Turning Point

This is another in my continuing series marking the 100th anniversary of the The First World War. I’m tracking events through Hew Strachan‘s authoritative book of the that name. Strachan did not treat the story of the war chronologically. It would have been pointless to do so, and I’m not going to either. There are a number of salient themes that catch the nature of this world conflict, and I am posting on each one at an appropriate anniversary.

A significant turning point in the war came in May of 1916, and it came not on the battlefields of France and Belgium, but in the North Sea off the coast of Denmark. It’s the Battle of Jutland, named after the peninsula occupied by the country of Denmark, and it came about this way.

Look at a map of Europe. Germany (and Austria-Hungary) are fighting England, France and Russia. England and France are to the west and southwest, Russia is to the east. Italy to the south is no friend. At the start Germany (and most others) figured on a short war. These things never lasted for more than a few months. When the battlefronts bogged down in the autumn of 1914, and the war dragged on all through 1915 it was obvious to all that Germany was in trouble.

Germany was prepared to supply its war effort for a matter of months. Beyond that it would require resupply. And that was the problem. Germany touches the world’s oceans only in the Baltic Sea and along a short stretch of coast between The Netherlands and Denmark. England, the dominant sea power at that time had a choke on Germany’s sea outlets. Resupply by sea could come to Germany through the English Channel—out of the question—or north over the top of Scotland. England’s navy early concentrated on blocking this route. Take special note that the Orkney Islands north of Scotland are the home of Scapa Flow, both during this war and in the one that was to follow a few years later, a major anchorage of Britain’s battle fleet.

Germany’s naval losses early in the war have already been noted. By 1916 they had not yet built up their full U-boat strength, and their remaining surface raiders were bottled up in the Baltic ports. German naval commanders were stymied. An enormous armed conflict was raging beneath their noses, and they could only sit on their hands. They had to do something to get into the war and claim some of the glory at the end. In the end they sealed Germany’s fate.

British and German signaling at the time represented opposite poles in strategy. In the previous 15 years radio technology had provided the means for reliable communication across great distances. Both belligerent powers made good use of it, especially the Germans in organizing their military assets, both naval and ground, at widely separated points on the globe. Close in, the Germans made great use of radio to coordinate efforts by their fleet in the Baltic and in ventures into the North Sea. The British took an opposite course. They had set up ranging stations along their coast and used these to pinpoint the location of German ships. And there was more.

Within four months of the war’s outbreak the British were in possession of all three German naval codes. The Australians laid their hands on the code book for merchant shipping; the imperial naval code book was taken by the Russians from a cruiser which went aground in the Baltic; and the traffic signals book from a sunk destroyer was picked up in the nets of a British trawler.

Strachan, Hew (2005-04-05). The First World War (Kindle Locations 3248-3251). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

The Brits read German radio signals to great advantage throughout the war. Possibly because of their own two-pronged approach to signal intelligence, the Brits refrained from using radio in tactical operations. Ships communicating with each other used signal flags, a well developed naval art, but fraught with difficulties if conditions were not right.

Germany’s plan, beginning in late 1914, was to settle matters with the British Navy. They would draw capital British ships into combat and send them to the bottom in a direct confrontation. The Germans initiated this scheme by strikes on the British east coast.

German attacks on the British coast, as opposed to British attacks on the German coast, might sting the British into a response and so enable the German navy to take on fractions of the Royal Navy and gradually whittle away its strength.

At 8 a.m. on 16 December German battle cruisers of Franz von Hipper’s Scouting Squadron bombarded Hartlepool and Scarborough, killing over a hundred civilians.

Strachan, Hew (2005-04-05). The First World War (Kindle Locations 3229-3232). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

Britain’s immediate response to this raid was a propaganda campaign that emphasized the uncivilized conduct of their enemy.


From Wikipedia

Hipper’s fleet tried again on 23 January 1915. “Beatty” is Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty.

At 7.05 a.m. one of Beatty’s destroyers reported contact with the enemy. At 8.34 Beatty ordered his battle cruisers to raise their speed to 27 knots, four knots faster than the maximum speed Hipper could maintain. Twenty-six minutes later his flagship, HMS Lion, opened fire at a range in excess of 20,000 yards. The wind was north-easterly, with the result, according to her captain, that ‘the smoke of the enemy coming almost straight towards us, combined with the gloom, made spotting very difficult. Flashes of the enemy’s guns were extraordinarily vivid, so that it could not be seen whether we were hitting the enemy or not.’ They were: the leading German ship , Seydlitz, caught fire.

However, she was saved by the deliberate flooding of her magazines . Ultimately, of four German ships, only the weakest and oldest, the Blücher, a so-called ‘five-minute’ ship in reference to her likely survival time in battle, was sunk. The restrictions of flag signals created ambiguity in Beatty’s orders. Greater use of wireless would not only have ensured the more effective distribution of his ships’ firepower, but also have prevented him breaking off the action prematurely. At 10.54, Beatty persuaded himself that he saw the wash of a periscope. Fearing that Hipper might be luring his battle cruisers over a submarine screen, he turned away rather than risk being torpedoed.

Strachan, Hew (2005-04-05). The First World War (Kindle Locations 3271-3281). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

At issue here and also in the subsequent Battle of Jutland was the British needed to keep the Germans from discovering their codes had been compromised. Although British signal intelligence, under the name “Room 40,” often had excellent information about German plans and movements, this information was withheld from the fleet, otherwise the German commanders would figure out the British were reading their codes.”

An early development was to have crucial, and fatal, consequences in the coming Battle of Jutland. In the Battle of the Falkland Islands and again in the Dogger Bank battle (just described) the British came to realize they were getting very few shells on target at long range. Their response, which was to prove catastrophic, was to increase their rate of fire. What made this fatal was that it was accomplished by sacrificing safety. Extra shells and bags of propellant were stocked near the guns, and channels between the ship’s magazines and the gun mounts, channels that should have been protected by safety locks, were kept open to allow the speedy flow of ammunition.

In early 1916 the Germans prepared their crucial action to defeat the British fleet.

Reinhard Scheer, who succeeded to the command of the High Seas Fleet in February 1916, was a decisive, even impetuous, man, in stark contrast to his predecessors. He won the Kaiser over to a more aggressive use of the fleet, its guiding principle being that, as before, Hipper’s Scouting Squadron should lure Beatty’s battle cruisers out to sea. This time, however, both submarines and the battleships of the High Seas Fleet would be waiting.

Strachan, Hew (2005-04-05). The First World War (Kindle Locations 3310-3313). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

By then Sir John Jellicoe commanded Britain’s Grand Fleet. He was a cautious man, mindful that the fate of British naval superiority hung on his every decision. A big concern of his was the German U-boat threat.

To avoid that danger Jellicoe proposed to refuse action in waters of the Germans’ own choosing, however ‘repugnant to the feelings of all British Naval Officers and men’. On 17 May 1916 Scheer ordered nineteen U-boats to positions off the Firth of Forth. He planned to raid Sunderland, hoping that the Battle Cruiser Fleet would put to sea from Rosyth and using airships to warn him if the Grand Fleet left Scapa Flow. But bad weather prevented the airships from taking any part in the action, and he therefore concluded it would be too risky to approach the British coast. Instead, he ordered a sortie to the north, to the Skagerrak, the waters between Norway and northern Denmark, off the Jutland peninsula. Here his line of retreat would be more secure, but now the principal submarine danger, in contradistinction to Jellicoe’s fears, would be mines, not U-boats.

Strachan, Hew (2005-04-05). The First World War (Kindle Locations 3325-3331). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

From The First World War

From The First World War

One of the signals intercepted and decrypted by Room 40 in the course of the night of 31 May-1 June 1916, but not passed on to Jellicoe at sea. The order to open the barrier suggested the German fleet was breaking off the action to return to harbour

Strachan, Hew (2005-04-05). The First World War (Kindle Locations 3373-3374). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

On 28 May Room 40 signaled Jellicoe of the German commander’s intentions, and on the night of 30 May the British fleet began to make its move. Day came, and poor communications began to unravel the British plan.

The result was that the Grand Fleet advanced slowly, so conserving fuel but losing daylight . At 2.20 Beatty signalled that Hipper’s Scouting Squadron was in sight. He manoeuvred on a south-south-easterly course in order to cut the Germans off from their base, while Hipper also turned south, aiming to draw Beatty on to the approaching guns of the High Seas Fleet.

Strachan, Hew (2005-04-05). The First World War (Kindle Locations 3335-3338). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

Now poor British gunnery and lack of consideration for safety began to tell.

At about 4.00 they still had not opened fire, when a midshipman on one of them, Malaya, suddenly said to Sub-Lieutenant Caslon, “‘ Look at that!”’ Caslon ‘thought for an instant that the last ship in the line had fired all her guns at once, as there was a much bigger flame, but the flame grew and grew till it was about three hundred feet high, and the whole ship was hidden in a dense cloud of yellow brown smoke. This cloud hung in the air for some minutes, and when it finally dispersed there was no sign of the ship.’

The battle cruiser Indefatigable had blown up within thirty seconds of being hit . All but two of her complement of 1,019 were killed.

Strachan, Hew (2005-04-05). The First World War (Kindle Locations 3342-3348). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

This was to be repeated two more times during the battle. The sea battle was to be one of attrition. It was also to be famous for Jellicoe’s employment of a practiced tactical maneuver.

By 18:30, the main battlefleet action was joined for the first time, with Jellicoe effectively “crossing Scheer’s T”. The officers on the lead German battleships, and Scheer himself, were taken completely by surprise when they emerged from drifting clouds of smoky mist to suddenly find themselves facing the massed firepower of the entire Grand Fleet main battle line, which they did not know was even at sea. Jellicoe’s flagship Iron Duke quickly scored seven hits on the lead German dreadnought, SMS König, but in this brief exchange, which lasted only minutes, as few as 10 of the Grand Fleet’s 24 dreadnoughts actually opened fire. The Germans were hampered by poor visibility, in addition to being in an unfavourable tactical position, just as Jellicoe had intended. Realizing he was heading into a death trap, Scheer ordered his fleet to turn and flee at 18:33. Under a pall of smoke and mist, Scheer’s forces succeeded in disengaging by an expertly executed 180° turn in unison (“battle about turn to starboard”), which was a well-practiced emergency manoeuvre of the High Seas Fleet.

[Some links deleted]

Critical action (from Wikipedia)

Critical action (from Wikipedia)

The total of the battle was destructive to the British fleet but ruinous to Germany’s naval ambitions for the remainder of the war.

The High Seas Fleet claimed that the battle of the Skagerrak was a German victory. At first the British press tended to agree. At Scapa Flow the mood was despondent, a mixture of combat exhaustion and disappointed expectation. The battle of Jutland (as the British called it) engaged 100,000 men in 250 ships over 72 hours. It dwarfed Trafalgar in scale but not – it seemed – in outcome. The Royal Navy had lost fourteen ships, including three battle cruisers, and had sustained 6,784 casualties. The Germans had lost eleven ships, including one battleship and one battle cruiser, and had suffered 3,058 casualties. But ten of Scheer’s ships had suffered heavy damage, and only ten were ready for sea on 2 June. Jellicoe, with eight ships undergoing repairs, could have put twenty-four capital ships to sea. On 4 July 1916 Scheer renounced fleet action as an option. Jutland left the Royal Navy’s supremacy unimpaired and Britain’s strategy intact. ‘It is absolutely necessary’, Captain Herbert Richmond reminded himself, ‘to look at the war as a whole; to avoid keeping our eyes only on the German Fleet. What we have to do is to starve and cripple Germany.’

Strachan, Hew (2005-04-05). The First World War (Kindle Locations 3392-3401). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

This marked the beginning of committed economic warfare against the Central Powers, a campaign that was to be a major deciding factor. Hew Strachan’s book deals extensively with this economic war, and I will cover that in a future post.


Quiz Question

One of a continuing series


I was watching episodes of the TV series NUMB3RS, when mathematician Charles Eppes (David Krumholtz) mentioned this problem in game theory. This is an abbreviated version of the problem, one with an quick and easy solution.

There are three shooters, and they are going to have a gun fight. Prior to the fight they spend some time on the shooting range and discover something interesting. At a range of 50 feet shooter A never misses. Shooter B misses 20% of the time. Shooter C misses 50% of the time. Now it’s time for the match.

They stand at points on an equilateral triangle, 50 feet on each side. This is a math problem. A referee pulls a name from a box to determine which shooter goes first. He tells shooter C it’s his turn. The rules are thus:

  • Each shooter gets one shot at a time, and the opportunity to shoot passes to the next shooter in turn.
  • If a shooter is hit, he is dead and is out of the game. He loses his turn.
  • If a shooter misses, the next shooter in turn gets a shot.
  • The game is played until only one shooter is left standing.

Shooter C wants to maximize his chances of living to die another day. What does he do?

Post your answer as a comment below. Don’t guess. Justify your answer.

Update and answer

Mike has provided the correct answer on Facebook, so I will post the answer now.

The best option for C is to avoid killing anybody. This seems counterintuitive at first, but look at what happens:

  • Suppose C shoots at B. He better not hit B, because if he does he is a dead man. The turn passes to A, who will shoot him dead, 100%.
  • If he kills A, then B has a shot at him, and he has a 20% chance of surviving the first round.
  • However, if he fires into the air, then it’s the turn of either A or B. A will shoot B for sure. Verify this. Then it’s C’s turn, and C has a 50% chance of killing A and living.

Sometimes the best option in a war is not to fight it.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

I am sure this is the first time I ever watched this movie. It came out 50 years ago, but it is so bad I would have remembered it if I had seen it before. It’s Batman from 20th Century Fox and based on the TV series, which was based on the comic strip. It stars Adam West in the title role, with Burt Ward as his teenage side-kick Robin. It was recently available on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia. I’m not going to get deeply into the plot.

As everybody knows, Batman is really millionaire Bruce Wayne, and Robin is his ward, Dick Grayson. Having nothing better to do, they sally forth to combat crime, since the police are inept in such matters. They wear super hero disguises so they won’t be hassled by the public, and also by assorted crooks, in their private lives. Here are Batman and Robin are setting out from the Bat Cave in the Bat Car on yet another adventure.


There’s word that Commodore Schmidlapp is in danger aboard his fabulous yacht, and the Dynamic Duo station the Bat Copter above while Batman shinnies down a rope ladder to see what’s afoul.


Zounds! The yacht disappears in a flash, to be replace by a booby-trapped shark, which gets a bite on Batman’s leg and won’t let go. Fortunately there is a can of shark repellent spray on board the Bat Copter, and Robin sets the Bat Copter on autopilot while he climbs down to hand it to Batman. The shark lets go seconds before exploding into thousands of pieces.

Next we see the pair in the Batboat, off to check out a mysterious buoy, which details I will not dig into. I made a special effort to post this image, because it’s the first time I got a look at the Batboat.


Tony Bell was an artist living in Austin at the time. He told of his adventures with building the Batboat, following up with testing on Lake Travis. The basis was a model by Glastron, an Austin company. A recent news item shows it being sold for £42,000. Here’s a photo of Tony Bell as a favor to all his fans. He was in the process of building an airplane in an unused shed at a company I worked for.


Arrayed against the dynamic duo is a cast of nefarious characters. Pictured here are The Riddler (Frank Gorshin), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), Catwoman (Lee Meriwether), and the Joker (Cesar Romero). Imagine what they had to do to convince suave and debonair Cesar Romero to act the fool in public.


Meriwether was a natural. The movie exercises every option to display her cat-like body for the benefit of all those Y chromosomes in the audience. Here Bruce Wayne falls head over himself for Catwoman’s alter ego, Miss Kitka. At a swanky club they sensuously dance while a cabaret singer intones the romantic hit Plaisir d’Amour.


Like I said, no opportunity is bypassed to show display Meriwether’s considerable assets.


Of course the movie is a spoof on comic book characters, which in turn are a spoof on real life heroes and villains. Here the pair ascend a vertical wall with the aid of a thin line. It’s obvious the scene was shot on a level surface and then rotated. Everybody’s got to enjoy this.


Comic book fist fights are punctuated with comic book sound effects. Here Batman battles The Riddler aboard The Penguin’s submersible.


Having defeated the evil schemes of The Penguin and salvaging the dehydrated substance of the United World Organization’s Security Council, Batman rehydrates them, but only after sorting out the dehydrate of the individual members, which became mixed by accident.


The separation process was almost completely successful. Unfortunately, the various languages did not get sorted to the appropriate bodies, and the council members wind up speaking the wrong languages.

And there is the Batman theme music, by now a national icon. “Da-da-dada-da-da-dadda…,” How can I ever forget? I was working on a software contract in Burbank, California, eight years ago, and there was a crew (200+) of testing people working in India. They needed to run tests on the hardware we had in the shop near the airport, and they worked in the day time when it was night for us. Only, if something needed to be connected, or a computer needed to be plugged in, they couldn’t do that from India, so we had set up a phone link. We took turns manning the phone at night, and if whoever had the phone duty got a call in the middle of the night, then that person had to get dressed and drive down to the shop and fix the problem. We were given a cell phone, and it was “the batphone.” It had a Batman motif, and the ring tone was, you guessed it, “da-da-dada-da-da-dadda…”

So I had the duty one night, and I was sleeping well, when, “da-da-dada-da-da-dadda…” I grabbed for the phone, half asleep, and a voice with a deep Indian accent told me they weren’t able to connect to (he named the system). I rang off, and then I thought, “Did I get the system right?” I didn’t know how to phone the caller back. I got dressed and drove down past the airport to the shop and wandered around to the building where they kept the test equipment. I went in, and sure enough, there was a test computer unplugged. I powered it up, made sure everything was running, and went back to my apartment. I charged the company two hours. Later somebody told me they had had the batphone for months, and I was the only one who ever had to drive out in the middle of the night. I should have charged them for three hours.

I will never forget you, Batman.

Tony Bell went on to work as the set designer for a movie titled She Came to the Valley. It’s not likely I will be able to obtain a video to review. More recently, renditions of Batman have taken a serious tone, but I haven’t watched any of those. Look for a review in the next few months.

Noch Einmal Das Horst Wessel Lied

By now everybody knows Humphrey Bogart never once said, “Play it again, Sam.” But there was this song, and it’s not the one in the movie. William Shirer, in his epic work The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, recounts its origins.

Passing notice must here be taken of one of these encounters, for it provided National Socialism with its greatest martyr. One of the neighborhood leaders of the S.A. in Berlin was Horst Wessel, son of a Protestant chaplain, who had forsaken his family and his studies and gone to live in a slum with a former prostitute and devote his life to fighting for Nazism. Many anti-Nazis always held that the youth earned his living as a pimp, though this charge may have been exaggerated. Certainly he consorted with pimps and prostitutes. He was murdered by some Communists in February 1930 and would have passed into oblivion along with hundreds of other victims of both sides in the street wars had it not been for the fact that he left behind a song whose words and tune he had composed. This was the Horst Wessel song, which soon became the official song of the Nazi party and later the second official anthem—after “Deutschland ueber Alles”—of the Third Reich. Horst Wessel himself, thanks to Dr. Goebbels’ skillful propaganda, became one of the great hero legends of the movement, hailed as a pure idealist who had given his life for the cause.

Shirer, William. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (p. 147). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Nazis do not sing Das Horst Wessel Lied in Rick’s Café Americain in the movie. But it was for all intents the Nazis’ theme song. Which got to me to wondering as I read Stephen Harding’s The Last Battle.


Whether this was the last battle World War Two in Europe may be debatable, but, five days after German Chancellor Adolf Hitler killed himself and two days before both sides finally decided to call the whole thing off, a squad of American soldiers, in cooperation with a collection of disaffected Wehrmacht troops, fought a significant skirmish to protect a small collection of French prisoners. There’s some history.

France, along with Great Britain and the United States, won World War One, the War to End all Wars. The Germans gave up and retreated to within their borders, ultimately accepting excruciating terms pressed upon them by the victors. In the twenty years following the Germans regrouped, rearmed, and prepared for war again. In the meantime French society tore itself apart in ceaseless political and social strife. Shirer recounts from first hand observation:

PARIS, February 7 [1934]

A little dazed still from last night. About five p.m. yesterday I was twiddling my thumbs in the Herald office wondering whether to go down to the Chamber, where the new premier, Édouard Daladier, was supposed to read his ministerial declaration, when we got a tip that there was trouble at the Place de la Concorde. I grabbed a taxi and went down to see. I found nothing untoward. A few royalist Camelots du Roi, Jeunesses Patriotes of Deputy Pierre Taittinger, and Solidarité Française thugs of Perfumer François Coty— all right-wing youths or gangsters— had attempted to break through to the Chamber, but had been dispersed by the police. The Place was normal. I telephoned the Herald, but Eric Hawkins, managing editor, advised me to grab a bite of dinner nearby and take another look a little later. About seven p.m. I returned to the Place de la Concorde. Something obviously was up. Mounted steel-helmeted Mobile Guards were clearing the square. Over by the obelisk in the centre a bus was on fire. I worked my way over through the Mobile Guards, who were slashing away with their sabres, to the Tuileries side. Up on the terrace was a mob of several thousand and, mingling with them, I soon found they were not fascists, but Communists. When the police tried to drive them back, they unleashed a barrage of stones and bricks. Over on the bridge leading from the Place to the Chamber across the Seine, I found a solid mass of Mobile Guards nervously fingering their rifles, backed up by ordinary police and a fire-brigade. A couple of small groups attempted to advance to the bridge from the quay leading up from the Louvre, but two fire-hoses put them to flight. About eight o’clock a couple of thousand U.N.C. (Union Nationale des Combattants1) war veterans paraded into the Place, having marched down the Champs-Élysées from the Rond-Point. They came in good order behind a mass of tricoloured flags. They were stopped at the bridge and their leaders began talking with police officials. I went over to the Crillon and up to the third-floor balcony overlooking the square. It was jammed with people. The first shots we didn’t hear. The first we knew of the shooting was when a woman about twenty feet away suddenly slumped to the floor with a bullet-hole in her forehead. She was standing next to Melvin Whiteleather of the A.P. Now we could hear the shooting, coming from the bridge and the far side of the Seine. Automatic rifles they seemed to be using. The mob’s reaction was to storm into the square. Soon it was dotted with fires. To the left, smoke started pouring out of the Ministry of Marine. Hoses were brought into play, but the mob got close enough to cut them. I went down to the lobby to phone the office. Several wounded were laid out and were being given first aid.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 80-101). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The upshot was this: The Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933 and stepped up the re-armament that had been under way for years in secret. They also instigated a brutal, totalitarian regime and began to dismantle the Versailles Treaty. In the process Hitler began to encroach upon neighboring lands, starting with Austria. Austria was always German, but more recently a separate nation state, nation states being a novelty within the past few hundred years. Next came Czechoslovakia, and the former victors did nothing to stop him. When the Wehrmacht invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, Great Britain and France resumed hostilities against Germany, which by now included the former Austria. In the spring of 1940 German forces launched a blitzkrieg attack into France, and that country’s defenses simply fell apart. Within a few weeks German forces occupied northern and western France, and a French government, seated in Vichy in unoccupied France, collaborated with the Nazis.

The United States joined the fracas in December 1941, and by April 1945 American, British, and French troops were running wild in western Germany and also pushing up from Italy into the former Austria. Soviet troops were beginning to pound Berlin, itself. That’s when Hitler shot himself.

What should by now have been over was not by now over. High ranking survivors of Nazism looked for ways to escape the hangman’s noose. Some hoped for a deal that would leave Germany an unconquered nation (in defiance of existing fact). Possibly some wanted to sing das Horst Wessel Lied just one more time. As negotiations began and then began to drag, shooting continued, and people continued to die. Those knowing a noose awaited them beyond the bargaining table cast about for some they wanted to take with them behind that dark curtain. Prison camps began to empty at the turn of a shovel, or even less neatly.

A notable target in peril was a gaggle of French higher-ups who had been less than collegial during the occupation, and the aforementioned Édouard Daladier was among them. The group also included Maurice Gamelin, the general who had been unable to hold off the German invasion; Paul Reynaud, the prime minister who succeeded Daladier (plus Reynaud’s mistress Christiane Mabire); Maxime Weygand, the French general who succeeded Gamelin and further screwed up the invasion defense (plus Marie-Renée-Joséphine Weygand), and a few more.

Over a period of several months these valuable bargaining chips were collected at an ancient castle-turned resort hotel-turned prison in Austria: Schloss Itter, near Wörgl. How Schloss Itter came to be and how the French prisoners worked their way there makes for a great story, and Harding’s research is comprehensive. But it’s all preparation for the story of the battle, which occupies only one of the eight chapters.

Not the least is the story of disillusionment that permeated German forces toward the end. As the fortunes of war went against Germany, starting especially with defeats at Stalingrad and North Africa in early 1943, reality set in. An attempt to murder Hitler with a time bomb in July 1944 failed, and scores of plotters and innocents alike were disposed of in hideous fashion. Additionally, Hitler, and the upper reaches of Nazism, grew increasingly paranoid. A brutal campaign of repression commenced. Even before Allied forces breached the German border, the orders went out for the elimination of all traces of disloyalty and “defeatism.” Defeatism could be as minor as expressing doubts about ultimate German victory, often leading to swift execution without trial.

The German annexation of Austria in 1938 enjoyed popular support, but an undercurrent of resentment grew within a segment of the population, even into those Austrians pressed into Wehrmacht service. It was this contingent, plus additional elements from native Germany, that fortified the plan to save the lives of the French prisoners. In the end, some Wehrmacht troops in the vicinity of Wörgl threw in their lot with Austrian resistance elements in those final days of the war.

SS Captain Sebastian “Wastl” Wimmer was an unlikely commandant of a prison designated for treating prisoners kindly. The French notables were intended to be protected and coddled, for possible use as hostages or pawns in a future bargaining session. Wimmer’s previous roles had served to fulfill his depraved indifference to human life. At Schloss Itter he was now obliged to not only see that his charges were well fed, but treated courteously—right up to the moment they were no longer needed. As Allied troops neared in the opening days of May 1945, Wimmer saw a rope noose in his future and slipped away without fanfare, leaving his prisoners, and their guards to fend for themselves. The guards took the hint, and the prisoners were left unguarded, and also unprotected. The area swarmed with die-hard SS units, ready and well-practiced at meting out extra-judicial death upon laggard soldiers and lackadaisical civilians, as well. Foreign prisoners would be a prime target.

Into the breach stepped Captain Kurt-Siegfried Schrader, a hardened SS veteran. He turned out to be the salvation of the French prisoners. Having fought in the worst of the Wehrmacht battles and watched the destruction of entire fighting units toward the satisfaction of Hitler’s fetish for conquest, he resolved to end the killing before his country lost its soul. He was recuperating from the most recent of his many battle wounds in Wörgl when Wimmer tapped him to succeed at Schloss Itter.

Wimmer’s departure coincided with that of prisoner Zvonko Čučković. Wimmer sent the handyman on an errand and never saw him again. Instead of going to install some lights for Wimmer, Zvonko pedaled his bicycle through no-man’s land between German and American lines and encountered Major General Anthony C. McAuliffe’s 103rd Infantry Division, freshly arrived in Innsbruck.

German Wehrmacht Major Josef “Sepp” Gangl was another unlikely ally of the prisoners. He had previously thrown in his lot with the local resistance while maintaining his position in the German Army. With their guards AWOL, the French sent Czech prisoner-cook Andreas Krobot on yet another bicycle mission. Krobot was able to contact Major Gangl in Wörgl. On nothing but bluff and nerve, Gangl was able to penetrate the frontier and reach the American 23rd Tank Battalion, of the U.S. 12th Armored Division, in Kufstein.

It was ultimately Captain John C. “Jack” Lee Jr., commander of the 23rd, who was to be the first to reach the Frenchies’ prison, already festooned with defecting German soldiers. Captain Lee was able to bring only a single Sherman M4 tank and a fraction of his troops to the castle. It was with this that the American Army fought the last European battle of World War Two.

A time line:

  • 30 April 1945: Adolf Hitler and his bride, Eva Braun, killed themselves in the Berlin bunker.
  • 3 May (Wednesday): Wimmer sent Čučković on his bicycle errand.
  • 3 May: (late) Wimmer slipped away.
  • 3 May: Captain Lee crossed into Austria.
  • 4 May: The prisoners realized the guards had left. They began their plans for battle.
  • 4 May: Captain Lee arrived at Schloss Itter.
  • 5 May: The battle
  • 7 May: The German High Command signed the surrender documents in Reims, France.
  • 8 May: The war in Europe officially ended.

Probing through enemy lines was no day trip, even with the Wehrmacht in the final stages of disintegration. Captain Lee initially reconnoitered the route to Schloss Itter in a German vehicle:

In his response to Jack Lee’s radio message regarding Sepp Gangl’s appearance in Kufstein, 23rd TB commander Kelso Clow had directed Lee to deal with the situations in Wörgl and at Schloss Itter as he saw fit. Apparently not wanting to put the bulk of his task force in danger until it became absolutely necessary, Lee made what can only be described as a characteristically gutsy decision: He told Gangl that he wouldn’t move the column into Wörgl or mount a full-blown rescue mission to Schloss Itter until he’d undertaken a personal reconnaissance to both places. And Lee, in an obvious test of Gangl’s good faith and veracity, said they’d make the trip together in the major’s kübelwagen. We don’t know how Gangl felt about Lee’s ultimatum, but we can be fairly certain that the GI whom Lee tapped to join him on the jaunt behind enemy lines— his twenty-nine-year-old gunner Corporal Edward J. “Stinky” Szymczyk— probably wasn’t too pleased to be “volunteered” for the mission.

After passing temporary command of the task force to his executive officer, Lee wedged himself into the kübelwagen’s cramped rear seat, with Szymczyk beside him and Gangl in the front passenger seat. As Corporal Keblitsch put the vehicle in motion, the two Americans settled back, their helmets most probably on the floor so as not to attract undue attention and their M3 submachine guns almost certainly laying cocked and ready on their laps. The party didn’t encounter any hostile troops on the road to Wörgl, and the Wehrmacht soldiers they did meet were all loyal to Gangl. Lee checked several small bridges for demolition charges, and those he found Gangl ordered his men to remove. The kübelwagen rolled into Wörgl at approximately four thirty in the afternoon, and within minutes Lee had formally accepted Gangl’s surrender of the town and its remaining garrison. In what can only have been both an obvious gesture of trust and a pragmatic acknowledgment that Gangl and his men were the only force capable of fighting off Waffen-SS units that might assault the town, the American tanker allowed the Germans to keep their weapons.

Harding, Stephen. The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe (pp. 121-122). Da Capo Press. Kindle Edition.

One of the French prisoners was Tennis star-turned political activist Jean Borotra. When ammunition ran low during the fight at the castle, the now middle-aged athlete volunteered to trek through enemy lines for help.

After disguising himself as an Austrian refugee— complete with ragged bedroll and gnarled walking stick— Borotra waited for a brief lull in the firing and then clambered over one of the low parapet walls on the castle’s north side. He dropped some fifteen feet to the ground, rolled easily, and in seconds was back on his feet. His daily training runs stood him in good stead, for he dashed quickly across forty yards of open ground, made it into the woods that bordered the castle’s northwest side, and started down the steep slope toward the river. After carefully eluding several groups of SS men, some of whom were firing upslope at the castle, Borotra burst from the trees at the bottom of the hill and came face to face with two soldiers manning an MG-42 machine gun sited so it could fire at both the castle and at any Americans approaching from the direction of Söll-Leukental.

No doubt equally as startled by Borotra’s sudden appearance as the Frenchman was by theirs, the Waffen-SS men nonetheless held their fire, apparently taken in by the tennis star’s “harmless refugee” disguise. He reinforced their first impression by calmly bending down to gather some herbs and then relieving himself against a nearby tree. When it was clear that the soldiers had dismissed him as a possible threat, he sauntered to the bank of a large stream and, holding his bedroll and walking stick over his head, waded into the swift-flowing, waist-deep water. Though he slipped once or twice, he kept his footing and made it to the other side. Climbing to the top of the bank he looked back at the soldiers, tossed them a friendly wave, and started toward Söll-Leukental. As soon as he thought it safe, he began the slow and steady jog that ultimately led him to Reinhard and Lévesque.

Harding, Stephen. The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe (p. 158). Da Capo Press. Kindle Edition.

Borotra used the knowledge gained from his outward trip, and, leading American troops back the same way, one of the first obstacles they eliminated was the German machine gun post.

Waffen-SS forces assaulted the castle on the night of 4 May, initially to probe its defenses. They followed up in the morning with a full scale attack, and the fire fight was intense. The tank, left parked in front of the prison gate, was destroyed by a round from a German gun, and shells from 88mm AA guns plus a 20mm gun stitched the castle walls. Small arms fire shredded the interior of the lavish living area.

The French prisoners were ordered to remain in the cellar, or at least out of range of the cross fire. This did not work for the former French officers, who had seen combat in the previous war. These elderly elites of French society picked up weapons and blazed away from the castle parapets. Some claimed they may have scored hits.

Sepp Gangl was the sole Allied fatality, felled by a sniper during an intense exchange. The day was saved by the arrival of American reinforcements, and the SS men, with possible exceptions, melted away into the woods.

Jack Lee earned the Distinguished Cross for his actions, but his life following the war was all down hill. He died at the age of 54. War criminal Wimmer was never tried in for his atrocities against prisoners and civilians, but it was not necessary. He killed himself in 1952.

For the German soldiers who assisted the reward was an end to the killing of innocents. Following the Schloss Itter action they headed off to POW camps.

The Frenchies returned to politics and activism following the war, some regaining high political office.

Harding has provided an eight-page bibliography and 22 pages of reference notes. The research shows admirable diligence. And this Kindle copy is clean as far as I can tell, absent transcription errors, possibly indicating the original was crafted on a keyboard. It’s an easy read, sending me only rarely to a dictionary, broken up into eight cohesive chapters.


Bad Joke of the Week

One of a continuing series

Not yet

Not yet

Something from Skip

Did You Know ?
1. Your shoes are the first thing people subconsciously notice about you. Wear nice shoes.
2. If you sit for more than 11 hours a day, there’s a 50% chance you’ll die within the next 3 years.
3. There are at least 6 people in the world who look exactly like you. There’s a 9% chance that you’ll meet one of them in your lifetime.
4. Sleeping without a pillow reduces back pain and keeps your spine stronger.
5. A person’s height is determined by their father, and their weight is determined by their mother.
6. If a part of your body “falls asleep”, You can almost always “wake it up” by shaking your head.
7. There are three things the human brain cannot resist noticing, food, attractive people and danger.
8. Right-handed people tend to chew food on their right side.
9. Putting dry tea bags in gym bags or smelly shoes will absorb the unpleasant odor.
10. According to Albert Einstein, if honey bees were to disappear from earth, humans would be dead within 4 years.
11. There are so many kinds of apples, that if you ate a new one everyday, it would take over 20 years to try them all.
12. You can survive without eating for weeks, but you will only live 11 days without sleeping.
13. People who laugh a lot are healthier than those who don’t.
14. Laziness and inactivity kills just as many people as smoking.
15. A human brain has a capacity to store 5 times as much information as Wikipedia.
16. Our brain uses the same amount of power as a 10-watt light bulb!!
17. Our body gives off enough heat in 30 minutes to boil 1.5 liters of water!!
18. The ovum is the largest cell and the sperm is the smallest cell !!
19. Stomach acid (concentrated HCl) is strong enough to dissolve razor blades!! Don’t try it.
20. Take a 10-30 minute walk every day and while you walk, SMILE. It is the ultimate antidepressant.
21. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day.
22. When you wake up in the morning, pray to ask God’s guidance for your purpose, today. Other than that, don’t talk to imaginary beings.
23. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is
manufactured in factories.
24. Drink green tea and plenty of water. Eat blueberries, broccoli, and almonds.
25. Try to make at least three people smile each day, but don’t put yourself out.
26. Don’t waste your precious energy on gossip, energy vampires, issues of the past, negative thoughts or things you cannot control. Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment.
27. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a college kid with a maxed out charge card.
28. Life isn’t fair, but it’s better than a few other things.
29. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Forgive them for everything and hire a hit man.
30. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
31. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree and hire a hit man.
32. Make peace with your past so it won’t spoil the present.
33. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
34. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.
35. Frame every so-called disaster with these words:  ‘In five years, will this matter?’
36. Help the needy, Be generous! Be a ‘Giver’ not a ‘Taker’.
37. What other people think of you is none of your business.
38. Time heals everything.
39. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
40. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.
41. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
42. Each night before you go to bed, pray to God and be thankful for what you’ve accomplished today. Other than that, don’t get caught talking to imaginary people.
43. Remember that you are too blessed to be stressed.
44. Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

Friday Funny

One of a series


Now this is funny:

Frank Amedia, together with his wife, Lorilee, are cofounders of Touch Heaven Ministries (THM). THM is an international ministry with daughter and covering churches, as well as sponsored ministries in several countries in Africa and Asia. They also serve as Senior Pastors of Touch Heaven Church in Canfield, Ohio. Pastor Frank’s call is to “prepare the way for the coming of the Lord”. This involves a three-fold mission: to the nations, to the Body of Christ, and to Israel. Pastor Frank is the host of the Daystar program: “Deep Calls To Deep”.

No, that’s not the funny part. I haven’t gotten to it yet. However, the term Daystar should ring a bell:

Early in April NTS advisor Joe Barnhart and I received an invite to debate creationist Ralph Muncaster on TV. The venue was the Joni Lamb show on the Daystar Television Network. Daystar is devoted completely to religious programming, and you can catch Joni and the rest of the crew on Channel 2 in the DFW area.

Ralph Muncaster is a young Earth creationist (YEC) who’s been running a crusade against evolution for several years. His Web site explains it:

Is there evidence of God’s existence? Is the Bible really true? A former atheist and hardcore Bible skeptic, Ralph Muncaster spent 15 years conducting research to dispute the Bible. To Ralph, it seemed that the Bible could not possibly be consistent with such sciences as anthropology, molecular biology and physics. Armed with an engineering education and a critical, questioning mind, to his surprise the more he searched, the more evidence he found—evidence that supports the Bible’s claims. In 1986, Ralph became aware of the prophetic accuracy of the Bible. He recognized that such precision is “statistically impossible”. Investigating the scientific and historical documentation and its consistency with the Bible, he was startled by his findings: manuscripts written thousands of years ago contain information that could not possibly have been known at that time . . . without divine intervention.

As I explained elsewhere, a few years later Joe Barnhart retired from teaching, went back to Tennessee, went to church, and got shot.

But here comes the funny part:

Like other self-proclaimed apostles and prophets, Amedia claims to be able to control natural events. On Maldonado’s TBN program in 2012, Amedia claimed to have single-handedly stopped waves from the 2011 tsunami in Japan from hitting a Hawaiian island where his daughter was at the time. He boasted that the waves instead moved on to devastate another island:

I stood at the edge of my bed and I said, ‘In the name of Jesus, I declare that tsunami to stop now.’ And I specifically said, ‘I declare those waters to recede,’ and I said, ‘Father, that is my child, I am your child, I’m coming to you now and asking you to preserve her.’ Apostle, it was seen by 400 people on a cliff. It was on YouTube, it was actually on the news that that tsunami stopped 200 feet off of shore. Even after having sucked the waters in, it churned and it went on and did devastation in the next island.


Amedia has some additional ideas on the nature of human disease:

He went on to discuss how AIDS is the result of “unnatural sex” and can be avoided by practicing a “wholesome life”:

We know that many of the diseases today are avoidable if only we practiced a wholesome life. AIDS is a disease that comes because of unnatural sex. We understand that many of the diseases that we receive is because of exposure that we have to things that we should not be exposed to, lifestyles that are unhealthy or things in our spirit that cause us to become bitter.


According to Right Wing Watch, Amedia is chronically delusional:

Later in the program, Amedia doled out some faith healings, healing a viewer with “cancer in your tongue” and another who had chapped lips.

If that’s not funny, then I don’t know what is.

The Ever-Diminishing List of Those Who Cannot Obtain Life Insurance at any Price

One of a continuing series


Is this the list to be on or what?

(CNN)—The new Afghan Taliban leader has told commanders and the group’s supreme leadership council that there will be no peace talks with the Afghan government, a source in the group reached through an intermediary said Wednesday.

The source said that Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, newly appointed to lead the terror group after a U.S. drone strike killed Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour, will follow the militant policies espoused by founder Mullah Omar, who was killed in Pakistan in 2013.
The source said that the appointment of Akhundzada “will bring back the era of Mullah Mohammad Omar,” referring to the one-eyed mujahedeen commander who led the group from its inception in 1994, with “a simple life, loyalty, and terror on enemies.”

The report from CNN also points out that Taliban forces have recently made inroads against the United States-supported Afghanistan government, including driving Afghan forces and inflicting bombing attacks in Kabul.

The Taliban claim Mr. Akhundzada is 47 years old, although official sources put his age closer to 60. He is said to be a uniter and a strong leader. Beyond that not much else is known about him, including his cell phone number, his ZIP code, and his plans for next weekend.

Your Friend The Handgun

Nothing new here, folks.

It’s time for patriots to take a stand for freedom:

SALINA – Law enforcement authorities in Saline County have closed an investigation into a Sunday morning shooting death.

An investigation has determined the shooting was accidental, according to Salina Police Captain Chris Trocheck.

Just after 6:30 a.m., Bryant Sanchez, 28, was showing a .40 caliber handgun he had recently acquired other individuals in the driveway of a home in the 1900 block of Dover Drive in Salina.

The gun discharged and struck Sanchez in the head. He was transported to Salina Regional Health Center where he died.

We must never underestimate the cost of protecting our freedoms.

The Face of God

It’s possible we’ve been here before.


This time it’s coming from a higher source:

Cardinal Robert Sarah urged American Catholics to resist “ideological colonialism,” in his address delivered yesterday to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC.

“Nowhere is [religious persecution] clearer than in the threat that societies are visiting on the family through a demonic ‘gender ideology,’ a deadly impulse that is being experienced in a world increasingly cut off from God through ideological colonialism,” Cardinal Sarah said at the annual gathering, which this year also included addresses from Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and from Sister Constance Veit of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

The Guinean cardinal serves as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

So, that’s interesting. Elsewhere in his delivery Cardinal Sarah makes himself clear:

The rupture of the foundational relationships of someone’s life – through separation, divorce or distorted impositions of the family, such as cohabitation and same sex unions – is a deep wound that closes the heart to self-giving love unto death, and even leads to cynicism and despair.

These situations cause damage to little children through inflicting upon them a deep existential doubt about love. They are a scandal – a stumbling block – that prevents the most vulnerable from believing in such love, and a crushing burden that can prevent them from opening to the healing power of the Gospel.

Advanced societies, including – I regret – this nation have done and continue to do everything possible to legalize such situations. But this can never be a truthful solution. It is like putting bandages on an infected wound. It will continue to poison the body until antibiotics are taken.

Ouch! Did President Obama ever screw up! He should have discussed matters with the Cardinal before he jumped the gun and insisted that all people be given equality in the face of the law. How derelict of him. I’m beginning to wonder why I ever voted for Barack Obama. Twice.

But then, where was Cardinal Sarah decades ago when I was figuring out how I was going to live my life? I had in mind an existence based on truth, openness, fairness—any number of outworn concepts. I guess that tells me what I may expect when I die. I can expect to burn for all eternity in a lake of fire, my testicles being chewed upon by rabid rats. Or perhaps sitting still for 30 minutes while enduring the wisdom of Cardinal Sarah.

Sanity Attack

Your state of mind at risk


I need to alert readers to a recent and dangerous attack of sanity. This occurred in my home state of Texas. However, there is a potential this can spread to other regions, so people should be on the lookout for signs of sanity creeping into their neighborhoods. From The Texas Tribune:

In a stunning comeback, State Board of Education hopeful Keven Ellis won Tuesday’s District 9 Republican primary runoff over Mary Lou Bruner, who drew national attention for social media posts touting far-right conspiracy theories and other fringe views.

The East Texas Tea Party activist and former schoolteacher had been favored to succeed in the race after nearly winning the March 1 primary outright and accumulating heavy support from influential conservative groups that typically hold big sway in low-turnout runoff elections. But Ellis, a Lufkin chiropractor who presides over the local school board, maintained a double-digit lead over Bruner throughout Tuesday night, and that lead widened as vote returns rolled in. He ended the night about 18 points ahead of Bruner.

I know this may be distressing to some readers, but people need to know that sanity can attack at any moment without warning. The signs are there, and people should know how to recognize them:

  • Obama did not work as a male prostitute.
  • The United States should not ban Islam.
  • The Democratic Party did not kill President Kennedy.
  • Anthropogenic global warming is real.
  • Biological evolution is valid science.
  • The Earth is not flat.

If you notice your child, other family member, even a close friend, voicing such thoughts, notify authorities. This person is afflicted with sanity. Exercise extreme caution. It may already be too late to help the victim. Take immediate steps to protect yourself. Tune in to Fox News for additional details.