A History of North America

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The Barbary Coast, and Wars

It is difficult to find any time since the Byzantine Empire when the North African coast from Morocco to Libya was not infamous for piracy. The worst period was the beginning of the sixteenth century to the end of the eighteenth. The Berbers, who may or may not have originally populated the Canary Islands, were piratical by nature and good navigators in the treacherous Atlantic and unpredictable Mediterranean.

Algeria, Tunisia and Tripolitania (Libya) take their name from the infamous pirate Barbarossa. Even the English adjective barbaric has its roots in berber, bereber or Barbarossa. (more…)

Dorothy Parker: some things worth remembering . . .

She was born Dorothy Rothschild (nothing to do with the bankers) in 1893 and died just over seventy in 1967. She was American, one of the founders of the wits’ Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel on West 44th Street, New York. She was not unhappy all her life, but never really happy. Here are some of the sayings she is remembered for: (more…)

Strategic bombing offensive: the science of massed air attacks

Coventry Cathedral 1941Crudely 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.

What was left of a part of Dresden

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.

Commerce in History: the slave trade

Thinking people still get hot under the collar when the subject of the trade in slaves looms. But then, more nonsense is spoken about the slave trade by otherwise intelligent and educated people than one would care to admit. For those determined only to be ‘politically correct’, the trade was perfectly simple, evil of course, and typical of the many important countries which indulged in it. It consisted (for them) of wicked whites landing on the coast of West Africa, driving inland with fire and sword, kidnapping young black people from their homelands, chaining them up, and driving them back to the waiting ships with a whip ever ready in case of complaint. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In the first place, coastal African tribesmen would have taken very badly to any kind of invasion made by white people, unless they knew exactly what the white intruders were in Africa for. (more…)

Who was Richard Sorge?

/ russianspectrum.com

/ russianspectrum.com

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. (more…)

The Treaties of Paris (May 1814 & November 1815)

Treat 1814 / ebay.com

Treaty 1814 / ebay.com

Just eighteen months separate two important agreements reached in the city of Paris. After the Allies (Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia) had at last defeated Napoleon, a pact was made with France which, considering the awful damage done to most of Europe, was perhaps over-generous. (more…)

The Battle of Midway

Chester Nimitz / history.com

Chester Nimitz / history.com

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. (more…)

The father of Winston

Lord Randolph / brooklyneagle.com

Lord Randolph / brooklyneagle.com

Lord Randolph H.S. Churchill was born in 1849, the third son of the then Duke of Marlborough. In character more similar to his grandson Randolph than his son Winston, he got into the House of Commons for the family borough (and almost fief) of Woodstock in 1874. I say ‘fief’ because near Woodstock stands Blenheim Palace, presented to John Churchill Ist Duke of Marlborough by a grateful Queen and Nation after his military successes. The building was designed by a retired playwright called John Vanbrugh, and the massive park was designed by Vanbrugh himself aided by Queen Anne’s gardener Henry Wise, with later additions by ‘Capability’ Brown. (more…)

The Mexican-American War

Mexican America WarIn 1845 the United States, in a fit of muscular expansionism, annexed the Mexican state of Texas which caused hostilities between the two countries, and a fair amount of confusion among the Texans. Not content with Texas, the US tried violently to expand their territory more with general S. Kearney taking over New Mexico. At the same time captain Frémont annexed Californian territory almost without any bloodshed. With these two moves the US had added fully a quarter more territory to their landspace. (more…)

By | 2013-06-26T09:42:36+00:00 June 26th, 2013|A History of North America|2 Comments

The first Hanoverian King of Great Britain


The British King who spoke no English / gameo.org

The British King who spoke no English / gameo.org

   The Hanoverian dynasty got its name from the city of Hanover, capital of Lower Saxony in Germany. In 1658 the grand-daughter of James I of England (and VI of Scotland), and daughter of Elizabeth of Bohemia, by name Sophia, married Ernst Augustus. He was the Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg, and became an Elector (Prince of the Holy Roman Empire with the right to elect the Emperor) of Germany in 1692. He took Hanover as his princely title and capital city.

It was Sophia and Ernst’s son (born 1660) who became George I, the first of the House of Hanover to be King of England (actually Great Britain and Ireland). Hanover as a territory contained important towns like Göttingen and Hildersheim. The defence of these places was to become a serious factor in British foreign policy during the eighteenth century.

So how was it that a full-blooded German ascended the throne of England?  The answer is because George’s mother Sophia and her issue were recognised as heirs to the throne by the Act of Settlement in 1701, which excluded the Roman Catholic Stuarts. George moved to England to become king in 1714 on the death of Queen Anne – herself a descendent of Catholic Mary Queen of Scots. (more…)

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