Eyes of the Fleet

Eyes of the Fleet

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sunday Ship History: PROJECT WHALE TALE

In today's electronic world, all sorts of bizarre aircraft have been "Photoshopped" onto aircraft carriers, including B-2 Stealth bombers placed on a flight deck -see the nearby photo - there have even been attempts to create the first Air Force carrier which, naturally, has a golf course...

But one unusual aircraft that actually found its way to carrier flight decks was the famous U-2 "spy" plane. Yep, that high flying camera platform might have been seen on some aircraft carriers during the 1960's.

As a CIA history puts it:
In mid-1963, the Office of Special Activities set in motion OPERATION WHALE TALE to examine the possibility of adapting the U-2 aircraft for operations from an aircraft carrier. CIA planners believed that, if U-2s could be modified to operate from aircraft carriers, the United States could avoid the political problems involved in seeking permission to base U-2s in other nations.

The U-2, of course, has quite a history - an aircraft designed by the famous Kelly Johnson in Lockheed's mysterious "Skunk Works" (a reference to Al Capp's Li'l Abner comic strip, which was quite beloved at the time). The U-2 was designed to fly above known anti-aircraft missile ranges and above the operation range of the interceptor aircraft of the day. Flown out of Pakistan and perhaps other locations, the U-2s overflew the old Soviet Union with some degree of perceived safety until the day when the Soviets managed to shoot one down. This, in turn, led to the re-evaluation of the U-2 program and the controversy of basing locations arose which PROJECT WHALE TALE was designed to address.

The first test of the U-2's capability for carrier operations took place in August 1963 from the USS Kitty Hawk operating in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego, California. A U-2C, which had been loaded aboard the carrier at North Island Naval Base, took off from the flight deck with a full load of fuel and was airborne within 321 feet. No assistance from catapults was necessary. Although the takeoff was very successful, the attempted landing was not. The aircraft bounced, hit hard on one wing tip, and then just barely managed to become airborne again before reaching the end of the flight deck.
Alterations to the aircraft were made to make it more suitable for carrier operations, including toughening the landing gear and adding a tail hook and "spoilers" to the wings. The "first successful carrier landing took place on 2 March 1964."

While the operational history of the carrier launched U-2s may be shrouded in mystery, the program was ended:
There was never another Agency U-2 mission from an aircraft carrier. Although the idea of using a floating airbase to avoid political sensitivity proved feasible, the cost did not. Aircraft carriers are enormously expensive to operate and require an entire flotilla of vessels to protect and service them. The movement of large numbers of big ships is difficult to conceal and cannot be hastily accomplished, while the deployment of a solitary U-2 to a remote airfield can take place overnight.
Another site (UPDATE: As noted below, quoting but not attributing the writing to Norman Polmar) offers a slightly different version of the U-2/carrier trials:
The idea started in the late 1950s when the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was looking for a way to overcome the range limitations of the U-2. Possessing a useful range of about 3,000 miles (4,800 km), the U-2 simply could not reach every location of interest to the CIA given the locations of U-2 bases. As a result, the CIA began a cooperative effort with the US Navy known as Project Whale Tale. The purpose of this project was to adapt the U-2 for use aboard aircraft carriers. Testing commenced in August of 1963 when, in the dark of night, a crane lifted a U-2C onto the deck of the USS Kitty Hawk at San Diego, California. The vessel streamed off the coast on the morning of 5 August where Lockheed test pilot Bob Schumacher began flight test operations.

All was ready on 2 March 1964 when Schumacher made the first landing of a U-2G aboard the USS Ranger off the California coast. Although a series of touch-and-go approaches had gone well, the first landing was slightly less than successful when the arrestor hook engaged and forced the nose of the plane to dig into the deck. Despite breaking off the pitot tube, quick repairs allowed the aircraft to takeoff again. Successful takeoffs and landings continued a few days later, and the Navy considered five CIA pilots to be qualified to operate the U-2 aboard ship.
[Further] Sea trials took place from 21 to 23 November 1969 aboard USS America off the Virginia coast. The tests were conducted by Lockheed test pilot Bill Park plus four CIA pilots. After undergoing abbreviated carrier training, the pilots began a series of takeoffs and landings that proved completely successful. The aircraft was even transported down the ship's elevator to the hangar deck with no significant difficulties. Even after all this effort, however, the U-2R is not believed to ever have operated from a carrier again.
While Lockheed and the Navy continued evaluating naval derivatives of the U-2 for several years, no such aircraft ever entered service. From 1973-1974, two U-2R airframes were modified with a forward-looking radar and infrared detection system for use in the ocean surveillance role. These U-2EPX aircraft were to downlink radar data to surface ships to be melded with information from other land- and space-based sensors. However, the project was deemed too expensive and unnecessary given the evolution of satellites. Yet another proposal was a two-seat U-2 variant armed with the Condor anti-ship missile, an idea that quickly died following the cancellation of Condor.
So the carrier-based U-2 experiment remains a little known, but interesting bit of history. Give a little salute to the brave pilots who conducted the flight tests with such success.

UPDATE: See also here. Which I swear, despite the similarities in the chosen quotes, I didn't see before writing the above. Still, Norman Polmar deserves credit for getting there first. In fact, after further review, it appears that the Aerospaceweb site "borrowed" rather liberally from Mr. Polmar, without attribution...which I now offer up.

UPDATE2: More here, including this photo of a U-2 tailhook:

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Somalia: Puntland home of the pirates?

One man finds corruption in a part of Somalia here:
Not surprisingly, the official line among Puntland’s government ministers was that “piracy is a global problem that found headway in Somalia’s porous waters in recent years.” One after another, they told me that Puntland isn’t tooled to combat this problem, because pirates are well-armed, well-financed and multi-jurisdictional. (That’s to say that pirates operate in places like Haradheere in central Somalia).

But surprisingly, and below the official line, there’s a wide belief among Puntlanders that “pirates [they don’t even use this word!] are heroes, because they are protecting Somalia’s unguarded resources, looted by international companies.”

Quite the contrary, so many people, including former government officials and journalists told me that pirates have deep connections in the highest ranks in Puntland’s regime. In fact, people could list names of government ministers whose own militia are the pirates.

Few weeks ago, when pirates kidnapped a Japanese vessel outside Somalia’s international waters (which is quite routine, and, remarkably, counter-argument to those who say that pirates are “guarding” our resources), U.S. and French naval ships cornered the pirates near Boosaaso, the business capital of Puntland. The pirates, I was told, were able to disembark from the kidnapped ship every night to chew Khat and hang out with friends and family members, while other “substitute” pirates replaced them!

Eventually, the ordeal ended with the Japanese tanker being released unharmed, and pirates getting away with an undisclosed amount of ransom. The pirates’ front-men are senior government officials, who typically convince kidnapped ships to pay ransom (usually less then than pirates originally demanded). I found that this scenario occurred no less than three dozen times in the last few years.
n addition to piracy, human trafficking is pandemic in Puntland. More than 35,000 people have perished since 1991 trying to cross the short, but dangerous distance between Boosaaso and Yemen, using makeshift rafts.

Even back in the days when President Yusuf was the president of Puntland, the administration there made a noise that it will crack down on traffickers, whenever the international attention was zeroing on the issue.

However, hardly anything has been done. In fact, human traffickers, who like pirates have deep connections to the corridors of power, have flourished. In Boosaaso and nearby towns, journalists and other sources sent me the photos of the homes of well-known human traffickers and pirates, whose villas and latest-model Land Cruisers have dazzled me.

Last week, when Gwen Le Gouil, a French journalist tried to do an investigative report on human trafficking, he was kidnapped for nine grueling days. Remarkably, he was seized on his way to Shimbiraale, the infamous village known for its human and weapons traffickers. Insiders told me that his kidnappers were Puntland intelligence officers associated with both human traffickers and pirates.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Old time pirates: Capturing slaves

Shouldn't be any real surprises in this book report New Book Reopens Old Arguments About Slave Raids on Europe, despite claims of supposed controversy and some questioning of the numbers:
North African pirates abducted and enslaved more than 1 million Europeans between 1530 and 1780 in a series of raids which depopulated coastal towns from Sicily to Cornwall, according to new research.

Thousands of white Christians were seized every year to work as galley slaves, labourers and concubines for Muslim overlords in what is today Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya, it is claimed.
Prof Davis's unorthodox methodology split historians over whether his estimates were plausible but they welcomed any attempt to fill a gap in the little-known story of Africans subjugating Europeans.

By collating different sources of information from Europe over three centuries, the University of Ohio professor has painted a picture of a continent at the mercy of pirates from the Barbary Coast, known as corsairs, who sailed in lanteen-rigged xebecs and oared galleys.

Villages and towns on the coast of Italy, Spain, Portugal and France were hardest hit but the raiders also seized people in Britain, Ireland and Iceland. According to one account they even captured 130 American seamen from ships that they boarded in the Atlantic and Mediterranean between 1785 and 1793.

In the absence of detailed written records such as customs forms Prof Davis decided to extrapolate from the best records available indicating how many slaves were at a particular location at a single time and calculate how many new slaves were needed to replace those who died, escaped or were freed.

To keep the slave population stable, around one quarter had to be replaced each year, which for the period 1580 to 1680 meant around 8,500 new slaves per annum, totalling 850,000.

The same methodology would suggest 475,000 were abducted in the previous and following centuries.

"Much of what has been written gives the impression that there were not many slaves and minimises the impact that slavery had on Europe," Prof Davis said in a statement this week.

"Most accounts only look at slavery in one place, or only for a short period of time. But when you take a broader, longer view, the massive scope of this slavery and its powerful impact become clear."

Prof Davis conceded his methodology was not ideal but Ian Blanchard, professor of economic history at the University of Edinburgh and an authority on trade in Africa, said yesterday that the numbers appeared to add up.

"We are talking about statistics which are not real, all the figures are estimates. But I don't find that absolute figure of 1 million at all surprising. It makes total sense."
Although the black Africans enslaved and shipped to North and South America over four centuries outnumbered Prof Davis's estimates of white European taken to Africa by 12-1, it is probable they shared the same grim conditions.

"One of the things that both the public and many scholars have tended to take as given is that slavery was always racial in nature - that only blacks have been slaves. But that is not true," said the author.

In comments which may stoke controversy, he said that white slavery had been minimised or ignored because academics preferred to treat Europeans as evil colonialists rather than as victims.

While Africans laboured on sugar and cotton plantations the European slaves were put to work in quarries, building sites and galleys and endured malnutrition, disease and maltreatment.
I guess that all the other history of slavery (Israelites in Egypt, in Babylon, slave holdings by the Greeks, Romans, Persians) and the other trappings of semi-slavery (serfs and the like)simply didn't make the point that man can be cruel to man.

Somalia: Profits in Piracy and Kidnapping

Somalia: Profits in Piracy and Kidnapping gets noticed at StrategyPage. What you pay for you will get more of...

As in this latest report of aid workers get kidnapped here:
Spanish physician and an Argentine nurse were abducted on December 26. Dr. Mercedes Garcia (51) and Pilar Bouza (26) were on their way to work at a clinic operated by Doctors Without Borders (aka: Medecins Sans Frontieres) near Bossaso in the Puntland region of northern Somalia. According to Madrid-daily ABC, the aid organization has no idea whether their captors are bandits, pirates, or militia.
Of course, if you hire armed escorts, then you are also supporting the same system - the threat of capture drives a variation on the "protection racket" scheme.

Some fun. Fairly low risk for the kidnappers, too.

River pirates of Nigeria

Reported here:
Sea pirates defied security beef up during the yuletide, to attack a vessel at Hondol River in Bonny Local Government Area of Rivers State, belonging to Mobil Producing Unlimited and made away with the supplies.

Although no casualty was recorded in the attack, at least three crew members were seriously injured at the Buoy 39, which has raised recent attacks to two.

Eyewitness accounts said five armed men accosted the supply boat, and when it refused to stop, opened fire at the cabin where the captain of the boat and two crew members were.

Apparently overwhelmed by the firepower of the pirates, the crew stopped, which enabled the pirates to climb on board and offloaded contents of the supply boat into their own and disappeared.

"Messy Kosovo"

Seems like some things never go away - Messy Kosovo breakaway stokes fear of partition:
Serbia is telling Serbs in Kosovo to ignore an Albanian declaration of independence early next year, raising the prospect of an ethnic partition of the breakaway province that the West has long ruled out.

Serbs dominate a thin slice of northern Kosovo, frustrating efforts by leaders of Kosovo's 90-percent Albanian majority and their U.N. overseers to extend control over the entire territory of Serbia's southern province.

Kosovo's 2 million Albanians are expected to declare independence in the first months of 2008, almost nine years since NATO drove out Serb forces to halt the ethnic cleansing of Albanians in a Serb counter-insurgency war.

The Albanians have Western backing after almost two years of failed Serb-Albanian negotiations. But the flag-raising is unlikely to extend beyond the Ibar river that slices through the flashpoint town of Mitrovica, forming a natural boundary between Serbs in the north and Albanians in the south.

Beyond formally rejecting Kosovo's secession, Serbia promises to "intensify" a network of parallel structures that service the 120,000 remaining Serbs. It has opened a government office in north Mitrovica, to U.N. accusations of "provocation".

But Albanians in Kosovo are also not beyond using the taboo prospect of "Greater" ethnic states to drive their argument for independence and warn Serbia to keep its hands off the north.

"Albanians live in four countries other than Albania," outgoing Kosovo prime minister Agim Ceku was quoted as saying this week, in reference to Kosovo and Serbia's southern Presevo Valley, western Macedonia and Montenegro.

"If Kosovo is partitioned along ethnic lines, those would want to discuss uniting with Albania," he said.

Talk of a Greater Albania, officially rejected by Albania and played down by most ethnic Albanian leaders, is unlikely to go down well in Western capitals. It would appear to justify their fear of partition as an almost certain trigger for Balkan land swaps and forced population movements.

But the failure of the Western states with the lion's share of responsibility for running Kosovo to extend their control over the renegade Serb north means they will be faced with the territory's de facto partition whether they like it or not.

Half of Kosovo's Serb community lives in scattered enclaves south of the Ibar, but the rest are in the north with their backs to Serbia proper. It has been off-limits to Albanian leaders since NATO peacekeepers deploying in 1999 set down a dividing line at the Ibar to separate the fighting factions.
And here's an interesting question:
"Aren't we just realizing, ex post facto, Milosevic's vision of an ethnically clean Kosovo ? but this time an Albanian Kosovo instead of a Serbian one?... In 1999, Slovakia supported the military deployment against Yugoslavia as a humanitarian intervention, in order to prevent ethnic cleansing. It was not intended to promote Kosovan separatism and a separation of Kosovo from Serbia.
Nice to see somebody in Europe finally said what has been apparent for some time - the Kosovar Albanians have used NATO and the EU as tools in cleansing their own area. At great expense, too.

I wonder if Mrs. Clinton will be claiming Kosovo as a triumph of experience for her in foreign affairs?

Not that the situation there was ever as clear as a bell... the cartoon below was used to clarify the differences in the factions competing for power in the months following the Serbian withdrawal from Kosovo (about the same time the General Wes Clark was close to having a major showdown with the Russians...)

Of course, change the captions and you've got the picture of any number of locations where "insurgents" are being engaged...

Friday Reading

CDR Salamander: Fullbore Friday with a look at the WWI Battle of the Falkland Islands.

Steeljaw Scribe is having a contest of sorts atFLightdeck Friday.

An update on the U.S. Navy's Fire Scout VTUAV at Defense Industry Daily here. I keep thinking DASH with better electronics...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sri Lanka: Sea battle

The Sri Lankan Navy and the terrorist Tamil Sea Tigers have another round as reported in Fierce sea battle leaves 41 dead in Sri Lanka:
At least 40 Tamil Tiger rebels and one naval officer were killed in a fierce sea battle off the coast of Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna peninsula on Wednesday, defense officials said.

Military Spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara said 12 naval fast attack craft began to engage a Sea Tiger flotilla composed of 16 boats in the seas south off Delft island around 11:00 a.m. (0530 GMT), and the Air Force was also called to support the Navy.

Nanayakkara said in the four-hour sea battle, the Navy destroyed at least nine LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) boats and a naval attack craft was seriously damaged after being attacked by two LTTE suicide boats.

"The body of the officer-in-charge of the naval craft has been found and 10 sailors are still missing," said the spokesman, adding that searching operation is still going on in the area.

He said the LTTE boats were smuggling arms when they were found by the Navy near Delft, the farthest and biggest of the inhabited islands off the Jaffna peninsula.

Sources close to the LTTE said a naval fast attack craft was sunk by the LTTE and two craft were damaged in the battle.
More here:
But the government's Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) said that the Sri Lankan navy had destroyed four of the 16 LTTE craft, which confronted a naval flotilla of 12 FACs. One FAC was damaged when two LTTE suicide boats rammed against it, the government said.

The FACs are Israeli made Dvoras. The LTTE uses improvised, indigenously made craft fitted with comparable or even better guns than the Sri Lankan FACs.
Photos show a Dvora and a couple of types of Sea Tiger boats.

Note that given that a favored tactic of the Sea Tigers involves the use of suicide boats, numbers of platforms and volume of fire would appear to be quite important...in fighting them.

A video of a previous sea battle in which a Dvora was sunk by a Sea Tiger force: And another of the the "Super Dvora":

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Why I did not make it as a criminal defense attorney

Best book review of 2007

Not a big fan of book reviews but I make an exception in this case.

UPDATE: The quote I left out by mistake:
This is a bad, vain, dull, repulsive book. Don't read it. I didn't.


American Thinker does container shipping

Thomas Lifson of American Thinker finds the places near San Francisco where a large number of those Christmas presents got delivered in Where the Sightseeing Bus Won't Take You. Hint: Think Oakland...

A little container history.

End of year review: One less thing I have to worry about

It's a good thing, I suppose, at the end of year to contemplate where you have been as you look forward, God willing, to another year.

I probably could have listed this before, but it struck me this morning that, on the one less thing to worry about list is wondering whether Saddam Hussein has weapons of weapons of mass destruction that he could use or share.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Luke 2:9-12
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. (10) And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. (11) For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (12) And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

Luke 2:13-14
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, (14) “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

Monday Reading

Fred Fry International: Maritime Monday 90- Fred has a hint of a possibly great story involving a fallen Christmas tree and a couple of empty champagne bottles, but diverts attention with a link fest.

Xformed gives us the tale of a Seaman First Class named Ward and the ship named in his honor.

A defense of waterboarding

And a darned good one, too. Offered here
The goal of an intelligence operation in wartime, on the other hand, is to elicit accurate, timely information to thwart attacks. In this setting, interrogation is a process, one in which a prisoner is rewarded for the truth, and punished for lying. It is designed to save lives and ensure the success of a military operation. Coercive methods are rarely necessary. Most often, prisoners can be induced to cooperate by being nice to them. There are many other interrogation methods proven to be useful that do not require so much as raising one's voice. But there will always be hard cases like Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheik Mohammed, another mastermind of Sept. 11. With prisoners like these, defiant and dangerous, the only right question to ask is, What works?

What does work? Opponents of torture argue that it never works, that it always produces false information. If that were so, then this would be a simple issue, and the whole logic of incentive/disincentive is false, which defies common sense. In one of the cases I have cited previously, a German police captain was able to crack the defiance of a kidnapper who had buried a child alive simply by threatening torture (the police chief was fired, a price any moral individual would gladly pay). The chief acted on the only moral justification for starting down this road, which is to prevent something worse from happening. If published reports can be believed, this is precisely what happened with Zubaydah.
Try this -your child or spouse or parent is kidnapped. Death will result if they are not found soon. The kidnapper falls into your hands. What would you do?

Rescue in the Arabian Gulf

Reported here:
Nimitz-class nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) and fast combat support ship USNS Arctic (T AOE 8) rescued seven mariners adrift in a raft Dec. 23, in the central Persian Gulf.

While conducting a replenishment-at-sea with Truman, Arctic received a bridge-to-bridge radio call from the British-flagged cargo vessel MV British Courage.

British Courage was requesting assistance rescuing the stranded mariners, who were floating approximately three miles from of the Harry S. Truman.

The ships performed an emergency break away; Arctic, operated by the Navy's Military Sealift Command, dispatched two MH-60S helicopters to the scene. Arctic put one rescue swimmer in the water who recovered the four Pakistanis and three Indian mariners.

The helicopter crews brought the mariners to Truman for medical treatment, food and water. All are currently in good condition and awaiting transfer back to the United Arab Emirates.

The mariners had been transporting cargo from Dubai when their dhow sailed into rough seas and broke its keel. When the vessel started taking on too much water to remain afloat, the mariners abandoned ship into a life raft where they remained for two days before the rescue.
Top photo caption:
071223-N-1688B-043 ARABIAN GULF (December 23, 2007) - A Navy Search and Rescue swimmer descends from an SH-60S Seahawk assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22 Det 2, the "Sea Knights," embarked on fast combat support ship USNS Arctic (T-AOE 8), to retrieve survivors from a life raft at sea. The shipwrecked survivors were escorted on board the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) for medical treatment. The seven mariners, four Pakistani and three Indian, were recovered after their dhow sank in rough seas. The survivors were adrift for two days before being discovered by the British-flagged vessel MV British Courage. Truman and Arctic are currently deployed to the Arabian Gulf as part of the on-going rotation to support Maritime Security Operations (MSO) in the region. Coalition forces conduct MSO under international conventions to ensure security and safety in international waters so that all commercial shipping and fishing can operate freely while transiting the region. Official U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Matthew Bookwalter

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sunday Ship History: The Heroes of Wake Island

December 8, 1941 on a tiny atoll strategically located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Wake Island, a small piece of American soil of some importance. Known for some time, but thoroughly explored by The United States Exploring Expedition, the island was rugged:
On December 20, 1840, the United States Exploring Expedition commanded by Commodore Charles Wilkes of the U.S. Navy, landed on and surveyed Wake. Wilkes described the atoll as "a low coral one, of triangular form and eight feet above the surface. It has a large lagoon in the centre, which was well filled with fish of a variety of species among these were some fine mullet." He also noted that Wake had no fresh water and that it was covered with shrubs, "the most abundant of which was the tournefortia."
The lack of fresh water in quantity seems to have limited its habitation. You might note from the nearby map that Wake atoll consists of three islands, Wake, Wilkes and Peale.

In 1899, the U.S. claimed Wake:
Wake Island was annexed by the United States (empty territory) on January 17, 1899. In 1935, Pan American Airways constructed a small village, nicknamed "PAAville", to service flights on its U.S.-China route. The village was the first human settlement on the island and relied upon the U.S. mainland for its food and water supplies; it remained in operation up to the day of the first Japanese air raid.
In January 1941, a military base was developed on Wake. As the base grew, so did the population, on Wake were
...elements of the 1st Marine Defense Battalion, totaling 449 officers and men, were stationed on the island, under Major James P.S. Devereux. Also present on the island were 68 U.S. Navy personnel and about 1,221 civilian workers.
Overall command was held by U.S. Navy Commander Winfield S. Cunningham, who had arrived in late November.
On December 8, 1941, the same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor (Wake being on the opposite side of the International Date Line), 36 Japanese medium bombers flown from bases on the Marshall Islands attacked Wake Island, destroying eight of the twelve F4F Wildcat fighter aircraft belonging to Marine Corps fighter squadron VMF-211 on the ground. All of the Marine garrison’s defensive emplacements were left intact by the raid, which primarily targeted the naval aircraft.
Another air attack followed on December 9, causing severe damage to the island hospital among other things.

So get the picture - a relatively small group of Marines, down to a few aircraft, with defenses that included salvaged 5-inch guns from old ships and visually aimed 3-inch anti-aircraft gun, a handful of sailors and a number of civilian contractors on coral atoll maybe 3 miles long and a couple of miles wide at its widest point are tasked to defend Wake - the defenders already under air attack, knowing Pearl Harbor has been hit (and the U.S. Pacific Fleet, on which you may have hoped for rescue, lies stricken)

The defenders of Wake had plenty of opportunity to be downhearted, but as set out very well in A Magnificent Fight: Marines in the Battle for Wake Island by Robert J. Cressman, these few mounted an incredible defense, sinking a couple of Japanese destroyers, shooting down numerous aircraft and forcing the Japanese to withdraw their first invasion attempt and mount a larger offensive bolstered by aircraft carriers.

Wake had its fast dwindling aircraft, the previously mentioned guns and a couple of American submarines lying offshore. One of these fired the first torpedo against an enemy ship by U.S. forces in WW II:
Shortly before midnight, the Triton was south of the atoll, charging her batteries and patrolling on the surface. At 2315, her bridge lookouts spied "two flashes" and then the silhouette of what seemed to be a destroyer, dimly visible against the backdrop of heavy clouds that lay behind her. The Triton submerged quickly and tracked the unidentifiable ship; ultimately, she fired a salvo of four torpedoes from her stern tubes at 0017 on 11 December 1941--the first torpedoes fired from a Pacific Fleet submarine in World War II. Although the submariners heard a dull explosion, indicating what they thought was at least one probably hit, and propeller noises appeared to cease shortly thereafter, the Triton's apparent kill had not been confirmed. She resumed her patrol, submerged.
As Cressman notes, the destroyer was probably a picket for the larger invasion force:
The ship that Triton had encountered off Wake's south coast was, most likely, the destroyer deployed as a picket 10 miles ahead of the invasion convoy steaming up from the south. Under Rear Admiral Sadamichi Kajioka, it had set out from Kwajalein, in the Marshalls, on 8 December. It consisted of the light cruiser Yubari (flagship), six destroyers--Mutsuki, Kisaragi, Yayoi, Mochizuki, Oite, and Hayate--along with Patrol Boat No. 32 and Patrol Boat No. 33 (two ex-destroyers, each reconfigured in 1941 to launch a landing craft over a stern ramp) and two armed merchantmen, Kongo Maru and Kinryu Maru. To provide additional gunfire support, the Commander, Fourth Fleet, had also assigned the light cruisers Tatsuta and Tenryu to Kajioka's force.
This force attempted to close on Wake, but the defenders had teeth (and some help from the weather):
As the Japanese ships neared Wake, the Army radio unit on the atoll sent a message from Cunningham to Pearl Harbor at 0200 on the 11th, telling of the contractors' casualties, and, because of the danger that lay at Wake's doorstep, suggested early evacuation of the civilians. Army communicators on Oahu who received the message noted that the Japanese had tried to jam the transmission.

At 0400, Major Putnam put VMF-211 on the alert, and soon thereafter he and Captains Elrod, Tharin, and Freuler manned the four operational F4Fs. The Wildcats, a 100-pound bomb under each wing, then taxied into position for take-off. Shortly before 0500, Kajioka's ships began their final run. At 0515, three wildcats took off, followed after five minutes by the fourth. They rendezvoused at 12,000 feet above Toki Point. At 0522, the Japanese began shelling Wake.

The Marines' guns, however, remained silent as Kajioka's ships "crept in, firing as they came." The first enemy projectiles set the oil tanks on the southwest portion of Wake ablaze while the two converted destroyers prepared to land their Special Naval Landing Force troops. The column of warships advanced westward, still unchallenged. Nearing the western tip of Wake 20 minutes later, Kajioka's flagship, the Yubari, closed to within 4,500 yards, seemingly "scouring the beach" with her 5.5-inch fire. At 0600, the light cruiser reversed course yet again, and closed the range still further.

The Yubari's maneuvering prompted the careful removal of the brush camouflage, and the Marines began to track the Japanese ships. As the distance decreased, and the reports came into Devereux's command post with that information, the major again told Gunner Hamas to relay the word to Commander Cunningham, who, by that point, had reached his command post. Cunningham upon receiving Hamas' report, responded, "What are we waiting for, open fire. Must be Jap ships all right." Devereux quickly relayed the order to his anxious artillerymen. At 0610, they commenced firing.
Platt carefully scrutinized the Japanese ship movements offshore, and noted with satisfaction that McAlister's 5-inchers sent three salvoes slamming into the Hayate. She exploded immediately, killing all of here 167-man crew. McAlister's gunners cheered and then turned their attention to the Oite and the Mochizuki, which soon suffered hits from the same guns. The Oite sustained 14 wounded; the Mochizuki sustained an undetermined number of casualties.

First Lieutenant Kessler's Battery B, at the tip of Peale, meanwhile, dueled with the destroyers Yayoi, Mutsuki and Kisaragi, as well as the Tenryu and the Tatsuta, and drew heavy counterfire that disabled on gun. The crew of the inoperable mount shifted to that of a serviceable one, serving as ammunition passers, and after 10 rounds, Kessler's remaining gun scored a hit on the Yayoi's stern, killing one man, wounding 17, and starting a fire. His gunners then sifted their attention to the next destroyer in column. The enemy's counterfire severed communications between Kessler's command post and the gun, but Battery B--the muzzle blast temporarily disabling the range finder--continued with local fire control. As the Japanese warships stood to the south, Kessler's gun hurled two parting shots toward a transport, which proved to have been out of range.
The Yubari's action record reflects that although Wake had been pounded by land-based planes, the atoll's defenders still possessed enough coastal guns to mount a ferocious defense, which forced Kajioka to retire. As if the seacoast guns and the weather were not enough to frustrate the admiral's venture--the heavy seas had overturned landing boats almost as soon as they were launched--the Japanese soon encountered a new foe. While Cunningham's cannoneers had been trading shells with Kajioka's, Putnam's four Wildcats had climbed to 20,000 feet and maintained that altitude until daylight, when the major had ascertained that no Japanese planes were airborne. As the destroyers that had dueled Battery B opened the range and stood away from Wake, the Wildcats roared in.

Major Putnam saw at least one of Elrod's bombs hit the Kisaragi. Trailing oil and smoke, the damaged destroyer slowed to a stop but then managed to get underway again, internally afire. While she limped away to the south, Elrod, antiaircraft fire having perforated his plane's oil line, headed home. He managed to reach Wake and land on the rocky beach, but VMF-211's ground crew wrote off his F4F as a total loss. Meanwhile, Tenryu came under attack by Putnam, Tharin, and Freuler, who strafed her forward, near the number 1 torpedo tube mount, wounding five men and disabling three torpedoes.

The three serviceable Wildcats then shuttled back and forth to be rearmed and refueled. Putnam and Kinney later saw the Kisaragi--which had been carrying an extra supply of depth charges because of the American submarine threat--blow up and sink, killing her entire crew of 167 men. Freuler, Putnam, and Hamilton strafed the Kongo Maru, igniting barrels of gasoline stowed in one of her holds, killing three Japanese sailors, and wounding 19.
The Marine pilots took on Japanese bombers with great effect. However, more land-based bombers attacked, but the American struck back:
Weathering bombing attacks, taking the enemy's blows, was one thing, but striking at the Japanese was something else--something to boost morale. At about 1600 on the 12th, Second Lieutenant Kliewer, while patrolling, spotted a surfaced submarine 25 miles southwest of Wake. With the sun behind him, he dove from 10,000 feet. Convinced that the submarine was Japanese, Kliewer fired his four .50-calibers broadside into the submarine. Turning to the right, and seeking to increase his chances of scoring maximum damage on the enemy, he dove and dropped his two 100-pounders at such a low altitude that bomb fragments ripped large holes in his wings and tail surfaces. Emptying his guns into the submarine on his next pass, he looked behind him and saw her submerge. Major Putnam flew out to verify that the sub had been sunk and spotted an oil slick at the spot Kliewer indicated.
Back in Pearl Harbor, Admiral Kimmel's staff was trying to find a way to relieve Wake, but was hampered by the damages to the fleet, the scarcity of aircraft carriers and, in fact, by Kimmel's odd status due to Pearl Harbor. The fighting men of Wake developed novel tactics:
The next day, the 16th, 33 Nells raided Wake Island at 1340. The Marines, however, greeted the Japanese fliers with novel fire control methods. Kinney and Kliewer, aloft on patrol, spotted the incoming formations closing on the atoll at 18,000 feet, almost 10 minutes before they reached Wake's airspace. The U.S. pilots radioed the enemy's altitude to the gun batteries. The early warning permitted Lewis to enter the data into the M-4 director and pass the solution to Godbold. Battery D hurled 95 rounds skyward. Battery E's first shots seemed to explode ahead of the formation, but Gunner McKinstry reported that the lead plane in one of the formations dropped, smoking, to the rear of the formation. He estimated that at least four other planes cleared the island trailing smoke. Godbold estimated that four planes had been damaged and one had crashed some distance from the island. Japanese accounts, however, provide no support for Godbold's estimate, acknowledging neither losses nor damage to Japanese aircraft during the attack that day. Kliewer and Kinney each attacked the formation of planes, but with little effect, partly because only one of Kinney's four machine guns functioned.
The relief group sailed:
At Pearl Harbor, in the lengthening shadows of 15 December (16 December on Wake), the relief expedition made ready to sail. The Tangier, the oiler Neches (AO-5) and four destroyers sailed at 1730 on the 15th (on Wake, 1400 on 16 December). The Saratoga and the remainder of the escort--delayed by the time it took to fuel the carrier--were to sail the following day. "The twilight sortie," First Lieutenant Robert D. Heinl, Jr., as commander of Battery F, 3-Inch Antiaircraft Group, wrote of the Tangier's sailing," Dramatized the adventure." The ships steamed past somber reminders of 7 December--the beached battleship Nevada and a Douglas SBD Dauntless from the Enterprise that had been shot down by "friendly fire" off Fort Kamehameha. "The waters beyond sight of Oahu," First Lieutenant Heinl noted, "seemed very lonely waters indeed ... Columbus' men, sailing westward in hourly apprehension of toppling off the edge of a square earth, could not have felt the seas to be more inscrutable and less friendly."
The Japanese upped the ante:
Wake's dogged defense caused Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoue, Commander, South Seas Force (Fourth Fleet), to seek help. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet, responded by assigning a force under the command of Rear Admiral Hiroaki Abe, Commander, 8th Cruiser Division, consisting of carriers Hiryu and Soryu and escorting ships, to reinforce Inoue. At 1630 on 16 December, the two carriers (with 118 aircraft), screened by the heavy cruisers Tone and Chikuma and the destroyers Tanikaze and Urakaze, detached from their Pearl Harbor Striking Force, and headed toward Wake.
That Japanese carriers might be involved was a major concern to the leadership of the U.S. Pacific Fleet (Kimmel who was relieved by VADM Pye). When word came from Wake that it was being attacked by carrier aircraft as well as land-based bombers, the concern grew. The rescue force was still enroute, though not without difficulties:
Heavy seas bedeviled Frank Jack Fletcher's Task Force 14 as it pressed westward. Having been ordered to fuel to capacity before fighting, Fletcher began fueling his ships from Neches in the turbulent seas. Rolling swells and gusty winds slowed that process considerably and permitted the fueling of only four of his destroyers. If Fletcher was expected to fight, his ships would require more fuel to be able to maneuver at high speed, if necessary. he resolved to top off the rest the following day (23 December).

Meanwhile, at around 1900 on 21 December (1530, 22 December Wake), the PBY that had borne Major Bayler (the "last man off Wake Island") from Wake to Midway arrived at Pearl Harbor. The plane's commander dictated a report, which was transcribed by a CinCPac stenographer shortly after the pilot's arrival, regarding Wake's desperate plight. Pye, upon reading the report, was deeply moved. Members of Pye's staff, many of whom had also faithfully served on Admiral Kimmel's staff, pleaded with Pye's Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral Milo F. Draemel, on behalf of the Wake relief efforts. Referring to the PBY commander's report, Pye declared later, "the situation at Wake seemed to warrant taking a greater chance to effect its reinforcement even at the sacrifice of the Tangier and possible damage to some major ships of Task Force 14. The admiral therefore removed the restrictions on Task Force 14's operations. The Tangier was to be detached with two destroyers to run in to Wake to begin the evacuation of the civilians and to disembark the Marines.
But the Japanese began their landings:
The bad weather that prevented the Marines from seeing their foes likewise hindered the Japanese. Shortly before 0200, Special Naval Landing Force troops clambered down into the medium landing craft designated to land on Wilkes and Wake. Four landing craft were launched some 3,000 to 4,000 meters offshore, but in the squalls and long swells they experienced difficulty keeping up with Patrol Boat No. 32 and Patrol Boat No. 33 as they churned on a northeasterly course, headed for the beach. The landing craft designated to follow No. 32 lost sight of her in the murky, gusty darkness.

At about 0230, Marines on Peacock Point detected the two patrol boats, which appeared to them only as dark shapes as they made for the reef by the airstrip. Then, the two ships ground gently ashore on the coral. The Japanese naval infantrymen slipped over the side into the surf, struggled ashore, and sprinted across the coral for cover.

On Wilkes, Gunner McKinstry called to Captain Platt and informed him that he thought he heard the sound of engines over the boom of the surf, and at 0235 one of his .50-caliber guns (gun no. 10) opened fire in the darkness. Ten minutes later, McKinstry, having sought permission to use illumination, caused a searchlight to be turned on. Although the light was shut off as suddenly as it had been turned on, its momentary beam revealed a landing boat aground on Wilkes' rocky shore and, beyond that, two destroyers, beached on Wake.
These landing were the beginning of the end for the Wake defenders despite their fierce resistance, especially when news reached Pearl:
Meanwhile, after word of the enemy landing reached Pearl Harbor, Vice Admiral Pye convened a meeting of his staff. By 0700 (22 December, Hawaiian time), having received further word of developments at Wake, Pye estimated that a relief of the island looked impossible, given the prevailing situation, and directed that the Tangier should be diverted toward the east. With the relief mission abandoned, should his forces attack the enemy forces in the vicinity of Wake? Or should American forces be withdrawn to the east? He feared that the timing of the Japanese carrier strikes and the landing then in progress indicated that the enemy had "estimated closely the time at which our relief expedition might arrive and may, if the general location of our carrier groups is estimated, be waiting in force." American forces could inflict extensive damage upon Japanese, Pye believed, if the enemy did not know of the presence of the U.S. carrier forces. They had not yet seen action, though, and no one could overestimate the danger of having ships damaged 2,000 miles from the nearest repair facilities--"a damaged ship is a lost ship," Brown had commented in Task Force 11's war diary. Damage to the carriers could leave the Hawaiian Islands open to a major enemy thrust. "We cannot," Pye declared, "afford such losses at present."

Two course of actions existed--to direct Task Force 14 to attack Japanese forces in the vicinity of Wake, with Task Forces 8 and 11 covering Task Force 14's retirement, or to retire all forces without any attempt to attack the enemy. These choices weighed heavily on Pye's mind. If American forces hit the Japanese ships at Wake and suffered the loss of a carrier air group in the process, Pye deemed the "offensive spirit" shown by the Navy as perhaps worth the sacrifice.

However, in the midst of his deliberations, shortly after 0736, Pye received a message from the CNO which noted that recent developments had emphasized that Wake was a "liability" and authorized Pye to "evacuate Wake with appropriate demolition." With Japanese forces on the island, though, Pye felt that capitulation was only a matter of time. "The real question at issue," Pye thought, "is, shall we take the chance of the loss of a carrier group to attempt to attack the enemy forces in the vicinity of Wake?" Radio intelligence from the previous day linked "CruDiv 8 ... CarDiv 2" and erroneously, "BatDiv 3" (consisting of two battleships) with the forces off of Wake. A pair of Kongo-class fast battleships, supported by carriers and heavy cruisers would easily have overmatched Fletcher's Task Force 14.
On the island, the defenders counterattacked Japanese forces ashore. Their fate, however was sealed by decisions made at some distance:
Throughout the battle, Major Devereux had, as well as he could, kept the island commander informed of the progress of the assault. While the Marines, assisted by the sailors and civilians, had been attempting to stem the tide, most of the news which trickled into Cunningham's command post boded ill. At 0652, he sent out a message reflecting the situation as he knew it: "Enemy on island. Several ships plus transport moving in . Two DD aground." That was at 1032, 22 December 1941, on Pearl Harbor. It was to be the last message from the Wake Island defenders.

At Pearl Harbor, at about the time that Cunningham was sending that last message, Vice Admiral Pye had reached making a decision. He concluded that if Task Force 14 encountered anything but a weaker Japanese force, the battle would be fought on Japanese terms while within range of shore-based planes and with American forces having only enough fuel for two days of high speed steaming. Like Brown, Pye believed that a damaged ship was a lost ship, especially 2,000 miles from Pearl Harbor. The risk, he believed, was too great. He ordered the recall of Task Forces 14 and 11, and directed Task Force 8 to cover the retirement.

Frank Jack Fletcher's Task Force 14, meanwhile, was right on schedule, and was in fact further west that Pye knew. His ships fully fueled and ready for battle, Fletcher planned to detach the Tangier and two destroyers for the final run-in to Wake, while the pilots on board the Saratoga prepared themselves for the fight ahead. Fletcher, not one to shirk a fight, received the news of the recall angrily, He ripped his hat from his head and disgustedly hurled it to the deck. Rear Admiral Aubrey W. Fitch, Fletcher's air commander, similarly felt the fist-tightening frustration of the recall. He retired from the Saratoga's flag bridge as the talk there reached "mutinous" proportions.

As word of the recall circulated throughout Task Force 14, reactions were pretty much the same. Pye's recall order left no latitude for discussion or disobedience; those who argued later that Fletcher should have used the Nelsonian "blind eye" obviously failed to recognize that, in the sea off Copenhagen, the British admiral could see his opponents. Fletcher and Fitch, then 430 miles east of Wake, could not see theirs. They had no idea what enemy forces they might encounter. The Japanese had beaten them to Wake.
Holding out as long as they could, the Wake men were finally forced to surrender on December 23, 1941:
Of the 449 Marines (1st Defense Battalion and VMF-211 detachments) who manned Wake's defenses, 49 were killed, 32 were wounded, and the remainder became prisoners of war.[1] Of the 68 Navy officers and men, three were killed, five wounded, and the rest taken prisoner. The small, five-man Army communications detachment suffered no fatalities; they were all taken prisoner. Of the 1,146 civilians involved in construction programs on Wake Island, 70 were killed and 12 were wounded. Five of Wake's defenders were executed by the Japanese on board Nitta Maru, With the exception of nearly 100 contractors who remained on Wake Island, all the rest of the civilians joined Wake's Marines, sailors, and soldiers in prisoner of war (POW) camps. The Japanese transported the wounded military men and civilians from the island as their wounds healed and they were deemed well enough to travel. They, too, were placed in POW camps until their liberation in 1945.
Wake was not recovered by force of arms:
Wake was not recaptured by American forces during the war. Air raids on Wake occurred throughout the war, the first occurring in February 1942. Raids in October 1943, however, had grave repercussions for the contractors who had been left behind. Rear Admiral Shigematsu Sakaibara, the atoll commander, who feared that the raids portended a major landing, had them all executed. He was unwilling to have his garrison threatened by such a large "fifth column." For that offense, he was hanged as a war criminal. The U.S. recovered Wake Island after the Japanese surrender in 1945.
We remember the men of the Alamo, of Bastogne, of the "Frozen Chosen" - add to that list of heroes, if you haven't already, the fighting men who defended Wake Island so well and so bravely.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A lesson from the readings

Reading American Thinker: The Rage in Huckabee's Voice reminded me of one of the more valuable lessons I learned from reading Mark Bowden's Guests of the Ayatollah:The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam, to wit (and simplifying so that I understand it):

The group that gained power after deposing the Shah was not a sophisticated crowd with a wealth of knowledge of the world around them. Over and over, Bowden points out the lack of knowledge of the world outside the Iranian borders that the rising power group had and their immense hatred of the United States. The hatred of the U.S. comes easily since the U.S. set the Shah in place following a CIA coup guided by Kermit Roosevelt (grandson of Teddy). The Shah, in turn, retained power through fairly typical dictatorial means, including, secret police, torture, etc, the effect of which probably will always be underestimated by outsiders. However, this history and hatred justify, in the minds of the Ayatollah followers, virtually any acts of violence against the U.S. since they, in a sense, assert that the U.S. "owes" them for the years of suffering they endured under the Shah and for the lost opportunities for greatness denied them by the loss of their elected government. If Bowden dates the war with Iran to the seizure of the U.S. embassy in November 1979, this section of the Iranian populace apparently dates it much earlier than that- to the coup in 1953.

How unsophisticated?
In the winter of 2005, Massoumeh Ebtekar stood before the world's political and business elite in Davos, Switzerland, and gave them a tongue-lashing. Before a startled crowd at the annual powwow of global movers and shakers, the senior Iranian official blasted the West for cultural decadence, proclaiming the values of the Islamic Republic of Iran to be superior -- and far more benevolent to women. She dismissed concerns about human rights abuses with a flick of her heavily veiled arm.

In 2005, her listeners could simply walk out on the harangue. In 1979, John W. Limbert Jr. was not so lucky; he was, literally, Ebtekar's captive audience. Limbert, an erudite diplomat and scholar of Persian poetry, was one of the 52 American hostages who suffered through 444 days of captivity in revolutionary Iran, and he remembers Ebtekar with contempt. Back then, she was known as "Screaming Mary," the young spokesperson for the student hostage-takers -- a smug radical who regularly berated the Americans with finger-waving, ill-informed lectures about the evils of their country.

At one point in Mark Bowden's riveting new book, Guests of the Ayatollah, Ebtekar browbeats a CIA agent named William J. Daugherty over "the inhuman, racist decision" to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After Daugherty shoots back that the Japanese started the war at Pearl Harbor, Ebtekar looks confused. "Pearl Harbor? Where's Pearl Harbor?" she asks. Hawaii, she is told. Her reply, after a moment of confused silence: "The Japanese bombed Hawaii?"

In many ways, Ebtekar is a fine symbol for Iran's amateurish young radicals. Brimming with righteous fire and a sophomoric, conspiratorial view of the world, they performed a dramatic act -- storming the U.S. embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979 -- that had grown-up ramifications for Iran, the United States and the world. The crisis (arguably) felled a U.S. president and (indisputably) strengthened the clerics' power in Iran's post-revolution power struggle, locking Iran and the United States into a spiral of conflict that whirls on today with the tensions over Iran's nuclear program.

The student radicals were convinced that the embassy was a "den of spies" aimed at restoring the shah -- the country's exiled former autocrat, whom President Carter had decided to let into the United States for cancer treatment -- to power. What they found instead, in Bowden's masterfully told tale, was a CIA mission in tatters, with not a single agent fluent in Farsi -- a bewildered team of operatives who barely understood the events engulfing them. "For years, little intelligence was collected from Iran that did not originate with the shah's own regime," Bowden writes. "Now, with Iran suddenly under new masters and the situation in constant, confusing flux, the agency was . . . pathetically far from being able to influence events, despite the overblown fears of most Iranians, who saw the CIA as omnipotent and omnipresent." In contrast, several of the diplomats on duty were first-rate Farsi speakers and Iran scholars, deeply empathetic to the country's culture and people.

But the student radicals knew little of the world and its ways, let alone the difference between a diplomat and a spy. They saw an operative with James Bond-like powers in every corner. One interrogator questioned State Department security officer Alan Golacinski about his digital watch, convinced that it was a secret radio.
The young, unformed minds of the student radicals were still locked in an earlier era when the CIA and British intelligence had real power in Iran and used it malevolently, above all in the 1953 CIA-supported coup that toppled the country's popular, nationalist prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. As a result, they scarcely understood the power of their own revolution -- of a new era of mass politics that was fed by the power of the media, a growing middle class's discontent with the shah's dictatorship, a disoriented urban proletariat in search of a savior and the determination of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to win at all costs. The revolution simply couldn't be undone by the CIA this time.

"Screaming Mary" and her comrades also scarcely understood the U.S. position on the revolution. L. Bruce Laingen, the seasoned diplomat and chargé d'affaires at the embassy, wrote at the start of his personal diary of the hostage-taking: "Why? To what end? What purpose is served? We have tried by every available means over the past months to demonstrate, by word and deed, that we accept the Iranian revolution . . . . we wish it well and hope it can strengthen Iran's integrity and independence."

Long-time Iran-watchers often have such "Bruce Laingen moments" -- scratching their heads and wondering why the Islamic Republic behaves so rashly and seemingly without strategic direction. In foreign affairs, the country is isolated; poor diplomacy has left it with few allies that it can count on in a crunch -- including a showdown with Washington over Iran's nuclear ambitions. (Those countries seeking to avert war are motivated more by worries about oil and stability than by loyalty to Tehran.) Economically, the country is wretchedly managed; despite its abundant natural resources, oil reserves and talented workforce, Iran is punching far below its potential economic weight. And in politics, the country's populist new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has publicly embraced Holocaust denial -- a disgrace that, beyond its moral depravity, also raises the question: "Why? For what purpose?"

Perhaps the reason for such excesses is that the spirit of the hostage-takers still haunts Iran today. They acted without the prior knowledge of Ayatollah Khomeini, Bowden notes. The embassy seizure was not a well thought-out ploy vetted by senior officials; it was a rashly planned tactical move designed to win a short-term public relations victory, burnish the students' anti-imperialist credentials and drive a wedge between Tehran's moderates and radicals. The hostage-takers presented the new Khomeini regime with a fait accompli -- with fateful consequences.

Decades later, Iranian politics still contains something similar -- an element of surprise, along with confusion. Long after the Babel of the hostage crisis, many voices still speak in Tehran; the president says that Israel should be wiped off the map, and other political leaders scramble -- some belatedly endorsing his rant, some distancing themselves, all while the analysts scratch their heads, looking for explanations.

Indeed, that president is himself a former student radical. Some former hostages allege that Ahmadinejad was one of their interrogators. Some hostage-takers -- several of whom are reformist politicians today -- deny this, saying that he wanted to take over the Soviet embassy instead. "Without any doubt," Bowden writes, "Ahmadinejad was one of the central players in the group that seized the embassy and held hostages." Whatever the case may be, the president clearly still has much of the hard-line student radical left in him.

Meanwhile, last month, Massoumeh Ebtekar, "Screaming Mary," was awarded a prestigious prize by the United Nations for her work on environmental issues. The shadow of the student radicals has not yet receded, and this chapter in Iranian history has not yet played itself out. (Reviewed by Afshin Molavi
Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. Taken from the Amazon link above)
Which brings me back to my point about Mr. Huckabee's suggestion that we haven't talked enough to the Iranians...which Iranians would be talk to? The ones who truly believe that all of Iran's ills are the fault of the U.S.? Who literally see the U.S. as Satan? Good luck with that. It has been my experience that the less sophisticated your opponent, the more important it is to be simple and transparent in your responses to him. Nuance is wasted on True Believers.

And there is that Chicago way thing that keeps it simple:
Malone: You said you wanted to get Capone. Do you really wanna get him? You see what I'm saying is, what are you prepared to do?
Ness: Anything within the law.
Malone: And *then* what are you prepared to do? If you open the can on these worms you must be prepared to go all the way. Because they're not gonna give up the fight, until one of you is dead.
Ness: I want to get Capone! I don't know how to do it.
Malone: You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the "Chicago" way! And that's how you get Capone. Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that? I'm offering you a deal. Do you want this deal?
Ness: I have sworn to capture this man with all legal powers at my disposal and I will do so.
Malone: Well, the Lord hates a coward.
[jabs Ness with his hand, and Ness shakes it]
Malone: Do you know what a blood oath is, Mr. Ness?
Ness: Yes.
Malone: Good, 'cause you just took one.
The other side in our war with Iran has large numbers of people to whom our relationship is a feud - a blood feud- and we need to be ready to take it all the way with them. And, no, I don't really find the recent NIE report on Iran all that compelling. See here.

Saturday Reading

CDR Salamander: Fullbore Friday looks at the "Great White Fleet" of 1907.

Murdoc anticipates the Battle of Trenton. He also celebrates his 2,000,000th visitor at his own domain, of which he is the master.

Galrahn at Information Dissemination. See his post on the important issue of some defective submarine welds here. Those who go under the sea in boats deserve better that a system that rewards quantity over quality welding. Deming must be spinning:
11. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.

Bubblehead on the submarine weld issues perking up at Newport News Northrup Grummun here.
And Springbored on the topic here

Friday, December 21, 2007

Somalia: Pirate Crackdown

Reported as US Navy Gets Tough with Pirates off Somalia:
In a year-end VOA interview, Admiral William Fallon said that, in recent months, pirates off the coast of East Africa have become bolder, attacking more and larger ships. So, he decided to do something about it.

"I have given some guidance to our naval commanders, and we've been able to get some approvals to do some things that are a little more aggressive than we had in the past We were pretty much in a passive mode," he said. "We're going to continue to operate in this area and to do everything we can to discourage this kind of activity."

U.S. navy ships recently laid siege to a pirated ship, and prevented the pirates from going ashore for supplies. They were forced to give up the vessel at what Admiral Fallon says was a reduced ransom, paid by the ship's owners. The U.S. Navy also destroyed the small boats the pirates use to get around the area off the coast of Somalia.

Admiral Fallon, the head of U.S. Central Command, says the piracy hurts the economy of the region because ships' captains are afraid to take their vessels through the area. And, he says, the piracy has a broader impact, too.

"It's the instability of it all," je said. "This kind of behavior, lawless behavior, if it's allowed to continue, just fosters an atmosphere of total disregard for accepted norms of behavior. And one thing leads to another, and if you allow this kind of behavior, whether it's ashore or afloat, typically there's a downward spiral. And that's what I think we've seen in this area. So, we're trying to clean up the neighborhood."
Cleaning up "broken windows", while it has critics, has this going for it, if you do nothing, the problem tends to get worse, not better.

Odd movie lines

News Announcer: And today the president closed the nation's last remaining submarine base at Groton, Connecticut. When asked why he had made the startling decision the president responded, "Those funny little black ships just keep sinking anyway."

From here.

Amuse yourselves by substituting any political leader for "the president."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tankers collide -Suez Canal stopped up

Fairplay reports a collision in the Suez Canal between two tankers closed the Suez Canal, here:
Tankers collide blocking Suez Canal

SUEZ CANAL 20 December – TWO part-laden tankers carrying a combined 250,000 tonnes of oil collided in the Suez Canal this morning, with both running aground. The VLCC Overseas Meridian, carrying 158,000 tonnes of crude on a northbound passage, collided with the southbound Suezmax ISI Olive, carrying 88,000dwt of oil, at 0700 local time this morning. The accident happened at the southern end of the canal at Lat 29.57N, Long 32.34E, forcing closure of the waterway.
Fairplay understands that ISI Olive lost steering and veered into the path of the Overseas Meridian, which took evasive action, though this has not been confirmed. The ISI Olive was holed in the forepeak and the port side ballast tank, though the Overseas Meridian suffered no obvious damage. Neither vessel appears to have leaked oil at this stage and there have been no reports of casualties among the crew.
AIS signals indicate that all traffic in the area has stopped, and local agents report that the canal will be closed until salvage is complete. ISI Olive has now been refloated by the tugs Salam 6 and Ezzat Adel.
Note the closure is temporary and the ships are aground and not sunk midstream.

UPDATE: Canal reopened as set out here:
A Maltese-flagged tanker ran aground in the Suez Canal early Thursday, halting traffic in the major waterway for six hours until it was towed away, officials said.

No oil was spilled from the ISI Olive tanker, Suez Canal Authority said in a statement.

The statement said the 1992-built crude oil tanker got stranded just after passing through the southern, Red Sea entrance of the waterway because of a failure in the steering gear which caused it to run aground on the western bank of the 190 kilometers (120 miles) long canal.

It took Suez Canal authorities six hours to extricate and tow the tanker, which is Iranian-owned, away. The 81,000-ton 270-meter-long vessel was only slightly damaged.

Because of the traffic halt, 59 ships were delayed for passage from both the Mediterranean and the Red Sea mouths.
Not a collision? Not a good place for a steering casualty...

UPDATE2: First reports are always wrong.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Iran: Mullah mischief in Central America

Time to dust off the Monroe Doctrine? Or just more "Mullah Mischief/" Iran's push into Nicaragua a worry for U.S., allies:
As part of a new partnership with Nicaragua's Sandinista President Daniel Ortega, Iran and its Venezuelan allies plan to help finance a $350 million deep-water port at Monkey Point on the wild Caribbean shore, and then plow a connecting "dry canal" corridor of pipelines, rails and highways across the country to the populous Pacific Ocean. Iran recently established an embassy in Nicaragua's capital.

In feeling threatened by Iran's ambitions, the people of Monkey Point have powerful company. The Iranians' arrival in Nicaragua comes as the Bush administration and some European allies hold the threat of war over Iran to force an end to its uranium enrichment program and alleged help to anti-U.S. insurgents in Iraq.

What worries state department officials, former national security officials and counterterrorism researchers is that, if attacked, Iran could stage strikes on American or allied interests from Nicaragua, deploying the Iranian terrorist group Hezbollah and Revolutionary Guard operatives already in Latin America. Bellicose threats by Iran's clerical leadership to hit American interests worldwide if attacked, by design or not, heighten the anxiety.

"The bottom line is if there is a confrontation with Iran, and Iran gets bombed, I have absolutely no doubt that Iran is going to lash out globally," said John R. Schindler, a veteran former counterintelligence officer and analyst for the National Security Agency.

"The Iranians have that ability, particularly from South America. Hezbollah has fronts all over Latin America. That is not new. But it's certainly something we're starting to care about now."

American policymakers already had been fretting in recent years over Tehran's successful forging of diplomatic relations, direct air routes and embassy swaps with populist South American governments that abhor the U.S., such as President Hugo Chávez's Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. But Iran's latest move places it just a few porous borders from Texas, where illegal Nicaraguan laborers routinely travel.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Italian Ship Owners say their ship not attacked

Updating this and this, a report denying that Somali pirates have attacked and/or captured an Italian container ship found as Italian ship safe, away from Somali coast: owner:
The Italian owners of a container ship on Tuesday denied reports that it had been attacked by pirates off Somalia.

The East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme reported on Monday that suspected Somali pirates had attacked the Italian-flagged MV Jolly Turchese as it travelled through one of the world’s most dangerous waterways.

‘We have heard from the Jolly Turchese this morning and there has been absolutely no attack on our ship,’ Captain Cervetto Armando, fleet operator for Messina Lines, told Reuters by telephone from Italy.

‘The ship is on its way to Jeddah at a safe distance from the Somali coast.’