A D-Day vet that keeps flying

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Industrial might is one of the reasons the United States was a significant power during World War II.  I will never overlook the contribution of American fighting men and women during the war, but economic power goes hand-in-hand with military power. One of the little-remembered examples of U.S. industrial prowess is the Douglas C-47 Skytrain, the workhorse cargo plane of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

More than 70 years after it was built, a C-47A is still flying the skies about New York. Called Whiskey 7, it is lovingly restored to its D-Day configuration and is one of the last (if not the last) flyable Skytrains that participated in D-Day airborne operations. You can see it at National Warplane Museum, Geneseo, New York.

My article on Whiskey 7 explains the plane more fully as well as the significance of the Skytrain during the war. But other C-47s are worth mentioning.

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This is C-47 096, which is in the collection of National World War II Museum, New Orleans, La. Though not airworthy, as static displays go it is an impressive presentation that places the aircraft within the context of its D-Day mission.

The U.S. is a nation of industrial innovation and manufacturing prowess. The accomplishments of aircraft designers and workers needs to be remembered. The Skytrain has a storied history. None other than Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander in Europe, called the Douglas aircraft one of the four “Tools of Victory” that won World War II for the Allies along with the atom bomb, the Jeep, and the bazooka. That alone makes makes the contributions of the aircraft industry an essential part of understanding the history of World War II.

Happy Birthday, AK-47

SDC11354On this day in 1947 the Автомат Калашникова, better known as the AK-47 7.62 x 39 mm select-fire assault rifle, went into production for the first time. Some argue it is the most reliable and durable military firearm ever made.

For better or for worse, the AK-47 changed the nature of warfare forever. C.J. Chivers in his magisterial work The Gun explains why. 

The Great War changed everything

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Yesterday marked the anniversary of the assassination in 1914 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia, the duchess of Hohenburg, by a Serbian nationalist named Gavrilo Princip. It is common to state that the murder of the two Austro-Hungarian nobles precipitated World War I — better known as The Great War outside of the United States.

There’s no denying the effect of the murders. Austria-Hungary and its ally Imperial Germany rallied to the cause of war and one month later Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The declaration drew Germany, Russia, France, Belgium, Montenegro and Great Britain shortly after. The worst war in human history up to that time was underway. Eventually, more than 9 million soldiers and 8 million civilians would die in the war. Millions more were maimed and wounded by killing that occurred on an industrial scale. Empires were wiped from the map, new nations emerged, and the world was reshaped by more upheaval than anything that had occurred since the fall of Rome.

One hundred years later, historians are taking a new look at the war. At one time, it was common to say the war was solely about stalemate and death in the trenches. Now, historians are exploring how the war set the stage for World War II — characters such as Hitler, Mussolini, Goering, Eisenhower, Truman, Rommel, and Patton all received their baptism of fire during The Great War — and how the war introduced technological innovation with the first air war, the idea of paratroopers, and the submachine gun. The geopolitical world we live in today was born in the aftermath of The Great War — recall the birth of a nation state named Iraq and the peace efforts of the 1920s that ignored the growth of fascism. Most importantly, it boosted the United States to a position of preeminence as a global power. After World War I, for better or worse the international order could not operate without the United States as part of the calculus.

In the United States, it was billed as the “war to end all wars.” As Steven Erlanger points out in The New York Times, hardly: the 20th Century is the most violent century in human history. But as the 21st Century stumbles along, I wonder if we are not in an age similar to the condition of the world before The Great War. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it echoes. Some of those echoes — resurgent nationalism, xenophobia, militarism, economic turmoil, and tin-eared elites deaf to the concerns of ordinary individuals on the ragged end of globalism — could presage similar events. I’m a pessimist. I think a war between the United States and the People’s Republic of China or the Russian Federation (or an alliance of both) is inevitable. I hope I am wrong. But World War I/The Great War gives us a mirror to hold up to the times. What happened 100 years ago shapes the contemporary world every day. War changes the world. Let’s hope that drastic change isn’t around the corner.

 

 

“Invisible Missiles” and Russian Boasting

What was it that Winston Churchill said about Russia? “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

If that’s the case, Russia has been downright transparent — or at least boastful — when it comes to various weapons developments in recent months.

Last month, there was the Kremlin’s swagger regarding the new RS-18 Sarmat a.k.a. Son of Satan because of its links to the long-deployed SS-18 Satan. It is an ICBM so powerful it will be capable of hefting 12-15 MIRVs each with a 750 kiloton yield. (That’s more than 20 times the yield of the Hiroshima bomb.)

Now, there is news that the Russians will shield their SA-21 Growler in containers that will block electromagnetic signatures created by operating electronic equipment, presumably to escape detection that would compromise their positions. Propaganda publications like Sputnik claim it will make the missiles invisible. I give what I hope is a more balanced assessment here.

Sometimes its easy to dismiss the Russians and what seem to be their outlandish claims. After all, isn’t Russian leadership even claiming that European football hooliganism by Russian fans was provoked?

It’s worth noting that in defense matters all the Russians are telling us is how they are living up to the military goals set by the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin has made it clear repeatedly that Russia will not be No. 2 to any nation, including the United States. Some say he has a long way to go before accomplishing that goal. If your metric is just manpower and hardware, maybe. If its willpower and achievements, just look at how the Russian Federation has supplanted the United States in terms of influence in the Middle East.

Most people forget Churchill’s own answer to his statement about Russia:”…But perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.” Putin has reinvigorated the cause of protecting and expanding the fortunes of Slavic peoples while embracing the belief in a unique worldwide role for Mother Russia. It’s in Russia’s national interest to brag about its military might, even if its claims are perhaps more powerful than some of its military hardware. Its boasts remind the world that Russia is still a force to be reckoned with. The political leadership of the United States, our military, and our intelligence community dismiss that fact at their peril.