Thursday, January 31, 2019

Oh Look, Unicorns...

Okay, you got me, those aren't unicorns.

So yes, I've been a bit gloomy as of late. Much on my mind, people dying, but hey, on the upside the weather has been nice.

So yeah, it'll probably snow tomorrow.

At least I'm not in the Midwest where apparently all of the cold air in the Arctic is leaking down into the United State through Canada. I mean seriously, still air temperatures around -30°? Wind chills down around -60°? Damn, that's cold. (Still warmer than the dark side of the Moon.)

It's supposed to get down below 10° here, bloody cold for Little Rhody, but I'm sure folks in Minnesota would take that right about now.

Somebody get on the horn to Algore*, what happened to global warming?

Wait, what? It's called climate change now? Huh, I didn't get that memo. Okay, makes sense, I guess.

I want to rant about something but I don't want to be too negative. I mean I've been Gloomy Gus/Debbie Downer** all week. Well, Tuesday and Wednesday anyway.

Oh and Beans, I was talking to a friend of mine today at work (stop laughing I have friends, no really) and he wants to move to Florida when he retires. I told him that he should check with you first. I mean, we are guilty of sending our retirees down there. Not that I'd go, too dang hot in the summer.

By the way, did you know that the German word for rhinoceros is Nashorn? Well, now you do.

It's also the name of a World War II self-propelled anti-tank gun. Which started life being known as Hornisse, which means "hornet" in German. I cannot find when (or why) the Germans changed the name. Perhaps one of the readership (aka The Chanters) knows?

Oops, belay my last, Hitler renamed the thing in 1944 according to this website, which has some good pictures of the vehicle. I'd repost one or two but...

Ah, what the heck, why not?

I'm sure juvat would love to see it all blown up, but that's all I've got. Truth be told, that track looks a little slack, a lot looser than I've seen on other vehicles of that ilk. Darn maintenance guys! (Actually the crew is responsible for their own maintenance. Slackers.)

Anyhoo, that's all I've got today. I have a new Jack Reacher novel that needs reading, needs it bad. So I'm going to go do that.

I'm all better now, morale-wise anyway.

* Patron saint of bovine excrement.
** That's me being inclusive and diverse. Or something...

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

On Death

Valley of the Shadow of Death - Roger Fenton
At times I think too much and death has been on my mind rather a lot as of late.

As one ages I suppose that's only natural, mind you I don't really fear my own death. We all die eventually. I fear the death of those around me, those I know and love.

Now my religion teaches that, if we've been "good" (and that's in quotes as I'm never really sure who gets to define what that means) that we go to a better place. Oddly enough, from what I hear in the hymns we sing in church, it sounds like a rather boring kind of place.

Streets of gold? Mansions? No sea?
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. - Revelation 21:1
That has been interpreted in a number of ways by people no doubt smarter than I, but still one gets the impression that Heaven will look absolutely nothing like Earth. Which when I think about it makes no sense. For that matter, there is much in religion that makes no sense. But theology aside, existence after death would be different.

No pain, no sorrow...
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. - Revelation 21:4
Now some argue that without sadness, how do we know what happiness is? Simple, at least to me anyway, if we have experienced sadness in this life (and who has not?) then we should certainly notice its absence in the next.

You might be wondering why I am thinking about this today. The short explanation is that on the way to work on Tuesday, I saw three cars parked alongside the road I sometimes take to go to work. It passes through a forested area, in New England (and many other places besides) where there is forest, there are deer.

One car had a few younger folks around it, they seemed distressed. About college-age, no doubt students at the local university. One girl stepped obliviously from her vehicle directly into the roadway. Fortunately the traffic headed towards her, which included myself, though further back in the line, had slowed. For seeing vehicles stopped along a roadway, and people looking somewhat distressed, is an unusual occurrence. She was no doubt rather shaken by what had occurred just before my arrival.

I, having seen this sort of thing far too often in the past, looked to the ditch beside the road. There, absolutely still, lay a dead deer. From the look of things she had not suffered, the end appeared to have been quick. For which I was thankful, I've seen times where it wasn't quick.

Now some of you may be thinking, "Okay, Sarge, you saw a dead deer beside the road on the way to work. Big deal, I see that all the time where I live." (And no doubt from juvat's stories here on the blog, he's been in more than one 1 v 1 between a vehicle and a deer.) But there, in the ditch was this beautiful animal who had been alive not 30 minutes before. Now her spirit was no more, she didn't exist in this world.

Perhaps I'm overly sensitive, I've always leaned that way, but lately death has intruded on my peaceful existence more than I care for.

Shortly after composing yesterday's tribute to Captain Mariner (which you have to admit is a superb name for a sailor, though she was an aviator) I received an email that informed me of the death of a long time member of my church.

Sure, he was in his 90s, a veteran, he arrived in England with his anti-aircraft battery just about the time Hitler was assuming room temperature. His unit didn't make it into the war, they stayed in Europe, didn't transfer to the Pacific. (Where Japanese aircraft were dwindling to nothing on land but still a huge threat at sea, where Army anti-aircraft batteries weren't of much use.)

His name was Bud, I'd known him for nearly 20 years, he'd been ailing lately, living in the local veterans home but we hadn't heard of any life threatening illnesses. Though he had had a scare last year. He was a great guy. Another person I knew who is now, at least in my observation, no more. He joins my buddy Fred, my Dad, Lex, and all my grandparents, uncles and aunts, and many others. I miss them.

What lies beyond this existence? I don't know for sure. That's not the crux of what's been on my mind. It's not my death that concerns me (I may have mentioned that already), after all, 18 years ago I was misdiagnosed* with something that was damned near guaranteed to kill me in 7 years. Which would have been 11 years ago by my reckoning.

I talked about that then with my buddy Fred, who was also my pastor.

"You seem pretty calm about it." Fred remarked.

"Well, the way I look at it, it's better than being hit by a bus. I've got time to, ya know, think about it, get my affairs in order. To get used to the idea." That's how I put it at the time. (Was I overjoyed when another doctor pointed out the first doctor's error? Why yes, yes I was.)

So what's bothering me? In short, I don't want to lose any more friends, relatives, loved ones, cats, dogs, heck, even the random deer crossing the road at an inopportune time. Those who have "moved on," I miss terribly. Are they in a better place? Perhaps. But the bottom line is that they are not here, where I can see them, where I can talk to them. They have gone to a place I cannot go. At least not yet.

Is there "life" after death? I prefer to think of it as a further existence, not life but something like life. For life ends in death, at least I think it does. Life involves sorrow, hardship, pain, and loss. So it isn't like life at all, at least I hope not. I hope it involves the good bits of life - seeing old friends, family members, much loved dogs and cats, and the like.

I rather hope there will be blue skies, sunshine and night- the Lord created both, why not in the afterlife as well? There should be mountains, plains, hills, lakes and rivers, grass and trees, all those things we love in this world.

I also hope that there will be seas as well. Music, good books, and all the time we need to listen and read. Coffee, I hope there is good coffee. Beer and wine, both God's gifts to us. (At least I think so. Yes, yes, in moderation, I'm sure the Good Lord hasn't much time for drunks in the afterlife, He spends a lot of time in this world trying to protect them from themselves. One might say that I've "been there, done that." But I'm betting a mild buzz is still attainable, at least not frowned upon.)

I don't know. But I do know this, I don't want to lose any more friends or family. But hey, it's going to happen whether I want it or not. I'm here until the end, whenever and wherever that may be, and so far I'm enjoying, for the most part, the journey itself.

Ah well, the things I think...

When I get too down, I like listening to this song. Written to a friend who was at death's door for a time. To me, the song writer is hopeful that his friend will recover, but he's prepared for the worst. I have been "On the Mend" myself for a long time, for many reasons...

On the Mend
by Chris Shiflett, Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel & Dave Grohl

One more day that I've survived
Another night alone
Pay no mind I'm doing fine
I'm breathing on my own

I'm here
And I'm on the mend
I'm here
And I'm on the mend my friend

Wake me when the hour arrives
Wake me with my name
See you somewhere down the line
We're tethered once again

I'm here
And I'm on the mend
I'm here
And I'm on the mend my friend

I'm here
And I'm on the mend
I'm here
And I'm on the mend my friend

Was it you
Sat alone
Here we go

Close your eyes and stay a while
To take me where you go
Single file we walk the mile
Who's wandering back home

I'm here
And I'm on the mend
I'm here
And I'm on the mend my friend

I'm here
And I'm on the mend
I'm here
And I'm on the mend my friend

Was it you
Sat alone
Here we go
Here we go
Here we go
Here we go

Yup, for those who have gone on before, "See you somewhere down the line..."

I pray.

* I was diagnosed in 2001 with anaplastic large-cell lymphoma, which actually turned out to be lymphomatoid papulosis, which is a rare skin disorder that is characterised by crops of self healing skin lesions that look cancerous under the microscope but are actually benign (non-malignant). Lesions contain unusual cells that are similar to those found in some lymphomas (cancers of the lymphatic system). [Source] Which has been in remission for a long time now. Which makes me very, very happy.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Gone Too Soon...

Rosemary B. Mariner, Captain, United States Navy, Retired
(02 Apr 1953 – 24 Jan 2019)
A great American has walked into the clearing at the end of the path. Captain Rosemary Mariner has passed away at the age of 65. Far too young, but cancer plays no favorites.

A friend of mine* over at the book of faces posted a note from the U.S. Naval Institute of this naval aviator's passing. With two daughters having served in the Navy, one in aviation, I was rather surprised that I had never heard of this lady, this fine American.
Mariner was born Rosemary Ann Merims. She grew up in San Diego, California, with a keen interest in aircraft and flying. She worked odd jobs and washed aircraft to earn money for flying lessons and flight time. She graduated from Purdue University in December 1972 at age 19 with a degree in Aviation Technology. She had earned FAA flight engineer and pilot ratings before she joined the Navy. While in the Navy, Mariner earned a Master's degree in National Security Strategy from the National War College. (Source)
Working odd jobs and washing aircraft to earn money for flying lessons and flight time? Sounds like many a budding young pilot I've read of and known. She was a pioneer for women in naval aviation, how had I not heard of her?

There is bias in every profession, every walk of life. There is a long standing bias, among some men, about women serving in the military. I have served with a number of outstanding women, both enlisted and officer, as I have served with a number of outstanding men, again both enlisted and officer. Yes, I've served with some real duds (of both genders) but never saw anything which made me say, "Women don't belong in the military."

Because it's poppycock, and women like Captain Mariner prove that. My daughters prove that and so do many of the women I've served with, most were excellent, some were average, and yes, a few weren't that good. Just like the men I served with.

Captain Mariner was the first woman to command an aviation squadron, VAQ-34. According to her obituary, she was instrumental in the repeal of restrictions on women serving in combat. No matter how you might feel about that, it's an important accomplishment, if women can meet the qualifications, why shouldn't they serve?

After retirement from, the Navy she taught military history at the University of Tennessee. How could I not deeply respect a person such as she, a love of aviation and a love of history. We were contemporaries, she was a month and change older than myself. But she managed to graduate from college at the age of 19! (So obviously she was a pretty smart lady, much smarter than Your Humble Scribe I'll wager!)

Cancer took this accomplished pilot and scholar from us and I mourn her loss.

Fair winds and following seas, Cap'n Mariner. See you on the other side.



From a friend of mine -
My tanker squadron frequently co-operated with hers, both when she was part of the Ready Room and later on as she moved up the chain. She was always mission-oriented and never once played or sought to play the "look at me, I'm a woman!" card.  She was paid what many consider the highest compliment you can be paid, although always behind one's back (Lest it go to one's head) when those who flew with her always mentioned she was a "good stick."  A shipmate who served under her as a DH says she was the finest of the three CO's in the EW Aggressor community he served with.  She earned the name "Skipper." (For those here who may forget, there are those who fill the billet of Commanding Officer.  There are others who earn the name "Skipper.") Take heading 270, Rosie.  Cleared to climb unlimited.

* Hat tip to Peter K.

Monday, January 28, 2019


Well, It's Monday again.  At least I think so, I went to Church yesterday, so that must have been Sunday.  Monday still follows Sunday right?  So....Monday again.

Now that we've got that straight, plan of attack for the week. Today...Travel to Moscow on the Colorado (AKA Austin for those of you that got confused Saturday,  Moscow because it's overrun with leftist, progressive, communists (but I repeat myself thrice) and "on the Colorado" because the Colorado River runs right through it.  In fact the reason Austin was settled was because the River ran through it. Texas, being Texas, having a water supply handy is important.)

Anyhoo....Where was I?  Oh yeah, Moscow on the Colorado.  We'll initially be traveling to one of the Suburbs of MOTC, known as Pflugerville.  (Beans, the P is silent.  Flu is pronounced like the disease.  Ger is pronounced like what you say when you think about leftist, progressive, communists (but I repeat myself thrice...again), and ville is pronounced like Bill.  Just so you know.)

We have an appointment with the Pflugerville Police Department  and the Officer from the Hayes County Sheriff's office for to identify and recover our stolen stuff.  Once that's done, we're going to spend the night and have dinner with MBD and SIL.  We did that so as to avoid having to deal with Austin traffic thrice in 12 hours.

Cause the Mrs and I are taking a little trip Tomorrow with our winemaker friends.  We're going to travel out west and spend some time at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium.They go every year, just to see what's new. The plan is to spend a few hours looking at wine doodads, then go and visit wineries and drink wine.

We thought the latter might be fun.

Since you have to be in the wine industry to attend, evidently, I'm their new Marketing Director. Mrs J is their new event coordinator  I expect we'll be fired sometime next Saturday.  So, regretfully, my pithy, pointed, astute and, otherwise, spot-on usual commentary might be a bit....well....spotty this week.

But,  since we're on the subject of Wine, most long time readers (and those newer readers, who for lack of a life, started at the first post on this blog and read each and every one, one after another, without stopping for food, water, sleep or any other bodily functions (Ewww!) until completely up to speed.  You know who you are!) will remember that on retiring from the Air Force, Mrs J and my first foray into civilian employment was the purchasing of a Wine Tasting Room in our town.

The store specialized in Wines from Texas exclusively*  and Beer from around the world.  (Budweiser, Coors, Miller need not apply.)  However, at the time, 1999, there were only 20 or so wineries in the whole state and many of them bought grapes from that state out west.  

The logistics of the situation were interesting.  Texas Liquor laws were... well.....difficult.  Distributors decided who and what they'd carry.  We had to know which counties (sometimes even which portion of a County) we could ship to. Tourists flock to this town from all over the state, they'd taste our wine and, if they liked it, asked if we could ship.  We would pull out the most current version of this document 

Now, this doesn't look too bad in 2017, but back in the day, by Cracky, things were different!.  The source of the map says in 2017 only 6 counties are dry.  However, in 1986, 62 were dry and about half the rest were partially dry, I don't think it was any different in 1999. The distributors and a particular religious group where a form of the word baptism features prominently in their name, had a very successful campaign going to keep things that way.  So, not much had changed by the time Mrs J and I got involved.

As an aside, typically, Interstate 20 was the wet/dry line. If the county was below that line, sale and shipment of wine was usually permitted.  Exceptions were well known. Above that line, virtually all counties prohibited it.  The City of Arlington was actually divided in half.  There was one road, that one side was wet, one side was dry.  We went with "We don't ship to Arlington."

Obviously, we had to be careful, the liquor license took quite a bit of time to get, and could be lost for a myriad of reasons.  So, hired help, good hired help, not your deadbeat ex brother-in-law hired help was hard to find.  Fortunately with one or two exceptions, we did quite well in that department.

There were only two distributors at the time and they controlled which wines they carried and how much. 

This presented an inventory problem.  Our liquor license allowed us to buy wine at wholesale, but the wineries not carried by the distributors were not carried because they were too small as far as the distributors were concerned. president and CEO of my C Corporation, I was also the Inventory manager.

You do realize that Texas is a big state. right?  Fortunately the two wineries that were carried were also the two furthest from us.  Llano Estacado (Yawn-oh, Beans) in Lubbock and Messina Hof in Bryan/College Station.  

The rest I had to visit, purchase, carry, load, transport, carry and store myself.  That is why I drive a pickup to this day.

But....I got to meet a lot of good folks.  One of my fondest memories is standing at the counter looking out at the store's bins after a busy Friday before Spring Break (make or break week for a small store) and noticing empty bins.  I got on the phone and called the Winemaker at Sister Creek and explained my predicament.  He asked how many cases and what kind.  I told him and said we needed to pick it up about 7 in the morning.  He said "no problem". 

The next morning, I arrive in beautiful downtown Sisterdale at 7 AM sharp.  Very dark.  The winery is dark.  The Winemaker's house is dark.  "Ruh-Roh!".  Thinking he may be awake and in the winery, I walk up to the door.  Give the handle a twist, it's not locked.  Push it open, there's my wine stacked neatly by the door and a note saying "leave the check on the Bar"

My kind of folks.

Anyhow, we're pretty successful, meaning, we're paying our rent and employees and are still in business a couple of years later and having relieved our self of the brother-in-law issue, have advertised for somebody to work the tasting room, pour tastes, ring up sales, restock and so on.

The going rate at the time was $8/hr.  We were offering $10.  So, the ad has gone in the paper, and early Saturday morning, I hear a ding on the door.  A little early for a customer, but someone in the Store is always a good thing.

"Hi, how's it going?  How can I help you?"

He's a tall guy, white hair a little longish on the sides, short white goatee, Late 50's maybe Early 60's.  Hawaiian Flowerdy Shirt.  Short Pants and sandals.

"I've come to apply for the job.  Here's my resume."

I'm thinking, "Resume?.... that's interesting".

"OK, well have a look around while I look at it."

He wanders off.

I look at the name.  Likes to be called "Ted".  Fair enough.

Last Employer.  Lowes.  (Liking him even more.)

Position.  Western Sales Director Los Angeles CA

My head snaps around as I look at him.  

He's smiling and laughing a little.

"I thought that might get your attention"

"Ted, we're not going to be able to afford you."

"I know, I'm retired, and bored.  I play in a band some weekend nights, but I just need something to do and be able to interact with folks."

Now, normally, I would ponder over a decision for a considerable length of time, maybe even consult with the actual decision maker.  But I stepped out on a limb. I mean, He had me at the shirt.

"When can you start?"

"I'm not busy.....Now?"

He was a natural.  Very outgoing personality which meant he fit right in with Mrs J and I.  He'd have customers eating out of his hand before the door closed behind them on entry.

Made a lot of really good suggestions, He KNEW sales.

Very quickly he started taking over the orders from the distributors.  Sometimes for whatever reason, we just didn't get the wines we wanted.  The Riesling was from the other winery, or they sent Chardonnay instead.  It was frustrating and cost us, because they only delivered a couple of times a week.  If the Friday delivery was screwed up, we were down for the weekend.

Ted started handling the problem,  Things were improving slowly, but improving.

So. it's Friday before one of the Big Weekends in town.  (IIRC it was  Food and Wine Festival--3rd weekend in October, don't miss it. ) We've got a VERY large order being delivered.  I'm back in the office when I hear the driver come in.  Ted's got it.

Shortly afterward, I hear loud voices.  So I go out front.  The driver has brought in Australian wines exclusively.  Ted is beside himself.  He's pointing to the sign above the bar asking the driver him if the first word (Texas) is Australia.  

The driver goes back to the truck thinking the order had gotten mismarked or something.  

Nope.  No Texas wine on the truck.

I see Ted head for the phone.  About 15 minutes later, I hear loud voices again, only one sided.

"Look here, We've been a customer of yours for years.  We have never bought anything but Texas Wine from you.  This is our biggest weekend and you delivered Australian wine?  I want another truck up here this afternoon with OUR order on it, you got it?"

A crash of the phone hanging up.

I remember thinking to myself.  

"Well, this is either going to be fixed this afternoon, or we're never going to get any wine again."

Pretty soon, I hear Ted whistling and talking to folks.  I walk our front.

"So, Ted, that was pretty epic.  Who was on the other end?"

"Oh, that was Bob, the president of XXX (the distributor), He and I play in the same Band."

The wine was delivered that afternoon.

We never had distribution issues again.

A few months later, Ted comes in to the back where I'm working and says "Juvat, I'm sorry, I'm going to be leaving you guys.  I've gotten a job offer that I'm going to take.".

"Ted, I'm sure I know the answer but... anything I can say or do?"

"No, you'd need  3 or 4 more zeros."

"Best of luck to you buddy."

He went to be the Vice President of a VERY large corporation in the Upper Mid-West.

Anyhoo, I'll be out of town, til Saturday.  For some reason, this is stuck in my head.

*Well....we did have one bottle of California wine that we saved for those Wine Aficionados  who would come in and sniff saying "Buffy....I can't believe the nerve....Texas doesn't have a wine that will hold a candle to ANY California wine."  **  That's when the bottle of Thunderbird (made in Modesto California) would come out, followed by.  "I'll take that challenge, pick the wine you want to taste and compare to this."  Reactions varied from storming out of the store in a snit, to a rueful smile and great conversation about  Good and Bad Wine being made all over the world.

** Actual statement made by a couple.  Yes, they were also in the "stormed out in a snit" category.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Then and Now

Normandy, Summer 1944
Normandy, Spring 2015
Having walked a battlefield or two in my life. knowing what it looked like in the past and seeing it as it is in the present, I have always enjoyed seeing these "Then and Now" presentations. The video below is very interesting. Where men once fought, and died, has returned to normality. Places where people lived and worked before the war, they live and work in peace once more. (Chase that link under the second photo, some good photos of the area today.)

Let us never forget the sacrifices of those who made it possible.

Speaking of some of those men, Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, United States Army.


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Submarine Warfare

Sinking of the Linda Blanche out of Liverpool by SM U-21 - Willy Stöwer
U-572 was running on the surface, her diesels straining to give her captain her top speed of nearly 18 knots. Kapitänleutnant Wilhelm Hofer could barely discern the silhouette of a British tanker out on the horizon through his binoculars. They had been tracking this convoy since before sundown, fortunately they were ahead of the slow moving ships, placed in position as part of a newly formed wolf pack.

As the sun set, they had surfaced and begun to run at speed to put themselves on the convoy's starboard flank. Another boat had already radioed the convoy's position back to Lorient. Wolf Pack "Donau" was moving in for the kill, already the Wolf Pack commander, Kapitän zur See Thomsen had ordered "freie Jagd," free hunting, every U-Boat to drive in and start killing ships.

As the tanker loomed larger, Hofer barked into the voice tube, "Prepare to fire torpedoes!"

The first time a submersible vessel was used in wartime was during the American Revolution. When I was a school boy, Bushnell's Turtle was well known in New England. The attack on HMS Eagle by Sergeant Ezra Lee in the Turtle was unsuccessful, but the attempt went down in history as the first submerged attack on a warship.

The second attempt, by the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley, actually succeeded in sinking the USS Housatonic about five miles offshore of Charleston, South Carolina. Unfortunately the primitive weapon, explosives mounted on a spar attached to the bow of the Hunley not only sank the Housatonic but sank the Hunley as well. Evidence suggests that the explosion probably killed the crew of Hunley at the same time it killed Housatonic*.

I've visited the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston (where The Nuke used to live) to see Hunley in the process of being preserved and studied. Such a small boat, the men who crewed her were very brave, not sure how the small vessel managed to stay afloat with all that brass aboard.

World War I saw the first large scale use of the submarine in warfare and the German Imperial Navy were masters of the weapon. At first the German crews were under orders to surface and allow the crew of their intended target, merchant ships of course, no way they would surface near a warship, to take to their lifeboats before sinking the ship with gunfire.

Once the British began arming merchant ships and creating decoy ships loaded with material to make them more buoyant should they take a hit below the waterline and hiding guns behind collapsible bulkheads to open fire on the unsuspecting U-Boats, the Germans ordered unrestricted warfare. No more surfacing and warning the enemy, they would stay submerged and sink the enemy with torpedoes. Which led to the infamous sinking of the RMS Lusitania, which was actually carrying a significant military cargo in addition to its innocent civilian passengers.

The Germans had actually warned passengers away from travel in the war zone they said was in effect around the British Isles in a newspaper ad. Apparently no one took the Germans seriously. Lusitania was thought to be fast enough to get away from any U-Boat wishing to attack her so she was not in convoy.

In the open ocean she could avoid submarines, but a ship always has a destination and as a passenger liner, that destination was no secret.
On 7 May 1915 Lusitania was nearing the end of her 202nd crossing, bound for Liverpool from New York, and was scheduled to dock at the Prince's Landing Stage later that afternoon. Aboard her were 1,266 passengers and a crew of 696, which combined totaled to 1,962 people.[70] She was running parallel to the south coast of Ireland, and was roughly 11 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale when the liner crossed in front of U-20 at 14:10. Due to the liner's great speed, some believe the intersection of the German U-boat and the liner to be coincidence, as U-20 could hardly have caught the fast vessel otherwise. There are discrepancies concerning the speed of Lusitania, as it had been reported travelling not near its full speed. Walther Schwieger, the commanding officer of the U-boat, gave the order to fire one torpedo, which struck Lusitania on the starboard bow, just beneath the wheelhouse. Moments later, a second explosion erupted from within Lusitania's hull where the torpedo had struck, and the ship began to founder much more rapidly, with a prominent list to starboard. (Source)
Now as a kid we were taught that the United States, led by Woodrow (he kept us out of war -not) Wilson entered World War I because of the sinking of Lusitania and the deaths of the 128 American citizens aboard her. Yet, we declared war on Germany on the 6th of April 1917, nearly two years after Lusitania was torpedoed.


At any rate, the U-Boats in World War I caused great consternation in the British government, they were effective, and deadly. There just weren't enough of them to turn the tide. Especially after the Allies adopted the convoy system, a group of merchant ships escorted by warships.

In World War II, the German U-Boat arm was highly effective once again. Seems the Brits had forgotten the use of escorted convoys and perhaps relied too much on their early versions of ASDIC - what we Americans called (and still call) sonar, an acronym standing for SOund NAvigation Ranging.

In the end the Allies prevailed (again), the German U-Boat arm suffered 75% casualties during the war, losing 793 boats. The U.S. Navy's submarine fleet made a large contribution to victory in the Pacific War, virtually destroying Japan's entire merchant fleet.

The submarine still patrols the oceans of the planet, they are the real capital ships of a modern navy, which is probably why the U.S. Navy names their latest attack boats after states, rather than cities. (American battleships have traditionally been named after states, smaller warships, like cruisers, were named after cities.) Then there are the silent boats of the nuclear triad, quieter than quiet, the Ohio-class ballistic missile nuclear powered submarine has been described as so quiet that it is like a "hole in the ocean."

While the aircraft carrier projects power, it is the submarine that keeps its silent watch, patrolling the seas, escorting the carrier groups, waiting to unleash the nuclear fire, unseen and deadly. And causing politicians and admirals sleepless nights.

A note on that opening painting, it's inaccurate. The artist depicts the Linda Blanche as a rather large merchant ship, she wasn't. You can read more about that here. The same artist did a famous (and inaccurate) painting of the sinking of RMS Titanic.

As to the man who commanded U-21, Kapitänleutnant Otto Hersing, he and his boat had a stellar career in World War I. His boat was the first to sink a ship using a self-propelled torpedo. He had two rather impressive nicknames, Zerstörer von Schlachtschiffe (Destroyer of battleships) and Retter der Dardanellen (Saviour of the Dardanelles) for his feat of sinking two British battleships (HMS Triumph and HMS Majestic during the Gallipoli campaign. You can read more about him here. You can read more about his boat, U-21, here. The captain and his boat both survived the war.

Submariners, they're a breed apart no matter who's navy they serve.

Hofer watched as first one, then a second torpedo exploded against the side of the British tanker. Nearly instantaneously, the German captain was nearly blinded by a bright flash, across the water came a deep "woof" and then a colossal "boom" as the big tanker blew itself to atoms.

"Aviation fuel!" the First Watch Officer, Helmut Franken exclaimed.

Hofer felt sick, he could not imagine what that crew had experienced. First the torpedo impacts, each sailor knowing their cargo, then oblivion. He hoped that there had been no pain for those brave men.

Yes, they were the enemy, but they were fellow sailors as well.

Snapping back to the present, Hofer ordered the bridge crew below, he had seen a low dark shape turning towards their position. Damned destroyer must have seen the wake of their torpedo. Time to run!

* After signaling, Dixon's plan would have been to take his submarine underwater to make a return to Sullivan's Island. Although at one point the finders of Hunley suggested she was unintentionally rammed by USS Canandaigua when that warship was going to rescue the crew of Housatonic, no such damage was found when she was raised from the bottom of the harbor. Instead, all evidence and analysis eventually pointed to the instantaneous death of Hunley's entire crew at the moment of the spar torpedo's contact with the hull of Housatonic from the explosion's shock wave which destroyed their lungs and brain tissue in milliseconds. (Source)

Friday, January 25, 2019

I Had No Idea

So the Muse is claiming that she's a government worker.

She claims she's been furloughed and can't help me out.

I had no idea.

Actually I was busier than a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest yesterday. So you get squat, bupkis, nada, rien, nichts. Well, I think you get the picture. Talk quietly amongst yourselves, "I'll be back."


Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Bomber Will Always Get Through

B-17 Flying Fortresses from the 398th Bombardment Group flying a bombing mission to Neumünster, Germany, on 13 April 1945.
 A few thoughts on a topic which came up the other day. I have been reading about warfare since I was knee high to a grenadier. I've learned over the years to take a lot of things with a grain of salt. But the accolades gathered by the proponents of strategic bombardment have always troubled me somewhat. I'm a fighter guy, I never cared for the bomber Mafia, even though the progeny all attended elementary school at a place named for one of the bomber's biggest champions.

That being said, here's what I think, supported by some evidence, some, perhaps a lot, is my opinion, guided by study and observation...
I think it is well also for the man in the street to realise that there is no power on earth that can protect him from being bombed. Whatever people may tell him, the bomber will always get through. The only defence is in offence, which means that you have to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves… If the conscience of the young men should ever come to feel, with regard to this one instrument [bombing] that it is evil and should go, the thing will be done; but if they do not feel like that – well, as I say, the future is in their hands. But when the next war comes, and European civilisation is wiped out, as it will be, and by no force more than that force, then do not let them lay blame on the old men. Let them remember that they, principally, or they alone, are responsible for the terrors that have fallen upon the earth. - Stanley Baldwin, 10 November 1932 (Source)
When I was a kid, I learned that the 8th Air Force was a major factor in the defeat of Nazi Germany and that one of the reasons the Germans lost the war is that they had no strategic bombers.

Formation of German He-111 bombers during the Battle of Britain.
The truth of the matter lies somewhere between those two statements.

The German Air Force (Luftwaffe) was essentially built from the ground up as the Germans were barred from possessing an air force by the Versailles Treaty of 1919. When the Germans began to rearm, in direct violation of the Treat of Versailles (one of those "scraps of paper" that dictators deride and liberal politicians think is Holy Writ), they built the Luftwaffe for one purpose and one purpose alone, to provide support for the German army.

The twin-engined bombers would range behind the lines destroying supply depots, front line airbases, and other infrastructure targets. The goal being to disrupt the enemy army's logistical tail and to suppress the enemy air force to give the Luftwaffe free rein at the front.

Single engine dive bombers would act as flying artillery to provide direct support to German army ground units.

Fighter aircraft were used to protect the bombers and to engage targets of opportunity on the ground once air superiority was attained. Also, to engage any enemy fighters which managed to get airborne, which was rare in the early days of the war.

Once the enemy air forces were destroyed, usually on the ground in the first few days of the offensive, the Germans were free to concentrate their attacks on the enemy army. These air attacks along with tanks on the ground making wide ranging pincer attacks would eventually surround and destroy large elements of the enemy's ground forces. With the enemy military defeated and large swaths of ground seized by the German army, the enemy government would capitulate.

As happened in Poland, in Denmark, in Norway, in Belgium, in the Netherlands, and then in France. However this model did not work in two instances: Britain and the Soviet Union.

The islands of the United Kingdom are separated from the continent of Europe by the English Channel which is a formidable military obstacle. You couldn't seize bridges over it (and there were no tunnels under it in 1940), therefore the German army had no means to come to grips with the British forces which survived after Dunkirk.

So if one part of the tactical battle model can't be used (the army) that leaves the air forces. What can they do by themselves? The Germans figured that if they could suppress the Royal Air Force to the point where the Germans had air superiority over the Channel, well then the army could jump on their fleet of improvised barges and cross the Channel. Then the army supplemented by their flying artillery could go to work. Of course, the Luftwaffe would need to fight off that pesky (and large) Royal Navy as well. The German navy was minuscule compared to the British Home Fleet, those naval units dedicated to control of the seas around Britain.

The Germans discovered that destroying an air force and its infrastructure from the air (without their own army putting pressure on that air force as well) was no easy proposition, especially with aircraft designed for short range attacks. They would also be going up against an enemy that was expecting them, no chance of anything beyond a tactical surprise (like what time of day and the direction of the attack). The Germans had a tactical air force, not a strategic air force designed for long range attacks against an enemy not immediately to one's front.

They failed to destroy the RAF, so they started bombing cities. The first attack was a mistake, the second was deliberate in response to an RAF raid on a German city (which was in response to the mistaken dropping of bombs on London).

In the Soviet Union the problem was one of scale. The German military worked very well in the smaller confines of Western Europe (anything west of Russia in this context). Countries smaller than, or roughly the same size as, Germany, were fairly "easy meat" for the well-trained German military machine. (There was a lot of re-training necessary after the attack on Poland, where the Germans took unexpectedly heavy casualties from the tough Polish army.)

But the Soviet Union was huge, stretching along a front of eight hundred miles from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and covering eleven time zones from the border with what used to be Poland* to Siberia. While much of the Red Army was in the forward zone facing the Germans and their allies (Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary), there were a lot more further away, out of range of the Luftwaffe.

When the Germans attacked they did destroy most of the Red Air Force in the west on the ground (destroying many obsolete machines), they also killed and captured literally hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers. But they couldn't quite get around them deep enough to cut them all off. Enough fell back to keep the fight going. The Luftwaffe swarmed through the skies, but many of their best crews had been lost over England the year before. They had nothing to reach deep into Soviet Russia to try and stem the rising tide of Soviet reinforcements and destroy Soviet infrastructure.

But even had they had the reach, what good would it have done?

Hard to say, but if we look at the western Allies, the British and the Americans, we see lots and lots of four-engine bombers, capable of reaching deep into Germany, eventually. But not until they had fighter aircraft capable of going the distance with the bombers.

In the '20s and '30s bomber designs were such that the pundits of many air forces thought that the bomber was unstoppable as the current crop of fighter aircraft couldn't attain the speed of the bombers, nor the altitude. Well of course fighter design caught up and most fighters were far faster than bombers and could attain the same altitudes.

So machine guns were added to the bombers, as many as ten .50-caliber gun emplacements in a B-17 (at least three of which mounted dual .50s - upper, belly, and tail emplacements - later a fourth in a "chin" turret). Surely with a group of bombers in a tight formation enemy fighters would be unable to get into the dense bomber formations.

Yet they did. Prior to receiving fighter escorts bomber formations suffered losses at an unsustainable rate (16% in 1942-43), soon there wouldn't be enough bombers to carry bombs deep into Germany (or even into France for that matter). It was statistically impossible in those years for a crew to survive the 25 missions required to complete a tour of duty.

Eventually though, long range fighter aircraft (specifically the P-51) were available in sufficient numbers to escort American daylight bombers all the way to their targets and then home again. The British never did develop a long range fighter along the same lines as the P-51, primarily because they were committed to bombing Germany at night.

British bombing was directed at area targets such as industrial areas, which were nearly always situated near towns and cities. British bombing was, in reality, directed at German civilians. They couldn't bomb in large, coordinated formations due to the primitive navigation aids available at the time. Rather the British bombers came in a stream of individual aircraft, one after the other.

Pathfinder bombers would go in first to mark the target and were equipped with state of the art navigation equipment to do so. Unfortunately, state of the art wasn't very good at the time. The pathfinders could find a city but had trouble pinpointing factories and the like.

So the pathfinders would drop their special incendiary target markers and the following bombers would try to drop their bombs on those markers. Later bombers in the stream would drop on the fires started by the earlier drops. It was all very random in reality.

The Americans were determined to perform precision, daylight raids over Germany. Initial raids didn't have much luck as the defending fighters and anti-aircraft cannon took a heavy toll of the attackers. Once the P-51 came into action, bomber casualties did drop but were still heavy enough to cause some concern in Allied command circles. But not among the bomber generals themselves, being thoroughly steeped in the theories of Douhet, Mitchell, and others. The bomber would always get through, right?

Well, enough did get through to kill thousands of civilians and military personnel in the target areas. In addition, the Germans had to expend a lot of resources to defend the Fatherland from the attacks. Personnel manning radar networks, fighters, searchlights, and fighter aircraft (both day and night fighters) consumed resources that could have been better employed in Russia, and later France.

Albert Speer (Hitler's Minister of Armaments and War Production from 1942 onward) claimed after the war that Allied bombing did indeed disrupt German production. However, due to his efforts German production actually increased until the second half of 1944, which coincides with the Allied landings in Normandy. Now a ground army would also increase the pressure on the German military.

My point in all this is that the strategic bombing of Germany, the thought that airpower alone could end the war was a chimera. It took the efforts of land, naval, and air forces to defeat Nazi Germany (with the Soviet Union doing the bulk of the heavy lifting for most of the war on the ground).

One could also argue that the indiscriminate bombing of civilians (deliberately at night, perhaps unintentionally by day) did not break the will of the Germans to continue fighting. No more so than the Luftwaffe's terror bombing of British cities after 1940 induced the British to quit.

Remember this sentence from that Baldwin quote above?
The only defence is in offence, which means that you have to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves.
Absolutely ineffective for either side. The very thought of intentionally killing civilians was (and remains) anathema to many.

What about Japan you might ask? Didn't the bombings by B-29s (to include the atomic bombs) convince the Japanese to surrender without having to invade Japan itself?

Yes, but only after the Navy had pretty much cut Japan off from all their sources of oil and other imported war materials. Only after the Marine Corps, the Army, the Army Air Forces, and Navy had captured numerous islands on the way to Japan. The Japanese Navy and merchant marine was mostly on the bottom of the sea by 1945.

With all this power closing in on Japan, the Japanese were cornered. Once the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki occurred, the Japanese leadership (prodded by the emperor) realized that they only had two choices: surrender or in all likelihood cease to exist as a nation.

While it is true that air and sea power obviated the need to invade the Japanese home islands, that was only after most of the territory the Japanese had conquered earlier in the war had been liberated, again by combined land, sea, and air power.

Combined arms was, and still is, the answer in warfare. No single arm can conquer an enemy.

My conclusion is that the indiscriminate killing of civilians was neither necessary nor strictly legal. (Various conventions and treaties governing armed conflict were in place before World War II but were rather weak, in my opinion, when it came to aerial warfare. See here.) The bombing of tactical targets, that is strictly military targets, was, in conjunction with ground forces a necessary and useful form of combat.

One might even argue that the bombing of French rail networks prior to the Normandy invasion was absolutely justified in military terms, regardless of the death and suffering inflicted on the French civilian population. Those deaths were not intentional, the deaths of Spanish, Polish, British, Chinese, Russian, German, and Japanese civilians in most cases of strategic bombing were intentional (again, in my opinion) and could have been avoided. Would the war have lasted longer? Possibly, but who can say with any certainty?

I am still conflicted over the use of strategic bombing in World War II. I can see its usefulness in some contexts, I can see that in many instances it comes very close to what I would consider to be "war crimes." (That bit is in quotes because war itself is a crime. On the gripping hand, if you don't want your population slaughtered, don't attack other nations.)

Remember this piece of that opening Baldwin quote?
If the conscience of the young men should ever come to feel, with regard to this one instrument [bombing] that it is evil and should go, the thing will be done; but if they do not feel like that – well, as I say, the future is in their hands. But when the next war comes, and European civilisation is wiped out, as it will be, and by no force more than that force, then do not let them lay blame on the old men. (Emphasis mine.)
Pardon my French, but bullshit, the young can only do as they are told in warfare, or they suffer the consequences. It is always the old men, the captains of industry, the government officials, and the flag officers who make these decisions. (The young do commit war crimes as well, but typically in the heat of battle.)

War crimes trials are seldom held for the victors. After all, who would hold a victorious nation responsible? The defeated?

Tough questions. What say you?

And yes, be nice.**

Ruins of Guernica (1937)

* In the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, the Germans got the western half of Poland, the Soviets got the eastern half, once the Germans had pretty much done all of the fighting. The Reds marched in as the Poles were on the ropes, not down yet, not quite out, the Soviets stabbed them in the back.

** Which I add in light of a certain brouhaha which occurred in the comments recently, which were subsequently deleted. Heat of passion and all that, but I'm sure some of you saw that.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

They caught the SOB!

Mrs J had a rough day yesterday.  "Cedar Fever" was kicking her behind.  Cedar Fever being the local vernacular for allergies.  I'd never been allergic to anything in my life until we moved here.  That first fall when the cedar trees pollinated, I thought I'd been infected with some horrible respiratory disease.  Went to the doctor expecting some dire prognosis and got "You wuss, it's just Cedar Fever.  Go take some Claritin and don't bother me unless you're actually dying." or something along those lines. 

In any case, Mrs J was pretty much down for the count and spent most of the day in her lounge chair with allergy medicine, water, a blanket and kleenex (lots and lots of kleenex). 

The Safelite guy showed up on time and replaced the two windows from the episode in Wimberly last Thursday as well as the windshield from the encounter with the brick back in June which I'd never gotten around to fixing.  So, I' spent the day shuttling between checking of Mrs J and the Safelite guy.
A little Goo Gone for the tape residue and a trip through the wash for the fingerprint dust and she'll be good as new.

Mrs J went to bed early last night, although the bed consisted of her lounge chair for to aid in not drowning.  So, this morning I got up to check on her.  Feeling somewhat better, but the pollen count is still high for today.  We're prepping for breakfast when her cell rings.  She answers it and I can hear a male voice in the background.  Sounding somewhat official.

She starts talking about the events from last Thursday, giving details and describing stolen objects.  I ask who it is and she says it's a Police Officer.  OK, I figure it's the Hays County Sheriff officer that's been assigned our case.

She talks with him for a bit and then hangs up.

The officer was from the Pflugerville Police Department.  They'd arrested a suspect and amongst other things he'd had possession of Mrs J's wallet.  Credit Cards were gone, but driver's license, military ID and business cards were still there.  Hence the call.

The Credit Cards had been cancelled as quickly as possible after the break-in, so we weren't overly concerned about them.  Replacements arrived yesterday.  We'd taken care of a new driver's license on Friday, so that wasn't a biggie either.

The Military ID though?

Those of you who've been in the military, know the dread that we were facing getting a new one of those.  First, the two hour drive to Lackland.  The explaining to the Airman at the gate why my wife could not show him her ID, two or three times.  Then finding the CBPO (personnel office). Then taking a number and waiting, and waiting, and waiting.  Then 5 minutes after your number is called (2-3 hours after taking the number), you leave the building to make the 2 hour trip home.  In traffic.

So, yeah, we were very glad not to have to do that again.

The Jerk?

Well, seems he was stopped for something, and upon examination of his truck,  several purses and other stuff were found in it.  Seems the Jerk had been a very busy, if naughty, boy.  The Officer said that more than 25 wallets and such were on him, none with ID that looked remotely like him.

So, Mrs J's passed on our Case number to the Pflugerville Officer along with the Investigating Officer's name.  They'll send the Hays County Officer Mrs J's stuff (and hopefully mine, but that wasn't mentioned) which should be returned to us at some point in the future.

So, while an irritating series of events, all went as well as could be expected and the good ship "juvat" is back on an even keel. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Sea Smoke

So the trip to the ancestral grounds didn't come off this past weekend. While the weather here was not so bad either on Friday or on Saturday, the homeland received more than a foot of snow. So delaying that trip to another time was actually a smart move.

Friday and early Saturday were actually pretty nice here in Little Rhody. Late Saturday we started seeing some sleet which turned to light snow. After getting about an inch of the white stuff, the rains came. Heavy downpour early Sunday with peals of thunder off in the distance. It woke me up, I thinking that perhaps the rain had turned to snow, thought the noise to be a snowplow rumbling down the street. Nope, thunder.

Very rainy Sunday until the afternoon when I was watching a bit of football. Then it started to get cold, bitter cold, Vermont cold (but not Saskatchewan cold). As I was inside and the cold was outside I wasn't much bothered, until the house began to creak and pop, which completely freaked the feline staff. Anya was waking me up all night with a worried "meow," which I took to mean, "Lazy human, we are about to die, do something." My reassurances that it was just the cold settling into the house's bones didn't improve her morale all that much.

Her sister wasn't too worried, I think she slept through it all.

Awakened on Monday (far too early after a late night in front of the telly) to hear the wind howling outside. Checked the temperature...


...with a "feel like" of minus 20°. Yay!

Should I call it a wash and go back to bed? Nah, feline staff had vet appointments that morning so I might as well go to work. Looking out the window there didn't seem to be too much ice on the car. But looks can be deceiving.

Both front doors (Honda Element only has those two really) were frozen shut. After a moment of thinking about the gorilla approach (grunt, just pull harder on door handle, Og) it struck me that I didn't wish to buy and install a new door handle. Then I remembered that the Element has a rear hatch and a tail gate. Which opened after only a moment's protest.

Climbing over the back seats and the front seats (while wearing a bulky winter jacket) I managed to reach the driver's seat. Once upon a time I had the opportunity to climb into the pilot's seat in the E-3A AWACS, this reminded of that time. A rather cramped cockpit it seemed to me, compared to the spacious accommodations of the F-4D Phantom II.

Anyhoo, got Big Girl started with only some minor groaning and whining from all of the frozen components, and after scraping copious amounts of ice off the windscreen, we were on our way. Scraping ice doesn't bother me that much, it keeps me warm and is saving me the 30 grand it would cost to build a nice garage. Which is, of course, the only type of garage acceptable to The Missus Herself.

As I drove to work over the Mt. Hope Bridge I noted, casually, that "the ocean is on fire!"

Sea smoke dontcha know, the water is still much warmer than the air, so when the cold air brushes over the surface, fog forms, which some call sea smoke. I like that term, sounds rather nautical doesn't it?

So I snapped that photo above on the way home from the parking lot of a local dining emporium. After taking the shot I saw this...

Canada geese sheltering from the wind. At first I thought they were ducks, then one stretched his neck out (probably to determine what the heck the silly human was doing) and confirmed their identity as geese.

Like I said, the water was warmer than the air, not that I would take shelter therein, but hey, it was out of the wind. While they did look miserable, they were probably handling the weather better than I did!

Bitter cold it was. But on the upside, it's supposed to be 40° tomorrow.

Practically a bloody heat wave!

Stay warm my friends!