -0700 0fada4e9-b7bb-42da-90c0-fdff173097f9 Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E38: Beau Geste Dennis Meyers
Relevant experience: U.S. Army Intelligence, 1974-1980, BA & MA Economics,
Economist for over 30 years for State of California, Community College Adjunct Faculty

HISTORICAL CONTEXT: France in North Africa

Most of Beau Geste involves the Geste brothers service in the Pre-WW1 French Foreign
Legion, particularly at the fictional Fort Zinderneuf as it is attacked by a band of Tuaregs, a
Saharan Berber ethnic group.


The term ‘Berber’ is an Arab word for the Amazigh (Ama-zeer), the original indigenous people who
inhabited North Africa west of Egypt. This region, the Maghrib, stretches from the Siwa Oasis in Egypt to
the Canary Islands and from the Mediterranean to the Niger and Senegal rivers—modern day Morocco,
Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, Mauritania, northern Mali, and northern Niger. ‘Amazigh’ mean free or noble
men which they applied to themselves because the harsh environment of the Sahara Desert prevented
agriculture from taking root which led them to be nomadic traders and herdsmen rather than stationary
farmers. Eventually, many Berbers became farmers in the mountains close to the Mediterranean coast,
or oasis dwellers.

The Berber region and history can be divided between the Mediterranean coastal regions and the vast
arid inland desert region. The Mediterranean region was valuable for a variety of trade and commercial
activities, including the slave trade. Thus, the North African coast attracted a series of outside invaders.
The Amazigh opposed and outlasted a succession of empires, including the Carthaginians, Romans,
Vandals, and Byzantines, Ottomans, and lastly the French.

Islamic Arab military expeditions into the Maghrib began in the 7th century. By 711 the Umayyads (a
Muslim dynasty), helped by Berber converts to Islam, had conquered all North Africa. However, many
Amazigh kept their own identity. So, the North African population became a mix of Amazigh, Arab and
Islamic influences. Conflicts between Berbers and Arabs were chronic.


The term ‘Barbary’ originates from the term Berber. Not long after Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli came under
the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, pirate raids became a major factor in the
region’s economy and history. Privateering1 had long existed in the Mediterranean, but because it had
become so lucrative North African rulers ramped it up considerably in the late sixteenth and early
seventeenth centuries. Algeria became the leading privateering city-state. Piracy was the chief purpose
and main source of income of all the Turkish settlements along the Barbary coast.

1 Privateer: an armed ship owned and officered by private individuals holding a government commission and
authorized for use in war, especially in the capture of enemy merchant shipping.

The main objective of this privateering was to capture slaves for the Ottoman slave trade and the Arab
slavery market in North Africa and the Middle East. Barbary pirate ships, or corsairs, also captured
thousands of merchant ships and repeatedly raided coastal towns of Italy, France, Spain, Portugal,
England, the Netherlands and as far away as Iceland. It is believed that between the 16th and 19th
centuries from 1 million and 1.25 million Europeans were captured by Barbary pirates and sold as slaves
in North Africa and Ottoman Empire. The threat of these pirates was so great that many European
maritime powers paid tributes to the rulers of North African privateering states of to prevent attacks on
their shipping.

In 1625, the Algiers pirate fleet, the largest, included 100 ships and employed 8,000 to 10,000 men. The
corsair industry accounted for 25 percent of the workforce of the city, not counting other activities
related directly to the port. In addition, 2,500 men served in the pirate fleet of Tripoli, 3,000 in Tunis,
and several thousand more in all the various minor pirate bases such as Bona, Susa, Bizerta, and Sale.


Following the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna in 1814–15, European powers agreed upon
the need to suppress the Barbary corsairs entirely. Algiers found itself at war with Spain,
the Netherlands, Prussia, Denmark, Russia, and Naples. The U.S. Congress also authorized naval action
against the so-called Barbary States.

The words “the Shores of Tripoi” in the Marine’s Hymn commemorates the United States
capture of Tripoli in 1805—the first U.S. victory on foreign soil—during the First Barbary
War. The war originated from the U.S. refusal to pay tributes.

As a result of what the French considered an insult to the French consul in Algiers by the Turkish
governor of the province in 1827, France blockaded Algiers for three years. The failure of the blockade
was the reason given for a military operation to take Algiers in 1830. Following the conquest of Algeria,
France gradually expanded its North African empire. It invaded Tunisia in 1881 and made it a French
protectorate. In 1907, under the pretext of protecting its citizens following riots and local unrest, France
sent forces to Morocco and by 1912 it had made Morocco a French protectorate.

However, as France expanded its North African empire it encountered the same difficulties as previous
empires. They could control cities on the coasts but inland, in the vast harsh deserts and mountains, the
Berbers (Amazigh) could always retreat, regroup, and launch fresh raids on their invaders.


From its creation in 1831 the French Foreign Legion has been closely identified with the French
colonization of North Africa. King Louis Philippe gathered former foreign soldiers and veterans of the
Napoleonic wars into a new Foreign Legion that would only serve outside of mainland France and would
be composed exclusively of foreign soldiers. It was first sent to Algiers to support French colonial efforts
in Africa. This first assignment and the subsequent battles in Algeria would lead to the Legion
considering the country their spiritual home. The Legion was used in campaigns across North Africa.

The French conquest and pacification of Morocco was largely made possible by the French Foreign
Legion. Morocco possesses challenging terrain of high mountain ranges, arid plains and desert. Water is
scarce, and oases were often fought over. There were also thick forests inhabited by intensely independent
tribes who engaged the French in some of the most demanding combat they had ever encountered.


The Legion built and manned a network of large garrison bases at locations such as Fes, Meknes, and
Marrakech, as well as isolated forts from which units were deployed to dominate the surrounding
terrain and enable safe movement for military forces and supply columns. This enabled the French to
link strategic areas, to quell local rebellions and to ‘show the flag’ to intimidate the local population.

In many instances these forts and outposts were attacked and sometimes defended ‘to the last man.’
Since the attackers lacked artillery or other methods to force their way into the forts, the garrisons were
generally considered relatively safe. A fort could survive as long as ammunition, food and water lasted,
or was relieved by additional troops. Isolated forts under attack could summon relief with telephone
and radio to more primitive heliograph (a semaphore system that signals by flashes of sunlight reflected
by a mirror), carrier pigeon, and bugle calls and later with telephone and radio. After the First World
War, regular over flights by aircraft provided additional cover and had mixed results at dropping

The greatest danger was a long siege and a gradual depletion of water. However, direct attacks and
infiltration were real threats to Legionnaires. Berber attackers would sneak up to a fort in the middle of
the night and capture, and sometime kill, sleepy guards and steal their weapons and gear.

It wasn’t uncommon for forts to be lost to direct attacks when attackers scaled a fort’s walls and
bastions. In such cases, if possible, the defenders stripped the forts of weapons and demolished them.
In one case, the commanding officer of one outpost, having held out for almost eight weeks, blew up
the post, killing himself and his remaining men, rather than let it fall to enemy hands.

Another notable action occurred in 1908 when the French occupied Bou Denib in Morocco. They built a
walled redoubt surrounding their camp and a blockhouse on a nearby prominent hill. On September 1
the blockhouse, manned by 75 men (including 40 Legionnaires), was attacked by 7,000 Moroccans. The
unsuccessful attack ended the next morning with the blockhouse defenders suffering only one killed and
25 wounded while the attackers lost probably 200-300 fighters.


Immediately after WWII, France faced a prolonged and often violent decolonization period. Nationalist
movements in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco arose early in the 20th century. France resisted them with
violent repressive measures, which typically led to increased popular support—including armed
resistance—for the independence movements.

The Moroccan Sultan Muhammed V, a central figure in the independence movement in Morocco was
deposed and sent into exile by the French in 1953 and replaced by his uncle. But nationalist agitation
forced his return in 1955. In 1956, France and Spain recognized the independence and sovereignty of
Morocco. Following Morocco’s independence, Tunisia gained full independence in 1956. French rule in
North Africa finally ended with the Évian Accords that enabled Algerian independence in 1962 which
ended the 1954-62 Algerian War.


Snoopy is a cartoon beagle from the comic strip Peanuts created by Charles Shultz in the 1950s.
Snoopy's character enjoys role playing and creating alter egos for himself, including The World Famous
French Foreign Legionnaire. He first appears in August 1965 where Snoopy dons a handkerchief due to
the incredible heat, as hot as the Sahara Desert. He is first shown as alter ego when Snoopy steals one of
Charlie Brown's handkerchiefs on March 1966 and looks for Fort Zinderneuf. He is finally identified as a
member of the French Foreign Legion a few weeks later, going by "Beau" Snoopy.


Morocco History, Info Please,
A Brief History of Tunisia, Local Histories,

History of Algeria, Nations On Line,

French Blockhouses – Part 3: Africa, Mon Legionnaire,

Action at Bou Denib: Part 2, Mon Legionnaire,

Berber, New World Encyclopedia

Forts of the French Foreign Legion, World Archeology,

World Famous French Foreign Legionnaire, Peanuts Wiki,

Wikipedia articles: Barbary pirates, French conquest of Algeria, Beau Geste (1939 film), Beau Geste,
First Barbary War, French North Africa, History of the French Foreign Legion, French conquest of Algeria,

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 37: Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan Sat, 30 Jul 2022 11:45:00 -0700 da57d101-8bf5-45f8-b9b7-c6c972a7a4df Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E37: Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan Research for Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan

Micah Neidorfler
B.A. in History, Minor in German Language
Infantry Captain in the US Army
Graduate of the Command and General Staff College’s distance learning
“Army Field/Unit Historian Course”

A Doctrinal Paradigm: The Battle of Long Tan

History is replete with examples of units utilizing doctrine to good effect. American military
circles are quite familiar with the Battle of 73 Easting, the Assault on Brecourt Manor and
the Battle of Ia Drang. While it is natural for the American military to focus on their own
past successes, it is important to view history in breadth, so as not to miss sterling
examples set by other militaries. In that vein the Battle of Long Tan, fought between
the Australian army and the Viet Cong (VC) serves as an exemplary lens through which
modern military practitioners can analyze current doctrine. In the battle of Long Tan,
D Company, 6 Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment under the command of
MAJ Harry Smith defeated a regimental-sized North Vietnamese force on 18 August 1966.
They accomplished this by adhering to the fundamentals of a Movement to
Contact (namely: make initial contact with small, mobile, self-contained forces to avoid
decisive engagement; and keeping subordinate forces within supporting distances to
facilitate a flexible response), as well as using the concept of Echelonment of Fires.

As South Vietnam’s armed conflict with North Vietnam began escalating in the
early 1960s, the United States perceived the struggle in terms of communist expansion
into Southeast Asia and began committing military forces to assist the South
Vietnamese government. Australia, already accustomed to anti-communist military
intervention from the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) 1 , and seeking to remain a
relevant ally, joined America by sending a small number of military advisors to South

1 Paul Ham, Vietnam: The Australian War (Sydney: Harper Collins, 2007), 88

Vietnam in 1962. 2 The Australians brought with them extensive jungle-fighting
experience from their time in Malaya and the 2 nd World War. The Australians increased
their advising commitment to approximately 300 personnel by the end of 1964. By late
1965 they added an infantry battalion to their expeditionary force. 3 This battalion was
attached to the US 173 rd Airborne Brigade, where it became clear that the Australians
and Americans had opposing views on how the war should be fought at the tactical
level. The Australians focused military efforts on counterinsurgency while the Americans
focused on large scale search and destroy operations. 4 As a result of this dichotomy
and Australia’s political desire to share a significant load of the war effort, the US gave
Australia its own area of responsibility: the Phuoc Tuy province on South Vietnam’s
southern coast (See Appendix 1).

To fulfill this obligation Australia established the 1 st Australian Task Force (1ATF)
in April 1966. 5 Throughout its existence 1ATF was usually comprised of three infantry
battalions, one artillery regiment with one attached New Zealand 105mm battery and
one attached American 155mm battery, two engineer squadrons, one Armored
Personnel Carrier (APC) squadron, one Tank squadron, one logistics company, and
one reconnaissance flight. Also consistently attached to 1ATF were three New Zealand
infantry companies and one troop of the New Zealand Special Air Service. 6
1ATF’s primary mission was to maintain control over Phuoc Tuy and support US
formations in neighboring provinces if necessary. The main enemy in Phuoc Tuy was
VC guerrillas. The VC were an organized guerrilla force commanded and supported by

2 Ibid., 91
3 Larsen and Collins, Vietnam Studies: Allied Participation in Vietnam
(Washington D.C., Department of the Army, 2005), 88-89
4 Ham, Vietnam (2007)., 109
5 Ian McNeill, To Long Tan: The Australian Army and the Vietnam War 1950-1966
(St Leonards, Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd, 1993), 231
6 Larsen and Collins, Vietnam Studies (2005), 95

the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). They conducted insurgent attacks and small-scale
conventional operations in South Vietnam while the NVA fought near the border and the
central highlands. To this end 1ATF’s leadership established their main base of
operations on the rubber plantation of Nui Dat and their logistics center at Vung Tau (See
Appendix 2). 1ATF chose Nui Dat for its central location to the province’s main population. 7
Key to Australian counter-guerilla doctrine, Nui Dat’s location allowed the Australians to
spread influence in urban centers and isolate the VC from the population.

After establishing Nui Dat Camp in June 1966, 1ATF began conducting
operations throughout Phuoc Tuy to interdict VC infiltration and find and destroy VC
troop concentrations. At that time 1ATF’s infantry complement was only two Infantry
Battalions: 5 th and 6 th Battalions Royal Australian Regiment (5RAR and 6RAR). Due to
Nui Dat’s size and because 1ATF’s logistics footprint was located separately, one
battalion would conduct operations while the other conducted base security, continued
improving base defenses, and rested. 8

On 16 August 5RAR was patrolling to the north of Nui Dat near the town of Binh
Ba and 6RAR was conducting priorities of work around Nui Dat. At 0243 on the morning
of the 17 th , Nui Dat came under mortar fire. 1ATF sound-triangulated the mortars and
fired counter-battery missions. The attack lasted until 0305 and wounded 23 soldiers,
one of whom later died. 9 The 1ATF commander Brigadier Oliver Jackson, ordered a
patrol from 6RAR to reconnoiter the suspected point of origin (POO) site of the mortar
attack. The 6RAR commander, Colonel Colin Townsend ordered B CO 6RAR to

7 McNeill, To Long Tan (1993), 121
8 James Eling, interview with Dave Sabben, The Principles of War Podcast:
Episode 26
9 Lex McAulay, The Battle of Long Tan (Hawthorn, Hutchinson of Australia, 1987), 28-32

conduct this patrol, which left C and D CO 6RAR as the only infantry formations on Nui
Dat (as A CO 6RAR was out on local patrols to the north). 1ATF signals intelligence
(SIGINT) suspected two VC Regiments and one VC Battalion to be in the area and
Jackson, concerned with the possibility of an organized VC attack, ordered 5RAR and
A/6RAR to return to Nui Dat. 10 Unfortunately, 1ATF HQ did not inform its subordinate
units of the suspected regiment-sized VC elements. The radio locating methods used by
the SIGINT section were classified, consequently 1ATF HQ did not disseminate any
intelligence gained thereby to subordinate units. The battle of Long Tan would prove the
flaws in this reasoning and 1ATF HQ would rescind the policy shortly afterwards. 11

B/6RAR spent the 17 th patrolling east of Nui Dat, towards the hills at Nui Dat 2
and the Long Tan rubber plantation, where the POO site was templated (See Appendix 3). The
majority of B CO was scheduled to rotate out of theater on rest and recuperation leave
on the 18 th , so Townsend ordered D/6RAR to patrol out and replace B CO on the
morning of the 18 th . Major Harry Smith commanded D CO and his company consisted of
a mixture of regulars and national service conscripts, yet had gained the reputation of
being the fittest, most professional company in the Battalion by the time of their
deployment. 12

On the morning of the 18 th , D CO patrolled east from Nui Dat and linked-in with B
CO on the western edge of the Long Tan plantation. The B CO commander informed
Smith that they had discovered the baseplate locations of the VC mortars, bloody
bandages, and several recently used trails leading to the northeast. Smith ordered D

10 Ibid., 33-38
11 James Eling, The Principles of War Podcast: Episode 25.
12 Ibid.

CO to follow trails northeast. 13 D CO moved in a traveling overwatch company wedge,
platoon wedge with 11 Platoon under 2LT Gordon Sharp in the lead position, 10 Platoon
under 2LT Geoff Kendall to the rear left, and 12 Platoon under 2LT David Sabben to the
rear right. Each platoon kept 100 meters spacing between each other. Smith centered
his HQ element between the three platoons. 14 A few hundred meters further down the
path D CO encountered miscellaneous mortar equipment and more blood-soaked
bandages scattered on the ground. Smith reported this to Townsend and continued
east, moving closer to the rubber-tree grove. Now anticipating enemy contact as more
likely but still wanting to maintain speed, he adjusted D CO’s formation into a traveling
company vee, platoon wedge with 10 Platoon front left, 11 Platoon front right, 12
Platoon to the rear, and company HQ between the three platoons, while keeping 100
meters between each platoon. 15

A few minutes later 11 Platoon’s lead section reached a dirt road (See Appendix 4). At
1540 D CO began crossing and two sections of 11 Platoon were across when the
platoon HQ element spotted six VC walking unaware along the road to 11 Platoon’s
right. 11 Platoon HQ engaged the VC who fled to the southeast. Smith ordered 11
Platoon to clear a few hundred meters in that direction and 11 Platoon discovered one
dead VC and an AK47. D CO reported to 6RAR that the VC were dressed in Khaki
uniforms and carried automatic weapons. This was unusual, as the VC in Phouc Tuy
normally wore black and used bolt action rifles or semi-automatic carbines.

13 Terry Burstall, The Soldier’s Story: The Battle at Xa Long Tan Vietnam, 19 August 1966
(St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1986), 46-49
14 Ibid., 51
15 Bob Grandin. The Battle of Long Tan: As Told by the Commanders
(Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2004), 117-118

Unfortunately, 1ATF’s SIGNINT policy meant 6RAR was not aware of large enemy
elements in the area, so the significance was lost, and D CO continued to the east. 16

Because of the crossing drill, 10 Platoon (on 11 Platoon’s left) lagged 50 to 100
meters behind 11 Platoon. Suddenly, at 1610 11 Platoon came under machine gun fire
to their left front (See Appendix 5). Several 11 Platoon soldiers from 6 Section were killed
outright, and the platoon took cover and returned fire only to be engaged by a second
machine gun to their front. Sharp ordered his unengaged 5 Section to move around the
right and flank the VC, but as they got up to move, they took heavy small arms and
RPG fire from their front right, which killed and wounded several more of Sharp’s men.
11 Platoon was pinned and Sharp apprised Smith over the radio that he faced at least a
platoon-sized VC force and requested artillery. Adding to the stress, a monsoon rain
began just minutes after the first machinegun opened fire which limited visibility to 50
meters and turned the ground to mud. 17

At company HQ, New Zealand Army fire support officer Captain Morrie Stanley
began calling fire missions based off Sharp’s reported location. Stanley could not see
11 Platoon’s position because of the rubber trees and monsoon, so he initially called the
artillery far beyond Sharp and began halving the distance to walk the rounds onto
target. 18 At the same time, Sharp reported that the VC had begun launching assaults on
his platoon, supported by yet more machine guns. Smith realized that they faced a force
much larger than a platoon and likely larger than a company. He told Stanley to request

16 Burstall, The Soldiers’ Story (1986), 51
17 Ibid., 53-55
18 McAulay (1987), 51

a second battery to support, but Nui Dat rebuffed Stanley’s request, forcing Smith to
radio 1ATF himself to demand the extra support, which was finally granted. 19

It was clear that 11 Platoon would be unable to extract itself, so Smith ordered 10
Platoon to move up to 11 Platoon’s flank and provide support for 11 to withdraw (See
Appendix 6). Geoff Kendall moved his platoon forward but suddenly ran into an entire VC
platoon which was moving around 11 Platoon’s left flank. 10 Platoon engaged this
formation, which withdrew. However, 10 Platoon took three casualties and became
heavily engaged by more machineguns and small arms from their left, which destroyed
their radio. Around this time in 11 Platoon, Sharp was killed, and his platoon sergeant
Bob Buick took command. Unable to communicate with the company and taking heavy
fire from their left, Kendall ordered his platoon to stop and take cover. A few minutes
later a runner from company HQ arrived with a replacement radio. After speaking with
Kendall, Smith reluctantly ordered 10 Platoon to return to HQ’s position. 20

At this time D CO also began receiving poorly observed mortar fire. Based on the
reports from Kendall and the fact that they were receiving indirect fire, Smith knew he
was facing a substantial enemy and he had Stanley request the support of the 155mm
howitzers at Nui Dat. This time Stanley received no push-back and the 155s began
firing counter-battery missions. After silencing the enemy mortars, the 155s began
directly supporting D CO. Stanley now managed four batteries: three 105s and one 155.
Stanley utilized the 105 batteries to provide support as close to the platoons as he could
and used the 155 battery to interdict the VC deeper back. 21

19 Eling, Episode 34.
20 McAulay, (1987), 40-46
21 Eling, Episode 34.

Around 1700 Smith requested emergency resupply and a relief force. He was
told that an APC-mounted infantry company would be dispatched soon. Shortly after,
Smith ordered his rear 12 Platoon to push around the Company’s right flank and
attempt to extricate 11 Platoon. Around this same time three US F-4 Phantom jets
arrived to conduct a napalm drop, but due to the heavy rain they were unable to identify
the colored smoke the Australians used to mark their positions. Smith requested the jets
to drop their ordinance closer to the hill of Nui Dat 2 where he suspected the enemy’s
main body was located, so to still achieve affects but not risk fratricide. 22

At 1715 Sabben led 12 Platoon southeast towards the gunfire (See Appendix 7). They
soon took fire from their own right flank, indicating that the VC were quickly surrounding
the entire company. 12 Platoon continued and after moving about 250 meters they
encountered a VC platoon between them and 11. Sabben’s platoon engaged and
scattered the VC, but quickly came under attack from two more platoons trying to work
their way between 11 and 12 Platoon. Around 1800, unable to continue moving forward,
12 Platoon went to ground and Sabben threw yellow smoke as far forward as he could,
hoping the surviving 11 Platoon soldiers would see it and move towards them. 23 At the
same time Buick requested Stanley to call 105mm fire on his position. Stanley refused,
to which Buick replied that 11 Platoon was about to be overrun. Stanley replied that he
would do as Buick asked, but carefully edged the target closer to 11 Platoon without
bringing the rounds all the way in. This fire mission caused the VC to pause long
enough for 11 Platoon to see Sabben’s smoke, and they hastily pulled back, taking
more casualties as they did. 24 Then the two platoons made their way back to company

22 McAulay, (1987), 53-54
23 Eling, Episode 28.

HQ. At about the same time, two Australian Huey helicopters arrived near D CO’s HQ
with an ammunition resupply. D CO HQ marked their position with red smoke and the
crews pushed the ammunition boxes out of the Hueys. 25

Smith set the company into a perimeter defense once 11 and 12 Platoons
returned to company HQ (See Appendix 8). By 1820 the perimeter was set. With 10 and 12
Platoons down to 75% strength, 11 platoon almost combat ineffective, their resupplied
ammunition dwindling once again, and darkness approaching, the situation looked
dire. 26 For the next forty minutes D CO fended-off multiple company-sized assaults with
the help of Stanley’s fire missions and suffered four more killed. During this time, a relief
force consisting of a platoon of APCs and A/6RAR made their way closer to D CO’s
position, destroying multiple platoon-sized VC formations. The arrival of the relief force
around 1900 broke the VC’s will to fight and they withdrew under cover of the fading
light. 27

The combined forces of 6RAR now in the field withdrew about 800 meters to
another location and established a new perimeter where they spent the night. Over the
next three days 6RAR, supported by 5RAR conducted a clearance operation through
the battlefield. They recovered the bodies of their dead, discovered two surviving 11
Platoon soldiers, and collected and buried the bodies of the VC. In the end, D CO
suffered 18 KIA and 24 WIA, a stiff price for a company. The VC casualties, however,
were far greater: 245 KIA and an estimated 350 WIA. 28 For the remainder of Australia’s

24 Ibid.
25 Burstall, The Soldiers’ Story (1986), 84-88
26 Ibid., 194
27 Ibid., 110-121
28 Eling, Episode 28.

military commitment in Vietnam, VC forces never massed the amount of combat power
in Phouc Tuy province that they had at Long Tan.

With such a lopsided force ratio it is hard to believe that D/6RAR not only
survived, but also inflicted such massive casualties on their enemy. While tenacity and
personal courage surely contributed to their success, their practice of good tactics was
vital. Although the battle occurred in 1966 and D/6RAR was not an American unit,
Australian Army doctrine in the 1960s closely resembled NATO doctrine. Therefore, it is
appropriate to analyze D CO’s actions through modern US Army doctrine.

The Battle of Long Tan occurred as D CO was patrolling to locate the VC force
that had mortared Nui Dat the day prior. Consequently, D CO’s patrol can be viewed as
a modern Movement to Contact (MTC): “A commander conducts a movement to contact
when the tactical situation is not clear, or when the enemy has broken contact.” 29 As a
MTC is conducted when the tactical situation is unclear, it is inherently risky since the
friendly unit does not know where the enemy is or what their strength is. Consequently,
ATP 2.21.10 contains six fundamentals that help mitigate the risks inherent to a MTC.
D/6RAR adhered to all these fundamentals, but two were primarily import. First, D CO
made “initial contact with [a] small, mobile, self-contained force to avoid decisive
engagement of the main body on ground chosen by the enemy.” 30 This fundamental
means that a unit conducting a MTC should not mass its forces closely together since
this would allow the enemy to decisively engage all elements of the unit. Smith task-
organized his company with the intent of finding the VC and protecting his formation.
During initial stages of D CO’s MTC they moved in a traveling-overwatch company

29 Department of the Army Headquarters, ATP 3-21.10 Infantry Rifle Company
(HQDA: Washington DC, 2018), 2-61
30 Ibid., 2-62

wedge with one platoon forward and two platoons to the rear, with each platoon
organized into a platoon wedge. After discovering hard evidence of VC presence Smith
changed his formation to traveling overwatch with two platoons up front and one in the
rear but maintained spacing between the two platoons to the front, and with each
platoon still in a platoon wedge. These formations ensured that the company’s frontage
was composed of smaller units which could control themselves and allow their echelon
leadership to react: each platoon could respond to its subordinate sections making
contact, and the company to respond to its subordinate platoons making contact. Smith
increased the risk of multiple elements making contact simultaneously when he
changed the formation to two platoons up front, however, doing so better facilitated
following the VC blood trails (adhering to another fundamental of a MTC: Focus all
efforts on finding the enemy). 31 Smith mitigated this increased risk by maintaining
spacing between platoons, which prevented the VC from identifying both platoons at the
same time. These formation choices bore out when 11 Platoon’s 6 Section became
pinned down and Sharp was able to maneuver his 5 Section. Even when the entirety of
11 Platoon became decisively engaged, no other element in the company was in
contact with the enemy, which allowed Smith to pursue multiple methods of response.

The second primary MTC fundamental D/6RAR followed was: Keep subordinate
forces within supporting distances to facilitate a flexible response. 32 This means that all
subordinate units of the overall MTC need to be close enough that they can move to
support each other if necessary. Smith’s company movement formations have already
been discussed, but it is important to point out that many commanders would have been

31 Ibid., 2-62
32 Ibid., 2-62

daunted at the idea of moving in a company wedge (and especially a company vee)
through jungle/rubber plantation conditions. 33 Many would have chosen a company
column to increase ease of control. 34 This would have increased the distance and
response time between D CO’s subordinate platoons. The wedge and vee formations
also keep most company elements in appropriate supporting locations: on each other’s
flanks, instead of directly behind each other as in a column. As it happened, Smith’s
choice of company wedge and later company vee allowed each platoon to rapidly
support each other post-contact. This was demonstrated when 11 Platoon became
decisively engaged and Smith was able to quickly maneuver both 10 and 12 Platoons to
respond, which ultimately enabled 11 Platoon to withdraw and the company itself to
form a defensive position, proving the usefulness of this fundamental.

Finally, D/6RAR relied on indirect fire support to level the odds in their favor.
Stanley and Smith directed the support of three 105mm batteries, one 155mm battery,
and one sortie of 3 F4 Phantoms. With this much support it would have been easy for
Stanley and Smith to commit fratricide by calling for fire on a subordinate platoon. The
concept of echelonment of fires helped Stanley and Smith effectively orchestrate this
mass of support. Echelonment of fires means using indirect fire support with the largest
blast radius as close to friendly units in contact with the enemy as possible to maximize
effects on the enemy, then working fire support with smaller blast radiuses even closer
to friendly units. This ensures that there is always indirect fire on the enemy even as the
distance between friendly and enemy closes. 35 At the beginning of the battle, D CO
utilized a single battery of 105mm guns to support 11 Platoon. As the battle progressed

33 The Wavell Room, Tea, Toast and Tactics Podcast: Company Command.
34 Ibid., 2-11 – 2-12
35 Ibid., D-34

and more 105mm batteries became available, each platoon received a battery in direct
support. The platoons, through Stanley, used these as close to their own positions as
possible. When the 155mm battery was made available, Stanley used it to fire further
into the enemy’s formation, which created a deeper area of effect and kept the 155s
greater danger area away from D CO. This allowed the 105s to focus on destroying VC
close to D CO while the 155s destroyed VC further back and disrupted the command
and control of the entire VC formation. 36 When the F4 Phantoms arrived, Smith knew
their munitions would have an even greater effect than the 155s. The monsoon
prevented them accurately locating D CO, so he requested that they drop their
munitions further forward to the northeast where the preponderance of VC attacks
originated from. This allowed the effects to be delivered but mitigated the risk of
fratricide. If D CO had not echeloned their supporting fires, there would have been
significant casualties from fratricide and the effects on the VC would not have been as

The Battle of Long Tan is a story of a small, professional force defeating a far
numerically superior enemy. Vastly outnumbered, D/6RAR relied on their training and
indirect fire support from their headquarters to survive. By utilizing their own tactics,
techniques, and procedures which mirror 21 st century US doctrine, D CO not only
survived, but dealt such a significant blow to the VC in Phouc Tuy province that they
never massed as much combat power against the Australian Army again.

36 Eling, Episode 34.


Appendix 1
South Vietnam

Appendix 2
Phuoc Tuy Province

Appendix 3
Map VC Baseplate Locations & Withdrawal Routes

Appendix 4
Map of D/6RAR at 1540

Appendix 5
Map of D/6RAR at 1600-1630

Appendix 6
Map of D/6RAR at 1630-1700

Appendix 7
Map of D/6RAR at 1700-1800

Appendix 8
Map of D/6RAR in Final Stage of Battle


Burstall, Terry. The Soldiers’ Story: The Battle at Xa Long Tan Vietnam, 19 August 1966.
St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1986.
Eling, James. Interviews with Dave Sabben and Harry Smith, The Principles of War
Podcast, Podcast Audio, multiple episodes: 23-28, 31, 34-37, 40, 55-58.
Grandin, Bob. The Battle of Long Tan: As Told by the Commanders. Crows Nest: Allen
& Unwin, 2004
Ham, Paul. Vietnam: The Australian War. Sydney: Harper Collins, 2007.
Larsen, Stanley and Collins Jr., James. Vietnam Studies: Allied Participation in Vietnam.
Washington D.C.: Department of the Army, 2005.
McAulay, Lex. The Battle of Long Tan. Hawthorn: Hutchinson of Australia, 1987.
McNeill, Ian. To Long Tan: The Australian Army and the Vietnam War 1950-1966. St.
Leonards: Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd, 1993.
The Wavell Room. Tea, Toast and Tactics Podcast: Company Command.

Appendices Bibliography

Appendices 1 & 2: Australian National University Website:
Appendices 3-8: Images made digitally by Dave Sabben in 2002. Found within Bob
Grandin’s book The Battle of Long Tan: As Told by the Commanders. Crows Nest: Allen
& Unwin, 2004

Film Breakdown:


05:25 (Soldier asks if it’s incoming fire or outgoing fire) What a stupid question. The rounds are
impacting in the base, of course it’s incoming. This dialogue was clearly written to put some military
sounding buzzwords in the film.

05:33 (Smith tells the radio operator to tell the PLs to hurry up) This is where the film starts to get its
portrayal of MAJ Harry Smith wrong (in my opinion). From what I’ve read, he wasn’t a yelly “beat people
over the head” type of person. He wouldn’t have spoken to his radio operator that way. He was
professional, and so were his platoon leaders. They were very well trained, they had worked together
for a long time prior to coming to Vietnam, and this whole exchange would not have happened. No PL
needs 3 minutes to give compass bearings to where they hear the mortar tubes being fired from, so they
would never have said they needed 3 minutes to begin with.

5:51 (LT Gordon Sharp is playing poker) This scene is so contrived. While it is true that Sharp was likely
the most easy going and least military of the platoon leaders in D CO, he wasn’t an idiot who would have
continued playing cards after receiving artillery. Smith himself states that he trusted all of his platoon
leaders and that they were professional. He does say Sharp was the weakest of the three, but still says
he was competent and a good leader. Also, the whole discussion of the rounds being incoming is so
stupid, the rounds have already began impacting in the camp, everyone knows they’re incoming.

6:30 (same scene) I just want to say again I really really hate this scene. There is zero mention of Sharp
behaving in this way in the 5 books I have read about Long Tan or in any of the interviews I have listened
to. Sharp is said to have played cards with his soldiers and to have been perhaps a little to buddy-buddy
with them, but no evidence that he behaved this way under fire.

8:07 (PVT Large drinking a beer in his fighting position) Again, a likely completely made-up scene. 6RAR
had been in country for a few months at this point, they had conducted multiple combat patrols, had
been in multiple fire fights (albeit small ones). I don’t think any of them were stupid enough to act in this
manner. But if everyone was serious and professional, I guess that would make for a dull movie.

8:16 (LT Dave Sabben arrives with his mortar triangulation report) This far into the film its clear that the
writers of the screenplay and the director clearly don’t know how people in the military act. Why would
Sabben go to attention during combat? Also, its clear the writers and directors don’t know how Harry
Smith acted as a person, there is no evidence that he was verbally abusive to his subordinates. He held
them to high standards, but I do not believe the treated them the way he does in the film. The film Harry
Smith is an asshole for no reason.

8:21 (Smith yells at Stanley) Again, a totally misguided scene. The film really rags on CPT Morrie Stanley,
the New Zealand artillery officer serving as D CO’s company fire support officer. The film makes him
seem timid, unconfident, and slightly incompetent. This is totally made up for the film. In reality Stanley
was incredibly competent and did not suffer from confidence issues. Smith personally praised Stanley
very highly after the battle. Also, he is right in this scene, as D CO is located at the base, their
triangulation reports should be sent to the BN fire support cell, who will be receiving triangulation
reports from the other units on Long Tan, so their triangulation will be more accurate than if D CO did it
themselves, as Smith is saying in this scene. So Smith (in this scene) is wrong, it is the job of the higher
level artillery section to process the fire mission, not Stanley’s.

09:25 (negligent discharge) In the 5 books I’ve read about Long Tan, none of them mentioned Large
accidentally firing his weapon. This is totally made up for the film.

11:10 (Smith makes flippant remark) Yeah, again, the persona of Harry Smith in this film is completely
made up by the writers and director. He wasn’t a pompous ass who would say shit like that.

14:24 (Smith physically assault Large) Once again, completely fake scene. Large didn’t accidentally fire
his weapon in real life. But even if he had, Smith would not have handled this this way. It’s totally
unprofessional. People outside the military may think that holding someone up against a tent pole by
their shirt collar shows you’re a big person and in charge, but if an officer did this to a soldier: A, it’s
unprofessional, and Smith was a very professional person in real life. B, it makes you no longer an
authority figure, it now just makes you a bully who can’t get what he wants unless he resorts to physical
coercement. That’s not how you get subordinates to respect you. And threatening to kill one of your
soldiers sure as hell isn’t going to get that person to want to follow you. The whole “relationship” that
develops between Large and Smith is completely fiction.

14:21 (Company Sergeant Major Kirby tries to talk to Smith) UGH, this whole “Harry Smith is arrogant”
thing is 100% made up for the film. Smith had been with the Company way before they went to
Vietnam. He didn’t treat them this way. Yes, he trained them hard and enforced discipline, but he wasn’t
an asshole, and he did respect them. He sure as hell didn’t ignore his company sergeant major (same
position as a company First Sergeant in the US Army). If a company commander blatantly ignores this
senior enlisted advisor, he’s a bad officer. The film tries to make this seem like Smith is just being hard
because he want’s them to survive. But everything the Film-Smith does is wrong. Straight up wrong. And
he didn’t even act this way in real life. It’s totally fictional.

18:52 (Smith complains to the 1 ATF commander Townsend) Again, 100% made up. Smith had been with
his company way before Vietnam. He knew his men, and he had trained them to standard. He did not

feel this way about his company. It’s made up, fake, not real. And he wasn’t an obnoxiously stuck up
asshole like his character is in this film.

20:51 (Little Pattie arrives) This is actually true, Little Pattie and Cole Joy and the Joy Boys did arrive on
the 17 th to give a concert on the 18 th . The whole thing about the two Soldiers getting to meet her
personally is made up, but the part about the pop stars being there is true.

22:30 (Smith ignores this Platoon Leaders questions) How many more times am I going to have to say
things are completely fictional and really stupid if they had been done in real life. Smith respected and
trusted his Platoon leaders in real life. And if a company commander treats his subordinates this way,
they are going to fear him, and not respect him, and not trust him. And if your platoon leaders do not
feel comfortable with you, or are afraid to ask questions, your company is going to fail, and you are
failing as a leader. I HATE THIS MOVIE

25:05 (CSM Kirby talks to LT Sharp) Kirby tells Sharp he’s the lead platoon, in real life he was already the
lead platoon. At this point Smith pushed two platoons up front abreast of eachother) So again, the film
demonstrates that it doesn’t care about real life, it just takes the big ticket real life events and makes up
everything else.

29:43 (Bob Buick gives orders to the PLT) I haven’t come across any evidence that Buick was giving all
the orders. Sharp was in command of the platoon, and he was competent, and he was controlling this
platoon in real life.

34:25 (first fire mission is being processed) Why does the gun NCO jump up and grab the radio and act
like world is ending. They act kind of like a cartoon, like, what is grabbing the radio going to do? These
guys have been in Vietnam for months and have been firing fire missions every day. This is nothing new
to them. They should be professional and prompt, but wayyyy more relaxed about this.

39:45 (Smith argues with Stanley and decides to halt company HQ) In reality Smith had halted CHQ
when 11 Platoon made initial contact. This exchange is once again, completely made up.

39:56 (Smith says “You happy now”) WTF?? Really? Is he a child? This shit is so fake and not true to how
real soldiers (and in particular the real-life Harry Smith) act it’s comical.

43:08 By this point of the battle a heavy monsoon rain had begun. The monsoon began shortly after the
first shots had been fired after 11 PLT had entered the plantation.

44:26 (Large goes to find 11 Platoon) Once again, a made-up event.

45:05 (VC gets into the roof of the tapper’s hut) This is again, fake. No VC snuck into the tapper’s hut
and sniped at 11 PLT from behind. Also, there wasn’t a lul in the fighting with 11 Platoon as the film
deptics. 11 PLT was in contact from the moment they were fired up on until they withdrew back to CHQ
later in the battle.

47:04 (Large is hidden under cart) Again, this is fake. Large was a member of 12 PLT with Dave Sabben,
and he stayed with 12 PLT during the battle, he did not sneak his way up to 11 PLT by himself.

49: 37 (US F4 Phantoms) In reality, the F4’s were unable to identify the Australian smoke because of the
monsoon that was pouring rain onto the battlefield. So Smith requested them to drop their ordinance in
the vicinity of Nui Dat 2 (hills to the North East of the plantation where the VC were originating from).

52:37 (debate about firing artillery on 11 PLT’s position) In reality Stanley handled this himself, Smith
wasn’t involved. After initially refusing to fire at Buick’s location, he eventually lied to Buick and told him
he would, but actually just targeted even closer to 11 PLT’s position, not quite targeting on it.

54:47 (big dramatic pause while CHQ checks to see if 11 PLT is still alive) Again, didn’t happen. 10 and 11
PLT were still in contact. Stanley was constantly calling in missions for 11 AND 10 PLT. He didn’t have
time to stop and check if 11 PLT was still alive. Besides, the VC never stopped shooting, and they would
have been able to hear the shooting from both PLTs locations from CHQ. This is overdramatized crap.

55:11 (monsoon starts) Like I previously pointed out, the monsoon started only a few minutes after the
battle began, so it’s way late in the film. Also, the PLTs are still in contact, there isn’t this lull that the film
is depicting.

56:31 (Large attacks Smith) This is so fake and made-up I can’t even say anything more about it.

58:28 (Townsend orders Smith to return to Nui Dat) Townsend never gate Smith this order. It was clear
from the beginning that D CO could not extract itself and that the VC would have to be beaten or forced
to withdraw, or a relief force would need to be sent. D CO was never ordered to return and there was
never any corny refusal to follow orders. What is true is that Jackson (the task force commander) was
worried that the VC were planning to attack the base and was reticent to send out more troops and
thereby weaken the defenses. But by the point in time the APC platoon and A Company 6 RAR was
notified that they were on call as a QRF and were making preparations to the lave the base and head to
Long Tan.

1:00:23 (Large leads Sabben’s 12 PLT to 11 PLT) Again, didn’t happen. Smith ordered Sabben to take his
PLT to 11 PLT to extract them. They didn’t need to be led there because they could hear the shooting
and just followed the sound of the shooting to their position. Large had never went to 11 PLT to begin
with and was just a normal member of 12 PLT under Sabben’s command.

1:00:52 (Smith sends a soldier to 10 PLT with a replacement radio) This had been done within minutes of
10 PLT’s original radio being shot out, not a significant time later as depicted in the film. By the time 12
PLT moved out to find 11 PLT, 10 PLT had already gotten the replacement radio and had returned to

1:02:36 (Aircrew decides to fly the resupply mission) Need I even say that it didn’t happen this way?
What actually went down was this: Brigadier Jackson (task force commander) requested the RAAF (royal
Australian air force) helicopter section to conduct the resupply. The Air commander refused because of
the monsoon and the fact that the helicopters would be extremely exposed while they would have to
hover to drop the ammo. Jackson then asked the American Air liaison officer if they could support the
resupply, and the American said yes. This forced the hand of the RAAF commander who acquiesced and
ordered his helicopter section to fly the resupply mission.

1:08:32 (Smith tells Stanley to start firing the artillery again) Stanley had never stopped directing the
artillery missions. This didn’t happen.

1:10:09 (Sabben asks Large if he has a smoke grenade) Sabben had his own, and used his own.

1:11:39 (rain stops) Didn’t happen. The monsoon continued.

1:13:53 (Townsend and Jackson argue about sending the relief force) Once again, didn’t happen. Jackson
ordered the relief force to move even before 12 PLT linked up with 11 PLT. At this time in real life the
relief force was making its way towards Long Tan.

1:14:38 (Jackson and Townsend talk)

1:16:57 (SGT Paddy Todd crawls back to CHQ) For once, this actually did happen. Although he had
started crawling back BEFORE 11 and 12 PLT’s returned to CHQ

1:17:22 (Smith makes the defense plan) This lull that’s depicted didn’t really happen. CHQ’s position was
under small arms fire and as each company element made it back to their location, Smith and CSM Kirby
put them in a 360 degree perimeter. Everything was fluid, there wasn’t a lull.

1:18:10 (relief force leaves base) Again, this happened much earlier in the battle. By this time the relief
force was around half way to Long Tan.

1:23:36 (Townsend lies to Jackson to go with the relief force) Didn’t happen. When the relief force
initially left, Townsend wasn’t with them. But that wasn’t because he had been ordered not to go, he
was busy. When he realized the relief force had left, he decided he should go with them, and so ordered
them to return for him. LT Roberts (APC Platoon commander) refused, as he had direct orders from
Jackson to get to D CO as fast as possible, but Townsend insisted, and Roberts decided to send back 2
APCs to get him, but continued on with the rest of the platoon.

1:26:23 (Townsend tells Roberts to wait for hi) This did happen, although as is the case with the majority
of the film, not in the way that it did in real life. Roberts’ Platoon was about to cross a river and
Townsend to him to wait for him there. Roberts did disobey orders by only leaving 1 APC at the river and
continuing with the rest of his platoon.

Peter Cox

White Australia has always been conscious of its vulnerable position as an outpost of Empire on the far
side of the world, the white, north-west European population saw itself as surrounded by the "other",
"the horde", the various versions of “yellow peril” and understood the tenuous hold it had on the massive
continental land mass - mostly uninhabitable without adapting as the indigenous people had.
Initially afraid of starving, of the indigenous peoples, of a rising by convicts, this tiny outpost of the
United Kingdom on an enormous landmass has fear of invasion deep in its psyche. Fears of “replacement”
echo through Australian history including the White Australia policy, only repealed in the 1960s, and the
exclusion of indigenous peoples from the constitution and voting rights until the 1967 referendum
recognised them.

The pattern of invasion panic plays out through the couple of hundred years of Australia’s existence
as a European colony. Kind of ironic when the Europeans were invaders themselves.The first panic
was when the French explorer La Perouse passed by in 1788 not long after the first settlers and convicts
arrived. A beachside suburb is named for La Perouse and not far away, on a spit just inside the entrance to
Botany Bay, is a fort built during a Crimean War scare when, for reasons now hard to fathom, the colony
was terrified that the Russians were coming. Ever keen to build credit with the big boys, the colonies and then
the nation sent contingents to various Imperial adventures in the hope that the Empire would help us if we
needed it.

After Federation in 1901, the nation hopped straight into WW1 with the UK. First it snapped up anything
local occupied by the German Empire. Then it was straight to the Middle East to help assure supply through
the Suez Canal and Indian Ocean to Australia.

The same thing happened in WW2, with Australian troops rushing to the defence of Egypt and the Suez
Canal before the nation’s deep-seated fear of a rising, aggressive Asian power was realised when the
Japanese Empire pushed down to Australia’s northern approaches and invaded the former German territory,
then Australian protectorate, of New Guinea. With the fall of Singapore and Churchill’s willingness to abandon
anything, anything, to save India and the British Isles, Australia turned to the new big boy, America, for salvation.

Replacing the generalised and racial “yellow peril” with the political and still fairly racial “red peril” Australia
was straight into Korea, joined the Far East Strategic Reserve with the UK to keep the reds out of Malaysia
and didn’t hesitate to back the USA when the call came to do the same in Vietnam - or boycott the
Moscow Olympics.

Running against this trend, nearly 200 years long, of rushing to the side of Australia’s Big Brother of the
Moment is the counter trend of suspicion and distrust of Empires. That weird blend of English soldier-settler
and underclass, frequently Irish, convict that comprises my blood line and the European history of Australia
through to the 1970s means we’re a contrary lot. For all the rushing to the side of bigger Allies, the nation
has never accepted conscription for forced overseas service. Forced service has always been around but
always restricted to short service with militia (it went by various names) service in Australia and its territories.

But in WW1 conflict over attempts to conscript for overseas service broke the country apart, often based
on religion and origin. Broadly speaking, those from an Irish and Roman Catholic background had no interest
in forcing service to the English and the issue, as the Western Front destroyed the flower of European
youth and governments became desperate for manpower, destroyed Australian governments and parties.
The existential crisis of the Japanese Navy popping submarines into Sydney Harbour and bombing Darwin
and Townsville allowed a little flex, with militia units allowed by law to serve in the Pacific war zone.
Exercising caution, no militia units served further away than New Guinea. Only volunteers served in Korea
and during the Malaysian conflict. My own father was in the Navy for Malaysia but he’d joined voluntarily
to do the classic “get off the family farm, learn a trade” and avoid having to “square bash*” doing mandatory
National Service in the Army.

*”Square bashing” wasn’t something Daniele had heard of so maybe it’s Australian slang. A Drill Square is
where you march around and practise what some countries (US?) refer to as “close order drill”.
So “square bashing” is when you get sent out in your unit to march around with a drill instructor yelling at you.

The 700 words so far have been to set up the conflicts in the national psyche going into the Vietnam War
when the Australian government decided that conscripts, men doing their “Nasho” as National Service was
called, could and should be sent to Vietnam.

The first contingents sent from 1962 were the usual professional, full time soldiers sent to every other
Imperial adventure and there wasn’t much objection. See “reds under the bed”, “domino theory” et al.
But, by 1965, things weren’t going well for South Vietnamese forces and the US was escalating. So, of course,
did Australia. “All the way with LBJ”, as one of our more sycophantic Prime Ministers (Harold Holt before he
disappeared in the surf off a Victorian beach).

Then in 1965 the National Service legislation was altered to allow overseas service and then, in 1966,
the government announced that conscripts would join volunteers in Vietnam. The die was cast for the
mix of volunteer and Nasho servicemen who would walk into the rubber plantation near Long Tan in August
1966 after establishing a major base at Nui Dat in Phuoc Tuy province. But it didn’t need Long Tan to fire up the
anti-conscription cause in Australia. That started immediately when the law changed in 1965 and followed the
usual sectarian, anti authority and anti imperial lines. A key position was that men too young to vote (voting
age was 21) were being sent to fight. It took a few years - until around 1969 - for the fight against
conscription for overseas service on established principles to line up with general public disapproval of
the Vietnam War. Annoyingly, Australians started calling themselves “draft resisters” and “draft dodgers”
as the movement started importing American terms and tactics. You can’t burn a draft card in Australia as
there was no such thing.

Australian forces would start pulling out of Vietnam in late 1970 and all, other than embassy guards, were
out by 1973. Is it surprising that not even 20 years later, with the Australian Government busily militarising
Australian history, that armed forces found themselves back in the Middle East and stayed there at varying
force levels from Desert Storm in 1990 to the withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. The pattern continues.

Bits and pieces

Long Tan, as a battle, is seen as an echo of co-operation between full time, volunteer soldiers and the
militia units defending Australia in New Guinea during the scariest days of WW2. But it’s not a Disney story.
The Nashos were inexperienced and the units comprising the Nui Dat force had not trained together.
Of the 18 killed and 24 wounded most were National Servicemen. As a result the government directed that
not more than 50% of a unit’s strength could be drawn from Nashos.

Later Vietnamese assaults on Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral are less famous but were just as fraught,
especially Coral, and could make excellent movies. Micah will probably cover the absolute critical role of artillery
support at Long Tan, at Coral and Balmoral the artillery was backed up by Centurion tanks firing flechette rounds.

While it seems a bit “China Beach”, the evacuation of musicians and a singer from Nui Dat as the Long Tan
battle raged is true. “Little Patty” Amphlett, cousin of Divinyls singer Chrissie Amphlett, was a 17-year-old
pop star in Australia on stage with Col Joye and the Joye Boys. For a sample of Little Patty’s work check out
“He’s my blond headed, stompy wompy, real gone surfer boy”. Only the Beatles kept Little Patty out of number
one on the charts :) If you are wondering about the
“stompy wompy” bit, the Stomp was a surf dance hit.

Australia, after WW2, opened the door to the whitest European migrants - typically from the Baltic states.
Then the door was opened a little wider for southern Europeans - Greeks, Italians, Maltese. But in the aftermath
of Vietnam the first major influx of Asian refugees, largely Chinese or anti-Communist South Vietnamese
escaping persecution in Vietnam, were accepted. With the White Australia policy repealed, the stroll toward a
multi-cultural Australia began.


Australian War Memorial

La Perouse Museum

Little Pattie

Long Tan on WIki


All the way with LBJ

Kyle Pocock

While Micah and Peter cover infantry tactics and Australia’s involvement in Vietnam, I’ll yet again
cover weapons, vehicles, and equipment. A lot of this was already covered in my research for
We Were Soldiers so I’ll try to focus on aspects that are specific to this movie and to the
1st Australian Task Force. (1st ATF).

Australia held a key advantage over the other foreign powers it was joining in defense of South
Vietnam in that its armed forces possessed a wealth of experience in jungle fighting. From Burma,
New Guinea, and the Philippines to their support of Commonwealth involvement in the Malayan
Emergency up until 1960 Australia had been involved directly in jungle fighting almost continuously
from the Second World War until they began to send advisers to Vietnam in 1962.
This experience would go on to play a key part in how they fought and equipped their soldiers
going into this conflict.

While their uniforms and gear were more or less interchangeable with their Western peers of
the time, there are a few distinctions worth exploring. One very noticeable difference would be
that Australian infantry rarely wore helmets, opting instead for giggle hats (us Americans would
call them boonie hats) to keep the sun and rain out of their eyes and to break up the outline of the
head for some improved concealment. This decision speaks to a larger divide between American
and Australian tactics in Vietnam with the Australians preferring to equip their infantry to be lighter
and more mobile for patrols into the jungle rather than to fight from helicopters or vehicles like the
Americans. Providing protection only from shrapnel and some pistols, the Aussies felt that the cons
of the M1 steel helmet outweighed the pros for their style of jungle fighting where the soldier would
need as little weight holding them down as possible.

Sgt Bob Buick leads a line of 11 Platoon soldiers across a river. Their giggle hats are on full display with
not a helmet in sight.

Moving on to infantry weapons, we see that same drive towards lightweight mobility reflected in the
adoption of then cutting edge rifles and machine guns. Along with the United States, the Australians
saw the need for intermediate caliber assault rifles like the M16 and acquired several to outfit scouts
and section commanders within rifle sections. Supplementing and replacing the powerful but long and
heavy L1A1 (the Commonwealth version of the FAL, check out Jeff’s facebook post about it for
Tumbledown) with the M16 was an easy decision for Australian as well as American leadership in Vietnam
as its lightweight nature was perfect for long patrols in jungles where the added range of the L1A1 was
unnecessary. The lighter ammunition of the 5.56x45mm M16 versus the 7.62x51mm L1A1 also meant that the
soldier could carry more ammunition for the same weight, keeping him in the fight longer. One shortcoming of the
M16 over the L1A1 was its lack of penetration through the dense jungle foliage, sometimes being knocked off
target by thick brush that an L1A1 would have punched right through. Ammo changes after testing and a lack of
proper cleaning kits also led to a significant amount of malfunctions with early adoption of the M16, but these
were solved relatively easily and the improved M16A1 as well as new cleaning kits proved to be a reliable
combination. Despite these concerns, many soldiers preferred the M16 as a jungle fighting weapon, something
we hear Pve Large discussing with Maj Smith after his negligent discharge incident early in the movie.

Maj Smith inspects Pve Large’s M16 after confronting him over his negligent discharge of the weapon while
covering the perimiter. Large comments on the rifle’s propensity to jam as well as its light weight compared to
the L1A1.

A soldier holds his L1A1 at the ready in case of an NVA attack while most of 1ATF’s forces leave to help
Delta Company. The length of the rifle (45in or 1,143mm) is on full display, not even fully fitting into frame.

Another noteworthy Australian weapon on display is the Owen submachine gun of WW2 vintage. Developed
by a young Australian man just before the war, this strange looking, seemingly upside down SMG was a favorite
of soldiers in the Pacific, proving to be simple, reliable, and effective, excelling in the sort of close range ambushes
typical of jungle fighting. Still issued to radio operators at the time of Long Tan, they saw extensive use in Vietnam
until they were slowly replaced by the M16.

Pve Bartlett carries his Owen gun at the ready while 2LT Sabben uses the radio on his back. The Owen,
though slightly heavier than an M16, shot the weaker 9mm pistol cartridge, making it extremely controllable
in fully automatic fire.

Recognizing the need for a lightweight machine gun for a platoon level force, the Australian army also acquired
another American-made weapon, the M60. Developed to meet the needs of a general purpose machine gun that
could be carried by a single man, placed on a tripod for static use, as well as mounted on vehicles, the M60 was
just what the Aussies needed in Vietnam for their patrol focused infantry. With one man carrying the gun and an
assistant gunner standing by to carry more ammunition and help with any malfunctions, the M60 could be moved
wherever the section leader needed it. This is demonstrated in the movie with Sgt Bob Buick moving the machine
gunner often during 11 platoon’s initial contact with the enemy. Compared to an older design, like the water cooled,
tripod mounted only Vickers machine gun of WWI vintage, the M60 could be fired from the hip in emergency
situations. We see Pte Eglinton use this to full effect as he rakes the hut behind them with fire from his M60,
neutralizing the sniper that had snuck up on them. This sort of mobility was also found in the 7.62 L4 BREN gun
also then in service with Commonwealth forces, but the M60 had the advantage of being belt fed compared to the
30 round magazines of the BREN gun, allowing it to churn out a nearly continuous stream of firepower with less
time between reloads. At platoon level engagements like we see in the film, this sort of mobile firepower can be
the deciding factor between victory and defeat, a fact not lost on the commanding officers and NCOs who are
constantly pointing out and focusing fire on the enemy machine guns bearing down on them.

Pte Eglinton spins around and fires from the hip at the hut, killing the sniper by punching through the walls with
the powerful 7.62x51 round the M60 fires.

While the Australian forces are undoubtedly the focus of this film, the NVA and NLF (Vietcon) forces and their
equipment also feature heavily throughout. Mostly equipped by support from the Soviet Union, the NVA and NLF
carry a smorgasbord of rifles, machine guns, and support weapons into battle. While the AK-47 and its variants are
front and center, some other less known rifles like the SKS, STG-44, and M91/30 Mosin also see considerable use
during the conflict. The Soviets had vast stores of weapons from WWII like the Mosin rifle, PPSH submachine gun,
and Goryunov SG-43 machine gun that they gave to North Vietnam as aid, including captured German arms like
the MP-40 submachine gun, STG-44 assault rifle, and considerable amounts of the MG-34 machine gun. Quickly
replaced by the AK-47, the vast numbers of leftover semi automatic SKS carbines were another Soviet
and Chinese manufactured rifle that saw considerable use in the conflict. Northern forces would also issue
any weapons captured on the battlefield, as evidenced by a few M16s seen in the hands of NVA soldiers in the film.
Always short on weapons after having fought colonial powers since WW2, the NVA would take whatever they could
get their hands on in their fight for independence.

NVA soldiers fire their SKS (on the left, partially blocked by the tree) and STG-44 (in the center) rifles as they
close in on Delta company.

Initially held back as a last resort, the vehicles and artillery at 1ATF’s disposal would prove to be vital to the
survival of Delta company as they found themselves low on ammo, facing superior numbers. Alongside the
infantry battalions in Nui Dat were 1st APC Squadron and their M113 armored personnel carriers, 1st Field
Regiment, Australian Artillery and their 105mm L5 howitzers, 3rd SAS Squadron, and engineers, recon aircraft,
intelligence, logistics, and eight Huey helicopters from No. 9 Squadron RAAF. All of these components worked
together to support patrols as they worked to interdict Vietcong activity in the area.

1st APC Squadron is seen in the film coming to the rescue of Delta company, carrying Alpha company in
their M113s. Yet another American piece of equipment purchased by the Australians, the M113 was a brand
new armored personnel carrier that had been in development since the end of WW2. Carrying 11 soldiers in
the rear compartment and a driver and commander manning a .50 caliber machine gun, the M113 proved to
be a reliable workhorse in Vietnam and on into the present day. If you thought some of the commanders
looked vulnerable behind their machine guns up top, you’d be right. Almost as soon as they began to see
service in Vietnam, ad-hoc shields were added in the field to better protect the commander. In the battle of
Long Tan, only a few such shields had been fitted to the turrets of 1st APC’s vehicles, leading to casualties
as they entered the fight. Eventually, armored shielding around the turret was standardized as the ACAV
(Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicles) model of M113 with extensive armor around the .50 caliber machine
gun as well as two armored turrets for M60 machine guns on either side. Australian engineers would take
it even a step further by adding the 76mm gun turret of a Saladin armored car to create a fire support vehicle
out of the M113. The adaptability of the vehicle was put to good use with mortar carrier, command and
communication, flamethrower, cargo, and vehicle recovery variants developed alongside the main troop
carrying version. The cross country mobility of the M113 is on full display in the film as 1st APC charges
across roads and fields to relieve Delta. The speed and maneuverability of the M113 came in part from its
6-cylinder diesel engine as well as its relatively lightweight aluminum alloy armor. While this armor wasn’t as
effective as conventional steel armor, the trade off in speed and weight were essential to its success, allowing
the M113 to be air transported to whatever theater of operations it was needed much faster than a heavier
vehicle that relied on rail or shipping. Keep your eyes peeled for a Danger Close: Mechanized covering the
M113 in even more detail once the podcast is released!

1st APC M113s race through a field to bring much needed fire support and reinforcements to Delta company.

Possibly the most important support element 1st ATF had at its disposal during the battle of Long Tan was the
1st Field Regiment, Australian Artillery and their Italian made 105mm L5 howitzers operated by the New
Zealanders of the 161st Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery, then serving under the 1st ATF. Designed for
mountain troops by Italy, the OTO Melara Mod 56 was adopted by Commonwealth forces as the L5. Before
being replaced by larger, more permanent field guns, the 18 L5 guns at Nui Dat provided cover support at a
moment’s notice to soldiers on patrol around the base. Portable by nature, the L5 could even be moved outside
of the base to catch the enemy off guard outside of their normal, relatively short range firing from inside the wire.
In the battle of Long Tan, these guns were directed with brutal potency, saving the lives of the vastly outnumbered
infantry in the field. At the very beginning of the film, we see the base at Nui Dat under fire from enemy mortar and
recoilless rifle fire. After the positions are triangulated with compass bearings, a counter battery by the Kiwi’s L5
guns put a stop to the mortar fire. Bravo company is sent out on patrol to locate the mortar positions, being relieved by
Delta company who goes on to do most of the fighting later in the day. Thanks to the radio operators attached
to each platoon as well as their knowledge of the area, the Delta company NCOs and officers are able to call in
devastating artillery fire from the base only a few kilometers away. Sometimes landing nearly on top of the men
in the field, this artillery support was crucial in saving D company, and in particular 11 platoon, from being
overwhelmed by a force nearly one hundred times the size of their unit. The professionalism from the radio
operators and the artillery men on display in the movie was refreshing to see as it was this relationship that really
made the difference while the battle raged throughout the day. One small mistake on the part of the artillery
regiment could have resulted in a tragic fratricide incident, especially with how close they were firing to their
own men.

An L5 howitzer of the 161st Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery fires on targets in support of Delta company.
The balls of fire blasting out the sides of the barrel are a result of the sizable muzzle brake fitted on the guns,
helping to redirect some of the recoil forces on the relatively lightweight gun.

Overall, I was incredibly impressed with this movie’s portrayal of the battle of Long Tan. Peter even commented
to me that it approaches a documentary in how well it follows real events. I can’t think of anything that came
across as an egregious mistake or bending of the truth. The timeline of events was spot on compared to
everything I found in my research and all the equipment was authentic. The movie almost did our job for us as
the story it presents is a fantastic retelling of the events of August 18th and 19th, 1966.

Below is a segment from an Australian 60 Minutes broadcast where two of the soldiers depicted in the film,
Sgt Bob Buick and 2LT Dave Sabben, return to the rubber tree plantation at Long Tan and meet up with two
NVA veterans. The personal accounts are harrowing and it was interesting to see what the actual area looked like.

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 36: The Northman Sat, 16 Jul 2022 08:15:00 -0700 f579a70f-88df-41ab-b021-f8ada1355914 Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E36: The Northman Research for The Northman

Scholarly articles:


A female Viking warrior confirmed by genomics

Viking warrior women? Reassessing Birka chamber grave Bj.581

Dave Feldmann
Undergrad and unofficial medievalist, current practitioner of Historical European Martial Arts.

The concept of doing a writeup for what has been described as the most historically accurate Vikings movie ever is a bit daunting, but I’m just going to focus exclusively on swords and fighting and stuff like that rather than delving too deep into the physical culture of the film, which deserves an incredibly thick book written about it. I’ll also explain why Robert Eggers is a better filmmaker than Ari Aster because even though there is a buttload of historical research put into the physical culture, the purpose of why they’re in the film is pretty obvious and clear.

So within the first 15 minutes or so, Ethan Hawke of Boyhood fame is struck down by his dastardly brother Fjolnir. What is remarkable about the scene is the speed in which King Aurvandil is dispatched -- he’s shot by arrows, then speared by Fjolnir’s men who surround him and incapacitate him with their long spears. There’s no single combat, no chivalry -- they have a job to do and they’re doing it as quickly as possible. Even though everyone loves swords, especially the Vikings, this scene shows how the sword was not always the best weapon to have in your arsenal. Yes, it can cut pretty well like an axe (and this movie has wonderful axtion, if you will), and it can also be used to stab people effectively like a spear (as we see in one of the last shots of the film). But the sword is essentially a hybrid weapon that doesn’t cut as well as an ax or stab as well as a spear. Ethan Hawke gets the sword out but it’s far, far too late.

Then we have that wonderful shot of Fjolnir walking forward in his varafeldr cloak and taking off his mask. The armor is indicative of very high craftsmanship and rank- even though Fjolnir is the bastard brother of a king, he has very high status in the community. That shaggy cloak he wears is also indicative of status as well as being highly practical. Leather cracks very easily when wet , so the shag (furry side) could be worn outside to protect the leather and wool on the inside. Having a cloak of this kind would have identified Fjolnir as an important man; as would have the sword he wielded.

Fjolnir’s soldiers were armed with knives, shields and spears, whereas Fjolnir has that beautiful sword. Neil Price, the leading authority on the Viking Age and consultant on the film, has noted that everyone had spears -- they were cheap, easy to use, and deadly. Wielding a sword, though, is as much a badge of office in those days as it was a weapon, and Fjolnir doesn’t use it except to execute Aurvandil. Cutting off someone’s head is usually pretty difficult, and Fjolnir has to hit poor Aurvandil several times in order to get the job done.

This level of graphic violence is unusual in movies, in which fighting is either short and sharp (our hero cutting down dozens of faceless bad guys) or stupidly elongated (our hero and the villain fighting in a 45 minute duel). None of that here -- duels or single combats happened all the time, but that’s not what is being depicted. Its an assassination, not a fight, and the Viking age was full of messy betrayals. It's bloody, messy, work.

Then we come to the raid on the Slavic village. Now we talked this one to death on the pod, but let me just say that “barbarian” peoples throughout history fielded warriors who would fight naked or without armor -- the Celtic Gauls did it, the Germanic tribes fighting the Roman Republic and the later Empire did as well. The berserkers of the Viking Age were famous for their skill, and it remains unclear if they wore the skins of animals in battle or were bare-chested. In the Northman, they cover their bases and do both.

One of the things that drives HEMA types and sword nerds crazy is when people in movies hold swords underhanded, which Amleth does in the raid on the Slavic village. But according to Neil Price, this is a “fighting knife,” a smaller, slimmer blade that could be used for close combat. Many historians believe that smaller fighting knives like this would also be used in a shieldwall, given the extremely close-range and small fighting conditions. We didn’t get to see any shieldwalls in the Northman, mostly because they have a shieldwall like every ten minutes on the Vikings TV shows.

Another historical aspect brought vividly to life is the concept that physical objects have agency all on their own. For example, Amleth thanks the iron brand he uses to mark himself a slave: “I will thank your owner for the warmth.” It's humorous (he just burned himself) but also practical (Amleth needs to hide amongst the slaves in order exact his revenge).

But then we come to the special sword of the Mound Dweller. First, it is a magical sword with a name, Draugr, meaning literally “Undead,” and that it can only be drawn at night or at the Gates of Hell. We see one of Fjolnir’s asshats try to pull it out during and it doesn't work. Here too is the agency of physical objects, they have their own requirements, and can only be used in special ways. Neil Price also comments that the concept of a named weapon was always popular in the Norse legends and the Sagas. Having a named weapon with a long history would have imbued its bearer with prestige and honor.

The Mound-Dweller, himself a Draugr now (or was he?) is also painstakingly rendered, as he was also at one time a famous hero. The helmet he wears is similar to equipment from centuries prior (compare it with the famous Sutton Hoo helmet without the faceplate). He’s also buried with a massive burial ship, a practice which appears later in the film, all artifacts indicating that this guy in his own time may have been a lot like Amleth himself.

I could probably go on and on but lets get down to the awesomeness - the holmgang, the final fight between Fjonir and Amleth. As pointed out on the podcast, this is a ritual for settling disputes, and need not have been fought naked but hey, why wouldn’t you?

The fight itself is very well done because while there is plenty of hack-and-slash going on with the swords, it's when both men are so exhausted and injured that they literally can’t do anything else. These two guys are expert in sword-and-shield fighting, and there are all kinds of little tricks where Amleth and Fjolnir are trying to get the other guy off balance, or trapping the blade with the shield (like in sword-and-buckler), and going back between cuts and thrusts -- whatever will end the fight.

But more important than that is the use of space. A guy with a sword in his hand can kill somebody about two and half feet in front of him, given the length of his own arm and the length of his blade. You have to be very close to your opponent in order to get the job done - and Amleth and Fjolnir are very, very close to each other. One of my favorite little things was when Fjolnir jumps into a guard with his sword on top of his shield, daring Amleth to rush him. Not being stupid, Amleth doesn’t and the fight goes on. This is such a nice little detail because it shows that Fjolnir thinks a trick like that will work, and Amleth doesn’t take the bait. A few seconds later, I think Amleth gets a cut on Fjolnir on his left leg but who knows.

And then we come to that final exchange where the two dudes are just shouting at each other and trying to psych themselves up while psyching out the other guy, and we get that final mutually assured destruction, with Fjolnir stabbing Amleth through the heart and Amleth cutting off Fjolnir’s head.

But even here there is important information. Amleth is avenging the death of his father, whom Fjolnir decapitated, and Amleth decapitates him - but in one stroke! Perhaps this means that Amleth is simply stronger than Fjolnir (maybe) or perhaps is sword is more magical and special, or that Amleth’s cause is more worthy -- I happen to think it may just be all three.

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 35: A Bridge Too Far Sat, 18 Jun 2022 10:00:00 -0700 4de050bb-2cf2-493b-bf28-47abb462471d Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E35: A Bridge Too Far A Bridge Too Far

Micah Neidorfler
B.A. in History, Minor in German Language
Infantry Captain in the US Army
Graduate of the Command and General Staff College’s distance learning “Army Field/Unit Historian

I will keep my discussion of the background of Market Garden and its planning brief, as for the purposes of the podcast I don’t think it’s necessary.

Market Garden was the result of Eisenhower’s overall European strategy, and his subordinate commanders working within his intent. Eisenhower wanted to maintain a broad advancing front across Europe. So, he wanted Allied forces to advance steadily from Northern Europe to Southern Europe at generally the same pace, with the intent of overwhelming the Germany Army. Subordinate commanders in every portion of Europe therefore came up with their own plans on how, in their opinion, their respective units could best advance.

Eisenhower believed that the priority theater was Northern Europe, through the low-countries and into Northern Germany. This was for two reasons. One: Northern Germany was where the majority of German Industry was located (and thus where Germany’s ability to sustain its war effort lay). Two: passing through the Netherlands would allow the Allies to bypass the strongest portions of the Siegfried Line (the primary German line of prepared defenses that ran the course of Germany’s western border. Northern France and the low countries were where most of the British/Commonwealth forces were operating, thus was the responsibility of the British, which is why Market Garden was a British-led operation. The film’s opening narration makes a big deal about the rivalry between Montgomery and Patton, and to be sure there was a rivalry, but it is overplayed in popular history, and is not the reason Market Garden occurred. But it makes good drama for a film-going audience.

The film does a good job explaining the operational framework of Market Garden: Allied airborne troops would land behind German lines and seize a series of bridges which they would hold as the British 30th Corps penetrated German defenses and move to each bridge sequentially. Pushing through the low-country was going to prove to be a very difficult task owing to the number of rivers and other water-features present. Thus, seizing this series of main bridges in one fast operation had the potential of speeding up the Allied advance considerably, as it would allow the Allies to bypass most of the prepared German defenses in the low countries and control bridges sizable enough to support the movement of armored vehicles and large amounts of vehicular supply traffic.

In assessment, Market Garden failed to achieve its primary objective (securing a crossing point across the Rhine River (Arnhem Bridge). This meant that the operation failed to achieve its purpose: to allow the Allies to bypass the Siegfried Line. Additionally, a significant number of Allied troops were killed and captured (the total number of Allied killed and captured combined is greater than the German casualties). At the same time, Market Garden did secure important crossing points over numerous small and intermediate-sized rivers and two major rivers (the Maas and Waal), and allowed the Allies to seize a 105 kilometer-deep portion of German territory, all of which the Allies would have had to push through anyway, and possibly might have sustained a larger number of casualties attempting (although probably without the high number of captured). Although it was a rather narrow territorial gain (centered on the main road that 30th Corps was advancing along) it allowed the Allies to later launch attacks into different parts of the Netherlands and cut many Germany units off from their supply lines and left them unable to support each other. The operation also severely degraded the German military’s ability to launch rocket attacks against Great Britain and caused the German Army serious supply problems in their Northern theater (as the loss of all those bridges forced the German supply lines to lengthen and use smaller and less advantageous road networks).

Market Garden was an overall well-planned operation. It certainly had its flaws, (which are pointed out in the film), and it paid for them. But it is important to remember that combined arms warfare had not completely matured in the Second World War. Large-scale, complex operations like this were still coming of age and armies were still wrestling with how to best combine modern technology with military operations, oftentimes with technology in one warfighting domain that outstripped technology in another domain. The film is quite harsh on the military planners who planned Market Garden, and the flaws in the operation cannot be hand-waved, but hindsight is 20/20 and had intelligence been better, or had one or two breaks gone a different way, it is extremely likely that Market Garden would have achieved all its goals.
Finally, the film lays most of the blame for Market Garden’s outcome on Montgomery and Browning, and as the operation’s primary commanders this is somewhat correct. But it is important to remember that Montgomery was working within Eisenhower’s intent. Eisenhower wanted an operation to bypass the Siegfried Line through the low-countries, and that is what Montgomery tried to achieve. Furthermore, Montgomery had to receive Eisenhower’s approval to conduct this operation. Eisenhower was well-briefed on Market Garden, and he gave the “ok” to proceed. The film does not really mention this, and most people conveniently forget it.

(The timestamps used below are relevant to the Amazon Prime version of the film)

-(Opening scene with German officers): The German subtitles in this film are far more exact and comprehensive than in The Longest Day.

27:30 (Browning speaks to Intelligence Officer): The film frequently points out that the Dutch Underground was warning the British about the presence of large amounts of German line units in the area. It portrays the British as being indifferent to these reports and suggests that the British ignore them for the simple reason of not wanting to stop Market Garden. In reality, British intelligence had recently (in April of 1944 (Market Garden occurred in September)) discovered that parts of the Dutch resistance and most of the British intelligence network in the Netherlands had been compromised by German Counterintelligence. Therefore, British intelligence was extremely skeptical of the information being passed on to them by the Dutch resistance. So unlike the film’s portrayal, there was a good, grounded reason for the British not relying heavily on Dutch resistance reports.

34:24 (MAJ Fuller is forced to take sick leave) Fuller’s character is actually supposed to be MAJ Brian Urquhart, but was renamed to Fuller so as not to confuse the audience with GEN Urquhart. MAJ Urquhart was an intelligence planner for Market Garden and was opposed to the operation. He later became seriously depressed after the operation’s conclusion and requested a transfer out of the Airborne. I found 1 article that mentioned that he was forced to take sick leave after opposing the operation, but that was all I found. So I am not sure if this was made up for the film, or if it is true.

55:58 (Mental health patients scene) There was a mental health facility in the town of Wolfheze near the 1st Airborne Division’s dropzone, and it was bombed during the war forcing the patients to be evacuated to another facility. I didn’t find any evidence showing that the patients escaped and laughed at the paratroopers.

56:31 (Artillery bombardment) I don’t know why these shells are landing so close to the British tanks

1:17:26 (First attempt to assault the far-side of the Arnhem bridge) I find this portrayal of the first assault to be inaccurate. None of the sources I read described the first assault in detail, so I can’t say for sure it didn’t happen this way, but I find it hard to believe the British just walked up to the gun position. Both because it’s a tactically ridiculous thing to do, and be cause the Germans would have been idiots to let them walk that close.

1:50:03 (PIAT firing at German tank crossing bridge) This scene gives the PIAT a bit of a bad rap. The PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank) was actually a very effective weapon, and was highly regarded by British and Commonwealth soldiers of all ranks. It’s maximum effective range of 115 meters was only 35 meters shorter than the American bazooka and the system itself was far shorter than the bazooka. The PIAT also functioned more as a mortar and less as a rocket (hence why the rounds “lob” instead of shooting straight), this meant that there was no backblast, which allowed the weapon to be safely used in-doors and meant that there was no smoke or plume of fire from the rear of the weapon that would give the firer’s position away.

2:03:13 (Generals Gavin, Browning, and Horrocks discuss taking Nijmegen bridge) This meeting took place on the 19th of September. The 82nd actually had the opportunity to seize Nijmegen bridge when they landed on the 17th of September, but due to miscommunication between Gavin and the commander of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the 508th seized positions just short of the southern side of the city and halted, which allowed the Germans to set defensive positions around the bridge and hold the 82nd off until the 20th.

On the 19th the Americans and British began assaulting the southern side of the city of Nijmegen to work their way to the southern portion of the bridge. However, resistance was too stiff, and it was decide that there would need to be a simultaneous attack from both the north side of the river and the south, which is what led to the scene later, of the river crossing.

The film doesn’t represent this large part of the battle. In the film it appears that there isn’t much urban area (or fighting) on the southern edge of the bridge, but most of Nijmegen’s urban area is on the south of the river and there was more fighting here than on the northern side. But the river crossing gets all the screen time. (But admittedly the river crossing is pretty film-worthy, and they have plenty of other urban combat in the film, so they probably didn’t feel it necessary to show this.)

As an aside, Ryan O’Neal is very young in the film, younger than many of the characters he commands. But in this instance that is actually historically accurate. His character, James Gavin, was the youngest division commander in the war. Gavin was 37 at the time of Market Garden, and O’Neal was 36 at the time of filming.

2:19:13 (Germans attempting to demolish the bridge) There is some debate as to why the Germans did not demolish the bridge. It is a fact that Field Marshall Model did not want the bridge destroyed so it could be used by the Germans in a counterattack. Most historians agree that German forces at the bridge intended to follow this order. (the bridge was wired with explosives, but local German forces were under orders not to use them) However, there is some speculation that local commanders wanted to destroy the bridge at the last second but that the wiring malfunctioned.

2:23:11 (Major Cook argues with British Armor officer) This scene is supposed to represent the decision made on the 21st of September by General Horrocks to temporarily halt 30th Corps’ advance towards Arnhem. The film clearly wants the viewer to side with Robert Redford’s Major Cook. But the reality is that the right decision was far from clear. It is true that had 30th Corps not halted, they may have made it to Arnhem in time to relieve the 1st Airborne and taken Arnhem bridge. On the other hand, it is equally true that had 30th Corps continued along the road unsupported by infantry that they would have been ambushed and suffered severe casualties. Tanks operating without infantry in areas that have forests, or urban centers, or water features are extremely vulnerable, as they are limited on where they can drive and what they can see. This is true even more so for tanks in the Second World War, as they did not posses the advanced optics that modern tanks do.

The concept of tanks needing infantry, and infantry needing tanks can be easily seen in the context of large-scale-combat-operations today in the war in Ukraine. Russia has repeatedly utilized its armored formations without infantry support and has paid dearly for this mistake.

Much is made in the film of 30th Corps inability to stick to schedule. Yet the film forgets that had the 82nd Airborne seized Nijmegen bridge on the 17th as they were supposed to (owing arguably to a lack of decisive leadership and tempo) 30th Corps would not have had to wait until the 20th to just begin crossing the bridge.

2:25:06 (LTC John Frost speaks with MAJ Harry Carlyle) Harry Carlyle’s character is based on real-life Major Allison Digby Tatham-Warter. In reality he survived Arnhem and died in 1993. He did indeed carry an umbrella with him for the reason he uses in the film.

2:28:17 (Polish jump) A portion of the Poles had arrive on the 19th, and had been fighting with the 1st Airborne since. Most of the brigade could not be deployed because of weather. The remainder dropped on the 21st.

2:40:57 (Generals discuss not taking Arnhem) I don’t think the film does a very good job explaining why 30th Corps didn’t keep pushing to Arnhem. The film makes it seem that all they would have had to do was push 1 more mile and they could have taken the bridge and rescued the 1st Airborne. In reality, by the time 30th Corps was at this point, the 1st Airborne forces who had held the Northern side of the bridge (Anthony Hopkins group) had been forced to surrender, and the remainder of the 1st Airborne that was on the north side of the river was surrounded on the outskirts of the city. They did not have combat power to push to the bridge. So the Germans held both sides of Arnhem and this being the final Allied objective, there were no Allied forces north of the bridge to stop reinforcements. That means that the German forces on the northern side of the river could freely flow to the southern portion of Arnhem and defend from there, and any German forces on the northern portion were far larger than the German forces faced so far, so 30th Corps likely wouldn’t have been able to cross the bridge even if it did seize the southern side.

“A Bridge Too Far” Cornelius Ryan
“Arnhem” Antony Beevor
Army National Museum Website:
The Imperial War Museum Website:

Robert Palmer
Royal New Zealand Army Medical Corps, retired medic. Father participated in the Normandy landings.

Opening credits, the narrator says "the Germans didn't have many defeats before D-Day, and Eisenhower was in command of D-Day" of words to that effect. Ike being American comes into play. (Made for an American audience)

It then goes on to say "Montgomery came up with a plan that could end the war by Christmas....." "he was in command of Market Garden..." Montgomery wasn't in command of Market Garden, (Brereton was) another American and Ike was still in total command.

Recon pictures. The low-level photo-recce by the Spitfire never happened. There were no low-level recce flights. There were high-level ones, which did show the presence of the tanks from the local school of armour such as this one....

Planning. In the movie it shows only and mentions only British planners, Monty (British. Shouldn't be there at all anyway) Browning (British) RAF member showing the drop zones to Urquhart (Sean Connery)
It should have Brereton (US) and Williams (US) in there. It was Williams that decided to do one drop per day.
Germans discuss "Montgomery or Patton?" . Besides the fact the Germans didn't know of Patton at this time. If they were to compare an American to a British commander, it would have been Bradley and Montgomery.

German tanks in Arnhem itself
There were a few Self propelled guns there, but the tanks didn't arrive there until 19 September (two days later).

Replacing the Son bridge with "Bailey crap"
"That glorious precision made bridge, that's the envy of the civilized world "
You see Americans making the bridge, where in XXX Corps they had the Royal Engineers to do that.

The big one coming up
Nijmegen and Gavin with the 82nd in the movie. No mention of Gavin and the 82nd not taking Nijmegen bridge when they were supposed to (day one), they then spent time waiting for the boats to arrive.
XXX Corps arrived and they get the boats on again American soldiers assembled them. The British engineers would have helped put them up. They then take the bridge with a river crossing by Robert Redford and the 82nd
Actual. Gavin went against the plan and went for the heights instead of the bridge on day one, he thought there was a threat from that direction and wanted to defend the LZ/DZs, there wasn't.
XXX Corps arrived at the bridge and 82nd SIX hours ahead of schedule (although previously in the movie at the Son bridge they say "we are 36 hours behind schedule..".)
Once XXX Corps arrived at Nijmegen they ended up taking the bridge themselves, using the majority of fuel and ammo they had. The first few tanks crossed the bridge before the 82nd made it to the north end after they were pushed downstream in the boats.

"You're just going to sit there ....... and ... drink tea?" No, they had no fuel to push through to Arnhem and the first tank that crossed was knocked out and the second one damaged.

Gavin would go on to be caught in some lies about who gave the order to take the heights before the bridge. This in some circles is the most damaging part of the operation.
In the movie (made for the American audience) it couldn't be shown as it would have made it a large flop in its targeted audience.

A small editing problem with the boats arriving to Robert Redford and the 82nd, they had water still in them after sitting in a truck for days, but that's nothing to do with the history of the movie, just a movie inconsistency

Redford's character starts saying "Hail Mary, full of grace" there was a commander that did something like it and he said it was to try to keep his men rowing in time.

A similar story in the movie is when the First Sergeant takes his commander to the field hospital and demands that he is seen. A veteran told a similar story to Ryan and he incorporated it.

Think two more points.
The men standing on the church tower, looking over the battlefield.
Browning "Not in Monty's plan at all"
Well of course it wasn't, it wasn't Monty's plan. It was Brereton's and Browning's plan.
Then Gene Hackman has the Anti war line. "One man says to another, let's have a war. Everybody dies"
No commander can afford to think like that, and I'm sure one that high in rank definitely wouldn't.
Lastly as I'm at the end of the movie
Browning and Urquhart
"I've just been onto Monty, very proud and pleased"
"Well as you know I thought we tried to go a bridge too far "
There are no transcripts or records that show that Browning or anyone else said that line.

Richard Stephens
Minor on History, focusing on military history

Rich’s Take: Just as the crew referred to the Longest Day as “vignette-ey”, this film felt the same. Lots of stars (in 1977) based on actual participants fighting over various bridges along “Hell's Highway” (Highway 69. Nice.)

My original intent for the history of this operation was to cover my thesis that MARKET GARDEN was General Montgomery’s (“Monty”) chance to try out his Normandy idea to drop paratroopers farther behind the lines. My thanks to Micah for our discussion regarding this (and for bringing Ambrose’s overratedness to my attention.) In looking through my sources, I was remembering incorrectly – it wasn’t Monty, it was General Marshal – Chief of Staff of the US Army, Eisenhower’s boss - who wanted to drop paratroopers further inland during the Normandy invasion.

For those playing the home game, “this is a film set in post Normandy WWII Europe so which episode of Band of Brothers is it?”, this is episode 4 – Replacements.

You can spend pages and pages diving into the minutia of every engagement of this operation. Rather than do that, I’m going to give a brief synopsis (under talking points), as well as focus on a few key points depicted in the film, plus some trivia as per usual.


The opening newsreel footage has a voiceover spoken by the actual Kate ter Horst. The “angel of Arnhem” who owned/lived at the house in Oosterbeek which became a British aid station.

The title shares the name of the book by Cornelius Ryan and is from an apocryphal conversation from General Browning to Monty, “I fear we may be going a bridge too far.”

We hear several times in this – and it has become a trope – that the objective is only defended by “old men and kids.”
Hardy Kruger: Plays the only main character who wasn’t an actual participant in the real-life events. He is an amalgamation of several German commanders. The actual German commander, SS Brigadefuhrer Heinz Harmel did not want his name used in the film.

When Kruger was 16 he was assigned to the 38th Waffen-SS Division after “being raised to love Hitler.” He became anti-Nazi and refused orders to attack an American unit. He was sentenced to death, but granted reprieve by another officer. He hid in Tyrol until the end of the war. (He co-starred in a Howard Hawks guilty pleasure of mine, Hatari, alongside – who else – John Wayne and Red Buttons on a team of folks who capture animals for zoos.)

Talking Points

The Plan and Operation: MARKET GARDEN was the allied advance into the Netherlands in September 1944. The objective was to push over the Rhine River and into the heavy industrial center of Germany. The idea being you could knock out Germany’s industrial center and break them quickly and win the war sooner.

The film does a good job of giving the viewer the overall general plan – these units will drop here, take and hold these bridges, and wait for the British armor crops to come up the road. This type of film has the advantage over a character driven film where some officer has to read the hero’s service record to them so that the audience can hear how spectacular they are. In this type of film, the viewer is given the viewpoint of a soldier or observer in the briefing room.

The timeline was for the British XXX Corps to reach the 101st Airborne by day 1, the 82nd Airborne by day 2, and the 1st Airborne by day 4 (a distance of roughly 62 miles.)

The Germans were prepared for this push. Germany's industrial center would be an obvious target, and just as Germany had done in WWI, knew that the obvious route was through the low countries.

This was the last German victory of the war, and the second-to-last offensive (the German counter-offensive to hold the bridges.) The final offensive (which was not a success) was of course the Battle of the Bulge.

“Tone” of the Film: This film is one of several filmed in the late 70’s/early 80’s that start to present a less than ideal version of the military (particularly the military command.) We see officers ignoring intelligence (recon photos, radio issues) and appearing callous toward the ordeal of the typical fighting man. Prior to the late 60’s, all the U.S. made war films were “rah rah rah, gung-ho, America fuck yeah” in tone. See similar themes persisting in the Dirty Dozen (1967) through Rambo (1982.)

The idea that Monty’s plan was terrible, and his arrogance was to blame for a disaster wasn’t a common sentiment until after the book was published and film was made – this book/film is partly to blame for the public’s enduring opinion of Monty.

SSgt. Charles Dohun: Did actually hold a pistol to a doctor to get him to save his Captain’s life. The circumstances were different, however. Cpt. Johnson was thought dead and already on the “dead pile” when SSgt. Dohun found him (supposedly to look for valuables to send to his family) and noticed he was alive. When this was brought to the doctor’s attention, he told Dohun there was nothing he could do. SSgt. Dohun held a Luger he had taken as a war prize on the doctor.

Things I can’t prove and have no idea how to find out but is an interesting thought discussion:
This film was released in 1977. Production procured and used 11, C-47 Skytrain “Dakotas” to reenact the assault jumps in Market Garden. The filming of these scenes may very well be the last time so many C-47’s were flying together.

Works Cited

  1. LeGrand K. Johnson | Military Wiki | Fandom (Accessed 05/15/22)
  2. Hardy Krüger - Wikipedia (Accessed 05/19/22)
  3. A Bridge Too Far. Cornelius Ryan. 1974.
  4. Collins Atlas of World War II. John Keegan. 2006.
  5. D-Day. Stephens Ambrose. 1994
SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 34: Outlaw King Sun, 05 Jun 2022 11:00:00 -0700 1ba9813f-02e4-49f4-9fc3-2cb2040d259e Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E34: Outlaw King Dave Feldmann
All-around medieval nerd, armor and weapons pedant, but not the kind of person you talk shit to his face in a bar.

To start, this movie Outlaw King begins at the close of what we can call the "First Phase" of the First War of Scottish Independence. They didn't call it that at the time, but that's what it’s called now. The Scots had been defeated at Falkirk, and most of the Scots fighting surrendered.

The political situation in Scotland and the future UK in general is enormously complicated. For example Robert the Bruce himself came from Norman stock, whose family had migrated to Scotland years before as nobles. As a nobleman, he, like many Scottish lords, had lands throughout England and Wales. Scottish Nobles would also frequently be allies of the English crown, but might also have lands in France as well, making alliances with the French monarchy as attractive as one with the English. The so-called Auld Alliance, the military alliance between France and Scotland which would go on to exist for centuries, began just before Outlaw King.

At this time Highland clans were still very powerful in Scotland, and their allegiance might change very quickly. Outlaw King actually underscores how malleable the situation was in terms of shifting alliances and betrayals. This is just one of those things that you have to get used to in Scottish history -- there is a ton of backstabbing.

Edward I did call his trebuchet the Warwolf but he did not have Greek fire.

The nobles of the time would have spoken French to each other, and the Scots would have spoken Scots.

I have no idea what's going on with the little duel between the future King Edward II and Robert but it’s bad swordplay for the most part. Neither man should be tired after a few exchanges but I guess they're drunk or something.

The sneak attack led by fire arrows is absurd. The film shows the English army less than 100 yards from the main camp. Even though Robert the Bruce wasn't nearly as skilled in battle at this time as he would eventually be, moving an entire army that close would have made enough noise to rouse the camp, especially if the Scots had set sentries, as was common.

Not much is known about the battle, other than The Bruce lost very badly. Scottish records claim that the Bruce was unhorsed twice and nearly captured twice.

The castle where Florence Pugh and the family of Robert the Bruce's family seems very large for the time, almost like a castle from say the 16th century, or built via 21st century digital effects. Also, disemboweling a guy doesn't immediately kill him, or immediately turn into a digital blood effect that looks like a cut scene from the video game "Manhunt."

"Where the fuck have you been???!!!!" Traditional greeting of Celtic women to their returning men.

The fight scene where Bruce takes his own castle is pretty decent. The choreography has fighters in dynamic situations, using shields to protect themselves from multiple enemies while dispatching opponents of opportunity.

The Scots had proven themselves skilled guerilla fighters during the Wars of Scottish Independence and this is a good way of underscoring that.

Longshanks was not buried on the road, but in Westminster. His demand, that his body be boiled and carried as a standard until Scotland was crushed, is thought to be historically accurate, and remains the most metal thing to come out of England.

Battle of Loudoun Hill

Basics are right but Bruce's line was even shorter, and the swamps on either side were utterly impassable. The English repeatedly charged headlong into three gullies that the Bruce's men had prepared, and suffered heavy casualties.

Edward II was not on the field at Loudon, the English army was commanded by Aymer de Valence, who had defeated Bruce at Methven.

Longswords don't cut through chainmail, but they can sometimes pierce chainmail. Why wear it if the Black Douglass can just slash through it at will? Battleaxes and halberds were known to slash through mail with a good cut but hardly any of the soldiers on either side use these.

Generally, the English and the Scots are armed properly. The English armies that invaded Scotland repeatedly during the Scottish Wars of Independence are extremely well-documented. Perhaps as many as half received pay for their service, were outfitted by the royal treasury, and some amount of uniformity in kit and armaments could be expected. The infantry would have fought as heavy infantry, as depicted, but would have used bell hooks (pic). Knights would have used lances as their primary weapon and used their swords or battle axes once the lance was broken after charging the enemy. In the movie The English cavalry charge without lances and use swords from the beginning.

The Scots on the other hand were extremely lightly-armed, few had armor, and the Bruce obviously had no treasury or reserves with which to pay his soldiers or buy or manufacture equipment. Most of the Bruce's men would be armed with their own equipment or equipment looted from their enemies, both the English and Scots allied with the English.

At least we don't have Robert the Bruce running around with a German landsknecht greatsword from the Protestant Reformation, not that we're talking about a certain Mel Gibson film which is one of the least historically- accurate films ever made.

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 33: The Longest Day Sat, 21 May 2022 08:45:00 -0700 fa84c32c-dd1a-4ef4-bfce-be7b354da985 Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E33: The Longest Day Micah Neidorfler
B.A. in History, Minor in German Language
Infantry Captain in the US Army
Graduate of the Command and General Staff College’s distance learning “Army Field/Unit Historian

The film actually does a good job of explaining the scenes, what’s happening in them, and why they are
important, so I probably won’t be explaining as much as usual.
Additionally, most all the scenes in the film are pulled form Cornelius Ryan’s book “The Longest Day”,
and are derived from interviews with participants, so are fairly accurate.

Note: D-Day is a military term that refers to the day on which an operation will start. It does not actually
mean the Normandy Invasions. June 6 th was known as D-Day because it was the day that Operation
Overlord (the actual named Operation that was the invasion of Normandy) began.

Brief Background:

Planning for the invasion began in 1943. The Soviets had been pushing for an Allied invasion of
Central Europe since ’41, but Churchill refused because he did not feel that Britain and American had
not massed enough combat power to conduct a successful invasion.

The British initially wanted the main invasion of Central Europe to be made via the
Mediterranean, but the Americans and French pushed for an invasion via the English Channel into
France. Dwight Eisenhower was named Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force,
and our old friend Bernard Montgomery was named commander of all Allied Ground Forces for the

Allied planners narrowed down the invasion location to Pas de Calais and Normandy. It was
decided that Pas de Calais would be too well defended because it was home to a major port. Normandy
did not have a major port, which would be necessary to sustain the invasion, but it was located close
enough to ports that they could be secured in the subsequent days after the initial landings.

The Allies used the experience they had gained from conducting the African and Mediterranean
landings, and raids on the French coast to plan the invasion. The initial draft plan called for the invasion
to begin on May 1 st , 1944, but Montgomery and Eisenhower insisted the plan be expanded to include
more Allied troops, which required the invasion to be postponed until June to allow the production and
acquirement of more landing craft.

The final plan called for a multiple phase operation. The major phases included: an extensive
bombing campaign prior to the invasion, to degrade German supply capability and destroy equipment.
An airborne landing the night prior to the beach landings. American and British paratrooper and glider
infantry units would land at key locations to secure bridges, towns, and destroy enemy artillery units, all
with the intent of degrading the German ability to resupply their frontline units and affect the Allied
landings with reinforcements and artillery fire. And finally, the beach landings themselves. There would
be five main beaches: Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword, split between the American and
Commonwealth forces. The beach landings would be simultaneously supported by massed naval
bombardment and close air support.


Opening titles with radio: This is supposed to be the BBC World Service. The opening phrase: “This is
London calling” was used during WWII, frequently when broadcasting in Axis occupied countries.

1:21- This is a great place to make the point that the popular culture image of the WWII German army
as a highly mobile, mechanized force is mostly a myth. About 70% of the German army was not
motorized or mechanized (motorized meaning they used trucks for mobility, mechanized meaning they
used halftracks and armored vehicles in combination with trucks). Throughout the war the German
military used over 2.5 million horses for logistical purposes.

23:40- The piano song playing throughout this scene is likely a reference to the film(s) “The Dawn
Patrol” about British fighter pilots during WWI. It is the melody of a song the pilots sing in those films:
“Hurrah for the next man who dies”.

38:16- The real-life Ruperts were made of burlap sacks and weighed down with sand. A far sight from
the detailed models shown here in the film.

Pegasus Bridge Opening Scene (Glider Landing)- Funnily enough we were shown this clip from the film in
a class during the Maneuver Captain’s Career Course. The lesson was on giving Commander’s Intent
during mission planning, and the clip was used to illustrate how a Commander’s Intent should include
the Purpose of the mission and the End State desired, so that if the operation doesn’t go according to
plan, the subordinate leader on the ground can improvise but know what needs to be achieved in the

59:37- Even in today’s army, if someone see a soldier wearing their helmet without their chinstrap
buckled, they’ll pejoratively call them John Wayne.

1:33:25- It needs to be remembered that prior to deciding upon Normandy as the landing locations, the
Allies had been considering either Pas de Calais or Normandy. Additionally, after deciding upon
Normandy, the Allies conducted a month’s long deception operation titled Operation Bodyguard, one
aim of which was to convince the Germans that the landing would be at Pas de Calais. The German
general staff also believed that the main Allied invasion would be preceded by a diversionary invasion,
to draw German reserves away from the main invasion. Furthermore, Normandy did not have any major
ports where large ships could dock to disembark supplies. Pas de Calais did have such ports. Such ports
would be necessary for the Allies to sustain their invasion forces and to keep up the invasion’s tempo.
So, the belief that many of the higher-ranking German officers in the film hold, that the Normandy
invasion is not the primary invasion, is not unfounded or ridiculous.

What the German’s didn’t count on, is that the British invented and produced prefabricated
harbors, known as “Mulberry harbors”. After the beaches were secured, the two Mulberry harbors were
brought across the English Channel and assembled, one on Omaha beach and one on Gold beach.

1:35:16- The eldest son of President Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Jr. had held a reserve commission
prior to WWI and served in the war as a Major and then Lieutenant Colonel. He spent most of the First
World War as a battalion commander. After the war he continued to serve in the Army Reserve. In 1940
he was promoted to Colonel and returned to Active Duty. In 1941 he was promoted to Brigadier General
and led troops in North Africa. He clashed with his superiors Patton and Bradley, stemming from the
way he treated his regiment. Patton thought him too informal, and Bradley felt he was too personally
attached to his men, leading him to make decisions based on what was best for his men, not what was
best for the overall campaign.

He served in various high level staff positions during the campaigns in Sicily and Italy and worked
closely with Eisenhower. He was eventually made the deputy commander of the 4 th infantry division. He
was the only general officer to land with the first wave of troops during the invasion. He would die just
over a month after the invasion of a heart attack.

1:39:00 (and all the other scenes about Hitler sleeping)- This is one of the few points where the film
missteps historically. It is true that Hitler did go to sleep late the night prior, and slept late, until around
10am on 6 June. It is also true that his staff decided not to wake him prior to 10am because they were
afraid that the information that was filtering its way from Normandy to Germany was scanty and
possibly misleading. It’s not the case that they knew the Normandy landings were the main invasion,
and that they simply were too afraid to wake him.

Additionally, the situation wasn’t as simple as the film makes out. The Germans’ held 9 Panzer
and 1 Panzergrenadier divisions in strategic reserve. Rommel wanted the reserves located close to the
coast, where they could be committed quickly. However, other German generals felt they should be
held closer to Paris, where they would be hidden from Allied reconnaissance flights. The latter line of
thought won out, the reserves were located far from the coast.
Furthermore, the 10 total reserve divisions were spilt up into three distinct reserve forces.
Rommel was given direct control of 3, 3 were assigned to Southern France, and Hitler retained direct
control of 4. Of the 3 divisions Rommel controlled directly, only 1 was within quick reach of the
Normandy beaches. So, the film’s premise of all reserves being held by Hitler is not true.

After deciding that the Normandy landings were indeed the main Allied invasion, Rommel
committed his 3 reserve divisions, but they arrived separately and thus didn’t have the mass to push the
Allies back to the sea. The next day Hitler did release the rest of the strategic reserves, but again, they
arrived separately, and many did not arrive for days.

The film puts far too much emphasis on Hitler being asleep as the cause of the German loss.
Given the amount of combat power the Allies brought to bear on the Normandy beaches, and the fact
that most of the German reserves were too far away to reach the beaches on day 1, it is unlikely that
even if approval to commit all the German reserves on the first day was given, that they would have
been able to defeat the Allied landings completely.

2:15:45- “Bitte” means “please”. Not relevant to this scene, but it is interesting how the director chose
to subtitle the Germans. They leave lots of dialogue out that helps develop some of the German
characters and provides nuance. The subtitles do a good job of conveying the bottom line meaning but
do a poor job of conveying tone and personality. (I speak German, and though the actors are speaking
very fast, and I wasn’t always able to catch everything that was said, I think it would have been more
interesting to the viewer if more thorough subtitles had been used.)

20:30:45- We see here an example of one of Hobart’s Funnies. Hobart’s Funnies were a variety of
specialized tanks produced by Britain in preparation for the invasion of Europe. “Hobart” was Major
Genera Percy Hobart, who was the commander of the British 79 th Armored Division, who championed
the projects. The tank we see in this scene is a “DD” (Duplex Drive) tank. It was a tank fitted with a large
waterproof canvas around the hull which allowed the tank to float in the sea and had the ability to
propel itself through the water for miles from offshore. These allowed allied troops to have tank support
immediately after landing without the need for landing craft to carry them all the way to the beach.

A few notable examples of the Funnies are:

  • The Crocodile: Churchill tanks fitted with a flamethrower with a range of 120 yards.

  • ARK: A tank with the turret removed and replaced with an extending bridge.

  • “Crab” Mine clearer: Tank with a rotating metal tube fitted on the front to which
    several metal chain “flails” were attached. The tube would rotate, causing the flails to
    whip the ground in front of the tank and detonate mines before the tank drove over

The Funnies were used mainly by Commonwealth troops, as American commanders were either
skeptical of their effectiveness, or were worried about adding non-standard foreign vehicles to their
supply chains, as they didn’t have a ready supply of replacement parts. It is thought that the reticence of
many American commanders to take advantage of these vehicles led to unnecessary deaths.

Bangalore Torpedoes (as seen on the beaches)- The Bangalore torpedo was essentially a large,
professionally made pipe-bomb. It was a metal tube which was packed with explosives, intended to
destroy wire obstacles. It was first developed by the British Army in 1912. It saw use by the British in the
First World War and was used by the British and adopted by the Americans during WWII.
It is still in use by the military today, although the tube is now made from a pvc type material
instead of metal. (Without going on too much of an unrelated tangent, several places online state that
the Bangalore torpedo is being phased out of the Army and being replaced by the APOBS, but that is not
true. The Bangalore is still being produced and used in conjunction with the APOBS, as the APOBS is not
suitable for all environments.)

Comparison of Beaches: I thought I’d do a brief comparison of the Allied Beaches on D-Day.

There were 5 beaches divided as such (from West to East):

  • Utah Beach: American
    Casualties during 1 st day: ~900

  • Omaha Beach: American
    Casualties during 1 st day: ~5,000

  • Gold Beach: British
    Casualties during 1 st day: ~1,100

  • Juno Beach: Canadian/British
    Casualties during 1 st day: ~900

  • Sword Beach: British
    Casualties during 1 st day: ~700

I personally find The Longest Day to be a lot more accurate to the Normandy Landings than Saving
Private Ryan. While Ryan might give a more realistic portrayal of the combat itself (thanks to it being
made in the ‘90s and not ’62), Day gives the viewer a more accurate portrayal of what the beaches
looked like in time and space. (Ryan has US troops off Omaha beach in about 10 minutes, Day gives us
the actual time span, which was in the range of multiple hours). Of course, Ryan is only concerned with
telling the story of a small squad on a specific mission, and Day is about explaining the entirety of the
first day of the Normandy Landings.

“The Longest Day” by Cornelius Ryan
“Hitler” by Ian Kershaw
“Normandy ‘44” by James Holland
“The German Response to D-Day” article by The Imperial War Museum:

Additional research, maps, etc:

American Cinematographer behind the scenes:

Moviepedia organized list of the cast, characters, and plot:

D-Day Overlord historical website filmography:

Vox - The story of D-Day, in five maps:

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 32: Tumbledown Wed, 27 Apr 2022 17:00:00 -0700 22c7513f-2417-402c-b020-1f2aae333410 Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E32: Tumbledown Bill Fischer
Associate Professor of History at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, MO;
PhD in Modern Latin American History from the University of Florida

Background to the Argentine side of the Falklands War

The Falkland Islands were variously claimed by Britain and Spain in the 18th century. In the
early 19th century, when Buenos Aires was the new capital of a confederation called the United
Provinces of the Rio de la Plata, the islands, called in Spanish the Islas Malvinas, were claimed
by an agent of the government in Buenos Aires. However, nothing very substantial or
permanent was established there apart from some fishing operations. In 1831, an American
ship dissolved the Buenos Aires-linked government of the islands, and the next year the British
re-took possession. Subsequent governments in Buenos Aires would occasionally protest this,
but it never amounted to much.

Now I'm going to go into the background of the Argentine military's involvement in politics in
the 20th century-- but you can skip to the section that begins on the bottom of page 3 if you

The armed forces in Argentina were very active in Argentine politics throughout the 20th
century. In the 1930s and 40s, there were periods of military rule over the country that were
heavily influenced by anti-Semitism and fascism. Somewhat infamously, Argentina did not
declare war on the Axis powers until 1945. After WWII, the U.S. State Department regarded
Argentina as a serious threat for the return of fascism after it had seemingly just been defeated
in WWII.

But the most important military man to emerge from the WWII era in Argentina was Colonel
Juan Perón, who had served as the minister of labor in the military government. He used this
position to endear himself to labor unions and the urban poor of Buenos Aires, and his
partnership with the charismatic actress Eva Duarte made his political prospects even stronger.

Toward the end of 1945, the U. S. Undersecretary of State for Latin America, Spruille Braden,
became convinced that Perón represented a rebirth of fascism in the Western Hemisphere, and
he pressured the rest of the Argentine military government to arrest him.

This backfired, however, because Perón's fans (cheered on by Eva) massively demanded his
release from prison, and the established government sheepishly let him go.

(This is a bit of an unimportant side-note, but I don't really think that Perón was a fascist-- he
was more of a charismatic populist whose political ideology changed to suit the circumstances)

Perón became president in 1946 and established a long-lasting legacy of "Peronism" as an
important force in Argentine politics. Peronism is a very malleable ideology-- it can be left,
right, or center, but it's always vaguely populist.

And, in general, Peronism was detested by the military (despite the fact that Perón came from
their ranks) and the upper classes. Its ability to mobilize the working-class masses conjured up
fears of social revolution and radicalism.

Perón was removed from power by a military coup in 1955, which is only one of many times
that the military intervened in politics in Argentina.

From then until 1972, Perón was in exile, but Peronism was a strong force that the military
desperately wanted to keep at bay. In fact, in the early 1960s there was a brief civil war in the

Argentine military between two factions that disagreed on whether to allow Peronist
participation in politics at all! Government sort of wavered back and forth between military and
civilian control for about 17 years.

By the early 1970s, some of the Peronists had formed armed guerilla bands, and there were
also Marxist rebel groups with weapons in the country, probably inspired by the Cuban
Revolution and Che Guevara.

In 1972, a critical number of politicians and generals were convinced that perhaps Perón
himself could return and stabilize the political and economic situation, so he returned from
exile and was elected president in 1973 at the age of 78, with his wife Isabel de Perón (Eva had
died of cancer decades earlier) as Vice Presdent.

But Perón died after only 10 months, and Isabel took over as President. Left-wing guerrilla
groups announced that they would continue the armed struggle, while at the same time a right-
wing paramilitary group called the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance was formed.

Isabel Perón intended to use the AAA to defeat the guerrillas and also purge the universities
and labor movements of leftists, but the military hierarchy never trusted her to get the job
done, and she wasn't very politically popular anyway. She was in power until 1976, when the
military overthrew her and set up a new military government.

The junta was led by General Jorge Videla, and the term they used for this government was the
"National Reorganization Process" which has always struck me as the creepiest of bland

Argentina had had military government before, but this one is the most repressive by far. It
prohibited most kinds of political activities, it censored the press, arrested hundreds of labor
leaders, and sent spies into unions and universities.

The junta reinstated the death penalty and announced it was going on a campaign against
"subversives"-- General Videla infamously said, "A terrorist is not only one who carries a bomb
or a pistol, but also wone who spreads ideas contrary to Western Civilization."

The junta created several groups of officers called "War Councils", each of which had the
authority to pass a death sentence for a variety of crimes. They were separate from one
another, so could carry out their own campaigns of investigation, torture, and execution. The
decentralized nature of this made it difficult to monitor, and if one of their victims happened to
be politically well connected and influential, they'd likely only be able to get one "War Council"
shut down while many others continued to operate.

The years 1976-1979 were the height of the "Dirty War" in Argentina. Leftist rebel groups
fought back at first, for about nine months or so, but were seriously degraded by overwhelming

Typically, the military junta would grab one of their targets off the street and bring them to a
secret site where they'd be tortured until they gave up the names of their compatriots. Then,
they'd be executed without ever having their families informed. This is why they are referred to
as "Desaparecidos" or "The Disappeared." The victims were often pushed into the Atlantic
Ocean rather than buried.

Many of the victims were pregnant at the time they were arrested. What typically happened in
this situation is that they were kept until the baby was born; the mothers would then be
thrown into the Atlantic while the baby would be given to a foster family. These foster families
were sometimes the families of military officers, or humble people who knew not to ask any

By 1979, most leftist opposition to the junta was wiped out; however, an unexpected source of
opposition arose. Middle-aged and elderly women started protesting daily at the Plaza de Mayo
outside of the presidential palace in Buenos Aires, demanding the return of their disappeared
children or grandchildren, in the cases where the disappeared person was known to be
pregnant. The junta called these women the "Locas de la Plaza de Mayo"but they attracted
significant and sympathetic international attention as the "Madres y Abuelas de la Plaza de

Lead up to the Falklands War

Despite a program of economic liberalization (pro-free market reforms), the Argentine military
junta saw massive inflation and increase of foreign debt during the late 70s and early 80s. There
was a wave of bank failures in 1980 that made the regime seem incompetent from a financial
standpoint. In 1981, General Videla handed the presidency over to Army General Roberto Viola,
who did not really have the support of other high-ranking officers, particularly because Viola
planned to do some political liberalization. He was forced out after only a few months, and was
replaced by General Leopoldo Galtieri, who was perhaps the hardest of hardliners. He made it
clear there would be no political liberalization, and would go back to full authoritarian control
by the armed forces.

Galtieri's hard right-wing stance was welcomed by the new presidential administration of
Ronald Reagan in the US; in fact Galtieri traveled to the White House twice in 1981, and he
promised to help the USA with its efforts against the left-wing Sandinista government in
Nicaragua. Argentine military assets were sent to work with US intelligence in El Salvador,
Guatemala, and Honduras, where they taught the methods of the "Dirty War" to Contras
(Nicaraguans and soldiers of fortune fighting against the Sandinistas).

But the Argentine economy continued to do very poorly, so Galtieri decided to "Wag the Dog"
by beginning a military takeover of the Malvinas Islands, which is what they are called in

The Argentine military regime had been making noise in international circles since 1976 about
the Falkland issue, but the British just ignored this. In 1981, the British decided to reduce the
number of military assets in the South Atlantic, so the Argentine junta took this as a sign that
the Falklands would be easy pickings. The operation was planned principally by Navy Admiral
Jorge Anaya, and the first Argentine troops landed in the Falklands on April 2nd, 1982.

The desire for an outburst of patriotism did, in fact, happen throughout Argentina for a few
days. There was a massive patriotic rally in one location where only days before an anti-
government protest by labor unions had been repressed with violence. The junta believed that
the British government would quickly enter into negotiations; they also believed that the
United States would look the other way, given how Argentina was acting as the US's ally in
Central America. But that's not what happened; Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher refused to
negotiate, and the US publicly supported Britain. Later accounts by officers and soldiers on the
Argentine side indicate that there was no real plan beyond "seize the islands with great pomp
and circumstance"-- they weren't told what to prepare for in case of a counter-attack by Britain
or how to effectively hold the islands.

The Argentine forces holding the islands failed to get adequately resupplied and reinforced
despite being much closer to their home base than the British forces. Testimonies from the
soldiers speak to a lack of good information and strategy, and disillusionment among the
conscripted soldiers especially. By the late 1990s, at least 200 Argentine veterans of the conflict
had committed suicide.

The military held onto power for another year, but the June, 1982 defeat in the war destroyed
its credibility. The Navy and the Air Force decided to stop participating in the government junta,
leaving only the Army in charge. And the three branches spent some time blaming each other
for the defeat in the South Atlantic.

The war was expensive and it further drained the reserves of the central bank, and banks
stopped offering Argentina the kind of short-term loans that they had been using to repay their
foreign debt of $35 billion. When the new elections for a return to civilian government were
held in late 1983, the military was not even able to obtain assurances from the civilian political
parties that they would have any immunity from persecution for crimes committed against
Argentine civilians. This really shows how little credibility the military had left, because in Chile,
Brazil, and Uruguay, the armed forces got some guarantees of immunity before the return to
civilian government.

Select sources:

Leslie Bethell, ed., Argentina Since Independence. Cambridge University Press
Gabriela Nouzeilles and Graciela Montaldo, eds., The Argentina Reader: History, Culture,
Politics. Duke University Press.

Dennis Meyers
U.S. Army Intelligence, 1974-1980, BA & MA Economics, Economist for over 30 years for State
of California, Community College Adjunct Faculty

Historical Context:

The Falkland Islands, or Islas Malvinas to the Argentines, are in the South Atlantic, 480 km east of the
coast of Argentina. They consist of two main islands, East Falkland and West Falkland, and about 700
islets, with a total land area nearly the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut—about 4,700 square miles
(12,173 square km).

Ranges of rocky-topped hills reaching up to 2,300 feet run east-west across the northern parts of the
two main islands. The Falklands have over 1,000 miles of coastline with many drowned river valleys that
form protected harbors. Besides the hills, the inland terrain has small rivers and broad, peat-covered
valleys. There are no natural trees. The vegetation consists of low and dense grasslands.

The population of the Falkland Islands at the time of the war was over 1,800 inhabitants, with about 70
percent living in Stanley, its capital. Sheep farming is the main economic activity with wool sent to Great
Britain being the leading land-based export.


Britain bases its claim on the Falklands on its “open, continuous, effective possession, occupation, and
administration” of the islands since 1833 and to the self determination of the Falkland citizens who
consider themselves part of Great Britain. Argentina claims ownership of the Falkland Islands because of
their geographical proximity and because they believe they inherited the islands from Spain upon
receiving independence.

The roots of the dispute over the Falkland Islands dates back to 1690 when the English captain John
Strong made the first recorded landing there and named the sound between the two main islands after
Viscount Falkland, a British naval official. In addition to Britain, Spain, Holland and Portugal all claim to
have discovered them. Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, a French navigator, founded the islands’ first
settlement in 1764 on East Falkland and he named the islands the Malovines. The British established a
settlement on West Falkland in 1765 but were driven off in 1770 by the Spanish, who had bought out
the French settlement in 1767. Threatening war on Spain, the British restored their settlement in 1771.
However, economic pressures leading up to the American Revolution, led Britain to withdraw again in
1774, It did not give up its claim of ownership, though. Spain maintained a settlement on East Falkland
until 1811. When Argentina declared independence in 1816 it assumed that the Malvina Islands were

A dispute over seal hunting rights led lead to conflict with the United States and a raid by the U.S.
warship Lexington in 1831 that destroyed the Argentine settlement on East Falkland. The British
returned in 1833 to reclaim the islands. By 1885 the Falklands supported a British community of about
1,800. Argentina ceased protesting ownership of the Falklands until 1964 when their status was
debated by the United Nations’ committee on decolonization.

THE 1982 WAR

The Falklands war began on 2 April 1982 with amphibious landings by Argentine marines that quickly
overwhelmed a small British garrison of 68 marines, 11 naval personnel and 23 volunteers of
the Falkland Islands Defense Force. On 5 April, the British government dispatched a naval task force to
retake the islands.

Naval Operations

The naval task force was tasked with transporting, protecting, and supporting land combat forces that
were to retake the Falklands. It was assembled from vessels that were immediately available; 127 ships
in total. It included 43 Royal Navy vessels, 22 Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships, and 62 merchant ships. The
nuclear-powered submarine Conqueror set sail on 4 April. Two aircraft carriers, Invincible and Hermes,
and their escort vessels departed a day later. On 9 April, the ocean liner SS Canberra set sail with 3
Commando Brigade aboard. The ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2 departed 12 May carrying the 5th
Infantry Brigade.

As opposed to declaring war on Argentina as a whole, on 30 April, Britain declared a 200 nautical mile
Total Exclusion Zone in which aircraft and ships of any nation were liable to attack if they were aiding
the Argentinian occupation.

The first significant naval engagement of the conflict was the sinking of the cruiser General Belgrano, the
pride of the Argentine navy. The Belgrano was the former USS Phoenix, a pre-WW2 Brooklyn-class
cruiser that was sold to Argentina in 1951. The British nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine
Conqueror detected the Belgrano on 30 April. On May 1, British Intelligence intercepted an Argentine
signal ordering its naval forces to launch a "massive attack" the next day. Even though the
Belgrano was outside the exclusion zone, Britain decided that the order made it a threat to the task force
and Conqueror was ordered to attack it. On May 2 Conqueror sank the Belgrano with torpedoes.
Approximately 323 Argentinian Belgrano crewmen died—the war’s single greatest loss of life. The
sinking also caused the recall of the Argentine fleet to their bases after which they played no major role
in the conflict.

The principal threat to the British task force was from unguided bombs and Exocet missiles wielded by
Argentine land-based naval and air force jets. Two days after the sinking of the Belgrano, the
destroyer HMS Sheffield was sunk by an Exocet missile strike from the Argentine 2nd Naval Air
Fighter/Attack Squadron. The sinking killed 20 crew members and severely injured 24 others. This was
the first Royal Navy ship sunk in action since WW2.

On 21 May the HMS Ardent was sunk after being hit by nine bombs. Three days later another bomb
strike sunk the frigate HMS Antelope. On 25 May, the merchant navy ship MV Atlantic Conveyor was hit
by an Exocet, which caused the loss of 12 of her crew members, four Chinook and five Wessex
helicopters, a severe loss of troop transport capacity.

Air Combat

The objective of British air forces was to achieve air superiority to protect the task force ships and
ground troops from air attack. The Argentine’s principal objective was to keep the task force and
particularly its aircraft carriers at bay. Neither side fully achieved their goals.

Even though Argentine aircraft greatly outnumbered British aircraft, their inferior quality and
deployment left Argentina at a disadvantage. Argentina had about 240 aircraft, but half were stationed
inland and along the Chilean border; too far away to be effectively employed. For the Falkland campaign
Argentina deployed 48 Skyhawk attack jets that were armed with unguided bombs and lacked electronic
or missile self-defense systems. Overall, these Skyhawks were in poor condition due to a U.S. arms
embargo imposed in response to Argentina’s Dirty War. Despite these limitations, Skyhawks sank
the destroyer Coventry and damaged several frigates and support ships. Twenty-two Skyhawks were
lost in the conflict; eight to British Sea Harriers, seven to ship-launched missiles, four to ground-
launched missiles and anti-aircraft fire, and three to crashes.

Argentina also deployed 16 Dassault Mirage IIIEA long-range strike aircraft. But they lacked air refueling
capability which meant that from the mainland they would have very limited time—up to only 5
minutes—to engage British aircraft over the islands and prevented them from effectively reaching the
naval task force.

A few years before the war the U.S. arms embargo prompted Argentina’s naval air force to transition
from Skyhawks to French Super Etendards armed with anti-ship sea-skimming Exocet missiles. At the
time of the war only five Etendards had been delivered but the computer programming to launch
Exocets had not been completed. With the recall of French engineers, Argentine technical experts had
to complete the integration. Exocet strikes sank the British destroyer HMS Sheffield and the merchant
ship Atlantic Conveyor.

After British ground forces landed, the Argentine air forces kept up attacks on the British fleet, sinking
two frigates, a destroyer, a container ship (Atlantic Conveyor), and a landing ship disembarking troops.
However, Argentina did not damage either British aircraft carrier nor sink enough ships to jeopardize or
impede British land operations.

In total Argentina lost 75 fixed-wing and 25 rotary-wing aircraft during the war, 45 of which were
destroyed in the air with the remaining destroyed on the ground, by accident, or captured.
Most British air combat sorties were carried out by 26 Royal Navy Sea Harriers flying from
HMS Invincible and HMS Hermes. The Harrier was a subsonic naval short take-off and vertical
landing/vertical take-off and landing jet fighter designed for strike, reconnaissance and fighter
missions. Sea Harrier squadrons shot down 20 Argentine aircraft in air-to-air combat but suffered no
air-to-air losses. Two Sea Harriers were downed by ground fire and four were lost in accidents.
While they successfully protected the aircraft carriers, British air forces were not able to achieve
absolute air superiority. Thus, Argentine air forces were a threat throughout the conflict.


By late April, Argentina had stationed more than 10,000 troops on the Falklands, although the vast
majority of these were poorly trained conscripts who were not supplied with proper food, clothing, and
shelter for the approaching winter. Some soldiers were quickly disillusioned when they learned that
rather than liberating people from a colonial power, the Falkland Islanders were contented British folks.

The terrain of East Falkland dictated that nature of land combat. The lack of tress or even bushes gave
the defending Argentinians extensive fields of fire from the rocky mountaintops they had dug into.
Concealment for the British was nearly nonexistent. Thus, British assaults were primarily conducted at
night, usually with no preparatory barrages and no armored support. This led to violent and brutal
infantry combat often involving hand-to-hand combat and the use of bayonets.

Given the long and irregular coastline of East Falkland, Argentina could not hope to prevent a British
landing. Thus, the Argentinian ground-forces commander, General Mario Menéndez, centralized his
forces to defend Stanley and its airstrip. Rather than assault Stanley directly, the British navy task-force
commander, Rear Adm. John Woodward, and the land-force commander, Maj. Gen. Jeremy Moore,
decided to make the initial landing on the northwestern coast of East Falkland at San Carlos Bay. During
the night of 21 May, 4,000 troops of 3 Commando Brigade landed and quickly overwhelmed the few
Argentinian troops positioned there. The bay was later nicknamed Bomb Alley as it was repeatedly
attacked by Argentine jets.

From the beachhead at San Carlos Bay, the British divided into two forces. One, including 2 Para moved
southward through forced marches under extremely adverse weather toward Goose Green. On 27 and
28 May 2 Para approached and captured Goose Green and Darwin after a brutal fight. Eighteen British
and 47 Argentine soldiers were killed, and 961 Argentine troops were taken prisoner. The other force,
45 Commando and 3 Para marched across East Falkland towards the settlement of Teal Inlet.

To continue the southern advance toward Stanley, 2 Para advanced and occupied Bluff Cove where they
were bolstered by 5,000 new troops delivered by troop transport ships on 8 June. However,
disagreements over how the landing would proceed led to a delay in unloading during which the
troop ships were attacked by two waves of Skyhawks. The ship Sir Tristram was struck by two bombs
which killed 56 British servicemen and wounded 150. This was the greatest loss of life among British
forces in a single incident since World War II.

Beginning on the night of 11 June, British forces launched a night attack on the high ground surrounding
Stanley. Supported by naval gunfire, ground troops simultaneously attacked and captured Mount
Harriet, Two Sisters mountain and Mount Longdon. On the night of 13 June Mount Tumbledown was
assaulted and captured by the 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards. Combined with the simultaneous captures
of Wireless Ridge and Sapper Hill, British troops controlled all the heights overlooking Stanley.

On June 14, a ceasefire was declared, and negotiations culminated with the surrender of the Argentine
garrison in Stanley on the same day.

The British captured over 11,000 Argentine prisoners during the war, all of whom were released
afterward. Argentina announced that about 650 lives had been lost—about half of them in the sinking of
the General Belgrano. Britain lost 255 troops and 3 Falkland Islanders.


There was no widespread abuse of the population during the occupation. Personal food supplies,
alcohol and private property were generally left alone. Several officials and residents that were critical
of the Argentines were expelled from the islands. Several residents thought to be potential troublemakers
were imprisoned or placed under house arrest. Only 3 Falkland Islanders died during the war.

The Argentine governor of the islands stated that he would not engage in any combat in Stanley itself.

Vehicles were told to drive on the right. Street signs and traffic signs were changed to match
Argentina’s, including the use of the metric system.

The Argentine-appointed chief of police, however, was infamous for overstepped his authority,
disrespecting the islanders, and for arbitrary house searches, arrests, and questioning.

After the Argentine forces surrendered, Stanley’s infrastructure—electricity, water and sanitation
systems—were overwhelmed by the demands placed on it to accommodate and process thousands of
cold, weary, hungry British soldiers and the Argentine prisoners of war. This suffering was dubbed
Galtieri's revenge


With the victory Margaret Thatcher's popularity, that had been lagging, recovered and the popularity of
her Conservative government skyrocketed. It went on to win the following year's general election by a
landslide. The war was a psychological boost for Britain that had been languishing in a post-colonial

The Falklands enjoyed a period of post-war prosperity buoyed by record levels of aid money from
Britain. Residents were granted full British citizenship.

However, the war didn’t finally resolve the dispute over the competing claims to the islands. The
disagreement continues even though in a 2013 referendum 99.8% of islanders voted to remain British.


Robert Lawrence was nearly killed by an Argentine sniper during the fight for Tumbledown Mountain.
The wound destroyed over 40 percent of his brain and caused lifelong paralysis down one side of his

He was born in 1960 into a family with a history of military service. His brother, father and grandfather
had all been in the military. After attending boarding schools, he joined the army and ultimately
graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He was then commissioned as a second
lieutenant into the Scots Guards in 1979. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1981.

On 14 June, Lawrence led two platoons of the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards along the west flank towards
enemy positions atop Tumbledown. In a fierce fire-fight Lawrence shot 14 Argentinians, before running
out of ammunition. He continued the attack, stabbing three more with his bayonet. At the pinnacle of
Tumbledown Lawrence was struck by a round that passed through the rear of his skull and exited at his
hairline above his right eye. Ninety minutes later the Argentinian garrison in Stanley surrendered.

Because of the severity of the wound that was assumed to be mortal, he waited hours for evacuation
from Tumbledown and waited more hours for treatment at a hospital. Asked about this years later, he
said he bore no ill will to the medical personnel as it was logical to assume his wound was fatal and that
it made more sense to treat less severely wounded soldiers first.

He was awarded the Military Cross in October 1982 and was discharged in 1983.

He ran afoul of the Army and the Ministry of Defense when he openly criticized the way the military
establishment stoked patriotic fervor after the war while turning a blind eye to the unglamorous
brutality and consequences of the war. He later worked in the film industry and eventually established
Global Adventure Plus, a project to help rehabilitate British ex-servicemen. He coauthored the book
When the Fighting Is Over : A Personal Story of the Battle for Tumbledown Mountain and Its Aftermath
that was adapted into the BBC television play Tumbledown in 1988.


Falkland Islands ,,
Falkland Islands War,,
The hardest fight of all for a Falklands hero, The Guardian,
The Real Story Of The Falklands War | The Untold Story | Timeline, Youtube
The Falklands War – The Land Battle Part 1 – The Landings, Youtube
The Falklands War – The Land Battle Part 2 – Towards Stanley, Youtube
The Falklands War – The Land Battle Part 3 – The Final Battle, Youtube
Wikipedia articles: Falklands War, History of the Falkland Islands, Battle of Mount Tumbledown, Robert
Lawrence (British Army officer), United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, Argentine air forces in the
Falklands War, FMA IA 58 Pucará, Dassault-Breguet Super Étendard, British Aerospace Sea Harrier,

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 31: Charlotte Gray Sat, 23 Apr 2022 08:00:00 -0700 7c4671a7-edb3-4132-8484-ea4cf979a950 Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E31: Charlotte Gray Charlotte Gray (or Harry Potter and the Nazi Resistance.)

Richard Stephens
Minor in History, focusing on military history

Special Note - It’s hard to watch a movie about resistance fighters right now and not draw parallels to
the plight of Ukrainian people presently.

Rich’s Take: I really wanted to like this movie. It’s an aspect of WWII that doesn’t get much attention,
and I was excited to delve into it (how could I go wrong with Cate Blanchett.) While the film is well
acted and looks good, the topic deserves better in my opinion. This movie was kind of all over the map.
The movie clearly wants us to feel these deep connections between the principal characters, but I felt it
never really develops on screen. By the time we get to the end, and we should have this emotional
reaction to the events, I just couldn’t feel it.


The Gleninnan Viaduct train shown in the opening is the same from the Harry Potter franchise.

Michael Gambon (who portrayed Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films after Richard Harris passed
away) plays Julien’s father. (I personally couldn’t help but hear Dumbledore every time he was in a
scene, which undoubtably lessened the overall affect of the film for me. His voice is just so distinct.]

The true story of a FANY/S.O.E. agent Nancy “white mouse” Wake inspired the novel this movie was
based on – though her real life exploits were not depicted in this film, nor does it appear that Charlotte
was based on her.

Talking Points

First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (Princess Royals Volunteer Corps) – FANY (PRVC) – Founded in 1907 the
FANY was formed as an all women First Aid organization. They are an independent, voluntary
organization, not officially attached to the military. Members are not commissioned but do operate as
an officer corp.

During WWII, FANY’s were primarily deployed as radio officers, encryption specialists, wireless
operators, radar operators, and personal assistants (drivers, coders and decoders.) The corp. contained
6,000 women in WWII; 2,000 of which were in the British Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) – a
precursor to modern special operations forces who waged guerrilla war in enemy-occupied territory
working with resistance forces. “39 of the 50 women sent into France by the S.O.E. during the war were
FANY’s. Women could move about more freely in the occupied territories because, since over 1.6
million French men had been deported by the Germans into forced labor, male resistance fighters were
dangerously conspicuous.” 1

13 of the 39 women were captured and killed by the Gestapo.

Vichy France – The French State established by the Franco-German Armistice of June 22, 1940 which
divided France into two zones; one under German occupation and one consisting of full French
sovereignty (at least on paper.) This unoccupied zone consisted of southeastern France (purple in map
below) with Vichy as the seat of civil administration.

While officially independent, it adopted a policy of collaboration with Germany – until November of
1942 when Germany and Italy completed their occupation of France, effectively ending the Vichy
[Side note: In Casablanca Captain Renault is questioned by German Maj. Strasser which side he’s on.
He says, “I have no conviction, if that's what you mean. I blow with wind, and the prevailing
wind happens to be from Vichy.” Easy to imagine that most people would just “go along to
get along” to survive.]

The French Resistance – On June 18 th , 1940 Charles de Gaulle addressed the people of France from
London. He called on the French people to continue to fight the Germans. In northern France this
meant direct opposition to the German occupying forces. In southern France, this often-meant
opposition to the collaborative Vichy government.

The French Resistance was an umbrella term which included numerous anti-German resistance
movements based in France. Some were in contact with and took orders from the British S.O.E., some
were communist resistance groups, some were loyal to de Gaulle, while others wanted regional
independence. The point being, there was not one “unified” resistance force integrated into the overall
allied plan and operating from a unified chain of command; but there were several bands of resistance
groups with their own goals, ideals, etc. fighting for France (or better put, fighting for their version of
what France should be.)

Works Cited

  1. First Aid Nursing Yeomanry Emergency Response Est. 1907. History | FANY (PRVC) - Princess
    Royal's Volunteer Corps. (Accessed 3/13/2022.)

  2. National Army Museum. Special Operations Executive. Special Operations Executive | National
    Army Museum ( (Accessed 3/12/2022.)

  3. The French Resistance. The French Resistance - History Learning Site. (Accessed 3/15/2022.)

  4. BBC News - Charles de Gaulle speech (Accessed 3/15/2022.)

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 30: 1917 Wed, 20 Apr 2022 08:30:00 -0700 65d7c833-5471-4fea-8a3f-48dde7fdea1c Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E30: 1917 Benjamin David Curley

1917 notes

The First World War is unfortunately one of those major historical events that has gotten overlooked within a generation. A massive world-wide war that killed millions that was instantly overshadowed by its successor. The story of the First World War is a terrifying example of what happens when technology outpaces strategy, and when nations become too pot-committed to a struggle. You might be able to mentally excuse your choice as a Prime Minister or President saying 1,000 lives is worth this bit of land, or it is worth hitting this neighbor before they hit us. The whole thing spirals when you have 1,000,000 live lost. Can you go to your people and say that Alsace-Lorraine is worth a million people? Would they accept that, or would that break the collective psyche of a nation. So instead you say you’re fighting against monsters, who will murder nuns, drink blood, and wont stop until you and your way of life are destroyed. A million lives versus that great existential threat is something that you can get people to understand. Each of the major players went into the war with goals that look similar to the goals we saw in the previous few centuries of gun powder conflict.

We must remember the map of Europe in the early 1910s is not the map we know it today, this was still an age of Empire, of gathering land by conquest and a Europe that was adjusting to the very existence of a unified Germany which hadn’t happened since the Holy Roman Empire. Germany as we mostly know it today had spent hundreds of years as a mishmash of hundreds of principalities and was only unified 1871. The German Empire knew it was still growing pushing East as Russia was looking to push West. The prevailing German though at the time of the war was that conflict with Russia was inevitable as the empires closed in on one another, and it’s better to do it now. The Russians on the other hand saw the state of the other old empires of Europe (Austo-Hungary and the Ottomans) and their decay would cause a power vacuum that would be filled by themselves, the Germans, or a new Slavic empire that might push back on the lands they controlled. Russia was a state constantly on the verge or revolution (having put down several in the preceding decades) and the Czar was worried about any possible signs of weakness. France had been defeated in the Franko-Prussian war of 1870 and was looking to reclaim the lands lost that it considered to be theirs (Alsace and Lorraine). Britain was being challenged on the global scale by the new upstart German Empire and was worried that if left alone Germany would continue to catch up to it in naval power and would be able to challenge it for it’s imperial holdings. Austria-Hungary was a fading and struggling empire that hoped defeating Serbia would help prevent Russia from becoming the dominate power in the Balkans, and was worried what an empowered Russian backed Serbia might do to motivate it’s local Serbian populations and destabilize the Empire even more. It saw Serbian independence as an existential threat to the continued existence of the Empire. Finally, The Ottoman Empire (commonly called The Sick Man of Europe) was hoping that reclaiming its lost Balkan territory and perhaps claiming British held Middle Eastern territory as a way to regain its former status.

This mishmash of national war aims matched with an intricate web of treaties and alliances put Europe in an interesting position. The end of the 1800s saw great statesmen weaving a web of treaties with the expectation that if one nation decided to pursue the desire for land and power that had been the norm in Europe for centuries it would have to contend with the fact it couldn’t just fight one nation, several Empires would be brought into the fighting at the same time. No more would a Napoleon-styled leader be able to pick apart Europe piece by piece, the war would jump to the stage where the continent was unified against their aggression. Unfortunately this meant when the war was ultimately declared when Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia suddenly the world was mobilized for a continental war.

Now that the war was on and the major powers of Europe had been brought into conflict we now have the first examples of one of the major themes of the war. Technology had far outpaced the realities of modern warfare. As the Churchill quote goes “Generals are always prepared to fighting the last war”. Throughout the first weeks and months of the war you had massive armies moving around Europe looking to meet for a decisive field battle where a cavalry charge would sweep the enemy off the field and win the day. This quickly pushed up against the realities of modern rifles, artillery, and machine guns. The opening of the war was a hugely bloody affair where casualties far outstripped anyone’s projections, leading to the armies digging in and the now famous trenches of the Western Front. We now had armies dug in fighting a new style of warfare and not adequately adjusting to it in time. You also see these armies holding their cavalry in reserves for years still thinking that “we break the line here, then send in the cavalry to sweep the enemy up” despite seeing the terrible losses a cavalry charge receives when engaging placed modern artillery and machine guns.

To the time frame of or film specifically by 1917 we now had entered the fourth summer of constant warfare. The armies were exhausted, and everyone’s dreams of a quick glorious war were now being replaced with the realities of fully industrialized modern warfare. We now had 35,000 miles of trenches stretching across Europe. We have a tendency to look back on wars with a sense of inevitability, we know how it ends so of course it was always going to go this way, but at this point in time both sides of the war could easily have broken. 1917 was a summer of French Army mutinies, where French soldiers were refusing to take part in any offensive actions ordered by their leaders. Knowing the war ends in a defeat for the Central Powers we may forget how close the Entente powers came to breaking. Coinciding with this bottoming of morale came the German plan to move their forces to the Hindenburg Line. The Germans spent the winter of 1916-1917 building a brand new defense in depth series of trenches behind their own lines, fully prepared with concrete bunkers and pillboxes designed to withstand Entente artillery bombardments, let the advancing soldiers get to the first line of trenches, and then push them back out. The plan being to put themselves in a position where the Entente would waste their remaining manpower against their new strong defenses, and force their commanders to be the ones telling their already mutinying soldiers to run into no man’s land through the barbed wire and machine gun fire. While ultimately unsuccessful, this is the scenario our heroes are trying to stop a British attack in.

Michael Andrews
Bachelors in History from Western Washington University
Attending Woodring College of Education to become a secondary school teacher

Incidents the film touches on:
World War I: Spring 1917 - Acts of total war like bombing civilians, Operation Alberich & the Hindenburg Line, Battle of Passchendaele

1917 (2019) Note: the film will be differentiated from the year indicated by italics

Summary: “During World War I, two British soldiers -- Lance Cpl. Schofield and Lance Cpl. Blake -- receive seemingly impossible orders. In a race against time, they must cross over into enemy territory to deliver a message that could potentially save 1,600 of their fellow comrades -- including Blake's own brother.”

Summary - Spring (March - June), 1917

Although many important historical events occurred in 1917 globally (the Russian Revolution took place in March; the United States entered the war in April), our focus will remain with the British, French, and Germans on the Western Front as this is what 1917 focuses on. It should be noted that the absence of the Russians later in this year allowed for Germany to focus entirely on the Western Front, but by the time more forces from the East could be brought to bear, the war would end.
Spring 1917 is, what Doran Cart (senior curator of the National WWI Museum) describes as “very fluid”. Although for most of the war the Central powers and the Triple Entente had been stalemated and reduced to trench warfare, 1917 marked the beginning of some major changes.

The German Army pulled a tactical retreat dubbed Operation Alberich and set themselves up at the Hindenburg Line. This was a tactic utilized to prepare for future operation sin 1918. It was a strategic withdrawal, and not an “explicit retreat”. This movement caused great confusion among British forces and provided a degree of uncertainty – Mendes provides more context on this: “…had the Germans surrendered, withdrawn, or were they lying in wait?”

To make matters worse, the French held a substantial mutiny from May to June of 1917. This forced the British to take the leading role n the front lines while the French searched for ways to quell the mutiny and return to the fight.

The film’s events take place shortly before the Battle of Poelcappelle which was a smaller skirmish as part of the Battle of Passchendaele/Third Battle of Ypres.

Total War

The term “Total War” can be summed up by four main points, according to Khan Academy: mobilization, refusal to compromise, soldier and civilian roles becoming blended together, and the total control of society by a government. In 1917, France's new Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau declared: "We present ourselves in the single aim of total warfare… My foreign policy and my home policy are the same. At home I wage war. Abroad I wage war… I shall go on waging war." World War I, by these descriptions, was a total war. World War I, in many ways, was the first example of total war.

In terms of scale, WWI mobilized people like no other war. 1914 shocked people initially, but they quickly mobilized and volunteered at recruitment centers. Women volunteered to become nurses, make weapons, planted “war gardens” and bought war bonds. Governments shifted most of their industrial production to creating war-related materials and products. Military conscription brought up war-time numbers to unprecedented heights.

Historian Kimberly A. Redding says: “Some 65,000,000 men were mobilized between 1914 and 1918. While not all saw frontline service, the casualty rate (killed, wounded, and missing in action as a percentage of those mobilized) was over 50 percent among AustroHungarian, Australian, Bulgarian, French, German, Russian, and ANZAC forces. 8.5 million soldiers died and at least twice that number were wounded. Of these, at least 9.5 million were considered permanently disabled….”

Hague conventions of how to conduct warfare between “Imperial” (non-colonial nations) were ignored during the war. Germany invaded Belgium without officially declaring war. Poison gas was utilized. Flooding of civilian land attempted to destroy anything useful for the war effort. German brutality in Belgium, in bombing civilians using Zeppelins, and sinking of civilian shipping gave ammunition to the Triple Entente to further drive the war effort.

Zeppelins became less and less useful as more were shot down. 1917 marked the first air raid on a civilian population by an airplane – a German Gotha bi-plane accidentally hit Folkestone instead of London. This location had never been bombed previously, and so casualties reached the 60’s, mostly civilian. This would be a foreshadowing to further total war attacks on civilians, made the norm later down the line in the Spanish Civil War and World War II. A notable exception to these strategic bombing allowances was France, who restrained themselves from conducting strategic bombing campaigns.

Private companies, because of their supply of ammunition, weapons, and materials allowed the, to make massive profits. Environmental impacts developed as constant shelling and resource tapping made certain areas of the Western Front completely unrecognizable from the prewar era. In historian Tait Keller's words, "the distinction between modern war and modern industry had, in many ways, faded. Transformations to the natural world occurred in places outside the combat zones. People far from the fighting felt the war in their everyday lives through its long environmental reach."

Governments censored the press and the propaganda machines on both sides were in full swing. People who were behind the war effort early on had grown cynical and tired by 1917. Total war would more or less begin here but would be even more amplified in the coming decades.

Operation Alberich & The Hindenburg Line

The code name Unternehmen Alberich was used to describe the operation German soldiers conducted in February and March of 1917. It was designated as a strategic withdrawal back to the Hindenburg Line, a much more heavily fortified line.
The Germans shortened the front by 25 miles and freed up 13 divisions. For context, the Germans abandoned more French territory that that gained by the Entente from 1914 until now.

The Germans debated the positives and negatives of the operation. Some felt it should only be done as a method of last resort. Shortening the front and freeing up divisions could lead to new maneuvers. Defenses in the current line were miserable and near destroyed. Eventually, the Kaiser himself ordered the withdrawal.

The Germans utilized a scorched earth policy and placed booby-traps in concealed and strategic locations. Entire villages were flattened, roads and railways were destroyed, trees were felled and even wells were poisoned. A Fifth Army report made in March of 1917 states “Roads in the shelled area have practically ceased to exist.” The British were left trying to understand exactly what the Germans were doing as they abandoned the dregs of no man’s land. Village by village, ridge by ridge, the Germans retreated under protection of rear-guard machine-gun teams. The Royal Engineers had the unenviable task of clearing the way, which proceeded painfully slow.

Although a successful strategic withdrawal, the scorched earth policy did no favors for propaganda against Germany. Intermittent British air reconnaissance and bad weather prevented the British from properly identifying both the Hindenburg Line and the withdrawal, which was corrected later in early 1917. This strategic withdrawal would eventually lead to one of the largest and costliest battles of the war.

Battle of Passchendaele/Third Battle of Ypres

In July of 1917, Flanders became the battleground between British and German. French mutiny in May pushed the British forward into a leading role against the German military. Sir Douglas Haig, the British Commander in Chief, mistakenly believed the Germans were on the verge of collapse and surrender and only needed a push.

The Battle of Passchendaele occurred early on into the nearly three-month ordeal that was the 3rd Battle of Ypres. The capture of Messines Ridge, south of Ypres, was aided by powerful mines being laid way under the German front line. This ridge was completely destroyed but the victory was not followed up with quick enough before the Germans could regroup. After two weeks of intense shelling the Entente assaulted near Pilckem. Although they suffered heavy casualties, the Entente pushed forward and took many German prisoners. The heavy rains and thick mud that develop in mid-August slowed the assault and prevented many further gains, especially at Langemarck.

After taking control of a nearby ridge in September, Haig encouraged a push towards the Passchendaele ridge. The German army was dug in and made the Entente’s attack on their positions costly. Reinforcements that I mentioned above arrived from the Eastern front and resupplied the German positions with fresh soldiers.

Haig was eventually successful in taking the village of Passchendaele but at the cost of 310,000 British casualties and 260,000 German casualties. No substantial breakthrough was gained and continued to show the futility in trench warfare so iconic of the First World War.

Some eyewitness accounts of the battle:

Messines Ridge
Bryan Frayling, minelayer, Royal Engineer, destruction of the ridge

“I had hoped very, very much that I would push the switch in that blew up Spanbroekmolen, which was the largest of them and which I’d helped to charge. Instead I was ordered to get up on Kemmel Hill that night and act as official observer for all the Tunnelling Companies. I had two subalterns with me; we put out sticks, lining sticks, on the correct bearings, and waited in pitch dark. When zero came, my anxiety of course was that some of the mines had been sitting in extremely wet ground and the explosive was ammonal which doesn’t go off when it’s wet. It was in soldered waterproof tins but we wondered how they’d fared…”

“The whole hill, the whole hillside, everything rocked like a ship at sea. The noise from the artillery was deafening, the thunder from our charges was enormous. The infantry dashed forward under a barrage and kept sending back thousands and thousands of prisoners. I couldn’t tell you how many. They came back through our dugouts and we were able to see them and they were absolutely demoralised. We were all so happy that we didn’t know what to do. Then when we got a look at the craters there were lumps of blue clay as big as a small building lying about there. Our Hill 60 crater was 100 yards across from lip to lip and still 45 feet deep. We thought the war was over…”

Ulrick Burke, British Officer, morning of the battle

“Immediately the daylight came, they had their rum ration. The Quartermaster was always good on these occasions, it was practically a double, because he’d filched or watered or done something to it to let us have some more. Anyhow, that was done. Then you gave the men your last orders. They had brief sort of ladders, two bits of wood nailed together with three or four cross pieces to form the ladder to help them get out. Five minutes before the actual time of going over, which was the worst time for the troops, that’s when their feelings might break. You’d say, ‘Five minutes to go!’ You’d shout it down the left and right of your sector. Then, ‘Four minutes… three minutes… two minutes’ and ‘half a minute!’ and then you’d say, ‘10 seconds… get ready! Over…!’”

Ypres, October
Thomas Phillips, Machine Gun Corps, battlefield conditions

“So we were marched into Ypres with the baggage and machine guns in a lorry and up through Hellfire Corner going up the Menin Road where old Jerry used to shell all day and night. We passed that alright up Menin Road about half a mile… oh! What ruin… the horses, mules, men, everything dead across. I never saw such destruction in my life. And big shells coming over, bursting. We managed and we didn’t catch a shell at all. Then we had to advance up two small ridges from the main road and there we came across small tanks that had been knocked out or stuck in the mud; they were no damn good at all.”

Alfred Irwin, British Officer, failure of the offensive

“It was a dreadful experience. The weather was continuously bad for weeks before that action. I think I very nearly lost my job as a battalion commander because I sent in a written protest to the brigade that we couldn’t be successful. I was very severely told off for that. I don’t think our leading troops got more than 50 yards. We simply stuck in the mud. Anybody carrying a Lewis gun or any heavy weight like that simply couldn’t get on, it was beyond his strength. I spent that night in a horrible shell hole with my orderlies, one of whom was killed sitting on the top of the shell hole. But there was never any chance of success and this I had reported to the brigade as my considered opinion and endless lives were lost that night just for nothing at all. But we ought not to have been allowed to go at all.”

Jack Dillon, Lewis Gunner, the swampiness of the battlefield

“Now the mud at Passchendaele was very viscous indeed, very tenacious, it stuck to you. Your putties were solid mud anyway. But it stuck to you all over, it slowed you down. It got into the bottom of your trousers, you were covered with mud. The mud there wasn’t liquid, it wasn’t porridge; it was a curious kind of sucking kind of mud. When you got off this track with your load, it ‘drew’ at you, not like a quicksand, but a real monster that sucked at you.”

William Collins, Stretcher-bearer, on the mud
It was a nightmare, because all you had was a couple of duckboards side by side and either side of it was about ten feet of mud with the top of a tank sticking out of it here and there. If you fell off, it would take a traction engine to pull you out, almost. It was that deep – it was absolute sucking mud. There were cases when one or two men slipped off the duckboards and it took a couple of their comrades to pull them out gradually, inch by inch, when they managed to keep their arms out and they pulled them out, inch by inch, out of the mud and got them on again, on the boards again…

According to Jeremy Banning, a military historian and researcher specializing in the First World War, 1917 has a few historical oddities and inauthenticities that are worth pointing out (note: he still considers the movie great in terms of filmmaking and some historical authenticity like the trench scene near the beginning). Below is a list compiled from his points made:

-It is puzzling that there are battalions nine miles beyond where the German line once was and others being unaware that this lien was manned or not. If one were to be delivering a message, you would want to avoid all possible areas of conflict (such as the farmstead).

-The assault by the Devons would not have attacked without proper artillery support. If all of these personal and equipment have penetrated as far as beyond Ecoust, how do nearby sectors not have any idea if the line is manned or not by the Germans?

“1917.” Rotten Tomatoes. Accessed March 2, 2022.
Spring 1917
“1917: The Rage of Men.” The History Place - World War I Timeline - 1917 - the rage of men, 2009.
Solly, Meilan. “The True History behind the '1917' Movie.” Smithsonian Institution, December 20, 2019.
Total War
“Memorial Service to Be Held on 100th Anniversary of First UK Air Raid, That Left 60 Dead.”, May 24, 2017.
“Read: World War I - A Total War (Article).” Khan Academy. Khan Academy. Accessed March 2, 2022.
Created by World History project
Barros, Andrew. “Strategic Bombing and Restraint in ‘Total War’, 1915–1918.” The Historical Journal 52, no. 2 (2009): 413–31.
Keller, Tait. “Destruction of the Ecosystem,” in: 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. by Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson, issued by Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin 2018-08-28. DOI: 10.15463/ie1418.10371.
McNeill, J.R. and William H. The Human Web: A Bird’s Eye View of World History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2003.
Operation Alberich & The Hindenburg line
Simkins, P.; Jukes, G.; Hickey, M. (2003). The First World War: The War to End All Wars. Oxford: Osprey. 119. ISBN 978-1-84176-738-3.
Banning, Jeremy. “‘A Staggering Tour De Force – but an Opportunity Missed’: A Historian's Review of the Film 1917.” HistoryExtra, January 14, 2020.
The Battle of Passchendaele/Third Battle of Ypres
“Third Battle of Ypres Begins in Flanders.” A&E Television Networks, November 5, 2009.
By editors

1917 Research
For the Danger Close Podcast
By Kyle Pocock

To be clear, this is mostly just the same research I turned in for They Shall Not Grow Old with some added clarification and a new section on Runners. I figured it would still be a useful reference to have no matter what.

New Technologies

Smokeless powder in its element. Smokeless powder was developed by the French scientist Paul Vielle in 1886, revolutionizing weapons technology. This may be the most significant development in modern military technology as it significantly reduced the amount of “fouling,” the greasy, goopy substance left behind after firing black powder. This allowed repeating weapons to be more reliable and to fire for longer periods of time without cleaning. Machine guns and repeating rifles could now properly be developed with reasonable reliability. The range of the cartridges developed was also greatly increased, owing to the increased velocity of the projectile. This led to a flatter shooting rifle that was easier to hit a moving target with. When applied to machine guns using the same smokeless cartridges, the results were gruesome and devastating, to the point that early use of machine guns in colonial conflicts weren’t commented on too heavily lest it come across as barbaric.

Artillery: By far the deadliest and most influential technology was the fast firing artillery developed before and during the war. Whereas earlier artillery pieces were slow, muzzle loaded, short range black powder cannons, the weapons of WWI were able to fire repeatedly without having to correct for aim between shots. This allowed for massive amounts of firepower to be put in a concentrated spot in a short amount of time, as fast as 15 rounds a minute. Again leading the arms race, the French M1897 75mm (namesake of the French 75 champagne cocktail) led the way for this new breed of artillery with a novel hydraulic shock absorbing recoil system allowing quick follow up shots. This basic design feature was copied in different configurations on all sides. Some heavy caliber siege guns and even gigantic rail guns were developed, one German rail gun serving as a terror weapon capable of hitting Paris 75 miles away. Aside from a massive bombardment before an attack, tactics continued to develop to include the creeping barrage, where the guns would fire ever further away from the front lines as the infantry advanced behind the “shield” of fire from the guns. Trenches were built in a sawtooth pattern so that shrapnel and blast waves from artillery would only be allowed to go a certain distance before it was stopped by the next section. No other weapon killed more soldiers in the war than artillery and its impact can’t be understated.

(After passing through the now collapsed barracks, our main characters pass some 15cm Kanone 16 field gun positions. The number of spent shells gives a sense of how much they had been used up until the retreat.)

Repeating Rifles: The French development of smokeless powder allowed them to develop the first repeating, magazine rifle using it, the Lebel 1886. Development was somewhat rushed as they wanted to be ahead of the game as quickly as possible compared to their black powder using European counterparts. Subsequent designs from other countries followed, including the German Mauser 98 (a basic bolt action system still in use today in hunting and sniper rifles), the American Springfield 1903 (a near copy of the Mauser system that resulted in legal fees after the war), and the British Lee Enfield (a robust rifle that remained in service in some configurations until 1990, a testament to both the reliability and performance of the rifle and the lag in the procurement processes). One significant advantage of these new rifles was using clips or chargers (a thin piece of sheet metal that held the cartridges together) to load the ammo 5 rounds all at a time instead of single shots at a time, increasing rate of fire to rates previously unseen on the battlefield. There are several accounts, particularly of early war professionally trained soldiers, having their withering fire mistaken for machine guns due to the sheer volume they were able to keep up with their clips and fast bolt actions.

The No 1 Mk 3 Short Magazine, Lee Enfield rifle (as seen carried by both men), served through all of the Great War for all the commonwealth countries. It was well liked by soldiers for being rugged, accurate, and fast to shoot. It was developed to be used both by infantry and cavalry instead of having a long and short rifle for each, leading to a short, handy rifle allowing quick shots on close-in targets. A replacement was being worked on before the war but it was supplanted by the existing design already in wide-scale production. It did, however, serve with the Americans in a caliber conversion called the M1917, seeing heavy use by the AEF.

(The SMLE British service rifle during WWI.

(Blake and Schofield keep their SMLEs at the ready as they approach the German trench. Their P07 Sword type bayonets are fitting should they run into any close fighting.

Machine Guns: Hiram Maxim, an American inventor, developed the Maxim machine gun just before the development of smokeless powder, taking advantage of the new ammunition type once it was available to him. Having been attempted for decades before, he successfully harnessed the recoil power of a bullet exiting a barrel to create a fully automatic, belt fed machine gun. His design was used by all major powers of the war in slightly different variations to devastating effect. Use of a tube of water around the barrel allowed the guns to be fired effectively indefinitely as long as there was water and ammo available. Offenses were incredibly costly and eliminating enemy machine guns was the highest priority on the attack. One solution was the light machine gun, being able to be carried into battle and operated by an individual; the infancy of the light machine gun led to clunky designs that though successful, were quickly improved or replaced by the end of the war. In British service as seen in the movie, the Vickers model of the Maxim machine gun and the Lewis light machine gun saw heavy use on the front lines throughout the war. German and Russian use of machine guns was far more advanced and ahead of their time compared to British forces, as evidenced by the significant disparity in machine guns at the beginning of the war (12,000 German vs several hundred British).

(We surprisingly don’t see many machine guns in the movie, only a few Lewis light machine guns are seen crossing passed the camera)

Aircraft: Balloons and airplanes were most effective at guiding artillery fire and coordinating movements through reconnaissance. Still in their infancy, aircraft progressed rapidly during the war, developing different type classifications as specializations emerged from recon to bombers. The first air-to-air dogfights started with handheld rifles and pistols progressing to machine guns mounted to the aircraft firing safely through the propellers by way of the interrupter gear. This amount of visibility on the ground was unprecedented and allowed for high levels of coordination between artillery and infantry. Combined arms warfare between aircraft, tanks, artillery, and infantry had finally been developed and used for the first time.

(The German pilot comes in for a crash landing as Black and Schofield scurry for cover)

Tanks: The search for a weapon or tactic to break the trench stalemate was a constant goal of researchers and developers on both sides of the war. One solution, started in England in 1915, was to armor a tractor, allowing men and weapons to cross No Man’s Land and launch an armored attack on the defenders. The prototype, lovingly named the “Little Willie” Landship, was exceptionally slow and carried a few machine guns. To disguise their secretive purpose, they were described as water carriers in reports, hence the name “Tank.” Eventually, the rhomboid Mk I tank went into production in 1916 and on September 15th, in the battle of the Somme, the first tanks attacked German lines. Mechanical issues knocked out most of them but the merits of such a design were clear and further development led to the first light tanks and other variations. These early tanks were noisy, hot, cramped, and generally terrible to be inside but the promise of a swift end to the war through technological development was a tempting possibility. This possibility was finally proven in November 1917 at the battle of Cambrai where 500 MK IV (an improvement of the MK I) tanks blew a 4 mile hole in the German lines, cementing their place on the battlefield for centuries to come.. France and Germany both followed suit with their own iterations with the French developing the first tank with a rotating 360 degree turret known as the FT-17 produced by Renault and the Germans creating a boxy, rectangular behemoth known as the A7V. The FT-17 was the first tank used by the US Army and would see significant interwar use by countries around the world. The effect of the tank on warfare is extremely clear to anyone who’s taken a look at modern military history and their battlefield presence continues to spread fear, despite the many dangers they face on the current digital battlefield.

(We see Blake and Schofield passing by a Mk II “male” tank in the movie. Male and female denoted the type of weapons carried by each vehicle in their side sponsons; heavy guns for males and machine guns for females)

Honorable mentions:

Flamethrowers: Developed alongside tanks to act as a battering ram to knock through defenses or as a terrifying static defensive weapon, flamethrowers were used on all sides but were most effectively put to use by the Germans with their Sturmtruppen assault infantry in daring raids and frontal attacks with multiple specialist soldiers employing new technology.

Mills’s bomb: One of the first modern fragmentation grenades, the British Mill’s bomb was brutally effective at delivering deadly shrapnell as far as the user could throw it. All the other major powers developed their own hand grenades, some fragmentation based, others relying on concussive blast alone to kill like the German stick grenade.

Light mortars: Having access to man-portable artillery was a game changer for small unit tactics as less coordination was required to rain down explosive firepower on the enemy at close to medium range. The high angle of attack also made them deadly to soldiers caught in a trench next to a landing shell.

Chemical weapons: I considered making an entire section on this but didn’t have as much knowledge on the subject. The development of poison gas to be used in bombardments was not a new idea but new gas and shell types made them a frightening reality with grisly effects. Blindness, burns, and ultimately death at the hands of gas attacks were all too common among the soldiers on all fronts, with Germany leading the way in their use. The banning of any sort of chemical warfare is testament to just how terrible these weapons were and the extent of the permanent suffering they imparted on anyone in their path.

A Quick Delve Into Sniping as a Novel Tactic:

Sniping or sharpshooting has a long and murky history with the first rifles extending the range and accuracy of early black powder muskets. In a world of line battles and ranks of men firing at each other in lines to capitalize on the slow firepower of their muzzleloading weapons, killing from afar was seen as most unsporting and was severely frowned upon, especially the direct targeting of officers. As WWI devolved into trench warfare, it became clear that marksmanship would be at a premium when firing at each other’s parapets and hidden loopholes. Going into the war, the British army had some of the best trained professional soldiers in the world and their marksmanship and skill with the aforementioned Lee Enfield was legendary to the point of some German soldiers thinking they were being fired upon by machine guns as the British soldiers kept up a withering fire with their bolt action rifles. (One test of marksmanship skill, known as the Mad Minute, required getting as many shots on a 24 inch target at 300 yards as possible in one minute. The record was 38 hits by Sergt.-Instructor Snoxall in 1914!)

The Germans had a long-standing tradition of game hunting and marksmanship competitions, incorporating trained riflemen into units known as Jaegers. From these groups and others, the combination of civilian training and battlefield experience proved deadly for the Entente powers who had little to no such programs of their own. Another advantage the Germans capitalized on was their robust optical sight and telescope industry, far better than any in the world at the time (they are still known for their quality weapon scopes as companies like Zeiss, Schmidt and Bender, and Steiner continue to provide premium optics to military and civilian customers.) Culling any civilian rifle with a scope in a government-mandated round up and training as many men as they could, the Germans proved a formidable threat throughout the war, keeping the threat of death ever looming over anyone stationed on the front.

Ever lagging behind when it came to sniping, the British response was slow and clumsy at best, despite their excellent training at the beginning of the war in infantry shooting. This was partially as a result of the notion that sniping was not something to support and brass found it unconscionable but as the atrocities of total war made it clear that ethical boundaries were falling apart and the body count from enemy snipers grew, the decision was finally made to start training snipers and converting rifles to accept optical scopes. Drawing from their own sport shooting spheres and with the prodding of skilled officers like Vernon Hasketh-Prichard and Neville Armstrong, a training program was created. Despite the vastly superior Pattern 14 rifle then in development being perfectly suited for sniping, the military settled on what was actually available and in mass production, leaving the job to the SMLE yet again. A hodgepodge of small shop-manufactured cottage industry optical sights were affixed to them, often offset to the left side of the rifle to allow the use of the iron sights as well as the fast clip loading of the Lee Enfield. None of these were particularly well-liked and the offset to the left made using the rifle clumsy and awkward. Some of the stranger types included extremely simplified optics like the Galilean type scopes, with two exposed lenses on either end of the rifle acting like a caseless scope, usually with rather low magnification. Eventually, and with much in the way of bloody experience, the British sniping program gained ground and became a force to be reckoned with, employing novel techniques like constructing disruptive, three-dimensional sniping smocks and suits (known as ghillie suits after the anti poaching Scottish keeper’s suits of similar design) and papier-mache fake trees and dead animals with loopholes for shooting out of to deadly effect against their enemies on the Western front.

The Americans and French followed suit, affixing scopes to their Springfield and Lebel rifles, respectively. While the Americans were even later to the game, the French saw more success and even developed and rather widely issued a semi-automatic rifle, the RSC 1917, that they issued to the best shots in platoons to make the most out of its improved firepower. Their APX scopes were taken from artillery pieces and affixed to Lebel rifles, proving a robust, yet somewhat long and heavy system throughout the war.

With the “War to End All Wars” at a close in 1918, most militaries completely stopped development of sniping rifles, with many languishing in storage until WWII, when the lessons learned in the First World War would again be put to the test in a much more dynamic war.

We see Schofield trade shots with a sniper in a building while trying to cross a bridge. He ends up breaching the building and shooting the sniper while taking a hit at the same time, leading to the only significant time cut in the movie. Though the sniper doesn’t seem to be using an optical sight on his Mauser rifle, his methods no doubt earn him the label.

(Schofield cycles the bolt on his SMLE to take another shot at the sniper.)

Runners in WWI

Communications in WWI were becoming increasingly complex and modern as the war went on. Telephones and telegraphs were in constant use, though their dependence on wires left them open to damage from artillery strikes and they were constantly breaking and severing communications. Antiquated as it may be, carrier pigeons were still in use, as they were difficult to kill with a rifle and relatively reliable in delivering messages. They were, however, a one way only method of communication and required care and attention.

Instead, men were tasked as runners with delivering messages in person by moving from trench line to trench line. Risking enemy rifles, machine guns, and shells, Runners had an especially dangerous yet vital job as lines were rarely continuous and messages needed to be sent at all times about critical battlefield information. While often on foot, sometimes they would ride a horse for the added mobility and speed, or, later in the war, a motorcycle could be used for the same purpose.

Situations like that in the film weren’t far from reality, with runners risking their lives to deliver messages to those that needed them. One such runner was Private James Miller of the British Army who, in 1916 was tasked with delivering a message just after his unit had captured a German position and was enduring a counter-attack. From the London Gazette:

"Private Miller was ordered to take an important message under heavy shell and rifle fire, and to bring back a reply at all costs. He was compelled to cross the open, and on leaving the trench was shot almost immediately in the spite of this, with heroic courage and self-sacrifice, he compressed the gaping wound, delivered his message, staggered back with his answer, and fell dead at the feet of the officer to whom he delivered it. He gave his life with a supreme devotion to duty."

Clearly, such bravery as we see from both men was never in short supply during the war. Runners knew that they were often the only hope of a message making it to the right person and though the consequences weren’t always the lives of 1,600 men, often they included enemy troop movements, orders that needed to be given immediately, or other costly information that needed to be given no matter the cost.

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 29: The War Below Fri, 25 Mar 2022 14:00:00 -0700 6b6b364e-8424-4edd-8908-93e5ee27dcb2 Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E29: The War Below Dennis Meyers
U.S. Army, 1974-1980, BA&MA Economics, Economist for over 30 years for State of
California, Community College Adjunct Faculty

Historical Context:

Tunnel warfare refers to the use of man-made or natural tunnels and underground cavities for military
purposes such as to undermine enemy fortifications, for surprise attacks, create ambushes, to
counterattack, to transfer troops from one portion of the battleground to another unseen and protected
and for shelter from enemy attack.

Early Tunnel Warfare

Accounts of tunnel warfare date back to mining and counter mining at the Roman siege of Ambracia in
189 BC. Philip V of Macedon used siege-mining in his siege of Prinassos in 201 BC.
Tunnels and trenches were also used for guerrilla warfare against the Romans. Hidden trenches were
used to assemble for surprise attacks along with tunnels to facilitate a safe fallback. Using tunnels was a
common practice of the Jewish rebels during the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–136 AD).
In the Middle Ages tunnels were dug under castles and fortifications to provide access or to collapse the
walls. The advent of gunpowder in tunnel warfare in 15th century was a turning point. Ivan the Terrible took
Kazan with the use of gunpowder explosions to undermine its walls.
Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633 –1707) the creator of the French School of Fortification gave a
theory of mine attack and how to calculate various saps and the amount of gunpowder needed for
In the Siege of Sevastopol (1854–1855) during the Crimean War the Russians dug 4 miles of saps and
counter mines to explode 12 tons of gunpowder while the allies detonated 64 tons with just under 1
mile of tunnels.
In the American Civil War in 1863 Union troops commanded by General Ulysses S. Grant tunnelled under
the Confederate trenches during the Siege of Vicksburg to detonate a mine. Another mine with
8,000 pounds of gunpowder was exploded in 1864 by Union forces during the Siege of Petersburg.

World War I

The Germans were the first to use tunneling to breach the enemy’s trenches. In December 1914, they
tunneled under and detonated ten mines that blew up an entire Indian brigade. To counter this threat,
Britain and France began forming their own tunneling forces. Britain started the war with no mining
specialist, but by the end of the year it had established brigade mining sections, although they had no
experience, tools or listening equipment. Starting in early 1915, these units were augmented with special
tunneling units made up of coal miners and sewer construction workers. In many cases, miners
were pulled from the middle of their initial basic training and sent straight to tunneling projects.

Tunnelers were considered elite specialists with valuable technical skills. While, they were kitted out
like regular soldiers and organized into Royal Engineer units, they were not treated as typical British
soldiers. They were paid 6 shillings a day compared to the standard 1 shilling a day. They often were
not subjected to the same rigid discipline that other soldiers experienced. Minor infractions often went
unpunished. Due to the confined working conditions and the lower troop-to-officer ratio, tunneling
officers often had more cordial relationships with their men than in the rest of the army.

By 1917 British and French tunnelers were superior to their German counterparts. They adopted
sophisticated listening devices (the geophone), silent air and water pumps, safer and more stable
explosives (ammonal) in place of gun powder and gun cotton. They also used compressed oxygen
breathing devices to protect tunnelers from foul air and fatal fumes.

In addition to the normal mining hazards like, toxic gasses, explosions and collapses, WWI tunneling
took place below no-man’s-land—a combat zone. Counter mining was tunneling to find and destroy the
other side’s tunnels. Diggers tried to work in silence and were constantly listening for enemy digging. If
enemy tunneling was detected, a “camouflet” or small explosive charge, was set off to collapse the
enemy tunnel while hopefully not collapsing your own. In some cases enemy tunneling ran into each
other which resulted in subterranean hand-to-hand combat.

The starting point of tunnels had to be concealed from the enemy. The detection of a tunnel would
invite deadly shelling. The excavated dirt also had to be surreptitiously removed from the digging site.
The constant German shelling also meant that off-duty tunnelers usually were in more danger while in
transit to their rest billets than while digging.

The Battle of Messines

The most successful and spectacular use of combat tunnels and mines in WWI was the assault on
Messines Ridge on 7–14 June 1917. This was a prelude to the Battle of Passchendaele (AKA the Third
Battle of Ypres) in 1917. The ridge dominated British positions south of Ypres. The objective was to
capture the ridge which would deprive the Germans of the high ground give the British control of the
ground on the southern flank of the Ypres Salient.

In September 1915 Brigadier General George Fowke, the BEF Engineer-in-Chief proposed deep digging
to build galleries 60 to 90 feet underground, much deeper than the 15 to 20 feet depth tunneled up to
that point. Work began on 21 tunnels in early 1916, a full year before the planned attack. The Royal
Engineer coordinated the tunnel digging by the British 171st, 175th and 250th Tunnelling companies and
the 1st Canadian, 3rd Canadian and 1st Australian Tunnelling companies

Digging work went on 24 hours a day with the tunnelers working 8 hours on and 12 hours off each day.
After four days, each section was relieved for 4 days of rest behind the lines, whereupon they were
given a ration of rum. However, because of the constant shelling, there were often more casualties on
the trip to and from the rear than in the tunnels.

The tunneling sections were divided into 8-man crews. Four men would dig while the other four hauled
out bags of the excavated clay. Progress accelerated when the clay kicking technique was introduced by
cockney navies who had dug tunnels for the London Underground. Before clay kicking, tunnels
advanced about 6 feet per shift. Afterward, they progress 12 to 14 feet per shift.

“To be a good clay-kicker you had to be long-legged, young and strong. At the age of twenty-one
I was all three. You lay on a wooden cross made out of a plank with the cross-strut just behind
your shoulders. The cross was wedged into the tunnel so that you were lying at an angle of forty-
five degrees with your feet towards the face. You worked with a sharp-pointed spade with a
foot-rest on either side above the blade, and you drove the blade into the clay, kicked the clay
out, and on to another section, moving forward all the time. With the old broad-bladed pick we
could only get forward at best six feet on every shift, but when the clay-kicking method was
introduced we were advancing as much as twelve feet, or even fourteen, on a shift.”

  • Corporal T Newell, No. 12096, 171 Tunnelling Coy., Royal Engineers

At one point a motorized boring machine was developed and put to work. Initially it dug 3 times faster
than the men. But before long it was plagued with problems. When it was shut off to prevent
overheating, the digging head became stuck which required a day’s work for the men to free it. The
electricity generators which powered it didn’t produce consistent power, so fuses blew constantly. After
digging only 200 feet, it and its tunnel were abandoned where it still sits 80 feet underground.

When a tunnel reached a spot below a target, a large chamber was excavated. It was packed with
ammonal explosives (an explosive containing ammonium nitrate, trinitrotoluene, and powdered
aluminum) and the charging wires were set and strung back the tunnel opening. Yards of the tunnel
leading back from the chamber were backfilled with sandbags so as to direct the force of the blast up to
German positions. By early 1917, five miles of tunnels containing 19 mines had been completed.

Throughout the tunneling the Germans were actively countermining. The British diverted the attention
of German miners from their deep tunnelling with many minor underground attacks at shallower
depths. Although some tunnels were lost and restarted for various reasons, the German counter mines
and listening operations did not detect the deep British tunnels. In late April 1917 the commander of
German mining operations reported that German forces on Messines were safe from large scale mine-
explosions. The British tunnelling was one of the best kept secrets of WWI.

The work was completed in early 1917. Five miles of tunnels had been dug and 26 mines had been
packed with 454 tons of ammonal and gun cotton.

Nineteen mines under Messines Ridge were detonated at 3:17am on June 7, 1917. The explosion was
one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history and may have been the loudest man-made noise in
history. It reportedly could be heard as far away as London and Dublin. It killed approximately 10,000
German soldiers.

The explosion was followed by a creeping barrage and an attack by nine infantry divisions, about
80,000 British troops. The defending Germans were stunned and the British quickly advanced between
the gaps in the German line. The forward German line was overrun in half an hour. The British continued
to advance and captured the village of Messines by 7:00am and the entire ridge by 3:00pm. They
continued down the reverse slope of the ridge, dug in and withstood German counterattacks. The
victory at Messines was heralded as the most successful local British operation of WWI at the time. But
it did not lead to a breakthrough nor change the course of the war itself. Some of the most brutal fighting
of the war would be suffered during the subsequent Battle of Passchendaele. However, the specter of
British mines haunted the Germans through the rest of the war and they later cited tunneling
as one of the leading causes of their loss of the war overall.

Western Front underground activity peaked in June 1916. Britain exploded over 100 mines or
camouflets while Germany fired over 120; an average of one detonation every three hours. Britain
detonated the last mine of WWI on 10 August 1917.

After World War I

In World War II, Japan defended various islands in the Pacific—Peleliu, Tarawa, Iwo Jima—with
extensive tunnel emplacements rather than defending beaches. This tactic allowed tactical surprises
that greatly increased US Marine casualties who were forced to fight and flush out the Japanese on cave
at a time.
In the Korean War, North Korea used underground structures to defend against US air strikes. North
Koreans dug over 300 miles of tunnels
During the Viet Nam war Communist forces used underground bases to supply guerilla forces and
facilitate hit-and-run attacks. The US used volunteer combat engineers—Tunnel Rats—to destroy
tunnels, gather intelligence and to kill or capture tunnel occupants. This often required close combat
within the tunnels.
Both the Soviets and the U.S. fought Afghan guerillas in underground bases and tunnels such as those at
Tora Bora.
During the Siege of Sarajevo in 1992-1995, the Sarajevo Tunnel was built to link Sarajevo with the
Bosnian-held territory on the other side of the Sarajevo Airport to bring in food, military supplies
including weapons, and humanitarian aid.
Tunnels were used in recent Arab-Israeli conflicts to infiltrate fighters into Israel or to facilitate rocket
Syrian rebels dug tunnels to plant explosives under Syrian armed forces military positions during
the Syrian civil war (2011-2019).


Lyn MacDonald. Passchendaele 1917. 1978. Penguin Books
I.P. Willmott. World War I. 2003. Dorling Kindersley Publishing
Wikipedia articles: Tunnel warfare, Battle of Messines (1917), Mines in the Battle of Messines (1917),
Ammonal, Largest artificial non-nuclear explosions, Tunnel rat, Tunnelling companies of the Royal

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 28: The Imitation Game Fri, 11 Mar 2022 06:00:00 -0800 cefccf7d-62ea-4e30-bef0-31b27b3efaba Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E28: The Imitation Game Richard Stephens
Minor on History, focusing on military history

The Imitation Game

The film primarily focuses on Alan Turing’s exploits during WWII as part of the Allied effort to break
Germany’s codes; interspersed with aspects of his childhood and life after the war. My research will
focus on the historical event that was breaking the Nazi Enigma code.
That being said, and I’m sure the group will discuss this at length, the tragedy of his life must be
discussed. Persecuted as a homosexual in Britain after the war, he may have committed suicide (it is
unclear whether his death by cyanide was intentional or accidental.) He was a unique mind of his time
who died in 1954 at the age of 43. One can’t help but wonder what else he could have contributed to
society had he been given more time on earth.


The name of the film takes its title from the Turing Test (originally called The Imitation Game in a paper
written by Alan Turing himself.) Now the Imitation Game is considered a subset of a specific type of
Turing Test.

Talking Points

Enigma - During WWII, Germany used Enigma machines to encode and decipher communications.
These machines were quite complex analog computers that substituted a letter type for a new letter
automatically. The genius of the design allowed up to 13 direct substitutions (using a plug board in the
front) and as a key is pressed, a lamp lights up on the display above the keys with the coded letter. As
this happens, a series of rotors (between 3 and 8, depending on the version) will rotate and change the
output letter with each key press. So for example, I press the “A” key and the machine encodes it to
“Q”. I press “A” again, and it encodes to “Z” and so on and so on.
To decode a message encrypted by Enigma, a corresponding enigma machine will have to be set with
the correct rotors (in order) and rotor starting positions and plug board setting. Thus, even if an Enigma
was captured by the enemy – as happened in May, 1941 when a British destroyer (the Bulldog) was able
to capture a German U-Boat (U-110) with Enigma intact – it was useless long term without up-to-date
codebooks detailing the settings (which changed daily.)
Polish cryptanalysts began working on cracking Enigma in the pre-war years. Commercial Enigma
machined were available, and a lot of progress was made. Polish analysts discovered that the military
wiring was different than the commercial wiring (alphabetical as opposed to a standard keyboard
layout) and built so called “Enigma Doubles.” They were able to crack the three-wheel Enigma using
brute force techniques to run through possible combinations. However, this was only possible due to
how the Enigma was being used at the time – a single indicator setting was used for all traffic on a
network in a day, and the rotor order was only changed quarterly. By the start of the war, Germany had
increased the number of rotors, and was changing the rotor settings on a daily basis. Never-the-less,
Poland shared this information with Brittan and France as war became imminent, giving Bletchley Park a
head-start in their own efforts.

Bletchley Park – was the site of the Government Code and Cypher School during WWII. It was here that
Turing and other mathematicians and code breakers worked on breaking Germany’s codes. It was here
that Turing built the bombe – a large scale analog “supercomputer” that could run through variations
simulating enigma rotors.

Ultra (NOT to be confused with MK Ultra – a totally different program) – was a code name given by
British military intelligence for information obtained from the codebreakers at Bletchley Park. It was so
named as it was considered even more classified than the usual top or most secrete security
Breaking the Enigma code was an accomplishment, but using it was another problem. If the Allies acted
to counter every move they learned through Ultra sources, the Germans would soon ascertain that their
codes had become compromised. As such, information gleaned from Ultra was only used when it would
have the most prominent effect.
Various historians and politicians (including Churchill and Eisenhower) asserted after the war that Ultra
shortened the war by 2 – 4 years. [Note that this assessment ignores the devastating effects of the
atomic bombs developed in the last year of the war; and of the effects large scale area bombing
performed by General Curtis LeMay and Bomber Command were having.]

Battle of the Atlantic – "The only thing that really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril. I
was even more anxious about this battle than I had been about the glorious air fight called the ‘Battle of
Brittan.’” - Winston Churchill.
ULTRA intelligence was used to great effect to route naval convoys around U-Boat patrols. After the
capture of the U-110, Naval Intelligence re-routed convoys and reduced shipping losses by two thirds.
(until the code books captured with it ran out of date.) Breaking the Enigma, along with other emerging
technologies, ensured the Allies won the Battle of the Atlantic and supplies could be stockpiled in
England for the invasion of France.

Works Cited
Macintyre, Ben. Double Cross: the True Story of the D-Day Spies. March 27, 2012.
Turing, A.M. Computing Machinery and Intelligence. Mind, Volume LIX, Issue 236, October 1950. Pages
433–460. I.—COMPUTING MACHINERY AND INTELLIGENCE | Mind | Oxford Academic (
(Accessed 1/2/2022.)
Dimbleby, Jonathan. The Battle of the Atlantic. March 1, 2016.
Virtual Enigma Machine. Virtual Enigma ( (Accessed 1/6/2022.)

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 27: Saving Private Ryan Fri, 25 Feb 2022 08:00:00 -0800 21e01af6-bcb7-45af-bfe5-a41926dee130 Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E27: Saving Private Ryan Richard Stephens
Minor on History, focusing on military history

Brief Overview of D-Day landings and drops

June 6th, 1944 the Allies launch Operation Overlord - the invasion of German-occupied Western Europe
in Normandy, France; east of Cherbourg and the Contentin Peninsula.

The primary invasion consisted of 5 beaches – from West to East – Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.
United States forces landed at Utah and Omaha. The British at Sword and Gold, and Canadians at Juno.
On the Western flank, U.S. paratroopers were to land behind enemy lines and prevent reinforcements
from attacking the allies on the beach, secure causeway exits, and aid in securing Carentan – a crucial
crossroads town linking Utah and Omaha beaches. Likewise, the British airborne units were to secure
the Eastern flank.

Due to intense anti-aircraft fire, the American airborne units were severely mis-dropped, and few
landed within their designated drop zone (DZ.) The lead to the formation of LGP’s, “little groups of
paratroopers.” Men from various units who coalesced into small groups and carried out some sort of
activity to disrupt the enemy. Particularly, the cutting of telegraph wires.

By June 12 th the allies had pushed far enough inland to capture several towns in the area and link the
various landing beaches into a unified beachhead.

By Scene:

The opening D-Day scene

Is known for being too real for some combat veterans to handle, with reports of some leaving
the theater rather then endure the opening scene. Visits to PTSD counselors rose in number
after the film’s release. 1

The landing craft seen in the opening are mostly LCVP’s (landing craft, vehicle, personnel.)
Usually referred to has Higgins Boats after their designer, Andrew Higgins, a New Orleans based
boat manufacturer. Dwight Eisenhower is quoted as saying, “Andrew Higgins is the man who won
the war for us. If Higgins had not designed and built the PCVP’s, we never could have landed over
an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different.” (as quoted by
Stephen E. Ambrose in D-Day June 6, 1944).

Pvt. Reiben (Ed Burns) is asked “where’s your B.A.R.?” This is a reference to the Browning
Automatic Rifle, a 20 round light machine gun chambered for .30-06 caliber ammunition. This
was the only light automatic weapon issued to U.S. squads. The same role the M60 or M249
SAW would play in a squad today.

Telegraph Office

Brian Cranston’s character (with one arm) mentions that all the brothers were in the same
company, but they were split up after the Sullivan brothers died. This is a reference to the five
Sullivan brothers. All of which were on the same ship (the USS Juneau) which was sunk in
November 1942 at the battle of Guadalcanal. Prior to this, and other similar events, it was
common for friends and brothers who enlisted together to serve in the same unit. This was
changed (it varied by branch) during the war.

The general story of Saving Pvt. Ryan is inspired/based on the Niland Brothers. One was
thought killed on Burma in May 1944 (he was actually captured and liberated in 1945.) Two
were killed during the Normandy invasion. One on June 7 th with the 4 th Infantry, and one on D-
Day with the 82 nd Airborne. The fourth, Fred Niland, jumped with the 101 st Airborne into
Normandy. After fighting for a few days in Normandy he was shipped to England on to the U.S.
where he served as an MP for the duration of the war.

Dale Dye’s character points out that “there is no way of knowing exactly where he (Pvt. Ryan)
was dropped.” Alluding to the airborne mis-drops.

General Marshall reads the Bixby Letter before declaring “if that boys alive, we are going to send
somebody to find him. And get him the hell, out of there.” The Bixby letter is one of the
premier examples of Lincoln’s writings, and the circumstances surrounding it (and her sons) are
interesting. Of the five sons mentioned as killed in the letter; one actually deserted and was
found, one was captured at Gettysburg, two were KIA, and one was captured with his ultimate
fate unknown (stories range from dying in prison to deserting toe the Confederate Army.)
The character of Ms. Bixby herself is in question. Some stories claim she was a Confederate
sympathizer who hated Lincoln and tore up the letter. She did campaign for her son Edward
(the deserter) to secure his release.

Sniper Engagement

Pvt. Jackson (Berry Pepper) kills a German sniper by detecting the glint from his scope, firing,
and shooting him through the scope and killing him. While this is a movie trope, there are at
least two documented cases of this happening (if you can believe the documenting sources.)
One is from Marine Sniper Carlos Hathcock in Vietnam as accounted in Marine Sniper by Charles
Henderson. The other is attributed to Soviet sniper Vasily Zaitsev during the Battle of Stalingrad
(though there is some debate as to the veracity of his accomplishments; as Soviet propaganda
was in full swing during and after the war.)

The first “Pvt. Ryan” meeting

Tom Hanks and Ted Danson are discussing how the war should be going, strategically and
lament that “Monty is overrated.” This is a reference to Bernard Montgomery. While
Eisenhower was Supreme Allied Commander (SHAEF), Montgomery was in charge of the
invasion forces themselves.

Machine Gun nest

After the assault the squad is tending to Wade and “sulfa powder” is mentioned a few times.
Sulfa powder was simply an antibiotic powder used at the time to treat bacterial infections.

Battle of Ramelle

The town of Remelle is fictional. Though the river that runs through it – the Merderet – is real
and runs parallel to the shoreline, about 5 miles inland from Utah beach. The 82 nd Airborne was
tasked with securing the banks of the river and crossings in several areas (Mission Boston.)

  1. Wikipedia references. One article is still viewable: Basinger, Jeanine (October 1998). "Translating War: The Combat Film Genre and Saving Private Ryan". Perspectives, the Newsmagazine of the American Historical Association. Two others are either behind a paywall or no longer active links: Halton, Beau (August 15, 1998). "'Saving Private Ryan' is too real for some". The Florida Times-Union. Jacksonville, Florida. Retrieved June 12, 2011. McCrary, Lacy (August 6, 1998). "Watching 'Private Ryan,' Veterans Relive The Horrors Years From Omaha Beach, Pain Lingers". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Retrieved July 30, 2016.

Dave Feldmann
Undergrad and unofficial medievalist, current practitioner of Historical European Martial Arts.

I have some huge problems with Saving Private Ryan.

I don't know whether or not this will impact the recording in any way, but the opening battle scene's famous gangplank lowering and machine-gunning of American ground pounders is fictitious. Normandy's beaches are famous for being extremely wide, and Higgins Boats landing at low tide would still be outside the effective range of even the German's famously highly-accurate MG42 fire. Sources and eyewitness reports pretty generally agree that the Germans opened up with mortars and light artillery, once the boats hit the beach, and started laying down small arms in overlapping fields of fire once within effective range. I hate to be that guy but the image of guys taking a foot off the boat and getting mowed down is complete Hollywood fantasy. The fact that "Saving Private Ryan" hit the consciousness of the nation so hard that it changed the way the war is discussed and thought about is one those double edged swords of Hollywood war movie making; on the one hand I'm glad to see more interest in the subject where there was very little before. On the other, the film is thought to be completely "authentic" in how it dramatizes warfare and how everything in it is considered to be "true," which is not the case.

I once had the opportunity to shake hands with Major Dick Winters in 2004, shortly after "Band of Brothers" and "Saving Private Ryan" were out for audiences, and I asked him whether they "got it right." He said they didn't, but they were closer than anyone else.

"The Lying, Filthy Fingers of Stephen Ambrose"

I really don't know where this falsehood originates but I have to assume it comes from the late Stephen Ambrose. I generally approach his works with a pretty critical eye. He is known to not let facts get in the way of good storytelling -- basically many historians consider him to be second rate due to his propensity to write about things as if they were either the best or the worst.

A friend of mine shared this anecdote with me, as it is his goal to undo the historical damage that Stephen Ambrose caused with his narrative of the events surrounding the Rangers' assault on Pointe du Hoc on D-Day (the book is D Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II).

Ambrose described in his book that the British crews of the LCAs bringing the Rangers ashore dropped the Rangers off too early, and acted cowardly during the landings. What this does for Ambrose's book is to essentially paint the Rangers as triumphing not only despite the tough defenses of their German enemies, but also despite the cowardice and shortcomings of their allies, the British crews manning the LCA's.

During a book tour some years back, Ambrose was taking questions from his audience, and an older member of the crowd raised his hand, stood and asked about Ambrose's description of the performance of the LCA crews at Point Du Hoc, essentially saying (and I'm paraphrasing) that what Stephen Ambrose wrote did not happen, as the older audience member was there. A few LCA boats actually did become mired on an unmarked sandbar a short distance from shore, and after they couldn't dislodge themselves, landed their troops and supported the assault with the machine guns that each LCA was equipped with. LCA crews are known to have behaved honorably on the day in question, and in some cases shown extraordinary bravery in battle.

Stephen Ambrose, for his part, thanked the old Veteran for his service, and pledged that in new editions of the book, the section on Pointe du Hoc would be updated and errors corrected. Unfortunately, Ambrose died before those edits could be made. My friend has therefore taken it upon himself to correct this historical error, which he regards, in his own words, as "a lie."

Callum O’Connor
Mine Clearance Diver in Senior Service, Royal Navy

Just a quick titbit from me on Saving Private Ryan, in the movie the Higgins boats are crewed by USN personnel but all those small boats were actually skippered by Royal Navy Coxswains. Probably not interesting enough to include but I thought the more info and talking points available the better.

I’ve never seen anything depicted on film about my predecessors, the frogmen who were the first ones on the beaches clearing obstacles for the landing craft. The RN frogmen were the LCOCU’s (landing craft obstacle clearance units, pronounced lock-yews) while the USN’s men were the Naval Combat Demolition Units.

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 26: The Vikings Thu, 10 Feb 2022 13:00:00 -0800 6169fd91-d606-4aea-bc72-9122af44e884 Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E26: The Vikings Dr. Patrick Conner
PhD in medieval english & literature, 31+ years teaching British literature

Notes on Approximate timelines in The Vikings (1958)

The Viking is based on the 1951 novel The Viking by Edson Marshall (A quick summary/review of the novel can be found here:

The novel draws on material from the Norse sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok, whose life was both historic as well as driven by Scandinavian legend and folklore. His sons led a Viking invasion of East Anglia in 865 according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and other medieval sources. Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus in his late 12th century Gesta Danorum tells us also that Ragnar was a 9th-century Danish king whose campaigns included a battle with the Holy Roman emperor Charlemagne. According to Saxo’s legendary history, Ragnar was eventually captured by King Aella of Northumbria and thrown into pit of snakes to die. This story is also recounted in the later Icelandic works Ragnars saga loðbrókar and Þáttr af Ragnarssonum.

The 12th-century Icelandic poem Krákumál provides a romanticized description of Ragnar’s death and links him in marriage with a daughter of Sigfried and Brunhild, figures derived from ancient Germanic legend.

The historic materials of the screenplay then are obliged to adhere to the ninth century while other items would seem to belong to other times, such as the love affair between the novel’s invented characters, Ogier and the Welsh princess, whose story approaches the conventions of courtly love which we do not much find in Scandinavia, certainly not the Scandinavia of the ninth or 10th centuries.

Archaeology has given us a great deal more information today about Scandinavian, British, Roman, and Anglo-Saxon dress, ceremonial buildings, and ceremonies themselves than the 1950s offered us. On the other hand, we might expect to see as much of ninth century Germania portrayed in The Vikings as we would see of any other culture which mythologizes itself in its own time long before it’s captured in cinema.

It requires somebody with a knowledge of medieval material culture to look at the film and say whether it reasonably matches the time I’ll give you: CE 825. -ish. If you saw Mel Gibson‘s Hamlet, you saw images from the Book of Kells, Lindisfarne Gospels and similar Gospel books and their wonderful Celtic designs on the walls of the castle in Denmark. Many critics loved this. This was so wrong, I almost couldn’t stomach it. Gospel illustrations, whether you give a personal damn about the Christian gospels or not, were never ever intended by anybody to be wall paintings in a secular castle. I bring that up, because there may well be instances of things that belong more or less to the time here but are wrenched out of place. But I don’t know any examples from the film. (Tell me there are no horned helmets.)

Ragnar was the son of the king of Sweden, Sigurd Hring, who I think died around 804, and Ragnar took his place. Sagas tell us he had several sons at the time. The Anglo-Saxon chronicle seems to be naming him at a raid on Northumbria in 865. Not long after that, he seems to have been captured and killed. I think that’s in my earlier statement somewhere. Look for snake pits. Depending on the age of his sons in 804, he was around 25 when he took his father’s place on the throne. Surely he could not have gone to war in Northumbria at 80 some years of age in 865. So I would extrapolate that we should see him in the film as being no older than about 40 years old at most and that would put him around 825 or thereabouts. That’s my guess. It’s nothing but a guess.

The problem is that there are many tales told about the men in the oldest sagas, but the sagas just tell the tale. They rarely date the time. Now the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in all of the manuscripts of the Chronicle, take a great deal of care to add the dates at the beginning of each short description of the year. That’s because there’s a lot more Roman heritage in what they are doing and, it follows, Christian concerns with how long Christ has been gone and when he’ll come back than the Norse were interested in. They preserved amazing genealogical records, but they don’t date things. So if you mention 825 or thereabouts as a good year for these happenings, please don’t suggest it’s a learned conclusion because it isn’t.

Dave Feldmann
Undergrad and unofficial medievalist, current practitioner of Historical European Martial Arts.

So building on what the other guys wrote, we can definitively say that the movie "The Vikings" most likely takes place in 865 give or take a few yew years. According to the later sagas (written in the 10th through 12th centuries), Ragnar Lothbrok's death at the hands of the Anglo-Saxon Northumbrians was the inciting incident for a large invasion of England known as "the Great Heathen Army." The big castle assault at the close of the film more or less could be called a depiction of the Viking's attack on the Northumbrian city of York, which was captured in 866 according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a legal record which provides contemporary evidence for the period. Interestingly, the Chronicle does not provide any information as to the cause of the invasion, or any involvement by Ragnar Lothbrok's sons (represented by Einar in the movie, played by Kirk Douglas). The sons of Ragnar Lothbrok, including historical figures like Ivar the Boneless and Ubbe, are documented historical figures even if their relationship to the Ragnar Lothbrok is most likely a later invention from the Sagas. Ragnar himself is a historical figure who appears in many sagas and contemporary sources, most of which conflict with one another. The sagas cannot even agree on whether or not Ragnar Lothbrok is from Norway, Sweden, or Denmark. The best way to describe Ragnar is that he is a legendary figure -- Ragnar lived and did stuff, but it's difficult to sift truth from fiction given all the evidence associated with him.

There were four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms at the time, Northumbria in the North, East Anglia, Mercia, and Wessex. Since the raids had begun nearly a century before, Anglo-Saxon leaders both fought and paid off Viking raids in the past, payments being referred to as "danegeld", and attempted to do so with the Great Heathen Army on multiple occasions -- Alfred the Great, king of Wessex, used both strategies before he defeated the Vikings at Edington in 878. By that time, Wessex was the only kingdom left to the Anglo -Saxons, but the Great Heathen Army had been decisively defeated and its final leader, Guthrum, converted to Christianity and departed Wessex. England was divided in two between the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (ultimately Wessex and Mercia) and the so-called Danelaw, East Anglia and Northumbria, where Danish or Norse leaders would hold power. It should be noted that in Danelaw regions, a merging of Saxon and Norse culture seems to have been in evidence in architecture, dress, coinage and other physical cultures (thanks here to Samantha Rose, who is currently studying for a grad degree on Viking physical culture in Scotland). Settlers from Scandinavia are also in evidence, especially throughout the regions under the Danelaw.

Kirk Douglas, who played Einar in the film was reported to have focused on gritty reality, but in terms of physical culture, it looks very much like a costume-shop barbarian costume. According to grave finds, the clothing worn by the Vikings in the film is pretty inaccurate. Scandinavian culture at the time was what's called a visual status society that placed high value on colorful dress with the Rus of Sweden in particular were known for wearing yellow. Red clothes required dyes that needed to be traded for outside Scandinavia, and were associated with high status individuals or royalty. Grave finds within the Danelaw are typically made of spun wool and linen, rather than the fur and darkly colored garments depicted in the film.

As we discussed a few days ago, the term "Vikings" is kind of a catch-all term applied to Scandinavian raiders of the time, and is very much an obsession among non-Scandinavian peoples. In Old Norse and current Icelandic, the word "Vik" simply means "bay," as in protected body of water. Scandinavian towns were typically built in a bay, so "Vikings" literally means "bay-dweller." For Icelandic people I've spoken to on the subject, the term "townies" is used, presumably because the people who typically would be interested in raiding or profitable voyages of discovery could typically be found among the poorer or landless people living in towns and trading stations throughout Scandinavia. What's also interesting is that North American colonists would be for the most part drawn from the same class of urban landless poor centuries later.

Regarding the fighting in the film, it's pretty inaccurate although fun. As discussed in the "Kingdom of Heaven" notes, any sword combat of the period would have used a shield and tried to stab the opponent rather than the cut and slash, saber-style fighting we see in the movie. Swords themselves were not in great supply -- a typical Viking raiding party would have more axes and spears per soldier with swords carried by wealthier or noble individuals. The other reason why the hack-and-slash stuff is wrong is that this style is a good way to actually break your sword, especially if the sword was not made properly. (This has happened to me in tournaments before, badly made swords will snap after a few heavy cuts).

What is also interesting is how the Vikings in the film are portrayed as better at fighting than the Anglo-Saxons. In the prologue, Ragnar overcomes a Saxon king without much difficulty, and the Vikings defeat the Saxons pretty quickly once they're inside the walls. Contemporary sources do describe Viking raiders as particularly fierce in battle, but the descriptions are very similar to how Roman sources described Alemanni, Frankish, or Gothic barbarians centuries before, and there are theories that scribes were essentially copy and pasting from earlier sources and applying it to their own work.

A Viking era sword from the Derby museum in the UK. It is 3 feet long, which implies a user of about six feet tall. Dilly stones in Scotland are associated with Norse culture, and are traditionally thought to indicate that if you could lift a Dilly stone, you could serve on a ship. Most older stones are 250 to 300 pounds, so given these two data points, you have a picture of a large statured man for the time period, which coincides with grave finds as well. Here contemporary records and modern archeology support one another: in addition to being fierce in battle, Viking raiders are also described as being tall and physically stronger than their opponents. There are many explanations for this ranging from diet to pseudoscience, but thats a whole different story -- regardless, in the movie, the Vikings are depicted as being big, strong, and healthy, and this they got right.

Also, many of the graves of Viking warriors have been revealed to be females and shieldmaidens -- this recent interpretation is supported both by archeology and the sagas themselves. Shieldmaidens are all over modern media associated with the Vikings, and are completely absent from the 1958 film.

This is a drawing of the Sæbø sword, found in a Norwegian barrow and thought to be from the early 9th century, slightly earlier than the Great Heathen army.

The Vikings were in fact pagans, following the old Germanic Pantheon with Odin, Thor, Tyr, Loki and others. Thor in particular seems to have been more common and popular -- Dan Carlin did a whole episode on this with "Thor's Angels."Most Scandinavian settlers would ultimately convert to Christianity over the centuries of the Viking Age, and is generally regarded as one of the reasons why the raids and invasions ultimately ended - by the 11th century, Christian lords and kings would often give Viking leaders lands for themselves instead of cash payments or danegeld. This is the origin of Normandy, which would conquer England in 1066 and found the Plantagenet dynasty.

Mike DeAngelo posted in our FB group post-episode publishing:

England existed for 139 years before 1066.

Angle-land had existed for a while as the section of Britain ruled by the Anglo-Saxons, but England as a unified state was first envisioned by Alfred the Great of Wessex. The unification of England would occur in 927. It was united by Æthelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great.

In 1016 England was in personal union with Denmark and Norway under Cnut the Great. After Cnut's death England passed to Harold Harefoot then Harthacnut, before coming back to the House of Wessex with King Edward the Confessor in 1042.

Upon Edward the Confessor's death in 1066, Harold Godwinson became king. Harald Hardrada challenged Harold Godwinson but was killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. That is considered the end of the Viking age.
Harold Godwinson lost the throne to William the Bastard of Normandy in 1066, forever ending Anglo-Saxon rule of England.

One of the super interesting bits of history is that as raiding became more difficult, the Vikings actually sold their services as mercenaries. Notably they became the Varangian Guards, the elite force and bodyguard to the Roman Emperor in Constantinople.

After the defeat at Hastings, the English housecarls became refugees. Eventually they became the Varangian Guards. Meanwhile the Normans that had defeated them would fight against the Byzantines in Southern Italy. So they would face the Normans again.

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 25: Patton Mon, 31 Jan 2022 22:00:00 -0800 63f6b00a-c0fc-41c6-b39b-061674f5190b Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E25: Patton Mike Andrews
Bachelors in History, Secondary Education student in a Masters program

Early life to the beginning of WWII

Patton’s family

  • Of Irish, Scots-Irish, English, Scottish, French, Welsh descent.
  • Welsh line was an aristocratic family of the lords of Glamorgan (militaristic background).
  • Early American ancestors (Hugh Mercer, Scottish rebel who later became a general under George Washington’s Continental Army). Beginning of a long tradition of Patton family members being military men.
  • Mid 1770’s Patton family settled in Virginia.
  • John Patton serves under Stonewall Jackson and his brother George Smith Patton is killed by a cannon ball while serving as a Colonel in the Confederacy.
  • The family, now ex-Confederates after the Civil War, moved to California after losing most of its fortune.
  • 1885: George Smith Patton Jr, grandson of the Colonel, was born in San Gabriel and was well taken care of by his father George S. II.

Patton’s Childhood

  • Wealthy parents spoiled Patton and rarely corrected his behavior.
  • Late reader and poor speller. Schooled at home by his aunt called “Nannie”. She had an interest in eastern religion and philosophy. Patton learned about the Bhagavad-Gita and the Quran. He liked the Iliad as well.
  • He was convinced that in a past life he had witnessed war.
  • His father kept Patton interested in the military thanks to his retellings of Civil War and Revolutionary War patriots.
  • Tutored from home until the age of 11. “Georgie” as he was called was frustrated with his difficulty with school. He harbored “deep feelings of inferiority”. In Pasadena at a boy’s school he wrote home “I am stupid there is no use talking I am stupid”.
  • Eventually Patton overcame these issues and was known to be an avid reader. He was particularly well versed in the exploits and history of classical military history (Hannibal, Scipio Africanus, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, and Joan of Arc).
  • Avid horseback rider.


  • Patton never really considered another career aside from the military.
  • 17 years old - attended the VMI (Virginia Military Institute) and performed particularly well in uniform/appearance inspection+military drill.
  • Nominated to go to West Point by Senator Thomas R. Bard.
  • Forced to repeat his first year thanks to his poor academic performance.
  • Became a specialized modern pentathlete and competed in the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm. Placed fifth after four Swedes.
  • Received a commission as a second lieutenant in the Cavalry after graduating West Point. Pancho Villa Expedition
  • Patton was assigned to border patrol with the 8th Cavalry in Sierra Blanca.
  • Almost shot himself in the foot with his Colt .45 pistol and switched to adopting his now famous Single Action Army revolver.
  • 1916 - Pancho Villa’s forces raided Columbus, New Mexico and killed several Americans.
  • Patton appealed to expedition commander John J. Pershing to join him to go fight Pancho Villa. Pershing made Patton his personal aid (Pershing also had married Patton’s sister.
  • He took lessons from Pershing’s military style which favored strong decisive action.
  • Patton later commanded Troop C of the 13th Cavalry and led a manhunt for Pancho Villa and his subordinates.
  • May 14th 1916: the first motorized attack in the history of US warfare. It killed Julio Cardenas, one of Villa’s men, and gave Patton the monicor “Bandit Killer”. It is unclear if Patton personally killed the man.

World War I

  • Patton was stationed in Front Royal, Virginia, but when Pershing became commander of the AEF (American Expeditionary Force) Patton requested to join his command staff. He was appointed as captain as a result and would join Pershing in WWI.
  • Patton became more interested in tanks while abroad in Europe.
  • November 10, 1917. Patton established the AEF Light Tank school. He drove a Renault French tank and learned how they were built and even helped guide a bunch of them off of a train.
  • Battle of Saint-Mihiel, Patton commands the US 1st Tank Corps and reconnoitered the enemy himself. He declared that no tank shall be surrendered and led the tanks from the front for most of the battle.
  • Patton moved to support the U.S. 1st Corps in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in September. He led troops and tanks through thick fog. He was wounded by German machine guns and was saved by his orderly PFC Joe Angelo, who received the Distinguished Service Cross for the effort. Patton continued to command the battle from a shell crater.
  • Although wounded and out of action until the end of the war, Patton was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and the Purple Heart when it was created in 1932.


  • Patton worked on designing a tank operation manual when back in the states in 1920.
  • He met Dwight D Eisenhower in D.C. and they became fast friends. Patton helped Eisenhower with his studies at the General Staff College.
  • Patton worked with Eisenhower to push forward more focus on armored warfare not as simple support for infantry but as an independent force to use in the military. Although it did not happen now, 1940 would see an establishment of Patton’s vision.
  • In July of 1932 Patton was ordered to quell a group of protesting veterans (called the Bonus Army, tens of thousands of vets who demanded early advancement of their cash bonuses from serving). Tear gas and bayonets were used to disperse the crowd, although Patton disagreed with these tactics to some degree (implemented and ordered by Douglas MacArthur) because Patton believed these protesters had some good cause for their efforts. Joe Angelo was one of the protestors and Patton ordered him away for fear of what headlines might make of such an encounter.
  • Patton was stationed in Hawaii and made some interestingly accurate predictions about the Japanese launching a surprise invasion of Hawaii. He followed their attacks throughout China and devised a plan to intern Japanese living in Hawaii at the time (1935).

*Other notes *

  • Married Beatrice Banning Ayer at the age of 24 in May of 1910. They had three children.
  • Patton was close to receiving a gold medal in the Olympics. The Judges determined that his shooting of a target resulted in one of his bullets going through a previously made hole. Patton had this to say about the matter: “The high spirit of sportsmanship and generosity manifested throughout speaks volumes for the character of the officers of the present day. There was not a single incident of a protest or any unsportsmanlike quibbling or fighting for points which I may say, marred some of the other civilian competitions at the Olympic Games. Each man did his best and took what fortune sent them like a true soldier, and at the end we all felt more like good friends and comrades than rivals in a severe competition, yet this spirit of friendship in no manner detracted from the zeal with which all strove for success.”
  • Patton was responsible for the creation of a specific saber now called the “Patton Saber”. 1912 saw Patton train under a French master of arms named Charles Clery. Patton’s sword favored thrusting attacks versus slashing as had been traditional in the US cavalry doctrine.He would have been in the 1916 Olympics had WWI not disrupted those plans.
  • During WWI, Patton may have killed one of his own men: "Some of my reserve tanks were stuck by some trenches. So I went back and made some Americans hiding in the trenches dig a passage. I think I killed one man here. He would not work so I hit him over the head with a shovel".
  • Patton received a rather grievous wound in WWI. In a letter to his wife he writes about being shot: "The bullet went into the front of my left leg and came out just at the crack of my bottom about two inches to the left of my rectum. It was fired at about 50 m so made a hole about the size of a [silver] dollar where it came out."

Sections: Patton’s Family, Patton’s Childhood, Education
Axelrod, Alan (2006), Patton: A Biography, London: Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 978-1-4039-7139-5. Pg. 11-13, 20-24.
Gnam, Carl. “George S. Patton Jr.'s Upbringing: The Making of the Legend.” Warfare History Network, October 6, 2020.
Rierden, Andi. “The Patton Family: An Intimate Portrait.” The New York Times. The New York Times, June 12, 1994.
Sections: Pancho Villa Expedition, WWI
Blumenson, Martin (1972), The Patton Papers: 1885–1940, Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 978-0-395-12706-3. P. 706-708, 764-766.
Zaloga, Steven (2010), George S. Patton: Leadership, Strategy, Conflict, Oxford, United Kingdom: Osprey Publishing, ISBN 978-1-84603-459-6. P. 10.
Section: Inter-war
Allen, Thomas; Dickson, Paul (2006), The Bonus Army: An American Epic, London: Walker & Company, ISBN 978-0-8027-7738-6
Axelrod, Alan (2006), Patton: A Biography, London: Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 978-1-4039-7139-5. P. 65-66.
Brighton, Terry (2009), Patton, Montgomery, Rommel: Masters of War, New York City: Crown Publishing Group, ISBN 978-0-307-46154-4. P. 58-59.
D'Este, Carlo (1995), Patton: A Genius for War, New York City: Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0-06-016455-3. P. 361.
Sections: Other Notes
Blumenson, Martin (1972), The Patton Papers: 1885–1940, Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 978-0-395-12706-3. 231-234, 616.
D'Este, Carlo (1995), Patton: A Genius for War, New York City: Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0-06-016455-3. P. 148.
Hallas, James H. (2009). Doughboy War: The American Expeditionary Force in WWI. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books. pp. 245–246.

Micah Neidorfler
Army Infantry Officer
BA in History
Graduate of US Army Command and General Staff College's: Army Historian Course


Patton graduated from West Point in 1904 as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Cavalry. While still at the academy he struggled academically but excelled in fencing, drill and ceremony, and sports despite suffering injuries.

Post commissioning he served in the 15th Cavalry Regiment and notably competed in the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm Sweden, where he competed and placed 4th in the "modern pentathlon".

After the Olympics he was allowed to study fencing for a time in France, and upon returning to the US helped rewrite cavalry doctrine and redesigned the army's cavalry sabre in 1913.

He was then assigned to the Army Cavalry School to both attend a number of courses as a student and also serve as a fencing instructor. He graduated in 1915 and was supposed to return to the 15th Cavalry Regiment, but feared his career progression would stagnate in that unit and used his political connections to be reassigned to the 8th Cavalry, stationed in Texas, with the hope that the political unrest in Mexico would eventually turn into a war which the US would participate in.

In 1916 Mexican revolutionary forces raided a town in southern New Mexico and the US Army launched an expedition to suppress paramilitary/revolutionary forces. Patton's immediate unit was not assigned to the expedition so Patton reached out to General Pershing (the commander of the expedition) and begged to be assigned a position in the expedition. Pershing agreed and made Patton is adjutant, responsible for managing many administrative functions as well as partially managing logistics. Later in the expedition Patton again begged Pershing for an assignment to a combat unit and was assigned down to a Troop (the Calvary call companies: troops). He saw combat on one patrol and gained
Pershing's trust and confidence and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. He was reassigned out of the expedition in 1917.

The same year he was promoted to Captain and was again assigned to Pershing's Staff, this time Pershing was commanding the American Expeditionary Force headed to France to take part in the First World War. After a few months in staff work Patton grew interested in the development and utilization of Tanks by the British and French, and was given leave to travel to different British and French units to learn about their employment and see them being made. He was then assigned to lead the AEF's Tank School, and was promoted to Major, having only spent a handful of months as a Captain, and then four months later was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. (Captain to Lieutenant Colonel in the same year!)

After attending some truncated professional military schooling in France he was assigned to command the first American tank brigade, and led the brigade through multiple battles of the Meuse–Argonne offensive in 1918. During this time he endeavored to lead from the front as much as possible and personally commanded tanks in the thick of the fighting. One one occasion he wrote in a letter that he may have killed an American Soldier who refursed to help dig a stuck tank out of mud by hitting him over the head with a shovel. He was wounded in the leg during one battle and moved to the rear to heal. While recuperating he was promoted to full Colonel (about a year after making Lieutenant Colonel).

After the war Patton returned to the rank of Captain (it was common during war prior to the mid 20th century for officers to be promoted temporarily during war time to fill important positions, once the wars ended officers would return to their last "normal" rank.) but was promoted to Major again the next day.

During he post-war period Patton served in myriad staff assignments in various units, as well as instructor positions at various courses, and helped write and develop new Army doctrine especially for the employment of tanks.

Notably in 1932 Patton took part in the mobilization of the 3rd Army against the "Bonus Army" in Washington D.C. The "Bonus Army" was a group of 43,000 protesters (primarily made up of veterans of the First World War and their families) who had gathered in Washington DC to demand early payment of the bonuses awarded them by the government. (In 1924 Federal legislation awarded veterans a bonus certificate that was to be redeemed in 1945 for cash, but by 1932 the great depression had forced many of these veterans into desperate situations and they sought early payment of their bonuses as a way out of poverty). The "Bonus Army" set up a camp Douglas McArthur (then Chief of Staff of the Army) ordered Federal troops to clear the "Bonus Army" from their camp on the outskirts of D.C.. Patton personally led a contingent (comprising of cavalry, infantry, and tanks) of the 3rd Army as they charged the camp with fixed bayonets and tear gas.

The remainder of Patton's post-WWI time was spent in a few additional staff and command positions, eventually landing command of the 3rd cavalry prior to the outbreak of WWII. During this time he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and then full Colonel.

When WWII erupted in Europe the American Army began preparations for the eventuality of the US entering. Patton again worked to grow the still young armored force. He was promoted to Brigadier General and later Major General, taking command of divisions now. His units were involved in multiple large scale maneuvers, with him receiving notable press attention, even appearing on the cover of Life Magazine.

When the US entered the war Patton was assigned to help plan the Allied invasion of North Africa (Operation Torch). The operation would involve three separate task forces, East, Middle, and West. Patton would eventually command the Western task force, which landed in Morocco.


The beginning speech is a paraphrased and censored version of a series of speeches Patton gave to the US 3rd Army prior to the invasion of France in 1944 (several years after the film starts).

The Battle of Kasserine Pass took place in western Tunisia, where the Germans conducted an attack against the Allied forces pushing from West to East towards the coastal city of Tunis, where the majority of German and Italian supplies and reinforcements for Africa were transported across. Although the German attack was eventually repulsed, the battle saw several major failures in tactical decision making by many American commanders and exposed the sever lack of experience in US troops compared to their British and Free French allies. Initially the American II CORPS had to retreat until allied reinforcements arrived. While ostensibly on the winning side of the battle, the American casualties and losses in equipment far outweighed the Germans. Following the battle a number of American commanders were relieved of command and Dwight Eisenhower began building a better system of combined command amongst the Allied armies, to increase communication and interoperability. Patton was pulled from his command of the Western task force to replace the American II CORPS commander, who was relieved and sent back to the US after the battle of Kasserine Pass. (Lloyd Fredendall, the general at 22:26 in the film)

28:20 This scene is fictional, but the sentiment is factual. Patton did really believe in reincarnation and that he might have been previously in Napoleon’s army or a Roman Legionaire.

31:54 This is a gross oversimplification by the film. While certainly Field Marshall Anderson (the British overall commander of the battle) caries much blame, many American commanders underneath him were equally at fault. It’s not a case of a British commander making bad decisions and dooming his American subordinates.

34:04 This scene really bugs me. The film repeatedly makes fun of the British and attempts to show them as posh, out of touch, and incompetent. In reality there were no more incompetent British officers than there were American. In fact, the majority of the fighting and winning in the African theater of WWII was done by the British.
This dialogue is fictional and likely simply put in by the director in an attempt to show Patton as a bad-ass and to get laughs at a stereotypical posh British person, as the film continually likes to do. In reality, Coningham had only recently taken command of the British RAF forces in that part of Africa, and had done a remarkable job of restructuring the command, control, and maintenance of RAF forces which resulted in far better air support to ground forces than had been previously. So while there was an issue of poor performance of the Allied air forces in that part of Africa, Conhingham begun to resolve those issues around the same time Patton took over II CORPS. The Film Coningham’s accusation that Patton’s reports are wrong is totally fictional.

44:29 I’m sure many people are going to point this out, but there are 0 historically accurate tanks in this film. They're all tanks from the 60's.

47:00 timeframe This is a rare film in that it depicts air-burst artillery shells. Shells designed to detonate in the air above the enemy and spew shrapnel around the area to kill infantry. A nice authentic touch that most films don’t depict.

Battle of El Guettar: Despite the good depiction of the artillery, the film actually does a pretty poor job portraying the battle. The battle lasted about two weeks, not the brief encounter in the film. Present were many British troops in addition to Americans. The fighting was spread out over a area of many miles, not the small area depicted in the film. Fighting was conducted a much longer distance than depicted here in the film. Small arms engagements up to 800m, and tanks engaging past a kilometer. Of course fighting often got close, within 50m up to point blank, but most of the fighting was not that close. The film’s battle is almost like the battles kids have with toy soldiers: a big blob of infantry and tanks walks right up to another big blob of infantry and tanks and then shoots at eachother.
Additionally, the German attack was conducted with the intent to stop the Allies from preparing to continue their drive towards Tunis (a spoiling attack). Not because they were afraid of Patton.

58:30, previous scene with German officers, and following scene with Patton’s dinner party: Patton had absolutely nothing to do with the Allied decision to invade Sicily. In fact, the invasion was pushed for by the British, who eventually convinced the Americans. Then the heavy lifting of the planning for the operation was mainly done by Dwight Eisenhower, General Harold Alexander (British), Admiral Cunningham (British), Air Chief Marshal Tedder (British), and General Bernard Montgomery (British). Patton and a few other lower-level generals absolutely took part in the planning process, but at a smaller scale.

1:01:07 (Bathroom scene with Monty) Again, I don’t really know what the director’s beef with the British is. Obviously there is a lot of real, historical beef and one-up-manship between Patton and his British colleagues (especially Montgomery), but I feel the film takes a good amount of pleasure in making the British seem foppish and silly, and has American characters rolling their eyes or smiling smugly behind British backs. It is true that Montgomery was a bit eccentric and not very socially aware, but again I feel that point should be made that the British weren’t a joke, and they had been fighting and dying far longer than the Americans had.

1:05:02 This scene is pretty fictional. Patton was ordered to take Palermo, he didn’t just decide to do it because he felt he had nothing more important to do. Palermo held the strongest concentration of Axis troops in the Western part of the island and was therefore the primary location from which supplies and reinforcements for Messina were originating from on the island. It is true that Patton felt that the British were being given the “spotlight” assignment of fighting up the Eastern part of Sicily towards Messina, and that he wished he was doing that, but his operations in the Western part of the island were part of his orders, and he wasn’t playing cowboy and disobeying orders.

1:10:55 Again, it was expected that Patton was going to take Palermo, the overall commander of the operation, British General Alexander had ordered him to.

1:11:46 Once again, Alexander had in fact ordered Patton to take Palermo. This is pure fiction for filmic purposes. And Patton’s line “ask him if he wants me to give it back” is actually a response he gave to his superiors much later in the march to Germany when he took the city of Trier after it had been decided he should bypass it.

1:12:53 This is to some extent true. I wouldn’t say Patton’s forces faced “token” resistance, they certainly fought determined and well positioned Axis troops, but the British were indeed fighting the most and the best Axis forces on Sicily, not the Americans.

1:13:42 This is an interesting point to discuss. It is a fact that Montgomery was a far more cautious general than Patton. And for that matter in general all British commanders were more cautious than American commanders. But there is a reason for this, and it’s not that Americans are braver and more daring than the British. All armies across the world have different characters, and those characters derive from the nations they belong to. The British Army during the Second World War was spread thin, often far from its homeland (indeed always separated from the islands of Great Britain). It was a smaller army than the Germans, Soviets and Americans. Reinforcement and resupply took a long time and was contingent on avoiding Axis sea power. British commanders simply didn’t have as many troops or supplies to be as aggressive as the Germans, Soviets or Americans. If a British battalion was wiped out, they didn’t always have another battalion to replace it. Not so with the Soviets and Americans, they could always plug another battalion in there. If the British lost a tank, it took a lot longer to get a replacement than for the Americans or Soviets. Therefore the British, by necessity, have to be more cautious, because the impact of loosing a battle was far greater than it would be for the Americans or Soviets.
Montgomery in particular had been fighting the whole war in Africa, starting in the South and pushing North along the Eastern coast. In general he was almost always at a disadvantage to the Germans in terms of supplies and manpower. As described above he HAD to be more cautious and deliberate about his actions. So when it came to Siciliy, although his supply situation was far better, and he had more reinforcements at his disposal, he was still thinking in terms of conservation.
Finally, the British throughout the later stages of the war (once it became clear that the Allies were winning) began to be conservative for another reason: the post war period. Britain wanted to be a power player after the end of the Second World War. To hold the position of a world power they would need a military that was robust. If they lost the majority of their troops fighting WWII what would they have left with afterwards?

1:18:22 While this conversation probably never happened, I think it hits the nail right on the head, and is one of the reasons I’ve never looked up to Patton.

1:20:30 This incident did happen.

Slapping Scene: This is historical, and actually happened on two occasions (about a week apart) and this is a very accurately (down to Patton’s dialogue) portrayed version of the second incident.

1:30:50 This scene is clearly fictional

1:35:00 Patton gave a number of “apology” speeches to the various subordinate units under his command. He also apologized to the two soldiers he had slapped and the doctors present at he times. There was some talk of removing him from the theater due to the negate press he received, but the decision was made by the Secretary of War decided to keep him where he was due to his successful combat leadership.

1:38:59 SGT William Meeks was Patton’s personal aid and valet during the war.

1:40:10 Eisenhower later claimed he had actually decided to give Bradley overall command of American troops for the European invasion before Patton’s slapping incidents had become public. It was felt that Bradley was more thoughtful, level-headed, and much more able to work well with Allies than Patton, making him a much better choice for a higher-level command than Patton. However, Patton still believed that the slapping incidents kept him from taking the command.

1:47:01 Eisenhower used Patton’s skill and the German’s respect for him by sending Patton on trips throughout the Mediterranean to confuse the Germans on where the Allies were to plan invasions. Patton wasn’t given a real command for 11 months.

1:51:10 This is accurate

1:55:05 Patton actually said: “since it is the evident destiny of the British and Americans, and of course, the Russians, to rule the world, the better we know each other, the better job we will do it.” He was misquoted by the media who left out the last bit including the Russians.

2:17:20 and previous scene with Bradley: Patton’s 3rd army didn’t run out of fuel because of a binary situation between him and Montgomery, that is a gross oversimplification for the benefit of making the film simple to the audience. Eisenhower preferred a broad European front, having the whole front move forward at generally the same pace. He didn’t want Patton breaking through and pushing deep into enemy ground because he feared Patton’s forces might be cut off. The supply and fuel situation was a problem for Patton not because Eisenhower had to make a decision between fueling either Montgomery or Patton, but because fuel had to be supplied all across the front. Montgomery’s forces did have a higher priority for fuel because of Operation Market Garden, but the situation was far more nuanced than the film makes out.

2:24:45 In reality Eisenhower was actually at this meeting and told Patton he was being ridiculous. Even after Patton explained his staff had already prepared plans for a counter attack, Eisenhower ordered him to wait 72 hours before attacking instead of Patton’s 48.
Also, again I find the film’s use of the British generals being the gloomy naysayers against Patton to be annoying, the Americans at the conference were just as skeptical about Patton as the British.

2:32:49 Patton did indeed order the 3rd Army Chaplain to write a prayer for good weather. And awarded him a Bronze Star when the weather cleared. The prayer read in the film is the real one.

2:41:19 He wasn’t promised a command in the Pacific by Roosevelt. He did lobby hard for a reassignment to the Pacific but was unsuccessful.
He also made direct comparisons between Nazi officials being similar to American Democrats and Republicans in regards to them being trained to govern, he wasn’t edged into it by leading questions as the film suggests.

The Ox Cart Scene at the end is foreshadowing his actual death following a traffic accident in December 1945 in Germany when his jeep collided with an army truck. He suffered a broken neck and paralysis from the neck down. He died in his sleep 14 days later.

"Patton: A Biography" Alan Axelrod
"Patton, Montgomery, Rommel: Masters of War" Terry Brighton
"The Patton Papers: 1940-1945" Martin Blumenson

Alistair Pitts

Some background on Bernard Law Montgomery, from your resident entirely neutral and nonpartisan British researcher

  • Montgomery trained at Sandhurst (I’m sure most listeners will be aware that Sandhurst is pretty much the British equivalent of West Point)1
  • He was grievously wounded in the lung at the 1st Battle of Ypres in WWI. He was so close to death that a grave was dug for him.2
  • Quote from Montgomery on WWI generals, from 1958, “The frightful casualties appalled me. The so-called “good fighting generals” of the war appeared to me to be those who had a complete disregard for human life.”3
  • I don’t have a source for this, but I read somewhere while I was working at the Lascaris War Rooms in Malta that during his service in British-occupied India he learned enough of the local language that he could communicate with rank-and-file soldiers directly. If that’s true, that’s definitely worthy of some respect.
  • Commanded the 3rd Division of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France in 1940. Predicted a disaster and consequently trained his troops to make an orderly retreat.4
  • Most famous for leading British forces to victory at the 2nd Battle of El Alamein, 1942
  • One of the parallels between Monty and Patton is their ability to inspire their troops through their own apparently unshakeable confidence. Before El Alamein, this was Montgomery’s message to his troops, “I want to impose on everyone that the bad times are over, they are finished! Our mandate from the Prime Minister is to destroy the Axis forces in North Africa... It can be done, and it will be done!”.5
  • His 1958 Memoir was massively controversial due to Montgomery’s utter tactlessness. He was particularly rude about Dwight Eisenhower.6
  • Died in 1976. Buried in Westminster Abbey.
  • Dwight Eisenhower identified Montgomery as possessing, “a flair for showmanship”.7 Another trait in common with Patton. Like Patton, a key part of this was how he dressed. His trademark black tank commander’s beret with two badges was not exactly regulation. Supposedly, this sartorial choice of Montgomery’s really bothered King George VI, who was a bit of a stickler for that kind of thing.8 Long live the Republic, etc.
  • Some of his personal views don’t exactly create a favourable impression. E.g. He publicly supported the Apartheid regime in South Africa and and called the UK legislation decriminalising homosexuality in 1967, “a charter for buggery”.9 Not cool, Monty. Not cool.

1 Bernard Law Montgomery: Unbeatable and unbearable - (UK) National Army Museum website article
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid. One wonders what effect this preparation would have had on rank & file morale… Incidentally, podcaster & author Mike Duncan describes, somewhat snarkily, George Washington’s talent for mounting a flawless retreat as his greatest asset as a military commander.
5 Ibid.
6 Episode of the BBC Radio Four programme Great Lives on Bernard Montgomery broadcast in October 2013, presented by Matthew Parris, with guests comedian Al Murray and Imperial War Museum historian Terry Charman.

7 Bernard Law Montgomery: Unbeatable and unbearable - (UK) National Army Museum website article. Speaking of Ike, he painted Monty in 1952. The painting is now in the British Embassy in Washington.
8 Great Lives Bernard Montgomery episode.
9 Bernard Law Montgomery: Unbeatable and unbearable - (UK) National Army Museum website article

Bernard Montgomery himself on the long-running (it's still around today) BBC Radio programme Desert Island Discs, episode broadcast on Saturday, 20th December 1969
Brief History Of The Battle Of El Alamein WW2 - Imperial War Museum website article
How The British Secured A Victory In The Desert During The Second World War - Imperial War Museum website article
Why D-Day Was So Important to Allied Victory - Imperial War Museum website article
How The Battle Of Anzio Invasion Almost Failed - Imperial War Museum website article
Bernard Law Montgomery: Unbeatable and unbearable - (UK) National Army Museum website article
Bernard, Viscount Montgomery of Alamein - Westminster Abbey website article

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 24: Doctor Zhivago Sun, 02 Jan 2022 16:00:00 -0800 a7598215-f87e-411d-8ff8-cb7252e8c879 Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E24 Doctor Zhivago Dave Feldmann
Undergrad and unofficial medievalist, current practitioner of Historical European Martial Arts.

Historical Context

My undergraduate professor Dr Norton described Russian history as being written by Monty Python. Nowhere is this more representative than in the multiple revolutions that first brought democracy to Russia in 1905, the downfall of Tsarist autocracy in February 1917, and the fall of the Provisional government to the Bolsheviks in October 1917. Each of these revolutions were variations on a central theme: the government of Russia failed its people. Going deeper into the question of how they failed is staggeringly complex. Its origins not only in the political and economic developments in the late 19th century, but in some ways in the very nature of Russia itself: a vast, multiethnic empire of incredible population size and natural resources, simultaneously the modern European state of Chekhov, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky while also being the final European state to have an autocratic monarch whose rule was decreed by Divine Right.

Up until 1861, the vast majority of Russian subjects were serfs, tied to the land, and legally owned by the aristocracy. For centuries, Tsars and Tsarinas would attempt to guide Russia down two different paths, that of “Westernization” ie governmental, economic, and technological reforms along Western European, mostly French models, versus a “more Russian” path popular with Slavic traditionalists, of achieving a sort of Eastern-style despotism in contrast to the constitutional democracies of France and England. Cities like Moscow or Saint Petersburg were the rivals of London, Paris or Vienna, while starving serfs labored in medieval conditions in the countryside, ruled over by the communal and ancient laws of the elders. Russian culture, society, government, and indeed the people themselves were being pulled apart by this dual, contradictory, focus.

Things seemed to come into sharp focus following Russia’s humiliating defeat in the Crimean war (1553-1856). In three decades the armies that crushed Napoleon were thoroughly outclassed by their French and British adversaries, and the Russian Black Sea fleet was utterly destroyed by British steamships. As Grand Duke Constantine described, “We cannot deceive ourselves any longer; we must say that we are both weaker and poorer than the first-class powers, and furthermore poorer not only in material terms but in mental resources, especially in matters of administration.”

To wash away the shame of this defeat, Tsar Alexander II acted decisively. He first freed the serfs on private property by decree, and gained the epithet “The Liberator.” He also reformed the army, navy, and private sector, supporting private enterprise as well as some limited land reforms. Thousands of miles of railroad were built for soldiers and diplomats to cross the vastness of Russia. Alexander II also simplified the legal code, and encouraged the Finnish national assembly, the Diet, to meet for the first time in many years. (Finland had been annexed by Russia in 1809 as a result of the Finnish War. It declared independence from Russia in 1917 after the revolution). Whether or not he would have adopted a constitution is still argued in historical circles - fate would deprive him of that choice.

In 1881, the Tsar Liberator was assassinated by a member of Narodnaya Voly (People’s Will), a far left terrorist organization demanding land reform and an end to autocracy. The failure of this group would be on many revolutionary’s minds in February and October 1917 and the savage repression that followed the Tsar’s assassination would see Russia fall into the backwardness that Alexander II sought to eradicate.

Far from becoming a thriving constitutional monarchy like Britain, Russia descended into a police state described in Doesoevsky’s literature, and most political leaders fled abroad. The lack of civil society, and the underground political movements that claimed the Tsar Liberator’s life would be a constant threat. Alexander III was a reactionary pure and simple, and to allow a constitution would be anathema - as such all efforts at forming a democracy were thwarted. This new Alexander distrusted and reversed many of the reforms of his father, but the efforts to modernize the economy and the military continued. A domineering and larger-than-life figure, Alexander III personally represented the maxim that would guide the last Tsar: authority - autocracy - absolutism. This reactionary approach to government and administration would ultimately hamstring Russia as it stumbled into the 20th century, a nation of promising intellectuals, factories, and incredible natural resources, hobbled by a government actively harkening back to the days of Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century. Modernity would not be kept out forever.

The railroads, factories, and other modern developments transformed the economy and life of Russia. Rural peasants would supplement their meager incomes with factory work in the city. Cities grew exponentially, and the middle class grew with them, along with the desire for more political power. Humanist liberals, represented by Zhivago himself, were not uncommon in the cities, but decidedly lacking in the countryside. Well-intentioned liberal youth journeyed into the country to promote modernizing ideas, frequently at odds and outright hostility from community elders, hostile to change and reform in general.

In 1904, imperial tensions over the Far Eastern Port Arthur led to war between Japan and the Russian empire. Tsar Nicholas II (succeeded Alexander III in 1896) actively sought this conflict, because he believed that the surge in national pride associated with the all but certain (in his mind) military victory might quiet calls for political reform and revolution. This war is all but ignored in Dr. Zhivago but it was as large a disaster as the Crimean war was sixty years earlier. Again, the Black Sea Fleet was destroyed, this time off Manchuria, and after a grueling continent spanning voyage. And again, the Russian army was shown to be a poor adversary for the recently-modernized Japanese. The incredible suffering of the underequipped and undersupplied eastern Russian army, combined with wartime shortages in all areas of the Russian economy led a large group of civilians to march to the Winter Palace to present a petition for supplying Saint Petersburg and for the conduct of the war. Fearing violence, Russian soldiers started firing into the crowd. This would be the first, but certainly not the last, “Bloody Sunday” in the 20th century. For the next year, general strikes and unrest caused the entire Russian empire to screech to a halt. Nicholas’s popularity, never strong, never recovered, and he was forced to accept an elected body , the Duma, in 1906, and publish the so-called “October Manifesto,” which allowed voting assemblies and various freedoms, never guaranteed in Russian law prior, such as speech and the press.

Elections for the first democratically elected body in Russian history were heavily manipulated by Nicholas II in order to provide as much power to his political supporters as possible. Right wing protofascist organizations, such as the Black Hundreds, were openly favored by the Tsar and his administration. Liberal groups, led by the influential Prince Lvov, gained a majority but found their attempts at economic and administrative reforms undone by the Tsar. Nicholas II exacerbated political tension by using the repressive, reactionary police actions in order to maintain what he thought was control. Over the next several years, governors and political leaders were assassinated by members of the Social Revolutionaries (SR), a Marxist organization with strong ideological differences from the Bolsheviks. Future leader of the Provisional government Alexander Kerensky would be close to many SRs, and actually defend some of them in court. Meanwhile, the majority of what would become the Bolsheviks were still scattered in cafes throughout Europe (Lenin, Trotsky) or engaging in various criminal activities (Stalin was a bankrobber). Social revolutionaries, social democrats (who felt that laws and democratic processes could bring about Marxist social revolution, rather than violent overthrow of the existing order), all formed a broadly socialist bloc in the years leading to 1914.

The problems that had plagued the Russian army for nearly a century followed it onto the fields of the First World War. The first major battle on the eastern front saw two Russian armies invade East Prussia, only for both to be almost totally destroyed in the battle of Tannenberg. The Russian commander, General Alexander Samsonov, committed suicide.

The suffering of the Russian soldiers on the eastern front, combined with Tsar Nicholas’s incompetent wartime leadership, as well as the utter misalignment of wartime efforts at senior command levels, caused public opinion to finally and completely turn against the Romanovs and the Tsar. A coalition of socialist and liberal leaders, seizing power after yet another general strike in Saint Petersburg, formed the Provisional Government, and attempted to continue the war. The 1917 offensive quickly bogged down, and soldiers began disobeying their orders and leaving the war altogether. This is brilliantly, if simplistically shown in Dr. Zhivago. Support for the Provisional government, and Alexander Kerensky specifically, collapsed. Seizing the initiative, Bolsheviks led by VI Lenin, staged the October 1917 coup and gained control of the Winter Palace.

Works Cited

Orlando Figes’s A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891–1924. ISBN 0-224-04162-2
Richard Pipes. The Russian Revolution.

Alistair Pitts
Russian film expert, Host of Russophiles Unite! A Russian & Soviet Film Podcast

10 Pasternak Facts!!

Pasternak is WAAAYYY more famous in Russia as a poet and translator than as a novelist. Fact 2 will make it pretty clear why this is. His translations of Shakespeare were (and are) highly acclaimed. They were used for Soviet film versions of Shakespeare such as Hamlet. While it’s not particularly well-known in the UK (and I’m going to assume the US too???) it would have been seen by millions of Soviet citizens. Due to household TV ownership being much lower in the USSR than the US at the time, the ‘60s and ‘70s in many ways were the heyday of Soviet cinema. DZ concludes with a series of poems, ostensibly by Yuri Zhivago. The first of these is titled ‘Hamlet’.

During the 1930s, BP wrote a poem in praise of Stalin, but it was so idiosyncratic that Soviet propagandists didn’t really know what to do with it.

It’s quite well-known DZ was banned in the USSR till Mikhail Gorbachev introduced his policy of Glasnost [‘openness’]. The story of how it came to the West is perhaps less well known.

DZ was rejected for publication in the Soviet literary journal Novy Mir [New World] on the basis that it was, according to Novy Mir’s editors, incompatible with the spirit of the Revolution and with Marxist Ideology. Pasternak gave the manuscript for DZ to the Italian Communist journalist Sergio d’Angelo, who claimed that Pasternak had said, “you are hereby invited to watch me face the firing squad”, when he handed over the manuscript. D’Angelo passed it onto the publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli [looking forward to Dan pronouncing his name authentically!], who published it in Italian.

Attempts were made by the Soviet authorities to dissuade Feltrinelli from publishing DZ, culminating with the head of the Soviet Writers’ Union traveling to Italy to speak to him in person. Apparently, these efforts to suppress the book resulted in something of a Streisand Effect, and the first printing of 6,000 copies sold out in a single day.

Pasternak was expelled from the Soviet Writers’ Union and vilified in Pravda for allowing his novel to be published abroad and he subsequently received hate mail from members of the public.

Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 for DZ. He initially accepted it, but under pressure from the Soviet authorities, he turned it down.

The CIA funded the smuggling of copies of DZ into the USSR.

Pasternak was Jewish. His parents and sister left Russia in 1921 for Berlin, where Boris visited them in the following year. It was the last time he ever saw them, although they did manage to get out of Germany when the Nazis came to power, settling in the UK.

Pasternak is the Russian word for parsnip. As Viv Groskop points out in her chapter of The Anna Karenina Fix devoted to Dr. Zhivago, a British writer saddled with a root vegetable as a surname probably would have struggled to achieve the same gravitas…

Some of Pasternak’s poetry was used in the Soviet festive classic The Irony of Fate.

Please give a shout out to the podcast Tipsy Tolstoy: Russian Literature for the Inebriated

I owe a huge thank you to Dr Cathy McAteer of the University of Exeter for her help with background on Pasternak as a translator

Works Cited
‘The rhythm of free speech’: Boris Pasternak translates Shakespeare
Love and Terror in Pasternak's Russia ‹ Literary Hub article by author Rafia Zakaria
On This Day in 1890 Boris Pasternak Was Born (Moscow Times article)
Rereading: Doctor Zhivago | Boris Pasternak (Guardian article)
Zhivago, Pasternak's 'Final Happiness and Madness' (Moscow Times article)
How Boris Pasternak Won and Lost the Nobel Prize (Smithsonian Magazine article)
Michael Wood · Crabby, Prickly, Bitter, Harsh: Tolstoy's Malice · LRB 22 May 2008

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 23: CHE Part 1&2 Sun, 02 Jan 2022 15:30:00 -0800 493356dd-87a6-4f25-a311-a0ddde0b2acf Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E23: CHE Part 1&2 Che Part One and Two research by Bill Fischer
PhD in Modern Latin American History from the University of Florida
Associate Professor of History, Missouri Southern State University

Incident(s) the film touches on

Che Part One illustrates the guerrilla insurgency in Cuba from 1956-1959 that would ultimately overthrow the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. As the film portrays, Che Guevara was one of the principal guerrilla leaders, eventually directing a "column" of insurgents during the climax of the war. Fidel Castro was the overall guerrilla commander of the 26th of July Movement, which became the most important force in the effort to bring down Batista. Importantly, however, the M-26-J was not always the ONLY group opposing Batista-- its success in the rural-based guerrilla operations while more urban-based movements were less effective against Batista helped ensure that Castro and M26J would seize power in Cuba after the fighting ended.

Che Part One also occasionally flashes back to Mexico City earlier in the 1950s when Che Guevara and Fidel Castro first met. At this time, Castro was in exile from Cuba after being released from prison. Guevara had recently been in Guatemala... more on that later.

Che Part Two portrays Che Guevara's efforts to lead a guerilla insurgency in Bolivia in 1967. This effort was unsuccessful for a variety of reasons that the film illustrates quite well, and Guevara ended up dead at the hands of the CIA-backed Bolivian military.

It is very interesting for me to reflect on these movies as having been made by Steven Soderbergh, who is perhaps best known for his heist movies (Oceans 11, 12, and 13). Though they are very different in most ways-- Che Part One and Two are ALSO heist movies! One of them is a successful heist, one of them is a failed heist. Except in this case the goal is not to knock off a casino, but topple a government. I think the best way to think about these movies as two case studies-- why did Part One succeed? Why did Part Two fail? Why couldn't Che and the boys re-do in Bolivia what they had done in Cuba? I think taken together these films are most interested in PROCESS-- they examine the high degree of difficulty involved in guerilla insurgency and how it can break down, like the components of a watch not fitting together correctly.

I think that this procedural puzzle was really what Soderbergh was trying to do with these films, more than making an Ernesto Guevara biopic. If that's what you want, look at The Motorcycle Diaries.

Historical Context

The Cuban Revolution of 1956-1959 came out of a long line of revolutions in Cuba, but each of the previous ones ended up failing or being unsatisfying in some way.

From 1868-78, Cuba fought for independence from Spain, only to sue for peace after ten years. In 1879, another war for independence broke out, but only lasted one year.

From 1895-98, Cuban rebels fought against the Spanish and had them very close to defeat when the United States intervened and seized military control over the island, ignoring the rebel army and government and establishing Jim-Crow style segregation in Cuba when it hadn't existed before.

The US left in 1901 but not before sticking a clause in the Cuban Constitution, the Platt Amendment, that gave the U.S. the right to take Cuba back over again when it felt like doing so (which it did from 1906-09).

In 1933 a group of Cuban university students and junior army officers overthrew a dictator named Gerardo Machado, and the 100-day administration of Ramón Grau (a professor at the University of Havana) instituted a number of progressive, pro-worker reforms. They also got rid of the Platt Amendment, but these social reforms were nipped in the bud by a military coup led by young officer Fulgencio Batista, who acted with the encouragement of U.S. diplomat Sumner Welles.

Batista held power until 1944, when free and fair elections delivered civilian governments in 1944 and 1948 (technically, Batista himself had been elected as a civilian in 1940). However, both of these civilian administrations were very corrupt and disappointing to idealistic young Cubans.

Then in 1952, a reformer from the "Orthodox" Party looked poised to win election as president, when Fulgencio Batista, who still held huge amounts of sway in the Cuban military and was looked to by many upper-class Cubans as a strong figure who could keep order, stepped in and canceled the elections, once again seizing dictatorial power.

A young lawyer by the name of Fidel Castro was a congressional candidate for the Orthodox Party in 1952, and likely would have been elected to Congress if the elections weren't canceled.

Castro decided that the peaceful, electoral path to reform in Cuba was impossible, and decided to begin an armed revolution. On July 26, 1953, Castro and several dozen others attempted to begin the revolution by seizing an army barracks in Santiago in eastern Cuba. They failed, and most were killed or arrested. (He would later name his guerrilla insurgency the M26J-- 26th of July Movement.) Fidel Castro chose to defend himself in court, and in his defense outlined a manifesto for the political and social reform of Cuba-- the manifesto concluded with him saying, "Condemn me, it does not matter. History will absolve me." This "History Will Absolve Me" speech was written down and smuggled out of the courthouse and circulated in Cuba among opponents of Fulgencio Batista's regime.

Castro was let out of prison due to international pressure on Batista to release political prisoners. Upon his release, Castro soon realized he was under constant surveillance, so chose to go into exile in order to be able to plan another armed insurgency in Cuba. He made his way to Mexico City, where he met Che Guevara.

Guevara had been living in Guatemala during the administration of Jacobo Arbenz, a former military officer who was committed to agrarian reform. Arbenz's plan for agrarian reform was to remove unused land from large landholders, such as the American United Fruit Company, and redistribute it to peasants in order to create something of an agricultural middle class (Guatemalan society was extremely unequal). The reform would come with compensation to the landholders (but not at the level United Fruit Company hoped for). The agrarian reform project was prevented by the United States-backed coup d'etat in Guatemala known as Operation PB Success, which took place in 1954. The CIA recruited Guatemalan dissidents to lead an attack on Arbenz's government, and then supported that attack with attacks on the Guatemalan infrastructure and a widespread disinformation campaign, including the dropping of leaflets that stated that Arbenz had already resigned when he hadn't, and radio broadcasts with fake sounds of chaos in the background. The Guatemalan armed forces could defeat the US-backed rebels, but they became convinced that further resistance would provoke direct US military intervention in Guatemala, so they stood down and Arbenz fled the country. The regime that took over, led by Carlos Castillo Armas, immediately carried out a campaign of summary executions against Communists and labor leaders in Guatemala.

Che Guevara saw all this go down-- and for him it was evidence that the United States would not tolerate ANY meaningful reform in Latin America, not even the relatively modest agrarian reform proposed by Arbenz. (There's a LOT more to this story, including myriad connections between the Eisenhower Administration and United Fruit, but I won't go into it here!).

So when Guevara and Castro meet in Mexico City, you've got one guy who's become convinced that the US Empire is so pernicious that it must be violently resisted throughout the region, and that its allies must be overthrown; and another guy who's become convinced that his country's political system is too far gone for peaceful reform, guerrilla insurgency being the only way forward.

Guevara and Castro traveled back to Cuba on a yacht they purchased called the Granma, which they overloaded with too many men and supplies, which meant that they arrived in eastern Cuba much later than they meant to in 1956. They were supposed to land in coordination with the uprising in various cities by M26-J allies, but this failed. Many of those who were on the Granma were soon killed in clashes with Batista's forces.

So the nucleus of guerrilla fighters that began the insurgency in 1956 was really quite small -- only about 18 individuals.

Che Guevara as guerilla commander had a very holistic program for revolution which he put into practice in Cuba. The film Che Part One does a good job portraying many aspects of this. Guevara was a Marxist, which had developed over the course of his youth in the 1950s. However, he was not a doctrinaire Communist on the question of strategy. Neither Castro nor Guevara were members of the Cuban Communist Party at this time. The Communist mothership in Moscow did not encourage these kinds of guerrilla adventures-- and in fact the Cuban Communist Party had condemned Fidel Castro's 1953 attempt to begin a revolution in Santiago de Cuba.

The idea that a small, committed band of rural-based revolutionaries could successfully overthrow a U.S. backed government was contrary to the Communist Party's line at the time-- so Guevara's articulation of this goal is perhaps his most important contribution to history at this time.

After the Cuban insurgency succeeded, Guevara wrote a book called Guerrilla Warfare and a shortened version called "Guerrilla Warfare: A Method." These were, frankly, how-to guides. They were a manual that theoretically anyone in rural Latin America could use to overthrow THEIR government. One of the most important principles that Guevara lays out is the idea that you don't have to wait for all the conditions favorable to revolution to exist before you begin. Rather, the guerilla insurgency itself can bring about the conditions favorable for revolution. The goal is to destabilize society and the economy to create the belief among the people that "something MUST change." At the same time, the guerrilla was to be a social reformer-- a real Robin Hood type of figure that was always pushing agrarian reform as the centerpiece of the program. The guerrillas should, to the extent possible, carry out their social and economic program while the insurgency is going on, in the territory controlled by insurgents. In practice this means providing education to the people, redistributing land, livestock, and food, etc. Furthermore Guevara believed that the insurgents should be like "priests" or "guardian angels," holding themselves to (perhaps unrealistically) high standards of behavior. The film portrays Guevara's summary execution of two guerrillas that had broken these rules. The film also accurately portrays the fact that rural Cubans flocked to the guerrilla forces spontaneously and swelled their ranks. By the end of the insurgency, about 50,000 fighters were under Castro, split between several columns, one commanded by Guevara, others commanded by Raul Castro, Juan Almeida, Camilo Cienfuegos and others.

This "foco" (focus or nucleus) model for guerrilla insurgency as laid out in Guevara's writings also describes when it is appropriate to sabotage the economy, the difference in strategy to be used in rural vs. suburban vs. urban environments, the correct composition of a guerrilla unit in terms of weapons, how to collect ammo and weapons from the enemy, etc.

One thing that Che Part One is a bit confusing about is the politics of the various forces trying to take down Batista's government. Castro's M26J was allied to other organizations based more in Cuba's cities, including worker's organizations and student organizations. Frank País was the urban coordinator of M26J who was extremely influential and perhaps as widely known as Castro. However, in 1957 he was killed in the streets of Santiago de Cuba by police, thereby removing someone who could have been a main rival to Castro for control over a post-Batista Cuba. País had always preferred to take down Batista via general strike, not guerilla warfare. His death helped ensure that the rural guerrillas would play the leading role.

Another general strike was attempted in April of 1958, but that one failed, too. In the summer of '58 leaders of various anti-Batista organizations met in Caracas, Venezuela, and the result of this meeting was a general coalescing behind the leadership of Castro and the rural guerrillas. This included the Cuban Communist Party, which only at this point decided to support M26J and Castro.

By this time the rebels were attacking the choke points of the Cuban economy like sugar mills and transportation, causing the middle classes to grow increasingly exasperated with Batista's government and its inability to defeat the rebels or maintain normalcy.

Toward the end of the summer of 1958, Batista's armed forces launched one big push in eastern Cuba to defeat the rebels, but they failed and left a lot of their arms and equipment in rebel hands. By this point eastern Cuba was largely in the hands of the M26J forces, giving them wide latitude to interact with the people along the lines of education and social reform that Che Guevara emphasized.

By the end of 1958, it was becoming clear to the United States that Batista's regime was doomed, and the decision was made in Washington to pull the rug out from under Batista. He fled the country on New Year's Eve, taking lots of cash with him. The US had decided, essentially, that it was better to try to work with the rebels and "manage" the outcome rather than continue to prop up Batista. On January 1st, 1959, one of Batista's subordinates seized control of the rickety remains of the regime and called for a provisional government; Castro rejected this and called for total capitulation to the M26J, and also called for a general strike throughout Cuba. This succeeded in getting the reins of power totally in his hands by a week later.

After this, Guevara wrote his guerrilla warfare manuals and hoped they would inspire similar types of insurgencies all over Latin America, and to some extent, they did.

Che Part Two takes place in 1967 after Guevara spent several years in the new Cuban revolutionary government as economic minister, and also traveled widely around the world both as diplomat and as guerrilla commander in Africa.

A fundamental difference between Cuba and Bolivia stemmed from their distinct colonial histories. Cuba was a Spanish colony that overwhelmingly relied on African slave labor; slavery ended in the 1860s and Cuban society evolved to be overwhelmingly white, Black, and mixed-race (with some very small numbers of Chinese immigrants and other groups). There was little to no indigenous presence in Cuba in the 1950s; this meant that the Cuban revolutionaries would have encountered no linguistic barriers between themselves and the peasants of rural Cuba. In Bolivia, on the other hand, African slavery was a relatively unimportant feature of the colonial period. Instead, Bolivia's large indigenous population was exploited by the colonial upper classes in a sort of feudalistic fashion. Very stark linguistic and cultural divides between the urban elites and the rural, indigenous majority persisted in Bolivia into the 1960s. Guevara and his guerrillas were not operating among a population they could communicate with easily, in many instances.

A political party called the MNR (National Revolutionary Movement) took over Bolivia in 1952 and had a sweeping program of reforms, including many aimed at reducing the exploitation and poverty of rural indigenous people and incorporating them more fully into national political life. Indians gained the right to vote and organized themselves into militias. The large landholdings of the upper-class land barons were broken up and redistributed to indigenous communities and "syndicates," who then very tenaciously held on to the land they had won. According to the historian Herbert Klein, this victory made Bolivia's Indians laser-focused on protecting their lands, but somewhat indifferent to other political questions, and even "conservative" in a sense. They continued to support the MNR and president Victor Paz Estenssoro even as the MNR lost the support of miners and some middle-class types. Paz was re-elected in 1964 with lots of rural indigenous support, but then was overthrown by the military, who deemed that he couldn't keep control over the restive miners and deteriorating economy.

This is the military regime that controlled Bolivia when Che came to the country. BUT, and it's a big but, the circumstances on the ground in Bolivia actually did not fit Che's own model for revolution in various ways.

For one thing, Bolivia had a pretty robust recent tradition of electoral democracy, and rural Bolivians had actually seen their political and economic rights increasing lately, and also their access to land. So it didn't really make sense for the guerrillas to make agrarian reform the centerpiece of their program, as they had in Cuba, because agrarian reform had been successfully carried out already.

The military dictator, General Barrientos, spoke Quechua, one of Bolivia's major indigenous languages, which meant he had a good relationship with some sectors of Bolivia's rural people. And while the military dictatorship was undemocratic, there were several strong political parties in Bolivia. So while Castro and Guevara might have reasonably concluded that the democratic path to power was totally shut off in Cuba, it was a stretch to see Bolivia that way.

Also, most of Bolivia's indigenous population lived in the high elevation region of the country where there was little cover for guerrilla operations. The tropical forests in the east offered plenty of cover for the guerrillas, but there weren't very many people there to work with. So you couldn't really carry out the program of simultaneous revolution and social services/reform in cover that Che calls for in his book.

Moreover, there weren't many linkages between rural Bolivia and urban Bolivia, or between indigenous farmers and the mining sector. While the M26J movement in Cuba had a lot of contacts with workers' and student organizations in Cuba's cities, no similar framework existed in Bolivia for Che's guerrillas to draw on.

When Che formed the foco in Bolivia, only 29 out of 50 fighters were Bolivian-- and all of the positions of authority were held by Cubans. They did recruit some Bolivians to join them after that point, but couldn't rely on any alliance with Bolivian parties or organizations to help them do this.

Che and the guerrillas never had the support of the Bolivian Communist Party. They totally disagreed on leadership and broader strategy. (You see this in the disagreements with Mario Monje, portrayed by Lou Diamond Phillips.) The Communist Party in Bolivia wanted to focus on building power from urban bases and was very skeptical of the whole guerrillas-in-the-forest thing (as the Communist Party in Cuba initially had been, too!). The Sino-Soviet split of 1967 also guaranteed that different factions of the left would be divided on these kinds of questions. The USSR had adopted the stance of avoiding conflict with the US and its allies; Cuba was very dependent on the USSR for trade, and so even Cuba couldn't really help Che and the guerrillas in Bolivia all that much, lest they anger the USSR.

The site they chose for their guerrilla operations was too remote and difficult. Though it may have helped them evade capture at first, it was so difficult to navigate that it was probably more of a burden than an advantage.

They also located their base in a place where the government of Barrientos had recently carried out agrarian reform, delivering 10-hectare plots to 16,000 families. So far from flocking to join the guerrillas, the people living nearby likely viewed them as an untrustworthy group that might screw up the tangible benefits they had just gotten from the government's agrarian reform. Logically, they often reported on the guerrillas' activities to the authorities.

Che's foco started attacking the Bolivian armed forces too early, before they were really well situated in their base and before they had the opportunity to grow their ranks. This alerted the USA in March of 1967 and they sent 20 special forces soldiers to Bolivia who started training up a Bolivian ranger unit.

Che then decided to divide the small foco in April of 1967 and it was never put back together again, because the column led by the Cuban alias Joaquín was wiped out at the end of August.

By mid-September, 600 Bolivian rangers were ready to go-- they determined where Guevara's couple dozen remaining guerrillas were and surrounded them. The movie portrays this sense of a vise closing in very effectively.

Interesting Facts? A space to provide info that isn't historical in context, such as trivia about the making of the film. This should be related to the film or the topic it's covering. (Optional)

On his appearance with Marc Maron on the WTF Podcast, Steven Soderbergh stated that Che was his last "film"; everything he's made since have been "movies." Make of that what you will!

Total budget for both films was $60 million, with 39 days of filming allocated for each.

Steven Soderbergh stated that he was attracted to the story of Guevara because of "his will." Moreover, "His ability to sustain outrage is what is remarkable to me. We all get outraged about stuff, but to sustain it to the point of putting your ass on the line to change what outrages you, to do it consistently year after year, and to twice walk away from everything and everybody to do it -- it's not normal."

Part One and Part Two were deliberately designed to be mirror images of each other, in the opposite fashion. Many scenes in Part One have their direct analogue in Part Two; something succeeding in the former, something failing in the latter.

Part One always frames Che as part of a group while in Cuba-- there are no close ups of Che during the guerrilla struggle in the Sierra Maestra. The close ups come in the 1964 scenes in black and white.

Part Two, however, often includes close-ups of Che, indicating that he was growing increasingly isolated and was not part of a well-functioning ensemble.

Part One was shot more like an action movie, with wide panoramas, while Part Two was shot more like a horror movie, with a lot of hand-held, claustrophobic shots.

Works Cited

Antoni Kapcia, Cuba in Revolution, Reaktion Books 2008
Marifeli Pérez-Stable, The Cuban Revolution: Origins, Course, and Legacy, 2nd ed, Oxford University Press 1999
Leslie Bethell, ed., Cuba: A Short History, Cambridge University Press, 1993
Che Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare, 3rd edition, SR Books 1997
Brian Loveman and Thomas M. Davies, Jr., "Case Studies of Guerrilla Movements and Political Change," in Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare, 3rd edition, SR Books 1997
Amy Taubin, "Why Che?" from the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray set of Che Part One and Che Part Two

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 22: The Battle of Algiers Sun, 05 Dec 2021 19:00:00 -0800 b078de9c-1a7a-4ab9-ae06-fa6018fc7190 Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E22: The Battle of Algiers BATTLE OF ALGIERS
By Dennis Meyers
Relevant experience: U.S. Army, 1974-1980, BA & MA Economics, Economist for over 30 years for State of
California, Community College Adjunct Faculty

Historical Context:
The Algerian War, 1954 to 1962
Immediately after WWII, France faced a prolonged and off times violent decolonization period. There were tragic anti-colonial demonstrations in Algeria in May 1945. This was followed by unrest in French Indochina in November that started the First Indochina War which ended in 1954 with the French withdrawal following the defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phủ. Following this loss, France was determined not to lose Algeria, its oldest and nearest major colony, which it considered to be a part of France rather than a colony. The struggle to retain Algeria resulted in severe political repercussions for France both internally and internationally, including the fall of the Fourth Republic, two attempted French army coups and multiple attempts to assassinate Charles De Gaulle, the President of France.

The Algerian anti-colonial nationalist movement began during WW2. The path to the Algerian War began with massacres in May 1945 at the Algerian towns of Sétif and Guelma carried out by French colonial authorities and European settlers in retaliation for demonstrations and riots (which ironically began amidst a celebration of the surrender of Nazi Germany). The initial unrest resulted in about 100 deaths. The retaliation, which included summary executions, lynchings, aerial bombing and shelling by a French cruiser, killed somewhere between 6,000 and 30,000 Muslims. This was a major turning point in the relations between France and the Algerian Muslim population, which included Muslim soldiers in the French Army who had just fought for France in WWII.

The French defeat at Dien Bien Phu prompted the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) to launch armed revolts and issued a call for a sovereign Algerian state in November 1954. The FLN was created in 1954 to reconcile and organize various nationalist faction to wage war against the French colonial control. By the 1956 almost all the Algerian nationalist organizations had joined the FLN. Following the war, the FLN became Algeria’s sole legal and ruling party. This single-party rule ended in 1990.

The battle of Philippeville in August 1955 was major shift by the FLN which previously attacked only military and government-related targets. A large mob of thousands of civilians lead by FLN regulars launched a general assault on the city to kill Europeans and take the police station's weaponry. The brutal attacks resulted in the deaths of 117 European civilians, 42 Algerian civilians and 47 law enforcers. The subsequent disproportionate and extremely violent French retaliation lead to between 3,000 and 5,000 deaths including as many as 2,000 executions. This ended any hope for a negotiating a compromise solution and drove most Algerian Muslims to support the FLN. All-out war had begun.

The Battle of Algiers
To increase international and domestic French attention to the Algerian cause, the FLN brought the conflict to the cities by calling a general strike and planning bombs in public places. The the Battle of Algiers, which began on September 30, 1956, when three women placed bombs at three sites including the office of Air France. The FLN carried out shootings and bombings in the spring of 1957, resulting in civilian casualties that sparked a brutal response from the French authorities.

The 10th Parachute Division under the command of General Jacques Massu was sent to Algiers to subdue the FLN. (Massu was one of several French senior officers that was the basis of the film’s fictional Col. Mathieu). He was allowed to use whatever methods necessary to restore order and eliminate terrorists. Using torture, strong movement control and curfew, the strike was broken as well as the FLN infrastructure in Algiers. However, the French brutality—particularly the use of torture—and the demonstrated strength of the FLN to strike urban areas and its support among the Muslim masses created doubt in France about its role in Algeria.

Despite the victory in Algiers, ongoing guerrilla attacks radicalized the pieds-noirs (ethnic French born in Algeria). In May 1958 a mob of pieds-noirs, angered by the French government’s attempt to negotiate with the FLN, stormed the offices of the governor-general demanding, with the support of the military, that de Gaulle be made the leader of France. On May 24, members of the French military in Algeria invaded Corsica. General Massu and the other coup leader believed that the paratroopers could take Villacoublay Airfield, just outside Paris.

The threat of this coup along with growing public unrest brought about the collapse of the Fourth Republic. Charles de Gaulle, who was popular with both the pieds-noirs, Muslim Algerians and the military, assumed power and rewrote the constitution which founded the Fifth Republic.

However, by September 1959 de Gaulle was convinced that French control of Algeria was untenable, and he offered Algeria self-determination. Pied-noir radicals were appalled. Senior army officers attempted a second military coup, this time against de Gaulle. On April 21, 1961, French paratroopers took over important locations in Algeria while French General Maurice Challe called on all other troops in French Algeria follow him instead of Paris. Challe said he, “reserved the right of extending the action to metropolitan France to reestablish a constitutional and republican order.”

In response, the popular de Gaulle successfully called on the people of France and Algeria to oppose the coup. Workers showed their support for de Gaulle with a symbolic, hour-long strike to show that they could shutdown industry if the coup continued. Citizens rallied and prepared to occupy the airfields around Paris with cars and bodies to prevent any planes from French Algeria landing. In Algeria many more soldiers supported de Gaulle than supported the coup. After a few days, it was clear that the coup attempt had failed. Many coup leaders fled. General Challe surrendered and was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison.

In 1961 and 1962 there were two rounds of negotiations between the French government and the FLN were conducted in Evian, France. In March 1962 the French government declares a cease-fire. Meanwhile, disgruntled pied-noirs mounted terrorist attacks against both Muslim and French civilians. In a July 1962, six million Algerians cast ballots to approve the Evian Agreements and independence from France.

Despite at one point achieving a tactical victory over the FLN, France withdrew from Algeria with her honor stained and with 25,000-30,000 military deaths.

Torture and brutality turn the French and international public opinion against the war.
In the Battle of Algiers, France used torture, extrajudicial killings and illegal detentions. Up to 40% of adult Arab men (55,000) in the city were detained in brutal conditions. Between 3,000 and 4,000 Algerians died in custody and during interrogations.

Gradually the scope of French atrocities became more widely known in France. As support for the war diminished, the government took steps to silence the press and punish anyone that criticized the government. Basic democratic principles that France had supported for generations were being forsaken in France proper in order to retain dominance of Algeria. Ultimately, the French public would not support continued fighting, even if successful, if it cost their country’s democratic way of life.

According to French Failure in Algeria: A Public Relations Disaster, “The results of torture were a loss of moral authority by the very nation that had placed itself on the pedestal of western thought as the home of liberty, self-determination and anti-despotism. The advantages of intelligence gained by torture were totally negated by the plethora of strategic dangers arising from the methods used, including military and political cohesion, moral superiority, and national legitimacy.”

In August 1962, a group called the OAS (Secret Army Organization) plotted to assassinate de Gaulle for giving up Algeria. On August 22, de Gaulle and his wife were riding from the Elysee Palace to Orly Airport in his black Citroen DS traveling at 70 miles per hour when 12 OAS gunmen fired at the car. The hail of gunfire killed two of the president’s motorcycle bodyguards, shattered the car’s rear window and punctured all four of its tires. Thanks to the car’s superior suspension system, De Gaulle’s chauffeur was able to accelerate out of the resulting skid and drive to safety. De Gaulle and his wife were unharmed.

Additional Facts
French actor Jean Martin, who played the fictional Colonel Mathieu, was the only professional actor in the film. Martin was a French Resistance veteran and an acclaimed stage actor known for his anti-militarist, leftist views. In September 1960 Martin signed the Manifesto of 121 which denounced the Algerian War, called on French men to desert and supported a group of French people who were going on trial for opposing the war. Signing the manifesto was disastrous to Martin’s career. He was black-listed and, even after Algerian independence, he found it very difficult to find work in film, television or theatre.

Martin was cast as Mathieu because he had little screen experience. Ultimately, Martin continued working on stage and on screen, playing a variety of supporting roles in French films and television productions. He died from cancer in Paris on 2 February 2009, aged 86.

Saadi Yacef was a revolutionary leader who fought French rule in Algeria. He joined the FLN at the start of the Algerian War in 1954. After orchestrating bombings and other guerrilla attacks, he was captured and sentenced to death in 1957. However, he was pardoned after de Gaulle's return to power in 1958. His memoirs, “Memories of the Battle of Algiers” published in 1962, was the basis of the script of the film. Mr. Yacef lead the effort to produce the film. He also played a character in the film largely based on himself. He died on Sept.10th, 2021 in Algiers, the capital at age 93.


The Battle of Algiers: a masterpiece of historical accuracy. The Guardian, 2009


General Jacques Massu. The Guardian, 2002

Saadi Yacef, ‘Battle of Algiers’ Catalyst and Actor, Dies at 93. The New York Times, 2021

A Chronology of the Algerian War of Independence. The Atlantic, 2006

Citroen helps de Gaulle survive assassination attempt.

National Liberation Front. Britannica.

When the French Army rebelled against its president.

Wikipedia articles: French colonial empire, National Liberation Front (Algeria), Algerian War, Sétif and
Guelma massacre, Battle of Philippeville, Évian Accords.

Battle of Algiers Research
Kyle Pocock

The Making of the Film

With truly unique origins and a host of unorthodox techniques and decisions, The Battle of Algiers is unlike any other movie covered on Danger Close up until this point. In 1962, with the war in Algeria winding down, Gillo Pontecorvo and his friend and co-writer, Franco Solinas, used journalism as a cover to visit Algiers hoping to find inspiration and stories to cover. They came to discuss the events with FLN senior members who directed them to people and places where they could hear tales of the conflict and even see some of the still in progress war in real time. While the original script they worked on about a former paratrooper never came to light, Pontecorvo and Saadi Yacef (FLN member and Djafar in the film) met in 1964.

Yacef had written a book, Memories of the Battle of Algiers, and was hoping to have a movie made about his experiences. Interested in the story and the proposed financial support from the new Algerian government’s Casbah Films, headed by Yacef as a producer, Pontecorvo decided to go through with the adaptation about the conflict in Algiers in the late 50s.Pontecorvo drew on the interviews, documents, accounts and photographs he had acquired to help tell the story Yacef gave him, the way he wanted to. Full creative control was given to the director and he was able to make a movie that blurred the lines between newsreel and drama, exploring the depths both sides would sink to in the bloody insurgency characterized by terror and murders rather than all out warfare.

Production began in 1965, filming in Algiers itself for around $800,000. Rather than cast professional actors, Pontecorvo chose instead to find people and faces that he wanted on the screen. Some of the actual people involved, including Yacef, were cast, even prisoners the director wanted simply for their looks. Special permission was needed to allow the man in the opening scene to be released to film him being interrogated as the paratroopers look to find the locations of all the FLN operatives. One exception to this was Jean Martin who plays Colonel Mathieu, a conglomeration of generals and other French leaders. All other parts were simply cast with people on location who were asked to join the production on the spot.

The look of the film is so decidedly reminiscent of newsreels that the US release included the phrase “NOT ONE FOOT of newsreel or documentary film has been used” was included as a caption in promotions. Use of this style was deliberate, Pontecorvo hoped to elicit a feeling of watching events as they actually happened, not in an overtly dramaticized version but one that people could imagine. Filming on location greatly lent to this overall feel, as did the use of previous footage in the scene with paratroopers considering who could have been the ones carrying the bombs at the checkpoint.

Though it portrays nobody as squarely in the right or wrong, the movie was still banned in France until 2004, clearly making that government hesitant to allow its citizens to ponder on the so called necessity of torture as Colonel Mathieu discusses with journalists in one scene. Still seen as an incredibly honest look into urban revolution, the film was screened at the Pentagon in 2004 to learn from the past as they took on a similar war in Iraq against insurgents mostly in urban locations. How much this helped in their approach is dubious at best but for the Pentagon to screen this specific movie and not a presentation on events speaks volumes to its importance as a historical document as well as a piece of entertainment.

From its strange origins as what could have easily been a propaganda piece to the lack of professional actors, it’s impressive what Pontecorvo and his Algerian counterparts were able to create. More than 50 years after its release it is still incredibly relevant as an insight into revolution no matter the setting, seeing attention from the highest of authorities to aspiring revolutionaries themselves.

*Sources: *

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 21: Hamilton Sun, 21 Nov 2021 11:00:00 -0800 84fee2f0-e651-4f81-a2c5-1c7f2bfb9314 Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E21: Hamilton Rich Stephens
Minor on History, focusing on military history

[Rather than give a timeline of the entire Revolutionary War and founding of the Federal Government,
I’m focusing on those events as depicted – or influenced by or because of – Alexander Hamilton as
depicted in the play.]


Hamilton commands the 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Unit. This unit still exists today and is the
oldest unit in the United States Army, and the only one remaining from the Revolution. Several characters disappear in the second act because the actors who portray them in the first act, portray different characters in the second. For example, Jasmine Cephas Jones portrays Peggy Schuyler in Act I and Maria Reynolds in Act II. This despite the fact that Alexander Hamilton remained close to her as well.

Talking Points:

The War Years: The first act is centered around the American War for Independence, Hamilton’s
relationships with his wife, her family, and close friends he fights in the war with.
The first large battle of the war depicted in the musical is the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey.
Washington, Hamilton and other leaders of the Revolution felt (correctly, from most historians’ views)
that the Continental Army was the revolution. If it were to fall, the Revolution would be over. As such,
the Army under Washington could never risk engaging in a large scale “continental style” battles that
defined most of the Napoleonic era of warfare. While Washington decided to use the Continental Army
in smaller engagements and engaging and withdrawing at will; General Charles Lee advocated for a
more decentralized warfare we would classify as “Guerilla War” now. While Monmouth was tactically a
draw, and strategically not significant, it was presented as a Victory for the United States and
Washington. During the battle, Lee’s ordered his units to retreat much to Washington’s dismay. After
the battle, Lee would attempt to slander Washington’s actions in the popular press and at his court
martial; but Washington was already seen as a hero by this point and his words fell flat.
The second major battle addressed is Yorktown, the final major battle of the war and with the British
Army’s surrender historically marks the end of fighting. A combined Continental Army under
Washington and “America’s favorite fighting Frenchman” Lafayette, and French Army troops under
Rochambeau defeated the British.

AND PEGGY, THE BAD-ASS: This is not depicted in the play, but it needs more publicity! According to
legend (there is no contemporary account, and the story doesn’t show up until the early 1800’s) during
the war a group of loyalists and native Americans attempted to break into the Schuyler mansion in
Albany, NY to abduct Philip Schuyler. Eliza and Angelica were pregnant and hid with the kids. Peggy
went to round up some of the other children and was confronted by the would-be kidnappers. When
asked where Philip was, she quickly responded (lied) that he had gone for help. The attackers fled, but
not before throwing a tomahawk at her as she ran upstairs. According to the legend the tomahawk left
a notch in the banister where it hit, and the Schuyler’s left it as a reminder. WHY ISN’T THIS IN THE

The Establishment of the Nation: The second act centers around the conflict between Jefferson and
Hamilton, and their opposing views and plans for the new nation.
Hamiltonian vs Jeffersonian: Any account of the founding of the United States which takes Jefferson or
Hamilton as their principal viewpoint, will undoubtably have the other as the primary antagonist.
Volumes of works and innumerable hours of research have been spent comparing the United States
under the tenets of Hamiltonian or Jeffersonian. In short, HAMILTONIAN referred to the idea that the
U.S. should have a strong National government with power greater than the individual states.
JEFFERSONIAN on the other hand is the idea that the U.S. should have a weak National government and
advocated for the nation to be primarily yeomen farmers and an agrarian based society.
What did I miss and Cabinet Battle #1 really undercuts Jefferson’s character. Contrary to Hamilton’s
assertions that Jefferson was “off getting high with the French,” Jefferson was a House Delegate for
Albemarle country, and then the Governor of Virginia during the early years of the war. When
Richmond, VA was attacked in 1781 he fled the capital and then his plantation, Monticello when
pursued. These actions did not endear him to the people of Virginia, and he was not reelected. He then
served on the Continental Congress from 1783 – 1784. His wife died in 1782 during childbirth (their
sixth.) He only became the minister for France in 1785 (succeeding Benjamin Franklin) two years after
the war.

Hamilton successfully creates the National Bank – a plan to consolidate and pay off State and Federal
debt from the Revolutionary War, raise funds for a new national government and establish common
currency. A source of revenue was needed to pay this debt. Hamilton proposes (and the measure
passes) an excise tax on domestically produced distilled spirits. This was the first tax levied by the
Federal Government. This “whisky tax” was deeply unpopular (particular among the frontier at the
time) and lead to violent protests and “The Whisky Rebellion” of 1791 – 1794. To the protestors, many
of whom were Revolutionary War veterans, this was the new Federal Government engaging in the same
‘taxation without representation’ they had fought to stop.
In other words, “when Britain taxed our tea, we got Frisky. Imagine what gon’ happen when you try to
tax our whisky.”

The Reynolds Affair: This six minute Drunk History piece (featuring Lin Manuel Miranda) is better than
anything I could write on the subject Alexander Hamilton’s Salacious Sex Scandal (feat. Lin-Manuel
Miranda) - Drunk History - Bing video

Works Cited:
“Timeline of the Revolution.” Timeline of the Revolution - American Revolution (U.S. National Park
Service) ( (accessed 10/26/21).
“Alexander Hamilton’s Timeline.” Alexander Hamilton's Timeline ( (accessed
Elis, J. “American Sphinx. The Character of Thomas Jefferson.” 1996
Allison, W., Grey, J., Valentine, J. “American Military History. A survey from colonial times to the
present.” 2012

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 20: The Wind that Shakes the Barley Sun, 21 Nov 2021 08:00:00 -0800 20220aa1-17dd-4b1a-894e-4df4c5d7c737 Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E20: The Wind that Shakes the Barley Rich Stephens
Minor on History, focusing on military history

Incident(s) the film touches on?

Irish War for Independence and subsequent Irish Civil War

Brief outline of how we got to the events depicted in the film:

1.) The Act of Union 1800 unites the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

2.) Irish Republicanism – and other Irish nationalist groups rise over the next 100 years in opposition to the Act of Union.

3.) The Easter Rising of 1916 – which only lasted a few weeks – intensified revolutionary feelings, bolstered Sinn Fein during the intervening years, and lead to many smaller incidences prior to the declaration of war with England.

4.) In the Irish General Election of 1918, the Republican Sinn Fein party wins 70% of the Irish vote. These Irish Members of Parliament create their own Irish Parliament – the Dail Eilreann in January 1919 – and declare the existence of a new Irish Republic.

5.) In September 1919 The British declare the Dail an illegal assembly, and Ireland still a part of the United Kingdom.

6.) The Irish War for Independence is fought between the Irish Republican Army (IRA, the army of the Irish Republic) and British forces under the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). The later bolstered by Auxiliaries and the Black and Tans (the majority of which were former British soldier who had fought in WWI.)

Interesting Facts?

Not mentioned directly by name, but the IRA road-side ambush of British forces depicted is an allusion to an actual event - Kilmichael ambush. A force of 36 IRA ambushed 18 officers in trucks resulting in 3 IRA and 17 RIC killed. The ambush was seen as a reprisal for Bloody Sunday (in which RIC Black and Tans opened fire on Irish civilians gathered to watch a football match.)

There were many sub-groups of Irish revolutionaries fighting and opposing British rule.

The film focuses on an IRA “flying column,” a small, independent fighting force. Communist groups in Ireland were actively opposing British rule as well. This is alluded to with the Train engineer conversation and Damien’s feeling during the Civil War.

The Irish Civil war started about one year after the Irish War of Independence. Dispute over the Anglo-Irish Treaty – which proclaimed Ireland a “dominion” of the United Kingdom (like other commonwealth nations) and not an independent Republic. Staunch Irish republicans would only settle for complete self-independence.

The proximity of these events to WW I cannot be understated. The British units in Ireland (the Black and Tans) were veterans of the WW I. Life in the trenches had taken its toll on them, and they had a reputation for brutality. The British government and public had little appetite for more bloodshed so soon after the war (which ended in only a few months prior to the Irish War of Independence.)

Works Cited:

DeRosa, Peter. Rebels: the Irish Rising of 1916.

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 19: Gettysburg Fri, 08 Oct 2021 12:00:00 -0700 0b531fdb-a4b4-4b13-aa4b-10ec35021f0c Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E19: Gettysburg Dennis Meyers
Relevant experience: U.S. Army, 1974-1980, BA & MA Economics, Economist for over 30 years for State of California, Community College Adjunct Faculty

Gettysburg chronicles the pivotal Civil War battle.

Who was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain?

Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was complex and historically important person—a scholar, a man of letters and languages, a wartime leader and hero, and a popular governor. The movie focuses on his most famous achievement—the defense of Little Round Top. There is, however, a great deal more to this remarkable person.

Outside of Civil War historians and aficionados, Joshua Chamberlain was one of the least well-known Civil War heroes until a series of popular media catapulted his prominence. He is now one of the best-known Civil War figures due to a popular books and documentaries including Michael Shaara's novel The Killer Angels (1975), Ken Burns's PBS documentary miniseries The Civil War (1990), the movie Gettysburg (1993), and the TV miniseries Gettysburg (1993-94). The place where his 20th Maine fought at Little Round Top is the most visited site at Gettysburg National Military Park.

In the movie Gettysburg, the story of Chamberlain ends with the defeat of Lee. However, Chamberlain went on to become one of the most remarkable soldiers of the Civil War and after the war he became one of Maine’s most revered figures; dubbed "The Grand Old Man of Maine".

Chamberlain was born into a family with a multi-generational military history intertwined with U.S. history. [It is interesting that in the movie a recitation of historical connections only appears for the Confederate side.] His great-grandfather Ebenezer was a New Hampshire soldier in the French and Indian and the Revolutionary wars. His grandfather, Joshua, was a colonel during the War of 1812 and his father served as a lieutenant-colonel in the 1838-39 Aroostook War (a confrontation between the U.S. and the U.K. over the boundary between the British colony of New Brunswick and the U.S. state of Maine).

Chamberlain was born in Brewer, Maine, on September 8, 1828. His father, Joshua Chamberlain, urged him to follow a military career. His first name at birth was Lawerance, named after U.S Navy Captain James Lawrence, famous for ordering “Don't give up the ship. Fight her till she sinks" in the War of 1812. Conversely, his mother, Sarah Dupee (née Brastow), wanted him to become a clergyman. Chamberlain taught himself Greek so he could be admitted to Bowdoin College in 1848 where he studied theology and foreign languages. He graduated in 1852 and then earned a Bachelor of Divinity from Bangor Theological Seminary, where he studied in Latin and German and mastered French, Arabic, Hebrew and Syriac (a variant of Aramaic).

Chamberlain became an abolitionist while at Bowdoin. “Slavery and freedom cannot live together" he once said. While at Bowden he met the abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe while she was in the process of writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He attended gatherings where Stowe read excerpts the novel in process which moved him to believe in the abolitionist cause.

In 1861 Chamberlain became professor of modern languages at Bowdoin. But he considered it his duty to fight and despite entreaties and enticements from the college, including a two- year sabbatical in Europe, to keep him from signing up, in August 1862 Chamberlain went to the state capital and was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the newly raised 20th Maine regiment.

After being mustered into service on August 29, 1862, The 20th Maine was engaged in some of the most fierce and significant battles of the Civil War, beginning with the Battle of Fredericksburg December 11–15, 1862—after which Chamberlain was promoted to Col. and given command of the 20th following the transfer of its initial commander Col. Adelbert Ames.

The 20th’s defense of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1–3, 1863, is depicted in the movie and earned Chamberlain the nickname "Lion of the Round Top." Long after the war, for this action, in 1893, he received the Medal of Honor.

After Gettysburg it fought in the Battle of Cold Harbor, May 31 to June 12, 1864 followed by the Second Battle of Petersburg, June 15–18, 1864. While leading an assault on Confederate trenches he was shot through both hips. Assuming the wound to be mortal, Ulysses S. Grant promoted Chamberlain to brigadier general on the field--one of only two such occasions in the war--so he could die at that rank. In spite of predictions, he recovered and returned to lead his brigade - and eventually a division - in the final campaign of the war, the Appomattox Campaign; March 29 – April 9, 1865. However, this wound would cause him almost constant pain for the rest of his life.

At the Battle of White Oak Road (also known as the Battle of Quaker Road, Military Road, or Gravelly Road) on March 29, 1865, he received another wound in the left arm and chest that almost caused an amputation and earned him the nickname "Bloody Chamberlain." He continued to lead his troops in several more fights during the next eleven days until the surrender at Appomattox. He was brevetted to major general by President Lincoln. [brevetted: given a higher rank title as a reward for gallantry or meritorious conduct but not with the authority or pay of real rank.]

Following Lee’s formal surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Chamberlain was chosen to preside over the parade of the Confederate infantry as part of their formal surrender. Legend has it that Chamberlain ordered his men to come to attention and "carry arms" as a show of respect. [Some questions have been raised about the accuracy of this action because Chamberlain’s memoirs are the main account of it.]

Throughout the war, Chamberlain served in 20 battles, was cited for bravery four times, had six horses shot from under him, and was wounded six times.

After the war Chamberlain was not content to be a professor again. After a stint as acting president of Bowdoin in 1865-66, he accepted the Republican nomination for governor. He was elected in 1866 by a landslide and reelected three more times, twice by the largest margin in the state's history. His victory in 1866 set the record for the most votes and the highest percentage for any Maine governor by that time. He would break his own record in 1868.

He left politics to serve as Bowdoin’s president from 1871 through 1883. During his tenure, he attempted to modernize its curriculum by adding courses in science and engineering, social sciences, and modern languages. This innovation was opposed by some alumni and trustees who didn’t want to secularize Bowdoin. His innovations were ended in 1881. In 1883 Chamberlain resigned, largely due to pain and debilitation from a flare-up of his Petersburg wound.

After leaving Bowdoin, he practiced law, served as Surveyor of the Port of and was involved in a variety of business ventures such a Florida real estate, electric power, a New York art college, hotels, and railroad projects.

Chamberlain also supported veterans’ organization and projects to commemorate the war. He lectured on war subjects, wrote scores of articles and one book—The Passing of the Armies—his Civil War memoirs (published one year after his death).

Chamberlain died of his lingering wartime wounds in 1914.

Interesting Facts:

Chamberlain and the Battle of Gettysburg were referenced in Steve Earle's song "Dixieland" from his 1999 album The Mountain.

I am Kilrain and I'm a fightin' man
And I come from County Clare
And the brits would hang me for a fenian
So I took me leave of there
And I crossed the ocean in the "Arrianne"
The vilest tub afloat
And the captain's brother was a railroad man and he met us at the boat
So I joined up with the 20th Maine
Like I said my friend I'm a fighting man
And we're marchin' south in the pouring rain
And we're all goin' down to dixieland
I am Kilrain of the 20th Maine
And we fight for Chamberlain
'Cause he stood right with us
When the johnnies came like a banshee on the wind
When the smoke cleared out of Gettysburg many a mother wept
For many a good boy died there, sure
And the air smelted just like death
I am Kilrain of the 20th Maine
And I'd march to hell and back again
For colonel Joshua Chamberlain
We're all goin' down to dixieland
I am Kilrain of the 20th Maine
And I damn all gentlemen
Whose only worth is their father's name
And the sweat of a workin' man
Well we come from the farms
And the city streets and a hundred foreign lands
And we spilled our blood in the battle's heat
Now we're all Americans
I am Kilrain of the 20th Maine
And I'd march to hell and back again
For colonel Joshua Chamberlain
We're all goin' down to dixieland
From the album The Mountain released in 1999.


The Grand Old Man of Maine: Selected Letters of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, 1865-1914. United States, University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. National Park Service.

Medal of Honor Monday: Army Maj. Gen. Joshua Chamberlain. U.S. Department of Defense

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. American Battlefield Trust.

Wikipedia articles: Joshua Chamberlain, Aroostook War, 20th Maine Infantry Regiment

Dave Feldmann

Explaining the significance of the Battle of Gettysburg is a mammoth task, given that tens of millions of words have been written about it. Historian James McPherson, who considers it the most important event in the Western hemisphere, reported that Soviet historians considered Gettysburg to be as important to American history as Stalingrad was to the Soviets(1). For southern historian and novelist Shelby Foote, the epic defeat of the Army of Northern Virginia required Biblical allusion - the chapter about Gettysburg is entitled “Stars in their Courses,” as if all things, natural and supernatural, went against Robert E Lee and the Confederates in the war’s largest battle(2). Michael Shaara, in his influential novel the Killer Angels, directly connects the first onset of Robert E Lee’s ultimately fatal heart problems with his thinking and mentality leading up to and during the battle.

(2) Foote, Shelby. The Civil War: A Narrative. Fredericksburg to Meridian,p 428. Randam House, 1963.

It would be logical to note that at the time of the showdown in Pennsylvania, the Confederacy was running on as much borrowed time as Lee’s diseased heart muscles. General Winfield Scott’s Anaconda plan, which saw the US navy blockade Southern ports, while Union armies picked off Confederate armies and whole states, was wreaking havoc on the Confederacy’s war-fighting abilities.

At the secession in 1861, most economic activity in the South was exclusively focused on export cotton, with a highly stratified social hierarchy, between rich planters (many of whom were represented in Confederate military and civilian leadership), a large class of poor, typically renting, whites, and, obviously, the approximately 4 million slaves that made up almost 40% of the Southern population, produced almost all of its wealth, was the cause of secession and the Civil War itself, and whose experience was and is largely ignored by pro-South and Lost Cause-oriented historians.

It should also be noted that financially, the South was never likely to stand on its own for long. The prevalence of the slavery-based cotton and agricultural economy had slowed or stopped the development of urban centers and industry, depriving the Confederacy of a diversified, modern economy. Deprived of its main export, the CSA had little other means to support itself, and thus the South was in the midst of an economic collapse, with debt instruments issued in rapidly deflating “grayback” Confederate dollars. On the political side, the strong state governments that voted for secession rarely gave heed to their own chief executive, Jefferson Davis, and regularly denied the Confederate government even the small taxes raised for the war effort. Needless to say, the land and slaves that caused the Civil War ironically could not be monetized into war material, unless of course the white supremacist, albeit desperate, Confederate leaders offered freedom to slaves fighting for the Confederacy. When this was considered in early 1865, Confederate politician and general Howel Cobb wrote, “If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.”(3)

While Gettysburg raged, the far more strategically significant siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi continued to progress in the Union’s favor. The vaunted “Gibraltar of the West” ultimately surrendered on July 4th,1863 to Ulysses S Grant after a month-and-a-half long siege. Not satisfied with the naval blockade of Southern ports, essentially halting the Southern export oriented economy, the Union had now disrupted the internal trade system of the South. Union gunboats now controlled the entire Mississippi river from New Orleans northwards, and Union generals Grant and Sherman had cloven the Confederacy in two. There would be guerilla wars against partisans and bandits west of the Mississippi river, but all major Confederate operations would be conducted in the increasingly small theater of Georgia, the Carolinas, the Virginias, and, briefly, in the state of Tennessee. Gettysburg’s contribution to this strategic narrative is that the war would indeed go on as it had for the last two years - Union advances in the West, and a bloody stalemate in the lands between Washington DC and Richmond, VA.

But wait, why aren’t you talking about all of the incredible battles that Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia fought against overwhelming odds from 1862 to 1863? Isn’t he the greatest military commander of all time? I wrote a Quora article on this subject which covers my thoughts pretty well on this long-debated historical point, and I don’t think I need to go into it too deeply here, except to say that Lee’s bloody clashes with the Union Army of the Potomac were as devastating to his own cause as it was to his adversary.(4) Whereas the Union reinforced itself and went on the offensive time and time again throughout 1862 - 1863, the resources that the Confederacy could count were dwindling fast. For the Confederacy, the second invasion of the North was a desperate gamble to destroy the Army of the Potomac once and for all, to threaten or actually capture Washington DC, and at the very least, allow the devastated state of Virginia to catch its breath. Arguably, the most important goal was not military at all, however. Lee envisioned, and CSA President Jefferson Davis agreed, that the goal of an aggressive action in the North may empower the Democratic peace wing to force a negotiated settlement on Lincoln and the Unionists. Davis and Lee both believed that such a diplomatic coup, perhaps even with international recognition of the CSA (still withheld) by European powers, would be the only path to victory. According to Foote, Lee even made the case that a victory in Pennsylvania might even relieve the siege of Vicksburg in Mississippi. Wherever possible, peaceful treatment of Northern civilians, with food and provisions purchased in Confederate graybacks rather than being “requisitioned” as the Union army did in the South, might sway Northern public opinion towards peace. Needless to say, the Army of Northern Virginia was less than successful in all of these endeavors.


Take the first objective of the second invasion of the North, what would ultimately be called the Gettysburg campaign: the destruction of the Army of the Potomac, in a decisive battle like its ancient counterparts in Cannae, Gaugamela, or more recently at Waterloo. This is the strategy of Alexander, Frederick the Great, Napoleon, and the influential French military thinker Antoine Jomini: aggressively engage the enemy, bring superior forces to bear on a single point of the enemy’s line, and destroy them in detail. Lee and the early, undeniably outstanding military leaders of the Army of Northern Virginia, had very nearly accomplished this many times against their Northern opponents -- the Seven Days Battles, the second battle of Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville had all been massive engagements, each one roughly equal in size and scope to the largest Napoleonic battles half a century before, as well as being larger and bloodier than the more recent Crimean war fought between European powers. In each of these engagements, the Army of Northern Virginia had committed itself completely in aggressive and bloody attacks on the Union lines, with each battle ending in a Union withdrawal. In the recent battle of Chancellorsville, just a few weeks before Gettysburg, the Confederates had driven elements of the Army of the Potomac in chaotic, disorderly, wild retreat, including the Union XI Corps, which during the battle of Gettysburg would again be attacked, outflanked, break in disorder. However, in each of these battles, the Union army would hold a significant manpower advantage, and keep significant forces in reserve. Whole divisions, sometimes whole army corps, would not fire a shot in anger during these bloody affairs. As such, even when defeated and in disarray, the Army of the Potomac could use fresh, unengaged troops as a shield behind which their beaten army could reforge itself. Despite winning tactical victories, Lee and the Confederates never destroyed the Army of the Potomac. To attempt to do so in Pennsylvania, after the South’s greatest victory at Chancellorsville, proved too tantalizing a target for Robert E Lee.

The next objective, to assault or capture the capital of Washington DC, would prove an even greater challenge for the Confederates. Siege assaults like the one in Vicksburg were simply beyond the limited material means that was a fact of life for Confederate armies. Supplying the army in Virginia was a difficult enough process, with basic necessities like boots and extra clothes being relative luxuries for the poor whites who made up the soldiers of the Confederacy. Supply and reinforcement was simply impossible on the northern side of the Potomac for the Confederates, and such menial logistical concerns are even now prerequisites for successful sieges.

Making matters worse, even were the Army of the Potomac destroyed in detail in Pennsylvania, the Confederates would still had to deal with the roughly 40,000 garrison troops in fortified positions around Washington. Assaults against such fortified positions were typically the war’s bloodiest, and were very much the precursors of the trench warfare that would dominate the Western Front of World War One. At Fredericksburg, at Gettysburg with Pickett’s charge, at Cold Harbor the following year, it would be proven, tragically, time and time again, that a Civil War rifleman could not prevail against his counterpart in a pit or trench, armed with a rifled musket and supported by artillery. Confederate general James Longstreet was one of the few men on either side who understood the incredible, exponential disparity in power between the offensive and defensive capabilities of Civil War armies. His revolutionary theories on infantry tactics, intended to minimize casualties, would most often be ignored by both sides.

It must also be pointed out that the moment it was clear that the Army of Northern Virginia had in fact crossed into Pennsylvania, militia units were called out almost immediately; far-disbursed across the state certainly, but numbering some 50,000 guardsmen. A number of these militiamen successfully burned the longest covered bridge in the world at Wrightsville, Pennsylvania, denying its use to the Confederates and preventing General Early’s division from attacking the railroad hub at Harrisburg upriver. While it is doubtful that such militia units would prove themselves the equal of the battle-hardened Confederates in a set-piece battle, during a siege they might prove a harmful distraction, just as their Southern counterparts proved time and time again during the more numerous operations against the Union.

The goal of providing an opportunity for Virginia to be spared more fighting was achieved if for little more than a few weeks. After the battle the Army of the Potomac once again invaded Virginia, and operated on Confederate soil relatively unimpeded by the still diminished Confederate army.

Perhaps the greatest failure of the invasion was in its ability to divide the North via the peace movement, active among Democratic circles in the North, and force a negotiated settlement. While the lack of violence to white citizens north of the Mason Dixon was undoubtedly welcome, the Confederates’ attempt to purchase goods from northern stores was less well received than Robert E Lee hoped, according to Foote and others. The more commercially-minded Pennsylvanians knew that the Confederate greyback was worth less than the paper it was printed on, and could not be exchanged for any good or service as such. While peaceful, Confederate requisitions in Pennsylvania can be viewed at best as well-intentioned coercion. As for the Northern peace movement, it is obviously difficult to prove the counterfactual of what impact a Confederate victory at Gettysburg would have caused. However, it should be noted that those same “peace” Democrats anointed the Army of the Potomac’s favorite general, George B McClellan, as their candidate during the 1864 Presidential campaign, and Union soldiers overwhelmingly voted to return Lincoln to office, and finish the war.

All of this is to say that it would be nothing less than extraordinary for the Gettysburg campaign to end in Confederate victory. Yet, the Army of Northern Virginia had indeed proven itself to be an army perhaps capable of accomplishing the seemingly impossible, marching barefoot, launching successful attacks against greater numbers, and operating on such a shoestring that comparisons to Washington’s army at Valley Forge are not inappropriate. Despite the fact that most of the men were drafted, and many would ultimately desert the army whenever possible, morale amongst the Confederates was seen as extraordinarily high. Perhaps, this a reflection of the clarity of the army’s mission: to defend their way of life, as they saw it, to protect the social structure that was founded ultimately on slavery. Just as it was in the Confederacy as a whole, the officers were by-and-large planters (with the exception of the self-made businessman, controversial general, and ultimate founder of the Ku Klux Klan Nathan Bedford Forrest), while the soldiers were of the poor, landless whites. A veritable army of slaves followed the Army of Northern Virginia, as unpaid laborers and body-servants to officers, and it is thought that over a thousand escaped freedmen and slaves were enslaved or re-enslaved by the Army as it moved North.(5)


Just as the Confederate armies represented a microcosm of one American society, the oft-defeated but never-destroyed Army of the Potomac represented another. Whereas the agricultural society of “King Cotton” cleanly dropped all people into one of three incredibly unequal positions, the Army of the Potomac was stitched together from whole different cloth, it seemed. The unfortunate XI Corps had the nickname of “the Dutchman” due to the preponderance of Germans in the unit. Many men of the army didn’t even speak English. The 39th New York regiment, likewise, was given the moniker “the Garibaldi Guard” being a largy immigrant Italian unit and wore red shirts into battle like their compatriots in the home land.(6) The famous Irish Brigade, made up of New York and Pennsylvania men exclusively, found praise from enemies and comrades alike at the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg.(7) They would do so again at Gettysburg. While most of the men in the army were volunteers, many enlistments would be running out throughout the Gettysburg campaign, and soon drafting would begin in earnest throughout the North, a process that had already begun in the Confederacy the year before to much controversy. The ethnic, linguistic, religious diversity of the Army of the Potomac was clear and obvious in the men who made it up, and at this point in the war, had mostly volunteered for it. The diverse makeup of the men was reflected in the organization of the leadership.


Whereas personal squabbles and disagreement over strategy troubled the officer corps of the Confederates constantly (with men like Braxton Bragg and DH Hill typically at the center of them), Robert E Lee and his staff officers were long-serving, with death rather than dismissal being the typical end of a Confederate general. Not so in the army of the Potomac, where command was oftentimes a political decision to keep the tenuous alliance of the brand-new Republican party from splintering. Only one general had fought more than one battle as its commander, that being the hot-headded logistical genius George McClellan. A difficult relationship with Abraham Lincoln led to his firing, even after instilling pride and discipline into the Army of the Potomac after its humiliating defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run. McClellan, a Democrat, was also known to greatly value the lives of his men, and ensure that living conditions were as humane as possible. He was not known as an aggressive commander, however, regularly mentally inflating the size of enemy forces, moving slowly and cautiously against the more mobile Confederates. While some of this slowness can also be attributed to the immense size of the Army of the Potomac (which at times would swell to over 120,000 men in aggregate), Ulysses Grant would prove that the Army could move as quickly or quicker in pursuit as its seccessionist foes. George McClellan was undeniably the most popular commander with the men, and his repeated firings were not welcomed by them.

The man in command of the Union army at Gettysburg was George Mead, a Pennsylvania man, was known as a competent division and Corps commander, who nevertheless had the reputation of an unpleasant, annoying, and irritating man, would ultimately have the nickname of “Old Snapping Turtle.” His portrait may provide insight into why.

While the men whose units he commanded regarded him with respect, if not the love and admiration that George McClellan inspired, they were decidedly in the minority. Most of the men of the Army of the Potomac had little idea who this Meade fellow was, aside from an unknown officer with few political connections to grease the wheels for him -- Meade had been as surprised as anyone by the appointment. Yet one person, certainly, at least recognized Meade when given the news of his promotion; none other than Robert E Lee, reflected on the appointment by saying, “General Meade will commit no blunder on my front, and if I make one he will make haste to take advantage of it.”(8)

(8) Foote, 464.

To students of military history, Robert E Lee is a known name. George Meade, on the other hand, is something of a footnote. He had all the makings of a commander who would soon be fired after the defeats that plagued the Army of the Potomac for over a year now. Yet Meade would remain commander of the Army for the rest of the war, and avoid the disasters that had plagued it thus far in its history. Prior, as a divisional commander, Meade had the distinction of leading his men in an unsupported breakthrough of the Confederate right at Fredericksburg, commanded by Stonewall Jackson. Bloody hand-to-hand fighting ensued. When Confederate reserves threatened to drive the Union forces back, ineffectual Union attacks alleviated no pressure on Meade’s men. Surrounded on three sides, they were forced to withdraw. A furious George Meade would, according to the official record, later profanely berate his Corps commander for not supporting the attack in force. George Meade would be promoted to a Major General following this action, but remained angry for weeks. Many of the men that left him nearly surrounded would be his subordinates during the coming battle.

During an otherwise one-sided defeat for the Union(9), the incident is indicative of the Army of the Potomac’s approach to warfighting, the cause of the Union, and the attitude of the men doing both. The men of the northern armies were more numerous, with far fewer professional soldiers in the ranks of commissioned and noncommissioned officers. Whereas Confederate military leadership was mostly Virginian, mostly professional soldiers, and almost exclusively West Pointers, the Army of the Potomac had few professional soldiers, and many, many business leaders. Generals John Reynolds, Winfield Hancock, John Buford, and George Meade, West Pointers and professional soldiers all, were decidedly in the minority, and whereas these men were highly respected by the rank-and-file for their reputations, aggressiveness, and skill in combat, most of the leadership surrounding them were made up of relative novices to soldiering. Unlike the Army of Northern Virginia, which seemed to live or die based on its aggressive, against-the-odds assaults, the Union army in the east might make a piecemeal advance, or hold against Confederate assault as they did during the Seven Days, only for concern over supplies, casualties, and reinforcement to override any desire to go over to the offensive. The paradox of giving up ground in order in order to avoid heavy casualties in the short-term, while also extending that same conflict and ensuring more casualties medium to long term, is precisely the calculus of a leadership class of relative novices, concerned about their respective reputations, and in full knowledge that underperforming officers were regularly fired. No one knew this better than George Meade, who was the army’s sixth commander in just over a year.

(9) The Battle of Fredericksburg involved Union troops repeatedly charging uphill against entrenched and fortified Confederate lines. Except for Meade’s breakthrough, all other attacks failed utterly against accurate rifle and artillery fire.

Whereas the leadership of the army seemed to be in constant flux, the soldiers of the Republic remained committed to the cause, professional, and probably as well-trained as any other volunteer army on the planet at the time. Whereas an entire corps of Confederates would advance over Cemetery ridge during the carnage of Pickett’s charge on July 3rd, 1863, and be repulsed after a single attempt, multiple corps of the Union army attacked the fortified positions of Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg, reformed doggedly, and tried again, under withering fire. While the battle of Fredericksburg was undeniably a Confederate victory, very few armies could withstand such a pounding and then fight again another day, let alone reform itself and retreat in an orderly fashion.

Even with all of the advantages of numbers and material, the Army of the Potomac had found victory difficult to achieve. A roster of more than a year’s worth of bloody defeats harangued the army, and a culture of back-stabbing, reputation-seeking officers plagued the high command. Heading into the battle of Gettysburg, author Michael Shaara described the men of the Army of the Potomac as having lost faith in their officers, but not in themselves. An ethnically, linguistically, religiously diverse army, made of up men from all over the Union states and including some Southern Unionist men, led by leaders mostly new to command or to the army life itself, were being pulled North to defend Washington and face “Mars Robert” E Lee once again. Yet this time, notes Shelby Foote in his description of the Army’s pursuit of Lee in late June, the sense among the ranks that defeat on their own ground, in defense of their own homes, was unthinkable. The stakes seemed to be never higher.

Other researchers have undoubtedly discussed the specifics of the battle elsewhere, so there is little point in discussing a play-by-play of the narrative of events. Suffice it to say that George Meade made the counterintuitive decision to defend his ground with more troops on the field, and let his corps commanders fight the battle with little interference from his headquarters. At points this strategy almost led to disaster (Dan Sickles was nearly court-martialled for his blunder into the Peach Orchard for example), but more often it let the gifts of individual commanders, such as Winfield Scott, to shine in something like independent command. By the end of the battle, the Confederate army had lost a third of its number, the Union almost a quarter. After July 3rd there would be very little fighting, and after the Confederates withdrew south, Meade ordered a pursuit so slow, he had to defend his reputation for the rest of his life. There would be some skirmishes and cavalry battles for the next few months, but there would be no major battle in the region until Ulysses S Grant took command of all Union armies, and launched his Overland campaign in May of 1864.

So, it's logical to ask the question, why is Gettysburg considered the “turning point” of the war. Historians ought to avoid the phrase in quotes, but Gettysburg represents such a phenomenon. The Confederacy was in the ironic position of winning tactical victories in the land between Washington, DC and Richmond, VA, while it was essentially being dismantled in the West. With the stunning Union victories at both Vicksburg, MS and at Gettysburg, PA, the war would indeed go on, and decidedly not end in a diplomatic negotiation or ceasefire. The Confederates had gambled everything and lost. Lee’s army would struggle to feed, clothe, and provision itself for the next 22 months of war, fighting hard, but being ground down in increasingly bloody encounters. But again, if the course of the war was clear, why did it continue? Both Robert E Lee and General James Longstreet, his chief subordinate, offered their resignations, both essentially stating that they thought the Southern cause lost. Yet Jefferson Davis refused both outright, and the human meatgrinder known as the American civil war continued to operate -- it is still the bloodiest conflict Americans have ever fought.

At least two visions of America strove with one another on those Pennsylvania fields, and while one in fact did go down in defeat (that being a slave-owning, highly agrarian, remarkably stratified, calcified oligarchy almost reminiscent of the way of life people came to America to escape from), that vision was hardly killed there, nor was it defeated when Lee finally surrendered in April 1865. Reconstructionist efforts, including the military occupation of the South, ended without completion in 1877, and the old Southern leadership began erecting monuments to generals and Confederate soldiers, romanticizing the war via “Lost Cause” revisionism, and returning freed slaves to a state of servitude at the bottom of that three part social hierarchy via the twin hydra’s head of Jim Crow laws and the sharecropping system. Legal slavery did not return, but its practical equivalent did, and the fight for true equality and civil rights for the children of freed slaves would begin again just as the last Civil War veterans were dying in the 1950s. Many would say that the fight continues to this day.

I am among them. Gettysburg is important because it is a part of that ongoing, seemingly perennial, fight, which at its heart really is about freedom, but also what kind of country the US will be: oligarchic, calcified, Protestant, and white supremicist or democratic, diverse, a polyglot of identities striving with one another, finding union only in fractiousness. Gettysburg is important, because that fight, that great conversation, still is not finished.

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 18: The Blue Max Fri, 08 Oct 2021 11:30:00 -0700 356bb563-c983-434a-884f-002b09c589f5 Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E18: The Blue Max Dennis Meyers

Relevant experience: U.S. Army, 1974-1980, BA & MA Economics, Economist for over 30 years for State of California, Community College Adjunct Faculty

The Blue Max recounts a story of aerial warfare during WW1 from the German perspective.


During WW1 the development and military application of aviation technology progressed dramatically. It had its roots in the use of lighter-than-air observation craft (balloons) first used at the Battle of Fleurus (1794) and more recently in American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871) and with the first sustained flight of a heavier-than-aircraft in 1903 by the Wright brothers.

Combat in WW1 and the preceding land wars was dominated by infantry and artillery. Airborne observation, provided valuable information about enemy troop movement behind the lines and provided artillery spotting not possible from the ground.

The value of aircraft for reconnaissance and surveillance was recognized years before the war began. Of course, this implied the need to deny or destroy the enemy's reconnaissance machines in order to deny the enemy this same ability. As shown in the movie, tethered balloons were also used in WW1 for observation and were considered a valuable target for fighter aircraft.

At the start of the war, aircraft were primarily devoted to observation and air combat was extremely rare. Soon, pilots and observers began throwing grenade, and objects like grappling hooks to bring down enemy planes. This progressed to using pistols and rifles which were very inaccurate. The first air-to-air kill by machine gun occurred on October 5, 1914 when a French Voisin III biplane bomber outfitted with a Hotchkiss machine gun brought down a German Aviatik B.1 (a two-seat reconnaissance biplane).

In the movie, Lieutenant Bruno Stachel operates machine guns in front of the cockpit firing through the propellers. This reflects the use of fixed forward-firing guns, aimed by pointing the aircraft at its target (as opposed to flexible forward or rear-facing MGs). Initially fixed forward-firing guns presented the danger of bullets hitting and ruining the propeller blades. Some aircraft affixed the guns to fire around the arc of the blades. Guns firing through the blades were more effective, but a way was needed to protect the propeller blades. One early solution was to use a steel deflector wedges that deflected the bullets but also caused dangerous ricochets. The solution ultimately adopted was a synchronization gear that timed the firing of MG to avoid hitting the blades. The first reliable synchronization gear was developed by the German aircraft company Fokker in 1915. It was first used on its Eindecker fighter and led to a period of German air superiority known as the Fokker Scourge from July 1915 to early 1916 during which the British Royal Flying Corps. lost 120 aircraft.

The movie accurately depicts two non-flying aspects of German aviation practices. In one instance, Stachel consults with an aircraft manufacturer about a new aircraft. It was a common practice for notable aces to visit aircraft factories to give advice and recommendations about new aircraft in development and production. A second aspect was the use of aerial aces for propaganda purposes to support the war effort.


Early German military air force developments focused on lighter-than-air machines—balloons and dirigibles. By 1910, French tests demonstrated the superiority of the aeroplane for military purposes. The Imperial German Army Air Service, was founded in 1910 and was the fore-runner of the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte ("Air dispute power" or "Air Fight Forces") formed in 1916. By the start of the war Germany had surpassed French capabilities and started the war with over 600 two-seater aeroplanes all fitted with cameras and bombdropping gear and a few fast single-seater scout planes.

The movie is centered on a fighter squadron, or Jagdstaffeln (Jasta for short) meaning 'hunting squadrons'. In 1917, the first German fighter wing or Jagdgeschwader was created consisting of four Jastas under the command of Manfred von Richthofen—The Red Baron. This wing, JG I, was better known as "The Flying Circus" or "Richthofen's Circus" because of the bright colors of its aircraft, and because of the way the unit was transferred from one area of Allied air activity to another – moving like a travelling circus, and frequently setting up in tents on improvised airfields.


The central story arc of the movie is Lieutenant Stachel’s pursuit of a Blue Max—"Germany's highest medal for valour”—by shooting down 20 enemy aircraft. The official name of the medal is Pour le Mérite, (For Merit).

Its origins date back to 1667 when the German state of Brandenburg created the introduced the Ordre de la Génerosite (Order of Generosity). [At that time French was the common language of many German courts.] The name was changed to Pour Le Mérite by Prussian King Friedrich the Great in 1740.

It was Prussia’s highest military award but was given for repeated acts of gallantry, rather than for individual acts. Thus, it was often awarded to pilots during World War I after downing a specific number of enemy aircraft. Initially the number was 8 victories, but it was raised to 16-20 by early 1917 and had reached 30 by war's end.

The popular term ‘Blue Max’ was derived from the medal’s blue color and the name of the first pilot to receive a Pour le Mérite, Max Immelmann. He received it on the day of his eighth victory 12 January 1916. His victories came while flying the Fokker Eindecker, the first aircraft to be armed with a synchronized machine gun.

Germany awarded 1,687 Blue Maxs during WW1 were awarded during World War I. The most famous recipients besides Immelmann include Manfred von Richthofen (The Red Baron), Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck, Field Marshals Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, Admirals Reinhard Scheer and Alfred von Tirpitz, future Nazi Reichsmarchall and Luftwaffe head Hermann Göring, and Erwin Rommel (The Desert Fox).

Awarding the Pour le Mérite ended with the abdication of Kaiser William II as king of Prussia and German Emperor on 9 November 1918.

A separate civil class of the award was created in 1842 by King Frederick William IV of Prussia as the Order Pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts (Orden Pour le Mérite für Wissenschaften und Künste). It included three sections for the humanities, natural science and the fine arts. This is still awarded today.


At least 28 Blue Maxs were awarded to German aviators in WW1. Besides Immelmann, the most famous recipient was Manfred von Richthofen—The Red Baron—who is credited with 80 victories. He is still likely the most widely known fighter pilot of all time. The nick name "The Red Baron" is derived from his noble title—Freiherr or "Free Lord" often translated as "baron"—combined with the fact that he painted his aircraft red.

Richthofen began the war serving as a cavalry reconnaissance officer on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. When the war bogged down into trench warfare his regiment began serving as dispatch runners and field telephone operators. Boredom and his transfer to the army supply branch drove him to apply for a transfer to Luftstreitkräfte (German air service); stating on his application that "I have not gone to war in order to collect cheese and eggs, but for another purpose." He joined the flying service at the end of May 1915.
Richthofen scored his first confirmed victory on 17 September 1916. Was awarded the Blue Max in January 1917 after his 16th confirmed kill. During "Bloody April" 1917 he shot down 22 British aircraft, raising his victory total to 52.

Richthofen flew the celebrated Fokker Dr.I triplane from late July 1917, the distinctive three-winged aircraft with which he is most commonly associated—although he did not use the type exclusively until after it was reissued with strengthened wings in November. Only 19 of his 80 kills were made in this type of aircraft, despite the popular link between Richthofen and the Fokker Dr. I

For comparison, the highest-scoring Allied ace, the Frenchman René Fonck, achieved 75 confirmed victories and a further 52 unconfirmed behind enemy lines. The highest-scoring British fighter pilots were Canadian Billy Bishop (72 victories), British Mick Mannock, (61 victories), Canadian Raymond Collishaw, (60) and British James McCudden (57). The American Eddie Rickenbacker, who flew only in 1918, scored 26 victories.


The movie takes place in the last years of WW1. At one point in the movie Stachel’s Jasta is directed to carry out operations in support of new major offensive aimed at Paris. This is referring to Operation Michael that kicked off the German Spring Offensive in March 1918 whose actual goal was to separate the French and British Armies, then seize the Channel Ports and, push the British forces into the sea. This last ditch offensive was enabled by the Russian surrender and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk that allowed Germany to achieve a numerical superiority on Western Front by moving nearly 50 divisions from the east. The Germans were stopped to the east of Amiens and did not achieve any of their strategic objectives. The offensive was called off on April 5. The Allies lost 328,000 men at a cost of 348,300 German losses. More importantly the German losses were irreplaceable while the Allies continued to gain strength, chiefly through the introduction of American troops.

Later in the movie, the Battle of Amiens is referenced. This battle was the opening phase of the final Allied campaign known as the Hundred Days Offensive which pushed the Germans back, reversing their gains from the German spring offensive. The Battle of Amiens began with spectacular gains by the Allies that opened a 15-mile gap in the German line. Germany suffered tremendous losses and the will of the German forces had been broken. This battle was followed by a series of successful attacks that reached and then breached Hindenburg Line. These losses together with a revolution breaking out in Germany and increasing numbers of American troops, led to the Armistice of November 11, 1918.


Global German Air Service / Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte
Peter Suciu, Pour Le Mérite—The History of Germany’s Famous ‘Blue Max’. The National

Wikipedia articles: Immelmann turn, Aviatik B.I, Fokker Scourge, Aviation in World War I, Operation Michael, Hundred Days Offensive, Battle of Amiens (1918), Pour le Mérite, Manfred von Richthofen, Aviation in World War I, Eddie Rickenbacker,

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 17: Seven Days in May Fri, 08 Oct 2021 11:00:00 -0700 92605776-2273-448f-9974-98a6d7efd99c Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E17: Seven Days in May Rich Stephens
Food Safety Microbiologist with a minor in History

Seven Days in May
Fictional attempted coup d'état during the Cold War

Historical Context:

First, let me just say "wow!" I had never heard of this film, and it was spectacular. It needs to be more well known. I think it should be viewed as a companion piece to Dr. Strangelove; and like Strangelove the viewer should try to put themselves in the place of the audience at the time it was released. During this period of the cold war there was a genuine fear that war with the Soviet Union was inevitable, and that it would turn nuclear.

The film takes place sometime in the "not too distant future" at the height of the cold war. While there is obviously no historical precedence for the event in the film, it does mirror/allude/reference some actual events taking place in the late 50's and early 60's that film goers of the time would have undoubtedly seen as parallels. Since there is no real historical event to research, I have focused my research on the Cold War of the late 50’s early 60’s, and the themes present.

Several high-profile events of the “cold war” had taken place within 5 or 6 years prior to the release of this film. All of which were newsworthy and in the public sphere. A short timeline of cold war events:

1953 – Khrushchev become leader of the Soviet Union after the Death of Stalin (I couldn’t resist starting here!)
1957 – October- SAC (strategic air command) initiates 24/7 nuclear alert, to prevent soviet surprise ICBM attack. SAC is led by General Curtis Lemay from ’48 – ’57. Lemay become Chief of the Air Force in ’61 – ‘ 65.

1959 – January - Castro wins Cuban Revolution
1960 – May - Francis Gary Powers is shot down in a U-2 spy plane over Yekaterinburg (then known as Sverdlovsk.)
1961 – January - JFK Inaugurated.

1961 – April – Failed CIA-organized invasion of Cuba by expats at the Bay of Pigs. JFK does not allow CAS (close air support) during the invasion out of fear it would embolden the Soviet’s against Berlin. Soviet Foreign Ministry official Arkady Shevchenko reported that the Bay of Pigs “gave Khrushchev and the other leaders the impression that Kennedy was indecisive.”

1961 – August – Construction of the Berlin Wall begins.

1962 – October – Cuban Missile Crisis – See Friendly Fire episode 13 Days.
1963 – June – US/USSR establish a “hotline” in response to the Cuban Missile Crises in an effort to prevent future incidents.

1963 – June – JFK “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech.
1963- August – US, United Kingdom and Soviet Union sign the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (later opened up to other governments.)

In August 1963 the US and USSR signed the partial nuclear test ban treaty. Not as strong as the agreement discussed in the film, but divisive none-the-less. The Cuban Missile Crises was a year earlier, and really brought the threat of nuclear war to the forefront of people throughout the world. Viewers in 1964 would have had opinions on trusting the USSR to abide by any nuclear treaty.

Several times the camera focuses on an aide-de-camp carrying a briefcase - this is of course the “nuclear football.” Officially the Presidential Emergency Satchel. It is to be used by the president to issue the release of nuclear weapons in the event the President cannot get to a fixed command location. Interestingly (scarily) the procedure to release nuclear weapons in the United States is fixated on the authentication of the order and that it is coming through the National Command Authority. That is to say, the order to use nuclear weapons is focused on ensuring the order is coming from the correct source and is legitimate. In 1973 Major Harold Hering was discharged from the Air Force for posing the question, “How can I know that an order I receive to launch my missiles came from a sane president.”

Toward the end of the movie there is a great speech by President Lyman:

"The enemy is the nuclear age. It happens to have killed man’s faith in his ability to influence what happens to him. Out of this comes a sickness, and out of sickness a frustration, a felling of impotence, helplessness, and weakness. From this, desperation and we look for a champion in red, white, and blue. Every now and then a man on a white horse ride by and we appoint him to be our personal god the duration. For some it was Senator McCarthy, for other it was General Walker. Now it’s General Scott."

Senator McCarthy is of course famous for McCarthyism and accusing liberals of totalitarian, fascist, communist or subversive leanings during the second red scare – fear that communists were infiltrating and subverting US society and the Federal government.

General Edwin Walker was a conservative found to be in violation of the Hatch Act of 1939 for attempting to influence the votes of those under his command. After he resigned, he began a political career promoting McCarthyism. On April 10th, 1963 he survived an assassination attempt at his home – a bullet hit the window frame in his dining room, and he was injured by the fragments. The bullet was fired by – wait for it – Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald’s wife attested (at the Warren Commission) that her husband told her about his plan to shoot Walker.

personal commentary follows
I feel that the line from McCarty to Walker to the fictional Scott echoes today. We see ideologues who cloak themselves in the flag and wear the badge of uber-patriotism who prey on peoples fears to get elected. I don’t want to mire the show in a myriad (for Liam) of hate mail, but it was chillingly poignant to hear this fear expressed in a movie from 1963 considering we still deal with this today – from a sitting president hugging the flag, to the myriad (again, for Liam) of far-right political commentators.

There’s an apocryphal quote – often attributed to Sinclair Lewis – that goes “when fascism comes to America it will be draped in the American flag and carrying a cross." This film really hit home for me; thinking about the previous 4 years, the events of Jan. 6th, and just wondering how we got here. Seven Days in May demonstrates that this is not a new fear, and we must be ever vigilant.

Interesting Facts:

President Lyman states his 29% approval rating is the lowest ever recorded. In reality Truman has a 22% approval rating in February 1952.

At one point Jiggs is directed to take a vacation and go to “White Sulfur Springs.” This town was a resort destination for the elite since the nineteenth century. The most exclusive resort in the area – the Greenbrier – was built in 1913. Unbeknownst to the public until 1992, during the Cold War the resort was the site of an underground bunker complex known as Project Greek Island. The site would be used for continuity of operations (primarily for the legislative branch) in the event of a crisis were Washington D.C. had to be evacuated.

General Scott is an amalgam of hawkish Joint Chief's at the time, and his role as Chief of Staff of the Air Force echoes General Curtis Lemay who was critical of the Kennedy administration during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

A soldier at ECOMCON is wearing the shoulder sleeve of an arrowhead with a sword crossed by three lightening bolts. This is the insignia of the 1st Special Forces Group – which had only recently been reconstituted (1955) following its WWII roots.

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 16: We Were Soldiers Sun, 12 Sep 2021 12:00:00 -0700 b53bf76c-7104-4c6f-b6aa-834935e63c2f Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E16: We Were Soldiers We Were Soldiers - Battle of Ia Drang

Micah Neidorfer
Army Infantry Officer, BA in History, Graduate of the US Army Command And General Staff College: Army Historian Course

Opening Scene: The film decides to start the "story" of the Vietnam war with the First Indochina War (1946-1954). However, the history of Vietnamese struggles for independence goes as far back as 111 BCE with the first Chinese occupation of Vietnam. Vietnam would end up being occupied by China four times: (111 BCE-40 AD, 43-544 AD, 602-905 AD, and 1407-1427 AD) Each time the Chinese were eventually thrown out by Vietnamese rebellion.

France began the process of colonizing Vietnam in 1958 and maintained its status as colonial power until its defeat by the Vietnamese in 1954. During the Second World War Japan briefly invaded Vietnam in 1940, but quickly returned control to the Vichy French Government (a puppet government to Germany), yet stationed troops in the country nonetheless.

It was during WWII that the seeds for the future Viet Cong (the communist guerilla forces which existed during the Vietnam War) were sown. A rising Communist movement had been growing in Southeast Asian nations since the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. However, during WWII the Indochinese Communist Party (the communist party of Vietnam) decided to focus on nationalist goals ahead of communist goals for the time being: mainly achieving independence for Vietnam from both the Japanese and the French. They formed the League For The Independence Of Vietnam (Viet Minh for short) All political groups regardless of ideology were invited to join this resistance movement, but it remained always headed by Communist leaders and mainly had a Communist body of members.

During WWII US and Allied special operations forces would aid the Viet Minh in their guerilla war. And Ho Chi Minh (the leader of the Viet Minh and a rising star in the Vietnamese Communist Party) was hopeful that the US would support Vietnam's independence from France following the defeat of the Axis Powers.

This was not to be. And after VJ Day Vietnam was returned to French Colonial Rule. Naturally, the Viet Minh turned their attention from fighting the Vichy French and Japanese forces to fighting the French Colonial Government. This war lasted from 1946 through 1954. The war began for the first few years as a low intensity guerilla war but eventually transitioned to a high intensity kinetic war, through arms, ammunition, equipment, and training being provided to the Viet Minh by the Soviet Union and China.

France (as the US later would) struggled to find effective operational and strategic methods to win the war and eventually lost the will to continue fighting, resulting in the partition of Vietnam by the Geneva Accords in 1954 into the Republic of Vietnam (South) and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North)

5:59 - And so begins my dislike of how infantrymen are portrayed in this film. "He's not one of those academic pussies is he?" Infantrymen, despite stereotypes of being 'macho' or 'jocks' aren't idiots. It's an unofficial rule that you have to have a masters degree to be promoted to Major, so no-one would be surprised that a Lieutenant Colonel has an advanced degree.

7:59 - I think this was acceptable in the '60s, but you wouldn't catch anyone dead drinking on duty in the Army today. (Not that people never do, but it's certainly not an OK thing to do openly, and a LTC certainly wouldn't do it.)

9:34 - In the Army it is against regulations to wear hats indoors. (You also don't salute indoors (unless it's part of a ceremony), most movies get that wrong)Same Scene - The Blue cords worn on the right shoulders indicate that that individual is in the infantry. The infantry is the only branch of the army that wears a cord on it's right shoulder. A Cavalry unit (the unit portrayed in the film is 1st Battalion 7th Cavalry Regiment 1st Cavalry Division) is an interesting convergence. Both cavalry (also known as armor) soldiers and infantry soldiers form the basis of a cavalry unit, especially an air mobile (in modern times known as air assault) unit. In an air mobile unit there is also a large contingent of aviation soldiers. In mechanized (using ground vehicles) cavalry units, there are mostly cavalry soldiers and a few infantry soldiers. But an air cav unit would have a larger contingent of infantrymen, since the role of an air cav unit is closer to that of an infantry unit.All officers wear their branch (infantry, cavalry, ordnance corps, engineer corps.. etc.) insignia on their collars in their dress and service uniforms (they are wearing service uniforms in this scene). Any officer with crossed rifles (the insignia of the infantry) should also be wearing a blue cord like LTC Moore. However it seems none of these infantry officers are.Also, (as is most often the case in war movies) everyone is a little too old. Your average Lieutenant is

22-26, your average captain is 27-32, average major is 32-39.

10:22 - Stupid, why would he salute.

11:01 - And so you can organize your soldiers and take control of the situation immediately

11:24 - Stupid, they all know what a Command Sergeant Major's job is, no one needs to be told that he works for the Battalion Commander.Every Battalion (regardless of branch) (in this case 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division) is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel, a commissioned officer. Within a Battalion (this is for infantry and cavalry battalions (although in the Cavalry they normally call them squadrons instead of battalions, I'm not sure why 1-7 is referred to as a battalion and not a squadron, but it's not a film error, they were historically named a battalion)) there are 6 companies (4 "line" companies (of combat troops) 1 Headquarters and Headquarters Company (which contains 2 specialty platoons and the Battalion staff) and 1 support company (with mechanics, cooks, etc...) Each company has a company commander who is captain. Each "line" company has 3 platoons led by a lieutenant. Each unit and sub unit has a senior non-commissioned officer who is paired with the commissioned commander. At the Battalion level there is a Command Sergeant Major paired with the Lieutenant Colonel. At the Company level there is a First Sergeant paired with the Captain. And at the platoon level there is a Sergeant First Class paired with the Lieutenant. Every commissioned officer, no matter how new, down to the most junior lieutenant, outranks the Command Sergeant Major. But no-one would dream of telling him what to do, because he is the partner of the LTC, so if the CSM is saying something, it's effectively as if the LTC was saying it.

12:46 - This film acts as if this is some sort of revelation coming from LTC Moore, when in reality this is already how all of them are trained to be.

15:44 - This street and these houses are still at Fort Benning, I've driven past them. They look pretty much the same (I don't know if they're still from the '60s, but they're still there from the filming of the movie)

17:56 - I've never met a Command Sergeant Major who would swear at an officer unless that officer was doing something horribly wrong.(And frankly I don't think they exist or have ever existed) Even though I said earlier that a CSM, despite being outranked by every officer no matter how junior, is still de facto above all of these officers, one of the primary responsibilities of a CSM as the Battalion's senior non commissioned officer is to enforce standards and proper discipline, and swearing at a commissioned officer is not following standards or good discipline (especially in front of junior enlisted soldiers such as in this scene).

19:45 - These gatherings of spouses are actually a semi-formalized function. They are called Family Readiness Groups. There will be an FRG for the Battalion, and then each Company will have an FRG. FRGs are not mandatory for spouses but they exist to help spouses and service members maintain a healthy life inside and outside work and to build a community around the unit. They also assist in spreading news of the unit and offering assistance to spouses when units are deployed. It is common practice for commanders' spouses to head their respective FRGs.

27:48 - America's involvement in the Vietnam War (1955-1975) grew gradually. It began in 1955 with America providing materiel and funds as well as a small number of advisors to South Vietnam. It grew gradually during the late '50s and early '60s with the US providing increased economic and monetary assistance and growing the advisor presence, even sending over a small number of conventional units, such as aviation units. In 1964, following the Gulf of Tonkin incident, President Lyndon Johnson began committing large numbers of American combat troops to Vietnam. US troop numbers grew from around 2,000 in '61 to around 16,500 in '64.These troops were initially tasked with defending major important military and economic installations in South Vietnam. However General William Wesmoreland (The overall US Commander in Vietnam) pushed for US forces to be allowed to conduct offensive operations, convinced that committing US forces could end the war by 1967. Up to this point the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) had been gradually losing ground to both VietCong guerilla forces and conventional People's Army of North Vietnam regular forces.The initial offensive commitment of US troops involved large scale search and destroy operations. Where US and ARVN troops would search the dense jungle of the Vietnamese countryside for Viet Cong and PAVN camps/complexes and then destroy those forces. The intent was to end the North's (and the VCs) ability to conduct large scale combat operations in the South. Which they had been able to do up to that point with relative ease.

32:47 This is way too few Soldiers for a BN. There should be twice as many soldiers.Same Scene - The Scarves are some cavalry thing (as an infantryman, I think they look stupid)

41:42 - No LTC would ever talk to his commanding officer (a full colonel) this way. They may only be 1 rank apart, but a Brigade Commander is nowhere near a peer of a Battalion Commander. I don't care how 'tough' you are, as a LTC you're not gonna talk shit to your boss to his face.Same Scene - This is not really how it went down. Division level intelligence gathering had pointed to there being 3 PAVN regiments in that area days prior. This information was passed down to the unit in the immediate area (3rd Brigade 1st Cav Division, of which 1-7 Cav was a part). And 1-7 Cav was assigned the mission to conduct a search and destroy mission in that area.

42:37 - No, a CSM would bring exactly what he's supposed to bring because he is supposed to set the standard and be the example for every soldier in the unit. No CSM would ever have this attitude.

44:03 - No-one is going to be holding their rifle up into the air and cheering. There may be cheering, but no-one's going to be doing it with their rifle. They're professionals, not vikings.

45:20 - Again, the CSM would absolutely be wearing his chinstrap. 1: He sets the standard. 2: It's really easy for a helmet to come off if there's nothing holding it to your head.Same Scene - LTC Moore would have been wearing his chin strap too. But we can't have ugly chin straps hiding our top billing actors' faces.

45:43 - This artillery bombardment around the landing zone is called a SEAAD mission (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense). Prior to landing helicopters, it is standard to identify likely locations for enemy emplacements in the immediate vicinity of the Landing Zone. Your intelligence section then identifies what likely weapons the enemy will have there and then you allocate assets (be they indirect fire (artillery/mortars)) , attack aviation (jets or attack helicopters)) to suppress and hopefully destroy what you have templated to be in those locations. If you are using indirect assets (again artillery or mortars, anything that you don't fire directly at something using line of sight) and you don't have an observer (as they don't in this situation since they are the first people to land at the LZ) you will conduct this mission even if there are no enemies, since you don't have someone on the ground to tell you if there is something there or not.

46:04 - The PAVN commander knows what areas around his position are usable as landing zones, as he's been there for a while and has reconned the area. Therefore, he can anticipate where the Americans will be landing and can plan an attack. Conversely, the Americans know that the PAVN know where they are able to land. So it is vital that the initial landing troops set up a defensive perimeter to allow the follow-on landings to be conducted successfully.

46:12 - That's how you accidentally shoot someone. No-one is going to take their weapon safety off while they are still in transport. Really you're not going to take your safety off until you have identified a target to fire at. And then after you have finished engaging your target you're going to put the safety back on until you have identified your next target. (Now, that is textbook, in combat sure maybe you'll keep your safety off the whole time, but no-one is going to take it off while you're still in the helicopter not being shot at.)

47:17 - This is a bit hollywood. If you get out of a helicopter into a hostile landing zone, sure, you're going to be ready to return fire. But you're not going to just start shooting preemptively. Ammunition is limited (especially in a unit conducting an air assault far from their base of operations and can only be resupplied by a 30 minute helicopter ride). That said, the helicopter gunners might fire preemptively, since they can be resupplied every time they touch back at the base, but definitely not the dismounts.

47:32 - Standing may look cool, but it's a good way to get shot. Moore and Plumley would definitely be at least kneeling. Also, the CSM isn't just going to be following the BN Commander around like a toady (he kinda does in this movie), he is going to have a job of his own. It is common, on a BN scale operation, for the BN CSM to be in charge of the BN Casualty Collection Point (CCP). So Plumley would most likely be helping the BN medical officer set that location up at this point.

48-35 - This platoon didn't become cut-off in the manner the film suggests. In reality they were moving along with their company (B Company) on a patrol. The entire company began to be engaged by PAVN troops and 2nd Platoon (the platoon in this scene) began to assault a squad of PAVN troops. 2nd Platoon came to a clearing, which doctrinal tactics would tell you to go around (you don't want to walk through open ground), however LT Herrick, the platoon leader, feared that his platoon would both become cut off from the rest of B Company and lose the enemy squad if they took the time to skirt the clearing. So he took his platoon through the clearing. It was there they came under intense enemy fire and became pinned down and surrounded. Did Herrick make a bad decision in real life? Maybe and maybe not. To his understanding of the situation there were not that many PAVN soldiers in the area and he was genuinely (and rightfully so) worried about losing contact with the rest of his company. He had to make a decision and to him he made the right one. It ended up going wrong, but we only know that in hindsight. Either way, in reality the platoon leader didn't make a stupid decision to run after a single enemy soldier as the film portrays.

49:12 - This capture of a PAVN soldier and the subsequent discovery of how outnumbered the 1-7th is actually was conducted by B CO, and Moore and Plumley were not there. The info was passed back to them via radio.

51:19 - Again, the scenes with 2nd PLT B CO are pretty inaccurate in regards to individuals. The Platoon leader actually made the order to stay put and form a defensive perimeter and had already begun calling in artillery fire missions to cover his platoon before he was killed. SGT Savage, who was the 3rd Squad Leader of the platoon, took

charge only because he was the closest leader to the radio.

52:37 - This is dumb. They don't need the Battalion Commander to tell them where to land. They already know where the LZ is, and Moore has a bunch of way more important things to be doing than waving helicopters down.

53:21 - I've never known anyone in the Army who would say "I'm glad I could die for my country" if they were dying. Once again this movie makes everyone in the army seem like all American football quarterbacks and super patriots. We're just normal people.

54:08 - Same vein as the last comment. "Tell my wife I love her"... really?

54:13 - You don't use your name in radio transmissions. You use your callsign. So Savage (as the 3rd squad leader in 2nd platoon B company) would be Bravo Two Three (Bravo Company, 2nd Platoon, 3rd Squad).

55:21 - Obviously in real life a regimental or divisional commander (or a leader at any level really) is giving instructions far more in depth than gesturing at a homemade map and saying "here, here, here".

56:27 - The same goes for you Plumley, why are you there anyway, isn't there some stuff you should be doing other than following your Battalion Commander around everywhere?

57:09 - That branch by his head ain't stopping any kind of bulletGeneral Comment - From here the film is generally truthful (until the end, which I'll touch on) to real life, in that the remainder of the battle was really just fighting to form and secure a perimeter. When a new part of the battalion landed it was plugged into the perimeter. Some of the events happen out of order historically, but that's not really that important, and understandable from a screenwriting perspective. In my opinion the understanding of exactly which company and or platoon did specifically what in which specific location of the perimeter isn't necessary to understand what is happening. I'll comment on these specifics if I feel they are necessary. But in general giving a play by play of what platoon or company did what and when isn't necessary in my opinion going forward with the battle and film.

57:51 - I can't imagine what it was like to fight back then with no hearing protection. A pistol can give you hearing loss if you're not wearing ear protection, let alone a rifle, and a machine gun is EXTREMELY loud. In the present day we have hearing protection headsets that hook into our radios and also have microphones on the outside of them. So you can hear ambient noise and people talking, but the headsets will deafen noises over a certain decibel. So you can hear conversation just fine, and you can hear and talk through your radio because it's hooked up to your headset, but your ears are completely protected. Fighting in a battle with no hearing protection must have been awful, I'm sure hearing loss was rampant.

58:36 - Coordinating attack aviation is more complex than saying "I need you to burn them out on hilltop XYZ, and giving a grid".

1:00:18 - Actually the medevac helicopters did land and began evacing troops, but only loaded 2 before calling off their mission because of the amount of PAVN fire.

1:02:32 - Once again, Moore has way too much more important stuff to be doing than 'leading' helicopters to a landing zone. Additionally, helicopters aren't going to follow someone to a landing zone. The new LZ would have been marked somehow either with high visibility panels or colored smoke.

1:06:55 - That's now how you conduct a tactical movement. They did not just get up and charge while yelling "air cav". They would have moved by platoon, and within each platoon by squad in a squad wedge formation. With 5-10 meter spacing between each soldier and at a walking pace, so that you can react to things and have situational awareness. Or they would have kept the majority of the company in place and had one platoon move forward, then that platoon would take up a static position and cover the next platoon as it moved forwards, and so forth. We don't yell and charge. It's a ridiculous scene.

1:08:53 - Once again, Moore and Plumley are just hanging around with each other... don't they work?

1:11:08 - In the modern day army aviators are required to get 8 full hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, even during combat operations. I would imagine it was similar during the Vietnam War.

1:11:43 - The way radios work is that people talk to each other on frequencies. For artillery support each fire support element (the artillery battery supporting the battalion, the battalion's mortar platoon, the attack aviation on standby) all have their own frequencies. When you talk on a radio no one knows who's talking. 1 person could be on the frequency or 100 people could be on the frequency. That's why you have to use callsigns. You can't just pick up the radio and say "I need x y and z". The other people on the frequency won't know who's talking. You have to say "Hello You (using their call sign), this is Me (using your call sign), I need x y and z"

1:27:34 - Again, ole' Plumley's just holding on to Moore's belt, he should give Moore his salary too.

1:27:51 - This is called a Reconnaissance by Fire. You engage suspected enemy locations in an attempt to get a reaction.

1:29:55 - LT Geoghegen was posthumously awarded the silver star for his attempted rescue of PFC Godboldt.

1:30:19 - Plumley looks like he doesn't know what is going on. He does have a job you know.

1:34:08 - Just to touch on how loud weapons are again. The sound design for these M16s is super quiet and weak-feeling. The M4 of today is comparable to the M16 of the early '60s and the M4 is loud and feels loud. Definitely not the most powerful or loudest weapon. But they're loud.

1:36:41 - What the radio operator is referring to is the deconfliction of airspace. In a battlespace there are numerous things in the air: mortar shells, artillery shells, helicopters, attack helicopters, propeller aircraft, jet aircraft, bombers. That would be a dangerous and chaotic situation if there was no coordination. Therefore airspace is coordinated by type of ordinance and platform. Mortar shells and artillery shells travel at certain heights depending upon how far away their target is. Their maximum height is the cut off for helicopters. So helicopters cannot fly below the maximum height of mortar and artillery shells. Transport helicopters are given a maximum height they can fly at. Then attack helicopters fly above the transport helicopters up to a given height. Above the attack helicopters are the propeller aircraft and then the jet aircraft and finally the large bombers. That way every platform that may be in the airspace is flying at levels where they know they will not fly into anyone else. If a certain platform needs to enter the airspace/level of another platform: say a helicopter needs to land in a certain location, and therefore needs to fly into the airspace of the mortar and artillery, then a coordination between the aircraft and the Fire Direction Center (the entity that controls and monitors all artillery use) happens to ensure that artillery and mortars are not allowed to fire into the air (or fire somewhere else that would cause their shells to travel through the area) until the helicopters have landed. It's a complicated task, but one that needs to be done right.

1:37:03 - None of these aircraft need to get anywhere near as low to the ground as they are depicted to drop their ordinance (and they wouldn't get that low). But it makes for a cooler scene.

1:37:30 - It was not Moore's radio operator coordinating the attack aviation, that job is done by a trained Tactical Air Controller. Historically during the battle it was an Air Force Lieutenant.

1:38:30 - This friendly fire incident did occur. And it did involve two jets, the second of which did wave off. It wasn't Moore who noticed it, it was the Air Force LT who noticed the aircraft. It is actually miraculous that it was the only one given the chaotic circumstances on the ground and reflects greatly on the LT that only one incident occurred.

1:46:55 - No, the Battalion Commander and Battalion Command Sergeant Major did not go out on their own to find missing soldiers. It's ridiculous.

1:48:00 - He should be giving hand signals with his non-firing hand, so that he can still fire his weapon if he needs to while giving the hand signal.

1:50:53 - Stupid. Why would a squad leader ask his Battalion Commander for permission to do anything? This interaction would never have happened.

1:54:12 - The remainder of the battle as depicted in the film is complete fiction. In reality between 0400 and 0800 am on the 16th the PAVN launched a series of final attacks on the American perimeter, which were fought off with small arms and heavy artillery bombardments. Also, it was still dark during most of this, unlike in the film where it is completely light out at 5 am. There was no American attack (charge) like there is in the film. The Americans stayed in their perimeter and fought off the PAVN like they had for the previous two days.By the afternoon that same day 1-7 Cav was withdrawn from the battlefield and two other battalions of the 3rd brigade took its place. They continued to have contacts with the PAVN for the next two days.

2:00:19 - Only in Hollywood do soldiers salute each other on the battlefield while giving each other sad/meaningful looks.

2:01:06 - This whole scene with the press is fictional. Because there was still sporadic fighting going on for the next two days the press wasn't brought to the battlefield on the 16th.

We Were Soldiers Once... And Young - Hal MooreCombat Operations: Stemming the Tide, May 1965 to October 1966 - John M. Carland

Dennis Meyers
Relevant experience: U.S. Army, 1974-1980, BA & MA Economics, Economist for over 30 years for State of
California, Community College Adjunct Faculty

Historical Context:

The Battle of Ia Drang November 14–16, 1965, was the first major battle between the U.S. Army and
the North Vietnamese Army (NVA or People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN).

The battle took place in the central highlands of Vietnam, and involved the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry
Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore.

In line with the new Air Mobile doctrine, about 450 Americans were inserted and immediately surrounded by
2,200 NVA soldiers.

It was the first large scale helicopter air assault and also the first use of Boeing B-52 Stratofortress strategic
bombers in a tactical support role. Indeed, close air support and heavy artillery played a crucial role in the
battle and inflicted many casualties, as it would throughout the remainder of the war.

This battle was the first major utilization of the Air Mobile tactic in which battles were fought in a "non-
linear" fashion, i.e. without establish battle lines. Helicopter mobility allowed engagements to suddenly
materialize anywhere a transport helicopter (UH-1s in this case) could land troops. Units could be
inserted with little advance notice to fight along a 360 degree perimeter. They could also be quickly
relocated as needed, and could thus keep the enemy continually off balance. Inserted units would be
supported by artillery and close air support. U.S. air cavalry units were able to attack the NVA wherever
they could locate them within the Republic of Vietnam. The immediate goal was not to hold and occupy
ground, but rather to inflict unacceptable casualties and deny the NVA the ability to freely operate
within South Vietnam.

It was considered an American tactical victory, as the Americans claimed an almost 10:1 kill ratio. The
Seventh Cavalry lost 79 men killed and 121 wounded. Estimates of NVA killed range from 630 to 1,200.

Because of this kill ratio, General William Westmoreland, the American commander in South Vietnam called
the Battle of Ia Drang a great victory. This supported his overall strategy of attrition whose goal was to inflict
casualties on the NAV and Viet Cong at a greater rate than their ability to replace them.

However, left out of the film is the fact that the NVA, on the day after disengaging with the 7th Cavalry,
ambushed a relief column killing an additional 155 Americans and wounding 124. While not a tremendous
number of casualties, it shows that the NVA was able to sustain heavy casualties repeatedly and still return to
the attack. This turned out to be a more important factor in determining the outcome of the war than
favorable kill ratios.

The nature of the war changed after this battle. The NVA took away the lesson that they could not win or
survive conventional set-piece battles with the U.S. military. Rather than engaging directly, they would come
to rely on a guerilla war approach of hit and run tactics. They would outlast the U.S. interest in the war.

Paradoxically, in 1968, this strategy culminated in the Tet Offensive and the Battle of Hue which was a
conventional urban battle, reminiscent of WW2. Again, tactically, as measured by casualties, the U.S. was
victorious, but its surprising ferocity turned U.S. public opinion against the war and cost Gen. Westmoreland
his command.

The two most prominent participants in the movie are Lt. Col. Harold G. Moore the reporter Joseph L.
Galloway who both authored the 1992 book, We Were Soldiers Once… And Young.

Moore (played by Mel Gibson) was a West Point Graduate and Korean war veteran. He was awarded the
Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism at Ia Drang and was promoted to full Colonel. After
returning from Viet Nam he served at the Pentagon, was sent to Harvard to complete an M.A in International
Relations. In 1968 he was promoted to Brigadier General and then to Major General in 1970. He retired in
1977 after completing 32 years of active service. Moore died from a stroke 2017, three days before his 95th

Joseph Galloway (played by Barry Pepper) was a contradiction to the popular post-Viet Nam war impression
that journalists were solidly anti-war. Galloway was a newspaper correspondent who worked alongside the
American troops he covered. He was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for carrying a badly wounded man to
safety while he was under very heavy enemy fire during the Battle of Ia Drang that he was covering as a
journalist. He retired as a weekly columnist for McClatchy Newspapers in January 2010. Galloway died in
2021 at the age of 79.

Less prominent in the movie was General Nguyen Huu An (played by Đơn Dương) who commanded NVA
forces in the battle. He joined the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN)) in 1945. Later, he commanded 174th
Regiment of the 316th Division in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, overcoming French defenses on 7 May 1954.
This marked the victory of the Viet Minh over the French ending the First Indochina War. At the climax of the
Viet Nam war in the 1975 Spring Offensive, he commanded the 2 nd Corp which captured Quảng Trị and Huế
and was instrumental in the capture of Saigon. He stayed in the military after the war, eventually being
promoted to Senior Lieutenant General. General Võ Nguyên Giáp called him the "General of Battles". He
died in 1995.


Harold G. Moore, Joseph L. Galloway, We Were Soldiers Once… and Young, 1992, Random House
Publishing Group.
Major Francis J. Huber, Force Design, the Airmobile Concept and Operational Art, 1999, United States
Army Command and General Staff College
Maurice Isserman, We Were Soldiers Once . . . But Hollywood Isn’t Sure in Which War, 2002, Hamilton
Wikipedia articles: Battle of Ia Drang, Hal Moore, Nguyễn Hữu An, Joseph L. Galloway

Kyle Pocock

I’m going to focus on the military technology presented in We Were Soldiers.


Vietnam introduced and evolved many technologies we now take for granted such as helicopter air-mobility, sub-caliber assault rifles, helicopter gunships, and precision bombing. As Micah and Dennis both touched on, the Battle of Ia Drang proved the concept of using the helicopter to take the fight to the enemy, especially in a country as dense and mountainous as Vietnam. Designed and successfully prototyped by Igor Sikorsky in 1939, the first helicopter was a rickety mix of pipes and blades that launched a whole new class of military vehicle.

(Sikorsky in 1939 on his invention’s maiden voyage)

Military use of the helicopter began in earnest in the Korean War as well as the French Algerian war where its ability to land nearly anywhere proved invaluable, especially in evacuating wounded soldiers from the front lines. Arming helicopters was still in its infancy, and usually only consisted of door mounted machine guns for defense from ground fire, though rudimentary gunships were experimented with. In Algeria especially, military planners began to see the appeal of using helicopters to move troops quickly to pinpoint locations compared to the relative chaos of paradropping masses of infantry onto a large area, separating them from each other among the enemy. Instead, all the helicopters could drop groups of soldiers at once, all at one landing zone, ready to fight the second they got off the chopper, with no chute to worry about or wind to blow them off course.

(French Choctaw helicopters land soldiers on a hillside in Algeria. You may remember the helicopter from Peter Cox’s first write up on Full Metal Jacket where the infamous door gunner mows down civilians.)

As shown in the film, the US decided to take these lessons to heart and constructed the first Air Cavalry units with helicopters carrying infantry to the enemy with the intention of causing as many casualties as possible, not taking and holding ground on a front line as in earlier conflicts. This simply would not have been possible without the helicopter and the prodigious amount of air power the United States had at its disposal. Though other helicopters were involved in the war like the Choctaw seen above, the Loach scout helicopter, the heavy Chinook transport, or the Cobra gunship, the Bell UH-1 Iroqouis, more commonly known as the Huey, was the main workhorse, providing the ability to lift and carry personnel, equipment, wounded soldiers, and even to mount weapons and take the fight to the enemy alongside other helicopters. Entire fleets of Hueys could prep landing zones with suppressive fire as gunships, land infantry, and continue to support them as the fighting raged on, taking wounded soldiers back to med bases, landing reinforcements or moving soldiers to new fights, and responding to ground targets with rockets and machine guns. It served as a reliable and versatile vehicle throughout the war and well on into the future, with variants still in service around the world despite being replaced in the US by the UH-60 Black Hawk.

(Snake shit saves the day in a Huey loaded with a common XM-21 gunship setup of twin 7.62 M134 miniguns and rocket pods complimented by the usual door gunners and their 7.62 M60 machine guns.)

(The miniguns are teased in one of the hangers early in the movie being inspected by all the officers before being addressed by Moore.)

Other notable aircraft featured in the movie include the A-1H Skyraider, A-4 Skyhawk, and the A-6 Intruder. The A-1 was a piston powered attack aircraft that while slow compared to the jet fighters of the day, proved to be fantastic in the close air support or CAS role for its large carrying capacity and long loiter times, allowing it to stick around and help the men on the ground, much in the same way as the modern A-10. Both carrier based attack jets, the A-4 and A-6 also saw extensive use in the war, launching from ships offshore to attack targets inland with bombs, napalm, and cannon fire.

(An A-1 makes a showy and low run, dropping the devastatingly powerful napalm incendiary explosive on NVA infantry.)

(An F100 Super Sabre takes off from a carrier to assist the now raging battle.)

(After expending its ordnance, this A-6 flies over the battlefield back towards the carrier fleet.)

Small Arms

The number of world governments sending soldiers and military aid to Vietnam meant that a smorgasbord of small arms circulated during the country in use by both sides, many surplus from WWII while others carried brand new, cutting edge weapons sent to use specifically in the campaign.

After World War Two, militaries around the world sought to improve their soldier’s individual firepower through lessons learned on the battlefield. One common realization, made even by the Germans before and during WWII, was that most combat took place at relatively close ranges, typically below 300 meters. Most rifles of the time could take accurate shots out to 1000 meters and were considerably powerful in order to do so, despite this being a rare possibility that enemies could even be spotted that far away, much less fired at. Developing something that could bridge the gap between the pistol caliber, close range rapid firepower of the submachine gun and the long range punch and accuracy led to the now ubiquitous assault rifle concept. Using a cartridge that had the speed and velocity of a rifle round and the smaller size and recoil of pistol ammo, the intermediate caliber assault rifle could replace two weapons at once by allowing both controlled semi-automatic fire for longer ranges and fully-automatic fire (this combination is known as select fire) for close range and suppression, greatly increasing the firepower of the individual soldier.

(A German soldier aims an STG-44, widely considered to be the first mass-produced assault rifle.)

(Common calibers; pistol ammo like the 9mm, intermediate assault rifle like the 7.62x39 AK-47/AKM and 5.56x45 M-16/AR-15 ammo, 7.62x51 full rifle ammo, all the way up to the massive .50 caliber.)

Seeing the need for such a weapon was keenly felt by the Soviet Union, who prized the firepower and simplicity of submachine guns and wanted a replacement in a new, more powerful caliber similar in practice to the German STG-44 they had just fought against in WWII. After development of a new cartridge, the 7.62x39mm, a new set of weapons emerged to chamber it with the brand new AK-47 originally intended to replace the PPS-43 and PPSH-41 submachine guns of WWII. After realizing that the AK-47 was just as good, if not better than their semi-automatic rifle in the same caliber, the SKS, the AK-47 saw wide adoption, along with a more modern, easier and cheaper to manufacture variant using stamped sheet metal known as the AKM. These variants have been so widely produced that they are by far the most common infantry weapon in the world, seeing nearly constant use since their introduction. The now obsolescent SKS was given as military aid to countless countries and regimes that supported the communist cause, as well as the AK-47/AKM that supplanted it, seeing both on the opposite end of NATO and UN peacekeeping soldiers around the world, particularly in Vietnam.

(An NVA soldier aims his SKS rifle at a French soldier in the opening scene.)

(As Moore and his men crest the hill, this soldier takes careful aim with his AK-47.)

(Echoing the opening scene of the French officer being bayoneted by an SKS, this NVA soldier attempts the same thing on Moore, only to be gunned down by a burst from his M16.)

Slower to the party, the US was keen on improving firepower, but was less interested in the assault rifle concept at first, hoping to maintain the range and power of their 30-06 cartridge in a smaller package, creating the new 7.62x51 NATO rifle cartridge, with a new, magazine-fed improved M1 rifle, the M14, to fire it. After the heavy and unwieldy M14 was introduced in 1957, the US involvement in the jungles of Vietnam and an Air Force desire for a controllable, select fire, carbine to replace their aging M2s, the experimental XM16 was adopted on a limited basis in 1963, later seeing full adoption as the standard infantry rifle of the United States. It fired a light but high velocity 5.56mm bullet from a 20 round magazine in full or semi-automatic out to a maximum effective range of 460 meters. While the bullet of the AK-47 is still rather fat and heavy, the M16’s ammo takes a different approach, leaning on the kinetic energy of the bullet being transferred into the target as it hits with enough speed to tumble and break apart, rather than simply punching straight through with minimal effect on the bullet. This gives the M16 significant wounding potential while keeping it light, easy to control, and easier to shoot at range as a faster and lighter bullet will have less drop, travelling with a flatter trajectory to its target. All of these qualities proved perfect for jungle fighting where a handy automatic carbine was valued for getting through the rough terrain, while its light ammunition sometimes let it down by deflecting off dense vegetation because of its reduced penetrative ability over something like an AK-47 or the M14. Early teething problems due in large part to a new type of gunpowder not used in testing found the M16 under intense scrutiny from the Army and even Congress, but after the powder was corrected and cleaning kits became standard issue again, the weapon performed admirably, with a slightly shorter carbine variant, the M4, still in active use today.

(Troopers return fire with their M16s after landing to help secure the LZ.)

(Moore flips the safety on his M16 from SAFE to AUTO while still in the Huey. As Micah pointed out, this is unnecessarily risky as doing so takes a fraction of a second.)

(After some recon by fire, US soldiers protect the dry creek bed with blistering fire from their M16s. Often shown spraying them in full auto, the movie encapsulates the fears that military planners and designers hoped to quell with the M16A2’s 3 round burst feature, hoping to limit the amount of ammo a soldier could expel needlessly. This has since been deleted on the current M4A1s, reverting to SAFE, SEMI, and AUTO with semi-automatic being used most often.)

After the introduction of the 7.62 NATO and seeing the success of the general purpose machine gun concept in the guise of the German MG-34 and MG-42 machine guns, the US sought to create their own versatile machine gun to replace the bulky yet dependable M1919 series of guns. Taking direct inspiration from the reliable and simple belt feed system of the MG-42 along with the internal components of the curious FG-42 automatic rifle, the M60 machine gun was born and adopted on 1957 alongside the M14, with the two weapons hoping to replace the submachine gun, rifle, carbine, automatic rifle, and machine gun. In reality, the M60 was successful in replacing the automatic rifle (BAR) and machine gun (M1919) but the M14 only really replaced the rifle (M1). Light enough for a single man to use but also capable of being mounted on a tripod for long range engagements and in vehicles on a fixed mount, the M60 lived up to the title of a general purpose machine gun, seeing admirable use in all branches and all over the world. Nicknamed “The Pig” for its weight and appetite for ammo, the M60 was valued for its firepower and ability to suppress the enemy, allowing soldiers to maneuver or escape an ambush. Its most prolific use was in the Vietnam war, being the standard issue machine gun of the US at the time, but it went on to serve well into the 21st century despite being officially replaced by the heavier, more durable, M240 in the late 90s.

(An M60 machine gun team guns down charging NVA soldiers, fulfilling its fire support role. The assistant gunner carries extra ammo and ensures the belts of ammo feed into the gun correctly.)

(A gunner keeps an eye out for NVA counter-attack on the ridge.)

(A door gunner of a Huey provides covering fire as they take off. Being able to dismount and use the gun immediately in a pinch was helpful to surviving a crashed helicopter.)

Other Noteworthy Weapons In Screenshots

(The soldier in the middle fires his M79 grenade launcher at the LZ. The new 40mm grenade firing weapon gave the squad mobile explosive power at the cost of a rifle, a problem quickly remedied by the under barrel mounted M203 grenade launcher firing the same ammunition.)

(Despite the goofy guns raised nature of this scene, it highlights the red beret wearing ARVN soldier’s use of American surplus WWII weaponry, notably his M1a1 Thompson submachine gun.)

(Caught in an ambush, these French soldiers return fire with their WWII era MAS-36 bolt action rifles against the onslaught of Vietnamese attackers.)

(Highlighting the use of captured weapons, this NVA soldier destroys a French jeep with an American, but French issued, M1A1 Bazooka.)

(Another WWII era weapon, the aforementioned 1919A4 is used by the French soldier in this jeep. Many of the post-war French army’s weapons were borrowed as surplus from the US until they could fully rearm with domestically produced replacements.)

(105mm M101 howitzers provide the devastatingly accurate fire support the soldiers needed to avoid being overrun.)

(Ever the stand-in for the grizzled old war vet, Plumley exemplifies this stereotype by choosing to carry only his .45 1911 handgun instead of the “bb gun” like M16. In reality, he also carried an M14 rifle into the battle.)

(Ready for the American charge, this MG-34 team sits ready to fire. Large numbers of captured MG-34s captured by the Soviets made their way into Vietnam and used to great effect.)

(A DShK heavy machine gunner is killed by Snake shit’s miniguns. A WWII era Soviet design, the DShK continues to see rugged use in the Middle East. This example is an American M2 .50 caliber machine gun made to look like a DShK.)

(Sgt Forrester is severely injured by an M34 White Phosphorus, or “Willie Pete,” grenade. Once detonated, the sticky, hot burning phosphorus burns its way through anything in its path, releasing a bright white smoke useful for marking enemy positions.)


The M16 by Gordon L Rottman
Helicopter Gunships: Deadly Combat Weapon Systems by Wayne Mutza
US Helicopter Pilot In Vietnam by Gordon L Rottman
US Grenade Launchers by Gordon L Rottman
The AK-47 by Gordon L Rottman
The M60 Machine Gun by Kevin Dockery

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 15: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Mon, 30 Aug 2021 05:00:00 -0700 6e5103bf-e7f4-4007-920b-d324b7b585aa Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E15: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Master and Commander

Researcher: Samantha HL
Total nerd about military history. Minor in American history. Trivia maven. Navy brat and spouse. Currently reading the Aubrey-Maturin books and I CANNOT recommend them enough.

As was the case in Great Britain during the Napoleonic Age, life aboard a Royal Navy Ship was stratified by rank in society.
There were Commissioned Officers, Warranted Officers, and the Crew
The list below is not exhaustive, but covers all the featured ranks and rates from the movie

Commissioned Officers
Generally needed to be politically connected and/or well liked by superior officers in order to advance in rank. They also tended to be more formally educated and usually of the gentry or aristocratic classes.
Captain John “Lucky Jack” Aubrey’s official rank as captain of the HMS Surprise is “Post Captain”
Post Captain is the rank of commanding officer of any rated ship, that is a ship with 20 guns or more.
Ironically, despite it being the title of the movie, Post Captain is one rank above “Master and Commander” which denotes command of an unrated ship (a ship with less than 20 guns).
Lieutenants, which in French literally translates to “place holder”, were the junior officers aboard a Royal Navy vessel and commanded the ship when the captain was otherwise occupied.
The larger the ship, the more lieutenants a captain would have.
Lieutenants were ranked, with the First Lieutenant being the most senior - on the Surprise, this is 1st LT Pullings.
In the book series, Pullings comes from a family of farmers and warrant officers and works his way to a commission from a Master’s Mate. Due to lack of political connections he has a harder time gaining promotions throughout his career.
Midshipmen (also called “The Young Gentlemen”) were prospective officers, but had not yet earned a commission.
At the time of the movie, midshipmen needed to serve as such for at least two years and pass an exam before they were considered for commissioning.
Well connected boys as young as 12 years old could become midshipmen.
Midshipman Lord Blakeney, in contrast to Pullings, is politically well connected and socially outranks everyone else aboard the ship.
Marine Officers were the commissioned officers of the Marine contingent aboard the ship.
Marines were tasked with sentry duty and manning gun crews and boarding parties during battle.

Warranted Officers
The Sailing Master (or simply Master) of the ship was considered the same rank as a lieutenant and could also command the ship in the captain’s absence.
Expertise in navigation and piloting the ship.
Generally of a lower social class and therefore unlikely to advance if they obtained a commission.
Surgeons treated the sick and wounded aboard the ship.
Generally there was only one surgeon aboard and he was assisted by trained Surgeon Mates (called Assistant Surgeons after 1805).
They were also responsible for the cleanliness of the ship, ensuring fresh air occasionally made its way to lower decks and keeping stock of food (and grog) safety.

The Wardroom was the dining area/messroom for all Commissioned and Warranted Officers on smaller ships and senior officers in larger ships.
Typically the Captain would dine in his state room (a combination of office and bedroom) but would invite senior members of the crew to dine with him. These meals would be at the captain’s own expense.
Reciprocally, the Wardroom would invite the captain to dine with them on occasion.
Midshipmen would only be included in Wardroom meals if invited.
On large ships, junior officers would mess in the Gunroom.

Petty Officers (Non-Commissioned Officer)
Boatswains (pronounced bosun) were in charge of the maintenance and replacement of the sails and the rigging.
In charge of all deck activities like weighing/dropping anchor.
Oldest rate in the Royal Navy. dating to 1040 CE.
Carpenters usually started their careers building ships before going to sea. They were in charge of maintaining and repairing the ship’s hull, masts, and yards.
Gunners maintained the ship's guns, small arms, and powder supply.
The ship's Boatswain, Carpenter, and Gunner were considered “standing” officers of the ship and would typically stay with one ship their entire careers.
All three had high status aboard ship but typically came from lower ranks of society.
All three were assisted by “mates” (Boatswain’s Mate, etc).
Coxswains (pronounced cox’n ) were helmsmen in addition to driving boats the smaller vessels carried within the ship when deployed.
Barrett Bonden (Billy Boyd) was Aubrey’s Coxswain throughout the book series, aboard many different ships.

The Crew
Able Seamen were the most experienced at performing the basic tasks of sailing a ship.
Ordinary Seamen had less experience.
Landsmen were essentially fresh recruits with no skillset yet.
Boys as young as 12 could volunteer as seamen.

During times of war when the Royal Navy wasn’t able to fill out crews with volunteers, they would turn to this practise.
Men, experienced sailors or random people off the street, could be legally kidnapped and forced into service aboard a Royal Navy ship.
This could happen in port, when so-called “Press-Gangs” would roam the town and capture able-bodied victims.
It also happened to the crews of captured ships. Impressment of American sailors was a major cause of the War of 1812.
Accounts vary but it is estimated that in 1812 (around the time of the book, but not the movie) 8% of crews were boy volunteers, 15% were men volunteers, 50% were pressed Brits, and the rest were pressed foreigners or Brits sentenced to naval service.
Impressment ended in 1815.

A Sea of Words by Dean King (this reference is always by my side when I’m reading the books!)

Random facts:
The USS Constitution, docked in Boston, is the oldest commissioned warship in the world. :!2 was commissioned in 1797 and is the inspiration for the ACHERON. Totally worth the visit to learn more about navies during this time period.
HMS Surprise (the ship used for filming) is open for tours in San Diego.

Researcher: Benjamin David Curley

What can you say about one of the films famous for being one of the most historically accurate films
ever made? Starting with the obvious that the film was adjusted from being set during the War of 1812
and moved to the final days of the Napoleonic wars this means we are adjusting the chase of a massive
American warship that can change the tide of the war to a French Privateer (Corsair). Privateering is a
tradition dating back officially for hundreds of years during the time of the film, a privateer is an
officially sanctioned pirate who after receiving a Letter of Marque was free to prey on the enemies of
the patron who issued the Letter until the Letter expired or until the war ended. This was an enticing
option for many merchant seamen as the rewards for sailors was in many cases many years worth of
income you would make as a merchant or serving in the official navy. The captain of the privateer
would be expected to send a portion of their prize earnings home to the patron, and the rest would be
disbursed among the crew.

Most naval action between Privateers/Pirates would have been relatively non-violent. While all
merchant ships were armed the difference between a sailor who knows how to fire a cannon and a
Privateer who is there with the express expectation of combat often lead to one sided willingness to
engage. If you were a sailor, would you really feel like getting stabbed and shot so some Merchant in
Liverpool, Calais, or Boston could make money while paying you a pittance? The privateer would often
take what they want from the ship, leaving the crew and enough supplies to get them to port. While we
often think of pirates (and by extension privateers) as bloodthirsty and vicious it really is important that
they managed to straddle the line between “will kill you if you make them” and “will kill all of you so you
may as well fight to the last man”. As to the fear the officers on the Surprise feel toward the damage
one ship can do unopposed. According to one source (Naval Chronicle, Vol 17. p. 369) French Corsairs
captured more ships that were lost to the dangers of the sea (with 3,639 tonnes lost to capture and
2,967 lost to the sea or running aground). One added difficulty when dealing with the switch between
the ship being an American Warship to being a French Corsair is the implausibility of a top of the line, 48
gun, warship being commissioned as a Corsair, and not as a warship. While many privateers and pirates
did have large well armed ships this was usually after trading up several times by taking larger and larger
prizes, not having a fresh out of dock advanced war ship commissioned for this purpose. It begs the
question why they didn’t just make it a French Naval ship, unless they wanted to avoid talking about
Trafalgar and why the ship wasn’t destroyed there. Looking at the ships of Corsairs that sailed at the
same time the film took place they were more the size of the Surprise, such as the Duc de Dantzig that
sailed in 1808, which was a Brig with a crew of 103 and 14 18-pounder cannons, or the corvette
Confiance which sailed 1797 and had a crew of 213 and 18 8 pound long guns with 4 swivel guns. The
proposition of manning, arming, and supplying something like the Acheron privately seems to strain at
the edge of what is possible.

One thing I loved in this film was the use of actual naval implements as weapons of war. We see
boarding axes and wonderfully pikes being used along with the more famous muskets, flintlock pistols,
and sabers. When outfitting a privateer it would be incredibly common for you to use what you have at
hand so seeing pikes made me very excited. One great weapon we all too briefly see in the film is a
Nock Gun. A Nock Gun is a seven barreled weapon that was ordered by the British Navy just at this
exact part of the Napoleonic period. The weapons distinctive 7 barrel design was made so that all the
barrels fired at once. It was originally intended to have rifled barrels but was adjusted to smooth bore
as the reload time with rifling made the weapon beyond impractical. While I wish you saw more of
them during the fight the fact that they have a gun that was only in service up through the exact time
that the film took place in was very exciting. How many films will include a weapon that was only in
service for 22 years and could easily have been replaced in filming with more familiar flintlock muskets?

As for the fighting itself it is chaotic and brutal as boarding actions could indeed be. With the ships
entangled and grappled not just crossing from deck to deck but from gun deck to gun deck could
happen. Two things the film ignores in order to add movie magic is ignoring that the Royal Marine
gunners in the top sails of the Surprise would easily be able to see the French Corsairs setting up their
ambush on the quarter deck, and the fighting below decks is far too well lit. Other than that I can say I
have few complaints with the depiction of the combat.

On the other hand one thing that both made me very happy to see included and disappointed to not see
fully implemented is the use of shanties and sea songs. While 3 are displayed prominently (Spanish
Ladies, The British Tars, and Don’t Forget Your Old Shipmate) and while are all perfect for the era, they
don’t display just how much singing would happen on a sailing vessel. Shanties were not just for
entertainment as displayed in the film, but to help keep everyone in time. If you know that for every
line of a song you heave a rope once you are able to keep a dozen sailors in time making the work go
smoothly and more quickly. As part of this we have shanties of vastly different lengths depending on
the task they would be paired with, and with the number of actions you would need to do. While many
films revolving around sailing tend to avoid the use of song entirely I was at least glad to see some music
included, and was glad it was period appropriate.

Researcher: Dave Feldmann

These notes are taken from Alan Schom’s book Napoleon Bonaparte. ISBN 0-06-017214-2, Jay Luvass’s book Napoleon on the Art of War, ISBN 0684872714

Lord Horatio Nelson and Napoleon

Aubrey and his officers openly admire Nelson as a natural leader and expert on naval warfare. They detest Napoleon and mock him in their cups, but the character of the French captain in the Acheron provides a figure that very closely resembles Napoleon, albeit at sea. The French captain is capable, unpredictable, and a worthy opponent for Lucky Jack -- very similar to how the Duke of Wellington described Napoleon both before and after the battle of Waterloo - “the nearest run thing you ever saw” was how the Iron Duke described Napoleon’s final defeat.
In reality, Nelson was an incredibly charismatic and tactically brilliant commander who led from the front, suffered grievous injuries (most of an arm and the use of an eye), enjoyed the immense respect and near worship of his men, and who defeated Napoleon’s cause not once but twice.

The battle of the Nile.

Napoleon landed in Egypt for a Middle Eastern adventure at the expense of the ruling Ottoman empire, “the sick man of Europe.” Nelson and his British fleet located the French fleet after Napoleon had disembarked, and destroyed the entire fleet except for 2 ships. Nelson lost an arm in the battle This all but guaranteed that the Egyptian expedition would be a failure for logistical reasons, and Napoleon abandoned his men to return to France. The men of the Egyptian expedition ultimately died of disease or surrendered.

The Egyptian expedition also signaled the end of peace in Europe, and the beginning of the War of the Second Coalition. Between crushing defeats on land and sea, Napoleon fled Egypt on a fast schooner, and deposed the French Directory, installing himself as Consul Bonaparte. Had Nelson not defeated French forces so completely, its possible that the Directory’s leadership could deal with Napoleon’s coup more effectively.
Trafalgar. This is the battle that brings Nelson to the level of Alfred the Great and Henry V in terms of English military heroes.
In the film, England is mentioned as being under “threat of invasion.” This is absolutely true, and thousands of French soldiers were bivouacked on the English channel. Napoleon intended to invade England in order to remove their naval and economic power off the board, and prevent the incredible financial resources from tipping the scale of the conflict between France, Russia, and Austria. The Prussians would not become involved again in the Napoleonic wars until 1806.
A combined fleet of Spanish and French men-of-war intended to sail out of the Mediterranean and cover the proposed invasion. Despite being outnumbered, Nelson expected success and claimed at least “20 prizes” would be taken.
Battle was joined, Nelson was shot through the spine on the quarterdeck by a sharpshooter (“Stand tall on the quarterdeck, always.”) Nelson survived long enough to accept the surrender of almost the entire French fleet, capturing 22 vessels in all.
In the film, its noted that Nelson was England’s only hope if “Old Bonnie” decides to invade -- it is exactly what happened. Napoleon no longer considered an invasion of Britain to be feasible or possible, and instead attempted to isolate England from Europe economically using the Continental system. While Napoleon would defeat the emperors of Austria and Russia at the battle of Austerlitz (a battle considered to be as tactically brilliant as any in the Western World), the building of the Continental system was ultimately what pulled Napoleon into invading Russia, and his eventual defeat. You can draw a line between Nelson and the British fleet directly to the burning of Moscow and Waterloo.

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 14: The Death of Stalin Wed, 18 Aug 2021 10:00:00 -0700 92de5444-dd80-4c9e-8c22-f9884aa10b5a Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E14: The Death of Stalin The Death of Stalin

Dave Feldmann
Medieval weapons nerd, general history enthusiast

Stalin's relationship with the highest military echelons was the most brutal of any of the Allies of WW2 (more so even that Hitler, who regularly fired generals, but who only executed high ranking officers after the failed June Plot of 1944).

In 1937, Mikhail Tukhachevsky was arrested, tortured, and confessed to being a German agent and Fifth columnist during the Great Purge. This has been catalogued in great detail by Robert Conquest's The Great Purge, and was accompanied by the trial and execution of three of five marshals, 13 of 15 army commanders, 8 of nine admirals, 50 of 57 corps commanders, 154 out of 186 divisional commanders, all 16 army commissars, and 25 of 28 army corps commissars. The purpose of these purges is thought to eliminate the so-called Old Bolsheviks, the leaders who, like Stalin, had served under Lenin during the October 1917 Revolution and the ensuing Civil War.

The purpose of the Purges is not known, and they veered far outside of Soviet political and military leadership into the general public. Execution was typical for leaders of the USSR, but imprisonment in the GULAG was more common for mid level or low level leaders, especially for army officers. 30% of the total officer class was implicated in the Purge of the Army of 1937-38, while it is thought that 3% to 7% of officers were actually executed. Despite Stalin's meticulous note-taking, still available to the public via the KGB archives, it is not known how much of it was directed personally by Stalin. Stalin did follow the course of the Tukhachevsky case, who had been a hero of the Civil War, led the offensive into Poland in 1921, and had long been considered a rival to Stalin in military matters.

It should be noted that the concept of the "deep battle," of using Russia's enormous landmass to launch long drives into an enemy's flanks and rear, coordinating multiple armies to disrupt an enemy's strategic objectives, has been typically thought to be the brainchild of Tukhachevsky. Tukhachevsky was known in the West as a proponent of combined arms and tank spearheads in the so-called blitzkrieg style that General JFC Fuller, a British combined arms theorist, called him out specifically for not having developed this style of warfare for the Soviets. He pointed this out in a book written in the 1960s, decades after Tukhachevsky was executed.

What does this mean for Zhukov in the film? Georgy Zhukov emerged from WW2 as the most famous of the Soviet generals, at least to those in the West, with whom he had good relations.

In 1938, Zhukov successfully defeated a Japanese army at the battle of Khalkin Gol, a decisive victory fought on the borders of Mongolia and Japanese-held Manchuria, effectively ending Japanese expansion outside of their province of Manchuko (a large tract of land north of Japanese-held Korea). This victory was won through successful execution of the "deep battle" theory.

Zhukov was in command of the fronts during the initial phases of the battles of Leningrad and Moscow in late 1941-42. The Russian counterattack during the battle of Moscow is now understood to have very nearly destroyed the Wehrmacht northern army group completely, with a million casualties inflicted. Zhukov later "coordinated" the counteroffensive at Stalingrad, utterly destroying the German 6th army, defeating the Nazis' Plan Blau (the plan for the conquest of the Caucasus). Zhukov also "coordinated" the counteroffensive associated with the battle of Kursk, the final German offensive on the Eastern Front, stopping the Wehrmacht within a few days, and driving the enemy past where they started.

Zhukov led the 1st and 2nd Belorussian fronts during Operation Bagration in 1944, an offensive that saw the complete destruction of one of three Wehrmacht armies in Russia, Army Group center. His forces also took part in the battle of Berlin, where he accepted the German surrender personally. Zhukov was also the first commander of the Soviet occupation zone. When he says, "I fucked Germany, I think I can take a flesh lump in a waistcoat," it's not really an exaggeration.

But, again, what does this mean for Zhukov in the film?

As one of the most visible military commanders during the war, Stalin and Zhukov had a unique relationship. As the war went on, and Stalin handed more control of military matters to generals and commissars (in contrast to Hitler, who decided to seize more direct control of military matters as the war went on), Zhukov was one of the most visible heroes of the war. He also never gave up the character trait of speaking bluntly and directly to members of the political leadership, especially Stalin. Zhukov argued against Stalin's war conduct in 1941 and 1942, and lost his position as chief of staff, only to be recalled as an army group commander for the defense and counterattack outside Moscow. Blunt, abrasive, impatient with subordinates, stubborn, unyielding in his thoughts, some believe that Stalin actually may have respected the Marshal's honest disagreement. What Stalin actually thought of him remains completely unknown.

Immediately after the war, Zhukov was given a series of second to fifth rate assignments, first in Odessa, in the Urals, and then in the Ural Mountains Military district, to signal that he was no longer in favor with Stalin. Many high ranking officers in the Soviet army, especially those who had strong relationships with commanders of the Western allies, suffered similar fates. Zhukov and Eisenhower, while in Berlin and also representing their countries at the Potsdam conference, developed a friendship. So given Eisenhower's appreciation of nightlife, its entirely possible that Zhukov had actually met Coco Chanel at some nightclub postwar. It would also explain why Malenkov had zero idea what he was talking about.

Historically, Zhukov was recalled from the Urals to Moscow just shortly before Stalin's death. He was given no new orders, so it may be possible that Stalin was considering another purge. On Stalin's death, Zhukov became first defense minister, took part in the action against Beria, and denounced him personally.

Zhukov fell from power in 1957, retired, and basically went fishing for the rest of his life with a tackle box Eisenhower sent him.

Alistair Pitts
Russian film expert, Host of Russophiles Unite! A Russian & Soviet Film Podcast

Micah Neidorfler
US Army Infantry Capt, degree in history specializing in Hollywood war films

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 13: Throne of Blood Sun, 08 Aug 2021 19:00:00 -0700 26509850-05ab-4b21-8a74-30140e7e569b Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E13: Throne of Blood Throne of Blood research
Dave Feldmann
Medieval weapons nerd, general history enthusiast

Throne of Blood takes place in the 16th century during a period of time known as the Sengoku period, "the Warring States period" (1467 to 1614). Akira Kurosawa made several films during this lawless period, when central authority broke down throughout Japan, and warlords (daimyo) fought one another for decades. The Emperor of Japan resided in Kyoto during the period, and the shogun and his daimyo all swore loyalty to him, being a living god. However, influence with the shogun, royal court, individual clan politics, or local matters on trade or resource led the daimyo to war with one another or the shogun himself.

Kurosawa chose this period (warlords attacking one another, destroying fortresses, betraying and murdering allies only to be betrayed and murdered in turn) because he felt that it was the most similar to Macbeth’s medieval Scotland (which also was a pretty rough place to live).

The sets were built with the assistance of US Marines, stationed near Mount Fuji

Historians describe the period as almost constant civil war, while also being a period of increased economic activity as trade with China and the West increased, technology was shared more openly, and concepts like cash transactions and even Catholicism were introduced to Japan (the latter before being kicked out of the country in 1614 by the Tokugawa shogunate ).
According to the Criterion Collection’s analysis of Throne of Blood: “Kurosawa concentrates on the epoch’s military strife, and his presentations of those conflicts are so apocalyptic as to imply that widespread killing was taking place in Japan’s medieval era. In fact, the rate of battlefield death in the samurai wars was not so extensive. Kurosawa gives us battles filtered through his perceptions as a twentieth-century artist well acquainted with the truly large-scale slaughters of his own time. The sense of apocalypse in the films is not of the sixteenth century but contemporary.”
Therefore, the widespread destruction depicted in Throne of Blood is a comment not on the depredations of daimyo and shogun during the Warring States period, but a comment on 20th century warfare.
The opening scene with Toshiro Mifune and Akira Kubo riding in the forest is interesting. Samurai were initially heavily armed cavalry, with a special emphasis on archery.
Samurai actually had a duel where on horseback they would fire only three arrows to settle matters
Some early samurai would not wear armor on their right arm in order to pull the drawstring of their bow
Western fanboys obsess constantly about the seeming “magical” hardness of Japanese katana and shoto, the two swords that Samurai were entitled to wear by law, but Japanese traditions and records appear to indicate that high skill at mounted archery was the “primary battle skill for elite warriors for some 750 years.”
Here is where I would normally talk about the complex nature of the katana itself, with its extremely hard edge and flexible body made of two separate pieces of steel (light and flexible but also extremely hard) but we don’t need to fanboy out about swords. Here’s a picture from wikipedia

Here’s one from Samurai Champloo that has nothing to so with Throne of Blood but so fuckin cool.

The decorations of leading nobles with horns or other artistic embellishments are accurate to the period. The following are taken from the Wikipedia page Japanese Armor.

“The itazane-structured dou (cuirass), the quirky designs of kabuto (helmet) and mengu (face guard), are typical features of the gusoku armour. Azuchi–Momoyama period, 16th-17th century, Suntory Museum of Art.”

Construction of samurai armour, Source Wendelin Boeheim Leipzig 1890:

Noh drama is on display in Throne of Blood. What is interesting is that Noh is traditionally thought to have developed during the Warring States period dramatized in Throne of Blood.
Noh drama is highly stylized, regulated, and deliberate in its movements, gestures, facial expressions, music, dance, and other elements, to convey very specific concepts. These are specifically denoted in the Iemoto for Noh, and are as rigidly performed and traditionally-followed as Japanese calligraphy, tea ceremonies, and martial arts.
It’s a big deal in Throne of Blood according to Criterion: “Noh elements include the music (that assertive flute, for example), the bare sets, and especially the stylized performances by Mifune and Isuzu Yamada (as Asaji).”
The chant that begins the film (as the ruins of the castle are made evident) is a common element in Noh drama.
Noh typically involves humans dealing with a supernatural spirit of one kind or another.
Noh drama typically does not use complex characterization, instead using archetypes to tell a story with a specific lesson to be learned.
No masks are used but facial expressions and makeup, particularly with Lady Asaji.
The barrenness of the sets and locations, the stylized movements of the actors, and the construction of the shots all add to the sense that the audience is watching a traditional noh drama

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 12: Argo Sun, 18 Jul 2021 00:00:00 -0700 1fa747a0-32a4-448b-b539-17bb8822a58c Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E12: Argo Argo Research

Rich Stephens
B.S. Biology, minor in History.

This movie has the Dan Carlin problem - how far back do you go to give a proper background. Without going to far back, a brief primer starting in 1953.

Mohammad Mosaddegh is elected as the Prime Minister of Iran in 1951. His administration introduces a range of social programs, land reforms and – most notably to the west – eventual nationalization of the Iranian oil industry.

The UK and United States (Churchill and Eisenhower administrations) fearing the instability of Mosaddegh and possible Communist takeover, decided to intervene and initiated a coup ending in 1953 with Shah (Persian for king) Mohammad Reza Pahlavi ruling firmly as a monarch. [Note: In 2013 the United States CIA formally acknowledges their involvement in the coup.] The Shah’s regime was marked by political oppression, censorship, and the formation of a secret police (SAVAK) to torture and execute opponents.

The history of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 would take pages to detail. Suffice it to say many groups of people were opposed to the Shah’s regime for various reasons. The Shah left Iran in January 1979 for medical treatment and never returned. In February Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile and began the process of creating a theocracy.

In October 1979, the U.S. allowed the Shah into the country for cancer treatment. This sparked outrage as many groups wanted the Shah returned to Iran to stand trial for the crimes of his regime. Precipitated by this, on November 4th a group of Iranian college students – Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line - stormed and tool control of the American Embassy in Tehran. 52 embassy staff were held hostage for 444 days during the Iran Hostage Crisis. The takeover was popular in Iran and Khomeini seized upon this to further consolidate power.

During the storming of the embassy, six American diplomats escaped, evaded capture, and were harbored by Canadian diplomats. The joint US/Canadian intelligence operation to extract these diplomats is the topic of the film. Based on available source material considering it was a CIA operation, the film does a pretty good job of depicting the operation. Usually we have films depicting a story or specific action taking place during an event; in this case, the movie is the event.

The novel that the screenplay which would become "Argo" is based off of is called "Lord of Light", published in 1967. Producer Barry Geller had purchased the rights, and had concept drawings for the film done by Jack Kirby (of X-Men, and later Crimsons Tide debate, fame.)

In April 1980 U.S. special forces launched Operation: Eagle Claw to assault the embassy and rescue the hostages. This is the first, acknowledged, operation by the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment - Delta. Commonly referred to as "Delta Force". This operation was aborted when a sandstorm damaged helicopters attempting to land at the improvised airstrip designated Desert 1. A collision between helo. and transport C-130 resulted in an explosion, multiple deaths, and further destabilization of the operation.


Merica, Dan. "Declassified document, CIA acknowledges role in ‘53 Iran coup." 19 August 2013.
Accessed 10 June 2021

Bearman, Joshuah. "How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran." 4 April 2007. Accessed 11 June 2021

Bowden, Mark. "The Desert One Debacle." May 2006.
Accessed 10June 2021

Dennis Meyers
U.S. Army, 1974-1980, BA & MA Economics,
Economist for 30 for State of California, Community College Adjunct Faculty

In 1941, Reza Shah Pahlavi was forced by the British to abdicate in favor of his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (the Shah).

In 1944, Mohammad Mosaddegh was elected to the Persian Parliament, or the Majlis of Iran.

1951, Mosaddegh led a movement in the Majlis to nationalize the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC*). This raised his popularity and power to such an extent that the Majlis overwhelmingly nominated him to be the Premier and the Shah was forced to appoint him. [* In 1954 AIOC was renamed the "British Petroleum Company", now known as BP.]

Mosaddegh was a reformer; he introduced unemployment compensation, made factory owners pay benefits to sick and injured workers, and freed peasants from forced labor on their landlords' estates.

  1. Ongoing competition for control of the Iranian government led the Shah to try to dismiss Mosaddegh. But, Mosaddegh’s supporters took to the streets and forced the Shah to leave the country. Shortly thereafter, Britain and the US (CIA) sponsored a coup that restored the Shah to power, deposed Mosaddegh and imprisoned him for treason.

1953–77. The Shah introduced reforms to westernize and modernize Iran. He introduced a series of economic, social and political reforms to transform Iran into a global power and modernizing the nation by nationalizing certain industries and granting women suffrage. During his 38-year rule, Iran spent billions on industry, education, health, and armed forces.
But, he also established the SAVAK, a domestic security and intelligence service, (with the help of the CIA) that "tortured and murdered thousands of the Shah's opponents.
The Shah, however, lost the support of the Shi'a clergy of Iran and the working class due to alleged corruption related to himself and the royal family. Opposition was also based upon his autocratic rule, corruption in his government, the unequal distribution of oil wealth, forced Westernization, and the activities of SAVAK. The result was that he lost the support of the clergy as well as the more progressive leftists.

This political suppression included exiling Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a former professor of philosophy in Qom, in 1964.

  1. Popular demonstrations against the Shah began when thousands of religious school students took to the streets. The Shah reacted with both concessions and repression including killing anti-Shah protestors. Government and oil workers also went on strike, effectively closing down the oil industry.

  2. In January the Shah left Iran for exile. Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile on February 1. On April 1, following a national referendum, Khomeini declared Iran an Islamic republic.


The First Takeover--Before the takeover that took American personnel hostage, there was a brief takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran on February 14, 1979 (the Valentine's Day Open House). The Organization of Iranian People's Fedai Guerrillas stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took an embassy Marine guard hostage. Ambassador William Sullivan surrendered the embassy to save lives, and within three hours, with the assistance of Iranian Foreign Minister, the embassy was returned to U.S. control. The Marine was injured in the attack, kidnapped by the militants, tortured, tried, and convicted of murder. But President Carter and Ambassador Sullivan secured his release within six days.

On November 4, 1979 demonstrations were initiated by an organization of several Islamic associations of Tehran's main universities, the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line to protest the admittance of the deposed Shah to the US to receive cancer treatment. They demanded that the Shah be returned to Iran for trial and execution. Other demands included that the U.S. government apologize for its interference in the internal affairs of Iran, including the overthrow of Prime Minister Mosaddegh, and that Iran's frozen assets in the United States be released. [After the overthrow of the Shah, the US froze approximately $11 billion (1980 dollars) of its assets.]

At first, the students planned a symbolic occupation, in which they would release statements to the press and leave when government security forces came to restore order as had happened during the first embassy takeover. The plan changed when it became clear that the Marine guards would not use deadly force and that a large, angry crowd had gathered outside the compound to cheer the occupiers and jeer the hostages.

Ayatollah Khomeini supported the hostage taking believing that it would solidify support for a theocratic constitution, which was scheduled for a referendum vote less than a month after the takeover. The crisis was used to stoke anti-American sentiment to suppress moderate political opponents.

Initially, 66 hostages were taken. On November 19 and 20, two women and eight African Americans were released. In July 1980, a white man who was seriously ill with multiple sclerosis was released. The remaining 52 hostages were held until January 1981, up to 444 days of captivity.

The hostages suffered beatings, theft, and fear of bodily harm. Two of them were paraded blindfolded before an angry, chanting crowd outside the embassy. Others had their hands bound "day and night" for days or even weeks, endured long periods of solitary confinement, and months of being forbidden to speak to one another or to stand, walk, or leave their space unless they were going to the bathroom. All of them "were threatened repeatedly with execution. The hostage-takers played Russian roulette with their victims. Four hostages tried to escape and were punished with long stretches of solitary confinement.

After imposing more economic sanctions on Iran and after several unsuccessful attempts to negotiate the release of the hostages, Operation Eagle Claw was ordered by President Jimmy Carter to attempt to rescue the 52 embassy hostages on 24 April 1980. The operation involved Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps units. The mission was plagued by mechanical problems that disabled 2 helicopters and by a sandstorm that caused the loss of a third. While the remaining aircraft and personnel were assembled at the initial rendezvous point inside Iran, Desert One, a bus loaded with passengers and a fuel tanker truck happened upon them. The mission was aborted but, while still at Desert One a collision of aircraft caused an explosion and fire which killed eight servicemen. The failure of the rescue attempt was a political blow to President Carter who was campaigning for reelection against Ronald Reagan. The embassy hostages were subsequently scattered across Iran to preclude any second rescue attempt.

Negotiations continued and culminated with the signing of the Algiers Accords on January 19, 1981. The hostages were released on January 20, only minutes after President Reagan completed his inaugural address. The timing of the release until after Reagan’s inauguration is thought to have been a snub of Carter to deny him the satisfaction of announcing the success of his negotiations.

Among other terms, the Accords required that the US would not intervene politically or militarily in Iranian internal affairs and that the US would remove the freeze on Iranian assets and lift trade sanctions on Iran.

The hostage crisis is thought to be the principal reason that Jimmy Carter was not reelected to a second term in office. Early in the crisis the Iranians voted overwhelmingly in favor of a new Islamic constitution giving Khomeini supreme power.


While most aspects of the rescue as depicted in movie were accurate, there are some instances of poetic license.

Rather than being a solo agent in Iran, Tony Mendez was accompanied by a second CIA agent known as Julio who was not mentioned at all in the movie.

In the real operation, Tony posed as an Irish filmmaker because the Irish are “nonthreatening” and “ubiquitous around the world.”

Canada’s role was significantly downplayed in the movie. Once the plan was decided on, Canadians “scouted the airport, sent people in and out of Iran to establish random patterns and get copies of entry and exit visas, bought three sets of airline tickets,” and “even coached the six in sounding Canadian.”

The Canadian Ambassador’s actual role was much larger than shown in the movie. At the request of Jimmy Carter and with the approval of the Canadian Prime Minister, he spied for the US throughout the hostage crisis.

The Americans in hiding were housed by two Canadians: Ambassador Ken Taylor and a Canadian embassy employee, John Sheardown. (In the film, all of them stay with Taylor and his wife; Sheardown does not appear at all.)

Rather than Mendez finding the movie script in a pile, the make-up artist John Chambers (played by John Goodman) suggested a script he’d read earlier, Lord of Light, right after Mendez told him about his escape plan.

The Hollywood producer played by Alan Arkin is fictional. Chambers actually brought in a fellow make-up artist, Robert Sidell, who worked on E.T. among many other movies.
Contrary to what is depicted in the movie, Tony Mendez was not separated from his wife and family at the time of the mission. In fact, when he left for Tehran, his wife drove him to the airport.

Several aspects portrayed in the final escape scenes were entirely fictional added to make the movie more exciting.

There was not a last-minute cancelation of the plan that prevented the purchase of the tickets. They were purchased in advance by the Canadians.
In reality, at the time, the Iranians at the airport could not match up the white and yellow copies of the entry documents in real time.
The group was not confronted by the Revolutionary Guards in the departure lounge that required verification by a phone call to Hollywood.
The departing aircraft was not chased as it took off.


NPR, Fact Checking 'Argo': A Great Escape That Takes Some Leaps, 2012,
NPR, 'Argo': What Really Happened In Tehran? A CIA Agent Remembers, 2013,
Encyclopaedia Britannica, Mohammad Mosaddegh,
Encyclopaedia Britannica, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi,
David Haglund, How Accurate Is Argo?, 2012,'s%20central%2C%20nutty%20storyline%E2%80%94in,percent%20true%2C%20and%20pretty%20incredible.
Harrison Smith, Tony Mendez, ‘Argo’ spy who smuggled U.S. hostages out of Iran during crisis, dies at 78, 2019, The Washington Post,
Amanda Taub, The Republican myth of Ronald Reagan and the Iran hostages, debunked, 2016,
Wikipedia articles: Iran hostage crisis, Mohammad Mosaddegh, Iranian Revolution, SAVAK, Operation Eagle Claw, Iranian frozen assets

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 11: Beau Travail Sun, 04 Jul 2021 00:00:00 -0700 07b4c441-2df6-4b5e-b65d-b31e45ad8bdd Surplus Ordnance! Research on E11: Beau Travail Beau Travail research on French Foreign Legion
Kyle Pockock

*A Brief History of the Legion *

Probably the most unique military organization still in service, the French Foreign Legion has been serving France since 1831. After several units of Swiss and German soldiers under the Bourbon monarchy were disbanded and foreign nationals and veterans of the Napoleonic wars flooded into the country following the civil unrest and regime changes in France, King Louis Philippe gathered them into the newly formed French Foreign Legion. Initially, the Legion was divided into seven battalions based on nationality, (Swiss, Polish, Italian, Spanish, Dutch-Belgian) rather than the homogenous group it is today. According to the Royal Ordinance establishing their creation, the Legion would only serve outside of mainland France so the newly formed Legion exclusively composed of foreign soldiers was sent to Algiers to support French colonial efforts in Africa.

This first assignment and the subsequent battles fought in Algeria would lead to the Legion considering the country their spiritual home in later years. Lacking discipline and organization, the newly arrived Colonel Michel Combe (Meeshell Comb-bay) used engineering projects other units found beneath them as a way to continue ironing out the command structure while still helping to improve the region for colonization. Sent to Spain to help the then ally of France Queen Isabella II maintain her claim to the throne, the Legion saw reorganization under Colonel Joseph Bernelle into mixed nationality companies based on role rather than place or language of origin. Despite their many differences, it actually proved effective at building morale and the esprit de corps the Legion desperately lacked through a competitive environment of legionnaires wanting to prove their nationalities worth compared to their comrades.

Despite this, and following several command changes, some devastating losses in Spain, and a return to Algeria, the Legion had again been downsized and was suffering from low morale. Newly formed battalions began employing as light infantry, moving quickly on foot to pursue the Arab insurgents they faced in Algeria, leading to a more independent and tight knit set of skirmishing battalions rather than garrisons and forts.

Following combat in the Crimean War, a campaign in the Second Italian War of Independence, and yet another return to Algeria, The Legion found itself headed to support French involvement in the Second Mexican Empire guarding an Australian Archduke and his contingent from Mexican guerrillas. On April 30th, 1863, a small patrol of 65 men led by Captain Jean Danjou (Jawn Dan-joo) was set upon by over a thousand Mexican infantry and cavalry, forcing them to seek refuge in the meager shelter of Hacienda Cameron. Fighting desperately nearly to the last man, the 5 remaining survivors burst out from the flaming Hacienda in a last ditch bayonet charge only to be cut down in a hail of gunfire by the Mexicans sieging the house. When the Mexican commander Milan realized how few men had been fighting back ferociously he remarked that “these are not men, they are devils.” The wooden hand of Captain Danjou was returned to the Legion and remains one of their most important artifacts and is a testament to the ferocious and often selfless fighting spirit of the legion.

Continued colonial campaigns in North Africa and China, the Legion would be thrust directly into their first conflict on French soil; the First World War. Longtime hardened veterans of the Legion often butted heads with the fresh new, idealistic recruits while they served together across the globe during the war. Some of the largely German and Austrian groups of legionnaires were left to be garrisoned in North Africa for fears that they may have their loyalties challenged fighting their countrymen. Notable Legion involvement in the war includes campaigns in Gallipoli, the Balkans, and a sizable amount of legionnaires sent to the Battle of the Somme.

A staggering 70% of legionnaires were killed in the war, leaving a broken and weary Legion to rebuild their once full ranks back to their former glory. New idealistic recruits in the interwar period clashed with the battle hardened veterans. General Paul Rollet knew it was time to attract the sort of men he felt the legion needed a PR makeover, focusing on tradition and the romantic appeal of heroic battle that had gained the Legion its fame in the past. He brought back traditional aspects of their uniforms like the sun backed white kepi blancs (keppy blawnk), the bright red epaulettes, and the green neckties synonymous with the Legion today. Surprisingly, his endeavors were helped along by an explosion of French Foreign Legion films coming out of Hollywood at the time that helped guide many a wayward young man into their ranks.

With a rebuilt and reinforced Legion at the ready, France found itself once again at war with Germany, being invaded in 1940. Heavy losses in the face of the relentless Nazi blitzkrieg before French capitulation had shattered and scattered the legionnaires who fought in the Battle of France. Charles De Gaulles (Sharl duh Gawl), appalled at his country’s resignation, found himself in England and ready to continue the fight his government had given up on, forming the Free French Army out of any remaining French soldiers he could find, including the 13e Demi-Brigade (13e represents the French word for 13th; treizième or trezz-ee-emm) of legionnaires. One of the brigades and divisions (the 6th Regiment) still loyal to Vichy France would end up fighting the Free French 13e Demi-Brigade in Syria near Damascus.

Following the hard-fought liberation of France, the Legion was sent back to French Indochina (modern day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) to attempt to quel revolutionary uprisings in the area. While they knew French hold on the region was waning, the legionnaires fought ferociously to hold onto the territory they defended. In the ill fated battle to defend their base at Dien Bien Phu, thousands of legionnaires, some with absolutely no jump training, volunteered to jump into the battle to help reinforce their comrades. After losing some four thousand soldiers and finding themselves low on supplies and overwhelmed, the soldiers at Dien Bien Phu were forced to surrender. Though they did their best to protect French interests in the area, the Legion couldn’t help but feel that they had been cheated after France left the area for good, leaving a power vacuum until American involvement in the area and the subsequent war.

Their feelings of betrayal would boil over following an independence movement turned insurgency in Algeria. The Legion would partake in brutal desert fighting sometimes resorting to torture and reprisals to try to maintain their spiritual homeland for France. Running for his presidential term on promises of keeping Algeria French, De Gaulles would be forced to come to a peaceful resolution with the National Liberation Front in 1962. This infuriated members of the French military, notably some legionnaires who plotted assassinations of De Gaulle and possible coup attempts to keep France on the path they felt it should stay on. Thankfully for De Gaulle and his government, the attempts failed and despite knowing of the dissent within their ranks, he chose not to dissolve the Legion, being reminded of their stellar service under his Free French Army.

For the rest of their history, the French Foreign Legion would continue doing what they had always done, protecting French territory and interests around the world. Elements of the Legion would be involved in peacekeeping operations in former colonial territories like Congo and Mali as well as coalition interventions into Iraq and Afghanistan. Forever being seen as an almost disposable military force due to their foreign status and fierce devotion to the Legion, legionnaires would find themselves in far flung places of the world conducting the most dangerous missions France was too hesitant to send the French Army, fearing the public backlash should “real” French soldiers lose their lives. Historically, 1 in 10 legionnaires die in combat, a fact that almost seems unsurprising given the danger they have reliably been placed in time after time. The Legion seems to take pride in this fact, however, and attracts men hell-bent on seeing combat and joining a brotherhood of soldiers who swear loyalty to their Legion, not their Country. Reflected in this tradition is one of their current mottoes; Legio Pastra Nostra or The Legion Is Our Homeland.

Training and Organization

Given the combat heavy lifestyle ahead of them, training for new legionnaires is some of the most physically and mentally demanding available. Recruits have the opportunity to assume a completely new identity and avoid any sort of crooked past (short of especially serious crimes like murder) for the opportunity to make a fresh start in their 5 years of required service in the Legion. Aside from the shared suffering and their rich traditions, legionnaires are also bound together by their learning of French After a month of basic training resembling the stresses of American special forces training like Ranger school or the Navy SEAL’s BUD/S, the new legionnaires don their Kepi Blancs and from there are sent to a near constant routine of training and/or combat for the rest of their careers. In the words of a Legion officer, “a legionnaire who is not working is a legionnaire who can make mistakes,” and they intend to keep them busy as much as possible, sharpening their skills and equipping them with specializations as they rise through the ranks. Desert training is accomplished in Djibouti (as seen in the film), and jungle training occurs in French Guiana.

The Legion has its own officers and non-commissioned officers, functioning within the French Army as a strike group with infantry, paratroop, and cavalry battalions available to deploy around the world. Aside from their makeup of foreigners and their assignments, the Legion uses all the same equipment and vehicles as the rest of the French Army. Should a legionnaire be wounded in combat he will immediately be made eligible for French citizenship under the established practice known as "Français par le sang versé" or “French by spilled blood.” Additional information on the structure and traditions of the Legion can be found in the links below.

Additional Background Information For Beau Travail

Aside from their training presence in the area, the FFL was tasked by the Djibouti government with border security and protection from any terrorist threats Djibouti fears they may encounter with the unrest around them in neighboring countries (especially at the time of the movie in the late 90s). The FFL has similar duties around the world, including protecting the French Guiana Space Centre in use by France and other EU countries.
Khat, or qat, the plant we see the Commandant chewing on, is a plant native to Eastern Africa that is used as a stimulant. Chewing the leaves, similarly to coca leaves in South America, is a cultural and social custom but can also create dependency on the euphoric effects the leaves give the user.
The director, Claire Denis, made heavy use of the repetitive physical training as a sort of dance performance.
The title may (I’m quite sure, but haven’t been able to confirm) be a reference to the 1926, 1939, and 1966 films Beau Travail based on the novel of the same name by P. C. Wren about 3 English orphaned brothers who join the legion to fight in North Africa.


SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 10: Kingdom of Heaven Tue, 22 Jun 2021 10:00:00 -0700 1fafd634-01fc-415d-b780-2cd32d39afa6 Surplus Ordnance! Research on E10: Kingdom of Heaven ** KINGDOM OF HEAVEN**

Researcher: Dave Feldmann

Undergrad and unofficial medievalist, current practitioner of Historical European Martial Arts. I've been looking at and reading knight stuff since I could read and walk, including research into the zettel of Lichtenauer and Hans Talhoffer's Fechtbuch.

Incident(s) the film touches on?

The film takes place about 100 years after the mostly Frankish and Norman knights of the First Crusade conquered Antioch, Edessa, Jerusalem, and much of the Holy Land from the Seljuk Turks. The targets of the Crusaders were primarily everyone in the Levant who were not Roman Catholics - the massacre of Jerusalem at the conclusion of the First Crusade killed Jews, Greek Orthodox Christians, as well as the Muslim population is mentioned in the film directly. "Kingdom of Heaven" takes place after the failed Second Crusade to capture Damascus, and portrays the events that led directly to the showdown between King Richard (called the Lionhearted by the Saracens accoding to myth) and Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria.

Interesting Facts?

Ridley Scott’s 2004 medieval anti-religious yet decidedly pro-chivalry epic suffers from many of the symptoms associated with almost every film he has ever made. In his historical films, Scott typically begins designing the look of his film from 19th century romantic paintings and does his best to recreate the look, feel, and color distribution represented.1.

  1. The only time Scott has not done this forcefully is in his very fine original work “The Duelists,” which contains, along with Polish film “The Deluge,” some truly wonderful, authentic, and realistic swordplay. I can talk about combat ad nauseum, let me know if you need/ want more.a

The Englishization of most Europeans in the film. The vast majority of the Crusaders and the Crusaders states during this time were mostly all French, including the Templars. The Knights Hospitaller were known for being more generally Italian. The Teutonic Knights were not founded until after the events of the movie, in 1192 in Acre. Scott is making a movie by and large for English-speaking audiences, with English speaking actors, so why not continue the trope of all of High Medieval civilization being represented by actors from the UK, speaking in public school accents for the most part?

Military history stuff. From a medieval combat perspective, especially including gear and equipment, the film presents some weaponry and armor from the late 12th century while including other weapons and weapon systems anachronistically.

The entire forest scene from beginning to end is looked upon fairly well in medievalist circles. The sophisticated hygiene of the Saracen warrior, the maintenance of war-fighting equipment, and Balian’s initial lesson in Fiore-style longsword combat are all fantastic and historically accurate. Using the full weapon (which Godrey demonstrates to Balan “the edge isn’t the only part of the sword”) are straight out of Fiore’s manuals.

Unfortunately, Italian longsword was a weapons system developed centuries later, and knights and warriors from Europe would most likely be using an arming sword, a weapon used in one hand and another weapon, most likely a shield typically (an arming sword corresponds to types X through XII in the below diagram. The two-handed Type XIIa is from about 60 years after Kingdom of Heaven). Longswords were denoted historically (and currently) due to their longer grip intended for two hand use. Two handed words existed in the 12th century, but are extremely rare in the historical record, and most of the fechtbucher (fight books) that have survived regarding medieval combat derive from the late 13th through early 16th centuries focus on longswords at great length. Most of the modern fight choreography uses or ignores these texts in equal measure - Game of Thrones varies in quality greatly but has some high points of authenticity.

A likely inaccuracy is the style of the German warrior’s sword, which is of an amalgamation of a longsword of the late 12th century, with its two handed grip common in the 13th and 14th centuries, and a non-cruciform hilt more common in the Viking age 200 years earlier. Such swords do exist, but are comparatively rare. It's likely that the design team was looking for a way to visually distinguish him from the other warriors in a germanic way. His berserker charge with two weapons even when grievously wounded by a quarrel in the neck is also a throwback to Viking or Teutonic warrior cultures, mentioned as far back as Tacitus.

The combat itself in the fight is high quality, but many elements are slowed or lost completely, primarily because “real” medieval combat is not very cinematic - it would have been better if the warriors of both sides preferred using the tip more than the edge but that’s just something that happens in all movies. Edge-based fighting (cuts with the edge) look scarier and more impressive. The use of crossbowmen and archers to launch the ambush under the facade of parley is commonplace in the historical record.

I personally love Kevin McKidd in this scene, executing a man of the knightly classes after Godfrey refuses to ransom him. The chainmail spike on his warhammer graphically bursts through the secondary chainmail on the noble’s head, and this is a demonstration of precisely what that weapon was designed to do. Warhammers were far more common on medieval battlefields than swords, due to the increased availability of chainmail for many soldiers of all classes, and for its effectiveness. These weapons in particular were favored by the lighter-armored Turkish, Persian, Kurdish, and Egyptian Muslim armies as they developed weapons systems to face more heavily armed and armored Christian knights in close combat. Too bad it's an almost exact replica of a warhammer from the 15th century.

The brief combat between Balian and the Saracen warrior first using a scimitar and then a spear (of some kind) is curious. After the mounted exchange is over (“fight me fairly!”), the Saracen starts combat with his curved blade on his forearm. This is not uncommon in treatises on Polish or Turkish sabre, and is considered to favor defense. However, soldiers in the service of Saladin at the time did not use curved swords. It is not known when the scimitar or any other curved blade weapon gained prominence in the Middle East.

In the battle outside Kerak, the cavalry charge of the Christian knights is very close to what it would’ve looked like, except that the knights would have ridden even closer together and used lances. Their armor is an amalgam of infantry and cavalry styles from the period, which is forgivable for two reasons: 1. They are portrayed as mounted men-at-arms rather than knights and 2. Latin feudal states in Outremer had compulsory military service for all free men, at the King's discretion. Think the Riders of Rohan, sort of. In pitched battles, cavalry charges by numerically inferior Christian knights packed close together were devastating to Saracen/ Turkish/ Kurdish/ Fatimid armies for centuries before and after the event of Kingdom of Heaven. For example, the battle of Arsuf saw a mounted heavy cavalry charge rout Saladin’s army. In the movie, Baldwin reminisces about his decisive victory over Saladin at Montgisard, another battle won by numerically fewer European knights in a heavy cavalry attack. Primary sources from the time indicate that Saladin had many thousands while Baldwin had only 375 knights, however, while the numbers are inflated or deflated by sources to maximize Baldwin’s victory, there is no doubt that Baldwin had fewer soldiers in this engagement.
Balian would not have pulled his helmet off in the middle of a battle, because he would not have been that dumb.
How the Arabs take down Balian is pretty accurate. Multiple soldiers would be swarming a single knight and incapacitating him for capture, and ultimate ransom. Chainmail works very well against cutting strikes and some “thrusts” (using the tip of a hand weapon). Getting hit with metal weapons while wearing chainmail armor hurts, but is not fatal - I can tell you this from experience. The number of survivors from the battle is not unreasonable, and the idea that prisoners would be released or ransomed by one side or the other was commonplace during the constant warfare of the period.

“There is peace there.”
Nope. Liam Neeson is wrong there. Battles, raids, sieges, all forms of warfare were more or less constant, with ceasefires and peace declarations constantly being made and broken. Sybilla’s marriage ceremony to Guy was interrupted by a siege.

“Between Baldwin and Saladin, they could make a better world.”
Maybe, if lasting peace were not diametrically opposed to the two leaders’ strategic aims.
Saladin’s stated goal was the capture of Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest city, and destroy the entire feudal structure of the Crusader states.

The goal of the Crusader states was to continue their occupation and defeat Saladin wherever possible.
On the other hand, there is also no evidence of widespread massacres, harsh treatment, mutilation,or execution of prisoners common in the First Crusade or the Third Crusade. Evidence of Saladin’s humane treatment of non-combatants and children is well-known. While Latin Christians would frequently be captured, ransomed, or enslaved, Greek Orthodox Christians, Coptic Christians, and Jews appear to be identified as outside the main Latin Christian structure and treated well by the standards of the time.
There is no evidence of Baldwin being a modern humanitarian with regards to his treatment of the non-Latin Christians.

“Saladin has crossed the Jordan with 500,000 men.”
WRONG. Saladin’s army did not number in the hundreds of thousands, but this does fall into common historiographical use. Eastern armies are regularly inflated by 10x in sources going back to Xenophon and Alexander, in order to magnify the victory, or to downplay the defeat, for propaganda purposes. Most estimates put Saladin’s army in the 50,000 range, outnumbering the Europeans, but not by orders of magnitude.

The Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller.

The status of the knightly orders within the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the other Crusader states is enormously complicated. They functioned both as shock troops, advisors to the king and court, while also not being formally answerable to the King. Primary sources are full of impetuous Templars charging too early in battle and imperiling the crusaders as such. It is unknown whether or not this is true -- many sources of this period are based on earlier works no longer in existence. Opinion regarding the Templars in subsequent centuries certainly contaminates the record.3.

  1. _I can talk about this in significantly more detail, but suffice it say that the Templars were accused of worshiping the Devil, sodomy, renouncing Christ in favor of Mohammad, and a ton of other religious crimes when they were suppressed by the King of France in 1307 before being formally disbanded in 1314. _

While raids by both sides continued constantly and often in defiance of ceasefires and peace treaties, the Templars in particular were known to at different points trade with other Saracen lords and even support them in battle. The kingdom of Jerusalem for example militarily supported a Fatimid Egyptian faction opposed to Saladin in the years prior to those of the film. The Templars’ position as bankers and financial advisors is completely ignored.
Other than being one of the good guys, the Hospitallers are basically ignored.

Horns of Hattin.

The movie greatly simplifies this battle, primarily because the battle itself is enormously complicated, and could probably have a movie about it by itself. Most primary sources agree that King Guy either took bad advice or made a tactical error and moved away from the water source at Saffuriya. Most sources agree that the fighting was extremely bitter and went on for two days, with one European cavalry charge threatening Saladin himself. It should be noted that medieval battles were typically decided in hours, sometimes in minutes. If the sources are to be believed, the battle of Hattin is one of the longest pitched battles in medieval history, and based on the primary sources seems to be a bloody battle of attrition, similar to the battle of Zama or the Napoleonic battle of Borodino. Multiple sources agree that the count of Tiberias led a cavalry against the Muslims, who parted their entire line in front of him and his troops, and then enveloped and wiped out his entire column. There is no agreement in the sources as to who was with the count, although modern sources claim that this was a desperate attempt to reach fresh water. Most sources agree that King Guy setting up camp away from a water source was a mistake which led directly to the European army being surrounded, increasingly desperate, and to their defeat.

“I did not give the cup to you.”
The meeting of King Guy, Raynald of Châtillon, and Saladin is supported by most primary and secondary resources. Where the sources disagree are primarily Raynald and Saladin’s brief conversation, and whether Saladin killed Raynald himself entirely, or stabbed Raynald and had his Mamluk bodyguards behead him.
Christian and Muslim accounts agree that almost the entire Crusader army was destroyed, and it is unclear how Balian and a handful of Europeans escaped. Medieval accounts describe the entire host as being killed or captured, with prisoners being sold into slavery. Multiple sources, both Muslim and Christian describe the execution of 200 Templars and Hospitillars.

The Siege of Jerusalem.

There would not have been time to construct siege towers, the siege lasted a few days to just over a week. Instead of building such material, Saladin was instead accepting the surrender of towns and castles all over the Latin kingdom with the one exception of Tyre, which resisted him. Since the vast amount of the fighting forces of the Latin kingdom had been effectively annihilated at Hattin, Saladin probably believed that he could take the city by storm. Even though Jerusalem is not improbably located on a desert plain, the soldiers of the First Crusade had found only enough wood to construct exactly one siege tower a hundred years before, rather than the 20 that you see in the film. There’s no evidence of boiling oil or Greek fire being used in this siege. The Muslims dug beneath the walls of Jerusalem to bring down the wall, and according to contemporary records, Saladin’s standard had been placed there, though his soldiers had been driven off.
Balian offered terms, and only threatened the destruction of the Dome of the Rock, the execution of the thousands of Muslim prisoners he still held, the murder of their families prior to capture, and essentially the ruination of the city itself prior to its fall to Saladin. The threat that his knights would kill ten Saracens for every Latin killed is supported by multiple sources. Considering that the fighting to take the city had been bloody thus far, (few cities fell by storm in the Middle Ages), this may have been on Saladin’s mind from the beginning. According to Imad ad-Din, this was discussed in council, and it was determined that such a victory would be too costly for the Muslims. Rather than going free, the soldiers and Latin people of Jerusalem would essentially be bought out of slavery with the riches of the city. After 40 days after the surrender of the city, still considered to be an unconditional surrender by the letter of the law, 15,000 Latin Christians were sold into slavery. Balian was concerned specifically with destitutes in the city. According to Imad ad-Din, Saladin gifted Balian 500 such slaves he had taken, with the full knowledge that they would be immediately freed.
After the surrender, Sybilla and Balian led the payrolled survivors from one Crusader-held castle and city to the next, only to be denied entry. Many were robbed and killed by brigands, some of whom were directed to do so by the Latin Christian lords. According to Imad ad-Din, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem stole significantly from the Church in defiance of the agreement. Ad-Din also criticized Saladin’s decision to not destroy the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. While not violent by the standards of the time, the capture of Jerusalem was not as it was portrayed in the film, with everyone becoming friends right away. Still there is no evidence of widespread murder, looting, etc. The city certainly wasn’t burned as in previous sieges, or its population massacred. The Basileus of the Eastern Empire wrote to congratulate Saladin on his victory and thanked him for the good treatment of Orthodox Christians. Balian of Ibelin and Guy de Lusignan did not fight a duel in the marketplace of Jerusalem after the surrender of the city as shown in the Director’s Cut. King Guy would not even be released from imprisonment for years. Also, such a fight would likely be seen as a breach in the peace were it to happen and both men executed. It's also not a very good longsword fight.


Balian of Ibelin
Balian of Ibelin was a real person who did defend the city of Jerusalem. The Liam Neeson character bears more in common with the historical Balian than the Orlando Bloom version and his pretty face. Balian was an older man, and considered to be a leader of the old guard, descendants of the First Crusaders. Balian was effectively third-in-line for the throne while Baldwin lived. Balian never had an affair with Sybilla, who by all accounts was just head over heels for Guy de Lusignan. Some sources do claim that in order to replenish the ranks of knights, Balian created 60 knights from squires and raised other soldiers to squires. I have been utterly confounded as to where this comes from, it is not in any primary source that I have encountered. Balian did not return with Sybilla to France, and remained in the Holy Land, commanding the rearguard at the battle of Jaffa (the battle where Saladin sent a mount to Richard after he was unhorsed, according to legend) and served as a negotiator between Richard and Saladin. In Muslim sources, during the negotiation, Balian is said to speak with the royal “we,” which has led some historians to suspect that the Muslims treated Balian as the king of Jerusalem during the siege.

The characterization of Sybilla as an Orientalized European has more in common with Shelley, Byron, and other 19th century Romantic poets than with 12th century reality. The concept of a relationship between Sybilla and Balian is the product of a courtly love story written in the 13th century called in academic circles Old French Continuation of William Tyre. 4.

  1. No one including the author has ever read it. Highly suspect as a historical resource, it may instead be viewed as an idealized version of events of “the Latin East.” Some aspects of the work, such as Sybilla writing to Balian, offering her hand, and therefore the kingship of Jerusalem, if he frees her Saladin, bear striking similarities to much older legend of Attila the Hun and Honoria, the Roman Emperor’s imprisoned sister. It is all BS. Sybilla was indeed crowned sole regent and Queen after plots, counterplots, and royal intrigues following the death of her brother Baldwin (IV), as well as her son, Baldwin (V). His death is not traditionally attributed to leprosy. Raynald of Chatillon was one of her strongest supporters, along with the Master of the Temple, commander of the Templars. In negotiations with the ruling council of Jerusalem, she agreed to renounce her previous marriage in return for regency and queenship. She would also be granted the right to choose her own husband, and she chose Guy de Lusignan, bearing him two children. Sybilla’s choices of allies frequently place her in political opposition to the “Crusader old guard” led by Balian of Ibelin. Rather than pulling a Cersei and looking out the window the whole time, defence of the city is thought to have been led by Sybilla, Eraclius, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, and Balian. Over the centuries Sybilla has been portrayed in a negative light by many chroniclers, at turns flighty, melodramatic, unpredictable, or any of the other epithets associated with powerful women throughout history. Her demand to marry Guy de Lusignan just prior to the epic defeat at Hattin is often portrayed as destroying the Crusader kingdom in the long run by European writers. Who knows, maybe they just don’t like powerful, savvy women. What is peculiar and interesting about Sybilla in Kingsom of Heaven, is that many of the piled up negative aspects found in the historiography and romances (dalliances with dashing knights, realpoliticking over the crown of Jerusalem, ruthlessness during her regency and ultimately the euthanasia of her own son) are presented in a sympathetic light, the actions of a paradoxically powerful but trapped woman.

Imad ad-Din.
Portrayed by Alexander Siddig (Siddig El Fadil), is a real chronicler, poet, professor of law, and judge of the time period. Highly educated, highly respected, Imad ad-Din is one of the only reasons we have as much knowledge about Saladin from the Muslim side as we do. By all accounts a close friend of Saladin, he was most often placed in high administrative and judicial posts around Saladin’s empire. His work, al-Nawādir al-Sultaniyya wa'l-Maḥāsin al-Yūsufiyya, (the Rare and Excellent Life of Saladin) is unusual in that it was written near contemporary of the events it depicts. There’s no evidence to suggest that he was ever a warrior, or the engineer who suggested the weak point in Jerusalem’s walls.

Gleefully played by Brendan Gleason, this character bears little similarity to the real Raynald. He was not a Templar, instead an aggressive newcomer to the region, who found courtly support with Queen Sybilla and King Guy There’s no evidence that he was insane, or drank and ate heavily while under siege at Kerak. He did attack a caravan and break the truce that existed between Guy and Saladin. I’ve found no evidence that Raynald murdered Saladin’s sister. On the contrary, Saladin’s son engaged a force of Templars immediately after the ceasefire was broken and decisively defeated them.
Elsewhere it is noted that Raynald’s death likely occurred as depicted in the movie. Just prior to his death, it's even possible that “snow-capped water” was being drunk in his presence, as depicted in the immediate aftermath of the battle.

The sultan of Egypt and Syria is portrayed by Ghassan Massoud (غسّان مسعود). He’s awesome in this movie. Saladin and his status as a Muslim chivalrous antagonist is a noted topic among romances, histories, chronicles of the Western Medeval world. He normally comes off looking much more humanitarian compared to his Latin adversaries, certainly Guy, Raynald, or Richard in the 3rd Crusade (who personally executed a bunch of prisoners within sight of Saladin himself).
Saladin’s status as a great leader of Sunni Islam has only been discussed and studied (possibly re-discovered) over the last century or so. Movies, TV, and books have increasingly portrayed him as a hero of Syria, Egypt, or Sunni Islam in general. Saladin is buried in Damascus, in the Umayyad Mosque. He has two sarcophagi: one wooden and one marble. The wooden sarcophagus covers Saladin’s burial shroud. The marble was donated by Kaiser Wilhelm II upon his visit to Damascus in 1898. It’s located off to the side. The mausoleum is open for visitors.

Researcher: Ally Pitts

Bachelor's degree in History, including several units on medieval topics

A Kurdish general. He brutally suppressed the Shia Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt on the orders of Nur ad-Din, the ruler of Aleppo and Damascus. When Nur ad-Din died without an adult heir, Saladin took over the territories he had ruled. He survived a serious illness in 1182, and is said to have dedicated himself to the recovery of Jerusalem in gratitude to God for having spared his life. Scholars have debated to what extent this is a literary device employed by supportive chroniclers. Saladin survived several attempts on his life by literal Assassins.

Guy de Lusignan:
Guy was originally from Poitou in western France. After his wife Sybil died, he lost his claim to the throne of Jerusalem. He was given control of Cyprus by Richard I of England (AKA ‘the Lionheart’), who had captured the island in 1191.

Reynald de Chatillon:
Reynald became Prince of Antioch (one of the Crusader States) through marriage to Constance, heiress to the principality. He was called ‘the elephant’ by Saladin, a comparison with a 6th-century Ethiopian king who had tried to destroy Mecca. He was rumoured to be planning to raid the city of Medina to steal the body of the Prophet Muhammad. This rumour was used by Saladin to gain support for his war against the Frankish states.

Balian of Ibelin:
Not actually a peasant. Threatened to kill all of his Muslim prisoners & destroy all the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem if Saladin didn’t offer terms to the Christian defenders of the city.

The Hospitallers (as represented by David Thewlis’s character):
Founded by merchants from Amalfi in the late 11th century, the St. John’s Hospital was part of a monastery near the Holy Sepulchre. It provided accommodation and medical care to Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem. The Hospitallers didn’t have a military role until the mid 1130s, when they began garrisoning castles across the crusader states. Following the destruction of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1291, they resettled in Rhodes. When Rhodes was captured by the Ottoman Turks, the Hospitallers were given control of Malta by Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire in 1530 in exchange for an annual tribute of a single Maltese falcon. They were eventually kicked out of Malta in 1798 by Napoleon Bonaparte when he captured the island.

Life in the Crusader States:

The Frankish rulers of the Crusader States imposed taxes on the indigenous peoples, regardless of whether they were Muslims, Christians, or Jews. According to Professor Andrew Jotischky “ the 12th century at least, there was no attempt to impose conformity of religious practice on the subject peoples. Indigenous Christians, Muslims, and Jews were by and large permitted to observe their own traditions unmolested''. However, Muslims were not permitted to enter Jerusalem.

The Crusades & Medieval Society:

According to Professor Christopher Tyerman, the first western European income tax was levied by Henry II of England in 1166 to fund crusading.

Legacy of the Crusades:

In the post-WWI carve-up of the Middle East, French Foreign Minister Stephen Jean-Marie Pichon traced France’s claim on Syria back to the Crusades. The Emir Feisal of the Hijaz, who was present at the Paris Peace Conference responded, “Pardon me, Monsieur Pichon, but which of us won the Crusades?”. Emir Feisal’s interpreter was T.E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia.


Crusading and the Crusader States, Andrew Jotischky (incidentally, one of my lecturers when I was at university), Pearson, 2004

A Trip Down the Red Sea with Reynald of Châtillon, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
Third Series, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Apr., 2008), pp. 141-153

The Sea Speaks Arabic, Umej Bhatia, History Today Vol. 55 (5), 2005

The Cross and the State, Christopher Tyerman, Vol. 56 (9), 2006

Researcher: Benjamin David Curley

Unsurprisingly the Crusades period of history is much more complicated than what little information about it we tend to learn either in school or via osmosis. A huge important factor that can get lost in the "Christianity vs Islam" framing we tend to get is that JUST before the Crusades period began we got The Great Schism between the Eastern and Western Christian Church that lead to the distinction we see today between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. We have to understand that for the European Christians of the day this was a massive change where now there was this huge shift in religious power, and this massive debate between the authority of The Pope vs the ecclesiastical powers of the Eastern Orthodox church. So when Jerusalem was captured by the Seljuk Turks in the late 1000s and the Byzantine Empire called for aid trying to retake it's lost territory the forces of religion, culture, economics, and politics all came together in unprecedented ways that no one factor can truly encapsulate.

The Catholic Church saw this as a chance to advance their goals of repairing the Schism by reclaiming the Holy Land thereby reuniting Christianity and undoing the fragmentation that was still fresh in everyone's memories. A Europe that still included Moorish Spain saw pressure on the Byzantines as the invaders at the gates of the last real bastion preventing another invasion of Europe, and maybe they wouldn't be able to stop them this time. And it's important to remember that with the feudal culture of the time and the difficulties faced by lesser sons of nobility the chance to have more from life than hoping your brothers die, or submitting yourself to a life of monastic servitude the opportunity to go and make a name for yourself and gain your own wealth land and titles or die trying was a tantalizing prospect. This all tied in to the very real religious zeal that many people felt where the call to retake the city of Jerusalem for God was a legitimate motivating factor for thousands of people who otherwise would likely never have left their own homes.

This lead to the First Crusade that, while successful in reclaiming Christian control of the Holy Land along the Mediteranian coast, they did not reinstate Byzantine control as the Empire would have wanted, and the many Crusader States were all controlled by people with their own goals and ambitions for the whole endeavour. This was mirrored by the Muslim powers in the region, who while not happy about this Eurpoean invasion were also not unified in their goals or ambitions. Just as in Europe the different Muslim powers jockying for land and control in the Middle East were often happy to see someone else coming to give their rivals a bloody nose and make them weaker the next time they tried to gain ground or negotiate an aliance. This also was exacerbated by the very hostile relationship between the new Catholic Crusader power structure and the Christians who had been previously living in the region. All the holy sites that had been under Eastern Orthodox control were now replaced with Catholic clergy and liturgy failing to bring about the reunification that was a goal of the Crusade, but how can you tell the zealous Christians who just fought and bled under Papal order to not then perform their own rites even if it did undermine the high minded goal of reuniting the Church, and if you're an Orthodox Christian it felt like you were just trading one occupier for another.

In the aftermath of the First Crusade we get a hundred fifty year period of The Crusader States, where the different Crusader Kingdoms and the Muslim Caliphates are in near constant warfare, but who was fighting whom was constantly in shift including some instances where Muslim states made aliances with Christians ones to fight their rivals. This all really began to change when through lots of fascinating and complicated movements Al-Nasir Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub (Saladin) was able to become Sultan of Egypt and then Sultan of Syria thereby uniting the two main Muslim powers under one banner. He was a great diplomat and generous leader but now that the Muslims were ostensibly united there was only one major enemy in the region and one target for his might to be facing and that was The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the other Crusader States. We need to remember that for all the power and authority Kings and Sultans wield the Feudal system is by its very nature fractured. A leader who is not answering the calls of their subordinates may not find themselves a leader for long. Saladin to his credit was a brilliant logistical mind and knew to pick his fights instead of just wasting the strength of his unified empire in blow after blow. When we see the Jerusalem of Kingdom of Heaven Saladin has learned his lesson from his previous war against Baldwin IV and has spent the years of truce solidifying his control of Muslim lands and making sure that he was ready to fight the next war everyone knew was coming. So the world we are entering is a world that is as divided and as contentious as the film shows us. It is a world of practical rules, of men hungry for power, of soldiers just looking to make name and fortune for themselves, and of warriors truly inspired by religious fervor who believe that God is on their side. While it may be easier to paint the Crusades with broad brushes, either as a derogatory example of the evils of religion, or as decisions made by people as secular as the modern reader looking back it cannot be overstated that for the people of the time they were not as mindlessly blindly devoted to whatever "God Wills" but also were not universally pragmatic and using that language as a cover. Many of them did believe that they were legitimately acting out the desires of God, but they were not also unaware of the other forces motivating and driving them.

Some other historical footnotes for this movie:

By all contemporary accounts Sibylla did in fact love Guy and was completely devoted to him (but then we don't get to see our lead mack with our beautiful damsel).

Reynald likely did not kill Saladin's sister, though the depiction of his death was close to the historical record. The added context there that is undercut by the "I take water for what it is" line is that it would have been known that for a captured person to receive food or drink from their captor was a sign of safety. So Saladin's note that "I did not offer the cup to you" is a very pointed "Guy is safe, not you". Muslim records of the event state that Saladin offered Reynald the chance to convert to Islam to prevent his execution for his many crimes, and when Reynald refused Saladin cut his head off. If this was a true offer, or an addition by his chroniclers to make Saladin seem more magnanimous is a matter of debate, but Saladin was known for showing mercy and being generous to a fault.

Finally my favorite anecdote, contrary to the depiction in the film, Balian was present at the Horns of Hattin and survived the battle. Knowing that Saladin's next stop would be Jerusalem he asked for and was granted permission to go back to the city to secure his wife and family. When Balian arrived he found no one of any rank there to defend the city. He sent word to Saladin saying he had to break his word to just grab his family and go, and true to his nature Saladin seemed to completely understand, and even provided Balian's family safe passage through to Tripoli before the siege started. A true moment of "yeah, I get it" when many people at the time might go into full vengeance mode for the breaking of an oath.

Finally a small nitpick as I also come from a historical combat perspective. During the attempted assassination of Balian a knight is seen with a "ball and chain" style flail. These weapons are so rare that it's iffy if they even existed. While weapons called Flails are real they were giant paddles similar to grain flails. The spiked ball on several feet of chain is an anachronism that plagues a lot of medieval films. Similarly, as much as it pains me to say as a practitioning sword fighter, the use of swords is very much overdone in medieval epics, especially the longswords depicted in the film. Most swords of the time would have been single handed arming swords meant to be used with a shield (you know, so you don't die), and all swords would have been side arms. A knight on the charge, as we see in the defence of Kerak, would have been fighting with a lance or spear and with swords held high as depicted in the film. The sword fighting demonstrated early in the film as Balian is being taught isn't bad, it's just not correct for the time, and of course Balian wouldn't be ready to go and fight 3 on 1 as he does later from a 5 minute intro to sword fighting from Liam Neeson. Finally, while we do get some great sense of the brutality and confusion of a medieval battle this film still falls prey to the "everyone wears armor, then you wack them once with a sword and they go down" trope that a lot of movie swordfights fall for (though at least we don't see anyone stab straight through a breastplate in this one". Part of the reason the European Knight was such a devastating force on the battlefield was the inherent difficulty to just kill them. Later accounts tell of gangs of men having to basically dogpile a knight while someone else found a gap to stab them, or more commonly they surrendered so you could ransom them back for a big payday.

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 8: Atonement Mon, 24 May 2021 18:00:00 -0700 84f4e438-951b-4bd9-9bfe-f9bbc9b235cc Surplus Ordnance! Research on E8: Atonement ATONEMENT

By Dennis Meyers

Relevant experience: U.S. Army, 1974-1980, BA & MA Economics, Economist for 30 for State of California,
Community College Adjunct Faculty

Historical Context:
A principal character in Atonement is Robbie Turner who is released from prison after being convicted of
rape to join the British army and ends up fighting in the Battle of France and dies at Dunkirk.

The battle of France began on May 10, 1940 when Germany invaded France, Belgium, Luxembourg and
the Netherlands.
The Allied defense plan, Plan D, called for the BEF and the First and Ninth French Armies to rush into
Belgium once it was invaded by Germany. They were to defend the Dyle Line which ran from Antwerp in
the north down to the northern end of the Maginot Line near Sedan. The rest of the French Army was
committed to the Maginot Line defenses that was believed to be the most likely invasion route.
The Ardennes was considered to be easily defended. It was thought that Its dense forests and narrow
winding roads made it difficult for a large force, particularly an armored force, to penetrate.
The Germany army did, however, quickly penetrated the Ardennes and crossed the river Meuse and
captured Sedan on May 12. From there they made a furious armored advance to the English Channel
which they reached on May 20. This split the Allied forces in two.
The German forces in the north that had invaded Belgium and the Netherlands forced the Allies back
towards the Channel. After the Netherlands capitulated, French and British forces consolidated along
the coast in Dunkirk, Boulogne, and Calais.

The retreat of Allied forces across Belgium caused the UK to initiate Operation Dynamo to
withdraw the BEF to retain its strength to defend against the anticipated German invasion of
Great Britain.
The evacuation took place from May 26 to June 4 which allowed the recovery of about 340,000
BEF soldiers.
The evacuation fleet included 860 vessels from the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium and France
including a cruiser, destroyers, minesweepers, coastal launches, yachts, fishing boats, barges,
ferries and others.
During the operation 6 British and 3 French destroyers were sunk, along with nine other major
vessels. Over 200 British and Allied craft were sunk.

A large part of the success of Operation Dynamo was due to an order from Hitler to halt the
advancing German armor which delayed the breach of the Dunkirk perimeter. It is unclear what
the exact reasons for this order were. One is that Goering requested that the Luftwaffe be
allowed to finish off the Allies from the air so that it could get more credit for the victory.
Another reason given is that the Army wanted to husband its resources in order to turn south
toward Paris and fight a still formidable French army. The least likely explanation often given
was that Hitler may have wanted to allow the BEF to escape in hopes of making a peace treaty
with Great Britain. For whatever reason, the Panzers were halted for 3 days starting on May 24.
During this respite, the Operation Dynamo fleet was assembled, Allied defenses on the
perimeter were strengthened and a large contingent of troops were evacuated.
In the first phase of Germany’s offensive, Fall Gelb, which lasted only 26 days, German forces defeated
the Netherlands and Belgium, forced the BEF off the continent and destroyed 30 French divisions.

Following the evacuation, the German army took a 6-day pause to reorient itself for the invasion of
France proper. This phase of the German operation, Fall Rot, began on June 5. Despite putting up stiff
resistance, Paris fell to the Germans on June 14. Resistance continued until an armistice was signed that
took effect on June 25, 1940.
During the Battle of France (including Dunkirk) the BEF suffered 66,000 casualties—25,000 killed or
wounded and 41,000 taken prisoner or MIA. The RAF lost over 900 aircraft and suffered 1,500
casualties. Almost all of the 445 British tanks that had been sent to France with the BEF were

[Note: I could not find specific information about pre-war British Army recruiting or enlistment policies.]
The essence of the plot of Atonement rests on Robbie being let out of prison to enlist in the army on the
eve of WW2. Given the seriousness of the crime Robbie was convicted of—rape—and the fact that
apparently Robbie had actually gone to prison, while possible, I think is somewhat implausible. The
urgent manpower needs in the runup to WW2 may have allowed this to happen. But the seriousness of
the offense has historically been a bar to enlistment in modern professional armies.
Paroling convicts to enlist seemed only possible when a service was faced with a severe shortage of
enlistees. During the pre-war buildup in the late 1930s, the British Army habitually lagged behind in
recruitment. In 1937 the Regular and Territorial Armies together were 72,000 soldiers below their
authorized levels.
In the postwar era until 1996, the British Army banned all convicted criminals from enlisting, after which
this ban was relaxed but still explicitly banned those serving sentences for rape, sex or drug offences.
For comparison, in the US during the draft era (1940 - 1973) there were instances, and stories of
instances, where prison sentences were avoided if the accused enlisted. But outside of WW2, this
seemed to be an option only in cases of minor offenses and was normally an action taken by the courts
before a conviction.

From 1877 – 1940 federal statute barred enlistment of persons convicted of felonies. This ban was
relaxed in 1940. The pressing manpower needs of WW2 led to cases where inmates were paroled from
prison contingent upon their service with the U.S. Army.
This practice was severely curtailed with the creation of the all-volunteer military in 1973 and the
waning need for manpower after the Viet Nam war and the end of the Cold War.
Currently, US military regulations prohibit military service in lieu of incarceration. Courts cannot compel
the military to accept someone. Recruiters are barred from attending trials and sentence hearings. All
enlistees are subjected to a thorough background check. Further, anyone with a criminal record could
not receive a security clearance which would effectively bar them from most military occupations.
However, it is possible for a court (judge or prosecutor) to allow an offender to avoid pending criminal
charges if they agreed to enlist in the military. Again, this seemed to be an option only in cases of minor
crimes or misdemeanors.
While a felony conviction will bar enlistment, sometime a waiver can be obtained. However, a waiver
cannot be given for a number of specific crimes including rape and statutory rape.

Alistair Horne. To Lose a Battle: France 1940. 1969. Little, Brown.
Lloyd Clark. Blitzkrieg: Myth, Reality and Hitler's Lightning War - France, 1940. 2016. Atlantic Monthly
Roger Broad. Conscription in Britain, 1939-1964. 2006. Routledge
David Dressler. Men on Parole as Soldiers in World War II. Social Service Review. 1946.
Travis Wade Milburn. Exploring Military Service as an Alternative Sanction: Evidence From Inmates'
Perspectives. 2012.
Quora. Can I join the military if I have been convicted of a felony and some misdemeanours?. 2020
Quora. Can people avoid jail by agreeing to join the military?. 2018
Houstan Chronicle. Can I Join the Army With a Felony on My Record?, 2018
The Irish Times. British army looks to the prisons for new recruits in reversal of policy. 1999
Wikipedia articles: Battle of France, French war planning 1920–1940, Battle of Sedan (1940), Dunkirk

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 7: Empire of the Sun Mon, 10 May 2021 16:00:00 -0700 25b823ec-1c95-45f2-9ece-54f19ed58ac6 Surplus Ordnance! Research and editing notes on E7 - Empire of the Sun

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 6: Jojo Rabbit Mon, 26 Apr 2021 14:00:00 -0700 3a750748-3244-4885-89b1-83ebd579f5da Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E6 - Jojo Rabbit Researchers:

Richard Stevens - BA Marine Biology, Minor in History
Dennis Meyers - U.S. Army, 1974-1980, BA & MA Economics, Economist for 30 for State of California, Community College Adjunct Faculty

Incident(s) the film touches on

End of WWII. Specific dates are never given, however there are several events mentioned that place the film. "Hitler" mentions how he dealt with von Stauffenberg, which of course alludes to the 20th of July Plot in 1944 (Operation Valkyrie to the conspirators.) Later Yorki mentions Adolf Hitler's death (30 April 1945). Based on these dates, the general tone of the town, not to mention Captain K's comments, it seems pretty clear that we're in the last 6 months or so of the war.

Historical Context

The allied landings in Normandy took place on June 6th, 1944. By the end of June the allies had captured the port of Cherbourg, and the outcome of the war was all but assured (between this, losses in N. Africa and Italy, and the Red Army advancing from the East.) Most reasonable people - civilians and the career officer classes - could see the writing on the wall. Despite Hitler's insistence that the war would be won.

Captain K (brilliantly played by Sam Rockwell) repeatedly espouses "defeatist" language. He knows the end is near. This is a glimpse into a fascinating psychology with modern-day implications. The German military aristocracy, the members of Prussian military tradition, choose to side with Nazi's over communism (in a no-win scenario if there ever was one) because at least he was talking about building up a stronger military. Many believed that if he won, then at least they could restore Germany to it's military standing in the world. They were willing to look the other way as long as the military was able to sustain itself.

Shifting gears, but stull treading into psychological waters (which I admittedly am not qualified to diagnose) is JoJo himself. It's easy to sit back now and say you never would have put up with Nazi ideology and would have resisted. However you weren't born into the system. JoJo is 10 in 1945. All he has ever known, all he as ever been taught in school, is the power of the Third Reich and to be fanatical loyal to the Fuhrer. It's hard to argue that any German kid growing up in that era would have thought/acted differently. He's "not a Nazi, he just wants to be part of a club and dress up in a funny uniform."

Which is what makes his evolving relationship with his mother and Elsa all the more powerful. Scarlet Johansson, who may be one of the best movie moms of all time, treats him like a real mom. She's not overly melodramatic or doting, she seems real. She ties his shoelaces together and shares laughs and pranks with him. She knows you can't trust a 10 year old to keep a secret, and the stakes are to high. At the same time, she has to play the part of the devoted German.

Elsa represents JoJo's first feelings of love, as well as shining a light on his ignorance. Both extremely powerful and emotional moments in someone's life. The audience is left wanting more. What happens to JoJo and Elsa in the coming years? Do they survive? Do they end up on the eastern or western side of the Iron Curtain (the town of Falkenheim is fictional.)

Of course the hook for the movie is JoJo's imaginary friend - a comical version of Hitler (who hilariously keeps offering JoJo cigarettes despite his aversion to them in real life.) Again, I hope a psychologist weighs in on this one. It's a fascinating coping mechanism played for laughs most of the time; but it's a version of Hitler as perceived by a 10 year old raised in Nazi Germany.

The film makes reference to other issues/things that were happening in Germany at the time. "The Clones" are a reference to Nazi medical experimentation. We see the kids first rounding up scrap metal for the war, then fighting in the Volkssturm as part of the last ditch effort for defense.

JoJo Rabbit references some of the most significant aspects of the German civilian experiences at the end of WW2. Civilian support for the Nazis regime was heavily influenced by the military situation and the genocide inflicted on European Jews (the Holocaust). As the prospect of victory gradually disappeared, support for the regime weakened. Consequently, as military fortunes turned against Germany, the response of the Nazis became more public and brutal, such as public hangings, and the regime’s propaganda message, which at one time emphasized German superiority and victories, came to emphasize the dire consequences of a German defeat.

Germans on the home front commonly linked their attitudes about the war with the treatment of the Jews. German civilians we well aware of the persecution and genocide of European Jews. They saw first hand the deportation of German Jews. They learned of the genocide conducted by the German military from soldiers on leave as well as from letters from soldiers at the front. Soldiers and other spectators of mass executions often took pictures of the events. The negatives had to be sent back to Germany for processing which meant that laboratory personnel and family members would see them.

With this knowledge in mind, many civilians, on the one hand, believed that military defeats were divine retribution for the atrocities and, on the other, that Germans would be severely punished by the Allies if they lost the war. This explains to some extent why many Germans continued to fight on and didn’t overthrow the Nazis long after there was no hope for victory.


In the postwar era, resistance movements have been romanticized to salve the morale of the occupied peoples. In reality, resistance activities, with the exception of Russian and Yugoslav partisans, were essentially militarily insignificant. According to Charles de Gaulle “Resistance was a bluff that came off.”

German resistance to Hitler and the Nazis regime, “Widerstand”, was fundamentally different than those in the occupied countries in that the source of oppression was home grown. Thus, German resistance groups had no popular backing. Given the total Nazis dominance of nearly all social institutions—politics, civil service, media, courts, police, industry, social groups and clubs—resistance was fragmented and took many forms.
German resistance encompassed a wide range of activities. At one end were minor acts of defiance such as not giving the Nazis salute. More serious acts were industrial sabotage, betraying state secrets, sheltering Jews, and assassination attempts.

The groups that opposed the Nazis early on were Communists, Socialists, and trade union leaders. They were also some the earliest victims Nazis oppression.

The church was nearly the only substantial social institution that maintained some independence from the Nazis state. While the leading German churches didn’t overtly oppose the Nazis regime, the clergy was the earliest source of resistance to some Nazis policies. They coordinated a low level of opposition and provided a "forum in which individuals could distance themselves from the regime". Some notable members and clergy of the German Catholic church were vocal opponents of Nazis genocidal policies.

The secular White Rose movement was a resistance group led by Hans and Sophie Scholl who used leaflets to expose and protest Nazis genocide. It eventually grew into an organization of students in Hamburg, Freiburg, Berlin and Vienna. They advocated for the sabotage of the armaments industry and after the German defeat at Stalingrad in January 1943, they urged students to rebel against the regime. Shortly after this the Scholls and some other members were betrayed, arrested and executed.

The Ehrenfeld Group (sometimes called the Steinbrück Group) was an anti-Nazi resistance group active in the summer and autumn of 1944. It consisted of rebellious teens, escaped detainees from forced labor camps, and Jews. Their goal was to end the war as soon as possible by blowing up factories and train routes. They got as far as stealing food and vehicles, selling goods on the black market and buying guns. On November 10, 1944, thirteen members of the group were publicly hanged in Cologne.

A more notable and direct form of resistance was sheltering Jews, which was punishable by death. Of the less than 15,000 German Jews who survived (out of a prewar population of over half a million), many of which were saved by about 3,000 officially identified 'silent heroes.’ There may have been as many as 20,000 Germans who offered Jews various forms of support and refuge. One of the most celebrated saviors of Jews was Oskar Schindler, an ethnic German living in Czechoslovakia, who as an industrialist saved 1,200 Jews by employing them in his factories.

The most dramatic and well-known acts of German resistance was the June 20, 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler and overthrow the Nazis regime. In mid-1944 some senior German military leaders were losing hope of winning the war. They, along with some politicians, developed a plot-- Operation Valkyrie—to assassinate Hitler and trigger a coup d’etat. After the assassination, they were going to blame it on a coup attempt by the Nazis party, use the army to seize Berlin, arrest the Nazis leadership and try to negotiate with the Allies to avoid an out-and-out military defeat. However, the assassination attempt by Claus von Stauffenberg failed as did the coup. In short order, all the conspirators were arrested and executed.


Late-war German propaganda focused on two themes; that victory was still possible and that defeat would lead to a fate worse than death for Germany. The message was that it was better to die fighting than to live in a defeated Germany.

Late-war Nazis propaganda spread the idea that new wonder weapons (Wunderwaffe), such as the V1 and V2 rockets among many others, could still turn the tide of the war. Few of these weapons were successfully developed and fielded and most of these were disappointing.

Propaganda also promoted the idea that the Allies would dismember and deindustrialize Germany and turn the German people into slaves. The Allied demand for unconditional surrender and the Morgenthau postwar plan to relegate Germany to an agrarian nation were used to encourage continued resistance even though defeat was inevitable. Henry Morgenthau, Jr. was Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury. His plan was not adopted but the fact that it had been proposed was believed to have stiffened Germany Army resistance in late 1944.

Movies were the regime’s most popular vehicle for disseminating propaganda. Escapist movies were produced in quantity and were accompanied by propaganda newsreels that many moviegoers began to reject because what they depicted was extremely at odds with what they knew was actually happening. Audiences were sometimes locked in the theaters to force them to watch the propaganda films before watching the feature film.

Interesting Facts

This is a personal anecdote that really conveys the gravity of the movie. This was probably the last movie my wife and I saw in theaters before COVID hit the following spring. At the end, when JoJo is following the butterfly and the camera pans up to his mom's shoes - the entire theater gasped! My wife exclaimed "oh my God." It's probably the most powerful moment I've ever experienced watching a film. Even knowing everyone reading this has seen it, I'm afraid of spoiling that for anyone. [please mention at the top of the show that it really should be watched before listening to the episode.]

In rewatching it this time, I noticed that Captain K brings JoJo's mom's bicycle to him when the Gestapo are at the house. He knows what happened to her, and he's coming to check in on JoJo (maybe break the news?) but he can't as Steven Merchant's Gestapo is there.

In short - I love this movie, and I think it as the most "heart" of any film in recent memory.

Works Cited

What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany - Johnson and Reuband.
Collins Atlas of WWII - Smithsonian
Maus I & II - Art Spiegelman
D-Day - Stephene E. Ambrose

Nicholas Stargardt. The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945,2015. Basic Books
Pierre Galante. Operation Valkyrie, The German Generals' Plot Against Hitler, 2002, Cooper Square Press
DW Akademie. How the film industry under the Nazis survived until the very end.
The Guardian. Berlin tribute to the Germans who saved Jews.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. NON-JEWISH RESISTANCE.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. THE WHITE ROSE OPPOSITION MOVEMENT.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. DECEIVING THE PUBLIC.
Klemens von Klemperer. German Resistance Against Hitler. 1992. Clarendon Press.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. OSKAR SCHINDLER: AN UNLIKELY HERO.
Wikipedia articles: German resistance to Nazism, Ehrenfeld Group, Themes in Nazi propaganda, Wunderwaffe, List of Germans who resisted Nazism, Operation Valkyrie.

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 5: Grave of the Fireflies Mon, 12 Apr 2021 15:00:00 -0700 c907e46b-e6d8-4370-b92b-4948362b0a56 Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E5 - Grave of the Fireflies Mike Andrews

Bachelors in History and ongoing Masters in Teaching

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

The film touches on the final few months of WWII from a Japanese perspective. Particularly, in Kobe, Japan surrounding its bombing and the starvation of civilians in the late war.

Background & Synopsis

• Grave of the Fireflies is a 1988 Japanese animated film based off the semiautobiographical short story of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka in 1967. The film was animated by Studio Ghibli, among the most famous Japanese animated film companies. It was the second film they had animated since their founding in 1985. The director, Isao Takahata, is likewise well-known among anime film buffs – he would later direct such films as Pom Poko and The Tale of Princess Kayuga. It ranks as one of the greatest war films of all time and a major Japanese animated work.

• Classified as a Japanese animated war tragedy film, it takes place in the city of Kobe. It tells the story of two siblings, Seita and Setsuko – following their lives as they attempt to survive in the final months of World War II.

Experiences of Japanese People During WWII

  1. The Role of Propaganda

• During WWII, the American perspective of Japanese people was highly negative and a result of anti-human propaganda – that is to say, dehumanization of the Japanese people. They were all presented as part of the same, identical, fanatical horde. This propaganda had a tough job to do because the Japanese were ‘overtly modern, industrial, and technological’, but they had to be presented as alien, primitive, and highly dangerous. Japanese were presented as suicidally loyal to their emperor and to the Empire itself.

• The reality was more complex, as you might have guessed. Japan, unlike Germany, was not as technologically sophisticated. The government was interested in the Nazi’s ability to mass-manipulate but did not have the same means economically or infrastructurally to implement such tactics. In 1940, over 50% of Japanese people lived in rural environments. Of said 50%, only 4% owned radios. 4-6 years of schooling meant low literacy rates and income so low that newspaper subscriptions were difficult to attain for most families. To spread any kind of message, officials from the government often had to go to the locations themselves and give speeches or provide information.

• The Japanese WWII government faced a dilemma – how to motivate and mobilize your populace to wage aggressive war, especially when said individuals were much more concerned with their own family’s welfare, generally, than they were about honor of the nation and destiny of their country. And how to solve the problem of Japan’s rural, uneducated, barely-scraping-by population.

• July 1937 saw the beginning of the Second World War for Japanese people. The invasion of China. Young boys would be dressed in military costume to visit shrines; fans made using military motifs were used to cool one off, and rallies were held in celebration of military victories, such as the capture of Nanking. In August, the ‘National Spiritual Mobilization Campaign’ was launched by the government and would continue throughout the war. One goal of this move was to unite many separate, fledgling patriot movements all over the country into one unified force and guide them from the center. Some of these organizations included the Patriotic Women’s Association and the National Women’s Defense Association. The formalization of these groups and membership being made compulsory aided in stoking unified militarization across the country. Military care packages were made, preparation and care for soldiers on the front occurred, and Western traditions and values were undermined.

• Some of the celebrations for the military included a ‘Crush America and Britain’ rally on December 10th, 1941, the ‘National Rally on the Propagation of the War Rescript’ on the 13th, the ‘Strengthening Air Defense Spirit’ on the 16th, and the ‘Axis Pact Certain Victory Promotion’ rally on the 22nd, and a celebration for the fall of Singapore in 1942.

• Schools provided an important part of the dissemination of mobilization campaigns. Before the Campaign, schools already promoted a patriotic environment and reverence for the Emperor. Each school possessed a place where the students would bow to a picture of the Emperor when passing by. April of 1941 saw schools renamed to National Schools – seeking to rid them of Western influence and repurposing schools to ‘restore the former spirit of Japanese education, nurture the innate disposition of the Japanese people who are the support of the world and the leaders of the Asian league, return to the imperial way, and wholeheartedly promote the Japanese spirit’. Practically, summer vacation became a laborious volunteer experience rather than an actual vacation.

• All the aforementioned methods worked to some extent and the Japanese were willing to express love for emperor and country – and proud of the early victories they had achieved. But total war requires real change in people’s daily lives.

• Coercion, dire necessity, and… financial incentives were needed to persuade the populace to reduce consumption, introduce marginal social groups into the war effort, and the sacrifice of any able-bodied men into the war machine.

  1. Unification of the Homefront

• The government enacted the Economic Mobilization Law of 1938. A command economy was established that saw military and civilian bureaucrats set production quotas depending on the industry, ‘controlled profits and dividends, and oversaw the day-to-day activities of major industries. The limitation of consumer goods production was severe – after 1941, almost no textiles were produced for domestic use.

• One of the most successful implementations of the government was neighborhood associations. A common institution seen in Asian cultures, and the Japanese had used this method in their own neighborhoods since the 1600s. By the time of WWII, it was integral but informal. To change this, the government made it mandatory to join, and activities were formalized including distribution of rations, volunteer labor, coordination of savings, and ensuring men of able-ness went to recruitment. Neighbors could hold other neighbors accountable to aid the nation as a whole and devote themselves to the Emperor.

• Women and children were mobilized into the workforce – children through the school system and women were given work for good wages. More than a million rural citizens moved to work in the factories for war production, which the government attempted to control so that food production did not falter.

• Restrictive rationing was implemented on food, clothing, nails, needles, bandages, shoes, cooking oil, and tire tubes. Late in the war, rationing arrived late or not at all due to constrictive Allied control on Japanese shipping. Late Japanese home front life saw civilians forced to live a life of crime as food became a major issue and bare subsistence was not enough.

• Fanaticism was partly used to encourage the Japanese people – but far more effective were old fashion economic incentives, coercion, and social control.

End of the War – Japanese Perspective

In the year 1945, several major occurrences effected Japan in quick succession that would influence how the war was to end for the Japanese. Below is a compilation of said events and decisions made by the Japanese government.

  1. Major Events

• February 4th - 11th, 1945: The Yalta Conference
Japanese defeat and surrender is a major topic at the historic meeting of Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt. Conditions are discussed for the Soviet Union to open a second front on the Japanese from China, and surrender terms include Japan giving up their territories they took from Imperial Russia.

• February 19th - March 26th, 1945: The Battle of Iwo Jima
After months of aerial and naval bombardment, the strategic island of Iwo Jima is invaded by amphibious assault and becomes notorious for heavy casualties suffered – 7,000 Marines and more then 20,000 Japanese defenders die in 36 days of fighting. This marks the first battle on Japanese homeland – increasing the desperation for the Japanese and the casualties for the Allies.

• March 10th, 1945: Tokyo Air Raid Begins
More than 2,000 incendiary bombs are dropped on Tokyo over 2 days. Sixteen square miles of Tokyo is destroyed in the process and around 100,000 civilians die in the destruction. Tokyo is one of 64 Japanese cities to be firebombed until the end of the war.

• April 1st - June 22nd: The Battle of Okinawa
With 14,000 US troop skilled and a staggering 70,000 Japanese killed, Okinawa proved to be one of the most violent of the entire war. 150,000 Okinawan civilians are killed in the crossfire. Both Iwo Jima and Okinawa influence the decision of the President to seriously consider the use of an atom bomb to end the war over a direct invasion of Japan.

• June 1st, 1945: Interim Committee Recommends Atomic Bomb
A secret high-level group tasked with advising President Truman on nuclear issues recommends the use of the weapon on Japanese military targets without prior warning.

• June 6th, 1945: Truman Threatens Japan
Truman threatens the Japanese with complete annihilation if they do not surrender. Casualty estimates of a direct invasion of Japan are worrying: 1.2 million casualties with 267,000 deaths to 4 million casualties with 800,000 deaths.

• July 16th, 1945: Atomic Bomb Test
At Los Alamos, the US successfully detonates an atomic bomb. Authorization of use of the weapon after August 3rd, weather permitting, is issued on preselected Japanese targets.

• July 26th, 1945: Potsdam Declaration
The ‘Big Three’ Allied leaders gather in Potsdam, Germany to negotiate surrender of enemy nations. Japan will surrender their armed forces, disarm, and accept Allied occupation. Japan rejects these terms on July 28th.

• August 6th, 1945: Hiroshima
The world’s first atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima. 60-80,000 people die instantly, and thousands injured and thousands more dying from burns. 67% of the city is obliterated.
• August 8th, 1945: Soviet Union Enters the War
Soviet troops begin marching on Japanese occupied Manchuria (Manchukuo) and begin the march on Japanese occupied China as a whole. Many Japanese will be used in forced labor camps in the Soviet Union – some not repatriated until 1956.

• August 9th, 1945: Nagasaki
40,000 people die in the explosion of the second atomic bomb over Nagasaki. This particular bomb is estimated to be 40 percent stronger in terms of kilotons compared to the bomb over Hiroshima.

• August 15th, 1945: Surrender
Japan finally agrees to surrender to the Allies. It is Emperor Hirohito who makes this decision, against the will of the military government.

  1. Military and Civil Actions in 1945

• The strategy known as Ketsu-Go was developed ion early 1945. The idea was that despite sheer American military power, their morale was brittle. Massive ground and air forces would meet with the proposed American invasion in southern Kyushu. The second phase of the plan would obtain negotiated surrender.

• Urgent mobilization in 1945 saw Japanese military forces rise from 4.5 million to 6 million in August. Every single male from 15-60 and female from 17-40 were included, meaning a quarter of Japanese population. Many of these did not have proper uniforms or equipment and were to be used in the defense of Kyushu in Ketsu-Go.

• The United States assessed that there were ‘no civilians in Japan’ partly because of this mass civilian mobilization. From 1942 on, the United States had come to face the fact that, for Japanese military units, surrender was unthinkable. Almost every unit fought to complete annihilation. Japanese did not take prisoners. Japanese killed 2-3 million Chinese soldiers between 1937-1945. 56 Chinese prisoners were handed over at the end of the war. 8,000 of 17,000 Australian battle deaths came as a result of the Japanese. 35% of American prisoners died to Japanese compared to the 0.5% of American prisoners of the Germans.

• In Saipan, for example, many civilians killed themselves and their families. Japanese military propaganda depicted Americans as horrible monsters that would kill or rape them. 13,000 of 20,000 died on Saipan. Families jumped off cliffs and blew themselves up or drowned. American invasion plans of Japan homeland were prepared for a ‘fanatically hostile population’.

  1. Japanese Surrender and the Atomic Bombs

• Two things needed to happen to ensure Japanese surrender – someone with authority had to make the call and the military would have to comply with the government’s decision. Historically, 15 years prior to 1945, compliance from the armed forces was difficult to guarantee.

• Through May of 1945, Emperor Hirohito believed that a major Japanese military victory must proceed any peace movements. He wanted to avoid unconditional surrender. He urged a new military offensive in China – something the military leaders pushed for and spurned.

• Marquis Kido, Hirohito’s main advisor, suggested peace through the Soviet Union and a Treaty of Versailles style peace agreement – give up territorial conquests and disarm but retain control of homelands and avoid occupation. But, given the way Germany resurged after the Treaty of Versailles, there was zero chance that the Allied powers would find this okay.

• Based on Kido’s ideas, Hirohito met with the ‘Big Six’, the inner cabinet of the Japanese government. They agreed to approach the Soviets for possible peace. But this ultimately went nowhere.

• Before the bombing of Hiroshima, Hirohito failed to pursue the Soviet agreement. Reasons as to why he was inactive can be explained by his refusal to lead Japan directly since 1936 and the trust in the plan of Ketsu-Go (the planned major defense of Kyushu, the Japanese mainland).

• The Japanese government, including Hirohito, experienced terrifying anxiety that the Japanese people were ready to revolt. Mainly due to firebombing attacks on cities (as seen in Kobe in the film) and the dire situation of food in the Empire, ‘the domestic situation’ would become far more serious in the Fall, when rice crop was due.

• On August 6th, Tokyo received information that something happened to Hiroshima. Only after Truman announced the use of an atom bomb did they finally understand what had happened. The reaction of the Japanese military was key here. They would concede that it was an atom bomb only after an investigation, and the Japanese Navy was confident that the US did not have many of these atom bombs, or none were left, and refused to give in.

• Educated top officials in the Japanese atom bomb program found the creation of an atom bomb impossibly difficult. These officials refused to recognize that the scientists in the US could possibly have more of these incredibly difficult weapons. Hiroshima forced a meeting of the Big Six, but the military forced postponement of this August 9th.

• August 8th saw Hirohito meet with Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo. Togo affirmed that the war must end with this meeting. Hirohito, discussing the atomic bomb with Togo, eventually got the emperor to move for peace. But, again, the Japanese military was the real obstacle.

• The Big Six met on August 9th, after the Soviet Union had just entered the war. Nagasaki was also bombed by another atomic bomb. Movement towards peace looked more likely. The Potsdam Declaration sat before them; three members agreed to it if the emperor could keep his throne. These three were Togo, Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki, and Navy Minister Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai.

• Army Minister General Korechika Anami, Chief of Staff of the Army General Yoshijiro Umezu, and Chief of Staff of the Navy Admiral Soemu Toyoda held out on three points they disagreed with: disarmament, war crime trials held in Japan, and occupation of Japan. Unfortunately, the Big Six had to agree unanimously on decision making. Deadlocked at a three-to-three split, and with most members disagreeing on the conditions of surrender one way or another, an Imperial Conference lead by the emperor was called and the rare occurrence of the Emperor breaking the deadlock would occur.\

• August 9th-10th saw this meeting take place. Joining the Big Six was Baron Kiichiro Hiranuma. Army Chief of Staff Umezu declared the Soviet entry ‘unfortunate’ but not invalidating the all-in Ketsu-Go strategy. Hiranuma spoke up about the increasingly difficult domestic situation problem, particularly about food.

• The Emperor finally spoke. He supported the ‘one condition’ surrender plan – that Japan would accept the surrender terms but keep the emperor intact. The Big Six and the full cabinet made this official government policy. American and Allied response accepted these terms but made it clear that the emperor would be subordinate to whomever occupied Japan.

• There was worry that commanders abroad would not comply to Japan’s surrender – particularly those in China. But the Soviet entry into the war dispelled these notions and was the real benefit of the Soviet entry. It discouraged commanders from seceding from the Japanese Empire and continuing the war.

Works cited:

Camp, Brian; Davis, Julie (August 2007). Anime Classics Zettai!. ISBN 9781611725193.
Ebert, Roger. "Grave of the Fireflies movie review (1988) | Roger Ebert". Retrieved 24 November 2020.

Frank, Richard B. “‘To Bear the Unbearable’: Japan's Surrender, Part I: The National WWII Museum: New Orleans.” The National WWII Museum | New Orleans, The National World War II Museum, 17 Aug. 2020,

Frank, Richard B. “‘To Bear the Unbearable’: Japan's Surrender, Part II: The National WWII Museum: New Orleans.” The National WWII Museum | New Orleans, The National World War II Museum, 19 Aug. 2020,

Frank, Richard B. “There Are No Civilians in Japan: The National WWII Museum: New Orleans.” The National WWII Museum | New Orleans, The National World War II Museum, 3 Aug. 2020,
Partner, Simon. “The WWII Home Front In Japan.” Duke Today, 20 Mar. 2003,

“Timeline: Last Days of Imperial Japan.” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations,

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 4: The Caine Mutiny Sat, 27 Mar 2021 23:00:00 -0700 3b09a900-f9aa-4193-91f6-454b97c5522c Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E4 - The Caine Mutiny Mike Andrews

Bachelors in History and ongoing Masters in Teaching

The Caine Mutiny (1954)

The Caine Mutiny focuses on the events surrounding the original novel The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk in 1951. Wouk wrote the book based on his experiences aboard two United States Navy minesweepers during the Pacific War, a conflict mainly between the Japanese Empire and the United States of American during WWII. After serving aboard the USS Zane and the USS Southard, Wouk created the fictional USS Caine to serve as a single vessel with which to tell his story.

  1. General Overview of Naval Actions in the Pacific Theater, with a Focus on Minesweepers

General Overview

  • 30.5% of the Earth's surface is entirely water from the Pacific Ocean - meaning, that naval engagements, marine amphibious assaults, and island hopping were the most frequent kind of militant action seen in the Theater during WWII.

  • There were around 32 surface naval battles recorded during WWII in the Pacific, with a sharp drop off in frequency in 1944 because of the almost complete and total defeat of the Japanese Navy by that time.

  • December 7th, 1941 saw Japan launch a surprise attack on the US Naval Base of Pearl Harbor. Their goal was to cripple the Pacific Fleet so totally that the United States would either severely delay its movements into the Pacific War or negotiate for a peaceful solution. That did not happen. The Japanese attack, while somewhat effective, failed to cripple or destroy any aircraft carriers nor large groups of submarines. The United States then began a steep learning curve of naval warfare against the Imperial Japanese fleet in several major engagements.

  • The Japanese boasted an expansive Pacific defensive perimeter from Western Alaska to the Solomon Islands. But at the Battle of the Coral Sea, Japan faced its first troubled encounter and stunted its attack plans. Midway in the following month saw four Japanese aircraft carriers destroyed - a stunning blow and a much-spoken about turning point in the Pacific War. This also marked the turn from naval actions to naval actions in service of combined amphibious landings. Guadalcanal and New Guinea would be the first targets.

  • The 'island-hopping' that the United States engaged in involved Allied planes and ships would isolate heavily fortified strongholds while amphibious troops hopped around to more lightly defended islands. This would essentially win the day against a much more fortified enemy without a major engagement, Of course, the Japanese proved to be masters at digging in, even on the smallest, most insignificant pieces of land like Tarawa and Iwo Jima.

  • Toward the end of the war, around October 1944, the Japanese decided that suicidal planes loaded up with explosives were superior to conventual aerial attacks. These Kamikaze pilots would succeed 19% of the time and kill over 7,000 naval personnel. Besides Kamikaze pilots, the Japanese also considered or made plans for suicidal submarines, human torpedo's, speedboats, and divers. The tradition of death before defeat was entrenched within old Japanese custom - and relates to the Bushido code of loyalty and honor until death. With the crippling of their fleet, being outpaced in creating aircraft and out of skilled pilots, the Japanese saw little alternative t these suicidal plans late in the war.

  • The Battle of Kwajalein, depicted in the novel, used hard-won lessons from invading Tarawa and successfully saw US forces penetrate the outer ring of Japanese island defenses - and saw Japanese defenders become far more determined, creative, and deadly in their defense of the Marianas, Peleliu, and Guam.

The Destroyer Minesweepers

  • The "Destroyer Minesweeper" ended up as repurposed US navy destroyers-turned minesweepers for service during the Second World War. Forty-two of such ships were converted between 1940-1945 - since, they have been decommissioned with purpose-built ships replacing them to this day.

  • These repurposed ships were obsolete WWI four-stack destroyers built in 1918 with usable power plants. The number 4 boiler and torpedo tubes were removed. Depth charge racks were repositioned forward from the stern and angled outboard, and the stern was modified to be able to retain sweep gear like winches and paravanes. 17 of these ships saw action during the war. A further 10 more destroyers were converted from Clemson class ships, and a newer model Gleaves class were used to create 24 more.

  • These particular sweepers in the Pacific Theater would use sweep wires suspended between paravanes and kites.

  • Herman Wouk worked on the USS Zane from 1943-1945. From May-October of 1945, late in the war, he worked on the Southard and based much of his work on the effects of typhoon Louise, particularly when he was run aground in Okinawa.

  • The USS Wasmuth, seeing most of her action in the Aleutians, was sunk when a gale dislodged two of her depth charges and exploded the hull in December 1942.

  • Minesweepers were tempting targets for Japanese pilots and kamikazes because they were known to have significantly less powerful anti-aircraft capabilities compared to other naval vessels. Without the proper screening, they could be pickled off. Remarkably, only one minesweeper was downed by kamikazes, occurring during the Battle of Okinawa, and it took five to bring her down.

  • The methods used to dislodge and disarm mines is complex: paravanes would be used to cut the mines from their moors (since WWII Japan did not develop its own magnetic ort pressure mines). Minesweepers generally towed paravanes from the stern - and rarely from amidships. The sweep line would catch the cable below the surface, sliding the paravane to the mine and cutting it from the cable. Then, the mines were disposed of by naval gunfire or sunk. Paravanes with blades were used most often, but sometimes the sweep line itself could be bladed or serrated. Acoustic mines could be destroyed by sound generators imitating a frequency of a passing ship, and a cable passing close by or electrical device could neutralize the odd Japanese electrical mine.

  1. Process and History of Court-Martials during WWII (United States)
  • The definition of a court-martial is as follows: trials conducted by the United States/Individual State military. Most often, they are convened to try members of the U.S. military in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Military tribunals and martial law in occupied territories may also warrant a court-martial. Lawyers representing the government and accused present facts, legal aspects, and arguments while a military judge determines questions of law and members of the panel, or just the judge, determine questions of fact.

  • It is difficult to boil down court-martial processes during WWII. Basically, the court-0martial is the oldest system of justice in the United States, predating our own Constitution and Declaration of independence. Military law history stretches back as far as Ancient Rome, helping to establish discipline within the ranks (particularly among varied mercenary groups). Congressional Congress at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War adopted the British military code.

  • During WWII, some 2 million people were court-martialed for a myriad of offences. 80,000 of these resulted in convicted felonies. A particularly famous case resulted in Eddie Slovik, a Michigan native, executed by firing squad for deserting his unit in France in 1944. He was the only U.S. service member to be executed tin this manner since the Civil War and he was 24 years old.

  • Although generally stricter than civilian law, military law has since come to compare to civilian law since WWII. 1950 saw Congress enact the Uniform Code of Military Justice (not used during WWII). Defendants shared many of the same rights as civilians, but the jury members are chosen by the officer convening the court-martial, and appealing a military conviction is not always possible.

  • Until 1969, in fact, there was no military trial judge to ensure the accused had their rights protected, as well as their due process. Veteran's organizations were concerned with the unlawful command influence of court-martials.

  • Recently, the Army apologized for a conviction of 28 African-American soldiers during WWII - the longest court-martial during the war. They were convicted of rioting and lynching an Italian prisoner of war in 1944 - but in 2005, a book detailed misconduct by the prosecutor and the convictions were tossed out in 2007.
    Interesting Facts? A space to provide info that isn't historical in context, such as trivia about the making of the film. This should be related to the film or the topic it's covering. (Optional)1 response

  • The Caine Mutiny novel caught flak from the US Navy because of the depiction of Capt. Queeg as a crazy madman - of which, they claim, would have seen him removed since he was so clearly deranged. The film uses PTSD/Battle fatigue to skirt around this issue.

  • Personal note: apparently, the fate of the USS Hull served as a basis for the mutiny in the story. The Hull rolled over to its side during the typhoon and 202 of the crew were lost. This ship was originally stationed at Pearl Harbor during the attack. It was cut off from the power supply of the USS Dobbins and was mostly helpless during the attack. My grandfather at age 17 was stationed on the Hull and experienced Pearl Harbor first hand. He also served aboard the Hull at Guadalcanal, and was transferred off before the Hull's fate was sealed. The Commander of the Hull was blamed by some of the Hull survivors for his apparent incompetence during the typhoon. The Commander James Marks committed suicide in 1986.

Works Cited:

“Ellyson-Class Destroyer-Minesweepers (DMS) in World War II.” Destroyer History Foundation,

James, Randy. “A Brief History of The Court-Martial.” Time, Time Inc., 18 Nov. 2009,,8599,1940201,00.html.

Meirion and Susie Harries, Soldiers of the Sun: The Rise and Fall of the Imperial Japanese Army p 413 ISBN 0-394-56935-0

Michal. “The Pacific Strategy, 1941-1944: The National WWII Museum: New Orleans.” The National WWII Museum | New Orleans, The National World War II Museum, 10 July 2017,

"Mines, Mine Types, Mine Warfare, Japanese Mine Warfare". The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia, © 2007-2014, 2016 by Kent G. Budge.

Pidwirny, M. (2006). "Introduction to the Oceans". Fundamentals of Physical Geography, 2nd Edition. Date Viewed.

“Pacific Naval Surface Battles.” National Museum of the U.S. Navy, 14 Aug. 2020,

Rottman, G., 2004, The Marshall Islands 1944: "Operation Flintlock, the capture of Kwajalein and Eniwetok", Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd, ISBN 1-84176-851-0

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 3: They Shall Not Grow Old Sun, 21 Mar 2021 17:00:00 -0700 10ed23b0-9e01-486a-9b9f-4c95c0152b5c Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E3 - They Shall Not Grow Old Researchers
  • Dennis Meyers
  • Mike Andrews
  • Rich Stephens
  • Kyle Pocock
  • Micah Neidorfler

Incident(s) the film touches on? Please be specific. For instance, Full Metal Jacket takes place during the Tet Offensive.

The movie chronicles the life of British infantry serving in the trenches on the Western Front (Belgium and northern France) during WW1. Rather than chronicle the exact course of the war, it presents a composite of the experiences of various typical British infantrymen that span the war on the Western Front.

The war was the result of competition and antagonism among the dominant European countries. Germany was replacing France as the leading power on the continent and had surpassed GB industrially. German politicians wanted Germany to have greater global influence. It maintained a large army and was growing its navy. Germany feared encirclement by France and Russia. Moreover, it also feared the threat of Russia’s growth and industrialization. Russia had a much larger population and many more resources. Germany wanted to deal Russia a blow that would upset this development. Austro-Hungary was an empire headed by Austria that encompassed various Balkan countries with Slavic populations. There were various separatist movements in the countries—notably in Bosnia and Herzegovina—that were supported by Russia.

Why was Britain fighting?

Britain and Germany were not historical adversaries—their royal families were related. Britain was not directly involved in the military competition on the continent. However;

  • Britain relied on naval supremacy to maintain its colonial empire. As Germany grew it wanted more global influence (colonies) that would likely come at the expense of GB and France. It feared that a dominant Germany could eventually create a navy comparable to the Royal Navy.
  • GB wanted to maintain a balance of power on the continent so that no one country became completely dominant. It allied with France to prevent Germany from becoming dominant.
  • GB had signed the Treaty of London of 1839 in which it to protect Belgium. Further, German control of Belgium’s ports would be a threat. When Germany attacked France through Belgium, Britain declared war on Germany.

They Shall Not Grow Old explores the entirety of WWI (1914-1918) through the lens of the British - specifically, stories about the experience of individuals and how the war changed them. Events include signing up to join the war in 1914, arrival to the Belgian Front, and the Battle of the Somme. However, Jackson is not so interested in the chronology of WWI as much as he is the individual experience and retellings of what actually happened on the ground for these men.

Historical Context? We are hoping to receive more specific info on the incident the film is about, rather than general info.

  • [04:13] “That Serbia business…” refers to the assignation of Austro-Hungarian heir-to-the-throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip—a Bosnian separatist—on June 28, 1914.
  • [04:21] “Lovely August the 4th morning…” Germany invaded Belgium on August 3, 1914. Britain declared war on August 4.
  • Britain starts the war with a small army; 250,000 men. Relied on naval superiority to defend its colonial empire. The army was only used in regional colonial issues. Nearly all of this army was lost in the first months of war. The survivors were used to raise, train, and lead new soldiers.
  • [06:29] poster “Come and Do Your Bit” As opposed to Germany and France, GB didn’t have universal military conscription (draft) when the war began. It relied on volunteers. Initially many young men wanted to sign up. Sometimes they were willing to pay to join.
  • [07:50] “Lots of lads were joining the local regiments” Many new units were raised by local community organizations, such as chambers of commerce. Men were encouraged to join up with their friends as a way to recruit more soldiers. It was thought they would keep each others' spirits up. They were known as 'Pals Battalions'. This had tragic consequences when during the bloodiest battles, such as the Somme, all of the young men from a village or neighborhood were killed all at once.
  • By the end of 1914, 1.2 million men had enlisted. Ultimately, 5 million Britons served in the war.
  • [19:17] “The man’s best friend is his rifle.”: The British army used the Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) rifle which could be aimed and fired more quickly than those used by Germany and France—up to 20 to 30 rounds per minute.
  • [20:00] “Above all we learned rapid fire.” British infantry could put out a much higher rate of fire than their German and French counterparts. This was a tragic surprise for the Germans.
  • [23:42] Different troops disembarking and marching. Various colonies sent over two and a half million men to fight for Britain; India sent 1,400,000; Canada, 630,000; Australia 400,000; South Africa, 136,070; New Zealand, 128,825 and other colonies: 135,000
  • The front line was a line of trench works stretching from Switzerland to English Channel.
  • [29:05] Soldiers in trench laughing at camera. “The trench was very wet.” Water drainage systems had to be developed. Duck boards (decking) was installed on the trench floors to keep help keep soldier’s feet dry.
  • [33:33] Horses being lead across a field when artillery shell lands. “At any given moment you could expect to be shelled.”
  • Heavy artillery was a relatively new weapon utilized on a massive scale for the first time in WW1. Many assaults were preceded by lengthy barrages. The initial barrage for the Somme lasted for a week.
  • [34:47] Air burst shell exploding. Shrapnel shells were anti-personnel shells which carried many individual bullets. Was the only artillery used by GB at the beginning of the war, but were eventually replaced by high explosive shells which were much more effective against personnel and fortifications.
  • [35:04] Mining was the practice of tunneling under or towards the enemy trenches to set off a large explosion.
  • [35:36] Column of cavalry being shelled. Horses were the principle means of transport on the battlefield at the beginning of war by cavalry units, and to move artillery and supplies. About 6 million horses served in the war. The life of a WW1 horse was the subject of Steven Spielberg’s movie War Horse.
  • [37:24] “And then you’ve got gas.” Gas was first used by Germans on April 22, 1915. Gas caused nearly 6,000 British deaths and 181,000 nonfatal casualties.
  • [52:00] Tanks were first used in Sept 1916 during the Battle of the Somme but had little effect. It wasn’t until late 1917 that there were enough tanks and effective tactics for their use to make a difference on the battlefield. The were called ‘tanks’, as in water tank, to keep their true purpose a secret while they were being developed.
  • Movie represents a composite trench assault, not a specific attack.
  • [1:03:20] “Machine gun bullets came at us like power stones.” Despite the deadly example of machine guns used in the Russo-Japanese war, British infantry tactics hadn’t adapted to the machine gun’s killing power.
    • Hiram Maxim, in 1884, an American inventor, produced the first automatic, portable machine gun.
    • By 1914, German forces fielded 12,000 machine guns, compared with a few hundred between the French and British.
  • [1:23:42] “We had an idea that they were beginning to crack.” After making peace with post-revolution Russia, Germany began a last major offensive in March 1918. After initial success, it was halted by the Allies in mid-April. After that loss, and with American forces making their presence known, German soldiers had lost hope for a victory and their morale crumbled. This was followed by the Allies’s Hundred Days Offensive which led to the end of the war.

  • Major British battles and casualties

    • The Second Battle of Ypres, April – May 1915, 59,000 casualties. First use of poison gas.
    • The Somme, July - November 1916, 400,000+ casualties. The first day was the deadliest day in British Army history. At the end of the first hour of the initial British attack, nearly one-half of the “first wave” were dead or injured. By the end of the day more than 20,000 were dead.
    • Passchendaele, November 1916 - May 1917, British casualty estimates range from 200,00 to 275,000.
    • Cambrai, November – December 1917, 75,681 casualties. Was the first successful large-scale offensive use of tanks.
    • Amiens (beginning of the Hundred Days Offensive), August 1918, 20,000 British casualties.

For this research, I wanted to explore what you guys suggested - the role of colonial soldiers and other gaps that were not touched on in the film. When watching the documentary, we are getting specific experiences from the British side of the war in depth. I want to explore colonial soldier training, views, and experiences, as well as other state's personal experiences with the war.

Part I: An Overview of Use and Exploitation of Colonial Troops during the Great War

Well over 4 million non-white/European men were mobilized for war in European and American armies during the length of the war. Often, modern scholarship considers battles or campaigns or experiences with these people as "sideshows" to the big, famous movements, battles, and figures of the war. By 1914, all of Africa except Ethiopia and Liberia were under European rule, with Great Britain and France controlling the largest of these overseas empires. Of these empires, India contributed the most men (1.5 million), while the British Commonwealth of Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and Newfoundland contributed around 1.3 million men. With 100,000 men mobilized by new Zealand, in proportion to its population, the Great War would claim 5% of men aged 15-49, a massive contribution. Indian troops died alongside New Zealanders at Gallipoli, with a casualty rate of 50%. For France, 90,000 troupes indigenes were already active by 1914. Between 1914-1918, France would recruit a further 500,000 colonial troops - including West Africans, Madagascans, Indochinese, Algerians, Tunisians, and Moroccans. 10 percent of all African people who served as soldiers or, more likely, laborers, would die. Some rates are as high as 20%. The United States had 400,000 African-American troops by 1917 and 200,000 of them would serve in Europe.

The relationship between military policy and race was complex, to say the least, among the Allied nations. France deployed troop son Europe based on their assimilist model and quickly added foreign troops to their ranks. But the British were not so quick to adopt these practices:

"The Times History of the World revealed contemporary thinking on the issue when in 1914 it wrote, ‘The instinct which made us such sticklers for propriety in all our dealings made us more reluctant than other nations would feel to employ coloured troops against a white enemy.’"

Indian troops had not been allowed to fight in the Boer War (1899-1902). The worry was that "colored" troops, if not fighting other ethnicities and instead fighting offensive wars against the imperial powers, would revolt or at the very least develop seditious ideas. But the BEF, British Expeditionary Force, was suffering such devastating losses in the Great War that the British had no choice but to pull from their colonies. Indians were the only ones allowed to fight in Europe based off of British military's policy.

England and France both divided their colonized human beings in "warlike" and "non-warlike" races, militarily. Punjabi and Nepalese troops were often considered more manly and warrior by nature by the British while the French considered West Africans to be warriors by blood, primitive, and for use in 'La Force Noir', or a large African reserve to help even the odds on the Western Front. African laborers suffered some 20% casualty rates due to malnutrition and disease in working for the imperial powers. Chinese laborers were used in clearing WWI battlefields of mines and debris. Of course, racial ideology and bias meant that it did not always work out. Indian troops were removed by December of 1915 because of the problems British had with fighting next to them. Despite the ferociousness and the reputation of Senegalese soldiers, they faced extreme prejudice from both German and French soldiers.

It is easy to consider that, after the Armistice in 1918, all fighting immediately stopped. But for many other theaters, weeks of warfare continued in these "sideshow" theaters and countries. German commander of East Africa Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck kept up a guerilla fight against imperial powers. French African troops holding the Ruhr region were subject to vicious racial propaganda. European countries took WWI as an opportunity to snatch each
other colonies. African laborers saw 1 out of 5 workers in 2 million die - a higher death rate than on the Western Front. They Shall Not Grow Old is a fantastic record of a particular group's experiences, but we must not forget that WWI was a truly global war - whether it was the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire, the Japanese attacks on German colonies in Asia, or the use of African troops and laborers, there are countless examples of how lives and families suffered as their family were being killed or forgotten halfway across the world fighting for something that was barely relevant to them. Fortunately, colonial soldiers saw that there were kindnesses shown to them by French and British soldiers sometimes. They saw how people lived in Europe. Many of these people expected more from European rulers from then on and later would become involved in revolutionary independence movements.

Part II: Equipment, Training, and Experiences

Before WWI, colonial troops were generally equipped more lightly than "official" European regiments and rarely carried artillery or mechanized units. African and Indian troops had found that the climate in Europe to be debilitating - Senegalese troops had to be withdrawn from Northern France because of the harsh winters, for example. But as more and more colonial troops were being used, they were equipped in the same developing-modern fashion as regular European units.

As French military leaders realized the war would last far longer than expected, a mass recruitment drive was used for colonial troops. 93 Senegalese battalions were recruited between 1915-1918: 42 of those used in France.

A book called "Strength-Kindness" was published in 1926 by Bakary Diallo, a French Senegalese Tirailleur. Poorly received at the time as having been thought of as colonial apologist attitudes, Diallo nevertheless wrote this now very rare piece of primary source documentation to explore his and other colonial troop roles in the Western Front. The book is now seen as a potential way to understand how a Republic which values such human freedoms can reconcile with their colonial past.

French commanders used foreign troops as a way to prevent losses of white French soldiers, when possible. French War Archives show first line assault troops as African regiments, with white French troops drawn in behind them to force them forward and stay behind, if they need not engage.

What is the take away here? Warfare between Europeans over a very European concern bled quickly to affect those across the world. Those people, these colonial troops, either joined up before the war or were drafted between 1915-1917 and suffered heavy casualties as laborers and soldiers. We have very few memoirs, diaries, or primary source documents to learn their experiences - as to not take away from the sufferings of anybody. British, French, Senegalese, Chinese, Indian, German: all suffered loss, death, and abject horror during the Great War. But it must be said that these colonial troops, neglected in history, must have been some of the bravest of all. To fight and die for a people not your own in a country not your own would have a real impact on world history - and sow the seeds of competition, development, and independence movements in the next decades.

The film is a documentary with little narration. Instead presenting footage from the Imperial War Museum, overlaid with soldier interviews and vocal reenactors/sound effects. As such, the film does not have a "Ken Burns" feel documenting the big picture, but rather an intimate snapshot into the lives of the soldiers as they fought and lived in the trenches.

Per the making of doc, this was the first time most of the soldiers had ever seen a camera, so they didn't know what to do. Many just picked up what was near them and started using it - which was often an entrenching tool - while staring into the camera.
This will focus on the host of new technologies and tactics brought to bear during the war as that is my strength in history and I was unable to do much else in the way of research, especially given such a broad topic as this movie covers.

New Technologies
  • Smokeless powder in its element. Smokeless powder was developed by the French scientist Paul Vielle in 1886, revolutionizing weapons technology. This may be the most significant development in military technology ever made as it significantly reduced the amount of “fouling,” the greasy goopy substance left behind after firing black powder. This allowed repeating weapons to be more successful and to fire for longer periods of time without cleaning. Machine guns and repeating rifles could now properly be developed with reasonable reliability.

  • Artillery: By far the deadliest and most influential technology was the fast firing artillery developed before and during the war. Whereas artillery pieces were previously slow, muzzle loaded, short range black powder cannons, the weapons of WWI were able to fire repeatedly without having to aim between shots. This allowed massive amounts of firepower to be put in a concentrated spot in a short amount of time, as fast as 15 rounds a minute. Again leading the arms race, the French M1897 75mm (namesake of the French 75 champagne cocktail) led the way for this new breed of artillery with a novel hydraulic shock absorbing recoil system allowing quick follow up shots. Some heavy caliber siege guns and even gigantic rail guns were developed, one German rail gun serving as a terror weapon capable of hitting Paris 75 miles away. Aside from a massive bombardment before an attack, tactics continued to develop to include the creeping barrage, where the guns would fire ever further away from the front lines as the infantry advanced behind the “shield” of fire from the guns. No other weapon killed more soldiers in the war than artillery and its impact can’t be understated.

  • Repeating rifles: The French development of smokeless powder allowed them to develop the first repeating, magazine rifle using it, the Lebel 1886. Development was somewhat rushed as they wanted to be ahead of the game as quickly as possible compared to their black powder using European counterparts. Subsequent designs from other countries followed, including the German Mauser 98 (a basic bolt action system still in use today in hunting and sniper rifles), the American Springfield 1903 (a near copy of the Mauser system that resulted in legal fees after the war), and the British Lee Enfield (a robust rifle that remained in service until 1957, a testament to both the reliability and performance of the rifle and the lag in the procurement process). One significant advantage of these new rifles was using clips or chargers to load the ammo 5 rounds all at a time instead of single shots at a time, increasing rate of fire to rates previously unseen on the battlefield. The No 1 Mk 3 Short Magazine, Lee Enfield rifle served through all of the Great War for all the commonwealth countries. It was well liked by soldiers for being rugged, accurate, and fast to shoot. It was developed to be used both by infantry and cavalry instead of having a long and short rifle for each, leading to a short, handy rifle allowing quick shots on close in targets. A replacement was being worked on before the war but it was supplanted by the existing design already in wide-scale production, it did however serve with the Americans in a caliber conversion called the M1917, seeing heavy use by the AEF.

  • Machine Guns: Hiram Maxim, an American inventor, developed the Maxim machine gun just before the development of smokeless powder, taking advantage of the new ammunition type once it was available to him. Having been attempted for decades before, he successfully harnessed the recoil power of a bullet exiting a barrel to create a fully automatic, belt fed machine gun. His design was used by all major powers of the war in slightly different variations to devastating effect. Use of a tube of water around the barrel allowed the guns to be fired effectively indefinitely as long as there was water and ammo available. Offenses were incredibly costly and eliminating enemy machine guns was the highest priority on the attack. One solution was the light machine gun, being able to be carried into battle and operated by an individual; the infancy of the light machine gun led to clunky designs that though successful, were quickly improved or replaced by the end of the war. In British service as seen in the movie, the Vickers model of the Maxim machine gun and the Lewis light machine gun saw heavy use on the front lines throughout the war. German and Russian use of machine guns was far more advanced and ahead of their time compared to British forces, as evidenced by the significant disparity in machine guns at the beginning of the war (12,000 German vs several hundred British).

  • Aircraft: Balloons and airplanes were most effective at guiding artillery fire and coordinating movements through reconnaissance. Still in their infancy, aircraft progressed rapidly during the war, developing different type classifications as specializations emerged from recon to bombers. The first air-to-air dogfights started with handheld rifles and pistols progressing to machine guns mounted to the aircraft firing safely through the propellers by way of the interrupter gear. This amount of visibility on the ground was unprecedented and allowed for high levels of coordination between artillery and infantry. Combined arms warfare between aircraft, tanks, artillery, and infantry had finally been developed and used for the first time.

  • Tanks: The search for a weapon or tactic to break the trench stalemate was a constant goal of researchers and developers on both sides of the war. One solution, started in England in 1915, was to armor a tractor, allowing men and weapons to cross No Man’s Land and launch an armored attack on the defenders. The prototype, lovingly named the “Little Willie” Landship, was exceptionally slow and carried a few machine guns. To disguise their secretive purpose, they were described as water carriers in reports, hence the name “Tank.” Eventually, the rhomboid Mk I tank went into production in 1916 and on September 15th, in the battle of the Somme, the first tanks attacked German lines. Mechanical issues knocked out most of them but the merits of such a design were clear and further development led to the first light tanks and other variations. These early tanks were noisy, hot, cramped, and generally terrible to be inside but the promise of a swift end to the war through technological development was a tempting possibility. This possibility was finally proven in November 1917 at the battle of Cambrai where 500 MK IV (an improvement of the MK I) tanks blew a 4 mile hole in the German lines, cementing their place on the battlefield for centuries to come. France and Germany both followed suit with their own iterations with the French developing the first tank with a rotating 360 degree turret known as the FT-17 produced by Renault and the Germans creating a boxy, rectangular behemoth known as the A7V. The effect of the tank on warfare is extremely clear to anyone who’s taken a look at modern military history and their battlefield presence continues to spread fear, despite the many dangers they face on the current digital battlefield.

  • Honorable mentions:

    • Flamethrowers: Developed alongside tanks to act as a battering ram to knock through defenses or as a terrifying static defensive weapon, flamethrowers were used on all sides but were most effectively put to use by the Germans with their Sturmtruppen assault infantry in daring raids and frontal attacks with multiple specialist soldiers employing new technology.
    • Mill’s bomb: One of the first modern fragmentation grenades, the British Mill’s bomb was brutally effective at delivering deadly shrapnel as far as the user could throw it. All the other major powers developed their own hand grenades, some fragmentation based, others relying on concussive blast alone to kill like the German stick grenade.
    • Light mortars: Having access to man-portable artillery was a game changer for small unit tactics as less coordination was required to rain down explosive firepower on the enemy at close to medium range. The high angle of attack also made them deadly to soldiers caught in a trench next to a landing shell.
    • Chemical weapons: I considered making an entire section on this but didn’t have as much knowledge on the subject. The development of poison gas to be used in bombardments was not a new idea but new gas and shell types made them a frightening reality with grisly effects. Blindness, burns, and ultimately death at the hands of gas attacks were all too common among the soldiers on all fronts, with Germany leading the way in their use. The banning of any sort of chemical warfare is testament to just how terrible these weapons were and the extent of the permanent suffering they imparted on anyone in their path.
A Quick Delve Into Sniping as a Novel Tactic:

Sniping or sharpshooting has a long and murky history with the first rifles extending the range and accuracy of early black powder muskets. In a world of line battles and ranks of men firing at each other in lines to capitalize on the slow firepower of their muzzle loading weapons, killing from afar was seen as most unsporting and was severely frowned upon, especially the direct targeting of officers. As WWI devolved into trench warfare, it became clear that marksmanship would be at a premium when firing at each other’s parapets and hidden loopholes. Going into the war, the British army had some of the best trained professional soldiers in the world and their marksmanship and skill with the aforementioned Lee Enfield was legendary to the point of some German soldiers thinking they were being fired upon by machine guns as the British soldiers kept up a withering fire with their bolt action rifles. (One test of marksmanship skill, known as the Mad Minute, required getting as many shots on a 24 inch target at 300 yards as possible in one minute. The record was 38 hits by Sergt.-Instructor Snoxall in 1914!)

The Germans had a long-standing tradition of game hunting and marksmanship competitions, incorporating trained riflemen into units known as Jaegers. From these groups and others, the combination of civilian training and battlefield experience proved deadly for the Entente powers who had little to no such programs of their own. Another advantage the Germans capitalized on was their robust optical sight and telescope industry, far better than any in the world at the time (they are still known for their quality weapon scopes as companies like Zeiss, Schmidt and Bender, and Steiner continue to provide premium optics to military and civilian customers.) Culling any civilian rifle with a scope in a government-mandated round up and training as many men as they could, the Germans proved a formidable threat throughout the war, keeping the threat of death ever looming over anyone stationed on the front.

Ever lagging behind when it came to sniping, the British response was slow and clumsy at best, despite their excellent training at the beginning of the war in infantry shooting. This was partially as a result of the notion that sniping was not something to support and brass found it unconscionable but as the atrocities of total war made it clear that ethical boundaries were falling apart and the body count from enemy snipers grew, the decision was finally made to start training snipers and converting rifles to accept optical scopes. Drawing from their own sport shooting spheres and with the prodding of skilled officers like Vernon Hasketh-Prichard and Neville Armstrong, a training program was created. Despite the vastly superior Pattern 14 rifle then in development being perfectly suited for sniping, the military settled on what was actually available and in mass production, leaving the job to the SMLE yet again. A hodgepodge of small shop manufactured cottage industry optical sights were affixed to them, often offset to the left side of the rifle to allow the use of the iron sights as well as the fast clip loading of the Lee Enfield. None of these were particularly well-liked and the offset to the left made using the rifle clumsy and awkward. Some of the stranger types included extremely simplified optics like the Galilean type scopes, with two exposed lenses on either end of the rifle acting like a caseless scope, usually with rather low magnification. Eventually, and with much in the way of bloody experience, the British sniping program gained ground and became a force to be reckoned with, employing novel techniques like constructing disruptive, three-dimensional sniping smocks and suits (known as ghillie suits after the anti poaching Scottish keeper’s suits of similar design) and papier-mache fake trees and dead animals with loopholes for shooting out of to deadly effect against their enemies on the Western front.

The Americans and French followed suit, affixing scopes to their Springfield and Lebel rifles, respectively. While the Americans were even later to the game, the French saw more success and even developed and rather widely issued a semi-automatic rifle, the RSC 1917, that they issued to the best shots in platoons to make the most out of its improved firepower. Their APX scopes were taken from artillery pieces and affixed to Lebel rifles, proving a robust, yet somewhat long and heavy system throughout the war.

With the “War to End All Wars” at a close in 1918, most militaries completely stopped development of sniping rifles, with many languishing in storage until WWII, when the lessons learned in the First World War would again be put to the test in a much more dynamic war.

I apologize for the length of my submission, but I wanted to provide a lot of good research for you. I would ask that if you read anything I have here you read my last point (starting with the world "Finally"), as I imagine that you folks will discuss the nature of WWI on the Western front and the reasons for the massive loss of life and the notion that the general public has that the war was fought by old out of touch generals and didn't need to be so costly. I hope this is helpful.

  • 13:00 into the film. There is footage of soldiers conducting gear "layouts", where they lay out all of their assigned kit for inspection. These are still conducted in modern armies today. They are conducted regularly while in garrison as a form of accountability to ensure soldiers haven't lost their issued equipment and if they have to ensure those soldiers pay for their lost equipment and are issued with new equipment to replace the loss. They are also conducted prior to missions during "pre-combat inspections/checks". In these cases they are conducted to ensure soldiers have all the necessary equipment required to complete the mission at hand, so that nothing is forgotten before executing the mission.

  • 13:45 the interviewees discuss revile and physical training (PT) in the morning. Their timeline discussed in the film (revile at 0600 and PT beginning at 0630 for an hour, is still executed by the modern US Army (and the two British Army units I have worked with up to this point in my career), except whereas the soldiers in the documentary PT for an hour, we PT for 90 minutes.

  • 17:20 the soldiers discuss marching in kit for long distances. Similarly to the PT discussion above, this is still done by the modern infantry. The interviewee says it is "of the utmost importance that the infantry soldier could march with a full kit". This is absolutely true. It was not ridiculous antiquarianism that led the British army of the time to train their soldiers to march long distances with full kit, it was necessary. Later on in the film the soldiers discuss the physical and mental hardships of their experiences. It was just this physical training and conditioning that enabled them to handle these hardships. During the first (and the second) world war, infantry were required to move long distances on foot while carrying all of their required equipment.
    Large trains and roadways stable/wide enough to handle the movement of large amount of troops and equipment stopped miles from the front lines, as they were priority targets for enemy artillery and aircraft. So after disembarking from those transports, soldiers had to get themselves to the front lines. Similarly, after making advances, which were done on foot, it would take long periods of time (months) for those train lines and roadways to be built forward, crossing the ground that had been taken in the advance.

  • 20:03 the soldiers talk about the "mad-minute". The mad minute during the first world war was a British rifle drill where the soldier was supposed to fire 15 rounds within 1 minute. He would start the drill with 5 rounds already loaded into the weapons (4 remaining in the internal magazine with the fifth having been chambered). He would then have one minute from when the target appeared to fire those first five rounds and load and fire ten more rounds. This drill trained the British soldier to be able to fire his rifle rapidly while remaining accurate, as skill necessary on the battlefield.
    The nature of the British primary service rifle also lent itself to this rapid fire technique. Most service rifles of the time period functioned with internal magazines (as opposed to having a magazine which detaches from the weapon, such as the modern M4 that the US army uses, where you once you have expended your rounds, you eject the magazine and insert a new one). In a weapon with an internal magazine, you insert your rounds directly into the chamber of the weapon and push them down into the magazine (which is built into the rifle and is not removed). Therefore, once you have expended your rounds, you must take the new bullets and insert them into the rifle. This can be a much slower process than simply inserting a fresh magazine. The main way militaries of the time sped this process up was by having the bullets pre-loaded onto "stripper clips" Which were thin striplike clasps which held 5 bullets in one row. So a soldier would take the stripper clip, position it above the open chamber of this rifle and push down, inserting all five rounds into the chamber at once, instead of one bullet at a time.
    Most nations' service rifles had an internal magazine capacity of 5 bullets. For example: The 4 main German rifles: Gewehr 1888, Mauser Models 1871 and 1884, and Gewehr 1898 had 5, 8, 8, and 5 round magazines respectively. The British Lee-Enfield rifle (of where there were multiple different models used during the war), however, had a 10 round magazine, which enabled the British soldier to fire more rounds before having to reload. In a battle, compounded by hundreds or thousands of soldiers, had the effect of greatly increasing the rate of fire of the British army.
    The term "mad-minute" is still in use to this day. In the US army, it is a slang term given to the period of time during an ambush, after the ambushing unit has initiated the ambush, where the ambushers fire continuously at the ambushed unit. Once the leader of the ambush calls a cease-fire, the ambushers will wait for a short period of time, and if movement is seen within the remains of the ambushed unit, the ambushers will conduct another "mad-minute".

  • 30:03 the soldiers remark about being made to shave while on the front line. This is still a requirement today. The idea behind maintaining grooming standards while in combat is twofold. First: it is a forcing function for soldiers to maintain (or at least attempt to maintain) a healthy standard of living. Soldiers should shave, wash themselves, brush their teeth not in order to have nice breath or smell nice, but to keep themselves healthy. Not brushing ones teeth can lead to cavities, which while they might seem trivial in the life and death situation of combat, will nonetheless end up causing significant pain to the soldier in question, degrading his ability to fight and stay focused. It could also lead to his being removed from the field for medical attention. While shaving may not lead to cavities, it is among the list of common daily ablutions that will (hopefully) force a person to maintain some level of personal cleanliness. Second: it is part of enforcing discipline in the lives of soldiers. When I say "discipline" I'm not referring to the blind loyalty regardless of sound judgement type of discipline. I'm referring to basic soldier discipline. Completing required tasks is a vital part of warfare, and lack of discipline gets people killed. Falling asleep on guard duty, not cleaning your weapon because you're tired, not checking your subordinates' gear before you go out on patrol, not reporting that you heard some movement a few yards away. All of these are examples of lack of discipline. And though some of these may seem big and obvious, altogether different than shaving, they all fall into a spectrum of discipline. Enforcing grooming discipline (while in and of itself is not going to affect the safety of you or your unit) is part of enforcing overall military discipline which reinforces important steps and daily tasks that are vital to keeping yourself and your comrades safe.

  • 37:40 the soldiers talk about the use of gas. The 4 main types of German chemical weapons were (based on the German color coding system developed during the war) Yellow Cross, White Cross, Green Cross and Blue Cross.
    White Cross shells contained general tear gases, which irritated the eyes and lungs with minimal serious long term affects.
    Yellow Cross shells contained Mustard Gas, which was more sever than the tear gases and caused chemical burns upon contact and serious inflammation of the eyes leading to temporary blindness. The fatality rate of soldiers exposed to Mustard Gas was only 2-3%, but those exposed were incapacitated and generally took up to 10 days to recover. So although it was not usually fatal nor were its affects usually permanent, Mustard Gas was nonetheless incredibly effective in that it kept all those exposed incapacitated for two weeks.
    Green Cross shells contained pulmonary agents such as chlorine, phosgene and diphosgene, which seriously irritated the lungs and were far more lethal than Yellow Cross. 85% of the 91,000 gas deaths during the war were a result of phosgene and diphosgene.
    Blue Cross shells contained Chloropicrin, diphenylchlorarsine and diphenylaminechlorarsine which severely irritated the respiratory system. Most of these were not actually gases, but rather fine dust particles, and were able to bypass the Entente gas masks. It was frequent tactic for these to be used in conjunction with one of the other gas types to cause the soldiers to remove their masks as a result of the irritant and then be further affected by the chemicals which couldn't penetrate the masks' filters. Fortunately for the Entente soldiers, the explosive charge within the Blue Cross shells meant to disperse the chemicals usually proved unable to disperse the dust particles far enough to cause a large area of affect, leading the Blue Cross shells to only be effective in the immediate area of the impact.

  • 42:00 when the soldiers are discussing the trench raid. They refer repeatedly to throwing "bombs". They are referring to Number 5 Hand Grenade issued by the British Army during the war. Called the "Mills Bomb" after its designer: William Mills. It had the distinctive "pineapple" shape found in the WWII/Korea/Vietnam era American hand grenade, which was influenced by the British Mills Bomb.

  • 52:30 the soldiers talk about training while at the front. This was a common occurrence and still happens in deployed units to this day. Basic soldiers skills and tasks need to be practiced constantly to ensure they do not fade. Just because soldiers are at the front does not mean they are putting into practice all of the skills they must know. For example a soldier may never been in the situation to use his bayonet, despite having been in multiple battles. Just because he hasn't had to use it yet does not mean he will not need to use it, and if he isn't practicing it, that skill is degrading over time. Additionally, training during time away from the front keeps soldiers busy and prevents them from dwelling on the horrors that they have just seen. But mainly it is done to keep soldiers sharp and prepared for combat, as combat skills need to be practiced just like any other skill.

Finally, I just want to make a point about the way the First World War on the Western Front was fought. It wasn't discussed in the film, but I think it is likely that it will come up in the discussion. There is a general cultural understanding the the First World War was fought with antiquated tactics by old, out of touch generals who did not care about their troops, and that trench warfare and massive assaults were wasteful, ineffective and unnecessary. This is an incorrect analysis of why the war was fought the way it was.

The First World war on the Western Front was fought the only way it could have been fought given the constraints of technology and terrain, to say otherwise is a fallacy. I specify the Western front because the nature of the war changed depending on the theater. The War on the Eastern front did not look like that of the Western Front, the war in the Middle East did not look like either the Western or Eastern Front, the Mediterranean and African Theaters did not look like any of the others.

The Western Front is characterized by trench warfare, massive assaults involving thousands of infantrymen advancing over open ground, enormous casualty rates and incredibly small successes in relation to lives spent and resources expended. This is all true, yet it all happened for a reason, and those reasons were not hubris, stupidity, age, callousness or lack of ingenuity.

The fact is that the Western front saw the deployment of hundreds of thousands of troops. Over the course of the war the Entente powers brought roughly 15,900,000 troops to the Western Front and the Central powers brought roughly 13,250,000. These troops were arrayed across a front of roughly 420 miles. When you bring that much manpower to bear, across a frontage so small, your ability to defeat the enemy by maneuver (moving ships, aircraft, or land forces to a position of advantage over the enemy) is severely limited, almost completely negated. You can't flank the enemy because to the left and right of the enemy is more enemy, and the enemy can't flank you for the same reason. Certainly it was often possible for small units of infantry to bypass enemy positions and flank others. But only at the platoon or company level (were talking, at the time, roughly 100 or less soldiers). At the scale of formations that existed during WWI, what is that 100 or less unit of soldiers going to do after they have flanked the enemy? Attack an enemy force that will undoubtedly vastly outnumber them? And how will that flanking force communicate with its higher headquarters after it has left friendly lines? Radios at the time were large, unwieldy and unreliable. Units below Battalion (we're talking now 500-800 soldiers) level didn't have radios. So this flanking unit is now vastly outnumbered and has no way to communicate or coordinate with its higher headquarters. It's not going to be very effective with whatever it does.

Now, you might argue that there was much maneuver during WWII and they had large armies then as well. But the armies during WWII were far more mobile, self sufficient and had vastly superior communications technology than those during WWI. Armies during WWI were composed mainly of infantry and artillery units, with some cavalry. These infantry and artillery units were reliant upon constant and efficient supply lines to keep them supplied with ammunition and food. The only constant and efficient way to transport large amounts of supplies at the time was by rail. So large formations are forced to stick to areas of the country which have accessible rail lines. And as we've established, you can only affect the enemy with large formations.

Additionally, communication is absolutely vital in war. And the most widely available and reliable way to communicate is wired telegraph. Therefore, Battalion and larger (500 and up) units are reliant upon being able to keep telegraph contact with their higher headquarters or else they will not be able to communicate with anyone, will not know what is going on around them, will not be able to report to their higher headquarters and will not be able to receive orders in a timely manner.

So, you can't flank the enemy, you must stick close to railways, and you can't get too far away from your higher headquarters because you have to maintain telegraph contact with them in order to receive orders/intelligence and send back reports and intelligence you have gathered. You can't move fast since unless your on a train there aren't enough motor vehicles to transport your infantry and you artillery is being pulled by horses.

Both the Entente and the Central powers have large amounts of artillery and machine guns because militaries have been technologically advancing during the previous decades. The only way to defend yourself against indirect (artillery) and direct (rifles, machine guns) fires is to build fortifications, thus the use of trenches. (Even now in the 21st century when we are conducting defensive operations we dig fighting positions and fill sandbags. The only reason we don't dig trenches today is because armies aren't as large as they were in the 1st world war, so we don't need to dig a whole trench. But they definitely dug trenches in the Second World War, they dug them in the Korean War, and at large scale defensive positions they dug them in the Vietnam war.)

So you now have two very massive armies, with large amounts of infantry and artillery, dug in to defensive positions (because that's the smart thing to do). You can't flank your enemy, you don't have effective tanks like you do in later wars. You don't have precision artillery and you don't have aircraft of effectively pin-point bombing enemy positions. But your politicians have declared a war and they are telling you you have to make some headway against the enemy. What are your options? There's really only one, you have to attack the enemy head on. So you make the best you can out of a bad situation. You mass your artillery to soften the enemy before you send your infantry in. They did this. You try to use chemical weapons to defeat some enemy before you send your infantry in. They did this. You try to prevent the enemy from seeing your infantry as they advance across no mans land. They did this (by developing the technique of rolling barrages, where they would fire artillery in front of their infantry as they advanced, close enough that the explosions would mask the infantry but far enough that the infantry wouldn't be harmed). Later on, after aircraft have begun to become more applicable to warfare you send fighters to strafe the enemy and send bombers to bomb them. They did this. You have your engineers dig tunnels underneath the enemy and set explosive charges to destroy sections of their trench and kill their infantry before your infantry have to advance. They did this. You do everything in your power with the technology and resources you have at your disposal to protect your infantry so they can defeat the enemy when you reach them. They did this. But at the end of the day, you're not going to be able to defeat the enemy unless you get your infantry into the enemy's trenches. That's the only way. And the enemy knows this, so they're going to put out barbed wire, they're going to fire their own artillery at you, their infantry are dug in and most are going to survive your bombardment, and they're going to have machine gun positions dug in to fire at your infantry. Because that's what they can do given the technology and resources at their disposal.

So now you have conducted your assault, you've seized the front of the enemies lines. Perhaps you even pushed a half mile into the enemy territory. The best thing to do, the thing that would allow you to make real strategic gains and change the course of the war, would be to continue pushing into the enemy's support area: capture or destroy their supplies and trains and communications centers. But the only way to get there is to walk. No trucks could cross no-mans-land until a road has been built. Your tanks (if you have any) are almost as slow as walking, and they are very vulnerable without infantry support so you'll have to bring the infantry anyway, besides, they're now low on fuel, and the only way to refuel them is to bring fuel across no man's land (well, you'll have to carry that fuel because a truck can't make it across there until that road is built). The troops that have made the assault are exhausted and almost out of ammunition, so they can't continue the push. So you'll need to bring more troops across no man's land to keep pushing. But wait, the enemy knows your attack has been successful, and they know you're going to want to keep pushing. So to stop you, they are going to counter attack. So those fresh troops you're bringing across can't keep attacking, they have to stay and defend the captured ground, because again, those troops that made the attack are exhausted and low on ammunition.

So now all your effort has to shift to defending the half-mile deep portion of ground you've captured, because if the enemy retakes it, you'll have wasted those hundreds (maybe thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands) men you used just to take that half mile. You reinforce that half mile, but now you have to dig new trenches. You have to build those roads through the previous no man's land up to your new lines, you have to extend or repair the railroad network up to your new support area, because you have to move all of that too so it's close enough to your new front line that you can effectively support it.

In fact, WWI is really a war of innovation. It is during WWI that air forces developed, that the concept of the bomber and fighter diverged. It is during WWI that sophisticated artillery tactics developed. It is during WWI that coordination between naval gunfire and land forces became refined. It is during WWI that the radio becomes more widespread. It is during WWI that machine gun tactics became an art. It is during WWI that the modern concept of "combined arms maneuver warfare" (the modern way of fighting war) came of age. The history of WWI is chock full of inattentiveness and invention.

The story of WWI is not one of military stupidity or callousness. There were no more stupid mistakes or oversights in WWI than there are in any war. The story of WWI is one of a tragic, perfect storm. Where a global conflict coincided with a point in time when technology was beginning to grow exponentially but had not developed enough in key areas to enable militaries to achieve success without expending vast amounts of lives and resources.

Interesting Facts? A space to provide info that isn't historical in context, such as trivia about the making of the film. This should be related to the film or the topic it's covering. (Optional)

Peter Jackson is a big fan of WWI aviation and has collected numerous vintage WWI fighter planes. He founded The Vintage Aviator, a subsidiary of his movie production company, Wingnut Films. "Our primary aim is to build WW1 aircraft, engines and propellers to the same exacting standards they were originally made over 90 years ago." “Our customers are generally private collectors and museums.”

He also founded Wingnut Wings, a scale plastic model company solely devoted to 1/32 scale WWI aircraft and pilots. It produced the finest WWI aircraft scale models on the market.
[Both companies have suspended operations officially citing Covid-19 as the cause.]

"Jackson’s paternal grandfather fought on the Western Front and was wounded by a German machine-gunner on the first day of the battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. He was taken back to a hospital in England, where he recovered. In his youth, Jackson became obsessed with the Great War and read widely on the subject." - Review by Taylor Downing

While the whole film is depicting men at war, there is one scene in particular that actually shows combat footage of an infantry charge. Men going "over the top." It looks flat, and not impressive compared to what we've come to expect from the set piece battle in action films (compare this to the climactic "trench run" scene in 1917.) [I believe this is footage from one of the Battles of the Somme.]

The making of documentary is a terrific source from both the historical and movie-making aspect. I cannot encourage the team to watch it as well as the movie itself. They really complement each other.

The blu ray and theatrical releases of the movie included a behind the scenes featurette hosted by Peter Jackson covering the extensive processes involved in bringing new life to the archive footage the film is based around. What follows is a bulleted list of key points given in the video but I would highly suggest all hosts to view it as it feels like it's required reading in understanding the why behind this important film.

Thank you for the hard work you put into this podcast I'm glad to be a part of it!

Behind the scenes featurette

  • Most of the footage in the archives were duplicates of the original and had heavy damage, wear after 100 years. The sprocket holes were warped, causing an up and down jittering to the film.

  • Determining the speed the film should be played at was difficult given they were hand operated cameras. The frames per second were all over the place, they could check find the correct speed by changing the fps until it felt like it matched.

  • They had 100 hours of film to start with.

  • The original footage was so wide and the restoration was so good they were able to create camera movement within the frame by zooming and panning around.

  • Most of the soldiers of the time weren’t used to seeing a movie camera so they’re all focusing on the camera awkwardly.

  • Some of the film wasn’t exposed well and was extremely black or bright. Using their software they were able to correct them back to their original shade.

  • Having looked at all the faces in the footage, they decided the stories of the people needed to be the focus of the story.

  • The Imperial War Museum and the BBC in the 60 and 70s had interviewed tons of veterans of the war. They collected all the audio and catalogued all 600 hours of it.

  • They narrowed down the 600 hours of audio to 100 and the 100 hours of video to about 6.

  • They found the day to day life stuff the most interesting rather than the grandiose strategy of it all.

  • The whole story was intended to be the story of the average English soldier’s experience on the Western front.

  • They had no footage of real close up combat so instead they would smash cut from a living face to a body on the ground.

  • To fill in the gaps they used Peter Jackson’s collection of The War Illustrated magazine full of pencil sketches of the war that illustrators had made during the war enabling them to use them as a sort of storyboard presentation of combat.

  • The people in the war experienced it in color so they felt that they should colorize the movie, especially as the cameramen on the western front would certainly have used color film if they had it available at the time.

  • The American company Stereo D did the colorization of the old black and white film. They came down to New Zealand to look at Jackson’s uniform collection to photograph as reference. Surprisingly the hardest thing to colorize was the grass.

  • Peter Jackson went out to the battle locations and took thousands of photos to use as reference.

  • A few shots in the movie of the Lancashire Fusiliers huddled in a sunken road waiting to attack. Some of them look terribly scared and Jackson was able to find that specific location. Most of those men were about to die in that attack.

  • Several foley artists were hard at work using all the old equipment making all the noises in the scene from scratch as there was no real original audio to work with. They shovelled and walked in mud, worked bolts and even recorded the functioning of an 18 pounder artillery gun and 6 inch howitzers that Jackson owns (“like you do”).

  • Being shelled and artillery was such an important part of the infantry experience that they wanted to capture that as accurately as they could without going to a sound bank and pulling out bangs and whistles. They were able to record live firing from the NZ Army to get all the firing, whistling, and impacts to use in the film.

  • They also needed to figure out what the soldiers were saying and record voices for them just like the foley work. They hired forensic lip readers who were able to help decipher what the soldiers were saying so voice actors could fill in the gaps. From there they’d look at what regiment they were in, what part of the UK they were from, and get actors from those parts of the country to voice the lines. Many of the voice actors were soldiers in the British army right now.

  • In one scene there’s an officer reading out of a sheet of paper to his men all lined up that they had trouble figuring out what he was saying. After figuring out what regiment it was, they found the exact speech he was reading the soldiers before the battle of the Somme.

  • Jackson didn’t want the movie to feel too modern so he wanted to find something from the period to put in. A small band threw in little bits of sound, music, instrument noises to punch up the score a little bit.

  • At the credits they needed something to add in so they used the war song Mademoiselles From Armentiers. They needed some real British voices without NZ people so they asked for some singing voices from the British High Commision (similar to an embassy) to come down and they got 6 or 7 guys to sing for a day or so for the movie.

  • They had tons of amazing footage from the Air Corps, the Navy, the women in the home front, the nursing corps, drivers, etc but ultimately decided that focusing on one aspect would tell a better story. Women’s contribution to the war was another story they excluded, along with the colonial soldier and all the other countries who fought in the war.

  • The individual experiences were so similar that Jackson reckons that most of the infantry involved would probably have been more or less the same from what we see in the film.

  • Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh had family in the war. Jackson’s grandfather was severely wounded, ultimately dying at 50. Nearly his entire battalion was killed in The Somme. He met Jackson’s grandmother while in hospital so Jackson owes his existence in part to the war.

  • Jackson implores the viewers to ask if they had any family involved in the war (I did! My mother’s grandfather was an artilleryman with the AEF. It was apparently very taxing on him and he never spoke of it to his family.)

  • If you got anything out of this research, PLEASE ask viewers to think about their family’s history with the war and reflect on how it may have shaped their own lives as well as the history of the entire world.

Works Cited? Please list your references

Jay Winter & Blaine Baggett. The Great War. 1996. Penguin Studio

David Fromkin. Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?. August, 2005. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group,

Wikipedia articles: Battle of Passchendaele, Second Battle of Ypres, Battle of Cambrai, Battle of Amiens, Chemical weapons in World War I, Treaty of London (1839), Lee–Enfield.
Combat and The Colonies: The role of race in World War I. (n.d.). Retrieved February 25, 2021, from

Creese, Miachel. Swords Trembling in Their Scabbards. The Changing status of Indian officers in the Indian Army, 1757-1947. pp. 83, 139–140. ISBN 9-781909-9828-19.

Das, S. (2013, December 09). Experiences of Colonial Troops. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from

Downing, T. (2019, January 09). They Shall Not Grow Old. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from

Goldblatt, C. (2020, July 17). Bakary diallo's Force-Bonté (1926): A Complicit critique of French humanity. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from

Lunn, J. (2008). Memoirs of the maelstrom: A Senegalese oral history of the First World War. Portsmouth (N.H.): Heinemann.

Making of Documentary
Imperial War Museum


Houghton, Steve. The British Sniper: a Century of Evolution. Swift and Bold Publishing, 2018.

McCollum, Ian. Chassepot to Famas: French Military Rifles 1866-2016. Headstamp Publishing, 2019.

McNab, Chris, et al. The Flamethrower. Osprey Military, 2015.

Pegler, Martin. The Lee-Enfield Rifle: (Wpn:17) (Weapon). Osprey, 2012.

Pegler, Martin, and Peter Dennis. Sniper Rifles: From the 19th to the 21st Century. Osprey Publishing, 2011.

Robbins, Michael W., and Hew Strachan. Lest We Forget: the Great War: World War I Prints from the Pritzker Military Museum & Library. Pritzker Military Museum & Library, 2018.
1918: A Very British Victory - Peter Hart

The Guns of August: Barbara Tuchman

The Great War And Modern Memory: Paul Fussell

Good-Bye to All That: An Autobiography - Robert Graves

Infantry Attacks: Erwin Rommel

University of Kansas Media Center:

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 2: The Outpost Thu, 04 Mar 2021 13:00:00 -0800 514577bc-7c51-46fd-b81e-f71f014e6ad6 Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E2 - The Outpost

SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 1: Full Metal Jacket Mon, 22 Feb 2021 12:00:00 -0800 8c914466-e7b2-412e-91fe-753a59571f8f Surplus Ordnance! Research and notes on E1 - Full Metal Jacket We have a new segment, SURPLUS ORDNANCE, where we will post all of the research and some notes from the episode. This way, anything that didn't make it into the show can be looked up here. This is only for the TRULY nerdy, as for our first episode it was ten plus pages. But we figured some of you would like to take a look. Big thanks to Dennis Meyers and Mike Andrews for the research. If this is your thing, enjoy!