How Intelligence Helped Turn the Tide Against Japan

USS Yorktown (CV-5). In Dry Dock # 1 at the Pe...

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On April 17, 1942, Imperial Japan seemed invincible. The nation’s armed forces were virtually undefeated in battle. All of East Asia, including much of China, lay under the boot of Dai Nippon; Australia and India looked to be next; and with the Allies focused on Europe first, the U.S. looked to be at least a year away before being able to take the offensive against even an overextended Japan.

Within 50 days, that had all changed.

While her armies were still rampant on mainland Asia, Japan’s Navy had suffered a sequence of defeats. The Doolittle Raid on Tokyo ended the myth of Japanese invincibility, the Battle of the Coral Sea had halted Japan’s drive into Australia, and the Battle of Midway destroyed the Imperial Japanese Navy as a strategic offensive force.

That turning point was enabled by a range of factors, but it surely would not have happened had there not been a series of coups in signals intelligence in the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. In A Priceless Advantage: U.S. Navy Communications Intelligence and the Battles of Coral Sea, Midway, and the Aleutians, Frederick D. Parker gives us a look at the facts behind the legends, and provides a behind-the-scenes look at the unconventional team that enabled those (and many other) victories.

If the work leaves one wondering why, in contrast, the history of US intelligence over the last six decades reads like the annals of the Keystone Kops, it also offers the beginnings of an answer. Superior intelligence organizations are often not the conscious product of organizational science, but of brilliant, directed operators who are completely focused and left unhampered in their work.

A superb read for lovers of history and anyone interested in intelligence.

 

U.S. Navy Communications Intelligence and
the Battles of Coral Sea, Midway, and the Aleutians
Frederick D. Parker
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The Road to Catalonia

Cover of "The Battle for Spain: The Spani...

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There are probably any number of reasons someone of my vintage might not know much about the Spanish Civil War.

Perhaps it is because I grew up in America, and there were probably far less than 10,000 Americans involved in the conflict, making it defensible to gloss over in courses on modern European history. Perhaps it is because the intervening years have seen Spain relegated to the back bench of European powers, thus making the civil war easy to ignore. Or perhaps it is because the conflict, waged between Franco’s facists on one side and the anarcho-socialist-communist Republic on the other, gave us anti-Facist and (after 1945) anti-Communist Americans no easy heroes?

In his masterful The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939, Anthony Beevor, who has written some of the best popular histories of World War II campaigns like Stalingrad, Crete, and the fall of Berlin, has taken on a far more complex conflict than the others. His task is thus ambitious: given a nation with whom few of us are familiar and a vast cast of characters who are all but alien and irrelevant to your average English speaker, allow us to follow the course of the conflict sufficiently to reach our own conclusions about it.

While there were moments about halfway through the book that I despaired of ever getting it all straight, not long afterward it was all coming together, even without the benefit of a good map or a scorecard of the major and minor characters. Along the way, Beevor makes it painfully clear that the war was inevitable. Spain needed to be yanked out of its somnambulant neo-feudalism, but a democratic republic could not accomplish the necessary changes against the opposition of the church and the landowners, and the radicals that captured and led the republic provoked an inevitable reactionary response.

There are few heroes, but Beevor hesitates just short of making either Franco or his radical opponents into villains. The Caudillo was as vain and power-hungry as the worst Latin despots and a mediocre commander, but one is left believing that if it had not been Franco, it would have been someone else, perhaps Jose Sanjurjo de Sacanell or Gonzalo Quiepo de Llano, Franco’s fellow generals and co-conspirators in the plot to overthrow the republic. The leaders of the republic, portrayed as fractious, squabbling, and mutually-distrustful, are tragic figures.

If there were evildoers in this saga, Beevor subtly points beyond Spain: at the Germans and Italians, who honed their arsenals and armies for World War II in supporting Franco; at the Russians, who supported the Republic but exacerbated its centrifugal politics; at the British and French, who feared giving Hitler an excuse to go to war more than they feared facism in Spain; and to the Vatican of Pope Pius XII, who framed the war as a Catholic jihad and mobilized the faithful around the world against helping the Republic.

Beevor’s other conclusions are even more provocative, but I will leave you to read the book and decide for yourself.

One last thought.

The framers of the Declaration of Independence understood that, at some point, even the most downtrodden of peoples must rise up and replace the government that has kept them there. The history of the past three centuries is replete with examples of successful revolutions, and these have framed our political thinking. But if we learn more from our failures than our successes, it behoves those of us who believe in the value of a modern, participatory state to spend more time studying the failed revolutions than the successful ones.

The Spanish Civil War was a failed revolution. With peoples from Malaysia to Tunisia rising up against their leaders, we must remember Catalonia, the Republic, the Spain that might have been, and we must understand why it was not. Only then can we comprehend the dangers of spontaneous risings as well as we do the opportunities.

Marshall’s Airman

Lieutenant General Frank Maxwell Andrews

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The history of war is written not only by the victors, but the survivors. How much better we remember those who made it through the fight than those who fell, even when the fallen fought on the side of the victors.

One of those soldiers who fell in the allied cause was General Frank M. Andrews, who died in a B-24 crash enroute to take command of the U.S. Air Force in Europe in 1943. Andrew’s most important role in his career predated the war, when he was the organizer and commander of the General Headquarters Air Force (GHQAF), and as such the man who pulled the U.S. Army’s U.S.-based aviation units into a single, integrated operational force. if General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold is the man best remembered as the commander of U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II, it was Andrews who made Arnold’s efforts possible.

Andrews was the officer, arguably, who sold Army Chief of Staff George Marshall on both the concept of strategic bombing applied in Europe during the war, and on the primary weapon used in that effort, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber.

In Frank M. Andrews: Marshall’s Airman, a brief but engrossing biography published by the Air Force History and Museums Program, historian DeWitt Coop goes further. He suggests that Andrews, in his advocacy of an independent air arm and the first commander of GHQAF, was one of the leading architects of an independent air force that came into being after the war. Coop thus places Andrews in that aerospace pantheon of air visionaries who, like Billy Mitchell, made an independent air force possible.

History has not been kind to Andrews or his vision. Andrews was virtually forgotten after his tragic death, eclipsed by Arnold, LeMay, and others who survived him. The ultimate benefits of the strategic bombing campaign he was to have led in Europe, once taken as a given, are now a matter of hot debate among historians. And the value of an independent air force, appreciable in a day when few non-aviators understood the role of aviation on the battlefield, is now much less so in an era of pervasive aviation, unmanned aerial vehicles, and combined-arms doctrine. But there was no way of knowing any of that then, and at no point has it been suggested that Andrews was anything but sincere in his beliefs.

I am a member of what I believe to be a small group of historians who think that we have more to learn from failed beliefs, doctrines, and strategies than winning ones. Understanding Frank Andrews, what he believed, and why he believed it offer us a mirror for our own passionately held beliefs, whether in war, in business, or in life.

Airborne Assault on Holland

Waves of paratroopers land in the Netherlands ...

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This book gives us the perspective of the US Air Force on the story made familiar in Cornelius Ryan‘s epic A Bridge Too Far. As you read through this account, even if you’re familiar with the events of Operation Market-Garden, you’ll realize that the Air Force’s side of the story has not been well told.

What is most fascinating about this account, however, is the Air Force’s own admission that while it did everything that it could to help beat back stiff German resistance, airpower was unable to secure the victory. This must come as a sobering realization to airmen dedicated to the proposition that air power is decisive in battle. Clearly at a tactical level in World War II, this was not the case, despite the presence of some of the best close air support tacticians, practitioners, and equipment ever produced.

If you have read other accounts of this campaign, you’ll find this work to be of great interest.

Air Power for Patton’s Army: The 19th Tactical Air Command in the Second World War

Otto P. Weyland

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One of the most consistently underrated factors in the Allied victory in Europe during World War II is the quality of tactical air support to the troops on the ground. Each for its own reasons, the Army and the Air Force tend to underplay the importance of tactical air support to their operations.

By delving into how General George S Patton worked with his counterpart at the XIX Tactical Air Command, General Otto P. Weyland, this book underscores how strong air-ground coordination actually changes the traditional rules of battle, and arguably was much of the secret sauce behind Patton’s successes in his advance across France, Germany, and Czechoslovakia.

A fascinating read for historians of the period.