After writing his three great novels — The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Perfect Spy — it is easy to agree with the conclusion ofPrivate Eye’s critic, who said le Carré had become “his own tribute band”. You know now how his books will go. There is a decent Englishman. He comes across skulduggery. He is persuaded to fight it by an honest spy, who teaches him tradecraft, but instead finds he must fight Western corporations and governments whose cynicism knows no limits. In the case of The Night Manager, the reason, of course, why the British government is unconcerned by illegal weapons sales is that MI6 is in the pay of the villainous arms dealer.
– Nick Cohen, reviewing the recent TV adaptation of The Night Manager.
For what it is worth, although I like the George Smiley books and also enjoyed A Small Town in Germany, a lot of Le Carré’s other material is as Cohen describes it.
Here is a nice appreciation of the George Smiley books, which in my view are still riveting reading, all these years’ later.
Ah yes, Britain’s socialists, working tirelessly towards a world in which Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping & Kim Jong-un are the only people with nuclear weapons. What could possibly go wrong with that?
On 2nd February 1921, John Alan Quinton was born in Brockley, south London. He would have been 95 today, had he not died, he was killed in a ‘plane crash aged 30, in the following circumstances, as recorded in his George Cross citation.
On August the 13th, 1951, Flight-Lieutenant Quinton as a Navigator under instruction in a Vickers Wellington aircraft which was involved in a mid-air collision. The sole survivor from the crash was an Air Training Corps Cadet who was a passenger in the aircraft, and he has established the fact that his life was saved by a supreme act of gallantry displayed by Flight-Lieutenant Quinton, who in consequence sacrificed his own life. Both Flight-Lieutenant Quinton and the Cadet were in the rear compartment of the aircraft when the collision occurred. The force of the impact caused the aircraft to break up and, as it was plunging towards the earth out of control, Flight-Lieutenant Quinton picked up the only parachute within reach and clipped it on to the Cadet’s harness. He pointed to the rip-cord and a gaping hole in the aircraft, thereby indicating that the Cadet should jump. At that moment a further portion of the aircraft was torn away and the Cadet was flung through the side of the aircraft clutching his rip-cord, which he subsequently pulled and landed safely. Flight-Lieutenant Quinton acted with superhuman speed displaying the most commendable courage and self-sacrifice, as he well knew that in giving up the only parachute within reach he was forfeiting any chance of saving his own life. Such an act of heroism and humanity ranks with the very highest traditions of the Royal Air Force, besides establishing him as a very gallant and courageous officer, who, by his action, displayed the most conspicuous heroism.
With our recent discussion of genes and selfishness, here was a man, a whole, thinking being, with an infant son of his own, and having survived WW2 as a Navigator in Mosquitos in the RAF, who was, when the ultimate challenge presented itself, prepared to give up his own life for that of a stranger. His example is a reminder that an acting human being is capable of doing things for other than ‘selfish’ reasons. Flight-Lieutenant Quinton’s final act was the ultimate demonstration that a principle – that one should do what is right when in a position of responsibility – can triumph over base instincts, a counter-point to many lesser people who have failed to do what is right in difficult situations, even when not in mortal peril.
Charles à Court Repington was a former army officer who became The Times’s military correspondent. I have mentioned him before and so far I have been pretty impressed with his analyses. But in this article (here and here), in which he considers strategy and high-level tactics, he outdoes himself.
Here are his main points:
1. The Western Front is the key theatre. It’s also the nearest. Britain’s main effort must be concentrated here.
2. The allies must co-ordinate their efforts. Going on the offensive at the same time stretches the enemy’s resources.
3. The search for a breakthrough is futile. The allies need to wear out the enemy through bite-and-hold techniques – in other words, take a chunk out of the enemy’s line and hold it.
4. Cavalry is useless.
5. There are too many cavalry generals in senior positions.
6. Artillery is the dominant arm in this war, or as the French were later to put it: “artillery conquers, infantry occupies.”
7. The artillery needs more shells.
So, what happened?
After the catastrophe at Gallipoli, the “Easterners”, as they were known – or “cranks” as I tend to think of them – were largely ignored. The main effort was indeed put on the Western Front and that is where the war was eventually won.
Co-ordination. As it happens, at Chantilly in December 1915, the Allies had already agreed to co-ordinate their efforts. Unfortunately, the Germans took the initiative at Verdun, more or less completely taking the French out of the picture. Still, the Somme, the Brusilov offensive and an Italian offensive did take place at more or less the same time.
Haig continued to look for breakthroughs until about August 1917. He did so despite just about everyone around him – including Robertson, his nominal superior – thinking he was wrong. He did so in the belief – partly fed by an intelligence chief who told him what he wanted to hear – that the German army was about to crack.
Cavalry. Some claim that cavalry was useful in the Hundred Days Offensive of 1918. Personally, I am doubtful. It certainly wasn’t any use beforehand with the exception of 1914.
Cavalry generals. If we look at the really useless Western-Front commanders (army commanders and above) we find Allenby, Gough and French – all cavalry. The successful ones were Plumer, Horne, Byng and (belatedly) Rawlinson, of whom only Byng had any background in cavalry.
That artillery was the dominant arm is beyond question. In battle after battle, if the artillery was right, victory followed. If it wasn’t, it didn’t. That’s not to say there weren’t great changes in infantry tactics and equipment, just that these were a lot less important. It took until 1917 for the artillery to acquire the shells it needed.
About the only thing he gets wrong is his 150,000 figure for German casualties at Loos. The real figure was about a fifth of that. Otherwise he is bang on the money.
Recent events in Germany may have led some to ask if Germany still controls its borders. Well of course the German Federation does, it had an entire Border Police Force, the Bundesgrenzschutz to do that, and it has quietly been building a Federal Police Force by merging the Railway Police with the Border Police. However, the German Federal State does not seem to regard border control as that much of a priority.
It wasn’t always thus for German governments, we all know about the Berlin Wall, or the ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart‘, an example of German bureaucracy showing some resolve as to who crosses its borders. The Wall was of course, the weak point in the East German border, although technically it did not divide the Germanies, but the Allied Occupation Zones from the Soviet Zone and from the DDR, and for most of the time, there was no point fleeing to comradely Poland or brotherly Czechoslovakia, but that changed in the late 1980s. At the Berlin Wall, some 138 deaths have been recorded, there may have been many more.
But there was a more deadly border defence put in place by a German state, Imperial Germany, it was called the Dodendraad, a lethal electric fence, the implementation of which left, by one estimate, around 850 people killed, other reports say around 2,000 – 3,000 people were killed, including shootings etc. at the fence. You may well say ‘It doesn’t quite sound German‘, and you would be right. It wasn’t even ‘protecting’ Germany’s border, but someone else’s. The Dodendraad (Wire of Death) was put along the frontier between occupied Belgium and the Netherlands in the First World War, as a means of controlling movement over the frontier. A frontier that had two peoples with effectively one language joined by trade and family, and separated by murderous force. The Wire did not cover all of the Belgian/Dutch border, as the Kaiser did not violate Dutch neutrality by seeking to place it around Baarle-Hertog’s many borders with Baarle-Nassau.
The task facing the Imperial Army was demanding, there were no Belgian power stations to power the 2,000 Volt wires along the over 200 miles of the fence, as Belgium (we are told) had no power grid at that time.
Around the clock there was a guard every fifty up to one hundred and fifty metres. At nighttime the number of border guards was doubled, there were also more patrols. German soldiers were ordered to fire immediately after every unanswered warming. Yet they were not allowed to fire in the direction of The Netherlands. The soldiers walked from one switching cottage to the next one, returning when they met with a colleague halfways.
For the poor border Belgians, life was grim:
Placing the wire of death made it impossible to enter The Netherlands. Border traffic was reduced. For inhabitants of the border region this was a painful ordeal as their friends and relatives very often lived in both countries. All traffic to The Netherlands was forbidden or required a strict German control. Whether one could visit a relative or a friend on the other side of the border, depended on the arbitrary decision of the local commander who might – or might not – grant a written (and paid for) permit to leave the country for just a few hours or days. Belgians had to leave the country through a specific gate and had to enter again through the same gate, subject to scrutinous control and registration. If one failed to return in time from a visit to e.g. a sick relative, one simply risked having family members imprisoned or you were forced to pay a heavy fine.
So even before the Germans sent Lenin to Russia to found and then electrify the Soviet Union, they had built a model death strip that many a socialist thinking about the good old days of East Germany could have been proud of.
So, as I regularly do, I read a recent posting at Mick Hartley, which is about what nutters the rulers of Saudi Arabians are, spreading the theology of bedlam and then griping when people do what the theology says, and all the while blaming the Jews for their own ridiculousness.
And then I read this comment underneath that posting, from someone called “Graham”:
Ironically, it’s the Israeli-Saudi alliance behind the QSD that’s defeating ISIS.
QSD? Quesque c’est?
I found my way to this piece (I love the internet):
These are Kurds, Muslim Arabs, Turkmens, and Syriac Christians. …
… which, to me: sounds good, sounds bad, sounds don’t-know, and sounds good …
… About two weeks after this EXTREMELY disparate group was created, it launched the most successful series of offensives in the entire five-year Syrian civil war. The US immediately began arming the QSD, and the Turks suddenly stopped complaining that the Kurds in this new army were up to no good.
This guy goes on to say (I think) that the “Muslim Arabs” are Tunisian special forces, the Tunisians having become very pissed off with ISIS for having recently destroyed their tourist industry. So those Muslim Arabs sound semi-sane, or as semi-sane as Arabs ever are.
And I also found my way to this piece of Kurdish Daily News (Kurdish Daily News, to me, sounds good) which says:
Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD) has released a six-day balance sheet of the operation they launched against ISIS gangs in the rural areas of south Hesekê on October 31.
During the first six days of the operation, an area of 350 square kilometers has been cleared of ISIS gangs; which involves 36 villages, 10 hamlets, 2 gas factories, 3 quarry areas and some guard posts near the borderline.
The operation has thus far left 196 members of the gangs dead, 99 of whom were killed by QSD forces and 79 as a result of airstrikes by jets of the international coalition.
Part of my daily reading these days consists of Instapundit, and people linked to by Instapundit, telling me that the Middle East is going totally to hell, and that US Middle East policy now has no redeeming features at all. But I am unpersuaded that the answer to the Middle East’s many problems is for the Middle East to be totally conquered and then micro-managed by the USA, with everyone else just standing around and either waiting for their chance and getting it, or else hoping for the best and not getting it. US policy now seems to have been to back off, wait for some Good Guys to emerge out of the mess, and then when they eventually did, to back them with a few guns and a few missiles and a few airstrikes, but not with a huge US army stomping about making friends-that-are (and then abandoning them following an election) or friends-that-aren’t and enemies-that-are, and generally crowding out the best local answers. Is that – “leading from behind” (i.e. not actually leading at all) – such a very terrible idea? It sounds like a rather better idea than earlier ideas have been. Whether President Obama started out wanted that policy, I really do not know, but that now seems to be what is happening.
This more recent posting at Mick Hartley says that if QSD beats ISIL, the big winner could end up being al-Qaida. But might not QSD first defeat ISIL, and then might not QSD, or something closely related to or descended from QSD, then turn on al-Qaida and defeat al-Qaida also?
But what the hell do I know? Comments anyone?
“On November 21, Iran conducted its second test of a nuclear-capable ballistic missile in direct contravention of two U.N. Security Council prohibitions, including one that incorporates the current nuclear agreement — which bans such tests for eight years.”
– From National Review.
Another report via Reuters
Can anyone be in serious doubt that the deal between the US/EU and Iran to lift sanctions against the latter over Iran’s supposed co-operation over being good on nuclear tests is a crock? Another blinding result for Mr Obama’s foreign policy. We have another year of this man in the White House.
In late 1915 steel helmets were introduced on the Western Front.
The Times 8 November 1915 p7
They were not, as The Times correspondent claims, there to protect the wearer from rifle or machine-gun bullets. Indeed, as I understand it, even modern helmets are not always proof against high-velocity rounds. What they were there to do was to protect soldiers from shrapnel. Shrapnel, in case you didn’t already know, is the collective noun for steel balls being expelled from an air-bursting (or Shrapnel) shell. It was a huge killer in the First World War and the steel helmet did a great deal to save lives.
One of the good things about the Brodie helmet – as it sometimes known – is that it had an internal harness. This meant that if the helmet was dented the dent was not necessarily reproduced in the wearer’s skull.
On the shape, however, with a wide brim and no neck protection, I have always been in two minds. On the one hand, if the threat is from above you would have thought the shape was a good thing as it covers a large part of the wearer’s body. It is also easy to make. On the other hand, British helmets over the last 100 years have progressively given more neck protection which sounds like the British Army’s way of saying they got it wrong.
By the way, in my limited experience both steel and more modern Kevlar helmets are a pain in the arse to wear. You either can’t see anything from a prone position or you can’t see anything from a prone position and get a headache.
This was one of many changes to frontline equipment during the course of the war. Others included the introduction of the Mills bomb, the Lewis gun and the Stokes mortar.
The shooting down of a Russian military aircraft, by Turkey, allegedly after it passed into a sliver of Turkish airspace during a mission over northern Syria might well be an isolated incident, like Gadaffi’s clashes with the US Navy over the Gulf of Sidra in the 1980s. For me, I hear an ironic but distorted echo of the shooting down of the Korean Air flight 007 by the Soviets in 1983, when it was 90 seconds from international airspace after passing briefly through Soviet airspace, but that was a civil flight and a clear case of Soviet mass murder.
Whatever happened may not become clear, but why it happened is for now, even murkier.
Was it a ‘gambit’, like a pawn sacrifice (the eternal lot of the military) in chess to gain a strategic advantage, a pretext to escalate the situation or to force others hands?
Was the shooting down a provocation by a resurgent Erdogan, confident in his election victory, expecting to shield from Russia behind NATO?
Was it Russian testing of Turkish resolve, or vice versa?
Did both sides hope for a crisis too good to waste?
Is Russia hoping to drive a wedge between Turkey and the rest of NATO, expecting the wetter elements to take fright and use the ‘Polish veto’ of NATO?
Is Russia hoping for a prolonged spike in the oil price to boost its economy, and distract the hard-pressed masses from their troubles and toils?
Or was it just a trigger-happy pilot?
And what would be the best outcome for the West from this tragedy?
The upshot of the Syrian refugee crisis, and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris almost seems as they were 1960s KGB/GRU operations designed to sow discord within Europe and to set countries against each other and élites against the people, with Putin having dusted down an old plan and re-worked it. But is that not over-complicating matters?
I doubt that many realise that it was on 11th November 1940 that the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy struck a blow at Royal Fascist Italy’s Navy that may well have slowed the march of the Axis powers in the Mediterranean and marked the first check on their advance after the fall of France. The operation, called ‘Operation Judgment‘, involved two waves of Fairey Swordfish biplanes (almost certainly the slowest surprise air attack of WW2 apart perhaps from the springing of Mussolini) attacking the Italian fleet at Taranto harbour on the ‘heel’ of Italy. The outcome was that the Italian surface fleet was severely reduced in capability, and the remnants moved further up the peninsula to Naples, thereby limiting their capability to interfere with British shipping in the Mediterranean and to re-inforce North Africa. British casualties were 2 aircraft lost, 2 men killed, 2 PoWs. The Italians lost one battleship, and had 2 battleships and 2 cruisers heavily damaged.
The raid had been planned for Trafalgar Day, 21st October, but was put back due to a fire, fittingly enough to Armistice Day. A Swordfish also went on to cripple the Bismarck, and later in the War they accounted for 22 U-boats. Not a bad record at all.
It has been speculated that this raid inspired the Japanese to use air power at Pearl Harbor, but perhaps emboldened would be a better term, after all, it is not as if Japan wasn’t gearing up for something by this time. The anniversary of the raid has attracted some comment, a piece here in the American Thinker (an organ of which I know little), but pointing out that it actually makes sense to attack your enemies, not to wait for them to attack you. I particularly liked this part:
Third, fight to win, and winning means destroying the power of those who hate us. Had the Second World War been, instead of a continuous struggle, a series of peace talks and ceasefires and diplomatic pussyfooting, it is certain that Hitler would never have lost. Democracies naturally loathe war and yearn for peace, but evil regimes who control their subject peoples can maintain war fever indefinitely.
You might think that that author had some people from the present-day in mind.
And for those brave men of the Fleet Air Arm, flying in open cockpits at night against a major enemy harbour, I shall raise a glass of prosecco tonight, to sink something Italian.