Beer Boat

Beer Boat

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Saturday Is Old Radio Day: Mystery Playhouse - Mr. and Mrs. North in "An Invitation to a Murder" (1946)

What? Your home life doesn't look like that?

Enjoy the show anyway.

On Midrats 14 July 2019 - Episode 497: The Once, Past, and Future Strait of Hormuz & Gulf of Oman with John T. Kuehn

Please join us at 5pm EDT, 14 July 2019 for Midrats Episode 497: The Once, Past, and Future Strait of Hormuz & Gulf of Oman
From limpet mines on tankers, drone shootdowns, and the HMS
Montrose just short of loading grape - the decades long story of Iranian posturing in their near seas continues.

A lot sounds familiar, but the economic and security environment has changed a lot in the four decades.

What is a constant, what has changed, and what should we expect to evolved in one of the most globally important areas of water? To discuss these topics with us our guest will be Dr. John T. Kuehn.

Dr. Kuehn is the General William Stofft Chair for Historical Research at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He retired from the U.S. Navy 2004 at the rank of commander after 23 years of service as a naval flight officer in EP-3s and ES-3s. He authored Agents of Innovation (2008) and co-authored Eyewitness Pacific Theater (2008) with D.M. Giangreco, as well as numerous articles and editorials and was awarded a Moncado Prize from the Society for Military History in 2011.
If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Iran's mullahs get even more desperate and are trying to provoke a war to save their regime

Iran apparently has abandoned any concerns about plausible deniability in their efforts to provoke a war that the mullahs seem to believe will unite the Iranian people against the Western powers and save their regime which the western sanctions are threatening.So desperate they pull this sort of bush league stunt, Iranian IRGC boats tried, failed to seize British oil tanker in Persian Gulf, senior US defense official says
Five Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps gunboats tried to seize a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf Wednesday but backed off after a British warship approached, a senior U.S. defense official told Fox News.

The British warship was said to have been less than 5 miles behind the tanker but soon intercepted the Iranian boats and threatened to open fire. A manned U.S. reconnaissance aircraft was above as well, the official said, adding that Iranian forces left without opening fire.

Navy Captain Bill Urban, spokesman for the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), said the military was aware of the reported actions. He added, “Threats to international freedom of navigation require an international solution. The world economy depends on the free flow of commerce, and it is incumbent on all nations to protect and preserve this lynchpin of global prosperity.”
Keep the sanctions, avoid the war, but respond to any deadly attacks with precision fire.

Friday, July 05, 2019

Friday Film: "Containerization Today" (1960s)

First use of containers in ocean shipping was in 1956 - 63 years ago.

It's hard to believe what a difference their use has made in transportation. Some background here.

Container ships keep growing in size, adding to the economies of scale of this manner of transporting goods - see World’s largest boxship featuring 24 rows across is delivered. See also here.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Messages from China - One Clear and One Odd

First the clear signal We Don't Like Your FONOPS and Exercises in the South China Sea so we'll show off our anti-ship ballistic missile and demonstrate we lied when we said we wouldn't militarize those islands we made in the SCS.
China's military conducted a flight test of an anti-ship ballistic missile in the contentious South China Sea last weekend in violation of a pledge four years ago by President Xi Jinping not to militarize the waterway.
China also may have conducted the provocative missile test in reaction to the recent U.S.-Japan naval exercises in the South China Sea.
Well, of course. It's a warning shot across the bow.

The odd message? China Raises Security Warning on Ships Plying Malacca Strait
China raised the security level for its vessels heading through the
Strait of Malacca, a key Asian trade route and major oil choke point.

The transport ministry advised Chinese-flagged ships to take heightened security steps and increased its security warning to level three, according to a copy of a July 2 notice posted on a website affiliated with the ministry.

Three is the highest security level in Chinese shipping regulations, and one above a warning issued after recent attacks on tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, according to people familiar with the situation, who asked not to be identified discussing government notifications. The ministry wasn’t immediately able to comment.
Things have been pretty calm piracy-wise in the Strait of Malacca in recent years, so this is a head shaker.

Lloyds List Maritime Intel headline says China raises attack threat in Malacca Straits to highest level:
Shipping companies are asked by authorities in Beijing to increase the security level on ships transiting the Straits of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest waterways. Cosco Shipping’s tanker unit has warned its staff about possible attacks from some Indonesian gangs.
But suppose you are China and you decide that the chokepoints through which your vital oil supplies flow are potentially threatened by forces that may attempt to enforce an embargo on - say - Iranian crude oil. After all, 78% of your oil passes through chokepoints.

Given that possibility, and looking to the U.S. Carter Doctrine for a historic parallel, might you decide to gin up a "threat" which would -um - require you to provide armed escort vessels for your tankers heading to and through such chokepoints? What better threat than "Indonesian gangs?"

In short, is this a Chinese setup to intrude in the state waters of Indonesia and Malaysia with warships as a preemptive move against such an embargo and to set the precedent that China can and will do what it wants to protect its "vital national interests" in such chokepoints?

By sending escort ships to protect its tankers China would take another one of those minor steps that seems innocuous but which has major ramifications. They don't even have to be PLAN ships, but could be Chinese Coast Guard ships to begin with.


Monday, July 01, 2019

Happy Birthday, Thomas Sowell!

As AEI put yesterday, Happy 89th birthday (June 30) to Thomas Sowell, one of the greatest living economists providing some great examples of his clear thinking:
Diversity. “If there is any place in the Guinness Book of World Records for words repeated the most often, over the most years, without one speck of evidence, “diversity” should be a prime candidate. Is diversity our strength? Or anybody’s strength, anywhere in the world? Does Japan’s homogeneous population cause the Japanese to suffer? Have the Balkans been blessed by their heterogeneity — or does the very word “Balkanization” remind us of centuries of strife, bloodshed and unspeakable atrocities, extending into our own times? Has Europe become a safer place after importing vast numbers of people from the Middle East, with cultures hostile to the fundamental values of Western civilization?

“When in Rome do as the Romans do” was once a common saying. Today, after generations in the West have been indoctrinated with the rhetoric of multiculturalism, the borders of Western nations on both sides of the Atlantic have been thrown open to people who think it is their prerogative to come as refugees and tell the Romans what to do — and to assault those who don’t knuckle under to foreign religious standards.

It has not been our diversity, but our ability to overcome the problems inherent in diversity, and to act together as Americans, that has been our strength.” (emphasis added)
More from other sources:
"It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong."

“The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics."

“Unfortunately, the real minimum wage is always zero, regardless of the laws, and that is the wage that many workers receive in the wake of the creation or escalation of a government-mandated minimum wage, because they lose their jobs or fail to find jobs when they enter the labor force. Making it illegal to pay less than a given amount does not make a worker’s productivity worth that amount—and, if it is not, that worker is unlikely to be employed.”

“Socialism is a wonderful idea. It is only as a reality that it has been disastrous. Among people of every race, color, and creed, all around the world, socialism has led to hunger in countries that used to have surplus food to export.... Nevertheless, for many of those who deal primarily in ideas, socialism remains an attractive idea -- in fact, seductive. Its every failure is explained away as due to the inadequacies of particular leaders. ”
And my favorite:
“Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.”

U.S. Navy Office of Naval Intelligence Worldwide Threat to Shipping (WTS) for 22 May - 26 June 2019 and HORN OF AFRICA/GULF OF GUINEA/SOUTHEAST ASIA Weekly Piracy Update for 20 - 26 June 2019

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Saturday Is Old Radio Day: "Strange As It Seems" Double Feature "The Mysterious River" and "The Man Who Had Green Hair"

Strange and unusual tales from John Hix:
Strange as It Seems was distinguished for its adherence to Hix's standard that every published fact be verified by a minimum of three sources. In Hix's words, Strange as It Seems is a library of
“the curious, in nature and humankind, set adrift on the vast sea of public opinion with the hope that it will fulfill its mission to entertain and acquaint its viewers with some of the marvels of the world in which we live."

Mysterious River:

The Man Who Had Green Hair:

On Midrats 30 June 2019 - Episode 495: Countering China in the South China Sea with Hunter Stires

Please join us at 5pm EDT, 30 June 2019 for Midrats Episode 495: Countering China in the South China Sea with Hunter Stires
China will continue to expand its holdings and presence in the South China Sea and the first and second island chain as long as it can and does not face pressure to do otherwise.

They have an unmatched shipbuilding program to expand not just their traditional navy, but their coast guard and maritime paramilitary fleets.

To discuss these and related topics will be returning guest, Hunter Stires.

As a starting point for our discussion, we'll review the major points in his US Naval Institute General Prize Essay Contest winning essay, The South China Sea Needs a 'COIN' Toss and related recent works.

Hunter Stires is a fellow with the John B. Hattendorf Center for Maritime Historical Research at the U.S. Naval War College. His focus centers on maritime strategy and logistics in the Western Pacific. Hunter is the winner of the U.S. Naval Institute’s 2018 General Prize Essay Contest, with his winning entry published as “The South China Sea Needs a ‘COIN’ Toss” in the May 2019 issue of Proceedings alongside a companion piece, “Why We Defend Free Seas.” His article “’They Were Playing Chicken:’ The U.S. Asiatic Fleet’s Gray-Zone Deterrence Campaign against Japan, 1937-40,” is featured in the Summer 2019 issue of the Naval War College Review. He is an Associate at Central Gulf Lines, a division of SEACOR Holdings Inc., and is a graduate of Columbia University.
If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Not a Bad Idea: Trump tells other countries to protect own Gulf shipping

Trump tells other countries to protect own Gulf shipping
President Donald Trump on Monday told other countries to protect their own Gulf oil shipments, declaring that the United States has only limited strategic interest in the "dangerous" region.

In a pair of tweets, Trump said US aims regarding Iran boil down to "No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror."

Stating that the United States is now the world's biggest energy producer, thereby weaning itself off decades of dependence on Middle Eastern oil, Trump said "we don't even need to be there."

And the US military should not be depended upon to keep the narrow sea routes along Iran's coast free.

"Why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation," he asked. "All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been a dangerous journey."

As for Tehran, Trump said, his only demand is that the country not pursue nuclear weapons and halts what the United States claims is backing for terrorist groups.

"The U.S. request for Iran is very simple," he wrote.
Trump's tweets add to his record of seeking a wider draw down of the US diplomatic and military footprint around the world.
Among the nations using oil from the Arabian Gulf area the French and the Brits have shared some of the sea lines of communication protection load, but since 1980 the laboring oar has been the U.S. Navy - which today has more sailors serving in that region of the world than anywhere else.

With the U.S. now perfectly capable of being energy independent, the vital national interest invoked by President Carter in the Carter Doctrine is no more, which is precisely what President Trump stated in his Tweets.

The Iranians count on U.S. reluctance to take Iran directly on or to directly confront Iran's effort to incite trouble throughout the area and to stage its small potato aggravations such as limpet mining ships or shooting down an unarmed drone. It's the "just not worth it" problem the U.S. faces - the aggravation level  of Iran's puny activity doesn't rise to the level of an existential threat to the U.S. Under the Weinberger Doctrine,  unless it does, there is no reason to go to war:
The Weinberger doctrine:
  1. The United States should not commit forces to combat unless the vital national interests of the United States or its allies are involved.
  2. U.S. troops should only be committed wholeheartedly and with the clear intention of winning. Otherwise, troops should not be committed.
  3. U.S. combat troops should be committed only with clearly defined political and military objectives and with the capacity to accomplish those objectives.
  4. The relationship between the objectives and the size and composition of the forces committed should be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary.
  5. U.S. troops should not be committed to battle without a "reasonable assurance" of the support of U.S. public opinion and Congress.
  6. The commitment of U.S. troops should be considered only as a last resort.
You might note that the "burr under the saddle" approach the Iranians follow never really crosses that line which would justify the U.S. completely destroying Iranian maritime forces of the Iranian Navy or its Iranian Revolutionary Guard or taking out the dictators who head Iran.

Critics of the Weinberger Doctrine might invoke the lessons set out in Colin Powell's December 1992 Foreign Affairs article U.S. Forces: Challenges Ahead
discussing the shift from a Cold War footing for the U.S. military to one based on dealing with "regional contingencies"
THE NEW NATIONAL military strategy is an unclassified document. Anyone can read it. It is short, to the point and unambiguous. The central idea in the strategy is the change from a focus on global war?fighting to a focus on regional contingencies. No communist hordes threaten western Europe today and, by extension, the rest of the free world. So our new strategy emphasizes being able to deal with individual crises without their escalating to global or thermonuclear war.

To help with the complex issue of the use of "violent" force, some have turned to a set of principles or a when-to-go-to-war doctrine. "Follow these directions and you can’t go wrong." There is, however, no fixed set of rules for the use of military force. To set one up is dangerous. First, it destroys the ambiguity we might want to exist in our enemy’s mind regarding our intentions. Unless part of our strategy is to destroy that ambiguity, it is usually helpful to keep it intact.

Second, having a fixed set of rules for how you will go to war is like saying you are always going to use the elevator in the event of fire in your apartment building. Surely enough, when the fire comes the elevator will be engulfed in flames or, worse, it will look good when you get in it only to fill with smoke and flames and crash a few minutes later. But do you stay in your apartment and burn to death because your plan calls for using the elevator to escape and the elevator is untenable? No, you run to the stairs, an outside fire escape or a window. In short, your plans to escape should be governed by the circumstances of the fire when it starts.

When a "fire" starts that might require committing armed forces, we need to evaluate the circumstances. Relevant questions include: Is the political objective we seek to achieve important, clearly defined and understood? Have all other nonviolent policy means failed? Will military force achieve the objective? At what cost? Have the gains and risks been analyzed? How might the situation that we seek to alter, once it is altered by force, develop further and what might be the consequences?

As an example of this logical process, we can examine the assertions of those who have asked why President Bush did not order our forces on to Baghdad after we had driven the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. We must assume that the political objective of such an order would have been capturing Saddam Hussein. Even if Hussein had waited for us to enter Baghdad, and even if we had been able to capture him, what purpose would it have served? And would serving that purpose have been worth the many more casualties that would have occurred? Would it have been worth the inevitable follow?up: major occupation forces in Iraq for years to come and a very expensive and complex American proconsulship in Baghdad? Fortunately for America, reasonable people at the time thought not. They still do.
I left that last paragraph in as a reminder that even you are engaging in punitive strikes or limited wars there is always the potential of getting stuck in problems that are not yours to solve, as we now ought to know too well. You want unforeseen consequences? See the effects of the Somalia, Libya and Syria "humanitarian" interventions, though they were of limited scope.

Where's this leave the U.S.? The situation that caused President Carter to make up a doctrine for the Middle East has changed. The reality is that the U.S. has no "vital national interest" in the Arabian Gulf. Whether our "allies" do is unclear - if they do, they should be taking steps to protect them without depending on the U.S. taxpayers to provide that protection through its investment in its own military. We have other things and places to focus our attention on.

President Trump is correct in his statements about what we seek from Iran - no nukes (they threaten U.S. allies) and stop funding terrorism. If the Iranians want peace and security, they know what they have to do to get it.

The message for those who rely on oil shipped out of the Arabian Gulf? Grow up and look after your own interests. As Henry Kissinger said, “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests” The American interest in the waters off Iran is dwindling rapidly.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

On Midrats 23 June 2019 - Episode 494: Small Boats and Daring Men: with CDR BJ Armstrong, USN

Please join us at 5pm EDT for Midrats Episode 494: Small Boats and Daring Men: with CDR BJ Armstrong, USN :
Punitive expeditions, retaliatory strikes, raiding, hitting pirate camps,
attacking enemy ships in the dark of night, striking enemy facilities & resources on shore and other forms of irregular naval warfare - sound new, transformational?

No. They've been with the US Navy from day 1.

Join us this Sunday with returning guest BJ Armstrong to discuss his latest book, Small Boats and Daring Men: Maritime Raiding, Irregular Warfare, and the Early American Navy.

CDR Benjamin "BJ" Armstrong is an Assistant Professor of War Studies and Naval History at the U.S. Naval Academy. A former search and rescue and special warfare helicopter pilot, he earned his PhD at King's College London and is the author or editor of three books, including his most recent Small Boats and Daring Men: Maritime Raiding, Irregular Warfare and the Early American Navy.
Join us live if you can, but if you miss the show you can always listen to the archive at Spreaker.

If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.

Saturday Is Old Radio Day - Space Patrol "Treachery in Outer Space" (1953)

High adventure in the wild vast reaches of space! Mission of daring in the name of interplanetary justice! Travel into the future with Buzz Corry, commander-in-chief of the Space Patrol!

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Blowing Up Bridges with the Marines of the OSS (with an Army Air Corps Guy, Too)

A while ago I was watching Harrison Ford and Robert Shaw blow up a bridge to thwart the Nazis in "Force 10 from Navarone" and wondering whether there was any background truth to the story. Some of my interest was that the filming of the picture took place in Montenegro, using Đurđevića Tara Bridge.* The original book was written by Alistair MacLean author of The Guns of Navarone, which was one of my favorite movies when it came out in 1961.
Đurđevića Tara Bridge

More on the Force 10 movie here.

At any rate, the premise of the movie was the need for the heroes of the Guns movie to perform another mission - which somewhere along the way shifted to them needing to destroy a huge dam to wash the bridge away. The plot seems to be unnecessarily complex, but really it's all about blowing things up, so it has that going for it.

My interest being piqued, I did some research on whether the U.S. and its allies sent people into the Balkans to blow up bridges in a clandestine way. The answer is "yes," as it seems a certain group of U.S. Marines were given the task in Greece, which they accomplished under the auspices of the OSS (sort of the daddy of the CIA). The source for what follows is a work titled "Herringbone Cloak--GI Dagger: Marines of the OSS" by Major Robert E. Mattingly, USMC Marine Corps Command and Staff College from 1979 which can be found here. While you might enjoy the whole thing, here's the part I enjoyed:
All the different kinds of leaders were grouping and re-grouping, forming alliances and breaking them up with threats of assassination: the klephts, the primates, the bishops, the islanders, Greeks from abroad, and the British."1 Those words, were written to describe the situation in Greece during the winter of 1821 but could serve equally well--with the inclusion of the Americans--as a synopsis of the same season in 1943.

Greece was then occupied not by the Turks, but rather by Germans, Bulgars, and a few Italians. To make the scene complete, there were competing guerilla forces which owed allegiance to either the non-resident monarch, King George, or the Greek Communist party. British SOE was having great difficulty sorting out exactly who was loyal to whom, under what circumstances, and four what price. When OSS opened its Cairo station in 1943, it stepped squarely into the political dung heap.

Exiled Prime Minister George Papandreou summed up the atmosphere accurately: "The country is an inferno. The Germans are killing. The Bulgarians are killing. The Security Battalions are killing. The guerillas too are killing. Everyone is killing and burning. What is going to be left of our unhappy country.?"2

Several Marines would soon find out.

Captain Gerald F. Else, USMCR, was born in Redfield, South Dakota in July 1908. Else entered the University of Nebraska in 1924, but transferred to Harvard, where he graduated summa cum laude in 1929. A scholar of classical Greek and Latin, Else remained in Cambridge, completing his M.A. in 1932, and receiving his PhD. in 1934. He then took a teaching job in the Department of Greek and Latin, until he was recruited into COI as a civilian.3

By January 143, it was apparent that Greece was a target of increasingly high intelligence priority. Similarly, it was clear that those OSS personnel not in uniform as officers would soon find themselves draftees. Else therefore applied for a direct commission in the Marine Corps Reserve, and OSS endorsed his request with a plea for retention within the intelligence agency.

Although he was over-age and color blind, Else was finally commissioned in August 1943, under Special Program 28-42 and assigned straight back to OSS as a Captain.4

Captain Else continued to work in the Greek Section of SI's Washington headquarters until late summer 1943. Then he shipped out for Egypt via Brazil and Nigeria.

"I was delayed enroute by problems unspecified (I realized later that the reason with the Cairo and Tehran Conferences, which must have produced an acute shortage of air transport) . . . It amuses me to recall that I was originally recruited for OSS because of my known Greek--ancient Greek--and that Knowledge was one of the chief obstacles to learning the modern language which I tried to do after reaching Cairo."5

Else arrived in Cairo during November 1943, and set to work developing a network of agents who could be infiltrated into predetermined target areas.

The biggest problem faced by OSS in the Middle East was not recruitment or training, but rather transportation. Parachute training (usually conducted in British Palestine) was inevitably followed by excruciating delays in aircraft availability. The British, who controlled all air assets for operations in Greece and the Balkans, carefully placed American requests for support at the bottom of the list. "The question of a small air unit under OSS control was unsuccessfully raised. Motor Torpedo boats were requested repeatedly but never arrived. Of all means available, Greek caiques, which usually transported agents in about one and a half months, proved to be the fastest."6

Caiques were small vessels used for fishing or limited cargo hauling. Varying in size from two to eighty tons, these were manned by crews ranging up to six or seven men. Few could make more than 4 knots. Of course, all were virtually defenseless.

Eventually, OSS put together a fleet of 36 such rafts,most of which were leased by British SIS.* The port of Alexandria was the normal "jumping off" spot. From there, the boats usually proceeded to one of several small harbors in Cyprus. Here agents went aboard still smaller caiques which ran into a clandestine base at Kusadasi, Turkey; transferred to even more flimsy (and usually wind-powered) versions; and in these made the final stage of their trip to occupied Greece.7

Merely sailing the Aegean Sea was a tricky business. Although men had been doing it for thousands of years, they had done so by

*SIS was only too glad to help anyone having problems with SOE.

choosing their season and waiting for the weather. The Aegean has no tide, and the winds blow north only during the summer. In the winter, storms come up from any direction, and the shallow bottom makes for dangerous waves. Of course there are hundreds of rocks to run upon as well.8 But the OSS "navy" proved equal to the task, and Else's section put more than 80 agents--primarily Greeks--ashore during 1944.*

Else remained in Cairo until the Fall of that year, serving as assistant to Rodney Young, a former archeologist who had spent years in Greece and soke the language fluently. As the Germans began slowly to retreat northward, OSS set about organizing the usual "capital liberation team." Young was to command with Else as his Executive Officer. On 12 October, they and two other members of the cairo staff flew directly into Athens, arriving there days before the transport rich British could get in. Soon afterward, Young resigned and Captain Else became Commander of the Athens mission.9

Civil war broke out in Greece on 3 December 1944, with the British backing the EDES guerilla army (royalist) against the ELAS (communist) irregulars. OSS personnel termed this "the unpleasantness," and attempted to carry on as neutrals. This was not easy since fighting raged in Athens proper. As one agent put it:

* The Germans mercilessly hounded any team which was unlucky enough to be compromised. The taking of hostages, summary executions, and torture were routine.

"During the first week the combination office-billet was situated a half-block from the front lines. With a British machine gun firing day and night from next door, a Greek military barracks down the street, and ELAS mortar shells falling all about, there were few periods quiet enough to concentrate on long reports."10

In January, Else left Athens for Caserta to head the Greek SI desk for the entire European Theater. Within a month of his arrival, the situation became so befuddled by conflicting State Department directives that he was recalled to Washington. After a short mission to Liberia, he was demobilized in December 1945.

While Captain Else was providing some of the "brains" behind OSS operations in Greece, Gunnery Sergeant (later Warrant Officer) Thomas L. Curtis, USMC, was supplying the brawn.

Curtis, unlike many Marines in OSS, was a career man. Born in Massachusetts, he enlisted in 1935, served in Hawaii until 1939, and was discharged. The next year, Curtis joined up again. Soon, he was hard at work in the Reconnaissance Section of Amphibious Corps, Atlantic, teaching rubber boat handling to members of what became the 1st Raider Battalion.11 When OSS began to become involved in paramilitary training, Curtis was one of the first Marines to be transferred to the new organization. It was not much of a transfer. Headquarters of the Amphibious Corps in those days was at Quantico. So was the OSS training camp.

Sergeant Curtis taught new recruits the fundamentals of clandestine entry, patrolling,submarine exiting procedures, and hand-to-hand combat. He was a big, tough, beefy man, and he knew his trade. In October 1943, now a Gunnery Sergeant, Curtis was tapped for an operational mission.12

Curtis arrived in Cairo after a stop at Oran, Algeria. Immediately, he was made a member of the team being put together for an important sabotage job in German-occupied Greece.

The commander of Curtis' mission was Army Air Corps Major Jim Kellis, an unusual recruit in an unusual outfit. Most men joined OSS based on vague promises of "dangerous work behind enemy lines." Kellis actually proposed his own project to Army G-2 as part of a comprehensive plan for clandestine warfare to be conducted in his ancestral homeland and site of his own college education. This, in brief, is how a Marine Gunnery Sergeant found himself aboard the caique St.John several hundred yards off a swampy area of northeastern Thrace in early May 1944.13

Kellis and two Navy enlisted men were already in Greece, having infiltrated by foot across the Turkish border in December. It was their radio message to the secret base at Kusadasi which initiated the second phase of the EVROS mission. When the St. John cautiously worked her way toward the landing area it was nearly midnight. Everything was quiet, and the beach seemed deserted. But Kellis was waiting.

"One of my guerillas who had contacts in the vicinity had lined up some fishing boats which we needed to get through the swamp, and also to unload the caique, which couldn't come in very close because of the shoal water. The rest of us lay low in the cane . . In gathering the boats, my men were observed by some fishermen. So our presence would not be leaked to the Germans, we took into custody everyone who saw us. By nightfall we had sixty boats and 120 fishermen under guard. That night I rowed out to meet the St. John. The plan was for me to flash an "O" when I saw her, and they would reply with an "M". We had to be pretty careful, for German "E boats" patrolled the areas; moreover there were coastal batteries and searchlights on the hills; and a division and a half of German and Bulgarian troops were stationed at Alexandroupolis, a few miles from our pinpoint. At eleven-thirty I spotted the schooner. She kept moving around slowly, and I was not sure of her identity, having never seen her before. Finally after half an hour, I decided to chance it and flashed by recognition signal. It was returned immediately."14

Quickly, Kellis gave the go-ahead for unloading, and his armada of requisitioned lighters sallied from the swamp. In less than an hour, the entire EVROS team was ashore with Thompsons, grenades, and enough explosives to do the job for which they had been sent. At that moment, several important Greek bridges were doomed.

The EVROS team had been launched into action in accordance not only with Kellis' ideas, but upon formal request of the JCS. German steel production was a concern to the strategic planners and a key ingredient in the process was chrome ore. Much of this came from neutral Turkey. OSS was directed to cut that supply.15 The Research and Analysis branch in Washington had information that most of the ore was carried into Nazi controlled territory by two rail lines. Both of these wound through the eastern mountains of Bulgaria and Greece, crossing several major gorges atop modern bridges. Dropping these would at least partially solve the problem.

Kellis had hoped to blow the huge "International Bridge" which connected Greece and Turkey at the Evros River border. "This was a huge structure and although a difficult operation its destruction would have stopped literally all rail traffic into Greece. The State Department vetoed this plan for fear of Turkish reaction . . .16 Instead, the two spans picked by R&A were targeted.

The first of these was the Alexandroupolis Bridge in Greece, the second Svilengrad Bridge in Bulgaria. Kellis took Svilengrad, along (210 foot) low affair which would require over a thousand pounds of plastic explosive. Curtis drew Alexandroupolis, tottering on fifty foot piers in the center of a deep ravine. This one would need only about 550 pounds of demolitions,since its height would magnify any damage and make repair much more complicated.

There were more than 300 Greek guerillas involved in training for the mission. Of these, 30 were specially selected members of the elite "Black Squad." Only they were told of the exact targets.

Their supplies supplemented by clandestine parachute drops, the team practiced for several weeks before Kellis decided the time was right. On 27 May 1944, both sabotage units moved into positions near their respective targets. Meanwhile, a third unit was sent in the opposite direction and directed to launch diversionary attacks to mask the true purpose of the burgeoning resistance battalion.17

Curtis' group of 50 men (including 15 Black Squad experts) soon determined that their bridge was guarded by a screen of German patrols with thirty Greek policemen actually stationed on both ends of the span. After a hair-=raising near ambush by one German reconnaissance party, all of the raiders managed to slip inside the roving cordon. Below them was the target, codenamed JOLIET. Curtis started down.

Packing a Thompson, two .45s, and an assortment of charges and detonators, Curtis walked straight up to the nearest policeman, shoved his submachine gun into the man's stomach and calmly announced in fractured Greek, "I'm going to blow this bridge and I'll do the same to you if necessary." The Greek and some of his contingent decided instead of resisting to help. The less willing were tied to trees and work proceeded.18

Suddenly, rifle shot began ricocheting off the steel girders. A German patrol had arrived. While the Greek guerilla security element fought a short but savage engagement with the intruders, Curtis hurried witt the charges. When everything was set, he cut the time delay from nine minutes to three and pushed the plunger. Then the greatest middle distance sprint in Greek history got underway.

"The Gunny had done his work well. An explosion shook the wooded hills, and the huge bridge went skyward as one unit, lifting and twisting high in the air. The flame of the exploding charges was visible 20 miles away, and a shower of debris rained down for several minutes after it was over. Hemingway would have gnawed his beard with envy."19

After several brushes with Germans and Bulgarian rushing to the respective scenes of carnage, both attack groups made it safely back to their operating base. Word of the mission's complete success was flashed to Cairo and the goat-skin wine bladders were passed around. It took several months before either bridge could be put back into even a shadow of its former capacity.20

Six weeks later, the EVROS mission was withdrawn from Greece by caique, returning to Egypt through Turkey. Kellis received the Legion of Merit and Curtis the Bronze Star. Both men would later serve with OSS-trained guerillas in China, and both would win the Silver Star there. For his performance in Greece, Gunnery Sergeant Curtis was meritoriously promoted to Warrant Officer.21

Captain Else and Gunny Curtis provide an interesting duet in the libretto of Marines with OSS. One a scholarly organizer, observer, and analyst; the other a burly operator. Curtis retired as a Captain in the early 1960s. Else returned to academia and became Director of theCenter for Coordination of Ancient and Modern Studies at the University of Michigan. He never did fully master modern Greek.
*About the Đurđevića Tara Bridge:
Much of Montenegro, including the Tara Canyon, came under Italian occupation following the German-led invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941. As the mountainous terrain made it suitable for guerrilla warfare, a partisan uprising occurred in the area. Italian forces took control of the Tara Bridge during an Italian offensive in 1942.

A Yugoslav Partisan raiding party blew up the central arch with the aid of one of the bridge engineers, Lazar Jauković. The attack cut the only feasible crossing over the Tara Canyon halting the Italian advance. When Jauković was eventually captured, however, the Italians executed the engineer.
It was rebuilt in 1946.

This adventure is also featured in Sabotage and Subversion: The SOE and OSS at War
by Ian Dear

The OSS was unusual. But they blew things up!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Sea Kidnappings Between the Philippines and Malaysia

The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Centre post this alert, Incident Alert Abduction of Crew from two fishing boats :
On 18 Jun 19 at about 0245 hrs, about 10 men armed with high powered firearms, believed to be members of the Sulu-based Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) abducted 10 crew from two Malaysian-registered fishing boats (with markings SA/2325/F and SA/5699/C). The fishing boats were in the vicinity waters of Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia when the perpetrators boarded the fishing boats from one jungkong-type watercraft and one speed boat painted orange and white. The ASG members abducted four crew from the first fishing boat and six crew from the second fishing boat; and were sighted in the area of Pondohan, Tabawan, Sitangkai, Tawi-tawi, Philippines at about 0330 hrs on 18 Jun 19. The Philippine authorities are stepping up its patrol efforts, conducting pursuit operations and intensifying its military operation to rescue the abducted crew and neutralize the militant group.
First such attack in this area this year.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Father's Day

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.” —Umberto Eco

I treasure those odd moments . . .

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Tanker Attacks Off Iran - Iran's Response to Trade Restrictions?

In what certainly seems an escalating series of "tit for tat" attacks on ships in Arabian Gulf area, Tradewinds News reports Frontline and Schulte tankers attacked off Fujairah:

IRIB News Photos
Two tankers operated by Frontline and Bernhard Schulte have reportedly been the subject of a "torpedo" attack off Fujairah in the UAE, according to broking and ship agency sources on Thursday.

The 110,000-dwt LR2 Front Altair (built 2016) is carrying naphtha produced by Abu Dhabi National Oil Co to Taiwan, having lifted the cargo from Ruwais on 11 June.

According to Taiwan CPC, trading house Ocean Energy has chartered the vessel to transport the cargo to the Taiwanese refiner.
U.S. Fifth Fleet reports:
We are aware of the reported attack on shipping vessels in the Gulf of Oman. U.S. Naval Forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6:12 a.m. local (Bahrain) time and a second one at 7:00 a.m. The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96) rendered assistance.
In the background of this is a report of damage to ships in port Iran, as set out in Mysterious Blazes on Six Iranian Ships in Iranian Ports:
IRNA photo
As the strategic port of Shahid Rajaee, north of the Strait of Hormuz, was still dealing with the effects of a huge fire that caused serious destruction, Iranian media reported2 that six Iranian ships were ablaze in several ports in the southern part of the country.3

The Iranian Republic News Agency reported that on June 7, 2019, four merchant ships caught fire in the port of Nakhl Taqi (Taghi) in the Asaluyeh region of Bushehr Province. Three ships were burned entirely, while two others in Asaluyeh suffered major damage. While the governor of Asaluyeh claimed the fires were extinguished without anyone harmed, the head of the emergency rooms in Bushehr Province said that several civilians and sailors had been injured and brought to hospitals in the region. The mayor of the town of Delvar, near the port of Bualhir, confirmed that one vessel in the port burned completely.
Which was, of course, preceded by May 13, 2019, damage to ships in UAE ports US Official: Explosives Blew Holes in Ships off UAE:
UAE photos
A U.S. official says military experts believe explosives blew holes in four ships off the coast of the United Arab Emirates Sunday, and suspects Iran may be involved but they have no proof.

Two of the oil tankers belong to Saudi Arabia, which says the ships suffered "significant damage" in what it and the UAE calls sabotage.

Saudi Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih said the attack was meant to undermine "the security of oil supplies to consumers all over the world."
Yes, well, not the first "tanker war" in the area.

I don't mind pointing fingers at the Iranians or their surrogates, as the situation does seem to show that Iran is a little peeved over sanctions.

Probably not at this stage yet, though:
Of course, the start of WWI comes to mind.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

On Midrats 9 June 2019 - Episode 492: Making a Better Army Staff Officer, with COL Kirk Dorr, USA

Please join us at 5pm on 9 June 2019 for Midrats Episode 492: Making a Better Army Staff Officer, with COL Kirk Dorr, USA
How does our Army help officers understand military doctrine, history, and theory? How do we ensure that our staffs have leaders capable of generating options for commanders engaged with our most complex operational and strategic problem sets?

It doesn't happen by accident.

To address these questions and related topics, our guest this Sunday will be Colonel Kirk Dorr, USA the Director of the U.S. Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies (commonly known as “SAMS”) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

COL Dorr is a career Armor Officer, has commanded formations from the company to brigade-levels, and served in staff officer assignments up to the Army Staff and Joint Staff-levels.

COL Dorr’s military education includes attendance at both Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a resident Fellow studying international affairs and security studies. He is also a graduate of the School of Advanced Military Studies, Joint and Combined Warfighting School, and the Army Command and General Staff College.
Join us live if you can, but if you miss the show you can always listen to the archive at Spreaker.

If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Back to "Bumper Drills" - Russian Destroyer Violates Nautical Rules of Road to Harass U.S. Navy Cruiser

Let's begin with the U.S. Navy official statement 7th Fleet Statement on Unsafe Maneuver by Russian Destroyer /a>
At approximately 11:45 am on June 7, 2019 while operating in the Philippine Sea, a Russian Destroyer (UDALOY I DD 572) made an unsafe maneuver against guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62), closing to approximately 50-100 feet putting the safety of her crew and ship at risk.

While USS Chancellorsville was recovering its helicopter on a steady course and speed when the Russian ship DD572 maneuvered from behind and to the right of Chancellorsville accelerated and closed to an unsafe distance of approximately 50-100 feet. This unsafe action forced USS Chancellorsville to execute all engines back full and to maneuver to avoid collision.
The videos are below. More damning, however, is this photo, obviously taken from the U.S. Navy helicopter:
Russian ship is on the left, as you face the photo. Note that its wake shows it maneuvering to intercept the course of Chancellorville, whose wake show it maintaining a steady course.

Under the International Rules of the Nautical Road, a vessel overtaking another ship has the obligation -the burden -to avoid the vessel being overtaken, see here for the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (COLREGs). Rule 13 governs in this instance, but background Rules are provided:
Rule 1
(a). These Rules shall apply to all vessels upon the high seas and in all waters connected therewith navigable by
seagoing vessels.
Rule 2
(a). Nothing in these Rules shall exonerate any vessel, or the owner, master or crew thereof, from the consequences of
any neglect to comply with these Rules or of the neglect of any precaution which may be required by the ordinary
practice of seamen, or by the special circumstances of the case.
(b). In construing and complying with these Rules due regard shall be had to all dangers of navigation and collision and
to any special circumstances, including the limitations of the vessels involved, which may make a departure from these
Rules necessary to avoid immediate danger.
Rule 3
General definitions
. For the purpose of these Rules, except where the context otherwise requires:
(a). The word “vessel” includes every description of water craft, including non-displacement craft, WIG craft and
seaplanes, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.
(b). The term “power-driven vessel” means any vessel propelled by machinery.
(c). The term “sailing vessel” means any vessel under sail provided that propelling machinery, if fitted, is not being
(d). The term “vessel engaged in fishing” means any vessel fishing with nets, lines, trawls or other fishing apparatus
which restrict manoeuvrability, but does not include a vessel fishing with trolling lines or other fishing apparatus which
do not restrict manoeuvrability.
(e). The word “seaplane” includes any aircraft designed to manoeuvre on the water.
(f). The term “vessel not under command” means a vessel which through some exceptional circumstance is unable to
manoeuvre as required by these Rules and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel.
(g). The term “vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuvre” means a vessel which from the nature of her work is
restricted in her ability to manoeuvre as required by these Rules and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of
another vessel. The term “vessels restricted in their ability to manoeuvre” shall include but not be limited to:
(i). a vessel engaged in laying, servicing or picking up a navigation mark, submarine cable or pipeline;
(ii). a vessel engaged in dredging, surveying or underwater operations;
(iii). a vessel engaged in replenishment or transferring persons, provisions or cargo while underway;
(iv). a vessel engaged in the launching or recovery of aircraft;
Rule 8
Action to avoid collision
(a). Any action to avoid collision shall be taken in accordance with the Rules of this Part and shall, if the circumstances
of the case admit, be positive, made in ample time and with due regard to the observance of good seamanship.
(b). Any alteration of course and/or speed to avoid collision shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, be large
enough to be readily apparent to another vessel observing visually or by radar; a succession of small alterations of
course and/or speed should be avoided.
(c). If there is sufficient sea-room, alteration of course alone may be the most effective action to avoid a close-quarters
situation provided that it is made in good time, is substantial and does not result in another close-quarters situation.
(d). Action taken to avoid collision with another vessel shall be such as to result in passing at a safe distance. The
effectiveness of the action shall be carefully checked until the other vessel is finally past and clear.
(e). If necessary to avoid collision or allow more time to assess the situation, a vessel shall slacken her speed or take
all way off by stopping or reversing her means of propulsion.
(i). A vessel which, by any of these Rules, is required not to impede the passage or safe passage of another vessel
shall, when required by the circumstances of the case, take early action to allow sufficient sea-room for the safe
passage of the other vessel.
(ii). A vessel required not to impede the passage or safe passage of another vessel is not relieved of this obligation if
approaching the other vessel so as to involve risk of collision and shall, when taking action, have full regard to the
action which may be required by the Rules of this part.
(iii). A vessel the passage of which is not to be impeded remains fully obliged to comply with the Rules of this part when
the two vessels are approaching one another so as to involve risk of collision.
Rule 13
(a). Notwithstanding anything contained in the Rules of part B, sections I and II, any vessel overtaking any other shall
keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken.
(b). A vessel shall be deemed to be overtaking when coming up with another vessel from a direction more than 22.5
degrees abaft her beam, that is, in such a position with reference to the vessel she is overtaking, that at night she
would be able to see only the sternlight of that vessel but neither of her sidelights.
(c). When a vessel is in any doubt as to whether she is overtaking another, she shall assume that this is the case and
act accordingly.
(d). Any subsequent alteration of the bearing between the two vessels shall not make the overtaking vessel a crossing
vessel within the meaning of these Rules or relieve her of the duty of keeping clear of the overtaken vessel until she is
finally past and clear.
Rule 16
Action by give-way vessel
. Every vessel which is directed to keep out of the way of another vessel shall, so far as possible, take early and
substantial action to keep well clear.
Rule 17
Action by stand-on vessel
(i). Where one of two vessels is to keep out of the way the other shall keep her course and speed.
(ii). The latter vessel may however take action to avoid collision by her manoeuvre alone, as soon as it becomes
apparent to her that the vessel required to keep out of the way is not taking appropriate action in compliance with these
(b). When, from any cause, the vessel required to keep her course and speed finds herself so close that collision
cannot be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, she shall take such action as will best aid to avoid
(c). A power-driven vessel which takes action in a crossing situation in accordance with subparagraph (a)(ii) of this Rule
to avoid collision with another power-driven vessel shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, not alter course to port
for a vessel on her own port side.
(d). This Rule does not relieve the give-way vessel of her obligation to keep out of the way
Now, look at these videos, not much doubt that the Russian destroyer is overtaking, as defined above the U.S. cruiser. In addition, the U.S. ship was conducting flight operations, thus adding to the Russian's breached obligation to stand clear of the U.S. ship.

This sort of behavior was not uncommon during the Cold War, and it appears that Cold War mentality is creeping back into the Russian psyche. Or at least that of its leadership.