19 September 2020

Nasser & the 1966 Defence White Paper

From Arabian Assignment: Operations in Oman and the Yemen, by David Smiley. (The Extraordinary Life of Colonel David Smiley Book 2; Sapere Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 234-235:

When I reached Jedda early in March, 1966, the Egyptians had already broken the ceasefire and resumed bombing in all areas of Royalist Yemen. For a brief period after the Haradh Conference President Nasser seemed to lose heart, and began withdrawing troops from the country; from its peak of 70,000 their number dropped to about 20,000 at the beginning of February. At that moment the British Government issued their notorious Defence White Paper, announcing our withdrawal from the Persian Gulf, and the situation changed overnight. Nasser saw a fresh opportunity to seize Aden, and began to reinforce in the Yemen until he had nearly 60,000 troops there. More important, the White Paper marked the final eclipse of British prestige among the Arabs. Only two weeks previously Goronwy Roberts, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, had toured the Gulf and given the Rulers positive assurances that the British would stay. Hitherto the Arabs had trusted the British, despite many disappointments, to the extent that the phrase ‘word of an Englishman’ had become a part of their vocabulary; after the White Paper it ceased to have any meaning.

18 September 2020

Mercenary Roles in Yemen, 1963

From Arabian Assignment: Operations in Oman and the Yemen, by David Smiley. (The Extraordinary Life of Colonel David Smiley Book 2; Sapere Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 176-179:

When I returned to the Yemen in November, 1963, I went in through Aden and Beihan; by then I had met Johnson and Boyle, who had informed the mercenaries in the field of my impending visit. The first of the British to arrive there was Major Johnny Cooper, who had commanded one of the SAS squadrons that served under me in the attack on the Jebel Akhdar in Oman. Shortly after that operation he had left the SAS, having reached the age limit, but returned to Muscat as one of the Sultan’s Contract Officers and did extremely well. He later became the first of Johnson’s recruits. At the time of my arrival in Aden he had already established his headquarters with a wireless set and operator in the Khowlan area, not far from Sana, with one of the princes.

It is worth recording that at the height of the mercenary effort, when I was commanding them, they never numbered more than 48, of whom 30 were French or Belgian and 18 British. They were broken down into small missions — usually one officer, one NCO wireless operator, and one NCO medical orderly — and deployed according to the wishes and needs of the Royalist commanders. It is important to realize that none of the mercenaries actually fought in the war; their job was to advise the commanders, train their troops and provide communications and medical services. The medical situation in Royalist areas was particularly desperate; there were virtually no trained doctors. Until quite late in the war the International Red Cross operated only in Republican territory; but even when it sent a mission to the Royalists its hospital was situated a long way from the fighting and the doctors spent most of their time treating the local civilians for endemic diseases. This was no fault of the Swiss doctors, who would gladly have served at the front, but of the Red Cross directorate, which gave them categorical instructions not to go near it.

I flew to Aden on 14 November, and on to Beihan two days later. There I spent the night in the village of Naqub, twenty miles north of the State capital, in the ‘safe house’ allocated to the mercenaries by the Ruler. I shared it with three Frenchmen, who were in wireless contact with Johnny Cooper and the other missions, and seven British, who arrived in the middle of the night after a drive of three days in a lorry from Aden; in the morning another Frenchman joined us — Colonel Bob Denard, a veteran of the Congo who now commanded all the mercenaries in the Yemen except the British. His Frenchmen and Belgians, though very polite to me, were seldom chatty or communicative outside their own circles; some of them, I knew, had belonged to the OAS and so had little love for General de Gaulle, but I never discussed politics with them. Their attitude to the work was strictly professional; they were there for the money, but they meant to give good value in return. Most of them, as I have said, had seen service in the Congo, and many of them alternated between the Congo and the Yemen, serving now in one theatre, now in another. The reason, I discovered, was that in the Congo they had all the drink and women they wanted, but seldom received their pay; whereas in the Yemen they had regular pay but no women or drink. And so when they had earned enough in the Yemen they went off to the Congo to enjoy it.

The British, on the other hand, were more often inspired by enthusiasm for the Royalist cause or a simple thirst for adventure, although there were some deplorable exceptions — one fairly senior officer, in particular, was strictly on the make; unfortunately mere enthusiasm was an unreliable guide to efficiency, and I discovered later on that, while the NCO specialists did excellent work, the British officers who proved their worth were those who understood some Arabic.

17 September 2020

Yemeni Men's Attire, 1960s

From Arabian Assignment: Operations in Oman and the Yemen, by David Smiley. (The Extraordinary Life of Colonel David Smiley Book 2; Sapere Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 145, 160-161:

After a very refreshing bathe in a stream I changed into Yemeni dress. I put a white ma-arraga on my head and swapped my trousers for a khaki iz-zar, which I found much more comfortable, although I missed the pockets; only the Egyptians wore trousers in the Yemen, and I was taking no chances. For a similar reason I had to accustom myself to another Yemeni habit — to squat while passing water; according to the tribesmen, ‘only dogs and Egyptians pee standing up,’ and I had no wish to be shot in mistake for either.

...

On their heads, which were often shaven, perched skull-caps, or white embroidered pill-box caps called kofias, or the hand-woven basketwork ‘flower pots’ I have already described; they wound cashmere shawls or lengths of khaki cotton round their caps or hats, in the form of turbans. Tattered jackets of European design hung from their shoulders over shirts and vests, and over the jackets ran crossed bandoliers, each carrying about fifty bullets. Every man wore a long cummerbund, which served the double purpose of belt and pockets. Thrust into this belt, behind the jembia, which is a defensive weapon, was a long, straight knife used in the attack, and behind it reposed an assortment of articles, allegedly nine in number and all beginning with the Arabic letter for M: there was a pair of scissors, a needle, tweezers for extracting thorns, a bunch of keys, a pen — usually with ball point — writing paper, a purse, and sometimes a watch strapped round a knife. Everyone wore an iz-zar, with underpants of cotton, and some men wore the baggy Moslem trousers under the iz-zar. Most of the tribesmen went barefoot, but some favoured Japanese ‘flipflops’, and others a type of plastic sandal with studs, such as I used to see displayed in West End London stores at extravagant prices for wear on the beaches of the Mediterranean.

15 September 2020

British 'Fuddling' in Oman

From Arabian Assignment: Operations in Oman and the Yemen, by David Smiley. (The Extraordinary Life of Colonel David Smiley Book 2; Sapere Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 63-64:

The proceedings followed the ritual prescribed by Arab tradition, beginning with the conventional exchange of civilities with our host: ‘Ahlan Wa Sahlan’ [Welcome], ‘Salaam Elykum’ [Peace be with you]. We arranged ourselves in a circle on the cushions, contorting our limbs into attitudes that for me at least meant almost unendurable discomfort, and taking care to ensure that the soles of our feet were never facing our host — or any of the guests either. Even when there was business to transact, it was very impolite to mention it for at least the first five minutes, when talk was restricted to irrelevant pleasantries and platitudes. It was also considered very bad manners to speak to anyone during the course of a meal — an excellent convention, in my view — and so all conversation took place beforehand, while the party ate mezze — hors d’oeuvres of bread and goat’s cheese — and drank black coffee poured into small cups by black slaves out of a huge coffee pot from a great height and with unerring accuracy; when we had had enough — it was usual to accept two or three helpings — a guest would shake his coffee cup to show he wanted no more.

Then servants would bring in the meal, a single enormous dish, usually a whole sheep or goat on a vast pile of rice. There were no plates or cutlery, and everyone helped himself with his fingers from the dish, using only the right hand, which he would wash carefully after he had eaten. At the end of the meal slaves would carry round an incense burner, from which the guests would waft the smoke over their beards with their hands; beardless Europeans would make the gestures of wafting it over their chins. As a final ritual the slaves would sprinkle rose water over the guests’ heads. The guests would then rise, shake hands all round, and depart. I must have attended hundreds of these ceremonies, which we called ‘fuddling’, from the Arabic fadal meaning ‘please’; the British troops called them ‘mutton grabs’.

14 September 2020

Foreigners in Muscat

From Arabian Assignment: Operations in Oman and the Yemen, by David Smiley. (The Extraordinary Life of Colonel David Smiley Book 2; Sapere Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 31-33:

There were nearly as many foreigners as Arabs in Muscat, and probably more in Mattrah, which was the commercial capital: Hindu and Persian merchants and shopkeepers predominated in the suks, where each trade tended to monopolize a particular street or quarter of the bazaar; there would be a ‘street of the silversmiths’, a ‘street of the spice-sellers’, a weavers’ and a shoemakers’ quarter. Indian paper rupees were the currency in Muscat and Matrah, but in the interior only silver Maria Theresa dollars — in which we paid our troops — or gold were acceptable. Baluchis, too, were numerous in the town, their wives and daughters colourful in bright red, blue or green, with smiling, uncovered faces, in happy contrast to the veiled, black-draped Arab women.

Black features and colouring were not uncommon among the inhabitants, usually a legacy from the slave trade. Although, as I have mentioned, there were still slaves in the bodyguards and households of the Sultan and nobility, they were well-treated — unless they ran away and were caught, in which case they might be whipped or put in shackles — and many were freed by their masters and rose to be rich, or even powerful; at least one of the Sultan’s walis had started life as a slave. Under a curious survival from one of the earlier treaties, if a runaway slave could reach the British Consulate and clasp the flagpole in the courtyard, he became free. My most accomplished bugler was one of these; a bewildered Consul General had turned him over to me, and he served us well and cheerfully for several years until one day he deserted — to turn up later as the leading trumpeter in the Bahrain Police Band, at a much higher rate of pay.

Although both Muscat and Mattrah were good deep-water anchorages, neither had dock facilities or even a pier where ships could unload; liners and cargo boats had to stand out in the bay, while their passengers and freight came ashore in lighters. The little ports teemed with sailing craft of all sizes, from the hollowed-out tree trunks known as ‘houris’ to the ponderous ‘booms’ and ‘sambuks’ that plied up and down the coast; there were the fleets of dhows which traded with Zanzibar, waiting for the seasonal wind to blow them down to Africa, where they would remain until it changed to blow them back again. Once a week a big British India liner would call on its way between Karachi and Basra; this was an important social occasion, as were the visits we received from frigates of the Royal Navy, whose officers would come ashore in smart pinnaces to see the town and drive out to lunch with us at Beit al Falaj. The floor of the harbour at Muscat was littered with old Portuguese cannon, clearly visible through the crystal water — dumped there perhaps by the last garrison before they surrendered in 1660. Another chapter of history stared at us from a cliff face near the harbour entrance, on which were painted in huge white lettering the names of warships and merchantmen which had visited the port since the latter years of the eighteenth century. ‘My visitors’ book,’ the Sultan would call it, boasting to the few Englishmen who were ever allowed to meet him that Mr Midshipman Nelson had commanded a painting party on that cliff when his ship, Seahorse, had called at Muscat in 1775.

Facing the waterfront, which was only a few hundred yards long, were the British Consulate, the Customs building, and the square palace of the Sultan, which he never visited in my time, preferring the cool ocean breezes of Salalah, some 600 miles down the coast — one of his gravest mistakes and probably his costliest. This palace, according to legend, was built on top of the old Portuguese cathedral, whose vaulted columns form part of its foundations. These fine buildings, gleaming white above the deep blue harbour, were overlooked on either side by two great stone forts — Mirani on the north, Jalali on the south — both built by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century.

13 September 2020

British Ties with Oman

From Arabian Assignment: Operations in Oman and the Yemen, by David Smiley. (The Extraordinary Life of Colonel David Smiley Book 2; Sapere Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 11-12:

The British connection with Muscat dates from the early days of the East India Company in the seventeenth century, though the first treaty between Britain and the Sultan was not signed until 1798. An agreement followed two years later for agents of the East India Company to reside at Muscat, but the appalling climate killed off so many of them that it lapsed. Throughout the nineteenth century the British and the Sultan, who was then the most important ruler in the Gulf, collaborated closely in suppressing piracy, and the slave trade ceased in the Sultanate under a treaty of 1822. By a treaty of 1852 Britain (and France) recognized the independence of the Sultan, who still conducts his own foreign policy and maintains his own armed forces. Under subsequent agreements he may call on British help in time of trouble.

The trouble came soon after the old Imam’s death; the principal causes were Saudi ambition and, of course, oil. Ever since 1937 the Saudis had been trying to expand their territory beyond the edge of the Rub al Khali [the Empty Quarter], claiming frontiers with their neighbours — the States of the Aden Protectorate, the Sultanate, and the Trucial Sheikhdoms — which those neighbours refused to accept. After the Second World War the two superpowers, Russia and America, became increasingly involved in Arabia and the Gulf, the former pursuing an old imperial design, the latter attracted by fresh discoveries of oil: both with a common interest in reducing the influence of Britain. Encouraged by the new situation, the Saudis in 1952 suddenly occupied the strategic oasis of Buraimi, owned partly by the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi, a Trucial State, and partly by the Sultan of Muscat.

The Sultan gathered a force of between six and eight thousand tribesmen and, but for the ill-advised intervention of the British Government, would have expelled the intruders immediately, thus dealing a sharp blow to Saudi prestige and cementing the loyalty of the Omani tribes. When he failed to move, Saudi intrigue began to prosper.

The dispute went to international arbitration at Geneva, where the Saudi method, perfectly respectable in Arabia, of reinforcing their arguments with offers of large sums in gold to the members of the Tribunal caused such scandal that the President and the British delegate resigned in protest. At the end of 1955 the seemingly inexhaustible patience of Her Britannic Majesty’s Government ran out; in a sudden, bloodless coup the Trucial Oman Scouts descended on Buraimi, expelled the Saudi garrison, and established a garrison of their own and another of the Sultan’s in the Oasis. But the three year delay had been disastrous for the Sultan. The Saudis had made good use of the time to spread their influence in Oman, suborning the tribesmen with lavish gifts of money and arms. Moreover, a new Imam had arisen on the death of the Sultan’s old friend: one Ghalib bin Ali. A weak and colourless personality appointed by a cabal of three sheikhs but never formally elected, he was virtually a Saudi puppet; he possessed, however, a valuable ally in his brother, Talib, the Wali [Governor] of Rostaq, a brave, energetic and extremely ambitious leader with considerable military ability, who soon emerged as the driving force of the movement. Immediately after his election Ghalib, with his brother, toured his domain, setting up his own garrisons in his holy capital of Nizwa and in other strategically important towns and villages in the interior.

12 September 2020

Omani Rulers Foreign & Domestic

From Arabian Assignment: Operations in Oman and the Yemen, by David Smiley. (The Extraordinary Life of Colonel David Smiley Book 2; Sapere Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 9-10:

Although Omani Dynasties have on occasion extended their territory as far afield as India and Zanzibar, Muscat itself has known a long succession of foreign overlords, from the Persians of Cyrus the Great to Albuquerque’s Portuguese — who behaved atrociously, lopping off limbs, ears and noses to punish or even to prevent resistance. These and other invaders — the hosts of the Prophet, the Caliphs of Baghdad, Turks and Tartars, Wahabis from beyond the Empty Quarter — have swarmed over the country. But although some of them ruled, for longer or shorter periods, over Muscat and the coastal belt, none of them established firm control behind the mountains, in Oman, where the tribes continued in their old way of life, intriguing and fighting among themselves in rancorous isolation from the outside world and deeply resentful of all intruders, Arab or nasrani [Christian].

They followed the Sharia law of Islam, rigorously interpreted according to the doctrines of the Ibadhi sect brought to Oman by the Kharejites [Seceders] — survivors from mutinous soldiers in the army of Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law — and proclaimed at Nizwa at the end of the seventh century by Abdullah bin Ibadh. Ibadhis may not drink or even smoke, and must not trim their beards — though they sometimes trim their moustaches. Their puritan creed regards the Koran as the sole source of authority and teaches that it must be read literally, without interpretation; and, more important for the political history of Oman, their tradition requires that the choice of their Imam should be by election among the Faithful.

For nearly a thousand years, until the early seventeenth century, the Imams of Oman, who held both spiritual and temporal jurisdiction over their subjects, were elected on personal merit or popularity; any attempt by a reigning Imam to ensure the succession for his eldest son was fiercely resisted by the fanatical Ibadhi Qadhis — the judges who administered the law. But early on in the seventeenth century there arose a dynasty of Imams, the Al Yaarabah (or Yariba), who from their capital in the ancient fortress town of Rostaq established firm control over the interior of Oman. They not only expelled the Portuguese from Muscat, built up a powerful navy, and extended their influence throughout the Persian Gulf and even to East Africa, but such was their prestige that they were able to modify the elective principle and ensure that the succession to the Imamate continued in the direct line for nearly a hundred years. This last achievement was to have profound significance for the future.

After 1720 the al Yaarabah dynasty began to collapse in a series of disputes over the succession. There followed nearly twenty-five years of civil war, with two rival Imams fighting for supremacy, one supported by a confederation of tribes under the leadership of the Beni Ghafir — the Ghafiri faction — the other by a confederation under the Beni Hina — the Hinawis; these factions, whose rivalry has dominated most of the subsequent history of Oman, exist to this day and any Ruler, to be successful, must be able to control or hold the balance between them. The war ended with the victory of the Hinawi candidate, Ahmed bin Said, Governor of Sohar; this brave and energetic soldier expelled the Persians, who had taken advantage of the confusion to re-occupy Muscat, and founded the present ruling dynasty of Al bu Said.

08 September 2020

Katanga Surrenders, 1963

From Katanga 1960-63: Mercenaries, Spies and the African Nation that Waged War on the World, by Christopher Othen (History Press, 2015), Kindle Loc. ~4646:

On 21 January, Tshombe signed an official declaration that the secession had ended. Along with Munongo, Yav, Muke, Kimba and Kibwe, he dined with UN officials in Kolwezi.

‘Atmosphere friendly’, a UN man telegraphed to Léopoldville, ‘but throughout our conversation we felt Tshombe and Cabinet are extremely REPEAT extremely bitter about Europeans in general, Belgians in particular.’

Munongo publically renounced any further resistance or guerrilla warfare. Tshombe announced that he was prepared to work with Léopoldville to solve the Congo crisis. On Tuesday, Joseph Ileo arrived in Elisabethville to take over the province for the central government and Tshombe returned to the presidential palace to await his fate. UN and Congolese flags flew over Katangese towns.

Since 1960, the UN had lost 135 men in the Congo, including fourteen Irish soldiers (nine of those killed by Baluba at Niemba), thirty-nine Indian, nineteen Swedish and forty-seven Ghanaian soldiers. Only around half the total died at the hands of the Katangese. Baluba, the Léopoldville ANC and Gizenga’s men killed the rest. On the other side, perhaps only thirty-two mercenaries were killed in action during the secession. No one counted dead gendarmes, but they must have been in the low thousands. Civilian deaths on all sides amounted to at least 10,000 and were probably much higher.

In Léopoldville’s boulevard Albert, 600 students chanted ‘Tshombe to the gallows!’ Others stormed the British embassy as Congolese police sat in their jeeps and laughed. Léopoldville agreed an amnesty for Tshombe and his men. The UN soon discovered that the gendarmes were only prepared to surrender if no ANC men were in the area. Kasa-Vubu gave a speech:

Officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the former Katangese Gendarmerie, in addressing myself particularly to you this evening, I do so on behalf of the entire country, the entire nation, to congratulate you and pay you a tribute for your patriotism because it was thanks to your understanding and to your refusal to use the murderous weapons placed in your hands by foreigners that the secession was ended, without too great a loss of human life or shedding of blood.

On 25 January, the last of the Katangese armed forces crossed the border into Portuguese Angola. They would return, but to fight for a different cause and against a different enemy. Katanga had failed as a country.

07 September 2020

Two Congo Rebellions End, 1962

From Katanga 1960-63: Mercenaries, Spies and the African Nation that Waged War on the World, by Christopher Othen (History Press, 2015), Kindle Loc. ~3909:

On 1 March 1961, Albert Kalonji declared himself chief of chiefs for all Baluba in Kasaï. As the new Mulopwe, Kalonji was supposed to sacrifice a family member to ensure invulnerability, take his pick of local virgins and allow villagers to eat dirt from beneath his feet. He disappointed local witchdoctors by agreeing only to the dirt eating.

Kalonji told his friends that traditionalist-minded tribal chiefs had pushed the position of Mulopwe on him. His critics, including South Kasaï prime minister Joseph Ngalula, thought Kalonji had suggested the whole thing as part of a plan to become dictator. Ngalula complained so loudly that he was exiled to Léopoldville, the Mulopwe having bought the co-operation of Kasa-Vubu and Mobutu with profits from his diamond mines. The UN had banned the export of conflict diamonds but Kalonji smuggled the stones across the River Congo to Brazzaville, where Youlou pretended he had dug them up himself.

Rich and worshipped, the Mulopwe underestimated how much Léopoldville hated his secession. By the end of the year, Ngalula had persuaded the Congolese government to revoke the parliamentary immunity that had kept Kalonji safe during earlier visits to the capital. Mobutu’s men arrested the Mulopwe in Léopoldville on 30 December.

The cell doors slammed on Antoine Gizenga a few weeks later. Parliament had stripped the deputy prime minister of his position after Stanleyville ANC troops invaded north Katanga at the end of 1961. On 8 January, Kasa-Vubu ordered him to return to the capital. Gizenga refused. A more charismatic man could have caused trouble but Gizenga spent his time in clammy introversion by the river. Not even his troop of female bodyguards, pearl-handled revolvers on each hip, made him look like a leader. Stanleyville fell apart while he brooded, and his supporters turned on him.

‘We have had enough of the anarchy and terror that reign in our province,’ said one of Gizenga’s soldiers.

International support had also faded away. American money persuaded previously loyal African leaders to abandon Gizenga. The USSR preferred to focus on Germany, where the construction of the Berlin Wall had increased tensions between east and west. Moscow’s interest in exporting the Cold War to Africa faded further when Afro-Asian nations refused to back Khruschev’s post-Ndola plan to replace the post of UN Secretary General with a three-pronged system that would have boosted Soviet influence. The suitcases of cash stopped arriving in Stanleyville.

‘[Gizenga’s] group has become disillusioned with Russian promises which never materialized,’ cabled US ambassador Clare Timberlake to Washington.

In his damp villa, Gizenga issued daily orders that no one followed. The few cars limping along the roads outside were wrecks and the roads themselves not much better. General Victor Lundula declared his allegiance to Kasa-Vubu, carrying most of the Stanleyville ANC with him. Gizenga ordered the general’s arrest but none of the 300 gendarmes still loyal would obey. Lundula moved on the evening of 12 January. A gun battle left eight Gizenga loyalists dead in the streets at the cost of six attackers. Gizenga’s all-female bodyguards never fired a shot. UN troops moved in and disarmed the remaining gendarmes.

Gizenga sent a cable to Adoula: ‘PUT MY OFFICE AND RESIDENCE IN ORDER. INFORM THE COUNCIL, THE PARLIAMENT AND ALL THE PEOPLE.’

When he arrived in Léopoldville, the police arrested him. The only international protests were a few sparsely attended marches in the Soviet bloc. No one seemed to care when Gizenga was imprisoned on Bula Bemba Island off the coast. The South Kasaï and Stanleyville rebellions were over. Tshombe was the last man standing.

03 September 2020

Congo Stanleyville in 1960

From Katanga 1960-63: Mercenaries, Spies and the African Nation that Waged War on the World, by Christopher Othen (History Press, 2015), Kindle Loc. ~1797:

Stanleyville was a town of pastel inter-war buildings more suited to the French Riviera than Africa. It was there, after Lumumba’s arrest, that Antoine Gizenga declared himself Prime Minister of the Congo, dismissing Kasa-Vubu and Mobutu as traitors. The Congo now had two rival governments to go with its two secessionist states. Gizenga, a depressed-looking 35-year-old with a mouth like a trout, appealed to the Soviet Union for help.

‘If the imperialists think that we will surrender’, he said, ‘or if they think they will kill off the Congolese people’s liberation movement, they are wrong’.

Soviet premier Nikita Khruschev authorised a $500,000 payment to Pierre Mulele, the Stanleyville representative in Cairo. Spies suggested that Mulele skimmed some cash for himself. The Soviets looked the other way. Gizenga needed money to keep his 6,000-strong version of the ANC loyal.

‘It is clear that if the army does not receive wages it will refuse to fight,’ reported Czech newsman Dushan Provarnik from Stanleyville:

The Gizenga government has to pay its soldiers at least the same money that Mobutu gives his own soldiers, i.e. 2,000–6,000 Congolese francs depending on grade. Under the existing circumstances, when the government has no revenues, as taxes have not been raised, these expenses are a heavy financial burden.

Attempts to supply Gizenga with arms and advisors were less successful. A Czech air bridge from Prague through Egypt failed when Nasser refused access to his airspace. Lumumba’s former confidant Kwame Nkrumah seemed happy to help but somehow Soviet weapons sent via Ghana never reached the Congo. The Ghanaian leader did not reveal he was talking trade treaties with the Americans.

02 September 2020

First Wave of Congo Mercenaries, 1960

From Katanga 1960-63: Mercenaries, Spies and the African Nation that Waged War on the World, by Christopher Othen (History Press, 2015), Kindle Loc. ~1640:

By the end of September, reporters had forgotten about Bas’s recruits. The airport controller put fifty of them on a flight to Elisabethville. Commandant Armand Verdickt, head of intelligence for the Katangese gendarmes, ran background checks on the new arrivals. He discovered that the men from Le Cosmos and L’Edelweiss [bars] had done more time than a clock. Army deserters, burglars, car thieves and a rapist. The few without criminal records were alcoholics or drug users, behind on alimony payments, in trouble for driving unroadworthy taxis. Marcel Poelman wrestled, unsuccessfully, under the name ‘the Black Angel’.

‘These are not soldiers,’ said Verdickt. ‘Ils sont les affreux!’ (They are horrors!).

The mercenaries joined Groupes Mobiles: fifteen white soldiers and fifteen Katangese gendarmes packed into a few jeeps, supported by another thirty Katangese gendarmes in a lorry, led by a regular Belgian officer who had stayed on as a volunteer. The regulars always seemed to be bulky men with cropped hair, beer bellies and dainty moustaches, wearing crisp combat fatigues and bush hats with the brim turned up at the left. Les Affreux looked different. They had neck scarves, stubble, cigarettes tucked into the corner of their mouths, rolled up sleeves, revolvers on hips, shorts and socks.

‘Reputed to be bad boys’, wrote a journalist for the Libre Belgique newspaper, ‘with the air of pirates (long hair, droopy moustaches) and frightening in combat’. Their reputation outstripped their performance.

In November, some Affreux in Groupe Mobile D set up residency in Kabongo, near the border with Kasaï, to protect the town’s airstrip. The group quickly fell apart when Poelman the wrestler convinced the other mercenaries to desert with him. Only Charles Masy, blonde-haired and goggle-eyed with a wife back home and ambitions to own a bar, refused to quit. Masy had been 14 when German tanks rolled into Belgium. After three years of occupation, he joined the resistance, playing the innocent well enough to fool the Gestapo when they arrested him. At the liberation, he joined the Belgian SAS but things went wrong and he ended up in Katanga to escape a charge for beating up a Brussels policeman. He was not the kind to run away from a fight.

Other Affreux haunted Elisabethville’s bars and brothels, telling tall stories to journalists and showing little enthusiasm for the bush. Locals avoided them.

‘They were swaggering around all over the place, pissed out of their heads, with large whores on their arms,’ said Irish journalist Alan Bestic. ‘If you angered them they would shoot you in a minute. It was an ugly scene.’

01 September 2020

The UN Enters the Congo, 1960

From Katanga 1960-63: Mercenaries, Spies and the African Nation that Waged War on the World, by Christopher Othen (History Press, 2015), Kindle Loc. ~1026:

Ralph Bunce had passed on Lumumba’s request for help to the United Nations Secretary General, a Swedish civil servant with blonde hair and grey-blue eyes calm as a frozen lake. Dag Hammarskjöld turned it down. The UN’s job was peace.

The United Nations had been around since the end of the Second World War. Its optimistic goal of world harmony was often compromised by the competing desires of America and the Soviet Union, its strongest members. American pressure sent UN troops to the Korean War in 1950 and Soviet demands made them sit and watch as the Red Army crushed anti-communist rebels in Hungary six years later. Most of Hammarskjöld’s energy went into persuading the superpowers occasionally to vote the same way.

The Swede did not want the UN to be used as a private army to take back Katanga. The Congo’s biggest problem, in his view, was the threat of a clash between Belgian soldiers and the ANC. He twisted some superpower arms and secured a mandate from the Security Council in New York to replace the 7,400 Belgians in the Congo with UN soldiers. The first peacekeepers, a Tunisian contingent, arrived in Léopoldville on 14 July, followed by units from Ghana, Mali and Morocco. Belgian soldiers reluctantly gave up their positions to blue-helmeted UN men and flew home. The process was surprisingly smooth, even surviving a kick in the teeth from Lumumba, when he declared it too slow and asked the Soviet Union to intervene independently. Moscow officially declined but saw a chance to sink its claws into Africa. Soviet aeroplanes and lorries and Czechoslovak technicians began to arrive secretly in Stanleyville. Cold warriors in Brussels were horrified.

‘The Congo will become communist within two months,’ said Harold d’Aspremont-Lynden, a close colleague of the Belgian prime minister.

Soon after, Harold d’Aspremont-Lynden was on his way to Katanga as head of the Mission Technique Belge (Belgian Technical Mission – Mistebel), a high-powered group of experts full of ideas on how to run the new country. Minister of Foreign Affairs Pierre Wigny was not happy. He had been arguing against taking sides in Katanga ever since Tshombe declared independence, but lost any support in the Cabinet after Léopoldville accused Brussels of organising the secession and broke diplomatic relations.

22 August 2020

Albanian Hospitality: Table Tactics

From Albanian Assignment: The Memoir of an SOE Agent in World War Two, by David Smiley (The Extraordinary Life of Colonel David Smiley Book 1; Sapere Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 49-51:

Before the meal could be served bread had to be baked, and a sheep or a chicken killed and cooked. This naturally took a long time, and it was not unusual to sit for anything up to four hours waiting for the meal to arrive. During this wait raki and meze were kept in constant circulation, the meza consisting of lumps of cheese, raw onions, cloves of garlic, cucumber in yoghurt, hard boiled eggs, and the liver and other intestines of the animal that had just been killed. The host clearly enjoyed this interval, gossiping and exchanging news, and his natural curiosity was particularly aroused by the presence of a foreigner in his house. Many times I arrived at a house dead tired after a long day’s march, and it was as much as I could do to stay awake; but to go to sleep would have been considered bad manners and I had to force myself to sit up and appear to take a polite interest in the conversation, even though I did not understand it. It was only the raki that kept me going. A very strong spirit distilled from plums or grapes, it had a remarkable effect in overcoming tiredness.

When the meal was ready, a large round table, about five feet in diameter and about nine inches high, would be brought in and placed in the centre of the room. The host would then seat the senior guest in the place of honour, whereupon everyone would move over to the table, each man facing the back of his neighbour and turning his back on the other; in this way, as many as fifteen people could sit at one table.

The food would already be on the table, usually loaves of bread made from maize (huke), dishes of yoghurt (kos) usually made from sheep’s milk, and beans (fasule) of a similar type to Heinz baked beans; the main dish was meat boiled in its own juice, sometimes with a few grains of rice. We ate most dishes with the fingers of our right hands, but a spoon was provided for the more liquid ones, and this was the only piece of cutlery. There were no individual plates and we conveyed the food direct from the communal dish to our mouths. There was an art in eating quickly without spilling too much, for the dishes emptied fast and the slower feeder often went short. McLean used to say that I was good at table tactics. Once the dishes were empty the meal was over, the guests returned to their original positions, and a member of the family removed the table and swept the crumbs and any leftovers through a hole in the centre of the floor to fall among the animals who dwelt below. Once this was done, conversation flagged, mattresses were brought in, the blankets laid out, and in a short time the only noise would be the crackling of the fire and loud snores.

21 August 2020

Albanian Hospitality: Peasant House

From Albanian Assignment: The Memoir of an SOE Agent in World War Two, by David Smiley (The Extraordinary Life of Colonel David Smiley Book 1; Sapere Books, 2020), Kindle p. 49:

The peasants whose houses we stayed in had a much lower standard of living than those who lived in the bigger towns. Built of grey, locally quarried stone and red roof tiles, very few of them had windows on the ground floor. On entry, two reasons for this became apparent: the ground floor was usually occupied by livestock — sheep, goats, chickens and very occasionally a mule or a cow; and it had defensive advantages, for entry to the house was limited to the door, and with no ground floor windows an enemy was unable to creep up and shoot into the house. Wooden stairs led to the upper floor, which was normally divided into two large rooms — one for the guests, and the other for the family. The entire family slept in the latter, and the women, whom we seldom saw in Moslem houses, did their cooking there. In the richer houses the windows were of glass; others only had wooden shutters, but all had thick iron grills. Wells or streams in the villages provided water; paraffin lamps or candles were the only source of light at night, apart from the fire.

As one entered the house the host led the way upstairs to the guest room, usually the larger of the two. Normally it was sparsely furnished except for some rugs on the floor and a large wooden chest containing blankets. Coffee was served immediately, and in cold weather glowing embers were brought in from the fire in the other room, and a blazing fire would soon be burning. While drinking coffee, the guests had to indicate whether they wanted to stay the night by removing their boots, whereupon the host would shout to the womenfolk to prepare a meal. If it was an Orthodox or a Catholic house, a girl or woman would come in at this stage to wash, and sometimes massage, the feet of the more honoured guests — I found this a great relief after a long march. In a Moslem house this duty was usually performed by the son of the house, or some rugged old warrior servant.

20 August 2020

Albanian Hospitality: Host Code

From Albanian Assignment: The Memoir of an SOE Agent in World War Two, by David Smiley (The Extraordinary Life of Colonel David Smiley Book 1; Sapere Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 48, 51:

Skender Dine, Gjin Marku and I stayed in four different villages, and I was able to observe, as well as learn from my escort, a number of Albanian customs. The most important concerned the laws of hospitality. On arrival at a house the guests would be met at the front door by the host, who immediately relieved them of their weapons, which he would usually hang on a wall of the guest room. This gesture meant that from then on, the host took upon himself the responsibility for his guests’ lives. I slightly cheated over this custom, for in addition to the big Colt .45 automatic in my belt, I always had a small .25 that fitted into a hip pocket without showing.

Besa was the Albanian expression for these laws. If, to his unending shame, a guest was killed while under his protection, the host would then have a blood feud with the murderer and his family. Until this was avenged, the host could not clear himself of this dishonour, and his neighbours at meals would even show their disapproval or contempt for him by passing the coffee to him under their knees (a symbolic action implying ‘I piss in it’).

...

On leaving the house the following morning, the host would usually accompany his guests for the first mile or so of their journey, and it was not until he had said his farewell and turned for home that the beza was no longer binding.

10 August 2020

Regional U.S. Coinage, 1845

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle p. 186:

I found stowing cotton in a ship’s hold to be the most exhausting labor I had ever performed. We wore nothing but trousers, with a bandana handkerchief tied over our heads. The hold was a damp, dark place. The thermometer stood at nearly one hundred, not a breath of air stirred, and our bodies were reeking with perspiration. This was more than my frail body could endure. When I was paid, Saturday evening, with eight silver Spanish dollars for my four days’ labor, I came to the conclusion that they were the hardest eight dollars I had ever earned, and that there would be no more screwing cotton by the day for me.

The following Monday I went to work at painting ships and steamboats for an old Portuguese, by the name of Desimees, in Algiers, a town situated on the opposite side of the river. A party of five, one an old shipmate of mine, hired a small shanty and kept bachelor’s hall. We employed an old colored woman as housekeeper. On Saturdays we used to quit work early and go across the river to New Orleans and purchase our weekly supply of provisions. Although there was a United States mint in the city, there were at this time no cents in circulation. The smallest pieces of money were a five-cent piece, and a picayune, — six and a quarter cents, — and a Spanish coin called fourpence. It used to confuse Jack before the mast very much, that in Boston it was six shillings to the dollar, and in New York eight; that an eighth of a dollar, or twelve and a half cents, should be called ninepence in Boston, a shilling in New York, a long bit in New Orleans, and a levy in the Western States.

09 August 2020

Capetown & St. Helena, 1842

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle pp. 159-160:

Cape of Good Hope is always hailed by the home-bound sailor with as much delight as Cape Horn is with fear. Here we found much shipping lying quietly at anchor. The view of Cape Town from the ship’s deck is indeed novel. On either side of Table Mountain are seen the crags of Lion’s Head and Devil’s Peak. The broad, flat top of Table Mountain is always overhung by a great cloud, and when the cloud spreads out and covers the whole town with its broad shadows, it is then termed by Jack before the mast “the devil’s tablecloth.”

To the south, on the hill, stands the world-renowned observatory, where Sir John Herschell discovered the planet which once bore his name, but is now called Uranus.

Cape Town is an old Dutch settlement, and everything wore a Dutch look. Almost all the people we met were Dutch. Both men and women were short and stout, with full, rosy cheeks. They all dressed in the old Dutch fashion.

...

On the 17th we got under way, and took our departure from the Cape of Storms, shaping our course for the island of St. Helena.

On the morning of the 19th Joseph Sylva, a Portuguese boy, who had shipped at Oahu, died. In the afternoon his body, with two roundshot, was sewed up in his hammock, and committed to the deep. Brave little Joe is now sleeping beneath the blue waters with others of the ocean’s heroes.

After a run of thirteen days, we came to anchor in the roadstead of the Valley of Jamestown, island of St. Helena. Here we found six American and two English ships, one from Sweden, and a Dutch sloop-of-war, at anchor. The island of St. Helena is nothing but a large, barren rock, uprisen from the sea, and so steep that only a short distance from the shores soundings cannot be obtained with a deep-sea line. The only landing place was Jamestown. The population, at this time, including the garrison, ... numbered about four thousand, and all lived in the Valley of Jamestown. Meats, vegetables, and fruits we found very scarce and extremely dear. Rum, however, was plenty, and quite cheap. It was not made here, but was sent out from New England, America!

St. Helena is celebrated only because of its being the place of Napoleon Bonaparte’s confinement and death.

08 August 2020

Antarctic Dangers, 1840

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle pp. 69-70:

January 20. At two o’clock this morning the sun and moon appeared above the horizon at the same time, but in opposite directions. The moon was full. The effect of the sun shedding his deep golden rays on the distant icy mountains and the surrounding icebergs was beautiful beyond description. We witnessed a sea-fight between a whale and one of his many enemies, a killer. The sea was quite smooth. A short distance from the ship was seen a large whale, lashing the smooth sea into a perfect foam, and trying to disengage himself from his enemy. As they drew near the ship the struggle became more violent. The killer, which was about twenty feet long, held the whale by the lower jaw. The huge monster seemed to be in great agony, and spouted blood. Suddenly the whale threw himself out of the water, at full length, the killer hanging to his jaw; but all his flounderings and turning flukes were useless, as the killer still maintained his hold and was getting the advantage. He soon worried the whale to death. After the battle, the ship appeared to be floating in a sea of blood. During the last few days we saw many beautiful snow-white petrels either up in the freezing air or on the ice-floes.

January 22. Weather foggy. This morning we found bottom with eight hundred fathoms of line. The arming was covered with slate-colored mud. In the afternoon we took a second cast of the lead and found bottom at three hundred and twenty fathoms. The bottom same as before — slate-colored mud. The Peacock, while boxing off the ship from some ice under her bows, made a stern board which brought her in contact with an iceberg with such force as to crush her stern and larboard quarter boats, and carry away her bulwarks to the gangways. While getting out the ice anchor to heave the ship off, she gave a rebound which carried away her rudder and all the stanchions to the gangway. This second shock caused the ship to cant to starboard, when both jibs were given to her just in time to carry her clear of the iceberg. She had not moved more than a dozen lengths before a huge mass of ice fell from the iceberg in her wake. If this had happened twenty minutes before, it would have crushed the ship to atoms. As soon as we gained the open sea, Captain Hudson very wisely put the ship’s head for Sydney, where she arrived in a shattered and sinking condition. For several days the weather had been foggy.

07 August 2020

What Sailors Learned at Sea, 1840

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle pp. 126-127:
After dinner all hands were called to muster on the quarter-deck, when Commodore Wilkes informed us that he wished to re-enter us for eighteen months longer, saying at the time that it was impossible to sooner complete the work which he had undertaken. He told us that those who re-entered should have three months’ pay and two weeks’ liberty, and that their wages would be raised one-fourth.

Nearly all our ships’ crews had entered for three years, and, as their time had expired, all hands had an idea that when we left Honolulu it would be to up anchor for “home, sweet, sweet home.”

Like all the young men and boys in the squadron, I felt heartily sick of the navy. We learned nothing but to pull and haul, handle the light sails, holy-stone decks, clean bright work, do boat duty, etc. None but able seamen were allowed to go to the wheel, heave the lead, or work on the rigging. As young as I was, before I entered the navy I had learned to box the compass, heave the lead, knot a rope-yarn, haul out an earing, work a Matthew Walker, and Turk’s head, strap a block, knot, hand, reef, and steer. I learned more seamanship on board the merchantman Rainbow, during an eight months’ voyage from New York to Canton, China, than in my seven years in the navy.

Quite a number of the men who had families and had not seen their dear ones for years, left, and went on board three whale-ships which were homeward bound. After listening to many long yarns spun upon deck, I consulted my own mind, and came to the conclusion that I would not leave the ship short-handed in a foreign port.

06 August 2020

Arrival in Honolulu, 1840

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle pp. 126-128:
AT daylight on the morning of the 23d of September we made Oahu, one of the Sandwich Islands, and about eight o’clock entered the harbor of Honolulu. A couple of small hawsers were run out from the starboard bow, and these were seized by several hundred natives, men, women, and children, who were on the reef, up to their necks in water, and very soon the ship was warped over the bar and into port, amid such shouting and singing that it seemed as though bedlam had broken loose. All Honolulu, including its land-sharks, was at the waterside and joined in the shouting and cheering. It was not the novelty that created the excitement, for the arrival of a man-of-war, in their port, was no uncommon thing; but they looked upon the event as a sort of golden shower which was to fill their pockets. They had been expecting our arrival for six months.
...
There were nine whale-ships lying here, besides our squadron. Five of them were American. The next morning between five and six hundred American sailors, all dressed in white frocks and trousers, black tarpaulin hats and neckerchiefs, and their pockets well filled with Spanish dollars, went on shore. Passing the American consul’s house, half-way up Main Street, we hove to, and saluted the Star Spangled Banner, which was proudly waving from his house. The consul, Mr. Brinsmade, and his wife, bowed very gracefully to us from the veranda.

It astonished the natives greatly to see so many sailors let loose at once. The principal street of the town was Main Street. The first settlers lived on this street, in frame houses. Some of these were painted white, with green blinds, and were inclosed with neat picket-fences. The next street was about half a mile back, and ran crosswise. The buildings on this street had thatched roofs and sides, with glass windows and frame doors. Here were located the grog-shops, dancing-halls, billiard-rooms, cock-pits, sailors’ boarding-houses, and gambling-saloons. Some of these houses were inclosed by walls of brick, dried in the sun, and were whitewashed. These were occupied by the middle classes. European garments were worn by this class of people. On the next street the houses were rudely fashioned. They were built of sticks, vines, and half-formed sun-dried bricks, and plastered with mud. The residents on this street were not quite half-dressed. Some of the men wore hat and shirt, and some wore trousers and no shirt. The dress of the ladies was made very much like a bag with a hole in the bottom, for the head to be slipped through, and arm-holes in the sides. It reached to the ankles, and appeared to be of the same width throughout its entire length.

In the outskirts, mud huts were found, which once formed the only habitations of the Sandwich Islanders. The natives occupying these were dressed in the garb of the heathen, a narrow strip of tapa tied around the loins, or a blanket of the same material thrown corner-wise over the left shoulder and tied in a large knot on the breast.

The greatest curiosity I saw while here was the Seaman’s Bethel. This was built in Boston by the Boston Seaman’s Friends’ Society, taken down and shipped to this port in 1826 or 1828. It was in this bethel that Father Damon preached so many years.

05 August 2020

U.S. Sailor's View of Sydney, 1839

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle p. 61:
Portions of the island of Australia were visited by the Spaniards as early as the year 1520. The Dutch, when they captured it in the year 1606, named it New Holland. When the English took possession of it they named it New South Wales. It is now called Australia. It was to this place that England used to transport her convicts, and from this fact it was named the pickpockets’ quarter of the globe. Sydney is its capital and seat of government. George Street is the Broadway of Sydney. The Cove — God save the name! — is the old Ann Street of Boston; South Street of Philadelphia; River of Styx, Norfolk; Sausage Row, Cincinnati; Five Points or the Hook of New York; Hog Lane of Canton. In fact, it is more than the Ratcliffe Highway of London. There are plenty of old Fagins and old Fagin’s pupils living here. Here you will find all nations mixed up together, eating, drinking, singing, dancing, gambling, quarreling, and fighting. Inns abound here, for which the English, you know, are celebrated. Here is the Sailors’ Inn, the Soldiers’ Inn, the Ladies’ Inn, Punch-Bowl Inn, Shamrock Inn, Thistle Inn, the Ship’s Inn, King’s Arms Inn, and others too numerous to mention, not forgetting the Dew Drop Inn.

04 August 2020

Runaway Sailors, 1839

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle pp. 54-56:
On many of the islands of the Pacific there were runaway convicts from Hobart Town and Sydney, the Botany Bay of Great Britain. There were also many runaway sailors and many who had not run away, but who had been driven off by bad usage. The next morning after our arrival, an American whaler, hailing from New Bedford, came into port with a red shirt fluttering to the breeze from her fore-rigging.

When a man-of-war’s man sees that signal he well knows that there is difficulty between Jack before the mast and the officers of that ship. Our commodore was soon on board the whaler and listening to Jack’s yarn. He was told that they were two years out; that they were full of oil, had plenty of provisions, and were homeward bound; that they had been put on short allowance; were short-handed, five of the crew having died, and three being sick in their bunks from ill-treatment; and that they were so tyrannically abused that they had taken charge of the ship, confining the officers below in the cabin, and had steered for the nearest port. Our commodore, who acted as arbitrator, soon settled matters, and the whaler sailed for the United States a week afterward, with several of our invalids on board of her.
...
A whaler’s crew are not paid by the month, but have a lay; that is to say, the captain has one barrel out of every thirty, and Jack before the mast one out of about every five hundred. At the end of a voyage, through much abuse and tyrannical treatment by the officers of the ship, Jack before the mast is often fairly driven from the ship. This is called desertion. Then his lay falls to the owners, if the captain does not contrive some way or other to secure it.

03 August 2020

Perils of Pago Pago Bay, 1839

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle p. 54:
ON the 10th of October we came to anchor in Pago Pago Bay, on the south side of the island of Tutuila. This is another rendezvous of our whalers and South Pacific traders. Ships seldom enter or leave Pago Pago Bay without a great deal of “going about,” “tacking,” “wearing,” “luffing,” “letting go,” and “hauling.” Then one must be very careful, or the ship will get “in stays or irons.” If this happens, the alternative will be to “box her off” or to “wear her round on her heel.” Entering this harbor is something like beating up the Straits of Balambangan, when the ship’s yards have to be braced chock up in the wind’s eye to keep the monkey’s tails from getting squeezed in the brace blocks.
One of the most frequent bits of nautical jargon in this book is "splice the mainbrace," which has its own article on Wikipedia giving a detailed account of its evolution and current usage.

02 August 2020

Doubling Cape Horn, 1839

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle pp. 33-34:
On the 30th of January a strong land-breeze began to blow, which obliged us to get under way and beat out to sea. The weather now began to grow cold, the thermometer ranging from 50° to 45°. Our ship glided through the water like a thing of life. For several days many whales, seals, and porpoises showed themselves on the surface of the water. The porpoises differed from any I had ever seen before, in having a stripe around their necks. We captured several of them, and this made a fresh mess for all hands round. The next night at midnight we had a view of the rugged peaks of Terra del Fuego, and at twelve o’clock we entered the Straits of La Maire. The land here presents rather a dreary appearance. The high peaks on either hand are covered with snow, even in midsummer.

At sunset we passed the straits and again entered the open sea. We doubled Cape Horn in our shirt-sleeves, with studding sails set on both sides, below and aloft, and left it under close-reefed top-sails, with our pea-jackets on. We had but just rounded the cape and arrived in the South Pacific, or summer seas, when the wind suddenly shifted to the south, blowing a perfect gale from the regions of perpetual ice and snow. The change of temperature was sudden and keenly felt, and made us hug our pea-jackets closely about us. Such is the life of a sailor — from one extreme to another. Cape Horn is in latitude 55°48′ south, and sometimes vessels are driven as far as 60°, in order to get round into the Pacific. Cape Horn is called the “stormy cape.” It takes its name from the peculiar hornlike shape of its rocky mountain heights, which terminate the land. Be it fair or foul, rain or shine, in all weather and at all seasons, Cape Horn is a terror to the sailor, and many a long yarn is spun in the forecastle by poor Jack as this much-dreaded point is approached.

On the 18th of February we came to anchor in Orange Harbor, Terra del Fuego, or, as the name implies, the “land of fire.” This is the first harbor on the western side of Cape Horn. The cape was discovered by Magellan in the year 1519. It was at this spot that the celebrated circumnavigators, Captains Cook, King, Fitzroy, Laplace, d’Urville, and others used to make their rendezvous and lay in a supply of wood and water. The harbor is land-locked, and is the safest on the coast. It has many small bays, the best of which is Dingy Cove. Here boats may enter to obtain wood, and from its banks game and fish may be taken in great abundance. Everything about has a bleak and wintry appearance and is in keeping with the climate, yet the scenery is pleasing to the eye.

01 August 2020

Wilkes Expedition Departs, 1838

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle pp. 16-17:
I was first sent to New York with a draft of men to join the receiving-ship Fulton. In a few days, however, I was transferred to the brig Porpoise, Captain C. Ringold commander, and we sailed the next week for Norfolk, Va. Here we joined the exploring expedition just setting out on a voyage of discovery round the world. This was the first and only expedition sent out by the United States, and such a chance to visit the various quarters of this huge globe was never offered before or since. I liked our captain very much. He treated the crew like men; and as for the brig, she looked more rakish than ever, and I must acknowledge that I was more than ever in love with her. The squadron consisted of the sloop-of-war Vincennes, the flag-ship, Charles Wilkes commander; the sloop-of-war Peacock, Captain William L. Hudson; the ship Relief, Captain A. K. Long; the brig Porpoise, Captain C. Ringold; the schooner Sea Gull, Captain Reed; the schooner Flying Fish, Captain Samuel R. Knox; together with a full corps of scientific men, consisting of philologists, naturalists, mineralogists, conchologists, botanists, horticulturists, taxidermists, draughtsmen, etc., and a complement of six hundred and eighty-seven men. The entire equipment of the squadron was generous and complete, and could not but reflect honor upon the nation whose public spirit could thus plan and execute a noble project the value of which to the cause of science could not easily be estimated.

Everything being ready, we dropped down to Hampton Roads. Commodore Wilkes inspected all the vessels and their crews. As he passed me at muster, “old Adam” came up, and I could not raise my eyes from the deck, for it was Commodore Wilkes at whose command I had been flogged. The following day we were honored by a visit from the President of the United States, Martin Van Buren, and his cabinet. All the vessels had their yards manned, and a national salute was fired. The next day, the 17th of August, 1838, a gun was fired, and signals were made that the squadron was under sailing orders. Soon after, the commodore’s gig came alongside, bringing orders for me with my bag and hammock. It seemed to me that I should sink through the deck. I felt more like jumping overboard than sailing with my worst enemy, and one on whom I had sworn to be revenged. I begged Captain Ringold to let me remain on board the brig. He said he wanted me to stay, but that he must obey orders, and told me to get into the boat. As we neared the ship, another gun was fired, and signals were made for the squadron to get under way. Shortly after we arrived on board, the capstan was manned, the anchor catted, and we were soon off, with an ebb tide and a light air from the sou’west. At five P. M. we anchored at the Horseshoe, in consequence of its falling calm, but at nine A. M. the wind freshened, and we tripped and stood down the bay. At four P. M. on the 19th we passed Cape Henry Light, and at nine A. M. we discharged our pilot and took our departure.

25 July 2020

Worn-out Travelers, 1846

From The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life, by Francis Parkman (E-Bookarama, 2020), Kindle p. 293:
We began our journey for the frontier settlements on the 27th of August, and certainly a more ragamuffin cavalcade never was seen on the banks of the Upper Arkansas. Of the large and fine horses with which we had left the frontier in the spring, not one remained; we had supplied their place with the rough breed of the prairie, as hardy as mules and almost as ugly; we had also with us a number of the latter detestable animals. In spite of their strength and hardihood, several of the band were already worn down by hard service and hard fare, and as none of them were shod, they were fast becoming foot-sore. Every horse and mule had a cord of twisted bull-hide coiled around his neck, which by no means added to the beauty of his appearance. Our saddles and all our equipments were by this time lamentably worn and battered, and our weapons had become dull and rusty. The dress of the riders fully corresponded with the dilapidated furniture of our horses, and of the whole party none made a more disreputable appearance than my friend and I. Shaw had for an upper garment an old red flannel shirt, flying open in front and belted around him like a frock; while I, in absence of other clothing, was attired in a time-worn suit of leather.

Thus, happy and careless as so many beggars, we crept slowly from day to day along the monotonous banks of the Arkansas.

24 July 2020

Laramie Plains Wildlife, 1846

From The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life, by Francis Parkman (E-Bookarama, 2020), Kindle pp. 114-116:
Thus we passed hill after hill and hollow after hollow, a country arid, broken and so parched by the sun that none of the plants familiar to our more favored soil would flourish upon it, though there were multitudes of strange medicinal herbs, more especially the absanth, which covered every declivity, and cacti were hanging like reptiles at the edges of every ravine. At length we ascended a high hill, our horses treading upon pebbles of flint, agate, and rough jasper, until, gaining the top, we looked down on the wild bottoms of Laramie Creek, which far below us wound like a writhing snake from side to side of the narrow interval, amid a growth of shattered cotton-wood and ash trees. Lines of tall cliffs, white as chalk, shut in this green strip of woods and meadow land, into which we descended and encamped for the night. In the morning we passed a wide grassy plain by the river; there was a grove in front, and beneath its shadows the ruins of an old trading fort of logs. The grove bloomed with myriads of wild roses, with their sweet perfume fraught with recollections of home. As we emerged from the trees, a rattlesnake, as large as a man’s arm, and more than four feet long, lay coiled on a rock, fiercely rattling and hissing at us; a gray hare, double the size of those in New England, leaped up from the tall ferns; curlew were screaming over our heads, and a whole host of little prairie dogs sat yelping at us at the mouths of their burrows on the dry plain beyond. Suddenly an antelope leaped up from the wild-sage bushes, gazed eagerly at us, and then, erecting his white tail, stretched away like a greyhound. The two Indian boys found a white wolf, as large as a calf in a hollow, and giving a sharp yell, they galloped after him; but the wolf leaped into the stream and swam across. Then came the crack of a rifle, the bullet whistling harmlessly over his head, as he scrambled up the steep declivity, rattling down stones and earth into the water below. Advancing a little, we beheld on the farther bank of the stream, a spectacle not common even in that region; for, emerging from among the trees, a herd of some two hundred elk came out upon the meadow, their antlers clattering as they walked forward in dense throng. Seeing us, they broke into a run, rushing across the opening and disappearing among the trees and scattered groves. On our left was a barren prairie, stretching to the horizon; on our right, a deep gulf, with Laramie Creek at the bottom. We found ourselves at length at the edge of a steep descent; a narrow valley, with long rank grass and scattered trees stretching before us for a mile or more along the course of the stream. Reaching the farther end, we stopped and encamped. An old huge cotton-wood tree spread its branches horizontally over our tent. Laramie Creek, circling before our camp, half inclosed us; it swept along the bottom of a line of tall white cliffs that looked down on us from the farther bank. There were dense copses on our right; the cliffs, too, were half hidden by shrubbery, though behind us a few cotton-wood trees, dotting the green prairie, alone impeded the view, and friend or enemy could be discerned in that direction at a mile’s distance.

23 July 2020

Crossing Laramie River, 1846

From The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life, by Francis Parkman (E-Bookarama, 2020), Kindle pp. 103-104:
May finished his story; and by that time the whole array had descended to Laramie Creek, and commenced crossing it in a mass. I walked down to the bank. The stream is wide, and was then between three and four feet deep, with a very swift current. For several rods the water was alive with dogs, horses, and Indians. The long poles used in erecting the lodges are carried by the horses, being fastened by the heavier end, two or three on each side, to a rude sort of pack saddle, while the other end drags on the ground. About a foot behind the horse, a kind of large basket or pannier is suspended between the poles, and firmly lashed in its place on the back of the horse are piled various articles of luggage; the basket also is well filled with domestic utensils, or, quite as often, with a litter of puppies, a brood of small children, or a superannuated old man. Numbers of these curious vehicles, called, in the bastard language of the country travaux were now splashing together through the stream. Among them swam countless dogs, often burdened with miniature travaux; and dashing forward on horseback through the throng came the superbly formed warriors, the slender figure of some lynx-eyed boy, clinging fast behind them. The women sat perched on the pack saddles, adding not a little to the load of the already overburdened horses. The confusion was prodigious. The dogs yelled and howled in chorus; the puppies in the travaux set up a dismal whine as the water invaded their comfortable retreat; the little black-eyed children, from one year of age upward, clung fast with both hands to the edge of their basket, and looked over in alarm at the water rushing so near them, sputtering and making wry mouths as it splashed against their faces. Some of the dogs, encumbered by their loads, were carried down by the current, yelping piteously; and the old squaws would rush into the water, seize their favorites by the neck, and drag them out. As each horse gained the bank, he scrambled up as he could. Stray horses and colts came among the rest, often breaking away at full speed through the crowd, followed by the old hags, screaming after their fashion on all occasions of excitement. Buxom young squaws, blooming in all the charms of vermilion, stood here and there on the bank, holding aloft their master’s lance, as a signal to collect the scattered portions of his household. In a few moments the crowd melted away; each family, with its horses and equipage, filing off to the plain at the rear of the fort; and here, in the space of half an hour, arose sixty or seventy of their tapering lodges. Their horses were feeding by hundreds over the surrounding prairie, and their dogs were roaming everywhere. The fort was full of men, and the children were whooping and yelling incessantly under the walls.

22 July 2020

Meeting a Dakota Warrior, 1846

From The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life, by Francis Parkman (E-Bookarama, 2020), Kindle pp. 89-90:
As the Indian approached we stopped to wait for him, when suddenly he vanished, sinking, as it were, into the earth. He had come upon one of the deep ravines that everywhere intersect these prairies. In an instant the rough head of his horse stretched upward from the edge and the rider and steed came scrambling out, and hounded up to us; a sudden jerk of the rein brought the wild panting horse to a full stop. Then followed the needful formality of shaking hands. I forget our visitor’s name. He was a young fellow, of no note in his nation; yet in his person and equipments he was a good specimen of a Dakota warrior in his ordinary traveling dress. Like most of his people, he was nearly six feet high; lithely and gracefully, yet strongly proportioned; and with a skin singularly clear and delicate. He wore no paint; his head was bare; and his long hair was gathered in a clump behind, to the top of which was attached transversely, both by way of ornament and of talisman, the mystic whistle, made of the wingbone of the war eagle, and endowed with various magic virtues. From the back of his head descended a line of glittering brass plates, tapering from the size of a doubloon to that of a half-dime, a cumbrous ornament, in high vogue among the Dakotas, and for which they pay the traders a most extravagant price; his chest and arms were naked, the buffalo robe, worn over them when at rest, had fallen about his waist, and was confined there by a belt. This, with the gay moccasins on his feet, completed his attire. For arms he carried a quiver of dogskin at his back, and a rude but powerful bow in his hand. His horse had no bridle; a cord of hair, lashed around his jaw, served in place of one. The saddle was of most singular construction; it was made of wood covered with raw hide, and both pommel and cantle rose perpendicularly full eighteen inches, so that the warrior was wedged firmly in his seat, whence nothing could dislodge him but the bursting of the girths.

21 July 2020

Meeting a Wagon Train, 1846

From The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life, by Francis Parkman (E-Bookarama, 2020), Kindle pp. 54-56:
For eight days we had not encountered a human being, and this singular warning of their vicinity had an effect extremely wild and impressive.

About dark a sallow-faced fellow descended the hill on horseback, and splashing through the pool rode up to the tents. He was enveloped in a huge cloak, and his broad felt hat was weeping about his ears with the drizzling moisture of the evening. Another followed, a stout, square-built, intelligent-looking man, who announced himself as leader of an emigrant party encamped a mile in advance of us. About twenty wagons, he said, were with him; the rest of his party were on the other side of the Big Blue, waiting for a woman who was in the pains of child-birth, and quarreling meanwhile among themselves.

These were the first emigrants that we had overtaken, although we had found abundant and melancholy traces of their progress throughout the whole course of the journey. Sometimes we passed the grave of one who had sickened and died on the way. The earth was usually torn up, and covered thickly with wolf-tracks. Some had escaped this violation. One morning a piece of plank, standing upright on the summit of a grassy hill, attracted our notice, and riding up to it we found the following words very roughly traced upon it, apparently by a red-hot piece of iron:

Mary Ellis Died May 7th, 1845.
Aged two months.

Such tokens were of common occurrence, nothing could speak more for the hardihood, or rather infatuation, of the adventurers, or the sufferings that await them upon the journey.

We were late in breaking up our camp on the following morning, and scarcely had we ridden a mile when we saw, far in advance of us, drawn against the horizon, a line of objects stretching at regular intervals along the level edge of the prairie. An intervening swell soon hid them from sight, until, ascending it a quarter of an hour after, we saw close before us the emigrant caravan, with its heavy white wagons creeping on in their slow procession, and a large drove of cattle following behind. Half a dozen yellow-visaged Missourians, mounted on horseback, were cursing and shouting among them; their lank angular proportions enveloped in brown homespun, evidently cut and adjusted by the hands of a domestic female tailor. As we approached, they greeted us with the polished salutation: “How are ye, boys? Are ye for Oregon or California?”

As we pushed rapidly past the wagons, children’s faces were thrust out from the white coverings to look at us; while the care-worn, thin-featured matron, or the buxom girl, seated in front, suspended the knitting on which most of them were engaged to stare at us with wondering curiosity. By the side of each wagon stalked the proprietor, urging on his patient oxen, who shouldered heavily along, inch by inch, on their interminable journey. It was easy to see that fear and dissension prevailed among them; some of the men—but these, with one exception, were bachelors—looked wistfully upon us as we rode lightly and swiftly past, and then impatiently at their own lumbering wagons and heavy-gaited oxen. Others were unwilling to advance at all until the party they had left behind should have rejoined them. Many were murmuring against the leader they had chosen, and wished to depose him; and this discontent was fermented by some ambitious spirits, who had hopes of succeeding in his place. The women were divided between regrets for the homes they had left and apprehension of the deserts and the savages before them.

17 July 2020

Bomb-made Art, 1945

From The Long Vacation, by Alex Panasenko (Iris, 2020), Kindle pp. 93-94:
The bombing seemed to last an eternity though it must only have lasted some fifteen to twenty minutes. Every time I thought it was finally over, a new wave of explosions would toss us about the cellar, and my relief at still being alive would evaporate. Then suddenly it was over.

We came out of the cellar into a different world. The first thing that struck the eye was that the sunlight had changed. Where before everything had been sharp and sparkling, now things were fuzzy and diffused as if immersed in a fog. We were inside a gigantic cloud of dust. Broken glass covered the ground like ice crystals.

Emergency vehicles and military trucks started going by outside, headed towards the station. I followed them. After walking for some five hundred meters, I passed the first corpse. A plump woman lay in a ditch, a bicycle on top of her.

On the other side of the ditch, a field with long rows of cabbages extended towards a group of greenhouses. The rows were now interrupted by a couple of bomb craters, and the greenhouses did not appear to have a single pane of glass left.

The station buildings, as well as other buildings around them, were either obliterated or burning. Rails were bent, twisted, and scattered. Railway carriages were tossed about like matchboxes. A stench of fire, explosives, and shit hung in the air.

There had been a troop train and a couple of civilian trains in the station at the time of the raid. Many of the people had been either crowding the station buildings or lying about on a wide, grassy slope by the side of the tracks.

These people were now rearranged geometrically and anatomically in diverse kaleidoscopic patterns. There were circular and semicircular swatches of them and their possessions around the bomb craters that now disfigured the meadow. Some of them were very white, others yellow or gray. Some had burst or had pieces missing. Others were unrecognizable bits. Gobbets of flesh stuck to hard surfaces. Blue, dark red, yellow, and greenish entrails and organs hung from downed and dangling power lines.

The smell of flesh, feces, explosives, and smoke was indescribable. It was a living thing that clawed its way into your lungs, your heart, and your mind. Had it not been for the dirt thrown up by the bombs, the multicolored clothing of the dead women and children would have made them look like bizarre flowers scattered in a complex pattern across the field. The gray-green soldiers blended into the background except for where the brick-red, lurid splashes of arterial blood commanded attention.

For some reason, I had always considered death as something sinister, somber, and dark. In this place, it ruled with bold effrontery: the multicolored, festively scattered innards, the bright clothes, and the cheerfully crackling flames combined with the horrible stench and the sunny spring day to create the atmosphere of a picaresque and incomprehensible carnival.

16 July 2020

Soviet Intellectual Ostarbeiters, 1944

From The Long Vacation, by Alex Panasenko (Iris, 2020), Kindle pp. 63-64:
Almost everyone in the camp smoked heavily. Since there was no cigarette ration, the main preoccupation of these people was to find something to smoke. Thus cigarette butts were worth considerably more than their weight in gold. I saw starving men barter away their bread rations for something to smoke. I saw them break down and cry when someone stole their hoarded tobacco. Probably the only reason I did not see them kill for it was that most of these people were intellectuals and thus had the fighting potential of a herd of guinea pigs.

These people had all survived Stalin’s purges. The purges had carried off everyone who had any character whatsoever and thus was able to take any kind of stand. These pathetic people were unable to take themselves seriously, and they disdained everyone else. They had been conditioned into informing on one another by the Soviet system, so now they sought to gain favor with the Germans through informing. But there was nothing concrete for them to report, and the Germans did not give a rat’s ass for ideological differences in their slaves.

Incapable of fighting or any meaningful resistance, the intellectuals turned to acts of petty bitchiness and viciousness. They were made even more pitiful by their moral ugliness. This weakness bred other vices. Aside from being informers, they also stole, lied, gossiped, and hated everything and everyone with a powerless, burning intensity. Their only claims to humanity and self-respect were their contributions to their professional lives, which were useless and pointless in the present situation. Thus we had a skinny, redheaded doctor of something-or-other who had done some work on Tamerlane’s tomb. He kept talking about it. I asked him who Tamerlane was and learned he had been a great leader.

“As great as Hitler or Stalin?” I asked.

Although I did not realize it at the time, my question had put the doctor in a quandary. We were within hearing range of several of his peers, and to have given me a truthful answer would have resulted in his being informed on. He muttered something and moved away.

15 July 2020

Ukrainian Boy Ostarbeiter, 1944

From The Long Vacation, by Alex Panasenko (Iris, 2020), Kindle pp. 61-62:
As I attempt to detail the events of long ago, some of them stand out in sharp contrast to the overall dreariness and depression that characterized those years. My arrival at the labor camp in early Fall, 1944, was one such event. I had just turned eleven and felt very grown up.

The camp lay a few kilometers away from the castle at the end of a wide, graveled drive lined with chestnut trees. It consisted of two brick buildings and three barracks. The camp was fenced in, but there were neither guard towers nor a permanent guard at the gate.

I was let in by a shifty-eyed and tough-looking little Russian who evidently was in some position of authority. I was issued an enameled gray bowl, a spoon, and a brown blanket. I was shown my barracks and admonished to get up in time for roll call, not steal, not talk back to any Germans, and to work hard. Then everyone ignored me.

I spent that first day wandering around, exploring the camp, and feeling sorry for myself. I felt, however, a strong sense of elation at being away from my father. I think I am one of the very few people who were actually liberated by the Nazis. Whatever it was that the Germans did to me, it was done by strangers who were enemies, supposedly for lofty patriotic and philosophical reasons. Consequently, it was much easier to accept than the pointless cruelty that had been so freely dispensed at home. Furthermore, whenever I was struck by a German (with the exception of kids), they always had a clear reason for it. I was treated by them much as I used to treat my dogs, except I wasn’t fed as well or shown any kindness or given any medical attention.

They did, however, teach me punctuality, diligence, and a sense of responsibility.

Towards noon of that first day, I was told to bring my bowl to one of the brick buildings, which turned out to be the kitchen. There I received a ladleful of potato soup and a slice of black bread. The soup was made from bits and peels of potato that had been boiled for many hours. It was a potato starch sludge with lots of salt added. The bread was very dark, sour, and wet. I can’t recall ever having tasted anything so delicious, but probably that was a result of my constant, gnawing hunger.

Every morning we received half a loaf of that bread. In addition, for lunch and dinner, there was a bowlful of some sort of sludge, usually potato soup. On Sundays, we had vegetable soup with actual potatoes and carrots in it and an occasional piece of some sort of animal sinew or gristle. If I spend too much time describing this cuisine, it is because during my stay at that camp, food was my main preoccupation, as it was for everyone else in that place.

13 July 2020

Islands Seeking Hawaiian Protection

From A Power in the World, by Lorenz Gonschor (Perspectives on the Global Past, U. Hawaii Press, 2019), Kindle Loc. c. 2340ff:
Unsurprisingly, one of the key elements of this reassertion of Hawaiian political, cultural, and spiritual identity during Gibson’s premiership was a public reiteration of the concept of Hawaiian primacy in the Pacific. In late 1880, still dealing with the aftermath of the Moreno affair and preparing for his voyage around the world, Kalākaua had received a request by Tonga’s King George Tupou I to enter negotiations for a friendship treaty with Hawai‘i, modeled after those Tonga had already concluded with Germany in 1876 and Great Britain in 1879. The Hawaiian king had responded enthusiastically. Tonga did not follow through on it, however, likely because it experienced domestic instability throughout the 1880s (Rutherford 1996, 143). Against this backdrop of renewed interest in the South Pacific for engagement with Hawai‘i, shortly after the king’s return from the world tour, Gibson had once more written an editorial urging that “the policy of this kingdom should be to assist, in every way that is practicable, to preserve the independence of all those communities of Polynesian race which have not already been driven by circumstances to seek the protection of foreign Powers.” He went on to mention “the significant fact that twenty years ago the Hawaiian Government had been thus represented in the South Pacific by a Commissioner, Mr. St. Julian, whose assistance had been gladly availed of by the inhabitants of the islands.” When this proposal was ridiculed by the Missionary Party press, Gibson had provided a lengthy Hawaiian-language rebuttal, written as a fictional discussion between a Hawaiian diplomat and the minister of foreign affairs of the island of Rarotonga. As the new head of the foreign office, Gibson had now full access to the department’s archives and further studied St. Julian’s earlier correspondence with Wyllie (Bailey 1980, 200–201). Being of like mind with the king on this matter, the two men now intended to bring those visionary ideas to fruition at last.

At the same time, during 1882 and 1883, petitions were received from Butaritari and Abaiang in the Gilbert Islands, asking for Hawaiian protection or outright annexation by the kingdom (Horn 1951, 62). One such petition had already been received in 1878 from Tabiteuea in the same archipelago (60), which had led to detailed discussions in the English-language press, referring to Wyllie’s and St. Julian’s earlier project. Replying to these requests, Kalākaua refused outright Hawaiian annexation but declared his intent to establish closer political relations with the islands’ leaders and unsuccessfully invited them to attend his coronation (63). In May 1883, the king of the Tokelauan atoll of Fakaofo also wrote Kalākaua, requesting him to bring back his people who had left the island. To follow up with the Gilbertese chiefs, in July 1883, Gibson commissioned Alfred Tripp, a ship captain involved in recruiting Gilbertese laborers who had been a member of Kalākaua’s privy council since 1874, as special commissioner for Central and Western Polynesia. Tripp’s mission was cut short because his ship was wrecked in the Gilbert Islands, but he communicated with all major chiefs of that archipelago and brought home more petitions for Hawaiian aid or protection.