Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why No Parachutes?



Arthur Gould LeeNo Parachute
Appendix C, Why No Parachutes?

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 233 pages
  • Publisher: Time Life Education (June 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809496127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809496129
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars (9 customer reviews) 
  • Price: $48.80 plus shipping (<-- What I paid for out-of-print hardcover. Currently, Amazon sells the Kindle edition for $9.99.)
1. Short review:    (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.)
I love the body of the book. The appendices -- each and every one -- I find fault with.

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  See my first review.

2.2. What I did not like: See my first review.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Air combat buffs. History buffs.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes. Now have Open Cockpit.

2.6. Appendix C. Why No Parachutes?

     Nothing more mystified the pilots and observers of the R.F.C., R.N.A.S., and R.A.F. during 1917-1918 than the dour refusal of their High Command to provide them with parachutes. During the half-century that has followed, no question has more puzzled air historians on every level.
     Because no specific reason was ever established for their refusal, a convention has grown up over the years, erected on the gossip and half-truths of the day, that the decision against parachutes was taken first because no reliable parachute then existed, and second because so convenient a facility for escape might invite pilots to abandon their aircraft without a determined fight.
     The first reason was unquestionably given by those responsible, but it was untrue. The second was a slur on the flyers who daily risked their lives in France, and one which has since provoked indignation among the survivors of those who were there. But it is an invention. That some such notion was in the air as a rumour is not to be denied, but it was not based on an official attitude.
     I have made a close examination of all the War Office files dealing with parachutes during 1914-1918, files not previously open for inspection except under ban of official censorship, and nowhere have I found any specific statement by any officer on which could be pinned the calumny that parachutes would encourage unnecessary abandonment of aircraft.
     Another convention that has emerged in recent years is the habit of attribution the official denial of parachutes to one man, and one man alone, General Trenchard. This trend is based partly on a passage in his biography, by Andrew Boyle, which states that Trenchard's attitude to parachutes 'was characteristically spartan. His balloon observers, being defenceless, were issued with them, but not his airmen.'
     This statement is too vague to hold the significance placed on it. In the early and middle stages of the war Trenchard was not the dominating figure he afterwards became. Even if he had been emphatically against parachutes he could not have imposed his bias over two years on other R.F.C. officers of similar or higher seniority. Moreover, as Commander in the Field, and later Chief of the Air Staff, he would have been much too occupied with weighty day-to-day problems of high direction to be able to intervene frequently in this one question of technical equipment.
     In none of the War Office files mentioned have I found evidence that he was in any way responsible for the denial of parachutes. On the contrary, his name is conspicuously absent from the list of senior R.F.C, R.N.A.S and R.A.F. officers at the War Office and Air Ministry who between them did collectively smother the development of the parachute.
     The argument put forward by some of these officers that no reliable parachute existed was merely evidence of ignorance. Parachutes were in regular use before the was at fairs, displays and country shows in Europe and the United States, in exhibition jumps from free balloons, carried out by both men and women, and only rarely with accident.
     In these parachutes the weight of the falling jumper pulled the canopy from a container attached to the basket of the balloon and immediately opened it. To attach so bulky a container to the early aeroplanes, fragile and underpowered, occurred to no one until March 1912, when a successful jump from 1,500 feet was made in America. The feat was repeated in England in May 1913, when a pull-off fall was made from 2,000 feet over Hendon aerodrome.
     In 1908, in America, a different kind of parachute had been introduced, for free fall, in which the parachute was attached as a pack to the jumper, and opened by him by a ripcord and handle as he fell. This new contrivance was employed only for balloon jumps until October 1912, when a similar pack was used in a free-fall jump from a Wright aeroplane, again in the U.S.A. This dramatic advance, which was repeated at shows and displays through the States, held no significance for any of the supposedly alert minds engaged in developing the infant flying services of both the U.S.A. and the then much more militant nations of Europe.
     It is thus indisputable that two years before the war there existed a free-fall pack parachute of proven performance, which though perhaps immature by modern standards, could have been take up by any of the powers and developed alongside the then equally immature aeroplane.
     Although, after World War I broke out, observation kite balloons were provided with the traditional showman's type of free-balloon parachute, not only were the 1912 free-fall drops from aeroplanes completely forgotten, but nobody in authority gave a thought to the possibility of adapting the reliable balloon-type parachute for use from aeroplanes.
     However, the initiative had already been take by a civilian, Mr E. R. Calthrop, a retired engineer, who had developed a new design of parachute for the simple, altruistic purpose of saving lives. This unconvincing motive, together with the unhappy name he gave to it, 'Guardian Angel', were enough to damn it in the eyes of most service people, but the Guardian Angel, though not a free-fall, and far from perfect by later developments, was a sound, well-thought-out proposition, more compact and quicker in action than the old fashioned Spencer parachutes supplied to kite-balloon observers.
     But Calthrop's invention, perhaps because his approach to inflated officialdom was not always sufficiently tactful, was regarded by the War Office and Admiralty with dislike, and every high-level advance on his part for tests and trials was brusquely rebuffed.
     War Office files show that even in May 1914, before the war began, Calthrop, whose parachute had already  been successfully tried out at Barrow-in-Furness with the co-operation of Vickers, invited the R.F.C. and R.N.A.S. at Farnborough to test it also. Captain E. M. Maitland of the R.F.C., who had done a 7,000-foot parachute jump from an airship the year before, was quite prepared to test it, but there is no evidence that any result followed from this or similar invitations made to both War Office and Admiralty.
     Later, in October 1915, at the Royal Aircraft Factory, the enterprising Superintendent, Mervyn O'Gorman, one of the few people alive to the potentiality of the parachute, and with an experienced balloon jumper on his staff, proposed to experiment with a Calthrop. 'I have fitted this to an aeroplane for preliminary trials with a dummy', he wrote to the Directorate of Military Aeronautics, seeking approval for the modest expenditure involved. 
     'Do you wish experiments of this nature to be proceeded with?' minuted the Assistant Director of M.A. 'No, certainly not!' wrote General Henderson, G.O.C. of the R.F.C. What Daimler's Chief Engineer, A. E. Berriman, called 'some very interesting experiments' were thus abruptly halted. A year later a junior staff officer had the effrontery to suggest that permission might now be given for the experiments to be resumed, but his nose was rubbed in Henderson's 'Certainly not!'
     Undeterred, Calthrop persevered in his efforts to gain official approval, but he was up against influences both practical and intangible. That the primitive aeroplane of 1915-1916 could not carry the weight of a parachute without some sacrifice of performance was an objection every pilot understood and accepted though not perhaps to the degree expressed by a gallant R.N.A.S. officer, Commander Boothby, who wrote: 'We don't want to carry additional weight merely to save our lives.'
     The intangibles were much less acceptable to the fighting airman. He could not easily tolerate the customary Whitehall opposition to change, to new notions, which existed at high levels in even the young and vigorous R.F.C. and R.N.A.S. Nor did he appreciate the attitude of some senior officers, influenced no doubt by the traditions of the sea, who believed that the occupants of a stricken aeroplane should dive to their deaths with a stiff upper lip, in the manner of the captain of a sinking ship.
     A further intangible was the sheer ignorance of those members of the Air Board who lacked experience of air combat except in the carbine era. Even so fine an officer as General R. M. Groves could write: 'Smashed aircraft generally fall with such velocity that there would hardly be time to think about the parachute.' At the time this sentence is written, some 200,000 airmen have saved their lives by parachutes because they managed to find time to think.
     Another member of the Air Board, Lord Sydenham, wrote: 'The point is, could pilots make use of the Guardian Angel parachute at the moment when it becomes clear that their machine had come to grief?' Lord Sydenham was not an airman, and his qualifications adjudge on this question were outstanding only in the negative. The sixty-nine-year-old peer's soldiering days had ended ove twenty years earlier, and his two previous public appointments had been Superintendent of the Royal Carriage Factory and Chairman on the Royal Commission on Contagious Diseases.
     The Air Board decision on October 1916 was that it should await further developments. But developments by whom? The hoary process of passing the buck was now in operation. In January 1917 the secretary of the Board wrote: 'I gather from General Brancker that there is at present no idea of using parachutes in connection with heavier-than-air craft.' This was thought unnecessary because the R.N.A.S. was now experimenting with parachutes for use in airships.
     But at the time that the Board, and the higher officers of the technical directorates, were holding down the Guardian Angel, trials of it were being held by junior officers at Orfordness Experimental Station, where during January successful jumps were made by Captain C. F. Collet from a B.E.2c. No member of the Air Board took any interest in the reports submitted, and not for a full year were the tests resumed at the same station.
     But in France General Trenchard heard of the trials, and despite his many preoccupations as Commander in the Field, suggested that they be continued in France. They were not continued anywhere. On January 16th he asked for twenty black Calthrop parachutes for dropping spies from aeroplanes behind the German lines, and the records show that they were delivered to No 2 Aircraft Depot between January and March. Trenchard was at least not blindly opposed to parachutes.
     Yet successive members of the Air Board continued to rebuff Calthrop's efforts. In May he made yet another approach, and after referring to the Orfordness trials and the spy-dropping operations, suggested that if his parachutes could not be used by squadrons in France they might at least be employed in training schools. General L. E. O. Charlton's decision in the column of the minute sheet was simply 'No!' Calthrop persisted 'in view of the many deaths from the burning of pilot'. 'Not many', commented Charlton.
     Calthrop had heard of the suggestion that possession of a parachute might 'impair a pilot's nerve when in difficulties, so that he would make improper use of his parachute, with the result that more machines would be crashed'. He argued that surely an airman at the Front, knowing he could use his parachute in emergency, 'would attempt to achieve more', but this rational view, which was to be borne out a thousand times in World War II, inspired no reaction.
     Among the stock attitudes adopted by members of the Directorate and the Air Board to account for their hostility to parachutes, additional to such notions as that a falling airman would lose consciousness, was the one advanced by the Board's secretary, Major Baird, M.P., in the House of Commons, when he stated that 'pilots did not desire parachutes for aeroplanes'. This view was based on that held by those senior R.F.C. and R.N.A.S. officers who had never experienced fierce lethal air combat, nor witnessed the desperate need of comrades falling to their death in broken or burnine planes. Such as Groves, when he wrote: "The heavier-than-air people all say that they flatly decline a parachute in an aeroplane as a life-saving device worth carrying in its present form'. The people he referred to were not the pilots of B.E.s and R.E.s, or Nieuport and Sopwith two-seaters, or F.E.8s and the other death-traps then being flown in France.
     Such statements were evidence of the wide gulf that existed between the fighting ranks of the R.F.C., the pilots and observers in France up to, but not often including, the squadron commander's grade of major, and the ranks who were too senior to fight, and who never experienced post-Fokker air fighting in any form.
     The truth was that from early 1917, especially during and after the ' Bloody April' losses, there were few fliers with any experience of air fighting who were not obsessed to some degree, though usually secretly, with the thought of being shot down in flames. The top-scoring British ace Mannock was the classic example. To all these a parachute would have been a stiffener to strain and morale. But their views did not go beyond the level of the squadron or wing commanders, who feared that to support such attitudes would expose them to criticism for tolerating morale-weakening influences.
     Another stock attitude was that the Guardian Angel was not efficient enough. Under Government auspices it could have been developed and improved quickly and at trifling cost, and a reliable free-fall parachute would undoubtedly have been evolved within a few months. But the active-service flier did not want to wait for perfection. He wanted something quickly, that would offer a hope of escape, much as a lifebelt offers hope to a seaman from a sinking ship. Even if the parachute were not infallible it would offer a sporting chance, which was better than a death that was certain.
     At length, by the end of 1917, a Parachute Committee had been formed on the recommendation of General Maitland, to examine whether or not parachutes should and could be provided. The secretary, Major Orde-Lees, was a keen and experienced parachutist, but not most of those with whom he worked. 'I doubt whether the practicable application of the Guardian Angel parachute is possible during war', wrote the Controller of the Technical Directorate, who then added: 'I think that one parachute should be sufficient to rescue both pilot and observer.'
     But in France parachutes at last found support from a high-ranking officer, General Longcroft, commanding the 3rd Brigade, R.F.C., one of the senior officers who was not too senior to fly fighting machines and to make parachute descents. He wrote that 'I and my pilots keenly desired parachutes, and recommend the Calthrop method of fitting the pack to the top of the fuselage'. The official argument against this proposal was that 'it would impose a dangerous strain on the pilot', which was apparently considered worse than being killed. Persisting, Longcroft argued that ehe principal use of the parachute would be to get clear of a burning plane. He added that he had heard the objection that pilots might jump prematurely, but, as a practical parachutist, he did not believe it. His letters went into the pending tray.
     By now the French and Italians, and, as was shortly to be shown, the Germans, were all well advanced in experiments in parachutes, and in January 1918 the Air Board was at last driven into giving Calthrop an order, but mainly, as Brigadier-General MacInnes noted later, 'to keep the firm alive'. Subsequently, Calthrop was permitted for the first time to publicise his invention, and he then dislcosed that many flying officers had approached him to supply and fit a parachute at their own expense, but that the Air Board would not countenance any such demonstration of poor morale. After all, Major Baird had officially stated that pilots did not want parachutes.
     But ideas were changing, though not to the extent of producing action. 'The question of parachutes now requires more consideration than has been given to it in the past', wrote Commander W. Forbes-Sempill, D/D.A.T.S. in April 1918. 'I think it is no exaggeration to say that everyone agrees that parachutes should be provided on aircraft.'
     This view was given a fillip in mid-1918 when the Germans started using free-fall parachutes in France, so provoking a Press and public reaction which Whitehall could not ignore. In September, as a result of tests made in France with S.E.5s and Snipe, a request for 500 Calthrop parachutes was submitted. Except for one minor modification, they were exactly the same as the model standardised in July 1916. But they were never employed in action. The war ended without any parachutes being used by the British in France, except for the dropping of spies.
     The War Office files show clearly that for this dereliction, no one man, nor even any specific group of men, can in fairness be indicted. (!!!) It was the collective official mind actuated by intangible prejudice which was responsible. As Calthrop wrote with understandable bitterness in January 1919: 'No one in high quarters had any time to devote to investigating the merits of an appliance whose purpose was so ridiculously irrelevant to war as the saving of life in the air.'

2.7. Critique.

     In this, the last appendix, AGL wrote thirty-six paragraphs. I find no fault with the first thirty-five. The last is rubbish.
     In the Air Force, I was taught there are three things that come with command: authority, execution (action, if you like), and responsibility. A commander can delegate his authority to a subordinate. A commander can delegate the execution to a subordinate. But even though a commander may hold a subordinate responsible for the use of delegated authority and for execution of a mission, the commander retains full responsibility himself.
     The commanding officer always holds full responsibility for his unit. He is responsible for the execution of the mission, the material (aircraft, guns, ammo, tents, victuals, transport, and so forth), and the safety of his men. 
     The safety of his men. This means that every squadron commander in the Great War was responsible to see to it that his airmen had machines to fly that were as safe as they could be made. That included providing parachutes. 
     Above the squadron commanders were the wing commanders and, eventually, the General Officer Commanding, R.F.C. They were ultimately responsible for the safety of their airmen. 
     The R.F.C. had two GOCs: David Henderson and Hugh 'Boom' Trenchard. These two men were and are to blame for the deaths of R.F.C. airmen due to lack of parachutes. 

2.8. Links:
Open Cockpit
Fly Past

2.9. Buy the book:
hardback with ugly cover: No Parachute
hardback with misleading cover: No Parachute (used)
paperback with pretty cover: No Parachute (used)
Kindle ebook: No Parachute

Friday, June 13, 2014

Secretariat

     Secretariat was the greatest horse that ever ran.

The 1973 Kentucky Derby

     (I think I saw Ron Turcotte, Secretariat's jockey, use the whip in the last turn.)
     Secretariat set the track record in that race, and it still stands today.

The 1973 Preakness Stakes

     (Ron Turcotte never used the whip in this race.)
     Again, Secretariat set the track record in that race, and it still stands today.

The 1973 Belmont Stakes


     (Like the Preakness, Ron Turcotte never used the whip in this race.)
     This was Secretariat's best start in the Triple Crown races.
     Again, Secretariat set the track record in that race, and it still stands today. He beat the previous record by more than 2 seconds.
     The margin of Secretariat's victory -- 31 lengths -- is still jaw-dropping.

ESPN's documentary

     Because of Secretariat, the model of the perfect horse was redrawn -- to fit Secretariat's lines.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Trenchard's Strategy of the Offensive



Arthur Gould Lee, No Parachute
Appendix B, Trenchard's Strategy of the Offensive 

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 233 pages
  • Publisher: Time Life Education (June 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809496127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809496129
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars (9 customer reviews) 
  • Price: $48.80 plus shipping (<-- What I paid. Currently, Amazon lists a different printing for $21.20. This printing now sells for $144.46.)
1. Short review:    (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.)
I love the body of the book. The appendices -- each and every one -- I find fault with.

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  See my first review.

2.2. What I did not like: See my first review.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Air combat buffs. History buffs.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes. Now have Open Cockpit.

2.6. Appendix B..Trenchard's Strategy of the Offensive:

Detail [AGL's words in quotes. My words in plain type.]:

     "After the Battle of Messines air activity had to slacken because of the R.F.C.'s heavy losses in April and May, which focused General Trenchard, on June 10th, to instruct his Brigade Commanders 'to avoid wastage of both pilots and machines, for some little time. My reserves at present are dangerously low, in fact, in some cases, it barely exists at all . . . It is of the utmost importance, however, that the offensive spirit is maintained.'
     "General Trenchard was right to sustain an offensive spirit. Where he erred was in identifying this with an offensive strategy which was, in effect, a territorial offensive. To him, as to his staff, and most of his senior commanders, for a British aeroplane to be one mile across the trenches was offensive: for it to be ten miles over was more offensive.
     "Influenced perhaps by naval doctrine -- 'seek out and destroy the enemy' and 'our frontiers are the enemy coasts' -- he applied them to the air, not appreciating that they were largely irrelevant in a three-dimensional sphere. In the air fighting of World War I, despite the siege-like situation on the ground, it was not a fighter aeroplane's position in relation to a line of defences that measured the offensive spirit but the aggressive will of its occupants to attack the enemy wherever he was encountered, at whatever odds.
     "The pursuit of a territorial offensive strategy of distant patrols, together with the handicap of a prevailing westerly wind, resulted in a large proportion of aircrew disabled by wounds, or put out of action by faulty engines or gun jams, falling into enemy hands. That the High Command should uphold such avoidable wastage in 1917, when the R.F.C. was desperately short of aeroplanes, aero-engines and trained pilots, is hard to fathom.
     "These direct losses were augmented by the wear and tear on pilots and planes in chasing the mirage of air ascendancy over the Lines by continuous standing patrols of fighters along the whole British front, regardless of the needs of the tactical situation, ground or air. While we thus dissipated our strength, more often than not merely beating the empty air, the Germans, in their so-called defensive strategy, concentrated forces superior in numbers or equipment and engaged our scattered Line Patrols in turn, and our Distant Offensive Patrols as and when it suited them. The result was that in 1917 British air losses were at times nearly four times as great as the Germans.
     "Though the real criterion of an offensive policy was not place but aggressiveness, even this was useless without efficient aeroplanes. The most rashly aggressive pigeon won't get far with a hawk. Important as was the offensive spirit in the air war, technical superiority was more vital, not least because it conferred the initiative.
     "For the High Command to persist, despite the toll in life and material, in continuously patrolling the Lines and in sending obsolescent machines deep into German-held territory, was incomprehensible even at the time. In retrospect, such obduracy seems as irrational as Haig's unyielding adherence to attrition, and the no less stubborn Admiralty resistance to escorted convoys."

2.7. Critique.

     The perfect is the enemy of the good.
     Reading AGL's criticism of Trenchard's aerial strategy above, I get the impression that AGL wanted most of all to reduce RFC casualties. Taken to its logical conclusion, this means the RFC should not fly, because men are sometimes lost in flying accidents.*
     Let's not get lost in this argument about reducing casualties. Let's cut to the heart of the matter.
     What was the mission of the RFC in the Great War?
     The mission of the RFC was to support the PBI (poor bloody infantry), and Trenchard never forgot that. The RFC supported the PBI three ways: 1) aerial reconnaissance, 2) aerial artillery direction, and 3) denying the enemy the use of the air.
     By 1915 the RFC developed serviceable methods of aerial photographic reconnaissance and aerial artillery direction. Denying the enemy the use of the air for operations against the RA fell into four categories: 1) denial of enemy reconnaissance; 2) denial of enemy bombers; 3) destruction of enemy kite balloons; and 4) denial of enemy ground attack from the air. The RFC successes in each of these air denial missions was small. But it was not nil.
     Trenchard served with the losing army in the RA war games of 1912. In that exercise, aerial reconnaissance turned the tide, a lesson Trenchard never forgot. During the great war, he and his staff developed a serviceable strategy for the use of airpower. That strategy delivered good results for the PBI. Trenchard came up with a working system, and he applied the adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
     As for casualties, the worst month of the war for the RFC was April 1917, a month that was known to fliers as 'Bloody April'. That month, the RFC lost 400 men in combat.
     On the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, the RA lost 57,000 men.
     400 a month against 57,000 a day.
     I hate to lose flyboys. I was one myself. But, you know, the risk comes with the job.
     In my book Trenchard did the right thing. He found a strategy that was good enough and he stuck with it. Had he changed it, he might have done better . . . but he might have done worse.
     (Regarding AGL's claim that Trenchard pursued a 'territorial' offensive strategy, Trenchard's contemporaneous notes show that he held no illusions about holding airspace. He had a good grasp of what was going on. He also had a good grasp of the airplanes' communications -- none -- and saw that the only effective means to air denial was to be in the air when the enemy chose to fly. AGL did not see this. Plus, what neither Trenchard nor AGL saw was that having pilots fly patrols developed their flying skills and sky vision.)

*This was especially true of the Sopwith Camel. "During World War I, 413 pilots died in combat and 385 pilots died from non-combat related causes while flying the Sopwith Camel." --The Aerodrome The Germans were only slightly more dangerous to RFC and RAF pilots than the Camel itself.

2.8. Links: 
Open Cockpit
Fly Past 

2.9. Buy the book:
hardback with ugly cover: No Parachute 
hardback with misleading cover: No Parachute (used) 
paperback with pretty cover: No Parachute (used)

Friday, June 6, 2014

eBook Review: The Angel of Zin




Clifford IrvingThe Angel of Zin

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 894 KB
    • Print Length: 304 pages
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B00J273UY0
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • Lending: Enabled
    Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars (65 customer reviews)
    • Price: $5.99 (I bought it on sale for $0.99. 

1. Short review:     (Amazon rating: 3 out of 5 stars -- It's okay.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: I like the hero, Paul Bach.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? A depressing roller-coaster.
For what I paid, it returned satisfactory value. At $5.99, I think it is overpriced.

2.2. What I did not like: Three things:
1. After I finished the book, I still did not know who the Angel of Zin was;
2. Every character I cared about died (I am beginning to hate Game of Thrones for this);
3. Two glaring factual errors -- Irving does not know spit about weapons -- or research, evidently.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Germans who read English. Which is most of 'em.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  No.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? No.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     Paul Bach is a Nazi. He does not want to be a Nazi. He is also a member of the Gestapo. He does not want to be that, either. His friend persuaded him to join both to get promoted within the Berlin police department. Paul lost his left arm fighting in Russia, and my guess is he did not want that either.
     Paul is a detective with the Berlin police. His sense of justice is blind to race and political affiliation. Which is why his friend is a colonel and Paul is still a captain.
     Paul is tasked with investigating a series of murders in a small extermination camp in Poland: Zinoswicz-Zdroj, called Zin for short. Paul travels to Zin and finds corruption and cruelty. (Not a surprise. This is an extermination camp.)
     I shall wrap this up for you. Paul interrogates the camp commandant and the German guards -- but not the Ukrainian guards. He interrogates some of the prisoners. Meanwhile, the Jews are 1) preparing for Passover and 2) preparing to rise up and escape. The commandant gets orders to close the camp; that means he is to kill all the remaining prisoners. Paul offers one prisoner a chance to escape, but the prisoner does not take it. Paul solves the murders but, to the commandant, identifies a dead man as the murderer instead of the true murderer. (I am not clear on who the murderer(s) actually was(were). Nor how the clues led to Paul's deduction.) Jews learn the camp will close in a week and advance the schedule for the uprising. Of course, the uprising goes off with the precision of a clock exploding. Dead guards. Dead commandant. Dead Paul Bach. Dead Jews. 37 of 500 escape to the woods outside Zin. Yeah, now what?
     And that's how it ends. 
 2.7. Other:
     The Angel of Zin reminded me of a German Hörspiel I read years ago. In the Hörspiel (whose title I cannot recall), a German soldier returned to Berlin. He was a thousand mile soldier: marched a thousand miles into Russia and a thousand miles out. Nobody cared about his service to the fatherland. They want to forget the war. He was rejected for jobs, for housing, for a seat in a restaurant. He tried to drown himself in the River Spree, but the river spat him out. No redemption, no happy ending. A depressing read.
     The Angel of Zin is like that.
     It started with a depressing tone and it kept it through to the end. I hoped for a redemptive ending. I hoped in vain.
     If you have ever been treated for clinical depression, DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.

     I am not an expert on firearms, but even I know more than Clifford Irving.
     Two items:
     1. At one point, CI wrote that a character picked up a thirty-eight caliber Luger. This error is both stupid and lazy. The Germans used the metric system. They manufactured nine millimeter Lugers. Never thirty-eight caliber. Look, I know CI did not have the internet when he wrote this book, but for the love of God, would it have killed him to pick up a phone and call a gun shop and ask someone?
     2. When the Jews rose up for freedom, one climbed into the guard tower and fired the fifty caliber machine gun sited there. Again, this error is both stupid and lazy. Americans used the fifty. The closest the Germans had to it was a twenty millimeter autocannon. The automatic weapon the Gemans would have used was the Maschinengewehr (MG) 42, a 7.92x57mm machine gun. Maybe a MG 34 if they were still using old equipment. (The MG42 replaced the MG34 in 1942.)

    YMMV.

2.8. Links: Clifford Irving

2.9. Buy the book:  The Angel of Zin

Monday, June 2, 2014

eBook Review: Day of Infamy




Walter LordDay of Infamy

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 1133 KB
    • Print Length: 237 pages
    • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0805068031
    • Publisher: Open Road Media (March 6, 2012)
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B0078X73FM
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • Lending: Enabled
    • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars (91 customer reviews)
    • Price: $9.99 (I bought it on sale for $2.51. 

1. Short review:
For content:   (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: History as a collection of personal experiences.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? A roller-coaster.
Great value for the money.

2.2. What I did not like: As with every ebook I have read from Open Road (whom I shall no longer link to), the glut of errors evidences that they OCR-scanned a paper copy and gave the output no proofreading. Some of my corrections: tug vice rug, sealed vice scaled, and see vice sec.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Everybody.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? I shall buy anything written by Walter Lord. Not so keen on Open Road's products.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     No plot. History.
     Besides reading commercially published works about the attack on Pearl Harbor and US Navy and US Army reports, WL interviewed 464 people who were there or with the Japanese attack force. He reconciled their recollections with official reports and records, sometimes favoring recollection over report. (A report is only a recollection reduced to writing. With an official stamp on it.) In effect, Day of Infamy is an oral history reduced to writing.
     Because it is effectively an oral history, it has a close, personal feeling other histories lack. The people in the book became my friends, and I wanted to know what happened to them.
 2.7. Other:
     I learned a lot from Day of Infamy.
     First, I learned that the Japanese attack force included six carriers. That was likely the largest concentration of carriers anywhere up to that time.
     Second, the Japanese attack did not go as planned. They had two attack plans: if 'Surprise', the torpedo bombers were to attack first followed by the dive bombers; if 'Surprise Lost', the dive bombers were to attack with the torpedo bombers. IJN Commander Misuo Fuchida decided to go with 'Surprise' and fired one shot from his signal pistol (inbound, the Japanese kept radio silence). This single shot was the signal for 'Surprise'. The fighters did not respond. Fuchida thought they had missed the signal. He fired another. Two shots was the signal for 'Surprise Lost'. Now some crews executed the plan for 'Surprise' and others executed the plan for 'Surprise Lost'.
     Third, rumor and misinformation in war can kill. A flight of planes from the USS Enterprise flew into Pearl on the afternoon of the 7th. Even with the Navy tower broadcasting that these were friendlies, the gunners opened up on them. About half were killed, including one shot hanging from his 'chute after he bailed out of his flaming plane.
     Fourth, the attack was launched in two waves, not one.

     Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, commander of the Japanese attack force, did not agree with the plan, but Yamamoto told him to shut up and soldier. Nagumo feared for his carriers. His mission was to destroy the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. Reconnaissance persuaded him the first attack had accomplished his mission. Rather than launch a second attack, he turned back for Japan.
     A second attack would have destroyed Pearl Harbor as an operating naval base. The IJN lost a priceless opportunity.

     Rumors on Oahu ran that the Japanese had landed on the island. These were false, but I did wonder what would have been the result had the Japanese included invasion forces with their fleet. Except for the B-17s that landed that day, the US Army Air Corps ceased to exist on Oahu. Three PBYs were out on patrol; all other Navy planes at Pearl were destroyed. The air groups of three carriers were all that the Navy could call on.
     Had the Japanese landed invasion forces on Oahu, I think they would have taken the island.
     I think the reason they did not attempt an invasion was logistics.
     The same day, the IJN and the IJA  invaded Guam, Wake, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. Those invasions required lots of troops. Troops require everything from ammo to food to socks. And transport for the troops and all those supplies.
     The Japanese did not have enough transport to add an invasion of Oahu.

     Few Japanese were available for WL to interview. That is because most of those who attacked Pearl Harbor were dead six months later. At the Battle of Midway. WL wrote a book about Midway, too. Incredible Victory. Also a great read.

    YMMV.

2.8. Links: Walter Lord

2.9. Buy the book:  Day of Infamy

Friday, May 23, 2014

eBook Review: This Kind of War





T. R. FehrenbachThis Kind of War

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 969 KB
    • Print Length: 540 pages
    • Publisher: Open Road Media; 50th Anniversary edition (April 1, 2014) (I downloaded my copy 18 March 2013.)
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English 
    • ASIN: B00J3EU6IK 
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • Lending: Enabled
    • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars (109 customer reviews)
    • Price: $2.99 (I paid $8.21 more than a year ago. At $8.21, it was a good value. At $2.99, it is a bargain.)

1. Short review:  *:) happy (Amazon rating: 4 out of 5 stars -- I like it. My edition is riddled with typos, obvious missing text, and textual transpositions. I have reports that those have been fixed. Were all the rampant copyreading errors fixed, I would give This Kind of War 5 stars. Perhaps I shall try another download to see if these errors have been fixed.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: Account of the American military and concomitant political experience in Korea. TRF includes accounts of the Brits and the Turks and mentions the French battalion, but his emphasis is on the American history. At the end, TRF expounds his views on the meaning of the Korean War to the US and on the use of citizen soldiers versus legionnaires. I found these instructive.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? A roller-coaster.
Good value for the money I paid. Do-not-miss value at the current price.

2.2. What I did not like: My edition is riddled with typos, obvious missing text, and textual transpositions. I have reports that those have been fixed.
     I see these problems as an unforgivable sin of traditional publishers. Rather than pay for competent copyreaders, they OCR-scan old books to produce a digital copy and upload that as an ebook. The evidence is that they give that copy no copyreading nor editing.
     This Kind of War was first published in 1963 by MacMillanMacMillan died in 2001. The current incarnation is a shell owned by Holtzbrinck Publishing Group. The e-version of This Kind of War is published by Open Road Media.  How Open Road came by the rights to This Kind of War I don't know, but I would be stunned to discover that they have no connection to Holtzbrinck.
     I have found the same problems with other print books that have been scanned to produce an e-version; for example, The Angel of Zin.
     In my opinion, traditional publishers are using readers as unpaid copyreaders.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Americans with an interest in history.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes, if the child is an American with an interest in history.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? I will buy anything written by TRF. With a caveat. Given the terrible conversion from print to ebook, I am decidedly disinterested in buying anything published by Open Road.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     Given that this is a history, there should be no plot, but there are at least four.
     The first third of the book could be entitled The Adventures of Frank Muñoz in Korea. FM leads George Company in one desperate action after another, fighting and surviving and sometimes winning during the first year of the war.
     Sergeant Schlichter's experience as a POW is another story. He promised his wife he would return. The Army reported him MIA and presumed dead to his wife and offered her his death benefits. She refused them. Schlichter, a medic, administered care to POWs until the end. He was in the last group that was repatriated.
     The North Korean and Chinese POWs were kept on Geoje Island in South Korea. 132,000 of them in one camp. Hard-core Communists controlled the POW chain of command. They received orders from Peking to make trouble to be used for propaganda purposes. They kidnapped an American brigadier general. LtGen Mark Clark sent BGen Haydon Boatner to recover the general and restore order to the camp. Boatner accepted the command on the condition that he had a free hand to deal with the POWs as he saw fit and to exclude the press from the island. Clark agreed. Boatner built a new camp and 14 June 1952 moved the POWs to it with combat troops armed with bayonets (their rifle magazines were empty). The POWs resisted with spears. Some POWs died in the melee. Some GIs were wounded but none were killed. Boatner succeeded in breaking the back of the Communist resistance on Geoje. Found among the effects in the old POW barracks were plans for a general POW uprising and escape scheduled for 22 June 1952.
     Most of the UN forces in Korea were ROK Army. TRF admits that but never covers any ROK Army victory; he only covers their defeats. He does write well of the Brits in action and of the Turks in captivity. He mentions the French battalion (wanna bet they were Foreign Legion?) but never gives any details of them in action.
     For the first year the Korean War was one of movement. The NKPA invasion bore a striking resemblance to the Hindenburg Offensive on the Western Front in the spring of 1918. The invasion at Inchon and the UN drive to the Yalu River were a replay of MacArthur's campaign along the northern shore of New Guinea. With the start of peace talks, the front stagnated, and the troops entrenched. From June 1951 to the armistice in August 1953, the Korean War resembled Verdun in 1916.
     Factoid: The US Army expended more artillery shells in the Korean War than in World War II.
 2.7. Other:
     In the Korean War, American politicians -- that is, Harry Truman -- tried to use American citizen soldiers as legionnaires. When the war was fought to expel the Communists from Korea, the Americans did well. When their direction changed and they fought to contain the Communists, morale suffered. You can motivate men to die for victory but not for stalemate.

     Americans have never come to grips with the Korean War. They understand the Inchon Landings and the heroism of the Marines at Chosin Reservoir  but they do not understand the lack of victory. TRF treats with this in a persuasive argument that Americans see war as a crusade, not as an instrument of gov't policy.

     TRF himself fought in Korea but never mentions that.

     My father-in-law fought in the Korean War. Not with the US Army. With the ROK Army. My wife is Korean. Not Korean-American.
     My father-in-law was proud of his service. He always smiled when I visited him. He died last year. Two days before his death, I ate with him. We had octopus. He knew octopus is my favorite.
     Korean Memorial Day is 6 June. My wife and I plan to visit her father's ashes and venerate his memory.

     YMMV.

2.8. Links: Theodore Reed Fehrenbach, Jr.

2.9. Buy the book:  This Kind of War

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Failure in High Command



Arthur Gould Lee, No Parachute
Appendix A, The Failure in High Command

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 233 pages
  • Publisher: Time Life Education (June 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809496127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809496129
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars (9 customer reviews) 
  • Price: $48.80 plus shipping (<-- What I paid. Currently, Amazon lists a different printing for $21.20. This printing now sells for $144.46.)
1. Short review:    (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.)
I love the body of the book. The appendices -- each and every one -- I find fault with.

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  See my first review.

2.2. What I did not like: See my first review.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Air combat buffs. History buffs.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes. Now have Open Cockpit.

2.6. Appendix A..The Failure in High Command:

Detail [AGL's words in quotes. My words in plain type.]:
     "In October 1909 the Secretary of State for War, Mr R. B. Haldane (later Viscount Haldane) appointed a highly qualified civil engineer, Mr Mervyn O'Gorman, as Superintendent of the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough. He did this because he believed that aeroplanes could be designed efficiently only under 'scientific' governmental supervision. His belief was to be bitterly paid for in flesh and blood.
     "O'Gorman was an able engineer, but he was also an ambitious empire-builder, who considered that the role of the Factory should be to sponsor a standard government aeroplane. He was in a strong position, for as he had direct access to Haldane, he could outmanoeuvre any officer who disagreed with him. But there were few who did. Most of the senior Royal Flying Corps officers at the War Office regarded the flying machine as merely an aerial extension of cavalry reconnaissance, for which they demanded a stable vehicle which could be flown 'hands off' while the pilot examined the ground, wrote notes and drew maps, and they were satisfied that O'Gorman had an aeroplane that filled the bill.
     "This was the Bleriot (later British) Experimental, which was slow, unmanoeuvrable, heavy on the controls and difficult to arm with a machine-gun, but O'Gorman won authority to develop and standardise it because it was inherently stable, and it was backed by General Henderson, head of the Directorate of Military Aeronautics, and by other senior officers, among them General Sykes and General Sefton Brancker, who as a notably unskillful pilot saw only virtue in a machine that practically piloted itself. None of these officers can escape his share of responsibility for the failure of the High Command to provide the R.F.C. with aeroplanes fit to fly and fight in.
     "Supporting O'Gorman's aim of creating a Government monopoly in the construction of military aeroplanes, the Directorate restricted the growth of private manufacturing, to the extent of equipping the Corps in part from French firms. When war began Britain thus lacked a flourishing aircraft industry, such as existed in France and Germany, and no military aeroplanes were in production stage other than the current Factory B.E. -- the B.E.2c.
     "On O'Gorman's urgent recommendation the Directorate rashly agreed that this machine should be standardised and produced in quantity. Meticulously detailed drawings for its manufacture were prepared by the Factory, and issued to contractors, many of whom had never made any aeroplane part before. In the course of time over twenty firms were engaged in turning out the B.E.2c, 2d and 2e, and B.E.12, but before they were successively in production they were already obsolescent, so swift were advances in the design of aircraft under the spur of war.
     "Every subsequent aircraft produced by the Factory, with the exception of the F.E. pusher-fighters, was a development of the basic, stable B.E., and every one except the last, the S.E.5, was fundamentally inefficient for military use. The B.E.s were by far the most ineffective and vulnerable aeroplanes to fly in France. Their replacement, the cumbersome R.E.8, was little better, and at first even worse, for it was so dangerous that many service pilots refused to fly it. No 52 Squadron, the first to  be equipped with it in France, had so many fatal crashes that the pilots asked, and were allowed, to revert to B.E.2cs. Another R.E.8 squadron, No 59, lost ten machines and crews in one day in 'Bloody April'.
     "It is significant that of Richtofen's 80 British and French victories, 46 were supplied by the Factory -- 29 B.E.s and R.E.8s, 14 F.E.s and 3 S.E.5s. The S.E.5a, a compacted and more manoeuvrable B.E.12, with a powerful engine, proved capable of meeting German fighters on level terms, and it was the Factory's only real success.
     "The inability of the B.E.s to fight, or even to defend themselves, was shown when the Fokker monoplanes began to shoot them down by the dozen, but because the consequent casualties were minute compared with those of the ground battles, they were regarded as of no importance by the War Cabinet, though not by Trenchard, in command of the R.F.C. in the field. But towards the end of 1915 public attention was called to them by Noel Pemberton-Billing, M.P., who described the B.E.s as 'Fokker fodder', and condemned the R.F.C. High Command for failing to supply their pilots with worthy aeroplanes. He was supported by other members of both Commons and Lords, who declared that 'our pilots are being murdered rather than killed'.
     "The Government was forced to order a judicial enquiry, which began in May 1916 under Mr Justice Bailhache. His report, published in November, whitewashed the senior R.F.C. officers responsible, but blamed the supply organisation. O'Gorman became the scapegoat, and a few months later resigned. Pemberton-Billings's accusations were dismissed as extravagant, but they were to be proved to the hilt in 'Bloody April'.
     "Even before then it had become clear that the control of design and production by a bureaucratically run 'Factory' had utterly failed, and that aeroplanes were urgently needed that could fight as well as fly. the R.F.C. pundits turned to the aircraft industry they had so stupidly stifled, only to find that every firm of note was committed by contract to the R.N.A.S.
     "Fortunately for British aviation, the Admiralty had, from the beginning, declined to be tied to the Factory for its machines, and backed by the vigour and long-sightedness of the First Lord, Winston Churchill, had entrusted the aircraft industry in both Britain and France with the production of airframes and engines to meet specific naval requirements. Such firms as Short, Sopwith, Bristol, Airco (de Havilland), Vickers, Rolls-Royce had already turned out much better aeroplanes and engines than any of the Factory's products.
     "Because the R.N.A.S. had contracted for more machines than it could use, a number of types, such as Sopwith two-seaters, were switched to the R.F.C. But because the whole industrial complex for aircraft manufacture had been bedevilled by the War Office's long neglect, and the Factory's jealous embargoes, there were constant delays which kept machines from reaching the Front until they were obsolescent. The pressure was partly eased by the purchase of surplus French aircraft, such as the Spad, Nieuport and Morane monoplane.
     "In spite of these drastic expedients, the senior officers of the R.F.C. Supply Directorate, none of whom had any experience of air combat, except in the most gentlemanly way with carbines and revolvers, still clung to the inherently stable products of the Factory. The episode of the Sopwith Pup was a typical example of this attitude. The Pup, with Admiralty agreement, was offered to the R.F.C. in February 1916, but on O'Gorman's advice preference was given to his so-called fighter, the B.E.12. When the B.E.12 abjectly failed, with the usual loss of life, against the Albatros D-II, the R.F.C. was reduced, in November, to borrowing No 8 Naval Squadron, whose Pups promptly dealt with the D-II. The Pup did not reach the R.F.C. until the R.N.A.S. tired of it at the end of 1916.
     "The Supply Directorate, while decreeing that the Factory, too committed by its rigid organisation for any rapid major changes, should continue to devote its extensive supply facilities to producing proved 'duds', now entered into competition with the R.N.A.S. for the products of the airframe and engine firms of Britain and France. So began the phase of rivalry between War Office and Admiralty for the supply of materials, engines and labor, characterised by indiscriminate purchasing, attempts to corner vital components, and friction between both staffs and subordinates, all of which led inefficiency, delays, and wasteful competition, in which the R.F.C. invariably came off worst.
     "These destructive disputes and manoeuvrings continued until the Royal Air Force was formed in 1918, but the inefficiency did not disappear. To describe the wretched story of the incredible blunders of the air supply organisation during the last year of the was, the disastrous hasty contracts, the faulty co-ordination of effort, the ill-judged control of material and labour, the mass production of untried, defective engines, would run far beyond the capacity of an appendix.
     "Almost the only light that shone during the long period of neglect, incompetence and folly in the supply of aircraft for the R.F.C. was the undismayed courage of those sent out every day to face death in aeroplanes that should have been thrown on the scrap-heap many months before."

2.7. Critique.

     To understand the appendices to No Parachute, I found it necessary to know the history of Arthur Gould Lee. There is not a lot. He flew Sopwith Pups and Camels in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in the Great War. After the war, he stayed in the RAF and rose to the rank of Air Vice-Marshal before he retired in 1946. And he wrote some books. That is a stunning paucity of information about a man who held the rank of Air Vice-Marshal.
     Knowing that little bit, what can I extrapolate about AGL?
     He rose to a position of some prominence -- Air Vice-Marshal -- in a military organization. To me, that says he had a 'Go along, get along' attitude, was perceived as hard working, and was liked by his superiors. He did not upset people. He defended his company, the RAF. In the RAF, he was like Hap Arnold, not like Billy Mitchell.

     In The Forgotten Man and Lies, I wrote 'History is about lies.' My reading of No Parachute confirms that statement.
     AGL edited together the body of No Parachute from letters written to his wife and from his concurrent diary entries. I infer the purposes of the letters was 1) to keep contact with his wife, 2) to inform her about what her husband was doing, and 3) to reassure her. I infer the purpose of the diary entries was to record material that would not reassure her; for example, that his sleep was broken by nightmares that he was flying into a Hell of ground fire. Never was AGL's purposes in these letters or diary entries to present a history of events. For that reason, they form an outstanding personal history of the first war in the air. Without bias or prejudice, we see the truth.
    AGL wrote the appendices when he put the book together some 50 years after he wrote the letters. He wrote not from the position of a fighter pilot struggling to fly his missions and stay alive but from the comfortable position of a retired RAF Air Vice-Marshal. He spent 8 months flying combat with the RFC, and two of those were spent in England where he never flew within gun range of an enemy aircraft. He spent the rest of his 30 years in the RAF in peace-time posts until the Second World War. In the Second World War, he served in staff positions in Greece, Egypt, England, Rumania, and Yugoslavia. During his posting in England, for 3 months he was Acting Air Officer Commanding of No. 12 Group in Fighter Command.
     Which do you think colored the histories of AGL's appendices more: the 8 months he spent flying combat or the 29 years and 4 months he spent in staff positions?

     It occurs to me that you should know something about me to determine my bias.
     I spent a few years in the USAF and rose to the rank of captain. I held both line and staff positions, in that order. In my experience, the mentality of line officers differs from that of staff officers. A lot.
     Line officers think in terms of immediacy: Where do you want me to fly? What do you want me to bomb? A line officer's focus is on his mission, his wingman, and himself and in that order. He looks on all else as a distraction. In short, if it doesn't do the job or bring him home alive, a line officer doesn't waste time thinking about it.
     Staff officers think in terms of the organization: What is my unit's mission? Where do I and my unit fit in the organization's mission? A staff officer takes a broad view. Men and materiel are expendables, but the organization must survive.
     I brought a line officer's mentality to a staff position. I wasn't the only one. I got things done. In fact, my commanding officer once endorsed my Effectiveness Report with the words that "[he] gets things done!"

     AGL criticizes the Royal Aircraft Factory establishment in hindsight. That is easy to do. What is hard to do is exercise competent foresight.
     At the time, no one in England imagined that aircraft improvement would accelerate as much as it did in the Great War. When the war began, few aircraft had the power to carry two men; the number of aircraft types with ceilings greater than 10,000 feet could be counted on the fingers of one hand; no airplane carried a machine gun. When the war ended, two-seaters were numerous and three- and four-seaters were not uncommon; all front-line aircraft had ceilings above 20,000 feet; all fighters carried two machine guns and some two-seaters and bombers carried three. In 1914, front-line aircraft flew 70 miles an hour; in 1918, 120 miles an hour was considered slow. Engines rose from 70 horsepower in 1914 to 400 horsepower in 1918.
     The RFC and the 'Factory' could not foresee this rapid increase. In 1914, everyone everywhere told their soldiers "you'll be home by Christmas." The Kaiser told his troops they would be "home before the leaves fall." The thinking in England was that they would finish the war with the planes they started with and right soon. Even when the war continued into 1915 there was evidence that the planes the RFC had were good enough for the job: the BE-12 downed the Zeppelins that bombed London and the BE-2 performed most of the aerial reconnaissance and artillery spotting for the RA. The BE-2 performed well -- as long as it was unopposed in the air. Which was most of the time.
     The error the RFC made was in betting all on a single path into the future. The RNAS encouraged numerous private firms and chose those that met with the requirements of the time. The results were disastrous for the RFC and the 'Factory'. Had the RNAS and its contractors not been there, the result for England might have been defeat.
     It is all too common for nonsense like this to occur. The people in charge think "I'm smart. I can think my way through this." Perhaps that might work if the universe proceeded according to logic. All the evidence is that it does not.
     I have a degree in mathematics. One of the subjects I studied after I finished my schooling was chaos theory. I find chaos theory fascinating. Linear systems are knowable and predictable; they are not recursive and not self-referential. Chaotic systems are knowable but not predictable; they are recursive and self-referential. The best model of technological progress is a chaotic engine. That means it is unpredictable.
     Nassim Taleb in The Black Swan warned that Black Swan events will come. Black Swan events are rare occurrences that have big impacts. They are by definition statistical outliers and unpredictable. Taleb advised us to prepare for Black Swan events.
     How the frell do you prepare for an event you cannot predict? You cannot.
     So what do you do?
     Design for flexibility.
     What does that mean?
     It means you take a many-path approach rather than a single-path approach. Don't bet everything on one hand. Spread your investments around until you find a winner, then pour more into that winner, but still don't bet everything, 'cause the wheel will turn and things will change.
     The mistake of the RFC high command and the 'Factory' was inflexibility. As it always does, the universe punished that mistake with death. The pity was that death fell on those not responsible for the decision.

2.8. Links: 
Open Cockpit
Fly Past 

2.9. Buy the book:
hardback with ugly cover: No Parachute 
hardback with misleading cover: No Parachute (used) 
paperback with pretty cover: No Parachute (used)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

eBook Review: The Wild Side of Alaska




Donna MorangThe Wild Side of Alaska

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 1157 KB
    • Print Length: 156 pages
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English (more or less) 
    • ASIN: B00DDZ7TSK 
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • Lending: Enabled
    • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars (41 customer reviews)
    • Price: $3.99 

1. Short review:  *:) happy (Amazon rating: 4 out of 5 stars -- I like it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: First-hand account of moving to and living in Alaska.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? A roller-coaster. Isn't that a surprise?
Good value for the money.

2.2. What I did not like: Ms Morang's command of the English language is not strong. I do not mean there were typos. I mean sometimes I had to play 'Where's Waldo?' with the verb, sometimes with the subject. That said, I did not find the odd sentence construction much of a hindrance. Instead I found it true to the distinctive voice of the narrative.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: If you live in the lower forty-eight and you have even a glimmer of an idea about moving to Alaska, this is a book for you.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Well, if Ms Morang wrote about Alaska again or about ranching in Washington, I would buy that book; but her other book is Big Backpack -- Little World, her tale of teaching English around the world. I have no interest in that.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     The Wild Side of Alaska is a memoir. Donna Morang begins with her childhood in Montana, segues through her marriage and their fruitful search for employment in Alaska, chronicles their drive across Canada (with details about the squalid accomodations), and proclaims their astonishment at the price of food in Alaska.
     They arrive in Fairbanks. Soon after they find a mobile home to live in, the river overflows its banks due to torrential rain, and Fairbanks floods. Winter comes, and they deal with Alaskan cold. Sixty below cold.
     Experienced hunters and outdoorsmen, Donna and her husband encounter and kill a grizzly (not pleasant before they killed it and not pleasant after they killed it; grizz stink), fish in the rivers (Why catch-and-release? I don't get that.), and fly out to camp and hunt north of the Arctic Circle.
     They leave Fairbanks and move to a new home south of Anchorage. More fishing stories, but this time they are fishing in salt water.
     At the end, they leave Alaska for Washington. 
 2.7. Other:
     I got this book because I was interested in moving to Alaska. Now I'm not so sure I could survive it.
     Both Donna and her husband were experienced hunters and outdoorsmen. I am neither. I suppose I could learn those skills, but do I want to make Alaska my campus? From reading this book, my impression is that hunting success in Alaska means survival; failure means death.
     Alaska is a challenge I do not have to do. Still it intrigues me.

     YMMV.

2.8. Links: Donna Morang at Amazon

2.9. Buy the book:  The Wild Side of Alaska

Sunday, April 13, 2014

eBook Review: Love with a Chance of Drowning




Torre DeRocheLove with a Chance of Drowning

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 958 KB
    • Print Length: 336 pages
    • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1849534187
    • Publisher: Hyperion (May 14, 2013)
    • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B009R9RQ7K
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • Lending: Not Enabled
    • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars (98 customer reviews)
    • Price: $9.99 (I bought it on sale for $8.54. 

1. Short review:
For content:   (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: Love with a Chance of Drowning is a romance-cruising-romance sandwich, and I liked that.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? A walk-in-the-park trying to be a roller-coaster.
Good value for the money.

2.2. What I did not like: Nothing that I can think of.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: I thought the audience would be cruising sailors, but it is everybody.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Amazon lists no other book for Ms DeRoche. If one becomes available, I will give it a look.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     "Torre wasn't looking for a relationship when she met Ivan in a San Francisco bar but charmed by his Latin good looks and kind, considerate nature she fell head over in heels in love. Yet their separation seemed inevitable, Torre had promised to return to Australia at the end of the year and Ivan planned to throw in his IT job and sail solo across the ocean. As the end began to draw near, Ivan suggested Torre join him and she was faced with a difficult choice, sail away with her lover or say goodbye. Despite her fear of deep water, disaster and ""anything that would fall out if you turned the ocean upside down and shook it" Torre's decides to surrender her comfortable city lifestyle for a love on a 32ft wooden boat in the middle of nowhere." --Shelleyrae, from her review of Love with a Chance of Drowning on Amazon.
     Torre sails with Ivan across the Pacific. Adventures. Fun people.
     During the voyage Torre comes to understand that she loves Ivan and Ivan loves the sailing life. Torre likes the sailing life, but she does not love it. She returns to Australia and leaves Ivan to his love.
     And they lived happily ever after, but I shall not tell you how that came about.
 2.7. Other:
     I got this book for the sailing. Turned out the sailing was secondary to the romance, but that was not apparent until the end.
     I was a boat bum, too. (Want to be one again.) I laughed when Torre and Ivan put their boat in storage on the hard in a tropical boatyard. I knew what they would find when they returned.

     I do not know if this book is DRM'd. I suspect it is. I stripped the DRM bobagem off my ebooks before my operating system went wonky.
     I had problems with Ubuntu Linux, the operating system I use most often; my other operating system is Windows XP which I use 1) as insurance against failure of Ubuntu and 2) because Windows media player plays DVDs better than anything I have found on Ubuntu. To eliminate the problems, I chose to strip my hard drive (reformat) and rebuild my system.
     Easy to say. Hard to do.
     I installed Windows XP, but it still lacks drivers. I plan to find those and install those in time. I am not in a hurry.
     I installed Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. The latest version of Ubuntu is 13.10.
     Why did I not install the latest version?
     There is a myth that Change = Progress. There is another myth that 'Progress is good'. While that is often true, it is not always true.
     I grew up in Texas which means I grew up with the aphorism 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' Windows XP was not and is not broke. Windows Vista sure as frell did not fix it. To this day I cannot say Windows Vista without spitting. It gives me cause to recall the description of Boggies in Harvard Lampoon's Bored of the Rings: Slow and sullen, and yet dull.
     Perhaps you, too, grew up with the saying 'Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.' Microsoft fooled me once with Vista. I have not given them the opportunity to fool me twice.
     Anyway, I discovered that the motive for Windows 8 was to provide an OS for tablets. My wife has a tablet -- an iPad. On rare occasions I use her iPad, but I prefer my laptops (notebooks to you non-Americans). That means Windows 8 is not fitted to my purposes. I will not buy it.
     Ubuntu 10.04 ain't broke. I tried Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin (PP), and you can read about that experience here. I discovered that PP was designed for tablets. In other words, PP is NOT an upgrade  for existing Ubuntu installations but a replacement for proprietary tablet operating systems. It will run laptops, but it will always be a bastard laptop system.
     Calibre updated their software to version 1.32. I did not find a way to install DeDRM on 1.32, so I uninstalled it and installed version 1.19. DeDRM installed fine on 1.19, thank you very much. As I said before, change does not mean progress.
     For we few, we happy few, who run Linux systems, this is the terminal command to install Calibre 1.19: sudo python -c "import sys; py3 = sys.version_info[0] > 2; u = __import__('urllib.request' if py3 else 'urllib', fromlist=1); exec(u.urlopen('http://status.calibre-ebook.com/linux_installer').read()); main()". After that, go here to find out how to  install DeDRM.
     For those who run Windows, patience. When I figure out how to load Calibre 1.19 on Windows, I shall write it up.
     For those who run an Apple OS, you're outa luck.

    YMMV.

2.8. Links: Torre DeRoche at Amazon

2.9. Buy the book:  Love with a Chance of Drowning

Sunday, March 2, 2014

DeDRM

     After I posted A Sailor of Austria, it occurred to me that you might not care to read my rants against DRM. That and the fact that I loved A Sailor of Austria. I want to read the rest of the Otto Prohaska novels, but I hate DRM. I believe that since John Biggins's publisher DRM'd the first book in the series, likely the bloody bastard did the same with the other three books.
     Should I buy and read and blog about The Emperor's Coloured Coat without throwing a tantrum when I blog about it, I should need to remove the DRM nonsense. Understand, ye of little faith, my interest is NOT in piracy. I pay for what I read. I believe you should pay for what you read. That nonsense about 'Information wants to be free' is demonstrably false.
     No, my purpose in removing the Damned Restrictive Mongrel is to backup and manage my digital library. But how to remove the Deliberately Recalcitrant Miscreant?
     You can google anything these days. So I googled 'how do i strip drm from my ebooks'. "About 565,000 results." Hehehe. You're goin' down, Doomed Reactionary Moron.
     I chose one result and clicked through. I got this page:

How to Strip the DRM from Your Kindle Ebooks for Cross-Device Enjoyment and Archiving

kindleDRM
     I read a bit until I got to here:
[Y]ou’ll need three things:

     I had Calibre and Kindle for PC. (I rarely use the Kindle for PC. It is on the XP side of my machine. 98% of the time I run Linux.) I clicked Apprentice Alf's DRM Removal Tools for eBooks which took me to Apprentice Alf's Blog:

 There I found this:
     I clicked http://www1.datafilehost.com/d/e9d6f3bc (that is the first download choice) which took me to this page:

Two buttons appeared on the right marked 'Start' and 'Download' that do not show in the copy above. The Apprentice Alf's page told me to ignore them and click the Download button on the left, the one you see above. I did that.
     When the download finished, I extracted the package. How you do that depends on which OS you run. I run Ubuntu Linux, so this was easy. I clicked the download file notice at the bottom of my screen. An extraction window popped open. I selected De-DRM and clicked 'Extract'. The little daemon ran to completion and everything was set.
     I opened Calibre and followed the directions given in the howtogeeksite. I followed the instructions step-by-step beginning with this picture:


     Soon I had the DeDRM plug-in installed. I exited Calibre and started it anew. When it came up, I searched for and selected A Sailor of Austria. Tried to view it. No joy. DRM still in place. Deleted A Sailor of Austria from my library, connected my Kindle, and uploaded A Sailor of Austria from my Kindle to my Calibre library. Tried to view that copy. No joy. 
     WAEFRTFI. Oh, I gotta tell DeDRM which Kindle is mine, sez howtogeeksite.
Copying the Books from Your Kindle: If you’re going to rip the book directly from your Kindle device (or use the download and transfer technique), you need to manually enter the serial number of your Kindle into the DeDRM removal plugin. Do so by navigating back to Preferences -> Advanced -> Plugins -> File type plugins and double clicking on the entry for DeDRM. You’ll see a box like so:
     Go to howtogeeksite for the rest.
     Had to eject my Kindle, turn my Kindle on, go to the home Menu page (that is, not the Menu page available in the middle of a book), and choose Settings. There at the bottom is my Kindle's serial number. I entered that serial number in the appropriate place.
     Deleted A Sailor of Austria from my Calibre library. Again. Connected my Kindle. Again. Uploaded A Sailor of Austria from my Kindle to my Calibre library. Again. Tried to view the new copy of A Sailor of Austria in my Calibre library.
Voila! Lafayette, we have arrived!
     Happy, happy. *:D big grin, *:D big grin.
     This may mean I shall no longer be aware of DRM in my ebooks. That may mean that I will cease posting one-star reviews for DRM and just post reviews of content.
     I can live with that.