Thursday, March 18, 2021

Skorzeny: Hitler's Fixer, Israel's Assassin



By the time that Otto J.A. Skorzeny closed his eyes for the last time, on July 5th, 1975, it marked the end of a life or murder and intrigue that reached back to 1939. Then, he was a civil engineer who decided to join the German Air Force following the Nazi occupation of Poland. 

Otto Skorzeny

Skorzeny came from a military family. He was born in Vienna, Austria on June 12th, 1908. Aside from German, Skorzeny spoke French and English very well. While a university Student in Vienna he was also a well-known collegiate fencer. It was due to his fencing that Skorzeny endured a dueling scar on his cheek. In 1931 joined the Nazi Party's military arm, known as the SA. 

While Skorzeny was a young man he cut a dashing, colorful figure. However, it would have been hard for anyone to envision him as Hitler's pre-eminent soldier and a life-long mercenary and assassin. 

After the German "Blitzkrieg," or Lightning War, swept Poland Skorzeny was rejected from the German Air Force at 31 because he was 'too tall' to serve there, at 6-feet, 4-inches. Instead, Skorzeny went someplace where his height was not a detractor. And that post was as one of Hitler's bodyguards in the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. 

The Eastern Front

Skorzeny's wish, however, was to take part in combat operations in the field. In October, 1941 he got his wish when he took part in the German invasion of the Soviet Union, codenamed "Operation Barbarossa." The invasion itself took place between June 22, 1941 and December 5, 1941. So, Skorzeny reached the Eastern Front with more than enough time to make his mark in his new unit, SS 2nd Panzer Division Das Reich

Crest for 2nd Panzer Div. Das Reich

In Ocrtober, 1941, Skorezeny was placed in charge of a special operations unit that was intended to seize Communist Party buildings in Moscow. However, with the Germans being whipped at the gates of Moscow by the Russians, that plan never came to fruition. Instead, what happened was that Skorzeny was hit in the back of the head with shrapnel and was evacuated to the rear for treatment. Whatever the circumstances of that wounding was, it was good enough to garner the former civil engineer the Iron Cross. 

Skorzeny: Creator of New Warfare

After being treated for his wound and convalescing, Skorzeny was given a staff role in Berlin. It was there that he developed what amounted to unconventional warfare tactics for German Forces. This included 'partisan-type fighting,' sabotage and espionage deep behind enemy lines. 

Skorzeny's proposals made sense to his superiors. Consequently, Skorzeny was appointed head of Nazi schools to train German soldiers in sabotage, espionage and paramilitary tactics. Even though, by then, it was late 1943 and the Nazi Reich's continued existance was an open question, Skorzeny and his commandos ran a number of operations throughout the Nazi sphere of influence. Skorzeny's specialized soldiers were responsible for:

Skorzeny rose to the rank of

OPERATION FRANCOIS: Coordinating geurilla activities; OPERATION OAK The rescue of cornered Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, in September 1943; OPERATION LONG JUMP: A planned operation to assassinate Allied world leaders, which never came to pass; OPERATION KNIGHT'S LEAP: A failed plan to capture Josip Broz Tito alive; OPERATION ARMOURED FIST: The kidnapping of Miklos Horthy Jr. to force his father to resign as regent of Hungary; OPERATION GRIFFIN: A false flag operation to spread disinformation during the Battle of the Bulge and finally OPERATION WEREWOLF SS: A planned Nazi underground resistance against an Allied-occupied Europe.

The Knight's Cross Ribbon
Perhaps the best known of these operations or failed plans was the rescue of  Mussolini a few weeks after the invasion of Sicily by Allied Forces and Allied bombardments of Rome. With his grip on power slipping every day, Skorzeny saved Mussolini's life and returned him to Germany. This turned out to only be a delay, though, as Mussolini and his mistress and driver would be killed and end up strung up in an Italian town square in the closing days of the war. 

The German Defeat

On March 17th, 1944 Skorzeny was leading German Army units in the protection of Schwedt Bridgehead, East Prussia and Pomerania when he was given orders to blow the bridge he was protecting, as well as the Bridge at Remagan. This ended up only delaying the inevitable. 


Skorzeny and his commandos were charged with infiltrating Allied lines in American uniforms in order to produce confusion in U.S. Forces by an Allied Court at Dachau, in 1947. During Skorzeny's operation, about two dozen Nazi soldiers in captured U.S. uniforms and driving recovered U,S. jeeps sent U.S. troops in wrong directions and misled them whenever possible. This was in direct contravention of the Hague Convention of 1907. However, Skorzeny got away with it by saying that before any combat his men would change back into their German uniforms. This was apparently supported by a British agent that confirmed this story. And, this enabled Skorzeny and his men to edge past charges at the trial. 

Life After the War

Even though Skorzeny had made it past the Dachua Trials, he was not out of the woods yet. Skorzeny was next interred at a camp in Darmstadt, and he awaited a decision by a denazification court. On July 27th, 1948, Skorzeny escaped from this camp with three other SS officers...dressed as U.S. Military Policemen. In his later life, Slorzeny insisted that U.S. officials assisted in his escape. Subsequently, Skorzeny hid out in Bavaria. Like a lot of people who hide out, Skorzeny was identified and was forced to flee to Salzburg. Eventually, he made his way to Madrid, in Spain. 

Skorzeny's Next Career

So, what does an on-the-run ex-Nazi commando do to pay the bills? He goes with what he knows, I guess. In 1952, Egypt was taken over by Mohammed Naguib. The next year, Skorzeny was sent to Egypt to serve as Naguib's military advisor. But...who sent him? Well, that was former General Reinhard Gehlen, who was indirectly working for the American CIA at that time. Think about that for a moment, Skorzeny is literally on the lamb and he is given an assignment from a former German general officer indirectly on behalf of the CIA. I think that sentence begs more questions rather than answers many of them. 

Skorzeny filled up Mohammed Naguib's 
military staff with Nazis after the war.

Skorzeny recruited a staff for Naguib comprised of former SS and Wehrmacht officers and it was these men who went about training the Egyptian Army. And, by 'former SS officers,' I am not talking about all lieutenants or captains. No, Skorzeny recruited from the ranks of the former Gestapo, Most notably, he hired Oskar Munzel, who was head of the Nazi Department for Jewish Affairs, among others. As well as training up Egyptians, Skorzeny's rogues gallery also trained some displaced Palestinian geurillas, among them a young Yasar Arafat, future head of the Palestine Liberation Organization. 

While all of this was going on, roughly during the mid-1950s, Skorzeny (and certainly some of his recruited staff) were actively wanted by the state of Israel to answer for their crimes during the war. Skorzeny stayed on in Egypt after Naguib was succeeded by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nassar. While doing this, Skorzeny was known to shuttle back and forth between Egypt and Argentina, where the ex-Nazi commando also served as a military advisor for Argentinian dictator Juan Peron, and as a bodyguard for Peron's wife, Eva. While Skorzeny was doing all of his military and bodyguarding he was also trying to help raise a "Fourth Reich" in South America.

Argentine dictator
Juan Peron

The "Fourth Reich" was a pipedream hardcore Nazis had of resurrecting a Nazi army and reclaiming its lost glory and power, bbe it in South America or germany or anyplace else that might want a lot of Nazis (which is nowhere in the world). The Fourth Reich was a poor attempt at organizing to take over some government, somewhere to create this new Nazi state. But, this effort died not in flame and fire but in the whimpering of old Nazi war criminals on the run from due justice for decades. As they grew older, clinging to their canes and failing health, as well as their paranoia, the movement just disintegrated. The world had enough of Nazis, barring the occasional rogue state or mad dictator.

Skorzeny and his Mossad connection

The next part of this story is the craziest in Skorzeny's life, which had a fair amount of crazy to start with. The Mossad is basically Israel's C.I.A. The Mossad is a regular feature in the world intelligence community and they are there to represent the intelligene needs of the Jewish State, Israel. 

Well, in a 1989 article published in Matara, an Israeli security and intelligence magazine (only the Israelis would have a magazine dedicated to intlligence and security, it was claimed Skorzeny was approached by Mossad to obtain information on German scientists who were working on an Egyptian project to develop rockets for use against Israel. The major Idraeli daily Yedioth Ahronot actually confirmed this story. And, in those days of the late 20th century, large print newspapers worldwide had a reputation for fact-checking that cannot be approached nowadays. 

Journalists Ian Black and Benny Morris wrote in 1991 that Skorzeny may not even have known who he was working for at the time. But, in 2010, journalist Tom Segev wrote that Skorzeny sought to be removed from the list of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal's list of at-large criminals. This did not happen, though, and Skorzeny remained a criminal on the run. 

Otto Skorzeny died of cancer in 1975

It is believed that Mossad, at first, planned to kill Skorzeny. However, Israeli handlers believed they had a better idea in Skorzeny assassinating German rocket scientist Heinz Krug because he was working with the Egyptian Government. Though Skorzeny was never directly linked to Krug's death, the German arms scientist did turn up dead around the time Mossad was allegedly dealing with Skorzeny. 

During his lifetime, Skorzeny married and divorced three times. He also had a daughter, whom I will not name because no one can help the parents they are born to. 

Skorzeny's death: The end of an era

In 1970, Skorzeny was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on his spine. Two tumors were later removed while he was staying at a hospital in Hamburg (how he did not get caught there is conveniently miraculous). But, the surgery left him paralyzed from the waist down. Finally, Skorzeny's wretched existance was ended on July 5, 1975 when he died of lung cancer at 67 years old. He never denounced Nazism and he always thought Adolf Hitler was a great guy. His funeral was attending by several of his old SS colleagues and the rest of the world was too busy that day to show up to the event. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Gen. Mark W. Clark: A Soldier's Story


Gen. Mark Clark (1896-1984) has a soldier's story that reaches back to his 17th birthday, when he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, in 1913. His career would span a half-century and take him from the trenches of World War I to the presidency of the Citadel, South Carolina's Military College, in Charleston, South Carolina.

Then MG Mark W. Clark
Clark was from a military family and his father, Charles, had been a career infantry officer. He was born on May 1, 1896 at Madison Barracks, Sackets Harbor, New York. Clark's mother, Rebecca, was the daughter of Romanian Jews, but Clark chose to be baptised as Episcopalian while at West Point. Following his service in World War I, Clark went on to marry first wife Maurine Doran, in 1924. After a marriage that last more than 40 years, Clark's wife would pass away while he was still president at the Citadel.

While Clark was a cadet at West Point, he would be a part of the Class of 1915 and went to school with later Army luminaies Dwight D. Eisenhower, Matthew Ridgeway and J. Lawton Collins, to name just a few.

During Clark's service in the Great War (later dubbed 'World War I' following World War II) Clark served as a captain and company commander in France as a 22-year-old. Like his father, Clark had chosen to be commissioned in the Army's Infantry Branch. Clark's first command was Company K of the 3rd Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment as part of the 5th Infantry Division. 

The 11th Inf. Regt.

Clark's company was placed in the Voseges Mountains and practiced trench warfare against their German adversaries. While assigned in the Voseges Mountains, 3rd Battalion commander Major R.E. Kingman fell ill and Clark replaced him. Two days after taking command of the battalion. Clark was injured with shrapnel wounds during an artillery attack. 

After convalescing in an Army hospital, Clark was judged by the Army to be unfit for further combat service and he was assigned to the Supply Section of the First Army. He held this post until the Armistice of November 11th, 1918 and briefly served as part of the U.S. Army of Occupation in Germany following the war. 

An Army officer's career can be advanced significantly during a war. And, during World War I Clark had not only served as a combat leader at the company level but also on the battalion level. These things were significant when the Army next considered what to do with Clark during the Interwar Years of 1919-1941. 

World War I Victory Medal

From 1921-1924, Clark was singled-out to serve as an aide in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of War. This is an enormous opportunity that directly reflected Clark's wartime service. After this tour in Washington, DC, Clark was selected as a staff officer for the 30th Infantry Regiment, then stationed at The Presidio in San Francisco. 

Finally, Clark was promoted to the rank of major after he was assigned as deputy commander of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Nebraska. After performing well at the CCC appointment, Clark was then elevated to the rank of lieutenant colonel when he was plaed on the staff of newly appointed Army Chief of Staff George Marshall. 

World War II: America's Youngest General

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during December 7th, 1941 sent America crashing headlong into World War II. The Army, like the rest of the military services, were in desperate need of senior officers. In a small space of time the Army had to grow from a relatively small standing force to an Army large enough and strong enough to facedown not only Hitler's Nazi War Machine but also the Imperial forces of Japan. And, Clark was key to this expansion.

World War II Victory Medal

In April, 1942, Clark was elevated to the rank of Major General, two weeks shy of his 46th birthday. This made him the youngest Major General in the Army. He was then placed in command of II Corps. Along with Eisenhower, Clark was sent to England on temporary duty to estimate the possibility of a cross-channel invasion by the Allies during 1942. After surveying the situation, the two friends from West Point concluded that such an invasion was not possibile that year. 

After the Channel crossing was ruled out, attention was turned to a North African invasion, codenamed "Torch," to baptize American soldiers into World War  II. While Eisenhower was named as Supreme Allied Commander of all Allief Forces, Clark was then assigned to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations as deputy commander. However, in transferring between assignments, it was Clark's duty to prepare II Corps for combat in North Africa before giving up his duties at the unit. So impressed by Clark's efforts in this role, he promoted Clark to the rank of Lieutenant General on November 11, 1942, three days after the Torch landings. 

Clark had begun a rapid ascent up the chain of command, which fostered some resentment by commanders who were formerly his superiors. One such commander was Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., who eyed Clark with some resentment. 

Clark took over as the commanding general of British and American forces for the invasion of Salerno (codenamed "Operation Avalanche"). Initially the invasion went well, but, after initial success, the invasion stalled. Despite this frustration, Clark was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and given command of the Fifth Army, comprised of U.S. and British Forces. 

With this army, Clark would attack German and Italian forces up the spine of the Italian mainland. Clark's army liberated Naples, Monte Cassino and even Rome during 1944. It was Clark who received the German surrender in Italy during Spring of 1945. After these victories, Clark gave up command of the Fifth Army to former 3rd U.S. Infantry Division commander LTG Lucian Truscott. He was then given command of the 15th Army Group and presided over surrendered Italy for the balance of the war. On March 10th, 1945, Clark was promoted to the rank of full general, which he would hold for the balance of his life.

Gen. Mark Clark
Post World War II, Korea, Later Career

Following the war, Clark was named as Commander in Chief of US Forces of Occupation in Austria. He gained experience dealing with communist nations there. Hence, it was not a surprise when he was given the nod to serve as deputy to the US Secretary of State in 1947. Then, it was back to the Presidio in San Francisco, where he was named commander of Army Field Forces.

During the Korean War, Clark took over as commander of the United Nations Command from General Matthew Ridgway. Clark commanded Allied U.N. Forces until the armistice, which took place on July 27th, 1953. 

From 1954-1955, Clark was head of the so-called "Clark Task Force," which examined all intelligence gathering operations throughout the Federal Government. 

Clark retired from the military service in 1965. He would then become president of The Citadel, in South Carolina. 

Clark and his first wife had a son and a daughter, Major William Doran Clark and Patricia Ann Clark-Oosting. Following the death of his first wife, he married Mary Dean. The couple did not have any children. After his tenure as president of The Citadel, Clark went on to reside in South Carolina until his death on April 17th, 1984.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

A Historical Crossroads About World War II and Nazis


I was writing a post about World War II German General Heinz W. Guderian recently on this blog. And, I ran into a problem of perspective. In fact, I had previously never wrote about German military leaders from either World War I or II, despite studying about them a great deal when I was in college at Georgian Court University, in New Jersey, during my youth. In addition, most of the men in my family had served in the Army, during World War II, including my father and his brother (who was killed in action as a Navy Gunner's Mate 2nd Class piloting an LST during the Anzio landings in January, 1944). 

Yet, historically speaking, can society forget whatever advancements the German Army made in modern warfare because Nazis, who riddled the German Army, were despicable people? Some part of me wants to say, 'Yes, we can.' Still, when we discuss the advent of modern military tactics, as reprehensible as Nazis were and are, the history should not be ignored. If we as a society do this then we edit history and that is not the place of anyone, any political party, government or historian. So, I decided to write about both Guderian's brilliance and his other face as well, the fact he was a Nazi stooge. And, both of these men inhabited the same person. 

In Guderian's case, he basically created combined arms tactics in a way previously unheard of in warfare during his time. In modern vernacular, it would be said he created the concept of the contemporary "combat team." As part of this, a single commander (whether it is a company commander or an army group commander) has primary control over all of the assets on a battlefield for his or her army (air, artillery, infantry, armor, cavalry, special weapons, intelligence, signal, logistical, etc.). And, because of this control, modern commanders eliminate organizational bureaucracy necessary to accomplish missions on the ground. 

Guderian knew that to fully bring his vision of "Lightning War" into being he would not only have to push for the creation of a modern tank force, but also armored infantry and artillery, as well as logistics, to be able to keep up with an army's advance. In addition, such a commander is going to need control of the air assets in his or her area because those assets play a key role in dominating enemy forces. 

So, to some extent, the world still lives with Guderian's ruminations about modern armies. Most armies in the world today use his principles of command, whether they know it or not. And, I dislike Nazis as much as the next person, but I believe it is possible to credit the source of an idea without lionizing them, turning them into a hero or a role model or something like that. 

The reluctance to credit Nazi leaders with anything happens because of all this rubbish they threw around about eugenics and race superiority. The terrible things the Nazi regime did were not among the most heinous things ever in history. They were the most terrible things one man or woman ever did to another man or woman. Further, I think this is true without exception. 

We all ride a tenuous line when discussing Nazis. Their evil was almost supernaturally dark and their achievements, some albeit functional, arrive to us all from the most poisoned tree in the historical forest. 

In today's world, Nazis seem to be making a 'comeback' among America's poor and uneducated. Politicians have applied their terrible gifts of deceit and persuasion upon history and actually found imaginary arguments that make Adolf Hitler's regime somehow palatable to youth and political outsiders now. I do not know how this came about exactly. One criticism of Americans by peoples throughout the world is that we, as a people, do not have long collective memories. Maybe that is true. For me, it was my father and uncles who were impacted so horribly by Nazis of the mid-20th century. But for younger people either their grandparents or great-grandparents were the ones who were involved in World War II. Over time, I suppose even the Devil might catch a break after being considered by weak minds. 

I am only one writer considering one Nazi historical figure and weighing the pros and cons of doing so. Yet, this argument can be applied to all of Hitler's 'rogues gallery' of innovators and leaders. Yes, there were Germans who were pressed to join the Army, forced to do Hitler's bidding for fear of their lives or those of their families. Let us not forget, though, that there were plenty of bright people in Germany of the '20, '30s and '40s who acccepted Nazi ideals and all of the monstrosities that accompanied them. 

I do not know what the answer is. I see youthful Americans today, running around and being confused about if they are Neo-Conservatives, Q'Anon, Nazis, or Nationalists or "Proud Boys," among so many other groups. So many people who are totally berift of any actual historical study are literally making up history according to what they want. I suppose this is true of modern religious personalities as well. Most frightening of all is the nexus these groups may find. 

We live in a world today that is less literate than the one our grandparents lived in. It is an America that has forgotten things like mathematics and science. The political theory of the mob has replaced logic in the minds of many Americans. And, the notion of celebrity, the cult of personality, has in many cases supplanted that tried-an-true American institution of common sense. 

So, how do we intelligently and reasonably discuss history in the context of World War II and its personalities and yet not whet the appetites of modern day modern fringe personalities? Now there is a good question. 

Heinz Guderian and Modern Armored Warfare


Heinz Wilhelm Guderian (1888-1954) is remembered by history as being a dedicated soldier, a great military leader and a brilliant military theorist. Guderian was, in fact, the father of "Blitzkrieg," which is literally translated as "Lightning War." 
Gen. Heinz W. Guderian

Yet, in remembering the service and even the brilliance of Guderian's tactical accumen, it would be a disservice not to also remember he was a Nazi who willingly followed every murderous order Fuhrer Adolf Hitler ever gave. Maybe Guderian was just trying to survive, or he had some philosophy about 'the greater good' of his service. Nevertheless, one of Guderian's faces was that of a Nazi stooge and that existed in the same person as the great military leader and brilliant strategist. 

Guderian's "Lightning War" played a central role for the Nazi War machine, especially in the early days of World War II on battlefields in Poland, France and the Soviet Union, among others.  Essentially, Guderian had placed a premium on coordination between combat arms, air, combat support and combat service support during the attack phase of military operations. 

Today, the idea of brigade or even division combat teams, where singular commanders control a wide array of assets for periods of time is not unusual. But the "combat team" concept could be said to have its origins in Lightning War. 
Guderian confers withi hs staff

In order to make Lightning War possible, the development of armored warfare was a must. Lightning War depended upon the creation of a fast, powerful and crushing tank force that would be accompanied by armored infantry, fast-moving artillery, and with logistics elements fast enough to keep up with any advance these forces could achieve.

In modern military forces throughout the world today, all of Guderian's concept seem like common sense. Yes, they are common sense. But, in the world of the early 20th century these ideas represented a revolution in creating armaments, organizing forces, training these forces, promoting the right kinds of leaders and, finally, engaging these forces in actual field oeprations. The fact that these concepts arose from a Nazi is, historically, a shame but nonetheless true. 

Guderian had the resume of great German generals, beginning when he was born in West Prussia to Friedrich Guderian, a Prussian officer who was from a line of Prussian officers. Guderian began at cadet school during 1903. Guderian entered the Army as a cadet officer in 1907, with the 10th Hanoverian Light Infantry Battalion commanded by his father. 

When World War I broke out, Guderian served as a communications officer and the commander of a radio station. During this assignment he earned the rank of first lieutenant. Subsequently, it was Guderian who was in charge of signals intelligence for the 4th Army. By the time the war finally concluded, in 1918, Guderian had been promoted to the German General Staff as an operations officer. 

Though allowed to remain in the Army after the 1918 Treaty of Versailles, where Germany surrendered to Allied Forces, he served in an army without a direction. For Guderian, however, the Interwar years (1918-1939) he studied the works of leading military theorists about armored warfare and between 1922 and 1928 wrote scholarly works in five papers about the advance of armored warfare and related those works to the loss of the war by Germany. 

World War I German Imperial Battle Flag

Guderian's work did not go unnoticed and, during the 1930s, he played a central role in the development of armored warfare concepts and the development of mechanized offensive warfare. Guderian was placed in command of the 3rd Motor Transport Battalion during this period and this unit literally became the blueprint for his force development later.

There are military readers who believe force improvements can be made in isolation from the total force. However, without the ability to supply beans and bullets forward, where combat units are throwing lead, then no fast-moving combat arms force could survive its own operations. And, Guderian knew that and developed ideas in logistics along with his Lightning War. 

In his 1937 book "Achtung -- Panzer!" Guderian wrote directly to the invasion of the Soviet Union, which appealed to the Nai political movement that was in the process of seizing military power in Germany. Unlike many officers, Guderian was optimistic about a German invasion of the Soviets. And, by 1941, Guderian had accepted Hitler's vision that such an invasion was necessary to the national security of Germany. 

Guderian's final rank was as Generaloberst

At the beginning of the war, Hitler placed Guderian in charge of an armored corps during the Invasion of Poland. With his corps, Guderian also played a key role in the successful invasion of France by the Germans. Finally, Guderian was appointed as commander of the 2nd Panzer Army during the invasion of the Soviet Union in June, 1941. The objective of this invasion, codenamed "Operation Barbarossa," was intended to culminate in "Operation Typhoon," which was the conquest of Moscow. 

Guderian failed to reach the mark, though. And, in 1943, Hitler appointed Guderian as General of the Armored Corps. With this assignment, Guderian was expected to oversee military training of armored units and develop the creation of an improved armored force. However, by then, the Germans had begun the long process of losing the war and the resources Guderian had to achieve this goal were worsening. 
Adolf Hitler congratulates Guderian after the Polish invasion. Guderian was a
staunchadvocate for Hitler and Nazism during his wartime service and after. 

Finally, with Germany retreating on all fronts in 1944, Hitler appointed Guderian in charge of his "Court of Honor." This court essentially discharged military officers associated with a failed July 20th coups against Hitler, clearing the way for them to be executed as traitors by the state. 

Guderian surrendered to U.S. Forces in May, 1945 and was imprisoned until 1948. In the end, he was discharged from prison without any charges and went on to become a notable memoirist who died in May, 1954 of unreported reasons.

Though there were never any documents linking Guderian to war crimes, he remained a supporter of Hitler's and Nazism after the war, despite frequent employment with U.S. Forces in a historical context. 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

The T-34 Tank: The Best Tank Never Bought by the U.S.


The weapon that transformed modern armored warfare? That is easy: the Soviet T-34. It was the next generation of ground warfare during World War II and it could be argued it was the best tank of the war. 

The T-34 Main Battle Tank

I’m a sports fan, and root for both the New York Mets and the New York Jets in Major League Baseball and the National Football League, respectively. If anyone is familiar with the stories of these teams then they would know that their histories of making decisions about players are lacking. The fans that follow these sports franchises could lament with the most-disappointed of people anywhere. 

Yet, one of the worst American mistakes did not happen on a playing field. In fact, one of these mistakes occurred when New Jersey native and noted American inventor John Walter Christie pitched his idea for a new main battle tank to the U.S. War Department in 1928. It was then that the military bureaucracy of the time passed on Christie’s design, which then allowed the inventor to ‘shop’ his idea to foreign powers. 

The first interested nation-state in Christie’s design was Poland. In 1929, on behalf of his government, Polish Captain Marian Rucinski, who was assigned to the Polish Military Institute of Engineering Research, was sent to the U.S. to evaluate Christie’s armored invention. At the time, Christie was building his M1928 at his company, The U.S. Wheel Track Corporation, of Linden, New Jersey. 

T-34 inventor John W. Christie

So impressed was Rucinski that a special Polish acquisition commission was dispatched to the U.S., led by the chief of their engineering department, Colonel Tadeusz Kossakowski. What resulted was that the Polish Government prepaid Christie for production models of his concept. Later, Christie would return the deposit after reconsidering a contract with the Polish Government. However, word of the revolutionary new tank Christie had envisioned was out, so to speak, and the espionage community knew all about it. This development aroused interest in the Soviet Union, and it was spies of this country that ended up acquiring plans for the chassis of the tank in 1930. 

After this compromise, on April 28, 1930, Christie’s company ended up selling two Christie-designed tanks to the Soviet company Amtorg for $60,000. A separate agreement was made whereby the inventor sold spare parts for the tanks at a cost of $4,000.

Thus was born the Soviet Union’s greatest weapon of the war, the T-34 Main Battle Tank. 

NY Mets pitcher Nolan Ryan

The T-34 was considered a medium tank when it was deployed in 1940, during World War II. It possessed a 76.2mm (3-inch) main gun; 360-degree sloped armor (providing good protection against anti-tank weapons); the unique Christie suspension system (more efficient than the T-bar system used by the tanks of other nations); and an efficient, aerodynamic design that made its silhouette more difficult for enemy tankers to acquire it from a distance. 

The T-34 was impressive during field operations, so much that German Army General Paul vonKleist called it “the finest tank in the world.” Kleist’s mentor, and armored theory expert, General Heinz Guderian also noted that the “Soviet” tank was “vastly superior” to German tanks. 

Well, you might ask yourself how the Mets and Jets analogy comes into play here. Well, it was the Mets who passed on signing their own starting pitcher, Nolan Ryan, in 1972. As most fans know, Ryan went on to have a Hall of Fame career with other clubs during the years following the trade, while the Mets languished somewhere near the cellar of the National League East. As for the Jets, it was the decision of that organization’s front office to draft neither prospects Dan Marino or Jerry Rice when they had a chance to acquire these players. Unlike the Mets, the consequence of that failure was that the team did not languish near the bottom of their division. No, they retained sole possession of the bottom of their division.

NFL legend Dan Marino
The U.S. Army fought with the M4 Sherman during World War II, and it was a good tank. In fact, if a beauty contest of World War II main battle tanks were had, I am sure it would have won “Miss Congeniality,” with the Soviet T-34 winning the crown ahead of the German Panther and Tiger tanks. There is no disgrace in taking fourth place, but in this case it would have saved lives if the U.S. War Department knew what it was looking at and kept the crown winner in the United States. 

Poor decisions at the highest levels cost lives. It has always been that way, and it will always remain that way. In sports, winning and losing does not take on the dimensions of life and death. However, in choosing weapons systems for the military, it certainly does. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Joe Fair Pens 2nd Edition of 'Call Sign Dracula'

There is a 2nd edition of the book out there called "Call Sign Dracula," by Joe Fair. It was released by Sunbury Press on Nov. 2, 2020. It is about Fair's tour as an infantryman with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. Fair focuses on his experiences with the unit in the Republic of Vietnam from April, 1969 to March, 1970.

Joe Fair, author of the book "Call Sign Dracula"

According to Fair, the 2nd Edition allowed him to make corrections, improve sentence structure and flow of the stories he tells. He also added more names even more stories than were in the 1st Edition. In addition, Fair found more photos of his days with the 1st Infantry Division. 

The book is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, Sunbury Press and other fine outlets. Call Sign Dracula can be purchased as a paperback book, e-book or audio book. The author noted that if anyone wants a signed paperback to let him know and he would be happy to do it. 

 Call Sign Dracula is a first-hand account of a one-year combat tour that begins with a naive, 18-year-old soldier facing the test of combat in war-torn Vietnam. The 1st edition of the book was released in March, 2014. 

Friday, March 5, 2021

Celebrating the 'Double Nickel' This Year

The big bithdays in my life, as I remember it, were my 17th, 21st and 40th. Yet, none of those compared to today, when my lovely wife brought me to a local restaurant here in town. Unlike so many other birthdays, 55 feels like a graduation of sorts. My working life has been over for several years now, my marriage is very good, I have no more enemies or even poor relations with anyone in my life, my debts are paid, my children are grown and are prosperous and I have found peace after all these years.

Finding peace is a hard thing to do in this life. There are so many factors to it: financial security, liking where you are and who you are with, liking one's self, your setting and your place in this world. And, that just scratches the surface. Peace is also about reconciling one's past and being ready for the journey ahead as much as saying farewell to the journey behind and having no regrets left about the old days. Well, everyone has regrets of some kind after a lifetime, but people can find peace with it after much introspection and prayer. God readily forgives us. It is us learning how to forgive ourselves that is perhaps the most important thing we each take into old age. For me, it was the hardest lesson to learn and the longest to work through. But, I'm good now. Religious or spiritual people might say that peace comes at the point where someone reconciles their failures, sins, regrets, achievements and wishes with the God of their understanding. I would not argue against this. I am happy about where I am at today. 

It took long enough: years. 

So, today I celebrated my 55th birthday and it feels not like the closing of some chapters of a book, but the opening of new ones. And, I am ready for them. This, in itself, is something I am glad about. 

In some ways, 55 years have flown right by and, in other ways, it has seemed to be a very long time. Like most things, I believe the truth might be somewhere in the middle. 

-- JP