31 March 2010

World War I in 1862?

Continuing the alt-hist theme from the last post.

The American Civil War seems to be a favorite what-if area for a lot of novelists, and I suppose for good reason. It was the first 'modern' war. When it started, the Union and the Confederacy fought in the line-up and charge that armies had used for the previous 100 or so years. By the end, both sides were developing the awful tactics and living conditions of trench warfare.

One side was fighting to maintain a strong federal union, the other for the rights of individual states to decide their own affairs. The Confederate States were a bit more 'decentralized' than the United States were. Although the institution of slavery was certainly a hot-button issue, it wasn't the primary reason by itself that the South seceded. No one has ever yet convinced me that slavery would have survived the introduction of mechanical cotton processing machinery-why always feed and care for a lot of people when you can invest in a machine that won't consume anything when not in use? To use the old line from The Godfather: "It isn't personal. It's just business." I don't think the plantation owners were a particularly evil bunch in that respect. But I digress.

One theme that alternate history authors commonly use is 'What if Britain had entered the Civil War on the Confederate side?' Robert Conroy uses this plot point in the novel 1862, as did Harry Harrison in the Stars and Stripes Trilogy (Not good. Harrison has written much better).

It sounds like a promising point. Britain was neutral but inclined toward the Confederate States. The CSA was counting on British textile mills needing Southern cotton. What Britain ended up doing was developing the Egyptian and Australian cotton industry instead, and selling arms to the CSA. Perhaps, had the Confederacy won at Gettysburg or Vicksburg or enough times on the way to the 1864 US presidential election-piling up enough wins to give the Union pause, kick Lincoln out of office, and put in someone to sue for peace with the CSA, then Britain may have stepped in with massive aid for the South.

I have a problem with the concept most authors cling to, though, that Britain would have had massive forces to send to fight the US on its home turf. Certainly the Royal Navy was sizable-but so was the US Navy. It was a pivotal time in naval warfare and shipbuilding, and both sides would have an odd assortment of sailing ships, steam vessels, armored ships, and ironclads. The US Navy would have been deployed in a defensive position along the coasts, while the Royal Navy had to protect the sealanes of the world and defend its far-flung possessions. The British would, of course, be able to concentrate a force to break through the US blockade of its own coast-but it would have to spread out its forces to prevent the US from raiding its commerce and colonies at the same time. Not as easy as it sounds.

The British Army has traditionally been a small force and even in the glory days of the Empire, was spread out over half the world. In many locations the British Army consisted of 'native' regiments led by British officers. Although the Army could use Canada as a base to attack the Union, it would have had to cross the Great Lakes-no transcontinental railroad in Canada to rapidly move troops-or base in Vancouver to attack the West Coast-likely San Francisco. I personally don't believe the British Army or Royal Marines could conquer the US, but they could have captured and raided some of the coastal cities. To think that the combined British-Confederate forces could have captured the whole of the US is to see those two armies swallowed up in the Allegheny and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. North America is a vast place and an invading force could get swallowed up in the landmass. You could ask the Wehrmacht about getting swallowed up in a great open land, were it still around after getting used up in Russia.

Speaking of whom...

Most of the major European powers were watching events in North America in the 1860s. France was embroiled in its own adventure in Mexico at the time and would probably have preferred a friendly Confederacy on its northern border instead of the United States and the Monroe Doctrine (basically, Europe, stay the hell out of affairs in the Western Hemisphere that don't concern your colonies in the region), which is what actually happened. Russia was inclined toward the United States-Tsar Aleksandr II had liberated his own serfs in 1860-and sent warships to New York Harbor. Prussia and Austria were inclined toward the Union but probably not enough to bother going to war with Britain and France. While Britain of the 1860's had few men recognized as great generals or admirals, it did have some adept diplomats. They evidently knew enough to play the waiting game, not piss off any of the other powers, shake hands with the winner, and send condolences to the loser.

My thoughts, for what they're worth. I conclude that European aid to the Confederacy could have hurt the Union cause. British and French troops could have conducted amphibious assaults on places like San Francisco, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. But if an author tells you that the British and French would land a force of 100,000 men to capture the US in the Civil War, here's what I'd do to defeat that plot:

-Move the national capital to Pittsburgh.
-Let the invading army drive past a hollow screen of forces and draw them into the Appalachians and Alleghenies.
-Turn Grant or whoever is competent loose to grind the invading force into dirt and block the passes where practical. I'll have interior position so I can shuttle troops back and forth where needed-no air power to bomb the rail net. Plus I have the whole of the continent to retreat into.
-Make nice with the Russians, Prussians, and Austrians. See who'll ally with us and open a second front in Europe.

The 'what-if' of European intervention in the Civil War probably makes for good reading for an afternoon-though I prefer The Guns of the South, where white-supremacist South Africans travel back in time and introduce the AK-47 to the Confederate Army. But when you dig deeper into the politics of the era, events probably played out 'correctly'. I think Britain probably had everything thought out about the same as I do and said "Ahh, President Davis. Look, you're going to have to show us a bit more staying power. But we do have a warehouse of Enfield rifles for you, if you can get a way to get them to your homeland yourself. Just send us gold. Your money's no good here."

yankeedog out.

28 March 2010

Into the Inferno

While on assignment deep in the heart of Hoosier country, I managed to read Robert Conroy's Red Inferno:1945. Conroy is an alternate history writer, with the books 1901, 1862, 1942, and 1945 under his belt.

Red Inferno:1945 explores what might have happened had Stalin decided to keep pushing into Western Europe after largely winning the Battle of Berlin in 1945, taking on the Western Allies. Actually, on our side, General Patton had suggested continuing to push eastward and rolling the Soviets back to Moscow, so I'd guess some bright fellow in the Soviet High Command had drawn up some manuever to do exactly what is described in this book.

Red Inferno reads a lot like Cornelius Ryan's epic work on the Battle of Berlin, The Last Battle, mixed with Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising.

How is the book? OK to good, at least for a time-killer. I found the political aspects of the book fairly well thought out. The military part-fair to middlin'. The two armies slug at each other over most of Germany over the summer of 1945. As the Western Allies still had massive militaries at the time, it isn't quite the 'Soviet forces overrun the NATO tripwire' scenario so popular in Cold War-era novels.

The characters aren't what I'd call terribly fleshed out-actually closer to stereotypical to possibly cardboard. A fairly typical lot: an intelligence officer who reminds me of a WWII version of Clancy's Jack Ryan, the American soldiers straight out of Band of Brothers, a Soviet officer who risks his life to warn the Allies, and is treated...accordingly, and a couple of unremarkable but not unlikeable female love interests for our protagonists.

Finally, unlike Harry Turtledove, Robert Conroy appears to be able to tell a story in one book without pages and pages of needless repitition. Might want to get back to that, Harry...

I'd say if you have time to kill, pick up Red Inferno: 1945. Our own John Birmingham gave Conroy's 1942 a thumbs-up, so maybe I'll check it out next. Hmm. A story about Hawaii overrun by the Japanese after Pearl Harbor. When I was in Hawaii, it WAS overrun by the Japanese. I don't get what the big deal is.

Anyway, try checking out Conroy's books if you're into the whole alt-hist genre. Not bad.

yankeedog out.

25 March 2010

Hoosier Daddy

Off on a secret mission this weekend deep into the midst of the state of Indiana. Indianapolis, specifically. The Crossroads of America, or as we like to refer to it, Indianoplace. Too early for anything worthwhile to see to be open. It's before baseball season. We're there a week too early for the NCAA Final Four, which is OK since I have no tickets for said event. Hurrah.

Cheers all. Enjoy your weekend-or if you've had five good weekends in a row and are ready by God for a crappy weekend, go for it.

yankeedog out.

20 March 2010

A little 'Gator Navy

I've decided to go back to my milgeek roots. I've tried to do clever and funny, but being neither, I might as well go back to what I know.

I read recently of the possible imminent sinking of the USS LSM-45. The term 'LSM' stands for 'Landing Ship Medium'. The LSM was an oceangoing vessel, unlike the smaller LCT (Landing Craft Tank), but smaller than the LST (Landing Ship Tank). The typical Landing Ship Medium could haul a 4-tank platoon, their crews, and their gear on short ocean hops at a breathtaking 13.5 knots full out.

The LSM-45 served mostly in the Pacific during World War II. After the war, she was laid up in reserve, then transferred to the Greek Navy in the late 1950's. By the 1990's, the ship was getting long in the tooth. A group of LSM veterans raised the funds to have the ship towed back to the United States for restoration to a museum ship. This trek was not unlike the experiences of the return voyage of LST-325 from Greece. By 1998, the ship was moored on the Missouri River at Freedom Park in Omaha (home of minesweeper USS Hazard and submarine USS Marlin) and restoration work commenced.

I saw and toured the LSM-45 in 1999. At the time she was about half restored and in pretty decent shape.  I thought that the ship was something of a marvel in that there was some exteremely ingenious use of space. A lot of the ship's work spaces were located on either side of the vehicle deck as shown in the pictures above and below:

I found it amazing how complete the facilities on board were. 4 officers and 54 enlisted called the LSM 'home', along with temporary accomodations for 40-50 troops. The crew and troop accomodations were under the vehicle deck on the hold deck, and I can't help but think those guys would have baked down there.

Armament for the basic LSM consisted of a 40 mm gun and 4 single 20 mm-good for light anti-aircraft work. Some of the class were modified to fire 5 in (127 mm) barrage rockets. These vessels were used for shore bombardment.

Making a long story long, in the early 2000s, the LSM-45 was moved to the Museum of the Marine in North Carolina. The ship was planned to be part of a major expansion of the museum and waterfront.

By the end of the decade, the expansion plans fizzled out and the LSM-45 has been left to rust. By 2009, the plan was to remove the mast and superstructure and scuttle the hull as an artificial reef. It would appear to be something of an ignominious end for this old vet, and a tremendous waste of time, energy, and planning over a 20-year period.

I think a lot of groups don't realize the expense required to keep up a museum ship. On paper, it sounds like a winning deal: Find the ship, clean and paint, add a souvenir stand, and voila, instant tourist attraction! There's actually a lot of mechanical upkeep involved. Ships always need chipping and painting. The bilge pumps have to kept running. A trip to a drydock is necessary every so often for getting rid of barnacles and checking for damage to the hull plates. A tour route has to be figured out and made reasonably safe and accessible for a majority of visitors. Air conditioning may be desired for visitor comfort, and most ships built during WWII don't have a ventilation system designed for A/C. Volunteers and staff are required. Stuff that at one time could be requistioned by the Navy is long unavailable. The list goes on and on. And the available pool of people who have knowledge of the systems on board an LSM are dwindling. Unlike the LST's, which were used into the Vietnam era, the LSM's were discarded after WWII. That means most of the LSM sailors are in their upper 80s and not probably up to the rigors of financing and running a museum vessel. The LST can draw on Vietnam vets for knowledge.

I also wonder why the Navy and Marine Corps don't have a proper museum for the Amphibious Force. They have been used in all of our major combat operations since WWII and are a vital part of today's armed forces. LSM-45 belongs in a decent display-perhaps on a simulated stretch of beach, unloading vehicles. This won't be its likely end. A shame. But I'm glad I got to see her when I did. 

A similar saga played out with the USS Cabot (CVL-28), which was a light carrier. This ship was built on a cruiser hull and filled the gap between the big fleet carriers and the numerous tiny escort carriers built on merchant ship hulls.

The Cabot served in World War II and was transferred to the Spanish Navy in the 1950s. Spain operated her as the carrier Dedalo into the 1990s (with a complement of Harriers and Huey helicopters), when their own design, the Principe de Asturias, entered service.

The ship was towed back to the States with big plans to make her a museum ship. But taking care of a ship a size of an aircraft carrier is an even more expensive proposition than a relatively small and simple landing ship. Mismanagement and lack of funds caused the ship to be seized and sold for scrapping:

So ends the career of the Cabot. Can't save them all, I guess. But I wish I could have seen her when she was afloat.

I've been on a fair portion of the museum ships in this country, and I appreciate the history of these vessels and the crews who sailed in them. The stories the ships and sailors could tell...

One thing that is depressing about touring these beasts is that it shows how far the US has sunk as an industrial nation. Everything on those ships was built here-the engines, the armor, the heavy guns, the electronics-you name it, it was designed and built here in America. We couldn't build a battleship here now if our nation's survival depended on it. We don't have the facilities to do things like turn a heavy gun barrel or roll heavy armor plate. Maybe our survival here doesn't depend on the ability to build armored capital ships, but oh, the people they employed. Everyone that wanted to could work, and be proud of a quality product at the end of the day. I'm not sure we'll survive as a nation selling hamburgers to one another. A major power still has to have the ability to build stuff, not buy it from overseas.

While the song is old and a bit trite, I suppose-Billy Joel's hit from 1982, Allentown, seems to fit, where he laments the massive losses in basic industry and the opportunities those industries provided for workers of all kinds-from the guy on the shop floor to the maintenance crew to the draftsman to middle management. An Englishman could probably substitute 'Sheffield' for Allentown and an Australian substitute 'Newcastle' for that steel town in the Alleghenies.

Oh yes, finally. I do like 'baby boomer' rock, much maligned in some circles. I also like old country music. If I embed a piece that offends you, here's what you do: Talk to the regimental chaplain. He'll help you fill out a 'Tough Shit' slip like what's shown below.


Write legibly in the box and send it back.


yankeedog out.

15 March 2010

Mid-March, and what have we done?

First-Beware the Ides of March! This warning was supposedly given to Julius Caesar by a soothsayer, who (and it might have been just once) was right, since legend has it this was the day the Roman dictator got the sharp end of the knife.

I say beware the Ides of March (Chicago's very own), or else they'll come to your local street fest and play 'Vehicle' over...and over...and over again.

You know, I had a rant tonight. I decided that I need to be bigger than my own selfishness. But still I have much to ponder. In the meantime:

What's the best classic warbird? Spitfire? Mustang? Or Corsair? They all sound good, though! I brought it up on Twitter. Now I'm partial to the Corsair. Love the sputter of that P&W Wasp:

Just like that show I watched when was in elementary school-the most unrealistic portrayal of the War in the Pacific ever made.

Now the roar of the Rolls/Royce Merlin in the P-51 Mustang is impressive as well. This vid could have been from an airfield in Britain 'round about 1944. Awesome that this many Mustangs are still flyable 60+ years on:

I've not seen a flyable Spitfire and I personally think our US birds are all it. But the Spitfire that started World War II and the design used at the end is damn near the same in name only. Five USAAF pilots made ace in the Spit-and it and the Hurricane DID win the Battle of Britain, after all. So we can't find anything bad to say for the mainstay of The Few.

Bigger and slower is the T-6 Texan trainer. Some of you may know it as the Harvard. I have almost two minutes of real stick time in the Texan. Big heavy feeling plane it is, and damn hot sitting behind the engine. But the Texan/Harvard will do about anything you ask within reason-rolls, loops, and climb-to-stall! That particular maneuver rocks. Recommended ride if you can afford it. Keep your fancy cars-I've ridden the T-6 and a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. 2000 pounds of bombs and a dozen of Ma Deuce got ya beat.

yankeedog out.

11 March 2010

Signs o' the times

Ah. A bit better now. It was a rough last couple of weeks taking care of Mom-running her back and forth to the hospital a couple of times and a few trips up to the old hometown after work (200 km round trip plus time spent there-did that five times one week). I think we've got this round under control. A bit depressing but a hell of a lot more wearing. Just needed a bit of time out.

Tonight I just want to show off some signs:

Actually, this is an ad for the University of Maryland Terrapins sports. Just like the Akron Zips, with their mascot, Zippy the Kangaroo (Ohio kangaroos will beat an Aussie kangaroo like a drum). Fear The Roo.

You participants in the Franco-Prussian War gotta move them horses!

Now that's handy! A back adjustment and a coffee enema!

I remember Jacky from the Hotel "Yes Please". I was on leave in Manila. '69. And the year was 1986.

The sign for the X-Files Curry Palace, my favorite Indian restaurant.

I'd like the minnow chow mein and sweet and sour waxworms...

The flying class is easy. The landing class is a bit more challenging.

Yeah, a skilift in the ass could be a problem.

Havock? Looking at you on this one. Don't be kicking people's balls into the fence!

Who cares if you get the stray femur or vertebra in fill dirt anyway?

Looks like they hunt signs at the Big Mountain Hunt Club. Good shot group on the Adopt-a-Highway sign, though.

If I were to do a tasteless comment, I might ask if this were the sign for the First Church of Cunnilingus. But I have standards and some morality, so I don't feel I could with honor go for a cheap caption.

Except for the painter standing on the 12 foot long 2"x4".

This is why I like Walgreen's. They have everything. Just today I went in, got a prescription refilled, picked up some toothpaste, a small bag of Doritos, and a load of chicken poop. You can't pass that deal up with those prices!

I likes my odd signs!

yankeedog out.

02 March 2010

Surface to recharge batteries...

Ah, another March-and very tired. Been a bit busy being everything to everybody, and not doing spectularly at it, I think.

I think I'm going to hang out the 'Gone Fishin'' sign on the blog for a bit, and step away from this idiot box computer. I may go study the 2010 Cubs roster. That'll make me feel better!

No it won't. They'll be under .500 this year, I think.

Maybe a trip to the tropics! Yeah. A trip to the nation of Margaritaville. Please remain standing for the national anthem:

Or maybe a Cool Change:

Oh yes. The film/TV cars. I suspect that if all of you put your heads together, you probably had all of the right answers. If you don't watch a lot of American stuff, this might be a bit tough.

1) 1974 Dodge Monaco 440-The ex-Mount Prospect Police Department ride of Jake and Elwood Blues in The Blues Brothers.

2) 1981 DeLorean-Back To The Future, of course.

3) 1958 Plymouth Fury-The angry Christine.

4) 1970 Plymouth Valiant-The chased car in Spielberg's first major film, Duel.

5) 1977 Pontiac Trans Am-East Bound and Down, Smokey and the Bandit.

6) 1966 Chrysler Imperial LeBaron-The Green Hornet's car, from the '60s TV show.

7) 1982 Pontiac Trans Am-KITT, from Knight Rider.

8) 1976 Ford Torino 460-V8-Starsky and Hutch.

9) 1969 Ford Granada-The modified Granada was Commander Straker's vehicle in U.F.O..

10) 1969 Dodge Charger-The Dukes of Hazzard's General Lee. YEEEE-HAAAA!!!

11) 1963 Volkswagen Type I-Herbie The Love Bug, Disney's films from the late 1960's/early 1970's

12) 1968 Ford Mustang GT390 Fastback-Steve McQueen's car in Bullitt.

13) 1978 Chevrolet K10 Cheyenne-The truck that Patrick Swayze's character drove one step ahead of the Soviet Desantnyy in Red Dawn.

14) 1943 ALCO M4A3E8-From the forgettable James Garner film, Tank. Garner's character owned an M4 Sherman tank.

15) 1979 Kenworth K-100 Cabover-from the late 70s trucker series BJ and the Bear. I believe in this politically correct era, we'd have to rename it Oral Sex and the Bear.

16) 1974 Kenworth W-925-From another trucking show, Movin' On. Not a bad program if I remember correctly.

17) 1974 Ford Falcon XB-The last of the Interceptors of the Main Force Patrol in the Mad Max series.

18) 1974 AMC Hornet 'X'-The car James Bond did a corkscrew jump with in The Man With The Golden Gun.

19) 1975 AMC Pacer-Garth Elgar's most uncool car in Wayne's World. Excellent!

20) 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III-The possessed car in the film The Car.

21) 1964 Lincoln Continental-The car turned into the Deathmobile in that classic film of college student hijinks, National Lampoon's Animal House.

See! You DID get most of these.

Back in a while. Cheers.

yankeedog out.