The Navy: It’s Not Just a Job, It’s an Adventure, even When Trying to Retire

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Way Beck before I ever entered the military, the Navy had a recruiting commercial called “The Navy, it’s Not Just an Adventure.” I can state with all honesty that after over 38 years of combined Army and Navy Service that yes, even when trying to retire, the adventure continues.

Most of my followers know that last year I chose to retire before my mandatory date. I should have retired September 1st. However, Navy Medicine did me no favors with my injured knees and I had to withdraw my voluntary retirement request to retire at what the Navy said was my mandatory retirement date. That was supposedly April 1st of 2020. The personnel system planned on it as did I.

Since I hadn’t seen a copy of my orders I sent a message to Officer Retirements Branch asking when to expect them. Today, my relief showed up, and I got a call from the Chief of the Officer Retirements Branch that my current retirement orders were cancelled because they miscalculated my actual mandatory retirement date, which is now August 1st, 2020. Mandatory retirement works differently than voluntary retirement. The former is mandatory. The latter you have to apply for and the process can take several months for approval.

Since there is only a four month lag time between my now ex-mandatory retirement date and the new one I have no need of throwing another date out there. So I recommended that my detailer find another local place to stash me until I can once again start the retirement process with the VA, which can only begin 6 months prior to the approved retirement date. I recommend the Joint Forces Staff College where I served as Chaplain, taught ethics, and led the Gettysburg Staff Ride because even though they have a newly assigned Chaplain, they are critically short on military faculty.

Anyway, the adventure continues. Pray for me a sinner.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Cautionary Tale for Military Leaders that Give Obedience to a Tyrant: the Story of Erwin Rommel, the Legendary Desert Fox

 

rommel

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just over 75 years ago in Ulm Germany a car pulled up to the residence of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. In the car was the driver and two Generals dispatched by Hitler.  Rommel was recuperating following being severely wounded in an air attack in Normandy on July 17th 1944.

Rommel had been awarded the Pour le Merite, sometimes known as the Blue Max, Imperial Germany’s highest award for valor in the First World War. He was never an official member of the Nazi Party, but like many Germans he believed Hitler’s promises and propaganda. As Hitler really ose to power he like many others was carried away by early Nazi successes, the bloodless conquests of the Rhineland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the spectacle of the Olympics.

He was also an opportunist. With the rise of the Nazis came the expansion of the German military. Rommel was already well known due to his exploits as a platoon and company commander during the First World War in France, Romania, and Italy. In Italy he captured an entire Italian infantry division during the Battle of Mount Cosna, which was part of the Caporetto in October 1917. His company of 150 troops, exploited terrain and weather to surprise and capture 9,000 soldiers and 81 artillery pieces at the cost of 6 men killed and 30 wounded. Rommel used infiltration tactics, flanking maneuvers, and even disobeyed the orders of his superiors during the battle. Less than two weeks later at Langarone using the same tactics, his company surprised the 1st Italian Infantry which thinking it surrounded by superior forces surrendered to Rommel. For these actions Rommel was awarded the coveted Blue Max. 

Rommel was retained in the 100,000 man Reichswehr, but he had refused to attend the course that would have made him part of the elite General Staff. As such he was not assigned to the critical billets that would normally lead to high command. Instead he served in company command and as an instructor at the Infantry School in Dresden. While assigned to the school he wrote a manual of infantry tactics and training based on his experience. The book, Infantrie Greift an, or Infantry Attacks is still considered a classic book on infantry tactics and leadership, and was highly influential in his rise to high command. He was promoted to Major after serving 14 years as a Captain in 1932. In October 1933 he was assigned to command the 3rd Jaeger Battalion of the 17th Infantry Regiment where he first met Hitler when the latter reviewed his troops on an inspection visit.

Rommel, like many officers was caught in the thrall of Hitler. His wife, Lucy was caught up in the moment and was an avid Hitler supporter. Rommel was never a Nazi party member, but that did not keep him from supporting the overtly nationalist and militarist actions of the Hitler regime. In 1935 he was assigned to the Military Academy at Potsdam where as a Lieutenant Colonel he published Infantrie Greift an. In 1937 Hitler appointed Rommel as the liaison officer from the War Ministry to the Hitler Youth. Rommel clashed with the head of the Hitler Jugend, Baldur von Schirach and twiced proposed removing the organization from the Party to the War Ministry.

The conflict resulted in Rommel being quietly reposted from that assignment, promoted to Colonel and assigned to command the former Austrian Theresian Military Academy  in Wiener Neustadt. He was then selected by Hitler to command the Führer-Begleit-Battalion (Escort battalion) which served as the force protection unit for Hitler’s headquarters during the Polish campaign.

Following that campaign, Rommel, now a Major General was appointed to command the newly formed 7th Panzer Division which he commanded with great distinction during the Battle of France, 1940. When the campaign ended the division was placed in reserve where it readied to become part of the planned invasion of Britain, Operation Sea Lion. When that operation was postponed due to the defeat of the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain, and Mussolini’s Italian army in North Africa was routed by the small British Western Desert Force, Rommel was assigned to command the Deutsches Afrika Korps, composed of the 5th Light Division, which would soon be re-designated as the 21st Panzer Division and the 15th Panzer Division.

Over the next two years in North Africa built a reputation as an energetic and often risk taking commander who fought against long odds in a campaign which his own high command gave little support. The isolation of North Africa and its purely military significance in supporting a weak ally made it a different war from the concurrent, racially driven German invasion of the Soviet Union. Fighting the British and later the Americans, Rommel built a reputation of being a noble and chivalrous opponent. Unlike most of Europe and especially in Russian there was little to no influence of the SS in theater and the Jewish population of Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria suffered little under Nazi occupation, which many North African Jews attributed to Rommel.

During the North African campaign Rommel soared to the heights of international fame due to his exploits. The Nazi Propaganda Minister, Josef Goebbels sent one of his aides, Lieutenant Alfred Berndt to serve on Rommel’s Staff.  Berndt sent reports to the Propaganda Ministry which became the staple of Nazi propaganda to build Rommel into a German hero. Despite serving in a remote theater and commanding a relatively small number of troops, Rommel became the poster child for Goebbels’s propaganda machine. He was revered by the German people, and at the same time despised by many of his Army contemporaries and superiors.

His fame also earned the resentment of many fellow officers who because he was not an officer of the General Staff regarded him with jealous envy and distain. Even so, Rommel was a soldier’s soldier. He believed in sharing in the suffering of his troops. He once said: 

“Be an example to your men in your duty and in private life. Never spare yourself, and let the troops see that you don’t in your endurance of fatigue and privation. Always be tactful and well-mannered, and teach your subordinates to be the same. Avoid excessive sharpness or harshness of voice, which usually indicates the man who has shortcomings of his own to hide.”

Rommel basked in the praise of Hitler but as time wore on in Africa he became disillusioned by the course of the war, and while maintaining faith in Hitler, he openly despised many of the Nazi elite and his own High Command. While in Africa, Rommel was promoted to Field Marshal but denied the troops and supplies that he needed to successfully hold out in Africa. He opposed efforts to send more troops to Africa and recommended withdrawing his German and Italian soldiers before the Allies closed the door on withdraw across the Mediterranean.

As his troops were being chewed to pieces at El Alamein he requested permission to withdraw to the west. The request was refused and Hitler issued and order to stand in place and not withdraw. Rommel’s words are revealing for a man who had previously trusted Hitler and taken every opportunity from the dictator to advance his career.

“The order demanded the impossible. Even the most devoted soldier can be killed by a bomb. In spite of our unvarnished situation reports, it was apparently still not realized at the Fuehrer’s H.Q. how matters really stood in Africa.  Arms, petrol, and aircraft could have helped us, but not orders. We were completely stunned, and for the first time during the Africa campaign I did not know what to do. A kind of apathy took hold of us as we issued orders for the existing positions to be held on instructions from highest authority. I forced myself to this action, as I had always demanded unconditional obedience from others and, consequently, wished to apply the principle to myself. Had I known what was to come I should have acted differently, because from that time on, we had continually to circumvent orders from the Fuehrer or Duce in order to save the army from destruction. But this first instance of interference by higher authority in the tactical conduct of the African war came as a considerable shock.”

Like most other officers Rommel had served the Hitler regime as it spread its dark pall over Europe without protest. Yet, unlike so many other officers when he suffered a crisis in conscience about the Nazi leadership and their policies, he refused to obey orders that he knew were both illegal and immoral, and then risked his life by joining the conspiracy to kill Hitler.bundesarchiv_bild_146-1991-031-25a_nordafrika_vor_tobruk_rommel

It was at El Alamein that Rommel discovered the emptiness of Hitler’s promises as the troops of the Afrika Corps found themselves subjected to constant privation from lack of supply, air support and reinforcements. As commander of the Afrika Corps and later the Panzer Armee Afrika he and his troops achieved amazing success against an enemy that was always better supplied, equipped and which always had air and sea superiority. Battling the British as well as the political machinations of Mussolini and Germany’s Italian Allies as well as opponents in the German government such as Hermann Goering, Rommel saw his troops crushed under the press of the British as well as the Americans who landed in French North Africa. Eventually, sick and worn out, Rommel was sent back to Germany to recuperate.

rommel-with-soldier

Rommel had a sense of honor and humanity that many other German generals lacked. He refused to allow anti-Jewish measures in areas occupied by German troops in North Africa, ensuring that the approximately 425,000 Jews living in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco were spared the fate of the Holocaust. He refused to execute Jewish POWs, including members of the Jewish Battalion serving with the British 8th Army. Likewise, Rommel refused to follow the notorious “commando order.” In June of 1944 he protested the massacre of the people of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane by units of the 2nd SS Panzer Division directly to Hitler and asked for the authority to punish those responsible, but was refused.

After his return from Africa, Rommel’s honest and open assessments of the chances of the Germans winning the war made him persona non grata in Berlin and Berchtesgaden. He was posted to France in early 1944 according to some accounts he became a part of the plot to end the war and overthrow Hitler. Rommel’s Chief of Staff at OB West, General Hans Speidel, was a key man in the conspiracy and Rommel had contacts with a number of key conspirators. There are arguments about Rommel’s connections and activities in regard to the anti-Hitler plot among respected historians.

When the invasion came Rommel was away from Normandy visiting his wife. On learning of the invasion he sped back to Normandy. When he arrived he fought a desperate battle against the Allied forces. His outnumbered forces were under constant assault from the land, sea and air received paltry reinforcements compared to the Allies. Even so, German troops inflicted many local defeats and exacted a heavy price in allied blood in Normandy but were ground to dust. Even so, many American and British infantry regiments suffered 100% casualties but remained in action because of a continuous stream of replacements. Rommel urged Hitler and the High Command to withdraw German forces from Normandy before the allies broke through his front. By doing so he found that he was now considered a defeatist.

If Rommel had joined the plot to topple Hitler, he did not stop working to defend Germany against the coming Allied invasion. He believed that the war was lost if his forces failed to repel the Allies on the beaches of France, and he worked feverishly to bolster the beach fortifications. He recommended that the Panzer Divisions be deployed near the coast where they could immediately counterattack Allied invasion forces while they were still vulnerable. But his advice was not taken. He was given command of the Army Group but was not given control of most of the Panzer Divisions, which Hitler kept under his direct control. Neither did he approve of an assassination attempt but realizing that his front was about to collapse he was in favor of independent peace negotiations with the Allies on the Western Front.

Many commanders in the west, including Waffen SS commanders were in agreement Rommel was severely wounded in an air attack on his vehicle by a just days before the attempt on Hitler’s life. Hitler survived the attempted assassination and exacted a terrible revenge on anyone connected with the plot. Show trials and public hangings of officers who had served valiantly at the front were common. Thousands were killed and thousands more imprisoned. Many of those arrested, imprisoned, or killed, were those who knew Rommel’s views on ending the war.

Various conspirator’s testimony exposed Rommel as part of the plot. Leading Nazis, including Martin Bormann, and Heinrich Himmler urged Hitler to deal with Rommel. Likewise, some in the High Command, including Heinz Guderian turned upon Rommel. After a secret hearing it was recommended by the “Court of Military Honor” that Rommel be expelled from the military and tried by the “People’s Court” of Judge Roland Freisler. During the purge that followed the attempt on Hitler’s life, many noted German military commanders were hauled before this court and humiliated by Freisler before they were sent to their deaths. Freisler, a fanatic Nazi judge was a participant at the infamous Wannsee Conference which planned the details of the Final Solution was killed when his courtroom was bombed in February 1945.

On 27 September, Martin Bormann submitted to Hitler a memorandum which claimed that “the late General Stülpnagel, Colonel von Hofacker, Kluge’s nephew who has been executed, Lieutenant Colonel Rathgens, and several … living defendants have testified that Field Marshal Rommel was perfectly in the picture about the assassination plan and has promised to be at the disposal of the New Government.”

Rommel’s fate was sealed, but because of his fame and popularity in Germany Hitler decided to offer Rommel a choice of being tried by the People’s Court or committing suicide. Goebbels who had spent so much time building up the Rommel legend, turned against him. The latter with an offer to ensure his family’s safety, which he would not guarantee if Rommel choose to defend himself in open court. Hitler dispatched Generals Wilhelm Burgdorf and Ernst Maisel from Berlin to personally deliver the message. Burgdorf was the last Army Chief of Staff and killed himself following Hitler’s suicide.

492px-Erwin_rommel_death

Rommel suspected that he would be identified and killed and told that to his friends and family in the days leading up to the arrival of Generals Wilhelm Burgorf and Ernst Maisel from OKW with the ultimatum. They met with Rommel for a short time before giving him the opportunity to say goodbye to his family. Rommel told them of his choice and left his home for the last time. 15 minutes later the Generals called his wife to say that he had died of a heart attack. Rommel was given a state funeral and the German people were lied to about his cause of his death.

Winston Churchill wrote of Rommel:

“He also deserves our respect because, although a loyal German soldier he came to hate Hitler and all his works, and took part in the conspiracy to rescue Germany by displacing the maniac and tyrant. For this, he paid the forfeit of his life. In the sombre wars of modern democracy, chivalry finds no place … Still, I do not regret or retract the tribute I paid to Rommel, unfashionable though it was judged.”

Rommel was just 52 years old when he died. I find in the story of Rommel some commonality in my own life. Before Rommel went to Africa he believed that Germany would win the war, during his command there he discovered that what he believed was lies and that Hitler had little regard for him or his troops.

Rommel is a complex character. His attitudes towards Hitler waxed and waned. He was no Nazi. He conducted his battles in an honorable manner and displayed much chivalry towards his opponents. His views on race were not at all Nazi like. In North Africa he faced down a White South African commander who did not want to be imprisoned with his Black troops. Rommel told the officer: “For me, soldiers are all equal. Those black people wore your same uniform, fought on your side, and so you will be in the same jail.”

But from the beginning he willingly served Hitler’s regime and basked in the fame that he enjoyed due to Goebbels’s propaganda machine. At the same time while he was according to the Chief of the German Navy in the West, Admiral Friedrich Ruge, as well as his Rommel’s letters to his wife, indicated that Rommel’s mood fluctuated wildly regarding Hitler: while he showed disgust towards the atrocities and disappointment towards the overall military and strategic situation, he was overjoyed to welcome a visit or praise from Hitler, only to return to depression the next day when faced with reality.

The example of Erwin Rommel is a cautionary tale of what can happen when a brilliant and honorable man comes under the spell of a demagogue. Rommel believed Hitler and blindly followed him until he ran into the hard face of reality in Africa at which point he had the moral courage to do the right thing, but many others didn’t.

Sadly there are otherwise honorable men and women in the current United States military that blindly support a delusional madman who happens to be the President: a man who promises to order soldiers to commit war crimes, who threatens to jail political opponents, who condemns whole races of people and religions, who incites violence against his opponents, a man who has no respect for the courts, the law, or the Constitution to which they are sworn to defend.

But I think that we also have to remember the men like Rommel who though not a true believer in the Nazi cause and polices, not only willingly served the Reich, but basked in the adulation lavished on him by friends and foes alike.

To me this is not about partisan politics but something that is bigger than politics, bigger than temporary political advantage, bigger than any single political issue, for which in our country, at least for the moment, that there are many ways to express dissent which were not available to most Germans of Rommel’s era. It is about the Constitution, the rule of law, and the foundational principles of the Declaration of Independence.

Personally, as a historian I cannot understand the blind obedience in the face of the evidence; but then I blindly followed President George Bush into the ill-advised and criminal invasion of Iraq. It was in the desert of Iraq’s Al Anbar Province that I had my own revelation that the man I supported had led the country into a war that could not be won. Like Rommel at El Alamein, it opened my eyes to things that I had never seen before.

Now, in light of President Trump’s immoral, unconstitutional, and foolhardy policies and decisions I wonder why so few high ranking military officers, active or retired have the courage to oppose them. Surely, some must, like Rommel, Ludwig Beck, Henning Von Tresckow, Erich von Witzleben, Hans Oster, Claus von Stauffenberg and others like them realize the abyss that the President is leading the nation to, and far to few are willing to tell the truth when most needed. It took far more courage for the German officers to oppose Hitler than it does American officers to tell the truth about Trump’s policies. Maybe we have become so insulated from political realities that we make excuses for ourselves, and our actions.

Maybe we as officers need to remember the works of General Ludwig Beck:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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I’ve Got those Yellowstain Blues: Watching as the President Snatches Defeat from Victory and Sends the Middle East into a Major Conflict


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The stain on whatever honor the United States has left continued to grow this weekend as President Yellow Stain abandons another ally, throws the NATO alliance into peril, and lights wick on the powder keg that is the Middle East.

Every time he speaks regarding foreign policy I am reminded of the song from the novel and film The Caine Mutiny, “The Yellowstain Blues.”  The President is man who dodged the draft in Vietnam; a man who bragged on The Howard Stearin Show about avoiding sexually transmitted diseases as his Vietnam, and who has constantly maligned combat veterans and respected military and diplomatic leaders. He routinely supports despotic leaders who oppose every ideal espoused in the Declaration of Independence, scoffs at the Constitution of the United States, and attacks the laws, foundations, and institutions of our Republic.

The words of the song Yellowstain Blues from The Caine Mutiny seem apt to describe President Trump.

I’ve got those yellow stain blues,
From my head down to my shoes,
When someone fires a shot,
It’s always there I am not.
Those yellow stain blues
Those yellow stain blues

I’ve got those yellow stain blues,
Those old yellow stain blues,
Well you sh
ould see strong men quail,
If he should spy a shirt tail
Those yellow stain blues

Those old yellow stain blues

Sadly, the words from the movie which were directed at Captain Queeg, played by Humphrey Bogart in the film were directed at a man who was cracking up under the strain of war, not a President who has spent his life avoiding military service and deriding far better men than himself.

The Syrian regime of Bashir Assad is sending troops to defend the Kurds as President Trump hastily withdraws our military personnel from the danger zone. Once the Syrians commit their troops the Iranians will not be far behind since they have tens of thousands of their Revolutionary Guard Corps in Syria. Likewise their allies in Hezbollah will move against the Turks, even as thousands of Islamic State captives escape to re-enter combat against the United States, and anyone else that opposes them. Because of the chicken-hearted actions of the President one has to hope that the actions of the Syrians, Iranians, and Hezbollah will both protect the Kurds and counter the victory that President Trump has given the Islamic State.

However, this won’t be the end. Soon the Saudis, the Israelis, the Gulf States, and the ever fragile government of Iraq will be involved. This war will will spiral out of control because of President Yellowstain, and the victims will include many U.S. Military personnel and God knows how many others.

Sadly, this can only get worse, and it will be the fault of the U.S. President and his cult-like supporters. He could have made a principled decision based on facts , but instead he has emboldened the Turkish dictator, who is both an Islamist and a Nationalist. Soon, Erdogan will take Turkey out of NATO, unleash 3.5 million Syrian refugees on the European Union, and openly ally himself with Russia, the traditional enemy of the Turks.

A wider and far more costly war will follow, and we will only have President Yellowstain to blame.

God help us all,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

 

 

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Transitions: Looking at My Last Few Months in the Military


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This week begins my transition from over 38 years of military service in the Army and Navy to the civilian world. My relief will arrive and for the next couple of weeks I will help him during the transition. Since I will be excess to the command and will not want my ghost hanging over him I am going to ask to be placed on temporary duty at the Joint Forces Staff College until my retirement in the spring of 2020. He deserves not to have his predecessor hanging around as he takes over, and I need to be in a place where I can launch myself into the civilian world without being the old guy in the way of the man entrusted with taking over my responsibilities, a man who is a friend.

I think that will be better for both of us. It will help my transition to the civilian world and will allow him to not have my shadow lurking around his shoulders as I make my transition. The academic world is much better for me and my future than just hanging around where I am no longer needed.  One has to understand when their time is up. I know that. Hopefully, my superiors will understand.

Anyway, Sunday and Monday I will be parting and preparing to move  my  work office to home. It will be a lot of work. I thank you for your encouragement, support, and prayers. All of my readers mean a great deal to me, and I wish you all the best.

Peace,

Padre

 

 

 

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The Turkish Invasion and the Immoral and Criminal Support of it by the American President

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is a sad day to be an American, especially one who serves in the military. I saw another officer comment on his Twitter feed that for the first time in his career that he did not feel pride in putting on his uniform. A Turkish friend I know here  was angry at his home country, and he served in the Turkish Army in his younger days. As I watch the brutal attacks on the Kurds of northern Syria by the Turkish military I have to angry with them. President Trump has abandoned our most stalwart and effective ally in the region and the fight against the Islamic State to the democratically elected dictator of Turkey, Recip Erdogan.

The President claimed to be doing this as fulfilling a campaign promise to withdraw American troops from Syria, but he didn’t do that. He simply moved them aside to allow the Turks to attack the Kurds, but the troops are still in Syria. Additionally, reports indicate that U.S. intelligence sources provided the Turks aerial and satellite imagery to help them target Kurdish positions. Kurdish fighters are resisting, but against the massive armored, and mechanized invasion, backed by strong air support their defeat is a foregone conclusion unless the United States changes its policy and decides that the Kurds are worth helping.

The leaders of the United States military have requested that the Turks end their invasion and withdraw, but that will not happen. President Trump has given the game away. Turkish President Erdogan has threatened the European Union with dumping three and a half million Syrian refugees on them if they so much as dare to criticize him. Of course his motive is blackmail, and should he dump the refugees his goal will be  to destabilize the E.U. and help Right Wing Racist parties into power, with the ultimate goal of destroying the E.U. Sadly, President Trump encourages this by treating the E.U. and our NATO allies as poor allies and enemies, at times threatening them and also punishing them with frankly insane tariffs that that only serve to tear apart the most successful military, political, and economic alliance in history. In doing so he encourages our real enemies and drives off real friends.

These actions will have drastic repercussions. America’s word will not be trusted.  Friends will seek alternative security, political, and economic options, and those who desire the downfall of the United States, the E.U., and our military-political alliances will rejoice.

Trump cozies up to age old enemies, excuses their crimes, while abandoning the pillars of the alliances that have helped make us the strongest and previously the most respected country in the world.

All I can say now is that it is very hard to be proud of my country and support the actions of this President. I have served under six Presidents, 4 Republicans and 2 Democrats. Until Trump I found some redeeming qualities, even if I disagreed with their policies and actions.

In under six months I will be retired from the military with a total of 38 years and seven months service on active duty in the Army and Navy, as well as time spent in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve. I have no breaks in service. I have been to war, and I suffer both physically, psychologically, and spiritually from that service.  Now, with the actions of Trump around the world and in our country, it is hard to be proud of my service.

To paraphrase the comments of General Henning von Tresckow, an opponent of Hitler who died for his beliefs:

“We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Trump’s America.”

Until tomorrow,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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The Battle of Cape Esperance: “One Learns More from Adversity than Success

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Winston Churchill noted:

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

These words are as true as the day that he penned them. Individuals, as well as organizations often learn more from failure than success. Failure, real or perceived often proves more valuable to ultimate success than being successful and never having failed. In the case portrayed in this article, the lessons apply to the military, specifically the Navy, but they are applicable to individuals as well as organizations. As General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell noted:

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. 

Failure is a great teacher. I know that I have learned more from failure than success. Success often made me complacent and led to failure. I have learned more from the difficult times than the good times. So, on to the article…

Naval battles between U.S. Navy and Imperial Japanese Navy surface forces around Guadalcanal in 1942 were almost always brief and bloody. The number of ships from both sides sunk in the waters around Guadalcanal, and the islands near it: Tulagi and Savo Island, led to the area being nicknamed “Iron Bottom Sound.” Over fifty ships and craft would be interred in the waters around Guadalcanal by the end of the campaign. These numbers included 2 battleships, 8 cruisers, and 22 destroyers.

The battles around Guadalcanal occurred in a time of technical transition for the United States Navy as its radar became better at detecting ships and fire direction systems advanced in their accuracy and targeting ability. While almost all U.S. warships had radar primarily the SC search radar and FC Fire Control radar, not many U.S. Navy warships had the advanced SG surface search radar. But it was not just a matter of technology, it was a matter of training and experience. Their opponents, the Imperial Japanese Navy had very few ships equipped with radar, but their training for surface actions, especially night fighting where their superior optics, gunnery skills, and torpedoes proved deadly during the first year of the war before U.S. Navy crews mastered their technology edge.

By October 1942 the U.S. Marines battling on Guadalcanal were fighting an enemy growing in numbers on the ground even as they felt the effects of the the predatory Japanese surface raiders that routinely bombarded their positions and endangered U.S. resupply efforts.

                                                  USS Helena

Since the Marine, Navy and Army Air Force Squadrons based on Guadalcanal maintained air superiority in the nearby waters during the day the Japanese were limited to night surface operations against the island. These operations involving the reinforcement and resupply of Japanese Forces on the island as well as offensive naval gunfire operations to aid the land forces in which Japanese warships attempted to destroy or degrade Henderson Field.

                                              Henderson Field

The first major operations mounted by the Japanese was in early August when a Japanese cruiser destroyer force ravaged the U.S. cruiser forces off Savo Island. The Japanese inflicted the worst defeat of an American naval squadron, sinking 3 American and one Australian Heavy cruiser while damaging another. The battle was a disaster for the U.S. forces and led to the early withdraw of transport and supply ships of the invasion force before many could finish unloading the equipment and supplies that were critical to the operation. In that operation radar played no role for U.S. forces, and sets were either turned off or not relied upon by commanders. Admiral Richmond Turner noted:

“The Navy was still obsessed with a strong feeling of technical and mental superiority over the enemy. In spite of ample evidence as to enemy capabilities, most of our officers and men despised the enemy and felt themselves sure victors in all encounters under any circumstances. The net result of all this was a fatal lethargy of mind which induced a confidence without readiness, and a routine acceptance of outworn peacetime standards of conduct. I believe that this psychological factor, as a cause of our defeat, was even more important than the element of surprise”

Despite this admission it would take several more engagements in the waters around Guadalcanal before the U.S. Navy fully appreciated the superiority of Japanese optics, training in night fighting, and their deadly 24″ “Long Lance” torpedoes. It would not be until 1943 that the U.S. Navy began to exploit its advantage in radar and use it to their advantage in night surface actions.

                        The Tokyo Express Route along the Slot

Japanese resupply and reinforcement operations to Guadalcanal were so frequent that the Japanese forces were nicknamed the Tokyo Express by the Americans. Knowing that the Marines who had been in bitter combat with the Japanese needed reinforcements the U.S. sent a convoy to land the 164th Infantry Regiment of the Americal Division on October 13th.  To protect the convoy the U.S. Navy dispatched a surface task force, TF-64composed of the Cruisers USS San Francisco, USS Boise, USS Salt Lake City and USS Helena and 5 destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Norman Scott to protect it from any Japanese surface threats.

                        IJN Heavy Cruiser Aoba after the battle

The U.S. move to reinforce Guadalcanal coincided with a Japanese effort to reinforce their forced on the island. They Imperial Navy sent a covering force of three heavy cruisers, the Aoba, Furutuka and Kinugasa and two destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Arimoto Goto. In addition to protecting the landing force, the Japanese cruisers were to bombard Henderson Field. Since the Japanese were not expecting any American surface forces to oppose their effort, their plan would go awry.

                                    Rear Admiral Arimoto Goto

The Japanese were detected by aerial reconnaissance on the afternoon of the 10th when they were still about 200 miles from Guadalcanal. Scott, whose forces lacked experience in night surface combat made a simple plan to “cross the T” of the enemy force in a single line formation with three destroyers in the van, the cruisers in the center and two destroyers in the rear.

                                  Rear Admiral Norman Scott

U.S. floatplanes from the American cruisers detected the Japanese at 2300 hours. At 2322 the radar of the USS Helena picked up the Japanese force at a range of about 27,000 yards. However misunderstandings of Scott’s orders aboard his flagship broke his formation and put the van destroyers out of position in the poor visibility of the moonless night. The confusion caused Scott to believe that the radar contacts were his own destroyers.

The Japanese still did not realize that an American force was near them and continued on. At 2345 the ships were only about 5,000 yards apart when Helena radioed Scott asking permission to fire. The message was received by Scott who acknowledged his receipt of the message did not grant permission open fire. However, his response of “roger” was mistaken as permission to open fire by Helena. The American cruiser opened fire on the Japanese aided by her SG and FC radars. She was followed by the other cruisers which opened a devastating fire on the Japanese force.

The Japanese task force was completely surprised, they had not expected to encounter American surface ships and failed to be on alert. Goto’s lookouts had sight the Americans at 2343 but assumed that they were friendly Japanese ships. The result was that the Americans inflicted heavy damage to the Japanese flagship, the heavy cruiser Aoba and left Goto mortally wounded.

                                 IJN Heavy Cruiser Furutaka

Scott was taken by surprise by the action of his cruisers and ordered ceasefire at 2347 thinking that he was shooting at his own destroyers. Four minutes later he ordered his ships to resume fire at 2351. At 2349 the heavy cruiser Furutaka was heavily damaged by American fire and at 2358 she was was hit by a torpedo fired by the destroyer Buchanan. The Japanese destroyer Fubuki was mortally wounded about the same time and began to sink. The U.S. destroyers Duncan and Farenholt were both damaged in the crossfire with Duncan so badly damaged that she would be abandoned and sunk.

                                                      USS Duncan

Instead of continuing to rely on radar the American cruisers turned on their searchlights which provided the last Japanese cruiser, Kinugasa the opportunity to hit them hard. Kinugasa’s gunners heavily damaged Boise and but for a certain amount of luck would have sunk the American ship. One shell hit the number one turret setting fires in it, while another hit below the waterline and detonated in the forward 6″ magazine threatening to blow the ship to pieces but the onrushing water from the hit doused the flames and saved the ship. Despite that Boise was out of action with over 100 casualties, all of the forward magazine and handling crews were all killed.

As Boise sheared away from the action, Kinugasa and Salt Lake City exchanged fire, each hitting each other before the Japanese cruiser broke off the action.

The commander of the Japanese reinforcement group, his mission completed dispatched his destroyers to assist Goto’s force at it withdrew and rescue survivors. However these ships were caught by U.S. aircraft from Henderson Field as the light of the dawn lit the sky. The destroyers Murakumo and Natsugumo were heavily damaged, abandoned, and scuttled by the Japanese.

On the 13th the American reinforcement convoy arrived, as did Japanese reinforcements later that night. On the night the 13th, the Japanese battleships Kongo and Haruna  conducted an attack which most destroyed Henderson Field. However, the resilient Marines kept the airfield operational as the Marines of the 1st Marine Division and the nearly arrived soldiers of the 164th Regiment held off a major Japanese assault from 23-26 October, known as the Battle of Henderson Field or Bloody Ridge.

Scott’s Task Force 64 lost one destroyer sunk and two cruisers damaged while the Japanese lost one cruiser and three destroyers sunk, with two cruisers damaged in the action.

The Japanese flagship Aoba was severely damaged by nearly 40 6” and 8” shells fired by the American cruisers. Her bridge was shattered and her number three turret destroyed. The damage knocked her out of the war for four months and the number three turret would not be replaced. On the American side the heavily damaged Boise was sent to the East Coast for repairs while Salt Lake City was repaired at Pearl Harbor. The battle had lasted less than 50 minutes from the time Helena picked up the Japanese force on her radar.

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                                             USS Salt Lake City

The battle was a tactical victory for the U.S. Navy. However, the Navy did not learn  but the lessons of the battle about the power of Japanese torpedoes and effectiveness in night combat. While he Scott maintained a cool head and reacted to the situation with great courage he assumed that his deployment of his ships in a line formation coupled with superior American gunnery had won the battle. However, his ignorance on the proper use of the various types of radar used by the U.S. Navy meant that he and other American commanders would continue to misuse it and rely on searchlights and recognition lights during night surface actions. Likewise, he made the false assumption that Japanese torpedoes were no longer a threat.

This caused other U.S. task forces to have to learn the hard way in the subsequent engagements of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal and the Battle of Tassafaronga. Rear Admiral Scott would not long survive his victory. He was killed in action aboard the USS Atlanta during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal just a month later. The great American naval historian of the Second World War, Samuel Elliott Morrison wrote:

“So, because we won the Battle of Cape Esperance, serious tactical defects were carried over into subsequent engagements with unfortunate results. One learns more from adversity than from success.” 

While the battle helped inspire American confidence, it was not a strategic victory. Japanese forces nearly destroyed Henderson Field on the night of the 13th, and the the most decisive battles were yet to come.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Der Schicksaltag, November 9th in History: Revolutions, Abdication, Republics, Repression, and A Wall Falls

Hitler-Putsch, M¸nchen, Marienplatz

Schicksaltag: The Fateful Day and the Beer Hall Putsch November 9th 1923

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are some days in history that are crammed full world changing events, and sometimes those events occur, for good or bad and sometimes good and bad in different countries. In the United States July 4th is not only Independence Day, but eighty-seven years later marked the surrender of Vicksburg and the retreat of Robert E. Lee’s army from Gettysburg. Likewise it was the day that the Louisiana Purchase was announced in 1803 and that in 1826 the Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died. In Russia however it was on July 4th 1918 that Czar Nicholas and his family were killed by the Bolsheviks.

Since 1918 November 9th has been a day in German history that has impacted both Germany and the world in many ways. In a sense it is almost hard to believe that so much occurred on that day. It is known by many as Der Schicksaltag (the fateful day).

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Robert Blum

In 1848 a member of the Frankfurt Parliament, Robert Blum was arrested and executed executed for traveling to Vienna to support the 1848 democracy uprising there. A liberal, humanist and democrat Blum advocated German unification without Prussian dominance, protested Prussian oppression of Poles, stood against anti-Semitism and for the rights of Catholics in heavily Protestant German kingdoms. Blum’s dream remained unfulfilled for over a century after his death.

Wilhelm II. (4.v.l.) geht am Tag der Unterzeichnung seiner Abdankung über die Grenze in das holländische Exil

Kaiser Wilhelm II Cross the Dutch Border Following his Abdication

It was a gloomy day at the military headquarters of Kaiser Wilhelm II on November 9th 1918 when General Wilhelm Groener looked his sovereign in the eye and told Kaiser Wilhelm that the war was lost, and that he no longer had the support of the Army. The Kaiser, reeling from battlefield defeats and the mutiny of the High Seas Fleet was stunned, and Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, who had for all practical intents directed the war effort meekly nodded his concurrence with Groener. The Kaiser abdicated the throne and departed in his private train to the Netherlands the next day.

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Phillip Scheidemann Proclaims the Republic 

In Berlin Majority Socialist parliament member Philip Scheidemann proclaimed the Republic, in part to prevent a Soviet takeover, which became known as the Weimar Republic. However, the promise of democracy was soured by a continued allied blockade, a humiliating peace treaty, loss of territory, and occupation of the industrial areas of the Ruhr and Saar by France and Belgium, heavy reparations, and war guilt; compounded by civil war between various right and left wing factions and major economic problems including massive hyper-inflation doomed the young republic.

Beer Hall Putsch

Beer Hall Putsch Re-enactment 

Five years later an Austrian in Munich who had fought and been wounded fighting for Germany in the First World War gathered with his political sympathizes and para-military street thugs and attempted a putsch. The man was Adolf Hitler, the head of the small and radical National Socialist Deutches Arbeiter Partei, or National Socialist German Workers Party, which he hoped that his putsch would result in a popular uprising against the German government in Berlin. The putsch was a failure and ended in bloodshed at the Feldherrnhalle on Munich’s Odeonsplatz.

Hitler was wounded, convicted of treason and jailed for nine months at the Landesberg prison where he wrote his book Mein Kampf and continued to recruit others to his cause. Under ten years later Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg. He quickly banned political opposition and began his persecution of Jews and others that he believed to be sub human and on Hindenburg’s death in 1934 merged the office of Chancellor and President become the leader of Nazi Germany.

In November 1938 Hitler’s and his henchmen were looking for a reason to openly begin persecuting the Jews, something that they had already been doing since the seizure of power. One of the chief reasons for this was to seize the property and financial resources of German Jews, which coincided with the expulsion of Polish Jews from Germany. A reason was furnished when a young Polish man, Herschel Grynszpan, whose parents were expelled from Germany on November 3rd went to the German embassy in Paris and shot and mortally wounded Ernst von Rath, a young diplomat, who reportedly had some anti-Nazi sentiments.

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Kristallnacht 

The murder was what Josef Goebbels needed and on the night of November 9th Nazi storm troopers ransacked Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues causing hundreds of millions of Reichsmarks in damage, destroying over 200 synagogues and 7000 businesses. About 100 Jews were killed during the rampage, which went unchecked by police. Another 2000-3000 subsequently died either by suicide or in concentration camps. About 30,000 Jewish men were incarcerated. To add to the insult to injury Jews were charged for the damage done to their property and insurance payments that should have gone to them were collected by the state. The night became known as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass and marked a major turn in the open Nazi persecution of Jews in Germany, which would extend throughout Europe and end in the Final Solution and the systematic murder of nearly six million Jews. World War Two ended with the total defeat of Germany and the Nazi regime.

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Occupied by the allied powers Germany was split in two, the East under the domination of the Soviet Union which became the German Democratic Republic, and the West which supported by the United States and Britain became the Federal Republic of Germany. The divided country became the focal point of what became the Cold War, the fortified border became infamous as the Iron Curtain. The divided Berlin was blockaded by the Soviets in 1948 and the subsequent airlift kept West Berlin Free. However in August 1961 as the Cold War escalated the leaders of East Germany erected a fence which became the Berlin Wall, a wall which was effectively a means to imprison the population. It seemed to be a fixture that would never come down.

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But in the 1980s the Cold War began to thaw, the economically strapped Soviet Union was bogged down in a costly war in Afghanistan, and a struggle against a Polish democratic movement; Premier Gorbachev sought to relieve the situation with a policy of openness. It backfired, throughout Eastern Europe, pro-democracy and pro-freedom groups began to protest the status quo, and as borders were opened hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans including thousands of East Germans went west through Hungary and Czechoslovakia. East Germans began to gather at the wall and on November 9th 1989 a tottering East German government decided to open border crossing points, but on hearing the news hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the six crossings demanding to be let through, finally, ignoring orders, Stasi Lieutenant Colonel Harald Jäger who commanded the Bornholmer Strasse crossing opened the gates. The wall had fallen and 339 days later East Germany was dissolved and Germany reunited.

The new Germany is the economic heart of the European Union and has become a champion of human rights and social progress. It has now been thirty years since the Wall fell, eighty-one years since Kristallnacht, ninety-four years since the Beer Hall Putsch and one hundred and one years since the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II. These are all important events, and our challenge as citizens of the world is never to forget just how important and fateful each was, and why November 9th is indeed the “fateful day.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, holocaust, nazi germany, Political Commentary