Only six years after the first trans-continental railway (Canadian Pacific q.v.) was opened, Russia followed suit with her very lengthy railroad built between Moscow (actually Chelyabinsk in the Urals) and Vladivostok, a city/port in the northern Pacific. Commencement of construction was in 1891. Continue reading
This controversial Emperor of Japan was born in the same year (1901) Queen Victoria died, and the two monarchs shared much the same mystique. The Emperor was the son of Crown Prince Yoshihito (1874-1926), who had been the first Taisho emperor (from 1912 to 1926).
Hirohito was the first member of the Imperial family to be permitted to travel abroad, visiting the United States and Europe. On his return his father had become insane and Hirohito became Regent later Emperor. He was an ascetic, austere, strict, chronic hard-worker and frugal, not all willing to spend either his own money or anyone else’s, except for reasons of war. Continue reading
Nearly seventy years after the dropping of an atomic bomb over this naval port and military base in Japan the debate still rages. Was the action of the United States necessary? How many people died because of the exploded bomb? To what extent were President Truman and General Eisenhower involved in the decision to use the newly invented horror weapon? Would the Japanese have carried on fighting World War II in the Pacific if the bomb had not been used? Continue reading
After the horrific end of World War II in the East, the Japanese decided to replace the draconian Meiji Constitution agreed to in 1889. But the new draft was itself not new; it was based on the draft imposed on the Japanese cabinet by the United States in 1946.
The document gave sovereignty to the people rather than the Emperor, who was now to be seen only as a symbol of state, similar therefore to the European monarchies, which are ‘constitutional’ rather than ‘absolute’. In January of 1946 the Emperor Hirohito had announced that he was no longer divine. Emperor’s divinity had not before been questioned by the Japanese people. Continue reading
A bit of a dirty word since 1938 but it shouldn’t be. There is enough appeasement going on now over the disgusting situation in Syria to fill the Golden Bowl with appeasers eager to keep Assad Junior happy. It is all rather puzzling. With one Bush, America went with its cautious allies to war against Iraq because Saddam invaded Kuwait. Firepower won, of course, but Saddam’s government remained! Then Bush Jr. went to war with Iraq with equally cautious allies, beat him up, and permitted the locals to lynch Saddam in a particularly horrible way. Now in Syria the Assad boy kills hundreds of fellow citizens every day, even using poison gas to do it, and the world’s committees sit expensively around asking themselves what to do. Continue reading
Crudely developed during the later stages of World War II, the SBO was a series of mass attacks from the air on both military and civilian targets. The idea was to destroy your enemy’s capacity to make war on you, and to shatter civilian morale.
Before the Second War started there was widespread belief that aircraft would always get through defences and destroy towns and their population. German air attacks on places like Guernica in Republican Spain appeared to confirm this belief, though the propaganda value of Guernica to the Republican government of Spain was priceless, especially when internationally renowned artists like Picasso painted their view of the attack. Sadly, Coventry, Bristol and Desden had no Picassos available to repeat the process when their moment came.
Yet, though this appears strange, neither Britain, Germany, France nor the Soviet Union possessed many heavy bombers in 1939, when the War began. Britain started building the 4-engined Lancaster immediately, but orders were not delivered until 1941.
SBO was first ordered by Hitler against Britain in 1940. In August’s daytime attacks the Luftwaffe lost so many aircraft that they quickly changed to night attacks on London and other large cities in what the English called the Blitz. This went on until May 1941, when Hitler started preparing his air forces for Operation Barbarossa (q.v.) against his erstwhile ally – Soviet Russia. By then around three million homes had been destroyed and more than 60,000 civilians killed in Britain, but Hitler had not planned for the British failure to lower their morale (it actually went up) or halt war production.
Now comes a really bizarre moment: the British air chiefs told the United States that despite the failure of the Bliz they planned to win the War by bombing alone! As the Americans were doubtful at this time whether they would enter the War anyway, this came as a surprise. As we know, Pearl Harbor in December 1941 was enough to make up their mind.
Meanwhile, British bombers were operating at night, as their enemy had done in 1940. The specific targets were arms factories, bridges over rivers, dams in the industrial Ruhr, and massed concentrations of enemy soldiers. But night-flying skills and instruments were inadequate and most of the bombing was atrociously inaccurate, as aerial photography showed.
Then Air Marshal Harris, known as ‘Bomber’, became chief of Bomber Command in 1942, and he promptly went for bigger targets – such as whole cities. He approved of ‘area bombing’ – what the German civilian population knew as ‘terror bombing’. Using the enormous four-engined Avro Lancaster, with a great range and a payload of up to six tons of bombs, he ordered a thousand-bomber raid on Cologne (Köln) in May, 1942, quickly followed by other similar raids on the industrial Ruhr. On 27 July 1943 special incendiary bombs started a fire-storm in Hamburg which is estimated to have killed approximately 50,000 people. Should Britain have lost the War, the first military leader accused of war crimes would have been ‘Bomber’ Harris, a mild man personally. But, the Americans said they disapproved of SBO (though they used it without compunction later); they preferred precision daylight bombing of specific (military) targets, but on 14th October 1943 two-thirds of their aircraft were shot down over Schweinfurt and they suspended bombing until enough fighter escorts could arrive.
The fighter escort they awaited turned out to be the Mustang (operating from December 1943) a fighter superior to anything the Germans could produce. The Mustang ate up the enemy fighter force and made it possible for American daylight bombing to resume in February 1944. The results were so spectacular that when France was invaded on D-Day (6 June, 1944) the Germans could hardly muster a single Messerschmidt to attempt defence.
Meanwhile the Royal Air Force had cut German steel production by 80% in the Ruhr, halving Germany’s overall production. The States continued attacking synthetic oil production plants, but there was a danger of aviation fuel (in Britain, the main base) running out and the bombing fell from 316,000 tons (!) to 17,000 tons in September.
The human loss due to ‘carpet’ bombing was huge, and was later firmly questioned. Between three-quarters of a million and one million German civilians (a conservative estimate surely) were killed in Allied bombing raids. When questioned on this, senior air-force personnel were not very apologetic and asked who had started the War. They frequently added that up till then around 100,000 aircraft crew had also been killed from British and American air bases.
When the US captured Japanese islands in the Pacific they were enabled to begin SBO on the mainland of Japan, reaching a terrible peak in 1945. The idea was to spread terror and this the Americans certainly did in Tokyo on 9 March of this year, when fully a quarter of the city’s mostly wooden buildings went up in flames, taking occupants with them. Between June 1945 and the end of the war fifty-five Japanese cities were attacked, each attack destroying half the built-up area in each town. Finally, when two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki the strategic bombing offensive ended.
In 1927, Jiang Jieshi a.k.a. Chiang Kai-shek (q.v.) tried very hard to eliminate the Chinese Communist Party, which we will call the CCP. This is hard to understand because in his expedition to unite China, he was an ally of the CCP in the United Front. The majority of his conservative supporters were frightened of communist influences in the Nationalist Party, and wanted to get rid of it. Continue reading
He was a German-born spy who served in the trenches during the Great War. Like many others who survived this hell on earth, he admired Communist efforts in Russia to change the world’s ideologies, and joined the Communist Party, for which he worked as an agent for the Comintern in Shanghai. His cover job was as editor at a German news agency. Continue reading
May and June 1942 saw two tremendous conflicts on the high seas in which the opposing fleets did not actually see each other or exchange salvoes. They were aircraft-carrier-based battles in the Pacific. The first, fought in the Coral Sea (4-8 May, 1942) ended in one carrier sunk on either side, plus another gravely damaged. The opponents were the United States and Japan. Continue reading
Kind Hearts and Coronets is probably the best and blackest of the British 1950s comedies written for the screen. The film tells the story of an illegitimate boy who grows up determined to become a Duke, because his biological father is an aristocrat who refuses to help or even recognise the boy’s poor mother. And become a Duke Dennis Price does, by killing off eight members of a ducal family (all played by a spectacular Alec Guinness) who must be dispatched for him to acquire the title. Each of his victims is called ‘Gascoyne’. It is very likely that the film’s screenwriter was thinking of a certain marquesate when he wrote this name, precisely the Gascoigne-Cecils, one of whom was called Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoigne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury. Continue reading