Friday, June 13, 2014


     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.)


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.


2.8. Links: Walter Lord

2.9. Buy the book:  Day of Infamy