OSS In the European Theater II

Aaron Bank’s team parachuted into occupied France at the end of July. They were met at the drop site by a motley group of Frenchmen toting Sten submachine guns, which had been smuggled in previously by the British. After the Jedburghs provided a secret password to confirm their identity, the greeting party loaded them and their equipment bundle onto a charcoal-fueled truck that emerged from its camouflaged position beneath a cluster of trees. Driving to a local farmhouse, the resistance men delivered Bank, Denis, and their radio operator to a local chief of the Maquis, as the resistance was known.

The Maquis leader, who referred to himself as Commandant Raymond, briefed the Jedburghs on the local situation. His nationalist resistance forces had not yet attacked the Germans, he explained, because they first wanted to receive more Allied weaponry and an explicit authorization from the Allied high command to commence guerrilla warfare. Raymond also filled them in on the activities of the French Communists in the area, who were running a separate resistance organization. The Communists were hijacking his supply trains, and they had stolen supply drops intended for his forces.

Bank and Denis wanted to work behind the scenes and keep their presence hidden from the local population, which was certain to contain enemy informants. They insisted that their parachutes be buried, as otherwise the Maquis would give the fabric to their wives or girlfriends, who would spin it into garments of such striking composition as to arouse suspicions. Their efforts to maintain a low profile were quickly sabotaged when some of the resistance members leaked word of their presence to local villagers. With a mixture of delight and dread, the Jedburghs were feted in village after village with champagne toasts and chants of “Vive les Américains!”

The nationalist resistance fighters in Bank’s area of operations had all served in the French Army and thus already possessed basic military skills. Bank nevertheless insisted that they receive training in guerrilla tactics, explosives, and firearms before guerrilla warfare commenced. “I explained to Commandant Raymond that the organization should be trained properly and achieve reasonable strength before we started needling the enemy,” Bank recalled. Bank and Denis trained the resistance leaders, who then gave the training to their rank and file while the Jedburghs went on to the next group.

By the time these resistance forces were ready, the Germans had abandoned hope of retaining Normandy and were retreating eastward toward their homeland. Resistance forces therefore sought to trip up the Germans and help advancing Allies smash them before they could get away. Raymond’s fighters began with several hit-and-run attacks, including an ambush of a twenty-vehicle German convoy. The Germans responded with counterinsurgency tactics that would have garnered plaudits from Genghis Khan. Descending upon the town nearest to the guerrilla attack, they hauled out a dozen men and executed them on the spot.

In the interest of protecting innocent men from reprisals, several mayors urged the resistance to stop ambushing the Germans. Denis notified the mayors that “sacrifices had to be made if they wanted France liberated.” The resistance fighters “would be considerate,” Denis maintained, but “we would not reduce the activities we consider necessary.”

Commandant Raymond was apparently more sympathetic to the views of the mayors, for he reduced guerrilla activities for a time. The resistance stepped up its attacks when German forces began a full-scale evacuation of the area in the face of the advancing US Seventh Army. Rebels ambushed German convoys, built roadblocks across avenues of retreat, and hunted down German stragglers. Traveling to see friends and relatives near the front lines, they obtained information on German troop dispositions and passed it on to Bank and other Allied officers. Their efforts did little, however, to impede the departure of the main German force in the area, the 11th Panzer Division.

Once the Germans had completed their withdrawal from Bank’s operational area, the usefulness of the French resistance forces fell sharply. With no Germans left to bother, resistance groups busied themselves fighting one another. The nationalists clashed with the Communists, who had proven more intent on seizing towns abandoned by the Nazis than on harassing the withdrawing German forces.

The life-span of resistance operations was similarly short in most of the other areas of France where the Allies sent men and materiel. Still, even a few weeks of interference with German movements could contribute meaningfully to the Allied campaign, and many of the Jedburghs and Operational Groups did help the Maquis reach that level of achievement. General Eisenhower, now the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, was sufficiently impressed with the results attained by the OSS in supporting the resistance that he decided, in late summer, to give the OSS more personnel, aircraft, and supplies for the mission.

Casualties among the Jedburgh teams and Operational Groups were surprisingly light. A significant minority of teams, however, fell into German hands, a misfortune that usually involved torture and ended in death. Several groups landed in the wrong place. Others were betrayed by French collaborators. One French spy notified the Germans when Marine Operational Group Union II entered the village of Montgirod in the company of French guerrillas. The Germans killed several of the guerrillas, along with a number of residents of the village, but the OSS men managed to escape. On their way back to the limestone plateau where the local Maquis were based, they ran into a German column of two hundred soldiers. The Germans chased the OSS team to a nearby village, encircling the community after the Americans took refuge in its houses. Residents begged the Americans to surrender in order to spare the village from annihilation by the Germans, whose reputation for draconian punishments had preceded them. Surrounded and outmanned, the Americans laid down their weapons. Their surrender may have contributed to the fact that the Germans sent them to POW camps instead of putting them to death.

The Jedburghs and Operational Groups were also constrained in their effectiveness by the small size of the two programs. Only 9 Jedburgh teams dropped into France during the first 19 days of the Normandy invasion. Between June 25 and the end of July, another 15 teams entered France, and 50 more arrived during August and early September, bringing the total number of Jedburghs to 222. A total of 20 Operational Groups, with roughly 640 men, dropped behind German lines. By comparison, the British Special Air Service, a unilateral British special operations force, inserted 1,574 personnel into occupied France during the same period.

The Allied resistance support effort, of which the OSS contribution was only a small fraction, was itself but a small fraction of the Allied disruption of the German reinforcement of Normandy. Although the Maquis caused some delay to German force movements by sabotaging rail lines and miring German forces in counterinsurgency operations, the other two tools for keeping German divisions away from Normandy—deception and bombing—figured far larger. Operation Bodyguard, an extraordinary deception plan involving dummy aircraft, ghost armies, and false disclosures to double agents, convinced Hitler to keep several dozen divisions in north-central France and Norway to contend with invasions that never materialized. American and British bombing of logistical targets in France did much more than the Maquis to slow the transit of German reinforcements toward Normandy, a point conceded even by the greatest OSS advocate, Donovan. The impact of Maquis depredations on the subsequent German retreat from France was similarly modest. Resistance forces accounted for the liberation of only 2 percent of France’s 212 urban centers.

As the end of the war approached, with Allied thoughts turning from the defeat of the Axis powers to the future political landscape, the Jedburghs and other OSS special operators found themselves enmeshed in a multitude of struggles between nationalist and communist resistance movements for control of the postwar world. The OSS men seldom had the knowledge or the experience to influence events to the advantage of the United States. As one British officer lamented, the OSS demonstrated a “capacity for blundering into delicate European situations about which they understand little,” not to mention a “permanent hankering after playing cowboys and red Indians.”

In Yugoslavia, OSS Major Louis Huot threw American support behind Josip Broz Tito after concluding, quite erroneously, that “Tito was planning no Communist revolution for his country” and was instead “working out the pattern of a new and democratic popular front movement which would embrace all the elements in his community.” In Italy, the OSS unwittingly abetted Communist guerrillas through the indiscriminate distribution of weapons to resistance groups. The OSS men handed out firearms to all Italian factions equally on the presumption that they would use the weapons solely to dislodge the Nazis, when in actuality the Communists used their weapons more against nationalist rivals than against the Germans.

The British, who were considerably more attuned than the Americans to the perils of communist resistance organizations, choked off assistance to communists and bolstered nationalists in key European countries during the war’s last months. This foresight may ultimately have saved France, Italy, and Greece from falling into Moscow’s orbit after the war. The British were unable, however, to prevent OSS bungling from facilitating communist subversion in parts of the Far East. The most serious consequences were to be felt in French Indochina.

Like Major Huot in Yugoslavia, the OSS men who parachuted into Indochina in July 1945 took at face value Vietnamese Communist professions commitment to an inclusive postwar government. Communist leader Ho Chi Minh assured the young OSS officers that his Viet Minh guerrillas needed American weapons only to defeat the Japanese. Yet the Viet Minh made little use of the duly provided weapons until the Japanese surrender, at which time Viet Minh troops brandished them in seizing Hanoi ahead of Vietnamese nationalists and the French. That seizure made possible Ho Chi Minh’s establishment of a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship in northern Vietnam, leading to a prolonged war between France and the Viet Minh, and an ensuing war between the United States and North Vietnam.

As the death knells began to toll for the Axis powers, William Donovan embarked on a campaign to write the OSS into the federal government in permanent ink. Even in times of peace, he argued to Roosevelt, and after Roosevelt’s death to Harry Truman, the nation would need a strategic intelligence agency and an arm for covert and clandestine operations. Donovan convinced friends in the media to write positive stories about the OSS, in some cases leaking classified documents on sensitive operations to showcase the organization’s triumphs. A number of heavyweights weighed in on the side of the OSS, the heaviest being Eisenhower, who declared that in Europe the value of the OSS “has been so great that there should be no thought of its elimination.”

Other men of influence, however, lobbied for the abolition of the OSS. Principal among them were individuals whom Donovan and his lieutenants had antagonized in recent years, mainly through intrusions into their perceived bureaucratic territory. J. Edgar Hoover and John Grombach of Army intelligence deluged President Truman and the press with allegations of incompetence and scandal within the OSS, sprinkling a good bit of fiction in with the incriminating facts. Truman received a scathing report on the OSS written by Colonel Richard Park, who had served as Roosevelt’s military aide, in which it was alleged that “poor organization, lack of training and selection of many incompetent personnel has resulted in many badly conceived, overlapping and unauthorized activities with resulting embarrassment to the State Department and interference with other secret intelligence agencies of this government.”

At war’s end, Truman decided to close the OSS down. He transferred select pieces of the OSS to the State Department and War Department, but most, including the special operations forces, were buried in toto in the OSS graveyard. The influence of the harsh critiques on the decision remains something of a mystery. Truman had other reasons to shutter the agency, foremost among them the tide of demobilization that was sweeping away most of America’s machinery of war.


16. Panzer-Division: Kharkov 1942

Gen. Maj. Hans Valentin Hube Divisional HQ

Commanders: Gen. Maj. Hans Valentin Hube (1. VI. 1940-14. IX. 1942), Gen. Maj. Günther Angern (15. IX. 1942-2.11.1943), Oösffi. Burkhart Müller-Hildebrand (3-28.11.1943, m. d. F. b.), Oberst (Gen. Maj.) Rudolf Sieckenius(5. lll.-31. X. 1943), Oberst (Gen. Maj.) Hans Ulrich Back (1. XI. 1943-14. VIII. 1944), Oberst (Gen. Maj.) Dietrich von Müller (15. VIII. 1944-18. IV. 1945), Oberst Kurt Treuhaupt (19. IV.-V. 1945).

16. Pz. Div. was raised on 1 November 1940 from 16. lnf. Div.(mot.). It was given Pz. Rgt. 2, drawn from 1. Pz. Div. The general staff of its 16. Schützen-Brigade was disbanded in November 1942.

In December 1940, the division set off for Rumania. Codenamed Lehrstab-R II, it was subordinated to the German military mission at Bucharest and trained the Rumanian army. It was held in reserve (as part of L. A. K., 12. Armee) during the invasion of the Balkans in April 1941. In June 1941, it took part in the invasion of the Soviet Union as part of XIV. and XXXXVIII. A. K. (mot.) (Pz. Gr. 1, Army Group “Süd”). It fought in the Ukraine, took part in the battle of Uman, captured Nikolaiev and was later engaged at Kiev. It was on the Mius at the launching of the Soviet counter-offensive of the winter of 1941-42. In the spring of 1942, it took part in the offensive on the Don and the Volga (Operation “Blau”) with XIV. Pz. K. attached to 6. Armee.

A German account describes action on 18 May 1942:
‘With the Donets line gained, 257th Infantry Division and 101st Light Infantry Division took over the eastern flank cover for the deep thrust by the armoured striking groups, a thrust aimed at the creation of a pocket. The 16th Panzer Division, acting as the spearhead of Lieutenant-General Hube’s striking force, drove through the Russian positions with three combat groups [Kampfgruppen] under von Witzleben, Krumpen and Sieckenius. They then drove on, straight through, into the suburbs of Izyum. At 12.30 hours on 18 May, tanks and motorcyclists of the Westphalian 16th Armoured Division were covering the only major east-west road crossing the Donets at Donetskiy. Combat group Sieckenius, the mainstay of which was 2nd Battalion, 2nd Panzer Regiment, turned left and drove on westward, straight into the pocket. The main blow of Operation ‘Friderikus’, however, was to be dealt by General of Cavalry von Mackensen with his III Panzer Corps. He attacked with 14th Panzer Division from Dresden in the centre and with the Viennese 100th Light Division and the Bavarian 1st Mountain Division on the right and left respectively. The Russians were taken by surprise and routed in the swampy Sukhoy Torets river. Barvenkovo was taken. A bridge was built. The 14th Panzer Division crossed over and pushed on toward the north. Eddying clouds of dust veiled the tanks. The fine black earth made the men look like chimney-sweeps.

The 14th Panzer Division took Protopopovka on the 20th 1942, which reduced the mouth of the bulge between there and Balakleya to twelve miles. The bridgehead was then 8 miles wide but only a mile or two across. The III Panzer Corps main force, still on the westward orientation, gained almost twelve miles, however, with disappointing results. The object was to smash Fifty-seventh Army in the western end of the bulge, but the outer ring of the front there was held by Romanian divisions and they showed little determination and less enthusiasm. One of the Romanian division commanders had sent himself home on leave when he heard the attack was about to start. Having an alternative that he also preferred, Kleist began turning the 16th Panzer Division, 60th Motorised Division and 1st Mountain Division around after dark and sending them into the Bereka bridgehead behind 14th Panzer Division. On Bock’s urging, Paulus agreed to shift the 3rd and 23rd Panzer Divisions south from the Volchansk salient and thus partially to reconstitute his former ‘Friderikus’ force. Bock observes, ” . . . tonight, I have given orders aimed at completely sealing off the Izyum bulge. Now everything will turn out well after all!”

On 21 May the Germans began to transfer 23rd and 3rd Panzer Divisions from Kharkov to deliver an attack from the Andreevka region against Chervonyi Donets and link up with Group Kleist. At the same time, having concentrated two Panzer divisions (14th and 16th), one motorised division (60th) and two infantry divisions (389th and 384th) in the Petrovskaia, Krasnyi Liman and Novonikolaevka region, the Germans attacked powerfully to the north. By the close of the day, German infantry and tanks had succeeded in seizing Marevka and joined battle for Protopopovka. 6th Army units repelled German attempts to penetrate to Dmitrievka and Katerinovka.

On 22 May the enemy delivered his main attacks – to the north against Chepel using formations from Group Kleist and to the south from the Chuguev salient employing units of 23rd and 3rd Panzer Divisions – in order to link up with Group Kleist so that both of these groups would reach the lines of communication of our forces operating in the Barvenkovo salient. Having concentrated up to 230 tanks of 14th and 16th Panzer Divisions in the Protopopovka and Zagorodnoe region on the night of 22 May, the Germans renewed their offensive on the morning of 22 May in the general direction of Chepel and Volobuevka. By the close of the day, having penetrated deeply into our forces, the Germans reached a front running from Chepel through Volobuevka, Gusarovka, Shevelevka, Aseevka, Novopavlovka, Zapolnyi and Krasnaia Balka to Marevka.

A German account cryptically recorded the day’s actions and correctly identified the perilous consequences for Timoshenko’s command:

‘In co-operation with the Panzer companies of Combat Group Sieckenius, the Bereka River was crossed. Soviet armoured thrusts were successfully repulsed. In the afternoon of 22 May, 14th Panzer Division reached Bayrak [south of Balakleia] on the northern Donets bend.

‘This was the turning point. For across the river, on the far bank, were the spearheads of Sixth Army – companies of the Viennese 44th Infantry Division, the “Hock-und-Deutschmeister”. With this link-up, the Izyum bulge was pierced and Timoshenko’s armies, which had driven on far westward, were cut off. The pocket was closed.

Too late did Timoshenko realise his danger. He had not expected this kind of reply to his offensive. Now he had no choice but to call off his promising advance to the west, turn his divisions about, and attempt to break out of the pocket in an easterly direction, with reversed fronts. Would the thin German sides of the pocket stand up to such an attempt? The decisive phase of the battle was beginning.’

On 23 and 24 May, fierce battles continued in the Barvenkovo bridgehead. The German command strove to widen the corridor which cut off Soviet forces operating in the Barvenkovo salient from the crossings over the Northern Donets River.

What the German command had to do was clear. The only question remaining on 23 May was, ‘Could they do it?’ Again, a German source recounts the German command’s challenge:

‘Colonel-General von Kleist was faced with the task of making his encircling front strong enough to resist both the Soviet breakout attempts from the west and their relief attempts mounted across the Donets from the east. Once more it was a race against time. With brilliant tactical skill, General von Mackensen grouped all infantry and motorised divisions under his command like a fan around the axis of 14th Panzer Division. The 16th Panzer Division was first wheeled west and then moved north towards Andreyevka on the Donets. The 60th Motorised Infantry Division, the 389th Infantry Division, the 384th Infantry Division and the 100th Light Infantry Division fanned out toward the west and formed the pocket front against Timoshenko’s armies as they flooded back east.

‘In the centre, like a spider in its web, was Gen Lanz’s 1st Mountain Division; it had been detached from the front by von Mackensen to be available as a fire brigade.

This precaution finally decided the battle. For Timoshenko’s army commanders were driving their divisions against the German pocket front with ferocious determination. They concentrated their efforts in an attempt to punch a hole into the German front, regardless of the cost, in order to save themselves by reaching the Donets front only 25 miles away.’

It fought at Stalingrad with XI. A. K. Encircled along with all the rest of 6. Armee, it was wiped out in January 1943. Its commanding officer, Generalmajor Günther Angern, committed suicide on 2 February.

In March 1943, a second 16. Pz. Div. was formed in France in the Vitré-Mayenne-Laval sector from the remnants of the division reinforced by verst. Gren. Rgt. (mot.) 890. It was dispatched to Italy in the Taranto sector (June 1943) then placed in the reserve in the Sienna sector until September. It later moved on to the Salerno sector just before the American landing in Sicily. It took the brunt of the American attack, inflicting heavy losses on the attackers, meanwhile losing two thirds of its own strength during the fighting. The division continued to fight to the north of Naples until the end of the year 1943, when it set off for the southern sector of the Eastern front. It arrived in the Bobruisk sector in December 1943 and took part in the defensive battles in the Parichi area. It was involved in the counter-thrust west of Kiev, a battle in which it was severely tested. It then retreated to the Baranov sector on the Vistula. During the summer of 1944, it fell back across Poland. In October, it was stationed at Kielce where it was reformed. In January, it was sent back to the Baranov sector where it fought hard until it was pushed back to Lauban (March 1945) then Pilsen (Plzen) and Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary) (April 1945). It was then assigned to LIX. A. K. (1. Pz. Armee, Army Group “Mitte”), by which time it was down to the size of a Kampfgruppe. One part of this Kampf gruppe surrendered to the Russians, the other to the Americans…

From 1941 to 1945, 16. Pz. Div. produced 33 Knights of the Iron Cross (including 10 from Pz. Rgt. 2), 3 with Oak Leaves and one with Swords (Dietrich von Müller, divisional commander, on 20 February 1945, n° 134).

AN/BLQ-11 Autonomous Unmanned Undersea Vehicle

The AN/BLQ-11 was a heavy weight autonomous Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (formerly known as the Long-Term Mine Reconnaissance System (LMRS)) manufactured by Boeing. The 20 foot long vehicle was designed to be launched and recovered from an attack submarine (SSN) for covert mine countermeasures.

The AN/BLQ-11 comprises several elements in addition to the actual UUV itself. The system built by Boeing for the U. S. Navy comprises two 20-foot-long, 21-inch-diameter, torpedo-shaped UUVs, a 60- foot robotic recovery arm, onboard handling equipment, support electronics, a shore-based depot, and a specialized van for vehicle transportation.

The AN/BLQ-11 is fully autonomous and untethered, meaning that it can be sent on missions for several hours while the host submarine conducts other missions of its own. It is also designed for full launch, recovery, and maintenance from Los Angeles- and Virginia-class sub marines, using existing torpedo tubes as the launch technique. Four support personnel install, maintain, and utilize the system during operations. A typical mission is 40 hours, with each UUV alternated three times for a total of six separate sorties. During this time, the AN/BLQ-11 can cover a search area of 400 square nautical miles in its search for enemy mines.

The components of the AN/BLQ-11 UUV include a propulsion section, ballast and trim section, forward and aft electronics, side-look sonar (SLS) section, and forward-looking sonar at the front of the UUV.

Planned upgrades for the AN/BLQ-11 include the incorporation of synthetic aperture sonar (SAS), precision underwater mapping, and improved acoustic communications.

The AN/BLQ-11 is a five-year, over $100 million program that was started in November 1999. The previous program, the Near Term Mine Reconnaissance System (NMRS), completed testing in May 1999. Both programs were part of the Navy’s UUV master plan.

Boeing has been the prime contractor for the AN/BLQ-11 program and delivered the first system for testing to the U. S. Navy in November 2002. In October 2002, the Office of Naval Research announced that the SAS had been rapidly transitioned into the AN/BLQ-11 system. The SAS demonstrated four times the range and 36 times the resolution of the side-looking sonar and was, therefore, transitioned in ahead of the planned schedule.

The LMRS was first tested in September 2005 from USS Oklahoma City (SSN-723), when the vehicle was successfully launched. In January 2006, USS Scranton (SSN-756) demonstrated twenty four test runs, including torpedo tube launches, repetitive helo recovery, and the homing and docking of two AN/BLQ-11 vehicles. In October 2007, two vehicles were launched from USS Hartford (SSN-768) and then recovered into a torpedo tube with a recovery arm.

The AN/BLQ-11 was part of the U.S. Navy’s Mission Reconfigurable UUV System (MRUUVS) program, which was ended in December 2008. The system’s technical and engineering limitations resulted in an inadequate operational capability.

Battle of Tagliacozzo, 23 August 1268


Defeat for Conradin, son of Conrad IV (HRE), the last Hohenstaufen in Sicily. He invaded the kingdom of Sicily with German and Spanish allies in 1267, seeking to make good his claim against Charles of Anjou. Suppporters revolted against Charles in Sicily. The battle was fought in central Italy as Conradin advanced south. Charles took position behind the River Salto. Conradin’s men failed to take the bridge but others crossed further up and attacked the Angevins on the flank. Then the bridge was crossed. Charles recovered by leading a charge with a hidden reserve when many of the enemy, thinking victory theirs, pursued Angevins off the field. He then defeated the returning enemy. It was largely a cavalry battle, a costly victory: `never was victory so bloody, for nearly his whole army had fallen’. Conradin fled but was captured and executed in Naples in October. It ended German Hohenstaufen rule in Sicily, leaving the Angevins in control.

Conradin, the last of the Hohenstaufens, together with Frederick of Baden, was in command of 5-6,000 cavalry, mainly Germans and Italians but also including Castilians as well as Sicilians. He found his road blocked by an opposing force of some 3-5,000 French horse under Charles of Anjou, King of Sicily. The French drew up behind the River Salto in three divisions; two formed into column by a bridge while the third, including Charles himself, was secreted behind a fold in the ground about a mile from the flank. Henry of Cousances, commanding the second column, wore the royal surcoat and bore Charles’s standard in order to trick the enemy in to believing the entire French family was in view. Conradin’s army also drew up in three battles.

The Van, led by Henry of Castile, stormed the bridge, while the second and third, under Calvano Lancia and Conradin respectively, managed to ford the river downstream and then wheeled to attack the flank of the enemy battle. Henry of Cousances was finally slain and the French, badly mauled, broke in flight. The royal standard was seized in the confusion. Conradin held some of his men, but most chased after the French and set about looting their camp. It was now that Charles, having impotently observed the rout of his main force, charged up with his division and scattered the few troops who surrounded Conradin. When the imperial looters saw their commander in flight, they also took to their heels. Henry of Castile managed to rally a number of horsemen and advanced against the Angevins. However, 40 French knights feigned flight to draw out the enemy. As they broke ranks they were attacked by Charles’ battle, while the 40 knights wheeled to strike their flank. Despite a rally, they could not hold off the Angevins, and fled. Conradin, Frederick and Galvano were caught a few weeks later and, like those taken in the battle, were executed. Henry of Castile was imprisoned for 23 years.

Brother of St Louis. He conquered the Norman kingdom of Sicily and ruled it as Charles I from 1266. In 1246 he married Beatrice heiress to Provence. The papacy offered Sicily to Charles against the descendants of Frederick II. He invaded and was crowned in 1266. He defeated Manfred at Benevento and Conradin at Tagliacozzo. He suppressed revolts in Sicily. He developed Mediterranean interests. He took Corfu in 1267 but failed to recover the Byzantine Empire for the Franks. He was involved in St Louis’ crusade to Tunis in 1270. He was crowned King of Jerusalem in 1278 and became Prince of Achaea. He developed interests in northern Italy, becoming Imperial Vicar in Tuscany and Senator of Rome in 1268. He was defeated by the Genoese in 1273, and in 1275 at Roccavione. His greatest setback followed the Sicilian Vespers in 1282 with the French loss of Sicily. His fleet was defeated off Naples by the Genoese in 1284. He died on 7 January and was succeeded by his son Charles II. His descendants ruled in Naples and Hungary.

Son of the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad IV who died in 1254 and descendant of Frederick II, He was named Duke of Swabia, King of the Romans, and King of Sicily from 1254 though his position was challenged by his uncle Manfred. He was named as King of Jerusalem but never ruled there. After the invasion of Sicily by Charles of Anjou, Conradin tried to recover his kingdom in 1268. He was defeated at Tagliacozzo, captured and executed on 29 October.

Col. Pete Warden and the B-52

The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber first flew in 1954 and remains in active service. It is considered one of the greatest aircraft ever built.

Col Henry Edward “Pete” Warden

Henry Edward “Pete” Warden, had not planned on a military career, but when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939 he abandoned his postgraduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and joined the Army Air Corps. He subsequently earned his wings in June 1940 and shortly thereafter deployed with the Twentieth Pursuit Squadron to Nichols Field in central Luzon in the Philippines. He was primarily a P-40 pilot, but after a few months he also became the depot inspector. When the Japanese attacked on December 8, 1941, leaving Nichols Field untenable, he was forced to move with parts of the depot team to the outskirts of Manila in an attempt to prolong resistance. After the main Japanese landings in Lingayen Gulf two weeks later, Gen. Douglas A. MacArthur, the commander in the Philippines, ordered national and local forces to withdraw to the Bataan Peninsula, declaring Manila an open city. However, Warden chose to stay behind enemy lines in order to salvage aircraft that would otherwise be lost during the immediate retreat. His team managed to save eight; Warden himself flew the last aircraft out of Manila only hours after the Japanese entered the capital.

Brig. Gen. Harold H. George, the air commander responsible for the region, then instructed Warden to take a few enlisted men to the island of Mindanao to find, assemble, and save more aircraft. Warden soon discovered three aircraft in packing crates, and while test-flying one he shot down what appears to have been a Japanese “Betty” bomber. With the end of the resistance in the Philippines in May 1942, Warden left for Australia, where he assembled, modified, and overhauled aircraft at the Fifth Air Service Command. He soon proved himself an innovative officer who achieved results, although not necessarily by following the technical manuals and procedures.

When he returned to the United States after almost four years in the Pacific, he was assigned to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio-“the engineering center of the Air Force.” At that time the air force was engaged in fierce debates over whether it should focus on a bomber with straight wings and propeller-driven engines or one with swept wings and turbojet engines. The latter would be able to fly at higher altitudes and at high speed, which would make it more effective within the zone of engagement. However, aircraft with turbojets consumed far more fuel, and their shorter range would require a large tanker fleet for air-to-air refueling. The preliminary design program for the XB-52 indicated that costs would be high. Air force leaders also disagreed about the size of the aircraft and confronted considerable uncertainty about the quality of jet engines. Moreover, while the B-36 propeller plane could be delivered immediately, the B-52 would take years to develop.

In May 1945 Col. Donald L. Putt, chief of the Bombardment Branch, appointed Warden as the chief of the branch’s engineering division, with responsibility for running the Northrop XB-35 and the Convair XB-36 programs. Warden strongly identified with the three-bomber concept, which involved light, medium, and heavy bombers, stating, “the most important of the three airplanes is the heavy [bomber], whose mission will be the delivery of the special bomb load to the strategic target system.”

When Boeing was awarded a contract to build an experimental long-range heavy bomber Warden became the designated project officer and the leading spokesman for a new generation of bombers based on turbojet propulsion. His unrelenting support for both the B-47 and the B-52 gained him friends and enemies alike, and earned him the reputation as “one of the founding fathers of the B-52.” According to Walter J. Boyne, the author of Beyond the Wild Blue, Warden exercised far more authority than he actually had when he told Boeing, on October 21, 1948, to design the B-52 with jet engines:

Pete Warden undoubtedly knew that he had more information on aircraft and engine projects than any other individual, and that to advance the USAF’s need for a long-range bomber, he was responsible for making value judgments, causing programs to happen, and then seeing to their approval. In the case of the long-range bomber, Boeing had not been able to get the required range from the B-47-size jet bomber projects they were investigating. Intuitively, they felt that a larger, turbo prop bomber would have the required range. Unfortunately, the Wright T-35 turboprop engines, although they had been increased in power, still did not provide the necessary range, and worse, would not be ready for production until four years later in 1952. Warden apparently considered all this, urged Pratt & Whitney to pursue what became the J57 engine, and once he had their commitment, instructed Boeing to design a very large aircraft based on the J57. The B-52 was the result.

Lori S. Tagg, author of Development of the B-52, dedicated her book to Pete Warden, and insisted that the United States owes a considerable gratitude to this “progressive and persuasive jet-nut.” Boeing may have completed the design drawings and engineering, but Warden and his small staff played an important role in keeping the B-52 project alive at crucial times despite heavy criticism.

As the new bombers went into production and test flights, Gen. George C. Kenney, the commandant of Air University, requested that Warden join a research program at the Air War College. In late 1953, after Warden had been promoted to the rank of colonel at the age of thirty-eight, his technological insight and operational grasp caught the attention of Brig. Gen. Bernard A. Schriever, who personally ensured that he was put in charge of long-range planning at the Air Warfare Systems Division in the Pentagon. Maj. Gen. Donald N. Yates, commander of the Air Force Missile Test Center at Patrick AFB, also seems to have been impressed with Warden, arranging for him to become the deputy commander for tests in 1957. Three years later, Schriever, as the three-star commander of the Air Force Research and Development Command at Andrews AFB, made certain that Warden was given a central role in reorganizing what would become the Air Force Systems Command.

In this position, Warden became eligible for promotion to general rank. However, Warden was not one to play the political games required: he operated on the philosophy that it was easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission, and when the Air Staff wanted him to do something he considered a waste of effort he silently ignored it. His involvement with the B-52 also defined him as a controversial figure, one who could not be fully controlled. Given Warden’s maverick tendencies, the Promotion Board voted against him, and Warden retired from the air force in 1964, at the age of forty-nine. Shortly thereafter he became the corporate director of plans for North American Aviation; he stayed with the company for six years before he and his wife, Joanna, decided to devote their full time to managing their 550 acres of farmland near Columbus, Mississippi.

B-52s – The Last Argument of Presidents

Naval Bomb Vessels

Granado bomb vessel, launched in 1742. It has two mortars inline. National Maritime Museum, London.

‘Erebus’ and the ‘Terror’ in New Zealand, August 1841, by John Wilson Carmichael.

In the 1690s an entirely new class of warship caused consternation and a crisis of conscience to the English ruling classes. The offender was the “bomb ketch”, a vessel copied from the French. Bomb ketches were small, shallow draft ships, able to get close inshore. They were armed with a dastardly weapon, a large bore mortar, which threw an explosive bomb far up in the air so that it cleared the walls of waterside cities or harbours and exploded when it struck the ground, damaging property and killing soldiers and civilians alike. The British used them thus to bombard St Malo, Le Havre, Dieppe and Dunkirk. John Evelyn, the diarist, wrote that the Navy should be employed to protect British shipping not “Spending their time bombing and ruining a few paltry little towns . . . a hostility totally averse to humanity and especially to Christianity”, however the bomb vessels, Christian or otherwise, continued to be developed and used. They fought the French off Gibraltar, where in a flat calm they engaged and severely damaged some French ships of the line, and at Toulon, where the fire from English and Dutch “bombs” destroyed several ships in harbour and caused the French to panic and scuttle the remains of their battle fleet at its moorings. This was a particularly significant action in that the Allies had landed observers ashore to watch the fall of shot and signal corrections to the gun layers afloat. This practice became frequently used when bomb vessels were employed, and a special force of observers were trained and retained by the Ordinance Board to undertake these duties. They would go to sea in tenders, one of which was attached to each bomb vessel to accommodate them and to carry spare ammunition.

These useful vessels remained in service throughout the eighteenth and the first part of the nineteenth centuries. A typical action was at Copenhagen in 1807. Britain was attempting to prevent the Danish fleet falling into French hands, following the agreement between Napoleon and the Tsar at Tilsit. The Danes refused to hand their ships to Britain “for safe keeping” and a fleet under Admiral Gambier accompanied by a force of 25,000 soldiers set out to compel them to do so. Thunder, Vesuvius, Aetna and Zebra, all bomb ketches, bombarded the fortress of Trekroner, in the approaches to Copenhagen, while troops and artillery advanced on land. After a pause for negotiation, which proved fruitless, fire was opened on the city itself as well as the fortress. This time, the efforts of the bomb vessels were supported by land based cannon and mortars. A huge timber yard was set on fire and eventually the city itself was in flames. The Danes capitulated and their fleet was captured or destroyed. In subsequent skirmishing Thunder was in action against Danish oared gun boats which she successfully drove off by using her mortar to fire “air bursting” bombs which exploded over their target, showering it with lead balls.

During the Crimean War (1854-6) both French and British navies employed a number of bomb vessels and also developed a class of barges fitted with heavy mortars to engage targets on land. The first of these barges built in Britain had names, but subsequently they were only given numbers, a practice to be continued for the small monitors built many years later.

The bomb vessels of the nineteenth century shared many characteristics with their early forebears and indeed with the bombardment vessels of the two twentieth century world wars. Their primary role was shore bombardment and to achieve this they needed very heavy weapons which could out range or out shoot shore based artillery. Most of these ships had two mortars, one 13 inch and one 10 inch. To support the recoil of these enormous weapons vessels had to be extremely heavily built, and to fire at all accurately they had to be very stable. This, together with the need for shallow draft, so as to get close to the enemy fortifications, resulted in ships with a very broad beam and poor sailing qualities. Their appetite for heavy ammunition meant that they required capacious tenders. Early ships had indeed been “bomb ketches” – ketch rigged vessels with a fore and aft mainsail on a mast set well back in the hull – the mortar fired forwards, over the bows. They must have been horrors to handle. Later “bombs” were “ship rigged” with three masts, but they remained slow and unhandy at sea. When the ships were not required for their main purpose the mortars would be removed and replaced with conventional armament so that they could be rated as sloops and undertake convoy duties, although in this role they must sometimes have had problems keeping up with their charges. Conversely in war time merchant vessels were often requisitioned and converted into makeshift “bombs”. A very suitable occupation for naval bomb vessels in peace time was polar exploration, for which their very strong build and shallow draft made them ideal. Erebus and Terror – names which we will encounter again later – made an epic voyage to the Antarctic in 1841 and 1842 which included being severely damaged by ice, battered by gales, threatened by enormous ice-bergs and finally a near fatal collision. No ships except bomb vessels would have survived such hazards.

The adventures of these wooden sailing vessels may seem far removed from those of the monitors of the twentieth century, but in fact they are closely related. Both were small shallow draft ships, slow and unhandy but mounting massive fire power. Both were unsuitable for fighting other ships at sea but could be devastatingly effective against targets on land or enemy ships in harbour. Above all they both needed to work in close co-operation with land forces. This involved communicating effectively with observers on land (or later in the air), understanding the military situation and bringing down their massive fire power on the right spot at the right moment. At the same time they had to be relatively cheap ships with small crews, since they would be required to operate at great risk to themselves close under the guns of enemy fortifications, where it would be foolish to hazard a valuable ship of the line.


The 300 Spartans takes us back a few thousand years to the invasion of the Persians. This film was a 1962 masterpiece that was shot near the Corinth canal, unlike the Frank Miller-inspired 300 which was made elsewhere.

It is an ill wind, proverbially, that blows nobody any good. Terrible and ghastly as were the tragic events of 9/11, they have also, I believe, provoked a salutary spate of Western reflection on just what it is to be ‘Western’, on what ‘Western civilization’ is or might be. The process of re-examining and rethinking what is distinctive and admirable – or at any rate defensible – about Western civilization, values and culture seems to me both to have been in itself a wholly good thing, and to have had some notably positive outcomes. One ancient Greek exemplar of that civilization, Socrates of Athens, is famously reported by Plato to have said that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being’. Rarely has the need for such cultural self-examination been more compelling.

For instance, it makes us realize that we in the West do not necessarily have all the best tunes. Concepts and practices often imagined to be uniquely ‘Western’, such as reason, freedom and democracy, have had, and still do have, their active counterparts within Eastern cultures as well. Indeed, the tradition of Western civilization has been decisively shaped or enriched by Eastern – including, not least, Islamic – contributions. Had it not been for Arabic scholars, in both East (especially Baghdad) and West (Moorish Spain), in what we conventionally call the Middle Ages, a number of key works of Aristotle would have been lost to us, and Aristotle is about as central to any construction of the Western cultural tradition as it is possible to get.

Some of us Westerners, post 9/11, were provoked specifically into wondering aloud whether any definition of our civilization and its cultural values would justify our dying for them, or even maybe killing for them – as the suicide hijackers of September 11th, or the suicide bombers of the West Bank and Gaza, clearly were and are prepared to die for their brands of Islam and freedom. Those of us who are historians of ancient Greece pondered that question with especial intensity. For the world of ancient – or Classical – Greece is one of the principal taproots of our Western civilization, as I have already implied in quoting Socrates’s famous aphorism, and the Spartans’ behaviour at Thermopylae in 480 raises sharply the contested issue of ideologically motivated suicide.

The connection between the ancient Greeks and Us was forcefully expressed by John Stuart Mill, in a review of the first volumes of George Grote’s pioneering, liberal-democratic history of ancient Greece (originally published in twelve volumes, 1846–56). As Mill put it, with conscious paradox, the Battle of Marathon – which was fought in 490 BCE by the Athenians, with support only from the neighbouring small city of Plataea, against the invading Persians – was more important than the Battle of Hastings, even as an event in English history. So too, arguably, or so at least I should want to argue, was the Battle of Thermopylae. Unlike Marathon, of course, Thermopylae was formally a defeat for the Greeks, a ‘wound’ (trôma), as Herodotus called it.1 Yet it was none the less glorious or culturally significant for that, since it was soon converted into a moral, that is a morale, victory. And as Napoleon once colourfully put it, in war the morale factor is three times as important as all the other factors put together.

Indeed, some would even say – and I am tempted to include myself in their number – that Thermopylae was Sparta’s finest hour. In any case, it’s Sparta’s Thermopylae experience that provides me with my starting-point and constant point of reference in trying to answer the question posed in this epilogue: what have the Spartans done for us? Perhaps we might begin by asking – as Great King Cyrus II, founder of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, was supposed once to have asked, in about 550 BCE – who are these Spartans?

One answer is that they were the Dorian (Doric-speaking) inhabitants of a Greek citizen-state in the Peloponnese that for many centuries was one of the greatest of ancient Greek powers. Another answer, as one of Cyrus’s successors, Xerxes, found out all too painfully, is that they were a fighting machine strong enough, skilful enough and sufficiently iron-willed to play the key role in resisting and eventually repelling even his vast hordes – and so frustrating his attempt to incorporate the mainland Greeks in an oriental empire that already stretched from the Aegean in the west to beyond the Hindu Kush. Xerxes discovered these facts about Sparta in person, at Thermopylae, and his appointed commander-in-chief Mardonius discovered them again, fatally, at Plataea the following year, when it was the Spartans under Regent Pausanias who played the lead role in that famous and decisive Greek victory.

That in turn is one, not insignificant, answer to the question why today we should care who the ancient Spartans were. For they enabled the development of the civilization that we have chosen in crucial ways to inherit and learn from. What if the Persians had won in 480–479? Either that Greek civilization would have been significantly different thereafter, or/and we should not have been its legatees in the same ways or to the same degree. Another answer to the question why the ancient Spartans matter to us today concerns the impact of what has been variously labelled the Spartan myth, mirage or tradition. To put this differently: the variety of ways in which Sparta and the Spartans have been represented in mainly non-Spartan discourses, both written and visual, since the late fifth century BCE has left a deep mark on the Western tradition, on the understanding of what it is to belong to a Western culture.

To begin with, Sparta, like some other ancient Greek places, impinges upon our everyday consciousness through enriching our English vocabulary. The island of Lesbos, for conspicuous example, has given us ‘lesbian’, the city of Corinth ‘corinthian’, the city of Athens … ‘attic’. But ancient Sparta, prodigally, has given us ‘spartan’, of course, and ‘laconic’.

To choose an illustration almost at random, a newspaper profile of Iain Duncan Smith, former leader of the Opposition, referred casually to his naval public school as being ‘spartan’ – and aptly so, in this sense: the British public school system, as invented virtually by Thomas Arnold of Rugby in the nineteenth century, was consciously modelled on an idea, or even a utopian vision, of ancient Sparta’s military-style communal education.

The Spartan etymology of ‘laconic’ is not so immediately transparent. It comes from one of the ancient adjectival forms derived from the name by which the Spartans more often referred to themselves: Lacedaemonians, or Lakones. As noted earlier, the Spartans were the past masters of the curt, clipped, military mode of utterance, which they used alike in sending written or oral dispatches from the front line or at home in snappy repartee to an insistent teacher, for instance – so much so that the ancients preserved collections of what they believed to be genuine Spartan ‘apophthegms’ (I have quoted a famous one of Leonidas’s), while we still call that manner of utterance ‘laconic’ in their honour.

Even less obviously, and much less happily, the Spartans have bequeathed us also a third English word: the noun ‘helot’. This is used today to refer to a member of an especially deprived or exploited ethnic or economic underclass. It thus reflects, accurately, the dark underside of the Spartans’ more positive achievements. The Greek word heilôtês probably originally meant ‘captive’, and certainly it was as captives and enemies that the Spartans treated the unfree subordinate population of Helots: more exactly, as if they were prisoners of war whose death sentence the Spartans had merely suspended so as to force them to labour under constant threat of extinction, in order to provide the economic basis of the Spartan way of life. Other Greek cities, not least Athens, were also of course crucially dependent on unfree labour for creating and maintaining a distinctively politicized and cultured style of communal life. But the slaves held by the Athenians collectively and individually were typical of the Greek world as a whole in that they were mainly ‘barbarians’, or non-Greek foreigners, a polyglot, heterogeneous bunch – in fact, they were mostly owned on an individual, not a collective, basis. The Helots of Sparta, by contrast, were an entire Greek people, or perhaps (if we distinguish the Laconian Helots from the Messenian) two separate peoples united by a common yoke of servitude.

These three little words – spartan, laconic, helot – are just a small linguistic token of the fact that English or British culture, indeed Western culture as a whole, has been deeply marked by what the French scholar François Ollier neatly dubbed ‘le mirage spartiate’. When he coined that phrase in the 1930s, Sparta – or rather ideas of how Sparta had supposedly worked as a society – exercised a particular fascination, as noted earlier, for totalitarian or authoritarian rulers, most notoriously for Adolf Hitler and pseudo-scholarly members of his Nazi entourage such as Alfred Rosenberg. Discipline, orderliness, soldierly hierarchy and subordination of individual endeavour to the overriding good of the state were among the Spartan virtues that the Nazis and other Fascists were most attracted by – only to put them to the most perverted uses. There are still neo-Fascist organizations (one, disturbingly, in France) that are proud to follow along this same shining path.

It is this modern totalitarian or authoritarian reception of ancient Sparta that has tarnished, probably irreparably, Sparta’s reputation as a political ideal or model in modern Western liberal-democratic societies. Yet Sparta’s idealized image had not always served such sinister or heinous purposes. In the eighteenth century, for instance, Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a huge fan of ‘the wisdom of Sparta’s laws’, and if anything an even greater fan of its legendary lawgiver Lycurgus. In Lycurgus’s ideal Sparta, Rousseau saw a society that was devoted to implementing the general will in a collective, self-effacing, law-abiding and above all thoroughly virtuous way. Rousseau helped to ensure a key role for ancient Greece (as well as ancient Rome) in the making of the modern world, and for Sparta no less than for Athens.

Rousseau was by no means the first intellectual to deploy an image or vision of Sparta as an integral component and driving force of an entire programme of social and political reforms. Among the very first on record was Plato, and it is through Plato that Sparta can claim to be the fount and origin of the entire tradition of utopian thinking and writing (utopiography). Utopia, too, acquired a bad name in the twentieth century; but in principle – the principle of hope that things can be and will be made better – it is not as bad a place as all that. In any case, it is not only for what intellectuals and others have made of Sparta, from the Classical period of ancient Greece down to our own century, that Sparta remains a choice subject of study. It is also for what the Spartans really did achieve, most conspicuously and effectively on the battlefield during the Graeco-Persian Wars of 480–479 BCE.

The Battle of Thermopylae, though a defeat, quickly became a morale victory. As such, it formed a vital and integral part of the eventual total Greek victory over the Persians. That victory, moreover, would not have been attained had it not been for the indispensable contribution made by the Spartans. The remarkably successful organization of their society into a well oiled military machine, and their development of a rudimentary multistate Greek alliance well before the Persians invaded mainland Greece, provided the indispensable core of military leadership around which a Greek resistance could coalesce. The Spartans’ heroically suicidal stand at Thermopylae showed that the Persians both should and could usefully be resisted, and gave the small, wavering and uncohesive force of patriotic Greeks the nerve to imagine that they might one day defeat the invaders. The charismatic leadership of Spartan commanders of the character and calibre of King Leonidas and Regent Pausanias crucially unified and inspired the Greeks’ land forces.

But what, if anything, did the Spartans bring to the feast of ancient Greek culture, the source of the Western legacy, beyond making the feast possible at all? Different modern interpreters emphasize different aspects of the classical Greek cultural achievement. I myself would privilege three distinguishing qualities or characteristics, above all: first, a devotion to competition in all its forms, almost for its own sake; second, a devotion to a concept and ideal of freedom; and, third, a capacity for almost limitless self-criticism as well as unstinting criticism of others (not least other Greeks).

The first two of these might be identified equally strongly in either of the two main exemplars of ancient Greek civilization, Sparta and Athens. The third, however, specifically self-criticism, was a distinctively Athenian cultural trait and apparently not a Spartan trait at all – or so contemporary Athenians liked to claim, and many have subsequently agreed. Pericles, for example, in Thucydides’s version of his Funeral Speech of 431/30, sneered at Sparta’s merely state-imposed courage; and Demosthenes a century later asserted falsely that it was forbidden to Spartans even to criticize (let alone alter) their laws.

Undoubtedly there were no Spartan equivalents of the Athenians’ democratic Assembly and popular lawcourts, nor did the Spartans enjoy the Athenians’ annual tragic and comic drama festivals, which provided state-sponsored opportunities for self-examination and self-criticism. Yet the Spartans were not quite the unhesitatingly obedient automatons that ancient Athenian and modern liberal propaganda have made them out to be. On occasion, grumbling at authority might turn into open defiance, both individually and collectively. Even Spartan kings, who were perched at the very pinnacle of the hierarchy of birth, wealth and prestige, might be brought low by being tried and fined – or, worse, exiled like Demaratus under sentence of death. It would be fairer and more accurate, then, to say that the Spartans’ culture was not one that favoured intellectual argument or even open dissent either in the agora or in any other place of public assembly.

All Greeks, probably, were passionately keen on a good contest. Their word for the spirit of competitiveness, agônia, is the root of our word ‘agony’, and that etymological connection well suggests the intense, driven quality of ancient Greek competition. A war was for the Greeks an agôn (contest), obviously enough, as was a public debate, whether real or fictional. So too was a lawsuit, but so also was any religious festival that involved, centrally or otherwise, athletic or other kinds of competition – a festival such as the Olympic Games, for example. It was in fact the Greeks ultimately who invented our idea of athletic sports, just as they invented the prototype of our idea of the theatre, and both of them within a context of religiously inspired competition and competitiveness.