Category Archives: Military

The Perpetrators, the Victims, and the Bystanders: Putin’s War and War Crimes and Us


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The Czech-Jewish historian Yehuda Bauer, who escaped the Holocaust with his family the day that Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, which had been abandoned by England, France, Italy, and even indirectly the United States which was battling a pro-Nazi isolationist movement, made this commend that none of us should forget: “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.” 

The Perpetrators: Putin, his Enablers, and those Who Carry Out His War

Bauer’s words are so applicable today as Vladimir Putin and his willing accomplices in the Russian government and military, having miserably failed to overthrow the Ukraine in a fast military campaign have now resorted to using massive artillery barrages, dumb bombs, and long range missiles to directly attack and massacre Ukrainian civilians, including children.

In the long build up to his attack on Ukraine Putin, his advisors, his military planners, as well as the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko and his advisors easily could be charged under the same counts as were the Nazi leaders at Nuremberg. The first is “CRIMES AGAINST PEACE: namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing.

The facts of this case are that beginning in 2014 Putin’s Russia invaded the eastern regions of the Ukraine and Crimea based on the deliberate lie that Ukraine was committing genocide against Russia speaking people in those areas. the fact is that there was no genocide or even any government organized systematic persecution of any Russian speaking people there or anywhere in Ukraine. this is back up by the testimony of Russian speaking Ukrainians who are now fighting for the Ukraine against Russia. Likewise, the fact that Russia had nearly eight years to bring evidence of the alleged genocide to the U.N. and the International Criminal Court demonstrates that the Russian allegations were lies. They repeated and doubled down on those lies when they began their invasion in February, not only invoking they were invading to prevent genocide, and to destroy “the Nazi regime that had taken over Ukraine.” One again this was a lie. there was no genocide, as Russian speaking Ukrainians call a lie as they fight for Ukraine against Russia, and Ukraine is not a Nazi state. It is a liberal democracy which has free and fair elections, which coincidentally has a Jewish President.

Putin, his advisors, and his military planners began their preparations and planning for this attack in 2021. They built up forces along their eastern and southern borders with Ukraine and in January began conducting joint exercises with Belarus which enabled them to put tens of thousands more troops on Ukraine’s northern border. This would not possible without the cooperation of Belorussian President Lukashenko.

The invasion was in clear violation of international agreements and treaties to which Russia is a signatory, and they all participated in a common plan and conspiracy to make this possible. Those who should be charged with this count include Presidents Putin and Lukashenko, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who has been masterminding the Russian diplomatic lies and propaganda, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu, Chief of the General Staff General Valery Garasimov, First Deputy Chief of the General Staff Colonel General Nikolay Bogdanovsky, the commanders of the Western and Central, and Southern Military districts, their subordinate commanders in Ukraine, and the Commander of the Russian Air Force, Lieutenant General Sergey Dronov, and the commanders of Air Force units that are conducting attacks on civilian targets in Ukraine, General of the Army Viktor Zolotov, Commander of the Russian National Guard which in addition to breaking up anti-war demonstrations in Russia are now deployed in Ukraine. The list could go on but many of these leaders are not readily findable on the internet. Regardless, they are known and their names should be placed before the International Criminal Court for investigation of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Victims: The Ukrainians

Putin’s war has bogged down. The Ukrainians are fighting with a heroism, patriotism, and ferocity that nobody imagined. Despite being outnumbered, they are killing thousands of Russian soldiers and destroying hundreds of Russian tanks and armored vehicles, and shot down dozens of Russian aircraft and helicopters, and taken hundreds of Russian soldiers as prisoners of war, most of who had no idea that they had no idea why they were in Ukraine. Despite that Putin mpushes forward destroying more towns and and civilian targets while making up lie after lie.

Putin is desperate, isolated and has changed his tactics to target civilians, hospitals, homes and apartment buildings, cut off Ukrainian civilians from evacuation along agreed to evacuation corridors using direct fire from tanks and artillery to kill them and force them back into battered encircled cities with no electricity, water or power. That is not a new thing for the Russian and the Soviet militaries of the past century. When they are bogged down because of poor training, leadership, logistics, and intelligence they resort to brute force. They do not use precision weapons to target military units or facilities, but use artillery already in Ukraine and missiles fired from Russia and Belarus to devastate Ukrainian cities, towns and people.

The Russian military controls the former but still potentially deadly nuclear plant and Chernobyl, and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the largest nuclear plant in Europe. The attack on Zaporizhzhia was premeditated and experts now believe that the attack brought the plant closer to disaster than before, had it melted down with would have been similar to the disaster at Fukushima. The Russians have now set up a headquarters and forward operating base manned by 500 soldiers at Zaporizhzhia.

The Ukrainian staff are being held captive to run the plants, even though Russians are now calling the shots, including cutting off the electrical power to Chernobyl and the reporting systems used to let the International Atomic Energy Commission to monitor what is happening at those facilities. It is well within the realm of probability that the Russians will either inadvertently or intentionally trigger a nuclear catastrophe at either of these plants, or the other three Ukrainian nuclear plants.

Wednesday the Russians accused Ukraine and the United States of operating secret chemical weapons facilities in Ukraine, the then convened a meeting of the Security Council of the United Nations where they made the accusation, and were basically told that they could not use that forum to spread lies with absolutely no evidence. Their accusations are false but being fanned by Russian and Chinese media outlets as a pretext to attack Ukraine with chemical weapons.

The Russians have three chemical weapon research and production facilities which they have never allowed international inspectors to inspect. Likewise, the vast amounts of chemical weapons which the Russians had committed to destroying in the 1990s cannot be confirmed to be destroyed, and new production cannot be overseen. These facilities are illegal under international law and produce chemical and biological weapons, some of which have been used in Syria, Chechnya, and against individuals, especially dissidents in Russia and abroad. The Russians maintain missile, tactical rocket, artillery, and bombs which can be used to deliver chemical or biological weapons against Ukrainians. These weapons include Sarin, VX, Tabun, Soman, and Novichok nerve agents which even a singled drop on contact with skin can shut down the human nervous system Lewisite, and Mustard gas blister agents which when inhaled so scar the lungs that people die by drowning in their own bodily fluids, choking agents such as phosgene, and blood agents. Their biological agents include Anthrax and Ricin.

The United States ended its offensive chemical and biological weapons programs in 1969, and the programs in Ukraine ended with their independence from the Soviet Union. However, the Russians have played this game before in Syria, where after its weapons were removed, mostly by the United States, the Russians used them numerous times on civilian targets. The Russian accusations against the United States and Ukraine developing chemical weapons are a certain false flag operation to allow the Russians to claim that they are using chemical weapons in self defense, which is also in violation of international treaties and protocols that they have signed. The Russians have vast stockpiles of these weapons which they have continued to develop and use during and after the Cold War.

The second count is WAR CRIMES: namely, violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations shall include, but not be limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.

There is absolutely no doubt that they will use them as they get more desperate to finish this war which they refuse to call a war and have made it illegal for Russian media or citizens to call it such. The Russians have already attacked over 20 civilian hospitals and many other purely civilian targets, including attacking refugees and relief convoys in prearranged humanitarian corridors. The have attacked nuclear facilities and will not hesitate to use chemical weapons as long as the United States and NATO do not call their hand and find a way to get the Ukrainians weapons that can effect tactical actions such as the Stingers and Javelins, and those include the MiG 29s offered by Poland and other heavy weapons systems that the Ukrainian military has experience using. Likewise, Russia needs to be warned that we will hunt down and take into custody any member of the Russian government or military who has take part in these war crimes, and hand them over to the International Criminal Court, from Putin down, diplomatic status notwithstanding.

Finally we come to CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY: namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war; or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.

The Russians are doing this impunity because not a single leader of any NATO, E.U., or the United Nations has authorized anything more than the shipment of tactical weapons, humanitarian supplies, and yes, massive Economic Sanctions. But Putin is a bully. He is willing to toss around threats of using nuclear or chemical weapons because he knows that we are afraid of crossing his red lines due to fear of World War III and mutually assured destruction in a nuclear war. He is counting on us to back down like Kruschev did in the Cuban Missile Crisis against President Kennedy who put our nuclear forces at THREATCON II, the next to highest and when the Soviet Union under Brezhnev threatened to attack Israel and send nuclear weapons to Egypt during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and President Nixon responded by both mobilizing troops and increasing our Nuclear Threat Condition (THREATCON) to THREATCON III. in both cass the Soviets, fearing the complete destruction of their country backed down. Likewise, when Soviet Lieutenant Colonel Stanislov Petrov was alerted to a nuclear launch of five nuclear missiles realized that the new missile detection system had malfunctioned because such a strike did not match U.S.first strike doctrine, as a result Petrov refused to notify the High Command of the threat, which with only a minute or two to order the retaliatory full nuclear strike mandated by Soviet Doctrine would have certainly ordered. He was relieved of his duties and retired from the Soviet military, but he prevented a world wide nuclear war, which would destroy, him, his family, and his entire country. He later said:  “I had obviously never imagined that I would ever face that situation. It was the first and, as far as I know, also the last time that such a thing had happened, except for simulated practice scenarios.“ Petrov made the right decision, as will any officer order by Putin to launch a nuclear weapon, regardless of Russian doctrine. Putin cannot get around that, and if he ordered such an attack he would be eliminated by Russian military or security officers more committed to the survival of Russia and their loved ones than Putin.

The final count is that of conspiracy of Leaders, organizers, instigators and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing crimes are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan.

Every single Russian leader involved in the invasion of Ukraine is guilty of this.

The Bystanders and their chance to intervene

From now on the United States and NATO need to look at history and realize that Putin’s words of nuclear escalation are a bluff that needs to be called without threatening Russia with a nuclear strike but by simply doing what we did in World War II before we were attacked by Japan. We passed the Lend Lease, giving the British, and the Free French, and the Soviets weapons to fight the Nazis and even use American ships and aircraft to escort convoys to Britain. Not only, that but American officers flew is British aircraft during the Battle of the Atlantic, one of them who spotted the German Battleship Bismarck, enabling it to be disabled and sunk by British Aircraft and battleships. Likewise, our involvement did not come without cost. The USS Kearny was damaged by a torpedo while coming to the aid of a convoy in October 1941 with the loss of 11 sailors, and the USS Reuben James was sunk with the loss of 100 of 144 crew members.

Other Americans fought to aide countries being attacked by Fascists, as did American members of the Lincoln Brigade who fought Franco’s Fascists, Mussolini’s Blackshirts, and Hitler’s Condor Legion in Spain, and the American pilots who flew with the Nationalist Chinese against Japan as the ”Flying Tigers” who valiantly fought the Japanese. Today, thousands of Americans, Europeans, and others are volunteering to serve in an international unit of the Ukrainian army. Many are professional soldiers and highly trained combat veterans.

Diplomacy sometimes has to edge towards brinksmanship. Lend Lease and the Cold War demonstrate this. Putin is a typical Soviet KGB hack who only remains in power through the fear of people who are afraid that he is a madman. He is not. We need to give him a way to save face and end his war with Ukraine while claiming that he ended Ukraine’s threat to Russia without destroying Russia, and with it his at least temporary power as its leader. It is the only way to return to what Putin’s Foreign Minster referred to the normal days of the Cold War.

Calling out Putin’s threats, providing the Ukrainians the weapons they need to defend themselves and escorting those weapons to them, daring Putin to do something about it. Despite his bluster and threat of using nuclear weapons or engaging American and NATO units in combat he will not. All of his threats have been political theater to conjure up the fear we have of nuclear war, World War III, and mutually assured destruction. But his is an empty threat, other Russian leaders in the Soviet era made similar threats and never pushed the button because they knew that it would involve the absolute destruction of ”Mother Russia”, the preservation of which is paramount to Putin, who has allied himself with the keepers of this sacred mission, the Russian Orthodox Church. This being the case he will be loathe to start a war that would destroy the holy land he is committed to preserve. For those unaware of the political power of the Orthodox Church in Russia have to rem that its leaders and theologians consider it the Third Rome, in terms of the authority of the Christian Church. It sees itself as the successor to Rome and Constantinople. The Russian Orthodox Church will not permit the destruction of ”Mother Russia” and Putin will not dare cross them. Since the fall of the Soviet Union he was baptized and confirmed as a member of the Church and has presented himself as its defender. To allow it to be destroyed would be tantamount to destroying the Church and Mother Russia. Putin would be damned by the Russian Orthodox Church and his people for letting that happen. Do not underestimate the power of that Church in Russia to deter Putin.

The only way that Putin has a chance to remain in power and salvage a bit of self respect in Russia by declaring his ”limited military operation” a success. If he doesn’t do this the mothers of all those Russian boys killed in Ukraine will rise up like those mothers of the Russian boys lost in Afghanistan. The wounded will come home and tell their stories of the lies they were told, and how honorably and valiantly the Ukrainians fought.

Of course all of this requires the courage of American, NATO, and E.U. leaders to call Putin’s desperate bluffs. We should immediately agree with Poland’s idea to transfer their MiG 29s to Ukraine. The Russians will not do anything to stop them. Despite his threats he does not want war with NATO. He cannot defeat Ukraine unless he totally destroys it, and he is failing. He cannot risk war with NATO.

We should tell Russia directly that if they use chemical or biological weapons against Ukraine that we will find and destroy the Russian military units responsible for their use, declare and enforce a defensive no fly zones over humanitarian aid corridors, airfields, and rail lines, not to destroy Russian military forces. Likewise, we should demand the immediate access by the International Red Cross and other non-aligned humanitarian Non Governmental Organizations to precent a humanitarian catastrophe, that Putin alone would be responsible. Do not be be deceived, despite his false claims about coming to the rescue of of ethnic Russians against Putin and Lavarov’s fake claims of ”genocide” against them, one has to remember that the majority of the people he is killing in Ukraine are the ethnic Russians in Kharkiv, Marianopul, Khorsun, and other cities who have now take up arms against him.

The slaughter can be stopped. Nuclear war avoided, but it cannot be stopped unless we act from the position of moral, legal, economic, diplomatic, and military strength. Putin’s military cannot subdue Ukraine, much less than the full diplomatic, informational, military, and economic might of the United States. President Biden and the leaders of NATO need to call Putin’s bluff knowing that without destroying Mother Russia he doesn’t have the cards or chips to do anything but fold.

For far too many years Western leaders have allowed Putin to get his way by playing on our fears rather than facts. It is true that Russia has the weapons to destroy the world, but when one looks at history, culture, and the preservation of Mother Russia it is a calculated risk that we should take. Putin is not stupid. He is not crazy, he gambled that he could conquer Ukraine in days, that the Inited States, the E.U. and NATO would acquiesce to his seizure of Ukraine. But he was arrogant, made far too many faulty assumptions about how Ukraine, the United States, the E.U., NATO and the world would respond.

Now is the time to take the calculated risk and call his bluffs. If we do not he will continue to wreak havoc in Ukraine, and promote unwarranted fears in the West. The fact is that a militarily, diplomatically, economically and informationally superior NATO is more than a match for him. He is playing the part of a fear filled bully who when push comes to shove, he will back down, or if he continues down this path, members of the Russian military leadership, the FSB, the Oligarchs, and the Russian people will rise up against him. Putin might not face a War Crimes trial if these people kill him and hang him up by meathooks like Mussolini.

The truth is that Putin is playing a weak hand that gets weaker every day. The United States, NATO, and the E.U. need to stop encouraging his aggression by giving in to his threats that paly upon our fears. This is the only way to stop Putin.

The first and final count was the conspiracy charge, which could be used against anyone cooperating with the other charges. It is time for the United States, the E.U., NATO, and the ICC to hang this like the Sword of Damocles over the heads of Putin’s willing helpers. Believe me, none of them want to lose everything for a cause that benefits none of them.

Ukraine will not surrender. That is a given. Many of the Russian people, including senior officers of the FSB are against this invasion, and if the United States, the E.U. and NATO act to support Ukraine beyond supplying short range tactical weapons, fly the Polish MiGs into Ukraine and supply that nation long and medium range air defense missiles, coastal anti-ship missiles, as well as surplus Russian made tanks, artillery, and armored vehicles that Ukrainian military personnel are already trained to use. That is not an escalation as Russian will allege, but something we have always done to help nations being attacked by criminal nation states, just like we did Britain and the Soviet Union through Lend Lease before we were officially at war.

Economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation, and the use of intelligence and information do not deter a state using illegal war built upon lies and disinformation, and threats that it will not Putin will not carry out because they will result in the destruction of the Holy Nation Putin has promised to preserve. Thus the theory of calculated risk. Miether Putin or Russias other leaders will risk the existence of their families and Mother Russia for a war that they cannot win. Standing up and doing these things will bring about peace, enable the Russians to withdraw from Ukraine while preserving the myth that they succeeded in their operation

Sanctions should be maintained until Putin and his willing henchmen turn themselves in to the International Criminal Court, or a new Russian government surrenders them. That being done the people of Russian, many who oppose Putin’s actions should be offered ever resource to rebuild their lives and bring Russia completely into the fold of freedom and democracy without further punishment or declaration of guilt of their nation. This was a terrible legacy of Treaties of Brest-Livstock and Versailles that led to the Soviet Revolution, the Nazis, and World War II.

The Ukrainians need to be free, and the territories seized by Russia in 2014 restored to them. Instead of Russians wealth being seized by the west, a fair amount needs to be given to Ukraine as reparations, but Russia will also need to be rebuilt and its citizens who lost sons and husbands in this war be compensated. The toxic seeds of blame and shame cannot be placed on all Russians, even as their leaders are tried for their conspiracy to commit illegal war, the conduct of that war, and the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by that regime. We have to separate the ordinary citizens, many who are risking their lives by protesting or fleeing the country because they do not want to be associated with Putin’s regime’s malevolent crimes.

There is justice and there is mercy, but the path to them is filled with danger. That danger includes taking calculated risks against a malevolent dictator attempting to use the fear of World War III to keep powers capable of preventing his war crimes and crimes against humanity from intervening more forcibly. This is where the principle of calculated risk helps us and Ukraine, and eventually the Russian people.

It will take time, and in that time tens of thousands of Ukrainian and Russian lives, but fewer lives will be lost if these actions are taken sooner than later. They are a calculated risk but necessary unless we want to see a complete disaster in Ukraine and and an emboldened Russia that will beging planing attacks on the Baltic States, Poland, and Romania. It will also deter China from making attacks against the Republic of China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. They want an empire but traditionally they are patient and will not take risks that will endanger their nation.

The United States, NATO, the EU, and the World cannot remain bystanders, we must do all we can based on facts, history, diplomatic, informational, military, and economic power cannot be paralyzed by fear by the threats of a bully whose only winning card results in the destruction of his nation. As I have described this is based on the principle of calculated risk. To assume that Putin will resort to a nuclear war that will destroy Mother Russian is to play into the fear that he wants to engender in us, like Hitler did to Britain and France in 1938 at Munich. Putin cannot be appeased. Meeting him with strength the combined weight of Western diplomacy, information, military power and economics might very allow his opponents at home to overthrow him.

It is a risk we must take, sooner rather than later for the sake of the valiant Ukrainians, led by their incredibly brave and insightful President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

That is all for tonight. Glory to Ukraine.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under crimes against humanity, Foreign Policy, History, Military, national security, nuclear weapons, Political Commentary, ukraine, war crimes

Welcome to the Old New World of the ”Hot” Cold War

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I do apologize for not writing in so long, it has been to long and my loyal readers deserve better. Truthfully, much has been going on at work, on the book, and at home. So much that every time I thought I might write something, I either procrastinated waiting for more information, or got a brain cramp and writers block. But tonight after 10 days of an illegal, immoral, and criminal war of aggression by Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine, I am going to speak some hard and bery personal experiences and truth.

This is a long, but necessary post because it deals with a reality that many people have either forgotten or have never experienced. Please understand it in that manner and please feel free to share.

In the 1980s I served as a platoon leader, Company XO, and Company commander in Central Germany at the climax of the Cold War. Our mission was to help,reconstitute the 11th ACR after they were decimated on the Fulda Gap. We were expected to take 70-90% casualties in the process. I was a Medical Service Corps officer with specialized training as a Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Warfare officer.

So much of that experience is seared into my brain. I can recite how chemical weapons including choking agents, blood agents, and nerve agents cause death. I know far too much about how biological agents do the same. If you are unfamiliar, depending on your ability to handle horror do some research, if you cannot because of your life experience, don’t traumatize yourself.

But most of all I remember the effects of nuclear weapons, the blast effects of air and surface bursts of various size and types of weapon, and what would happen to people, equipment, and structures from those blasts depending how far one was from the explosion. I understand the firestorms they would ignite, and the effects of radiation on the human body. I know from memory how many RADS one can live with without getting immediate radiation sickness, how long one could remain in an irradiated area, and how much radiation would give a person serious radiation poisoning and bring about death. I understand how the process of how people die from radiation poisoning not just from the immediate effects of the blast, and burn injuries.

I understand how to plot fallout patterns, and had to do so on 1:50,000 maps that had my house on them. I remember receiving and decoding FLASH messages in training exercises, saying where the nukes were going off and plotting the fallout patterns on those maps. If you want to see how frightening that is just watch the film “Crimson Tide.”

I predicted what Putin was going to do in Ukraine and even when he would do it as far back as last fall as he began to build up his forces and issue threats. you can check my Facebook and Twitter feeds to verify that information.

I knew that the Russian Army would struggle in this war because it is poorly trained, most of its soldiers are poorly motivated and trained, and its senior officers and commanders are inexperienced at the operational level of war. as a result they resort to destroying everything in front of them, even as whole Russian units surrender in mass as they suffer massive casualties.

The Russian Army has a nightmarish history of poor logistics, and its soldiers, mostly conscripts are ill-trained, and badly treated. This is nothing new, the Russian Army, including the victorious Red Army of the Second World War has had the same problems, neither is it prepared for a massive insurgency after it takes control of major cities, the Ukrainians will never give up. They will kill so many Russian soldiers in an insurgency that when the bodies come home and the Russian mothers demand justice, when the wounded return and tell their families and friends what they experienced. These accounts will end Putin’s nefarious regime, just as the Red Army’s defeat in Afghanistan sealed the fate of the Soviet Union. The fall of the Soviet Union, and brought about the rule of a disillusioned KGB Agent named Vladimir Putin, who is determined to “Make Russia Great Again”, and damn the cost to his country and people. Despite Putin’s suppression of his opponents, the free press, and trying to cut off Russians from foreign news outlets, these stories will rock Russia, and bring about his fall.

But unlike some, I hate being right in my predictions. I don’t make any money from them, and you don’t see me as a talking head on cable news. Sadly, I am probably a better military historian, theorist, strategist, and subject matter expert than I am a Priest.

Personally, I am not sleeping well. I am having flashbacks, including from when we had to take action to protect us, our families, and even pets when the fallout from Chernobyl passed over us. Judy and I talk about this often. She remembers that time all too well.

Putin’s threats of nuclear war and his forces attack on the largest nuclear reactor, and seizure of the Chernobyl site, and the possibility of the Russians doing something with those places as the mother of all dirty bombs, make what is happening in Ukraine an existential crisis. Putin is now far more reckless than any of his predecessors in raising the nuclear weapons rhetoric.

Thus it is important that the United States, NATO, and the E.U., need to thread the needle of this historic crisis, because it is different than any of the major crises of the Cold War, by giving every means of assistance to Ukraine and punishing Russia without a direct confrontation with Russian military forces. Such a confrontation would give Putin the opportunity to use it as an excuse to launch a few nuclear weapons to test our response. Putin has crossed a line that no Soviet leader other than Krushev did when he placed nuclear missiles in Cuba, and the brinksmanship he engaged in with John Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In order to help the Ukraine without a provoking a direct confrontation that would likely lead to nuclear war, we will have to do things that will cause us pain, like cutting off all Russian oil and LNG trade to West, including us. This will result in higher oil prices with a ripple effect that all of us will feel in our pocketbooks in a myriad of different ways, but we and Europe have the means to compensate. But that is a small price to pay to help cut off Putin’s ability to make war by using economic means and hopefully stir the Russian people to rise up against Putin, and maybe even inspire someone or a faction in the FSB and military to remove Putin from power. But, in the mean time we cannot trust a word that Putin says and be wary as he grows more desperate in the military situation and the massive sanctions that are crippling Russia’s economy and those to follow.

These weapons include more anti-tank and and anti-aircraft missiles like the Javelin and Stinger, as well as the former Soviet Su-27s and MiG-29s that are part of Air Forces Eastern European NATO nations that used to be part of the Warsaw Pact. We can also provide former Soviet artillery from those nations. We need to help Turkey provide more of their very effective and inexpensive drones to Ukraine. Speed is of the essence, while some would like to equip the Ukrainians with Patriot missiles, M-1A Abrams tanks, and F-16 fighters, the pipeline to provide them and train the Ukrainians on them is too long to help at the moment.

We also need to cross the line and provide Ukraine the best real time intelligence to allow their air and ground forces every advantage. Some say this crosses the line into deeper involvement, and possibility of conflict with Russia, but we will not be taking direct military action, simply providing information. This is a moral obligation.

Likewise, we need to let the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies use experienced contractors with Special Forces backgrounds to help arm, train and advise Ukrainian insurgents as we did the Afghans in the 1980s. The use of contractors and mercenaries to do this provides the cover of plausible deniability, and does not involve U.S. or NATO troops taking direct action against the Russias just like we did in Afghanistan.

Additionally we need to keep building up forces in Eastern Europe because there is no doubt that Putin harbors desires on Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, and Romania, and has pledged to punish Germany. That will mean deploying more U.S. Army, Marine, and Air Force units to those countries, and provide massive military and humanitarian aide to Ukraine and to the countries providing for the million or so Ukrainian refugees. We probably need to sent another three to five Brigade Combat Teams, and a Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

As for the United States, we need to reverse the historic mistake of President George W. Bush and every President after him and fulfill our commitment to joining the International Criminal Court. We helped establish international criminal at Nuremberg. Our refusal to join the ICC is a black mark on our moral and legal history. As Justice Robert Jackson said when the International Military Tribunal to prosecute the major Nazi War Criminals: “If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

For those born after the Cold War or those born at the tail end of it this is a foreign world, but to us who grew up under the threat of nuclear annihilation, and served looking at the Soviets face to face in the Cold War, it is nothing new, and our President understands it far better than most. Whether you like him or not, he is handling this as good or better than any of our Cold War Presidents did the threats from their time, as this is similar to those but very much different.

Welcome to the old new world of the “hot” Cold War, war crimes, crimes against humanity, mutually assured destruction, and few good answers.

So, until the next time,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under crimes against humanity, Foreign Policy, History, Military, News and current events, nuclear weapons, Political Commentary, PTSD, russia, ukraine, war crimes

Remembering A Day of Treason and Infamy: Never Again

NEVER AGAIN! THE UNION NOW AND FOREVER

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A year ago, just six days after I retired from active duty a hoard of fanatical supporters of then President Donald Trump attack the Capitol Building with Congress in session in order to stop the usually ceremonial certification of the Electoral College vote. It should have not been a surprise as from the day of the election Trump and his cult like followers had been proclaiming that the election had been stolen from him, something that many if not most of them still believe despite incontrovertible forensic proof that the results were accurate.

As a historian I can only call this act of sedition and insurrection as something akin to the firing on Fort Sumter or the Bier Hall Putsch. Like those failed attempts at revolution this too failed, but its effects linger and are not over. The fact that an estimated 100 Republican members of the House and Senate knew of or supported the coup attempt, and many current active duty, reserve, and National Guard members, veterans, military retirees, as well as local and state law enforcement officers took part in it, all of whom violated their oath of office in attempting to overthrow the Constitution they had sworn to defend and overturn a valid and legal election because they did not like the result created a stain in our history and national honor that will never be erased.

These people are still determined to use every means legal and illegal to overthrow our Constitution, ignore Constitutional amendments that they hate, such as the XIIIth, XIVth, and XVth, as well as Civil and Voting Rights. They are supported by a host of conspiracy theorists, White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis, in media, right wing think tanks, and popular propagandists.

Until today when President Biden and Attorney General Garland spoke the Democrats have spent more time fighting amongst themselves than countering Republican and QANON propaganda, or having all hands on deck to pass voting rights laws to counter the GOP Trump Cult using all means available, including working with the dwindling number of anti-Trump Republicans, despite the efforts of the House Committee investigating the assault which includes the now despised Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.

Today, any man or woman in this country who cares about our freedom, democracy, and Constitution, needs to be willing to make a stand for it in every neighborhood, town, city, county, and state. by refusing to fight by every legal means available we will be the authors of the end of our Republic, democracy will die, and with it freedom.

Ulysses Grant, then a former Army Officer volunteered to fight at the beginning of the Civil War said, ”There are but two parties now: traitors and patriots. And I want hereafter to be ranked with the latter and, I trust, the stronger party.”

I am now retired, but if these people push their plans for a theocratic dictatorship under the looming orange face of Donald Trump. They are a clear and present danger and I will stand by the oath of office that I first took over 40 years again.

I will stand and say ”Never Again” and my actions will match my words. So if any of the Trump Cultists who condemn me, wish me harm or threaten me or my family, or anyone else, I will fight. I am a proud American who served in peace and war for nearly forty years and never forsake my oath to the Constitution regardless of my political or religious beliefs. I will be damned if I let a buch of cowardly fake patriots and religious extremists shut me up.

Until the next time,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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How a Letter from a Trump Cultist Changed my Life and Threatened my Liberty: Reflections on Trump and his Christofacist Cult


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sorry for not posting for a week but my ass has been kicked by the work involved in clearing our home of things in order for the painters after having more contractors in the past week. Add to this the new new teaching job and my ass is kicked. Everything hurts, 60 is definitely not the new 40.

As I was getting things cleaned out I found a letter. It was the letter that greeted me at my office a few days that I preached sermon at the JEB Little Creek Fort Story Chapel in July 2017. It was from a fanatical Trump supporter who was upset that I condemned the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents and locking them up in cages on our border with Mexico. During the sermon I never said a word about Trump himself and stayed morality of his administration’s policies.

My accuser was a retired officer who never addressed me face to face and made heinous accusations against me. He sent a similar letter to my Commanding Officer demanding that I be relieved of my position as Command Chaplain and that I be tried by Court Martial. It was a seminal moment in my life. I discovered that the Trump movement was not simply about politics but it was a personality cult devoted to their “Leader” with profoundly racist motives bent on the personal destruction of anyone who opposed his policies.

My sermon actually had scriptural backing in that week’s lectionary readings and was based on the teachings of the Christian Church and backed by history. When I preach I do not deviate from the lectionary texts and seek to apply them to daily life, most of the time this was never about anything political.

The sermons of a chaplain are normally considered one of the most protected types of speech in the military and for that matter in the country, even if they stand against the policies of a President. In fact during my long career I have witnessed conservative Evangelical and Catholic Chaplains venture into politics on a regular basis, sometimes sitting through sermons that were much more partisan and disrespectful than anything I spoke that day, but I do not recall any to have been accused of crimes and investigated for what they said in a sermon preached as part of regularly scheduled religious services.

The official investigation of my “allegedly criminal conduct” in preaching the sermon was grueling. I was called into the investigating officer’s office and read my rights. I refused to answer questions without a lawyer. I had to retain legal counsel and went to Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation who has become a close personal friend. He spoke at my retirement ceremony where his words were remarkably similar to two of my previous commanding officers emphasizing my personal integrity, moral courage and commitment to care for all in my charge, regardless of their beliefs.

The investigating officer interviewed over half of the people present in the service as well as every member of my staff. My attorney handled the situation and in the end I was exonerated and no charges filed. I still have the investigation filed away, but it is now boxed up. Sadly, some of the people who denied that I said the things I was accused of saying also threw in political barbs. All were White male retirees and none ever spoke to me again. I was shunned, but the Black members of the chapel congregation were very supportive, some still keep in touch with me. One said that my sermon was like “hearing the thunder of the voice of God.” Honestly I do miss preaching, but I want nothing to do with the politics of the church.

I elected never to preach in that chapel again, in fact it was the last time I stood in the pulpit for anything other than an official ceremony or memorial service.

The assault on me and my rights by this Trump supporter and my treatment afterwards by the older White members of the chapel made me much wiser about the nature of the Trump Cult. It transitioned from a personality cult to a profoundly religious cult in which any disagreement with the former President was considered heresy and  met by virulent attacks on the offenders, and if they were Republicans saw many expelled or driven from the Party, sometimes even threatened with violence.

The Trump Cult is deeply racist, openly White Nationalist and authoritarian in nature, and supported by violent Neo-Nazi groups, militias and Christian Nationalists, who are probably the most disreputable of the lot.

I get online threats on a fairly regular basis for what I write and truthfully I no longer feel safe in my country, a country I served for nearly 40 years in the military. Sadly, most claim to be “Christians” as if they even know what being a follower of Jesus means. It does not mean making death threats on behalf of a would be dictator, as a good number have done.

Less than a month after my sermon those White Supremacist groups conducted a violent demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump said that there “were very good people” on both sides. Of course he and they only grew more threatening and violent and culminated in the 6 January insurrection and assault on the Capitol, but I digress…

The letter from that man reminded me just how personal this threat is for anyone who actually believes in truth, believes in the promise our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. There are so many times that I resist the urge to spam my accuser’s name all over the world. That man is a despicable moral coward who refused to even follow the clear teachings of scripture of how to confront another Christian over a matter of faith, and instead attempted to use the power of military law in order to destroy me. Of course for him like most of these Christofacists, the teachings of Jesus, Scripture, or the testimony of the Church mean nothing, because the worship Trump uber Alles. They would kill for him, not die for Jesus. That my friends is idolatry and a denial of their Christian faith.

But for me this is a fight that I will not shirk. I cannot stomach supposed Christians who have a higher loyalty to Trump and his racist Cult than they do to Jesus. I quote General Henning Von Tresckow who helped lead the opposition to Hitler and died after the failed assassination attempt, “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.”

Yes, I compared Trump to Hitler. This is because Trump has repeatedly shown that he wants to be like Hitler. True, he is not as smart and unlike Hitler never volunteered to serve his adopted country in wartime, and he has no one as gifted as Joseph Goebbels as his chief propagandist. Nor does he have anyone as Lani Riefenstahl  to promote him as a God as she did in the film The Triumph of the Will. 

That being said, Trump is both a demagogue and coward. He loves authoritarian government and hates the system of checks and balances created by our founders. Today he registered his disappointment that the Courts would not overturn the election, despite the fact nothing he and his lawyers could come up with that could win a single court case of over 60 they filed because they had no evidence and the facts did not support them. His continuous assault on facts and truth bodes ill for all of us, even his followers. Thus he and them and his followers remain a danger to anyone who actually believes that the Declaration or the Constitution. 

But had Trump won the election, or had his insurgents prevented Congress from fulfilling its obligations under the Constitution there is no doubt that he would have gone full Fuhrer.  Had he won or succeed in His coup attempt no opponent would be safe from his Neo-Nazi thugs backed by the full police power of the government and his Christian Theocratic base. The sad thing is that even though he is out of office the threat still remains, largely because of his Cult and a spineless Republican Party that sold its soul to Trump.

I’ll stop for now as it is late. However, it is a good thing that the man who tried to destroy me coming up on four years ago never properly introduced himself to me in person, thus I can’t match his face to my memories. It is a good thing for him because if I recognized him I might be tempted to beat him within an inch of his life if he did not admit his sin against me before my left jab right hook combination  struck his jaw. Of course if that ever happened that sonofabitch would be the victim and I would be in jail. So I won’t give him that as strong as the temptation might be. But to quote the Psalmist in Psalm 139:22 when it comes to men like Jack who tried to destroy my life to defend Trump, “I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.”

That they are so until next time,

Padre Steve+

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Iron against Iron: The Clash of the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia at Hampton Roads at 159 Years

800px-the_monitor_and_merrimac1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today marks the 159th anniversary of an event which changed naval warfare forever. It was a watershed event which ended the reign of the great wooden ships which plied the oceans of the world under massive fields of canvas sails. 

It took place just a few miles from two of my last three active duty assignments. If it happened today I would certainly been able to watch it from beach any of the beaches were I worked at Joint Base Little Creek – Fort Story.  I could have watched Virginia steam from the Elizabeth River to do battle from my office at the Joint Forces Staff College, or I could have watched Virginia’s transformation from the salvaged wreck of the steam frigate USS Merrimac into the ironclad behemoth she became in Dry Dock Number One at Naval Shipyard Norfolk in Portsmouth, my last assignment on active duty.

On 9 March 1862, two very strange looking ships joined in battle. This is the story of the Battle of Hanpton Roads and the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

On the morning of March 8th 1862 the CSS Virginia steamed slowly from her base at Portsmouth Virginia into Hampton Roads at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Awaiting her was a US Navy squadron of wooden warships including the steam Frigate USS Minnesota, the Sloop of War USS Cumberland, Frigate USS Congress and a number of smaller vessels.

The Virginia was an armored ram built from the salvaged remains of the large steam frigate USS Merrimack which had been burned at Gosport (Now Norfolk) Naval Shipyard. After Virginia’s forces seized the yard the hulk was salvaged. When the Confederate States Navy assumed command of the yard , Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory decided to reconstruct her as an Ironclad Ram. 

Her plans had been leaked to the US Navy through by Mary Louvestre  a former slave with a talent for drafting who worked as a seamstress for an engineer at the shipyard. Hearing her employer brag about the ship she went into his office and traced the plans, sending them to Union authorities. Virginia had a casemate of 24 inches of oak and pine topped by two layers of 2” thick iron plating. She was equipped with an iron ram on her bow and was armed with six 9” Dahlgren Smoothbores,  two 7” Brooke Rifles and two 6.4” Brooke Rifles. However she was barely seaworthy and had too deep draft to navigate inland waters. Her engines were unreliable and she had a very slow and long turning radius which hindered her against Monitor.

The United States Navy was also in the process of constructing a number of ironclad ships of different types. The first of these ships to be ready was the USS Monitor, a small ship mounting a single heavily armored (8” iron) turret mounting two powerful 11” Dalghren smoothbore guns. She was designed by Swedish inventor John Ericcson. Her design was best suited for coastal and inland waters and she was was faster and more maneuverable than Virginia.

On the morning of 8 March she was still steaming to Hampton Roads from New York when Virginia came out for battle against the Union blockade squadron.

 

CSSVirginia1862.2.ws

CSS Virginia 

During the ensuing fight of March 8th Virginia rammed and sank Cumberland which though fatally wounded disabled two of Virginia’s 9” in guns. She destroyed Congress by gunfire which burned and blew up and appeared to be in position to destroy Minnesota the following day as that ship had run hard aground. The losses aboard Cumberland and Congress were severe and included the Captain of the Congress and Chaplain John L. Lenhart of Cumberland, the first US Navy Chaplain to die in battle. During the battle Virginia had several men wounded including her Captain, Commodore Franklin Buchanan.

Cumberland_rammed_by_Merrimac

Virginia rams the USS Cumberland 

Due to the coming of darkness and a falling tide the acting commander of Virginia, Lieutenant Catsby Ap Roger Jones her executive officer took her in for the night. During the night Monitor, under the command of Lieutenant John Worden arrived and took up station to defend Minnesota.

603px-Battle_of_Hampton_Roads_Map

 

The next morning Virginia again ventured out and was intercepted by the Monitor. The ships fought for over three hours, with Monitor using her superior speed and maneuverability to great effect. During the battle Monitor suffered a hit on her small pilothouse near her bow blinding her Captain,  Lieutenant John Worden, as such Monitor’s executive officer, Lieutenant Dana Greene, the son of Union Brigadier General George Sears Greene, the hero of Culp’s Hill at Gettysburg took command. Neither side suffered much damage but the smokestack of Virginia was pierced in several places affecting her already poor engine performance.  Jones broke off the action and returned to Gosport for repairs and Monitor remained on station.

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles wrote after the battle:

“the performance, power, and capabilities of the Monitor, must effect a radical change in naval warfare.”

USSMonitor1862.3.ws

Monitor after the Battle

It did. The battle showed the world the vulnerability of wooden warships against the new ironclads. Monitor in particular revolutionized naval warfare and warship construction. Her defining mark was the use of the armored gun turret which over the succeeding decades became the standard manner for large ships guns to be mounted. Turrets like the warships they were mounted upon grew in size and power reaching their apex during the Second World War.

 

Both Virginia and Monitor reached less than glorious ends. Virginia had to be destroyed by her crew to prevent her capture just over two months after the battle on May 11th 1862.

Monitor survived until January 31st 1862 when she sank during a heavy storm off Cape Hatteras North Carolina with the loss of 16 of her 62 man crew.

The remains of two of those men, recovered during the salvage of Monitor’s engines, turret, guns and anchor were interred at Arlington National Cemetery on March 8th 2012. The relics from Monitor and some from Virginia are displayed at the Mariners Museum in Newport News (http://www.marinersmuseum.org )while one of Virginia’s anchors resides on the lawn of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. Additionally, parts of her armor are displayed at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. 

Those early ironclads and the brave men who served aboard them revolutionized naval warfare and their work should never be forgotten.

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An Epic Counterattack By a Brilliant Commander Blinded by Ambition to See or Resist the Truth: Erich von Manstein’s Counterstroke

p

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am tired as a result I am posting something out of my archives today. It’s actually a paper I wrote for one of my Masters Degree Classes back in 2009 that I decided to post on the site. Since then I have done much more study on the battle from other sources, many more critical of Manstein and revealing of the crimes committed by his troops on the Eastern Front.  I could probably do more with it except to do more biographical work on Von Manstein, but I don’t expect that I will at them moment because I already know much about his strategic and battlefield brilliance, and enough about his character for now. For me character matters more than battlefield brilliance.

The article deals with the crisis that the German armies faced following Stalingrad and how Field Marshal Erich von Manstein succeeded in talking Adolf Hitler out of certain defeat and inflicting a massive defeat on the now overconfident and over extended Soviet armies.

Von Manstein was a brilliant strategist, his bold plan to conquer France in 1940 was a masterpiece, as was his conduct of combat operations on the Eastern Front until his relief in March of 1944 for withdrawing (and saving) his armies from Soviet destruction without Hitler’s approval. Von Manstein was a brilliant commander at the operational level of war, but he also gave his approval and support to war crimes committed by the SS Einsatzgruppen against the Jews and others in his area of operations. He believed that Bolshevism and the Jews were linked, thus in his codicil to Von Reichenau’s Severity Order in November 1941 stated:

“Jewish Bolshevik system must be wiped out once and for all and should never again be allowed to invade our European living space … It is the same Jewish class of beings who have done so much damage to our own Fatherland by virtue of their activities against the nation and civilisation, and who promote anti-German tendencies throughout the world, and who will be the harbingers of revenge. Their extermination is a dictate of our own survival.”

This article depicts Manstein at his zenith when even Hitler was forced to give in to his logic, but barely a year later Hitler relieved him of command as Manstein remained committed to a mobile defense surrendering space while attempting to maximize Soviet casualties.

Manstein is a complex character, he defended German Jews in the Reichswehr yet went on to cooperate in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews in Russia. There is a decent possibility that he had some Jewish ancestry, he opposed the Aryan Paragraph which banned Jews from serving in the German armed forces telling General Ludwig Beck that anyone who had volunteered to serve had already proved their worth. Part of this may have been to protect mixed race grand-nephews who were already serving in the Reichswehr and his concern that he might have Jewish blood.

The SS launched an investigation regarding this, but never completed it. The results of what they found or did not find are unknown. It makes me wonder if I could make an extended trip to Germany and do some research on the topic. This is because based on all of his other anti-Semitic beliefs, if he really did not believe that the Germans had murdered the number of Jews that they did as was recorded in his post-war testimony. Almost all of Von Manstein’s criticisms of Hitler were restricted to the conduct of the war, not the political and moral aspects that formed the heart of Nazi policy and the Holocaust.

Though Manstein knew that Hitler was leading Germany to destruction, he rebuffed his colleagues who attempted to kill Hitler and the overthrow the Nazi regime. Had he supported them he might have brought others with him.

Likewise, though he was tried and convicted of war crimes he was given an early release from prison at the behest of Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer and other notables. After his release he went on to advise the German government on the organization of the new Bundeswehr, and become something of a celebrity among military history students, and military officers, especially Britain and the United States.

Manstien’s  post war writings were highly critical of Hitler and for the most part he succeeded in rehabilitating himself, in large part with the help of  Western military historians and theorists of mobile warfare. These men looked at the military aspects of the war and built what amounted to a cult around Manstein and German military and other high ranking Wehrmacht critics of Hitler, with scant regard to the murderous policies of the Nazis, and the personal responsibility and participation of many of them in carrying out Hitler’s decrees. When Manstein died in 1973 at the age of 85 he was the last surviving German Field Marshal and was buried with full military honors.

While it is true that Manstein was a brilliant commander and strategist, he aided and abetted one of the most criminal regimes in history. The German magazine Der Spiegel wrote of him: “He assisted in the march to catastrophe—misled by a blind sense of duty.”

This is something that all military professionals have to guard against. I am less concerned about senior American military leaders than I was last summer, but there are men and women who though in military had or have a higher alliance to for er President Trump than the Constitution as was demonstrated on 6 January. For the moment my fears are assuaged, but I do know that many self-styled “Patriots” more enamored with White Nationalist, Authoritarian and theocratic beliefs then they are in our Constitution and democracy are serving throughout our military. They include enlisted members, officers, probably including a number of General and Flag Officers, and DOD civilians in high ranking positions. In fact Trump appointed quite a few political hacks to permanent civil service positions in DOD, State, Homeland Security and other important positions before he left office. The Biden administration is attempting to move them to positions where they cannot do damage but they are in place.

So, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Introduction

After Stalingrad the Soviets followed up on their success and attempted to entrap the rest of Army Group South. Field Marshall von Manstein attempted to save the Army Group and perhaps prevent the Soviets from collapsing the entire German front.

Bild 101I-209-0086-12Manstein (center) planning at the front

Chaos and Peril in the South

As 6th Army died at Stalingrad field Marshall von Manstein was faced with one of the most challenging situations faced by any commander in modern times.  He faced strategic and operational “problems of a magnitude and complexity seldom paralleled in history.”[i] Manstein had to deal with a complex military situation where he had minimal forces to counter the moves of a superior enemy force that was threatening to entrap all German forces in southern Russia. Additionally Manstein had to deal with the “Hitler’s obstinate opposition to a maneuver defense and a Red Army flushed with the victory of Stalingrad.”[ii]Facing him were the six Russian armies of the Voronezh and Southwestern Fronts led by Mobile Group Popov[iii]. These Armies had broken through the Hungarian and Italian armies “making a breach 200 miles wide between the Donetz and Voronezh, and were sweeping westward past Manstein’s flank.”[iv]

flak in caucasus

The most dangerous threat that Manstein faced was to Army Group A in the Caucasus. This Army Group “found itself in danger of being cut off, forcing an immediate withdraw.”[v] Disaster was averted by the desperate holding actions of Manstein’s meager forces, Army detachment’s Fretter-Pico and Hollidt, and winter conditions that made “offensive operations extraordinarily difficult, even for the hardiest Soviet troops.”[vi]

A smart withdraw executed by General von Kleist managed to extricate the Army group “just as the Stalingrad forces collapsed.”[vii] To parry the Soviet thrusts the Germans lacked forces to “establish a deeply echeloned defense” and “instead combined maneuver… with stubborn positional defense to give artificial depth to the battlefield.  In this way the Germans were able to break major Soviet attacks, preventing catastrophic breakthroughs….”[viii] The timely introduction of a battalion of Tiger tanks prevented the Russians from breaking through to Rostov and “cutting the rail and road lines on which First Panzer Army’s retreat depended.”[ix] Even so the escape of the Army Group was narrow. “In terms of time, space, force, and weather conditions it was an astonishing performance-for which Kleist was made a field-marshal.”[x] With the Russians only 70 kilometers from Rostov and his own forces 650 kilometers from that city Kleist executed a withdraw “which had appeared hardly possible to achieve.”[xi] The divisions extricated by Kleist would be instrumental in the coming weeks as Manstein moved to counter the Soviet offensive.

Ostfront, Adolf Hitler, Erich v. Manstein

Hitler and Manstein

Despite the successful withdraw the situation was still precarious in early February, Manstein had no effective contact with his left wing, the bulk of which was tied to Kharkov, The Russians had “virtually complete freedom of action across a fifty-mile stretch of the Donetz on either side of Izyum.”[xii] Manstein was hard pressed to “halt the raids of Mobile Group Popov and other exploiting Soviet tank corps in Operation Gallop.”[xiii] Manstein’s forces in the eastern sector had been divided by Russian penetrations, which threatened 1st Panzer Army’s western flank and blocked the Army Group’s main railway line.[xiv]

On 15 February “the SS Panzer Corps withdrew from Kharkov-in spite of orders from Hitler…that the city was to be held to the last.”[xv] SS General Paul Hausser, the corps commander realized that the order to hold Kharkov was impossible and requested permission to withdraw. This was was refused by General Lanz. Under pressure from encircling Russian forces outside and from partisans inside the city, Hausser disobeyed the order and extricated his troops,[xvi] thereby saving thousands of German soldiers and preserved the SS Panzer Corps as a fighting unit.[xvii] Lanz was relieved by Hitler for the loss of Kharkov and although Hausser would escape immediate censure, “Hitler did see it as a black mark against his name.”[xviii] With Kharkov now in Soviet hands the gap between Manstein’s army group and Field Marshal von Kluge’s Army Group Center increased to over 100 miles.[xix] It appeared that the entire German southern flank was disintegrating.  Manstein estimated the ratio of German to Soviet forces in his area at 1:8.[xx] He believed that the Soviets could advance and subsequently “block the approaches to the Crimea and the Dnieper crossing at Kherson” which would “result in the encirclement of the entire German southern wing.”[xxi] Popov’s Mobile Group crossed the Donets and reached Krasnoarmeiskaia by 12 February. Vatutin committed two additional fresh tank corps toward Zaporozhe, a critical transport node which was also the location of Manstein’s headquarters.[xxii]

SS-Tiger-LSAH-01Tiger Tanks assigned to 1st SS Panzer Division

Hitler arrived to consult with Manstein on 17 February and remained for three days with Soviet forces perilously close.  Manstein only had some flak units and the Army Group Headquarters Company between him and Popov’s advanced elements. On Hitler’s last day “some T-34’s approached to within gun range of the airfield.”[xxiii]

The conference of Hitler with Manstein at Zaporozhe as well as a previous conference at the Wolfsschanze on 6 February was critical to the development of Manstein’s plan to restore the front. Manstein had now gotten both the 1st and 4th Panzer Armies across the Don, and “with this striking force, he felt confident of smashing the Russian offensive if he was given a free hand to withdraw from the line of the Donetz, evacuate Rostov and take up a much shorter front along the Mius river.”[xxiv] The conference on the 6th was one of the “rare moments in the war where Hitler authorized a strategic withdraw on a major scale.”[xxv] Yet as the Russians continued to advance Hitler became concerned and came to Zaporozhe.  At first Hitler would not concede to Manstein, as he wanted to assemble the SS Panzer Corps for an attack to recapture Kharkov.[xxvi]Manstein explained the need for a counter stroke and through much explanation was able to convince Hitler that the capture of Kharkov was not possible unless “we first removed the danger of the Army Group being cut off from its rear communications.”[xxvii]

T34_Stalingrad-Offensive-px800Soviet formations advance

The Russian aim was now obvious[xxviii] and Manstein had correctly discerned their strategy.  Manstein knew that his Army Group had to hold the line on the Mius and then quickly defeat the enemy between 1st Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf[xxix] in “order to prevent its own isolation from the Dnieper crossings.”[xxx] The Soviets had outrun their logistics support and had suffered heavy losses of their own and had serious equipment shortages.[xxxi] Manstein explained to Hitler the opportunity offered as it was now the Russians who “were worn out” and far from their supply dumps as the Germans had been in November 1942.  Manstein “foresaw an opportunity to seize the operational initiative with a counter offensive of his own.  Manstein’s target was the Soviet armored spearheads, still careening southwestward between Kharkov and Stalino.”[xxxii] Manstein believed that when the Russian “spearhead lunged, as it must toward the crossings on the upper Dnieper,” then Hoth’s Army would be let loose again.  The three SS Panzer divisions could then “play their rightful role as avengers, and strike southeast to meet 4th Panzer Army, catching the Russian armour in a noose.”[xxxiii] Hitler agreed to Manstein’s plan and Manstein shifted 4th Panzer Army to assume control of the SS Panzer Corps, now reinforced by 3rd SS Panzergrenadier Division “Totenkopf.” Hitler reinforced Manstein and released 7 battle worn Panzer and motorized divisions for his attack.[xxxiv]

Soviet Miscalculation

It was now Stalin’s time to miscalculate. He and his subordinates “continued to believe that they were on the verge of a great victory. German defenses in southern Russia appeared to be crumbling and the Stavka sought to expand that victory to include Army Group Center.”[xxxv] To this end they diverted armies to the north and launched attacks in that direction.  However German defenses were stiff and the plan was “predicated on the assumption of continued offensive success further south.”[xxxvi] Reinforcements from Stalingrad failed to deploy and “Army Group Center’s defenses, prepared for the past year and a half proved formidable.”[xxxvii]

In the south Stalin saw the Dnieper and almost “heedlessly drove his armies towards what he thought would be the decisive victory on the banks of this huge Russian river,”[xxxviii] but, Soviet “ambitions exceeded their available resources and the skill of their commanders.”[xxxix] The SS Panzer Corps withdraw from Kharkov “further heightened the Soviet’s intoxication with victory”[xl] and confirmed their beliefs that the Germans were withdrawing.  Stalin believed that “it was inconceivable that Hitler’s Praetorian Guard would abandon Kharkov except as part of a general order to retreat.”[xli] He believed that the encirclement of Army Group South would lead to a chain reaction and quick way to victory over German forces in the east.  Believing that there was no way for the Germans to recover and establish a solid front on the Mius,[xlii] Stalin continued to drive his forces to attack, yet the Russian offensive in the south had reached what Clausewitz had called the “culminating point” and Stalin’s armies were now extremely vulnerable. “The weather, the devastated communications, and their own inexperience in maintaining the traffic density required to support a deep penetration on a narrow front had combined to force a dangerous dispersal of effort on the Russian advance which had broken down into four separate groups.”[xliii]

panzer ivfPanzers assembling to attack

The Soviet forces were now in a dangerous predicament being spread out across the entire south of Russia.  One group, composed of the 69th Army and 3rd Tank Army pushed against Army detachment Kempf west of Kharkov.  To the south the badly depleted 6th Army and 1st Guards Army were now “strung out down a long corridor they had opened between Izyum and Pavlograd,”[xliv] Mobile Group Popov was lagging further east near Krasnoarmeiskaia.   Additional units were isolated behind the front of Army Detachment Fretter-Pico and near Matveyev.  Soviet commanders believed that the Germans were in worse shape and that “the risks of dispersal were justified.”[xlv] They had not anticipated or made allowance for Manstein’s coolness under pressure and actions to preserve his armor while thinning his front “well past the accepted danger limit.”[xlvi]Likewise the Soviets did not know that the Germans had cracked the code used by the Southwest front and from 12 February on “were now privy to Popov’s and Vatutin’s thoughts,” now knowing precisely where the Russians would attack.[xlvii] Manstein had withstood temptation and Hitler’s pressure to use his reserves “for a direct defense of the Dnieper line.”[xlviii] As such he was prepared to launch a devastating counter-stroke against the dispersed and weakened Russian armies which were still advancing into the trap he planned for them. He had managed to “save his counteroffensive plan from Hitler’s shrill demands that the new reserves be thrown into battle piecemeal to prevent further territorial losses.”[xlix] The stage was now set for a two classic mobile operations.[l]

The Destruction of Mobile Group Popov, 6th Army and 1st Guards Army

Manstein launched his counter-stroke on 21 February against Popov’s Mobile Group using XL Panzer Corps under the command of General Henrici composed of the 7th and 11th Panzer Divisions and SS Motorized Division Viking. Popov’s Group was exposed. Popov had “succeed in cutting the railway from Dnepropetrovsk to Stalino and was itching to push further south to Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.”[li] The Soviets once again had failed to discern German intentions, believing that the Germans were retreating.[lii] Likewise the Soviet high command did not fully understand Popov’s situation. His force was weak in tanks and low on fuel and his Mobile Group was defeated in detail by the German Corps.  Popov’s immobilized tank and motorized rifle formations resisted desperately but were bypassed by the panzers.  The 330th Infantry Division mopped up the remnants of these formations.[liii] The key battles took place around the town of Krasnoarmeiskaia and the battle became a running battle between that town and the Donets River.[liv] Popov requested permission to retreat, but still believing the Germans to be retreating Vatutin gave a categorical “no.” The terrain in the area was “almost completely open”[lv] and “Popov’s proud Armoured Group was cut up like a cake.”[lvi] Popov extricated some of his units but “only after serious losses in manpower and equipment.”[lvii] Despite this it would not be until the 24th that Vatutin would order a halt to offensive operations.[lviii]

kharkovSS Panzers in Kharkov

As Popov sought to get his units out of the German scythe Manstein set his sights on 6th Army, 1st Guards Army and 25th Tank Corps which was approaching Zaporozhe.[lix] He assigned the task to Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army and its XLVIII Panzer Corps under General Knobelsdorf composed of the 6th and 17th Panzer Divisions and the SS Panzer Corps comprising SS Divisions LiebstandarteDas Reich and Totenkopf.[lx] Manstein gave Hoth a brief but explicit order: “The Soviet Sixth Army, now racing towards Dnepropetrovsk through the gap between First Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf, is to be eliminated.”[lxi]

The XLVIII Panzer Corps and SS Panzer Corps were unleashed against the exposed flank of the 6th Army and 1st Guards Army.   XLVIII Panzer Corps quickly “seized bridgeheads over the Samara River, and prepared to move north into the rear of the exhausted Soviet Sixth Army.”[lxii] The two Panzer Corps then made a coordinated concentric attack northwest which “came as a complete surprise to the Russians.”[lxiii] Das Reich thrust deep into the flank of 6th Army supported by Stukas from Richthofen’s 4th Air Fleet.  This attack dislodged one Soviet Rifle Corps and destroyed another allowing the division to capture Pavlograd while XLVIII Panzer Corps led by 17th Panzer Division pushed from the south linking up with the SS Corps. This cut off the Soviet 25th Tank Corps and threatened 6thArmy.[lxiv] What followed was a disaster for the Russians.

Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary Stavka and the Soviet Front commanders still believed that the Germans were retreating.  6th Army was ordered to continue its advance by the front commander who believed that the two German Panzer Corps were withdrawing.[lxv] In a few days the 17th Panzer Division “gained the Izyum-Protoponovka sector on the Donetz River, while the SS Panzer Corps took Losovaya and established contact with Army Detachment Kempf, which had joined the attack from the west.”[lxvi] XL Panzer Corps with the 3rd and 7thPanzer Divisions and 333rd Infantry Division joined in the attack on Popov’s remaining forces completing their destruction.[lxvii]

As Hoth and Hausser converged on Pavlograd, Das Reich and Totenkopf “swung left to the east and then wheeled back north again running parallel to the Russian divisions fleeing from Forty-eighth Panzer Corps. What ensured was a turkey shoot.”[lxviii]Fleeing Russian forces on the open steppe were visible and engaged at long range.[lxix] Leibstandarte helped by holding the left flank against Russian counter attacks from the units now isolated in the west,[lxx] and Totenkopf’s Grenadiers fanned out supported by Stukas to “kill or capture as many Russians as possible.”[lxxi]

By 1 March the Russian penetrations had been eliminated. Popov’s Mobile Group was smashed, 6th Army and 1st Guards Army badly mauled. 25th Tank Corps and three Rifle divisions had to be completely written off and numerous other corps and divisions took heavy casualties.  Two additional corps, encircled before the offensive began were eliminated by German forces.[lxxii] The Germans counted 23,000 Russian dead on the battlefield, and Manstein noted that “the booty included 615 tanks, 354 field pieces, 69 anti-aircraft guns and large numbers of machine guns and mortars.”[lxxiii] The Germans only took 9,000 prisoners as they were too weak, especially in infantry to seal off the encircled Soviet forces.[lxxiv] Yet the forces that escaped they were in no condition to “block the continued progress of the Panzers and SS.”[lxxv] Now there was a 100 mile gap in the Russian lines with nothing no troops to fill it and only “General Mud” could stop the Germans.[lxxvi] Manstein was not yet finished and the next phase of his operation against the Soviet formations west of Kharkov and that city were about to commence.

The Destruction of 3rd Tank Army

With the immediate threat to his Army Group eliminated and having regained the initiative, Manstein and Army Group South now “proceeded to deliver the stroke against the ‘Voronezh Front’– i.e. the forces located in the Kharkov area.”[lxxvii] But the Russians had not been idle. In order to attempt to assist 6thArmy 3rd Tank Army moved two tank corps and three Rifle divisions south and these ran into Manstein’s advancing panzers.[lxxviii] Manstein’ noted his objective now was “not the possession of Kharkov but the defeat-and if possible the destruction of the enemy units located there.”[lxxix] Between March 1st and 5th his forces advanced on Kharkov. Not knowing the Germans dispositions[lxxx]3rd Tank Army made the mistake of moving between the Leibstandarte’s defensive positions and the attacking divisions of the SS Panzer Corps. Hausser wheeled Totenkopf around and completed an encirclement of these units near Bereka on 3 March.[lxxxi] The Russians made futile attempts to break out but the SS Divisions tightened the noose around them and they were eliminated by the SS Panzer Corps which “engaged in concentric attacks during the three days of hard fighting.”[lxxxii] Even Regimental commanders like Heinz Harmel of Das Reich’s Der Fuhrer regiment became engaged in close combat with the Russians.[lxxxiii] The battle was fought in “snowstorms whose intensity caused the SS severe privations.”[lxxxiv] Totenkopf and Das Reich slammed the Russians “back against the Tiger tanks and assault guns of the Leibstandarte.”[lxxxv] The elimination of these units netted another 12,000 Russians killed,[lxxxvi] knocking “out the last remaining obstacle between the Germans and Kharkov.”[lxxxvii]

Return to Kharkov and Controversy

Manstein turned his attention to Kharkov, supported by Richthofen’s 4th Air Fleet which for the last time in Russia “provided undisputed air superiority for a major German mechanized operation.”[lxxxviii] He decided to “roll up the enemy from the flank and force him away from Kharkov in the process.”[lxxxix]He ordered a “pincer on the town, sending Grossdeutschland around to the north with a reinforced Kempf detachment and the combined force of Hoth and the SS to attack the town from the south and rear.”[xc] Manstein planned to make a wide envelopment to avoid embroiling his panzers in costly urban combat stating “that at all costs the Army Group wished to avoid Kharkov’s becoming a second Stalingrad in which our assault forces might become irretrievably committed.”[xci] To this end he sent Das Reich and Totenkopf which were approaching from the south to west of the city[xcii] while XLVIII Panzer Corps swung east toward the Donetz.[xciii] As Hoth’s forces came up from the south to envelope the city, Grossdeutschland and the XI and LI Corps fought the Russians to the north and west,[xciv] eventually moving up to Belgorod.  By 8 March lead elements of the SS Panzer Corps were on the outskirts of the city.

At this point there is some controversy as to German actions. As noted Manstein wished to avoid urban combat and desired to surround the city and force its surrender.  According to one writer Hoth ordered Hausser “to seal off the city from the west and north and to take any opportunity to seize it.”[xcv] Others including Glantz and House and Murray and Millett state that Hausser “ignored a direct order” and attacked into the city.[xcvi] Manstein does not explicitly say that there was a direct order but notes that the Army Group “had to intervene vigorously on more than one occasion to ensure that the corps did not launch a frontal attack on Kharkov.”[xcvii] Sydnor states that Hausser ignored a direct order by Hoth on the 11th by detailing a battalion of Totenkopf to assist Das Reich and Leibstandarte in retaking Kharkov by direct assault. The order entailed pulling Das Reich out of the city and taking it to the east.[xcviii] Lucas adds that this order came in the midst of hard fighting in the city and could not be carried out by the division.[xcix]Carell notes that on 9 March Hoth instructed Hausser that “opportunities to seize the city by a coup are to be utilized,”[c] and goes into detail regarding how Hoth’s 11 March order applied to Das Reich. It was to be pulled out of action and brought east, but division was heavily engaged and in the process of breaking through Soviet defenses “quicker in fact than if he had pulled “Das Reich” out of the operation and led it all the way round the city along those terrible muddy and time wasting roads.”[ci] In the end the SS took Kharkov, Manstein said that the city “fell without difficulty”[cii] while others note the difficulty of the action and the casualties suffered by the SS.  Kharkov’s capture; the defeat of Rokossovsky’s campaign against Orel and the beginning of the spring Rasutitsa ended the winter campaign and stabilized the front.

Analysis

The Russian winter offensive following Stalingrad had great potential.  Manstein said: “the successes attained on the Soviet side, the magnitude of which is incontestable.”[ciii] The greatest Soviet shortcomings were inexperience in conducting deep mobile operations and the inability of their logistics system to keep up with their advance.  Clark notes that this was their “first experience of an offensive war of movement on a large scale.[civ] Glantz and House are not alone in noting that the “Stavka continued to undertake operations that were beyond its resources.”[cv] Murray and Millett state that they “lacked the operational focus that had marked the Stalingrad offensive.”[cvi] Had they had the resources and ability to execute their plans they might have destroyed all German forces in the south.  They misread German intentions based on their own over-optimistic expectations opened their forces to Manstein’s devastating counter stroke.  Von Mellenthin, possibly showing some prejudice commented that the Russian soldier “when confronted by surprise and unforeseen situations he is an easy prey to panic.”[cvii]

The Germans snatched victory out of what appeared to be certain defeat. They were aided by Russian overconfidence, mistakes and operational shortcomings.  Manstein refused to panic and conserved his forces for his counterattack.[cviii] Kleist brought his Army Group out of what might have been encirclement worse than Stalingrad.  Hitler for the most part gave Manstein operational freedom which he had not provided other commanders.  German Panzer forces conducted mobile operations against superior enemy armored forces and bested them.  Landsers held their own in at critical junctures, especially on the Mius and gave Manstein the opportunity to employ the panzers in the mobile defense.[cix]

Likewise after a miserable winter the Luftwaffe recovered its balance and the coordinated operations between it and German ground forces gave them an edge at a point where the Red Air Force was unable to support the Red Army.[cx] Above all the Germans still maintained the edge in both overall quality of generalship, especially that of Manstein and Kleist, not to exclude Hoth, Hausser and lower level commanders.  Additionally the average German soldier still maintained an edge over his Soviet adversary in the confusion of mobile operations in open terrain.

Manstein and his forces gave Hitler breathing room on the eastern front.[cxi] As Clark notes: “few periods in World War II show a more complete and dramatic reversal of fortune than the fortnight in February and the first in March 1943…it repaired its front, shattered the hopes of the Allies, nipped the Russian spearhead. Above all it recovered its moral ascendancy.”[cxii]

Notes 


[i] Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956. p245

[ii] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995. p.143

[iii] Ibid. Glantz. P.143. These units include 3rd Tank Army, 1st and 3rd Guards Armies and the 6th, 40th and 69th Armies.

[iv] Liddell-Hart. B.H. Strategy.  A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY 1974, first published by Faber and Faber Ltd. London, 1954 and 1967. p.253

[v] Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003. p.185

[vi] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. 2000. pp.291-292

[vii] Liddell-Hart, B.H. History of the Second World War. G.P. Putnam’s Son’s, New York, NY. 1970  p.478

[viii] Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986. p.161

[ix] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.292

[x] Ibid. Liddell-Hart, Second World War. p.479

[xi] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart. pp.211-212.

[xii] Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-45.Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965. pp.299-300

[xiii] Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999. p.11

[xiv] Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958  p.417

[xv] Ibid. Clark. p.300

[xvi] Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company. pp.196-199

[xvii] Lucas, James. Das Reich: The Military History of the 2nd SS Division.Cassell Military Paperbacks, London, UK, 1999. First published by Arms and Armour, 1991. p.91  Glantz and House criticize Hausser saying that the SS Panzer Corps Staff lacked the experience to perform its mission.  (Titans Clashed p.144) Most other commentators agree with the necessity of his withdraw.

[xviii] Messenger, Charles. Sepp Dietrich: Hitler’s Gladiator. Brassey’s Defence Publishers, London, 1988. p.113

[xix] Ibid. Clark. p.300

[xx] Ibid. Manstein. p.419

[xxi] Ibid. Manstein. pp.418-419

[xxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.144

[xxiii] Ibid. Clark. p.300

[xxiv] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.251

[xxv] Ibid. Carell. p.191

[xxvi] Ibid. Manstein. p.424.

[xxvii] Ibid. Manstein. p.428

[xxviii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. Second World War. p.481

[xxix] This had previously been Army Detachment Lanz, but Lanz had bee relieved over the loss of Kharkov.

[xxx] Ibid. Manstein. p.429

[xxxi] Ibid. Murray and Millet. p.292

[xxxii] Ibid. Wray. p.162

[xxxiii] Ibid. Clark. p.302.

[xxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.145

[xxxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed . pp.144-145

[xxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.146

[xxxvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.293

[xxxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.191

[xxxix] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.292

[xl] Ibid. Carell. p.199

[xli] Ibid. Carell. p.199

[xlii] Ibid. Carell. p.193

[xliii] Ibid. Clark. p.303

[xliv] Ibid. Clark. p.304

[xlv] Ibid. Clark. p.304

[xlvi] Ibid. Clark. p.304

[xlvii] Ibid. Carell. p.210

[xlviii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. Strategy p.253

[xlix] Ibid. Wray. p.163

[l] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147. Note comments by Glantz and House in footnote 31 on relative strengths of forces involved, especially the weakness of German forces.

[li] Butler, Rupert. SS Wiking: The History of the Fifth SS Division 1941-45.Casemate, Havertown, PA. 2002. p.93

[lii] Ibid. Carell. p.211

[liii] Ibid. Carell. p.210

[liv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147

[lv] Ibid. von Mellenthin. p.253

[lvi] Ibid. Carell. p.210

[lvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.293

[lviii] Ibid. Carell. p.213

[lix] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147

[lx] There is difference in various accounts as to which units composed these Panzer Corps. Von Mellenthin adds 11th Panzer to the XLVIII Panzer Corps and some accounts do not list the Liebstandarte as part of the SS Panzer Corps.

[lxi] Ibid. Carell. p.211

[lxii] Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division 1933-1945. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1977. p.268

[lxiii] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.252

[lxiv] Ibid. Carell. p.212

[lxv] Ibid. Carell. p.212

[lxvi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.252

[lxvii] Ibid. Carell. p.213

[lxviii] Ibid. Sydnor. pp.268-269

[lxix] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.253

[lxx] Meyer, Kurt. Grenadiers. Translated by Michael Mende and Robert J. Edwards. J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc. Winnipeg, Manitoba. Canada. 2001. pp.180-181

[lxxi] Ibid. Sydnor. p.269

[lxxii] Ibid. Manstein. p.433

[lxxiii] Ibid. Manstein. p.433. Sydnor lists an addition 600 anti-tank guns and notes that the tanks were almost all T-34s. (Sydnor. p.269)

[lxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147

[lxxv] Ibid. Clark. p.306

[lxxvi] Ibid. Carell. p.216

[lxxvii] Ibid. Manstein. p.433

[lxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.187

[lxxix] Ibid. Manstein. p.433

[lxxx] Ibid. Meyer. p.181

[lxxxi] Ibid. Carell. p.216

[lxxxii] Ibid. Meyer. pp.181-182

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Lucas. p.95

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Lucas. p.95

[lxxxv] Ibid. Sydnor. p.277

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Manstein. p.434

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Sydnor. p.277

[lxxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.13

[lxxxix] Ibid. Manstein. p.435

[xc] Ibid. Clark. p.306

[xci] Ibid. Manstein. p.435

[xcii] Ibid. Sydnor. p.278

[xciii] Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)  p.75

[xciv] Ibid. Raus. pp.189-192

[xcv] Ibid. Messenger. p.114

[xcvi] See Glantz and House p.187 and Murray and Millett p.293

[xcvii] Ibid. Manstein. p.436

[xcviii] Ibid. Sydnor. p.278

[xcix] Ibid. Lucas. p.96

[c] Ibid. Carell. p.216

[ci] Ibid. Carell. p.219

[cii] Ibid. Manstein. p.436

[ciii] Ibid. Manstein. p.437

[civ] Ibid. Clark. p.303

[cv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.143

[cvi] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.292

[cvii] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.254

[cviii] A comment by Von Mellenthin commenting on Manstein’s coolness in the conduct of his operations compares him to Robert E. Lee. “To find another example of defensive strategy of this caliber we must go back to Lee’s campaign in Virginia in the summer of 1864. (Von Mellenthin. p.245)

[cix] For some additional comments along these lines see vn Mellenthin who notes four points in regard to the counter stroke: 1. High level commanders did not restrict the moves of armored formations, but gave them long range tasks. 2. Armored formations had no worries about their flanks because the High Command had a moderate infantry force available for counterattacks. 3. All commanders of armored formations, including corps, conducted operations not from the rear, but from the front. 4. The attack came as a surprise regarding the time and place. (Von Mellenthin p.254)

[cx] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.293

[cxi] Despite his success Hitler was not happy with Manstein in regard to giving up ground for operational purposes and Manstein would lose much of the freedom that he enjoyed by March. Wray has a discussion of this.  See Wray. pp.162-163.  The Nazi hierarchy actively promoted the exploits of the SS Panzer Corps and its leaders, especially the commander of the Leibstandarte Sepp Dietrich. (see Weingartner pp. 76-77) The recognition of Hausser would be delayed, some speculate as a result of his disobedience in giving up Kharkov in February.

[cxii] Ibid. Clark. p.306

Bibliography

Butler, Rupert. SS Wiking: The History of the Fifth SS Division 1941-45.Casemate, Havertown, PA. 2002

Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company

Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965

Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999

Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart.

Liddell-Hart, B.H. History of the Second World War. G.P. Putnam’s Son’s, New York, NY.

Liddell-Hart. B.H. Strategy.  A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY 1974, first published by Faber and Faber Ltd. London, 1954 and 1967

Lucas, James. Das Reich: The Military History of the 2nd SS Division. Cassell Military Paperbacks, London, UK, 1999. First published by Arms and Armour, 1991

Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958

Messenger, Charles. Sepp Dietrich: Hitler’s Gladiator. Brassey’s Defence Publishers, London, 1988

Meyer, Kurt. Grenadiers. Translated by Michael Mende and Robert J. Edwards. J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc. Winnipeg, Manitoba. Canada. 2001

Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003

Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division 1933-1945. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1977

Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956

Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)

Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986

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Stephen Decatur, the U.S. Navy and “The Most Bold and Daring Act of the Age”

“Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” Stephen Decatur

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am tired after several arduously emotional days. So tonight a rerun of an older post. It is a fascinating story because it has to deal with the amazing courage of the sailors serving in the United States Navy and the determination of President Thomas Jefferson to ensure the freedom of United States and other citizens plying the seas of the Mediterranean Sea from the North African Pasha’s and their raiding fleets of marauding pirates who captures ships from many nations and extorted ransom for their crews. Interestingly it was the young United States that decided to ensure the freedom of the seas for everyone. This is the story of one of the most incredible exploits of that campaign.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

In 1803 the United States Navy was two years into its campaign against the Barbary Pirates who sailed from Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and Morocco.  For years the United States like other nations had paid tribute to the rulers of these states for free passage of its ships and hefty ransoms to free the sailors that were enslaved following the capture of their ships.  By 1800 tens of millions of dollars had been paid and in that year the amount of tribute paid was 20% of the government’s total revenue.

In 1801 the Pasha of Tripoli Yusuf Karamanli demanded the payment of $225,000 tribute from the new President of the United States President Thomas Jefferson. In years past Jefferson had advised against payment of tribute believing that such payment only encouraged the Barbary States to continue their actions.  The anti-naval partisans and even his Republican allies had blocked his recommendations even though Secretary of State John Jay and President John Adams agreed with him. These partisans insisted that tribute be paid irregardless of the effect on European trade or the fate of American seamen because they believed that the Atlantic trade and involvement in the “Old World” detracted from the westward expansion by diverting money and energy away from the west.  When Jefferson refused the demand and put his beliefs into practice Karmanli declared war on the United States by cutting down the flag at the US Consulate in Tripoli.

Jefferson sent a small force to defend protect American ships and sailors and asked Congress to authorize him to do more as he did not believe that he had the Constitutional power to do more. Congress did not issue a declaration of war but authorized Jefferson to “employ such of the armed vessels of the United States as may be judged requisite… for protecting effectually the commerce and seamen thereof on the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and adjoining seas.”

Jefferson sent the best of the United States Navy to deal with the situation and US Navy ships soon began to take a toll on the pirate vessels.  The squadron was composed of ships that would become legend in the history of the Navy. Commanded by Commodore Richard Dale, Edward Preble, and later Commodore John Rogers, at various times the squadron included the USS Argus, Chesapeake, Constellation, Constitution, President, Congress, Enterprise, Intrepid, Essex, Philadelphia, John Adams and Syren.  The Constitution, Chesapeake, and Constellation, Congress and President were among the first six frigates authorized by Congress on March 27th 1794. Philadelphia a subscription Frigate paid for by citizens and merchants of Philadelphia, Essex a subscription Frigate pride for by the citizens of Salem and Essex County, Massachusetts, John Adams, a Subscription Frigate paid for by the citizens of Charleston, South Carolina, Argus a 20 gun Brig, Enterprise and Vixen 12 gun Schooners, Syren (later Siren) a 16 gun Brig, and Intrepid a captured Tripolitan Ketch, several smaller American built vessels, and about a dozen gunboats and mortar boats supplied by the Kingdom of Naples, which also provided the Americans with access to the ports of Messina, Palermo, and Syracuse, as well as supplies, and craftsmen to maintain the American Squadron.

Many of the officers who served in the Squadron, including William Bainbridge, Issac Hull, Charles Stewart, David Porter, would continue in service and make names for themselves in the war of 1812 and after.

One of the young officers was the 24 year old Captain of the 12 Gun Schooner USS Enterprise Lieutenant Stephen Decatur the son of a Navy Captain who had entered the Naval service as a Midshipman in 1798 and who had risen rapidly through the ranks due to his abilities and leadership. He was among the few officers selected to remain in service following the end of the Quasi-War with France.  By the time that he took command of Enterprise Decatur had already served as the First Lieutenant of the Frigates USS Essex and USS New York.  After an altercation with British officer while wintering in Malta he was sent home to command the new Brig of War USS Argus. He was ordered to bring her to Europe where he handed over command to Lieutenant Isaac Hull who would achieve fame in the War of 1812 as Commanding Officer of the USS Constitution.  Decatur was given command of Enterprise on when he detached from the Argus.

On December 23rd 1803 while operating with the Constitution Decatur and the Enterprise captured the small Tripolian ketch Mastico which was sailing under Turkish colors.  The small ship was taken to Syracuse where Commodore Edward Preble condemned her as a prize of war, renamed her Intrepid and placed Decatur in command.

Normally such an event would be considered a demotion for an officer of Decatur’s caliber but events at Tripoli had forced Preble to make a bold strike at the heart of the enemy.  On October 31st 1803 the Frigate USS Philadelphia one of the most powerful ships in the squadron under the command of Captain William Bainbridge ran aground on an uncharted shoal and was captured.  Her crew was taken prisoner and the ship floated off by the Tripolians partially repaired and moored as a battery in the harbor until her foremast could be remounted having be cut away by Bainbridge in his  unsuccessful  attempt to float the ship off the shoal.

Burning the Philadelphia

The threat posed by such a powerful ship in the hands of the enemy was too great to ignore. Prebble order Decatur to man the Intrepid with volunteers to destroy the Philadelphia at anchor.  Decatur took 80 men from the Enterprise and was joined by eight more volunteers  from USS Syren including Lieutenant Thomas McDonough who had recently served aboard Philadelphia and knew the ship well.

Under the cover of night of February 16th 1804 Decatur took the former Tripolian ship into the harbor beneath the dim light of the new moon.  Posing as a Tripolian ship he was able to slip past the guns of the forts overlooking the harbor using a Sicilian sailor who spoke Arabic to request permission. This was granted and Intrepid approached Philadelphia and when close enough ordered his crew to board the Frigate. After a brief skirmish with the small contingent of sailors aboard he took control of the vessel and set it ablaze. When he was sure that the fire could not be extinguished he ordered his men back aboard Intrepid and sailed out of the harbor under the fire of the shore batteries and gunboats.

Decatur sailed Intrepid back to Syracuse where he was greeted as a hero and became one of the Navy’s legends.  Pope Pius VII publicly proclaimed that “the United States, though in their infancy, had done more to humble the anti-Christian barbarians on the African coast, than all the European states had done for a long period of time.” Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, one of the most heroic sailors that ever lived and no stranger to daring said that Decatur’s accomplishment was “the most bold and daring act of the Age.

Decatur leading American Sailors in hand to hand combat against Barbary Pirates at Tripoli 1804 his younger brother Lieutenant James Decatur was killed aboard another gunboat in the action

Decatur would return to command the Enterprise and was given command of Constitution and was promoted to Captain bypassing the rank of Master Commander. He would prove himself again against the forces of Tripoli before departing for the United States. He distinguished himself  in the years to come against the Royal Navy in the War of 1812 where when in command of USS United States defeated and captured HMS Macedonian which would serve in the U.S. Navy and later in the Second Barbary War.

During that war, which began in 1815 Decatur’s squadron decisively defeated the Algerian fleet capturing the Frigate Mashouda and killing the highly successful and chivalrous commander of the Algerian raiding squadron Rais Hamidu.  The Pashas of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli all made peace and reimbursed the Americans for the financial damage that they had done.  His victory ended the terror that the Barbary States had inflicted on Europeans for centuries and helped bring peace to the Mediterranean. Following that he became a Navy Commissioner in 1816 and moved to Washington, D.C.

Stephen Decatur more than any one man ended their reign of terror against the United States and the great European powers. The actions of Decatur, Preble, their officers, crews and ships in the Barbary Wars, and the War of 1812 established the United States as a credible nation, willing use its Navy to protect its citizens and commerce overseas, without becoming an occupying power. The latter would not occur for another eighty plus years during the Spanish American War, and continues to the present day.

Of course, that did not apply to our conquest of North America which involved countless small wars which exterminated vast numbers of American Indians, opened vast lands to the expansion of slavery, and the conquest of forty percent of Mexico. I am sure that Decatur, who so boldly proclaimed, My Country Right or Wrong, would not have approved of subjugating non-hostile weaker nations. He lived in a different time, when the United States was being threatened alternately by France, Britain, and the Barbary States at sea, and Britain and its American Indian allies as it expanded west.

Likewise, Decatur did not live a long life. He was killed in duel with Commodore James Barron on March 22nd 1820. Barron had never forgiven Decatur for voting for his conviction and removal from service after being humiliated when his ship, the Frigate Chesapeake, was caught unprepared for action, fired upon, and after twenty minutes surrendered, to HMS Leopard in 1807. Following her surrender several of her men were taken off as supposed deserters from the Royal Navy. Leopard’s commander then allowed Chesapeake to return to Norfolk where Barron was relieved of command and tried by a Naval Court which included John Rogers and Decatur.

Barron was convicted removed from the Navy for at least five years. Six years later he returned from a self imposed exile and petitioned for reinstatement. Decatur remained one of his fiercest opponents, and though reinstated was embittered toward Decatur. Their seconds arranged the duel to be conducted in such a way that one or both would die. During the negotiations between their seconds, Commodore William Bainbridge, and Captain Jesse Elliott, the two came close to reconciling but the seconds pushed for the duel. Decatur was mortally wounded and refused medical treatment, dying late that night. Barron, though horribly wounded, survived, eventually becoming commander of the Norfolk Naval Yard, becoming the senior Naval officer on active duty in 1839. He died in 1851 and is buried in the cemetery of Trinity Episcopal Church, in Portsmouth, VA.

The death of Decatur, a bonafide hero, at the hands of a fellow officer stunned Washington. President James Monroe, the members of the Supreme Court, most of Congress and 10,000 citizens attended his funeral. His pallbearers included four Commodores, and two other officers, followed by many other officers and other ranks. During the funeral, one sailor burst forth and cried out “He was the friend of the flag, the sailor’s friend; the navy has lost its mainmast.”

Decatur to help form the United States Navy, and among its early leaders, who included many valiant and brilliant men, he remains the foremost. While he achieved greatness, it was that night in Tripoli harbor where he was immortalized by the words of Lord Nelson as the man who led “the most bold and daring act of the age.”  Of course Nelson was no stranger to boldness or daring, it was a constant theme of his life even in his final battle at Trafalgar. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Legacy of the Buffalo Soldier and the Red Tail: Blacks Shattering Military Ceilings Today


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Brigadier General Benjamin O Davis in France 1944

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In his I Have a Dream speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave all of us a vision of what can and in spite of what I see going on today will be the future of the people of this country:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

American History would not be the same without the life, work and prophetic ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King was born in a time when most of the country was segregated when “separate by equal” was simply façade to cover the lie that in no way did African Americans have equal rights or privileges in the United States.

Dr King was born less than 60 years after the secession of the Southern states from the Union and the beginning of the American Civil War. Though that blood conflict had freed the slaves it had not freed African Americans from prejudice, violence and discrimination.  When Dr. King began his ministry and was thrust upon the national stage as the strongest voice for equal rights and protections for blacks the discrimination and violence directed towards blacks was a very real and present reality in much of the United States.

However there were cracks beginning to appear in the great wall of segregation in the years preceding Dr. King’s ascent to leadership as the moral voice of the country in the matter of racial equality. In baseball Jackie Robinson became the first African American player in Major League Baseball opening a door for others who would become legends of the game as well as help white America begin its slow acceptance of blacks in sports and the workplace.

Likewise the contributions of a father and son Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. were advancing the cause of blacks in the military which eventually led to the desegregation of the military in 1948.  The impact of these two men cannot be underestimated for they were trailblazers who by their lives, professionalism and character blazed a trail for African Americans in the military as well as society.

Benjamin O. Davis Sr. was a student at Howard University when the USS Maine exploded and sank in Havana Harbor.  He volunteered for service and was commissioned as a temporary 1st Lieutenant in the 8th United States Volunteer Infantry. He was mustered out of service in 1899 but enlisted as a private in the 9th United States Cavalry one of the original Buffalo Soldiers regiments.  He enlisted as the unit clerk of I troop of 3rd Squadron and was promoted to be the squadron Sergeant Major.

Davis was commissioned while the unit was deployed to the Philippines and assigned to the 10th Cavalry.  He was assigned in various positions throughout his career including command, staff and instruction duties including as Professor of Military Science and Tactics in various ROTC programs.  He reached the rank of rank of temporary Lieutenant Colonel and Squadron Commander of 3rd and later 1st Squadron 9th Cavalry from 1917-1920 in the Philippines before reverting to the rank of Captain on his return as part of the post World War I reduction in force.

Davis continued to serve during the inter-war years and assumed command of the 369th Infantry Regiment New York National Guard in 1938. He was promoted to Brigadier General on 25 October 1940 becoming the first African American elevated to that rank in the United States Army and was assigned as Commander 4th Brigade 2nd Cavalry Division. He later served in various staff positions at the War Department and in France and was instrumental in the integration of the U.S. Military. He retired after 50 years service in 1948 in a public ceremony with President Harry S. Truman presiding. He was a member of the American Battle Monuments Commission from 1953-1961 and died in 1970.

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Colonel Davis with his son Cadet Benjamin O Davis Jr.

His son Benjamin O. Davis Jr. was appointed to West Point in 1932.  He graduated and was commissioned in 1936 graduating 35 out of 278, the fourth African American graduate of West Point. During his time at the Academy most of his classmates shunned him and he never had a roommate.  Despite this he maintained a dogged determination to succeed.  The Academy yearbook made this comment about him:

“The courage, tenacity, and intelligence with which he conquered a problem incomparably more difficult than plebe year won for him the sincere admiration of his classmates, and his single-minded determination to continue in his chosen career cannot fail to inspire respect wherever fortune may lead him.”

He was denied entrance to the Army Air Corps because of his race and assigned to the Infantry first to the all lack 24th Infantry Regiment at Ft Benning where he was not allowed in the Officers Club due to his race. Upon his commissioning the Regular Army had just 2 African American Line Officers, 2nd Lieutenant Davis and his father Colonel Davis.

After completion of Infantry School he was assigned as an instructor of Military Science and Tactics and the Tuskegee Institute.  In 1941 the Roosevelt Administration moved to create a black flying unit and Captain Davis was assigned to the first black class at the Tuskegee Army Air Field and in March 1942 one his wings as one of the first 5 African Americans to complete flight training.

In July 1942 he was assigned as Commanding Officer of the 99th Pursuit Squadron which served in North Africa and Sicily flying Curtiss P-40 Warhawks. He was recalled to the United States in September 1943 to command the 332ndFighter Group. However some senior officers attempted to prevent other black squadrons from serving in combat alleging that the 99th had performed poorly in combat. Davis defended his squadron and General George Marshall ordered an inquiry which showed that the 99th was comparable to white squadrons in combat and during a 2 day period over the Anzio beachhead the pilots of the 99thshot down 12 German aircraft.

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Colonel Benjamin O Davis Jr (left) with one of his Tuskegee Airmen

Davis took the 332nd to Italy where they transitioned to P-47 Thunderbolts and in July 1944 to the P-51 Mustang which were marked with a signature red tail. During the war, the units commanded by Davis flew more than 15,000 sorties, shot down 111 enemy planes, and destroyed or damaged 273 on the ground at a cost of 66 of their own planes.

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Their record against the Luftwaffe was outstanding and their protection of the bombers that they escorted was superb with very few bombers lost while escorted by them men that the Luftwaffe nicknamed the Schwarze Vogelmenschen and the Allies the Red-Tailed Angels or simply the Redtails. Davis led his Tuskegee Airmen to glory in the war and their performance in combat helped break the color barrier in the U.S. Military which was ended in 1948 when President Truman signed an executive order to end the segregation of the military. Colonel Davis helped draft the Air Force plan and the Air Force was the first of the services to fully desegregate.

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Lieutenant General Benjamin O Davis Jr

Colonel Davis transitioned to jets and let the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing against Chinese Communist MIGs in the Korean War.  He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1954 and served in numerous command and staff positions. He retired in 1970 with the rank of Lieutenant General and was advanced to General while retired by President Clinton in 1998.  He died in 2002 at the age of 89.

The legacy of Benjamin O. Davis Senior and Benjamin O. Davis Junior is a testament to their character, courage and devotion to the United States of America. They helped pioneer the way for officers such as General Colin Powell and helped change this country for the better.  During times when discrimination was legal they overcame obstacles that would have challenged lesser men.  Benjamin O. Davis Junior remarked:

“My own opinion was that blacks could best overcome racist attitudes through achievements, even though those achievements had to take place within the hateful environment of segregation.”

Such men epitomize the selfless service of so many other African Americans who served the country faithfully and “by the content of their character” triumphed over the evil of racism and helped make the United States a more perfect union. That may seem threatened today with the open display of the White Supremacy and White Nationalist movements which are now openly being supported by former President Trump as well as other Republican politicians and pundits, but it was worse before and in the words of the old spiritual, “we shall overcome.”

Even now the walls that have kept Blacks from the highest ranks continue to be torn down. Today, former Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin is Secretary of Defense. Likewise, General Charles Brown, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Thirty years ago General Colin Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Now retired Admiral Michelle Howard was the first even Black woman to serve as a Full Admiral serving as Commander U.S. Naval Forces Europe before her retirement in 2017.

But still the scourge of racism remains within the military and in our country. The proliferation of White Nationalist, Neo-Nazi, Neo-Confederate, and other racists groups continues. Many are heavily armed and have members of the military and law enforcement as members.

There can be no end of being on guard and vigilant. The battle for the fullness of civil, equal, voting, employment, and healthcare rights for Black Americans is not over, and if we’ll off progressive or liberal whites remain on the sidelines as bystanders we are as guilty as those who oppress them. Secretary Austin has began a 90 day “stand-down” regarding racism and White Nationalism in the ranks.

However, that is not enough. Unless they are accompanied by criminal investigations to root out those involved and connected with White Supremacist, self-proclaimed “militias”, QAnon, the Proud Boys, the Buglaoo-Bois, Oath Keepers, and other racist and anti-government groups, many of which have sworn their fealty to the twice impeached ex-President who darkens the greens of his golf course in Florida as he schemes to return to power.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Harlem Hellfighters and Black Devils and the Continued Fight Against Racism and White Nationalism

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am continuing to post articles for Black History Month this one about the 369th Infantry Regiment, New York Army National Guard which fought as part of the all Black 93rd Infantry Division in the First World War. This is a modified version on one I posted here in 2018, but it has particular significance because the 369th Sustainment Brigade of the New York Army National Guard was officially allowed to take the nickname of the 369th Infantry Regiment, the “Harlem Hellfighters.” It was something that needed to be done for many years.

In 1918 Black Americans still loved their country in spite of the prejudice, intolerance and persecution they endured at home as a result of Jim Crow. They labored under the most difficult circumstance to show all Americans and the world that they were worthy of being soldiers and citizens of the United States of America. Their stories cannot be allowed to be forgotten, nor can we allow Jim Crow and the intolerance of other movements which demean and persecute those who love this country because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality to roll back the rights that these men and so many other fighters for civil rights.

The Black men who volunteered included raw recruits as well as veteran soldiers who had already served full careers on the Great Plains. Their new recruits mentors and examples were the Buffalo Soldiers, but when the United States entered the First World War, the Buffalo Soldiers were not wanted. Instead of using these veterans in Europe, these veterans  were left on the American frontier and places like the Philippines. Thus a new generation of American Black draftees and volunteers became the nucleus of two new infantry divisions, the 92nd and 93rd.

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When the soldiers of the New York National Guard’s 42nd Infantry “Rainbow” Division were cheered as they were paraded to the troopships, the 369th was not allowed to March with them because “Black was not a color of the Rainbow.” 

However once the men of the 92nd and 93rd Infantry Divisions arrived in Europe, General Pershing and the leaders of the American Expeditionary Force kept out of action. Instead they were regulated to doing labor service behind the lines and in the United States. But finally, the protests of organizations such as the NAACP and men like W.E.B.DuBois and Phillip Randolph forced the War Department to reconsider the second class status of these men and form them into combat units.

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Despite this Pershing refused to allow these divisions to serve under American command. Somehow the concept of such men serving alongside White Americans in the “War to end All War” was offensive to the high command. Actually it was out of the policies of Jim Crow and appeasing the still incredibly racist states of the former Confederacy that still hated the fact that the Black men of the U.S. Colored Troops, and State units like the 54th and 55th Massachusetts, and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Louisiana Volunteer Infantry Regiments, (the Native State Guards) helped defeat the Confederacy and their members after the war were leaders in civil rights, voting rights and Reconstruction.

Instead these divisions were broken up and the regiments sent to serve out of American areas on the Western Front. The regiments of the 93rd Division were attached to French divisions. The 369th “Harlem Hellfighters” were first assigned to the French 16th Division and then to the 161st Division. The Hellfighters stayed in line and under fire for 191 days, longer than any other American regiment, they also suffered the highest casualties of any American regiment, nearly 1,500 during a time when only 900 replacements were received. 170 soldiers of the regiment were awarded the French Croix de Guerre for the valor they displayed in combat.

The men of these Black Regiments wore their American Uniforms and insignia but were completely outfitted with French weapons, rifles, machine guns, trench mortars and combat gear including web gear, helmets, and gas masks. They were too low on the American supply chain to be equipped for combat, and their assignment to French divisions meant that their weapons and ammunition had to be compatible with the French divisions to whom they were assigned.

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Sergeant Henry Johnson 

The first of the Hellfighters so honored was then Private, later Sergeant Henry Johnson who was nicknamed Black Death for his prowess as a fighter. With Private Needham Roberts, Johnson fought off a platoon sized German patrol. They both were wounded and when they ran out of ammunition. Roberts fought with the butt of his rifle and Johnson a Bolo knife. When Roberts was knocked unconscious Johnson fought alone and saved his comrade from capture. Some estimate that Johnson killed 4 and wounded up to 30 Germans in the fight. Johnson was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barak Obama on June 2nd 2015, because he had no living relatives it was accepted by Command Sergeant Major Louis Wilson.

The 370th “Black Devils” from Chicago were detailed to the French 26th Division and the 371st and 372nd Infantry Regiments were assigned to the French 157th (Colonial) Division, which was also known as the Red Hand Division.

The 157th Division was a “Colonial” division comprised of soldiers from French African Colonies. It fought with distinction and was decimated in the terrible and futile battles for the Chemin des Dames. In 1918 the division was reconstituted with the addition of the 371st and 372nd Regiments. 

These units performed with distinction. The 371st was awarded the French Croix de Guerre and Légion d’honneur. Corporal Freddie Stowers of the 1st Battalion 371st was the only Black American awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in the First World War. The 372nd was also awarded the Croix de Guerre and Légion d’honneur for its service with the 157th Division.

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The 157th (Colonial) Division had suffered badly during the war and been decimated in the unrelenting assaults in the trench warfare of the Western Front. It was reconstituted in 1918 with one French Regiment and two American regiments, the Negro 371st and 372nd Infantry. On July 4th 1918 the commanding General of the French 157th Division, General Mariano Goybet issued the following statement:

“It is striking demonstration of the long standing and blood-cemented friendship which binds together our two great nations. The sons of the soldiers of Lafayette greet the sons of the soldiers of George Washington who have come over to fight as in 1776, in a new and greater way of independence. The same success which followed the glorious fights for the cause of liberty is sure to crown our common effort now and bring about the final victory of right and justice over barbarity and oppression.”

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Flag of the 157th “Red Hand” Division 

Many white American soldiers depreciated their French hosts and attempted to sow the seeds of their own racial prejudice against the Black soldiers among the French. Southerners were among the worst. They warned the French of  the “black rapist beasts.” However the French experience of American blacks was far different than the often scornful treatment that they received from white American soldiers.

“Soldiers from the four regiments that served directly with the French Army attested to the willingness of the French to let men fight and to honor them for their achievements. Social interactions with French civilians- and white southern soldiers’ reactions to them- also highlighted crucial differences between the two societies. Unlike white soldiers, African Americans did not complain about high prices in French stores. Instead they focused on the fact that “they were welcomed” by every shopkeeper that they encountered.”

Official and unofficial efforts by those in the Army command and individual soldiers to stigmatize them and to try to force the French into applying Jim Crow to laws and attitudes backfired. Villages now expressed a preference for black over white American troops. “Take back these soldiers and send us some real Americans, black Americans,” wrote one village mayor after a group of rowdy white Americans disrupted the town.”

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Corporal Freddy Stowers 

The citation for Corporal Stowers award of the Medal of Honor reads as follows:

Corporal Stowers, distinguished himself by exceptional heroism on September 28, 1918 while serving as a squad leader in Company C, 371st Infantry Regiment, 93d Division. His company was the lead company during the attack on Hill 188, Champagne Marne Sector, France, during World War I. A few minutes after the attack began, the enemy ceased firing and began climbing up onto the parapets of the trenches, holding up their arms as if wishing to surrender. The enemy’s actions caused the American forces to cease fire and to come out into the open. As the company started forward and when within about 100 meters of the trench line, the enemy jumped back into their trenches and greeted Corporal Stowers’ company with interlocking bands of machine gun fire and mortar fire causing well over fifty percent casualties. Faced with incredible enemy resistance, Corporal Stowers took charge, setting such a courageous example of personal bravery and leadership that he inspired his men to follow him in the attack. With extraordinary heroism and complete disregard of personal danger under devastating fire, he crawled forward leading his squad toward an enemy machine gun nest, which was causing heavy casualties to his company. After fierce fighting, the machine gun position was destroyed and the enemy soldiers were killed. Displaying great courage and intrepidity Corporal Stowers continued to press the attack against a determined enemy. While crawling forward and urging his men to continue the attack on a second trench line, he was gravely wounded by machine gun fire. Although Corporal Stowers was mortally wounded, he pressed forward, urging on the members of his squad, until he died. Inspired by the heroism and display of bravery of Corporal Stowers, his company continued the attack against incredible odds, contributing to the capture of Hill 188 and causing heavy enemy casualties. Corporal Stowers’ conspicuous gallantry, extraordinary heroism, and supreme devotion to his men were well above and beyond the call of duty, follow the finest traditions of military service, and reflect the utmost credit on him and the United States Army.

Corporal Stowers is buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. The award of the Medal of Honor was not made until 1991 when President George H. W. Bush presented it to Stowers’ two surviving sisters.

The contrast between the American treatment of its own soldiers and that of the French in the First World War is striking. The fact that it took President Harry S. Truman to integrate the U.S. Military in 1948 is also striking. African Americans had served in the Civil War, on the Great Plains, in Cuba and in both the European and Pacific Theaters of Operation in the Second World War and were treated as less than fully human by many Americans.

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Men of the 371st and 372nd Infantry Regiments of the French 157th Division Awarded the Croix d’Guerre

Even after President Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948, African Americans, as well as other racial minorities, women and gays have faced very real discrimination. The military continues to make great strides, and while overt racist acts and other types of discrimination are outlawed, racism still remains a part of American life.

Today things have changed, and that in large part is due to the unselfish sacrifice in the face of hatred and discrimination of the men of the USCT and the State Black Regiments like the 54th Massachusetts and the Louisiana Home Guards who blazed a way to freedom for so many. Those who followed them as Buffalo Soldiers and volunteers during the World Wars continued to be trail blazers in the struggle for equal rights. A white soldier who served with the 49thMassachusetts wrote “all honor to our negro soldiers. They deserve citizenship. They will secure it! There would be much suffering in what he termed “the transition state” but a “nation is not born without pangs.”

Unfortunately racial prejudice is still exists in the United States. In spite of all the advances that we have made racism still casts an ugly cloud over our country. Despite the sacrifices of the Buffalo Soldiers, the leaders of the Civil Rights movement and others there are some people who like the leaders of the AEF in 1917 and 1918 cannot stomach having blacks as equals or God forbid in actual leadership roles in this country.

A good friend of mine who is a retired military officer, a white man, an evangelical Christian raised in Georgia who graduated from an elite military school in the South, who is a proponent of racial equality has told me that the problem that many white people in the South have with President Obama is that “he doesn’t know his place.” Yes racism is still real and rears its ugly head all too often.

But slowly but surely change in coming. Retired Army General Lloyd Austin, is now Secretary of Defense. Among his first actions was to declare a stand down to deal with the problem of White Nationalism and how in many forms it has infiltrated the ranks of the military. I hope that as Secretary Austin moves forward this will develop into criminal inquiries and prosecutions especially because so many former and current military personnel were involved in the violent insurrection and coup attempt on 6 January 2021. Somehow I think that he is up to the task.

So until tomorrow or Monday,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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It is a Long Way to Tipperary: thoughts on Return from War and Betrayal

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am a bit tired and going to post something that basically is a rerun with a few edits. Twelve years ago stepped off a plane with the man who had been my body guard and assistant for the past seven months in Iraq. War had changed me more than I had every imagined that it would. Even though I was physically home I wasn’t home, the war remained with me, and in some ways it still does.

I have written about my struggles with what I sometimes describe as the “Demons of PTSD”.  I retired from the Navy at Midnight on December 31st, an occasion that I toasted in first with a glass of champagne with Judy followed by a couple of drams of 18 year old Glenfiddich Single Malt.

But the transition to retirement has been difficult. First was the ordeal of getting the Navy to get my DD-214 that statement of service that ensures that all service is credited, awards documented, and combat service documented for retirement, medical, and Veterans Affairs benefits. I was able to get the basics taken care of but so much was still missing, basically because the Navy probably has the worst system of documenting awards and service than any military branch. The I was told by the same people that our TRICARE medical insurance would remain in place until our identification cards were redone and our profiles updated in another system called DEERS. It was either a lie or something said in complete ignorance. Because of COVID-19 and the limited number of appointments available for new ID Cards we couldn’t get ours until 21 January. Since we were told we were covered during the interregnum we had no idea that our TRICARE  benefits had expired on 1 January until we found out Wednesday. I spent Thursday getting it fixed and the found out that evening the contractor for the Veterans Administration had screwed me on my VA Disability claim quite obviously not even reviewing the massive amount of evidence in my medical records. That sent me into a short tailspin where I actually thought about suicide. Once again I felt completely betrayed by representatives of our country.

Thankfully, I had a lot of friends, former shipmates and comrades come to my assistance. One a retired Navy Doctor who now works for the VA, another a retired Medical Corps Admiral who has friends at the highest levels who help military personnel when they run into problems with the VA, and another who is the personal friend of a high ranking Senator on the Veteran Affairs Committee. I received personal messages and phone calls from many friends and Monday we set about righting the wrong. I have been assured that this is an easy appeal, but the initial shock and sense of betrayal completely wore me out. Though I wanted to gather everything for my appeal today I was so emotional worn down that I couldn’t do anything. I am in a better place today, but I admit my anger at contractors who didn’t bother to really look at thousands of pages of documentation in order to minimize my experience with PTSD and so much else.

I still deal and suffer from PTSD, even if the VA contractor minimized it and did so with other conditions. Their audiologist even admitted that he never looked at my records before examining me. The psychologist didn’t say it but obvious had not examined my records.

However, the fact that I am a historian has allowed me to find connections to other men who have suffered from their experience of war, came home changed, and struggled for their existence in the world that they came home to.

The words of men who I never met, have helped me to frame my experience even in the darkest times often in ways that my faith did not. One of the things that I struggled with the most and still do is sleep. When I was conducting my research on the Battle of Gettysburg I got to know through biographies and their own writings a good number of the men who fought that battle who are now remembered as heroes. One of these was Major General Gouveneur Warren who has shattered by his experiences during the war. He wrote to his wife after the war: “I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”  Those terrible nightmares and terrors continue. My panic attacks continue, my inability to understand speech remains, the pain in my hip, knees and ankles is such that I still need to use a cane to walk or drag myself up the stairs. But I digress…

About every year around this time I feel a sense of melancholy as I reflect on war and my return from Iraq. I didn’t get a chance to re-read it today, but a while back I read a number of George Santayana’s Soliloquies in England, in particular one entitled Tipperary, which he wrote in the time shortly after the First World War. The title is a reference to the song It’s a Long, Long Way, to Tipperary which was written by Henry James “Harry” Williams and co-credited to his partner Jack Judge as a music hall song in 1912. It became very popular before the war, but became a world wide hit when George Curnock, a correspondent for the Daily Mail saw the Irish Connaught Rangers  Regiment singing it as they marched through the Belgian port of Boulogne on August 13th 1914 on their way to face the German Army. Curnock made his report several days later, and soon many units in the British Army adopted it. It became a worldwide hit when Irish Tenor John McCormack recorded it in November 1914.

Interestingly enough the song, like the German song Lili Marlene is that it is a call back to home, not a call to battle.

I think that the first time that I heard the song was when I saw It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, where Snoopy as the World War One Flying Ace alternates between happiness and tears as Schroeder plays the song on his piano. In a number of later comic strips, Charles Schulz, had Snoopy refer to it a number of times, in one strip, exhausted by his march, a tired Snoopy lays down and notes: “They’re right, it is a long way to Tipperary.” I do understand that.

But, back to Santayana’s soliloquy, he comments on the wounded officers that he sees singing the song in a coffee house and he wonders if they understand how different the world is now. I love the song, the chorus is below.

It’s a long way to Tipperary
it’s a long was to go
It’s a long way to Tipperary
to the sweetest gal I know
farewell to Piccadilly
so long Leister Square
It’s a long way to Tipperary
but my heart lies there

Santayana wrote:

“It had been indeed a long, long way to Tipperary. But they had trudged on and had come round full circle; they were in Tipperary at last.

I wonder what they think Tipperary means for this is a mystical song. Probably they are willing to leave it vague, as they do their notions of honour or happiness or heaven. Their soldiering is over; they remember, with a strange proud grief, their comrades who died to make this day possible, hardly believing that it ever would come ; they are overjoyed, yet half ashamed, to be safe themselves ; they forget their wounds ; they see a green vista before them, a jolly, busy, sporting, loving life in the old familiar places. Everything will go on, they fancy, as if nothing had happened…

So long as the world goes round we shall see Tipperary only, as it were, out of the window of our troop-train. Your heart and mine may remain there, but it s a long, long way that the world has to go.” 

In the same work Santayana mused on the nature of humanity and war, making one of his most famous observation “only the dead have seen the end of war.”

In the United States we live in a world where war is an abstraction and the vast majority of people have no clue about it or its cost. When I hear former President Trump  make wild threats of war for four years before attempting to overthrow our own government and democracy on 6 January I feel betrayed by fellow Americans and veterans, but also the Veterans Administration and an overwhelmed and incompetent Naval Personnel Command. 

When I returned to the United States in 2008 it was incredibly hard to readjust to life in a country that knew not war. As a historian I was reminded of the words of Guy Sajer in his book The Forgotten Soldier. Sajer was a French Alsacian of German descent who spent nearly four years fighting as an ordinary infantry soldier on the Eastern Front. When he returned home he struggled and he wrote:

“In the train, rolling through the sunny French countryside, my head knocked against the wooden back of the seat. Other people, who seemed to belong to a different world, were laughing. I couldn’t laugh and couldn’t forget.”

A similar reflection was made by Erich Maria Remarque in All Quite on the Western Front:

“I imagined leave would be different from this. Indeed, it was different a year ago. It is I of course that have changed in the interval. There lies a gulf between that time and today. At that time I still knew nothing about the war, we had been only in quiet sectors. But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here any more, it is a foreign world.”

I have to admit that for the better part of the past thirteen years, when I get out of my safe spaces I often feel the same way. I don’t like crowded places, confined areas and other places that I don’t feel safe in. When I am out I always am on alert, and while I don’t have quite the hyper-arousal and hyper-vigilance that I once lived with, I am much more aware of my surroundings and always plan an escape route from any public venue that I happen to find myself. Likewise, I still deal with terribly physical nightmares and night terrors, more than one a month.

As I read and re-read Santayana words I came back to his observation of the officers that he saw in the coffee house and I could see myself in them:

“I suddenly heard a once familiar strain, now long despised and out of favour, the old tune of Tipperary. In a coffee-house frequented at that hour some wounded officers from the hospital at Somerville were singing it, standing near the bar; they were breaking all rules, both of surgeons and of epicures, and were having champagne in the morning. And good reason they had for it. They were reprieved, they should never have to go back to the front, their friends such as were left could all come home alive. Instinctively the old grumbling, good-natured, sentimental song, which they used to sing when they first joined, came again into their minds.

It had been indeed a long, long way to Tipperary. But they had trudged on and had come round full circle; they were in Tipperary at last.” 

I too am now in my own Tipperary on this side of the Atlantic. In a sense I have been reprieved, although I observe things every day that take me back to Iraq. The news from that unfortunate country continues to discourage me. Likewise, the indifference of our former President that talked much about the loving “his” military, but in his and his supporters actions often demeaned military personnel and gutted the medical and mental health systems of the military and the Veterans Administration. But that is an article for another time. Thinking about what has transpired in the last few days and weeks that indifference and betrayal seems so real.  When I see and hear them I remember the words of T. E. Lawrence, the legendary Lawrence of Arabia:

“You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.” 

But as Santayana noted So long as the world goes round we shall see Tipperary only, as it were, out of the window of our troop-train. Your heart and mine may remain there, but it s a long, long way that the world has to go.” 

It is that for me as I now go tilting after the Quixotesque Windmills that are such a real part of my life.

Until tomorrow, pray for me a sinner,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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