08 December 2022

Fate of Crimean Karaites

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle pp. 274-276:

History had taught the Karaites that it was better if the world didn’t find out too much about them. Tiriyaki took my pen and drew a tree in my notebook, its trunk forking into three branches.

‘Those,’ he said, pointing to the roots, ‘are the commandments.’

‘These’ – the three branches – ‘are the New Testament, the Talmud, and the Qur’an.’

‘This’ – the trunk – ‘is the Torah. Our only scripture. Karaites believe in the Jewish faith as it was when Jesus Christ was born and before other things were subsequently added.’

The Karaites had never accepted the Talmud. This had isolated them from all other Jews, who had never really known what to make of the Karaites. This had worked to their advantage in the Russian Empire – unlike other Jews, the Karaites had not been subject to restrictions on the professions they could pursue. A few of them had made large fortunes, especially in the tobacco trade. This wealth was visible in the old kenesa – the Karaite synagogue in whose hall I was sitting with Tiriyaki, a sumptuous religious complex with vine-draped colonnades, marble tombs, carved wooden interiors, and warm stained-glass windows.

When the Nazis invaded Crimea in the war, they didn’t know what to think of the Karaites either. Were they Jews? The Nazis commissioned an assessment by a Polish Jewish historian who, against his better judgement, declared the Karaites to be non-Jews, clearly to spare them the fate he would later suffer himself: he perished in the Warsaw Ghetto. His scheming paid off, however. The Nazis murdered the Crimean Jews but they spared the Karaites, whom they classified as a Turkic people.

Not long afterwards, the Karaites had a second stroke of luck. Their lenient treatment by the Germans could well have been a good reason for Stalin to have them deported alongside the Tatars, especially as the two minorities spoke very similar languages. Yet this cup too passed over them. For Stalin, the Karaites appeared to be Jews.

The kenesa in Yevpatoria had been closed down after the war, just like Crimea’s churches, mosques, and Jewish synagogues. The historic religious complex had been converted into a ‘museum of atheism’, and the outbuildings were used as grain silos. The community hall had become a nursery, which Tiriyaki had gone to as a boy, knowing full well that his grandmother had still been praying in the kenesa only a few years earlier.

There were now only a few hundred Karaites living in Crimea. Many had emigrated to Israel in the 1990s. The devout core of his community, Tiriyaki said, consisted of forty people.

We had been talking for less than half an hour when the old community leader began to give me signals that he’d said everything he was prepared to say. ‘If you have no further questions …’

But I do, I longed to cry, hundreds of them. Yet Tiriyaki’s expression was so forbidding that I confined myself to the central question whose insolubility had saved the Karaites’ lives twice. Where were they from? Were they a Turkic people that had converted to Judaism in the distant past? Or were they Semitic immigrants who had only become Turkicspeaking in Crimea? I knew that this matter was controversial among the Karaites too.

Tiriyaki stared at me impassively. His face was hard to read – not so much as the twitch of a muscle.

‘Origins are a card that politicians love to play. They are of no consequence to the faithful.’

He stood up and offered me his hand. I was already halfway to the door when he uttered a few final words as a send-off.

‘The Karaites lived here under the Tatar khans, under the tsars, the Soviets, the German occupiers, the Ukrainians, and now the Russians again. No one could drive us out. We are still here. That is all that counts.’

07 December 2022

Fate of Bulgarian Turks

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle pp. 182-185:

Gürcan had spent the second half of his life in Turkey and the first half in Bulgaria, where he was born in 1969 as one of just under 800,000 Turks whose forefathers had escaped the expulsions of the early twentieth century. Later, in the socialist era, Bulgaria had been suspicious of its Muslim minorities but, for cynical reasons, expulsions were no longer the political weapon of choice. During the Cold War, the Turkish–Bulgarian border had hardened into the Iron Curtain, the stated objective of which was to keep the proletariat in the country. This meant that the Bulgarian Turks were trapped in the Eastern Bloc alongside the Bulgarians themselves.

Nevertheless, they remained a thorn in the side of the regime in Sofia. Centuries of Ottoman dominance in the Balkans had not been forgotten, and the mere presence of a Turkish minority stoked old fears. Nearly one in ten inhabitants of socialist Bulgaria was a Turk, and the ratio was rising slightly because the Muslims had more children than the rest of the population. This led the authorities to hatch a dastardly plan in the mid-1980s: they might not be able to get rid of the Turks, but they could make them disappear, make them invisible, by destroying their identity.

Gürcan was sixteen when soldiers appeared one day in his hometown of Kurkariya. They made their way through the factories, the collective farms, and the schools, taking the Turks aside in each one. The soldiers had a simple request: the Turks were to choose new names. Bulgarian ones.

Gürcan’s father, who had been called Enver Süleymanov all his life, was known as Encho Stanishev after the renaming campaign. Gürcan’s own new identity card was marked Gensho Stanishev.

He was still at school at the time. It was clear, he said, that his Bulgarian teachers were embarrassed by the campaign. ‘From one day to the next, they had to get used to calling us by different names. They were obviously ashamed, but not one of them dared not to go along with it.’

What made matters worse was that it was customary in Bulgaria to use patronyms in addition to first names and surnames. Gürcan’s full name, when his father was still called Enver, was Gürcan Enverov Süleymanov. Now he was called Gensho Enchev Stanishev. The situation was more complicated for Gürcan’s father, whose own father was long dead when renaming began. He and hundreds of thousands of other Turks were nonetheless compelled to adopt Bulgarian patronyms, which meant that they had to give their dead fathers posthumous new first names.

‘They forced us to change dead people’s names. Can you believe it? People long buried in the cemetery! What kind of a person thinks up such things?’

Gürcan’s expression was so indignant that it was as if the matter had occurred mere days back, not three and a half decades ago.

The official designation of this campaign harked back to the name chosen by the nineteenth-century Bulgarian resistance movement against Turkish domination: the regime spoke of a ‘process of renaissance’. In macabre fashion, this was quite apt for a scheme to rename the dead. Above all, however, it brought home to Turkish Bulgarians what the state really thought of them. Concurrently with the renaming campaign, they were banned from using their language. There was also a more severe crackdown on their religion, which had never been welcome in socialist Bulgaria.

Individual Turks who were not willing to be reborn as Bulgarians resisted the directives in the late 1980s. Riots broke out and people died. Ultimately, when communism’s imminent collapse seemed nigh, the regime decided to sort out the problem in the traditional fashion after all. For a three-month period in the summer of 1989, the Iron Curtain was raised exclusively for Muslims, and party secretary Todor Zhivkov proclaimed that the path abroad was open to anyone who wished to take it. The Turks understood that this was not an invitation but an ultimatum. That summer, around 350,000 of them packed up whatever they could lash to the roofs of their Soviet cars, and the roads south were black with people. It was Europe’s largest ethnic cleansing campaign since the end of the Second World War.

06 December 2022

Fate of the Circassians

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle pp. 118-120:

Paintings of the Caucasus by the Russian Romantics feature a recurring figure on horseback: a warrior in a black felt coat, with cartridge belts crossed over his chest, a rifle slung at an angle across his back, a dagger and sabre in his belt, his mouth a cruel slit, and his eyes under a felt hat proud, hard, glowing like coals.

Of the many mountain tribes against which tsarist Russia waged its bloody nineteenth-century war of conquest, it was the Circassians who epitomised the Caucasus in the Russian imagination. Over half a million of them lived in the mountain villages to the north and west of the mountain range’s spine at the time, making them the most populous group in the regional ethnic mosaic. When Russia, still drunk on victory from Catherine the Great’s conquest of the Black Sea coast, pressed southwards into the Caucasus from the late eighteenth century onwards, the Circassians put up the most stubborn resistance to its advance. In alliance with the other mountain peoples – including their close relatives, the Abkhazians – they ensnared the tsar’s troops in a gruelling guerrilla war that went on for several generations.

Nowadays, there are three autonomous republics in the Caucasus named after the Circassians and their ethnic subgroups: Karachay-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygea. In the most recent censuses, around 700,000 people there described themselves as Circassians. There are, however, a far higher number of Circassians who no longer live in the Caucasus.

When Russia temporarily broke the mountain peoples’ stubborn defiance in the mid-nineteenth century, it was clear to the army high command that war could flare up again at a moment’s notice as long as the Circassians were able to entrench themselves in their inaccessible mountain villages. A plan took shape, bluntly referred to by officers as ochishchenie (‘cleansing’).

The Circassians were given an ultimatum: they could either be resettled in the more easily controlled foothills on the northern flanks of the Caucasus or leave the Russian Empire, which now extended beyond the mountain range. Emissaries of the tsar travelled to Istanbul and put the Ottomans, who had recently been defeated in yet another Russo–Turkish war, under pressure to open their empire to Circassian ‘emigrants’.

There is debate about how many people were forced to leave the Caucasus around the fateful year of 1864. The Russian high command talked about a good 400,000; some people say it was two or three times that number. There is also debate about how many people did not survive the deportation. At least 50,000 people, or maybe even more than twice as many, perished as the Circassian villages emptied and the homes of displaced families were razed. Some died of hunger; others didn’t survive the forced marches into the Ottoman Empire; others again were driven onto overloaded refugee ships, some of which never reached the Turkish coast. Virtually no other people has drowned in the Black Sea in such large numbers as the Circassians. There are individuals living along the coast who will not touch seafood to this day on principle; they refuse to eat fish whose ancestors have gnawed at the bones of their own forefathers.

The Circassians who did make it to the Ottoman Empire were mainly resettled within the borders of modern Turkey, and various sources have estimated that between 1.5 and 2.5 million of their descendants currently live in the country. Others moved farther afield. There are about 100,000 Circassians in Syria and approximately half that number in Jordan, where they still form the king’s bodyguard in their traditional battle garb. A few thousand live in Israel, Europe, and the United States, and a few hundred in Egypt.

‘My grandfather still spoke Circassian to me,’ Bassel said, changing up a gear as he drove me southwards out of Sukhum, ‘back home in Damascus.’

05 December 2022

Georgian Immigrants in Italy

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle p. 92:

We ate smoked anchovies. Alik showed me how to gut them. You snap off the head and use the fish’s sharp jaws like a knife, slitting open its belly with its own mouth to remove its innards. You eat the rest, complete with tail and fins. It tasted divine.

A quiet thirteen-year-old girl had dinner with us, a neighbour’s daughter. She was being brought up by her grandmother because her mother was working as a nanny for an Italian family in Bologna. Many Georgians had gone to Italy in recent years to look after children, care for old people, and work as housekeepers. Alik had an interesting theory about the bonds between the Italians and the Georgians. ‘They like us because we cook well, talk a lot, like to sing, and because we are warm-hearted. The Italians say the Georgians are how they used to be when they were still poor.’

04 December 2022

Fate of the Cossacks

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle pp. 55-57:

As I listened to the customary monologue about the ‘Ukrainian fascists’ from whom they had saved their Russian brothers and sisters in Crimea, I wondered how Vassiliy could be so blind to the historical irony of his words. His ancestors, the Cossacks of the Russian Black Sea coast, had been driven out of Ukraine. Catherine the Great had resettled them here in the eighteenth century after crushing the centre of the Ukrainian Cossack state – the island of Khortytsia in the river Dnieper.

This expulsion was the decisive turning point in Cossack history. From the fifteenth century, they had lived as bandits on the steppes, in the disputed frontier region between the settled civilisations to the north and the nomadic peoples to the south. They gathered in the Wild Fields, a felt-bearded bunch of escaped serfs, runaway prisoners, army deserters, destitute farmers, and other outlaws who chose to lead a life as free barbarians rather than bow to the laws of their native civilisations. They picked up their riding skills from their nomad neighbours, but they were no less proficient as sailors. On land and water, they plundered what they needed to get by. Their most spectacular rampages took them east across the Urals to the Pacific coast of Siberia and south across the Black Sea into the Ottoman Empire, where their pirate ships even raided Istanbul on occasion.

In the Ukrainian borderlands between Russia, Poland, and the Crimean Tatar empire, they established their most powerful host, the Hetmanate of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, whose members dug in on a water-bound fortress downstream from the Dnieper Rapids. At the height of their power, the Cossacks ruled over an anarchic steppe state from here and were a constant thorn in the side of their enemies, who included not only the tsars in Moscow but also the kings in Warsaw and the khans on the Crimean peninsula. Catherine the Great’s predecessors had tried to defeat the Ukrainian Cossacks or forge alliances with them, with no lasting success. It was only when the tsarina advanced on the Black Sea coast that the Zaporozhian Hetmanate was finally vanquished, along with the other peoples of the steppe.

The Cossacks never recovered their former glory. Once Catherine had destroyed their fortress on the Dnieper and driven the Zaporozhians out of Ukraine, she increasingly harnessed their battle skills to her imperial ambitions. The Cossacks were employed as frontier guards protecting the southern borders of the tsarist empire against the remaining nomadic tribes and the mountain peoples of the Caucasus. They soon became a common sight in Russia’s cities too, patrolling the streets on horseback in their flamboyant uniforms. They were especially feared by Jews, Armenians, and other non-Russian city-dwellers for whom the Cossacks traditionally had no time. One of their most notorious roles was to crush popular uprisings by whipping protestors and riding roughshod over them – something they did more and more frequently in the latter days of the empire. Many workers dragged themselves home from an early-twentieth-century protest with horseshoe-shaped bruises on their bodies.

During the revolution, the Cossacks were divided into two parties: White and Red, monarchists and communists – the former loyal to the tsar’s murdered family beyond death itself, the others willing to defend the new regime in the Kremlin henceforth. After the civil war, the White Cossacks disappeared into Stalin’s camps, with the exception of those who had escaped abroad with the remnants of the counter-revolutionary troops. That was the end of their Cossack careers; from that day on, they no longer rode horses but drove omnibuses in Berlin or taxis in Paris instead.

03 December 2022

Fate of Meskhetian Turks

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle pp. 34-36:

When he revealed to me on our first taxi journey that he was a Turok – that is to say, a Turk – I studied his face somewhat quizzically from the side. The skullcap; the pointy, hawklike face; the salt-and-pepper moustache; the gold teeth.

‘A Turk?’ I asked. ‘You mean, a Tatar?’

‘A Turk.’

‘Really? Türkçe konuşuyor musunuz?’

His answer in Turkish was fluent, unlike my stammered question about his language skills. Having taken a Turkish course in Berlin a few years earlier, I’d been capable of ordering a kebab quite fluently ever since. Pasha, on the other hand, had grown up in the language.

It took me a few taxi journeys to understand that he and his parents were Meskhetian Turks. That is, Georgian Turks – or Turkish Georgians, depending on your point of view. The Meskhetian Turks had lived on the southern margins of Georgia, close to Turkey, since the sixteenth century. Where they originally hailed from remained an unresolved matter that only attracted their neighbours’ interest when the Turks and Georgians along the border discovered nationalism. In Turkey, they were henceforth regarded as Turks who had emigrated and assimilated to Georgia, whereas to the Georgians they were Georgians who had adopted Islam and the Turkish language under Ottoman influence. And so, both the Georgians and the Turks claimed the Meskhetians as their own while also viewing them as a bastardised, second-class people of mixed heritage. In this sense, Pasha’s ancestors shared a fate with countless ethnic minorities in the regions bordering the Black Sea. They fell through the cracks in the mosaic of emerging nation-states, and it was not they themselves but rulers in distant capitals, irked by this melee of peoples on the margins of their supposedly pure nations, who decided to which state they should belong.

One aggravating factor for the Meskhetian Turks was that Ioseb Jughashvili – aka Joseph Stalin – though no fan of nation-states, was a partisan of good old Russian-style imperialism. Scenting an opportunity to annex border areas of Turkey during the Second World War, the Soviet dictator pre-emptively expelled the Meskhetian Turks from their homeland. In light of his plans, they suddenly struck him more like Turks who might just, who knows, feel more loyal to the enemy than to the Soviet motherland. Stalin was an advocate of simple solutions. Justifiably or not, the Meskhetian Turks were a headache. No more Meskhetians, no more headaches. They had to go.

Pasha’s parents were newlywed at the time. His father was twenty and his mother eighteen when, out of the blue, one winter’s day in 1944, soldiers came pounding on their door in the southern Georgian village of Zarzma. Along with over 100,000 other Meskhetian Turks, they were herded into cattle wagons that rolled eastwards from Georgia and only came to a halt several thousand miles later. Roughly a third of them died during their deportation or shortly afterwards from hunger, thirst, hypothermia, disease, or a broken heart. Ultimately, Stalin’s planned expansion into Turkey came to nothing, but the ‘leader of peoples’ had managed to purge his mind entirely of one.

02 December 2022

Second Annexation of Crimea

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle pp. 12-14:

I have a very clear memory of the moment the Black Sea suddenly moved from the margins to the forefront of European perception.

I was on a pleasure cruise around Sevastopol’s harbour in March 2014. Less than a fortnight earlier, Russian soldiers had appeared in Crimea and surrounded Ukrainian barracks. Although their uniforms bore no insignia or rank, no one had any doubts about where they came from. Parliament had been dissolved and replaced with puppets under the Kremlin’s orders, a hastily arranged referendum on Crimea’s integration into the Russian Federation had been announced for the next day, and Ukrainian and Russian warships were facing off in the harbour – and yet tour boats continued to ply their trade between the destroyers as if everything were completely normal.

I had travelled to Sevastopol as a journalist to report on the act of political piracy that was taking place. I had no idea at the time that in 1773, not far from that same harbour, on the south-western coast of Crimea, Jan Hendrik van Kinsbergen had laid the groundwork for Catherine the Great’s annexation of the peninsula. All I knew was that I was witnessing Russia’s second annexation of Crimea.

The tour boat passed close to the warships’ towering grey hulls. The Ukrainian and Russian Black Sea fleets still shared the port in that tense time before the Crimean referendum, and I had hoped that out on the water I might gain a better understanding of their muddled positions. The boat was full of Russians from Sevastopol, high on alcohol and patriotism, who made no secret of the fact that they wished a plague on the Ukrainians....

One man stood slightly apart from the others by the railing, staring silently out to sea. He was the only person apart from me who didn’t join in with the shouting. As we disembarked at the end of our tour, I approached him to enquire why he was there.

‘To say goodbye to the sea,’ he said tersely.

He was a Tatar. He had been born in Uzbekistan after his parents were deported under Stalin, and only when the Soviet Union collapsed, and Crimea and the rest of Ukraine gained its independence, had he been at liberty to return to the land of his ancestors.

‘Now the Russians are taking over again,’ he said gloomily. ‘I’m not going to wait for them to expel us a second time. My wife has family in Ankara. The day after tomorrow, we’re going to put the kids in the car and leave.’ His lips twisted into a bitter smile. ‘It won’t be the first time we’ve had to start from scratch.’

01 December 2022

Black Sea Neighbors

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle pp. 14-15:

The Black Sea is bounded by six states. Clockwise, in the order I visited them, they are Russia, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine.

Six and a half, if you count Abkhazia, a renegade part of Georgia that is kept on life support by Russia to prevent Georgia from joining any Western alliances.

Seven, if you count Moldova, formerly known as Bessarabia, which lost its coastline in the Second World War when Stalin moved the border inland.

Seven and a half, if you count Transnistria, a renegade part of Moldova, which is kept on life support by Russia to prevent Moldova from joining any Western alliances.

Eight, if you count Poland – the old Poland at its point of maximum expansion when szlachta noblemen persuaded themselves that their country’s ruling class was descended from the Sarmatians, an ancient barbarian tribe.

Eight and a half, if you count the Donetsk People’s Republic, a renegade part of Ukraine, which… you can fill in the rest.

Eight and a half, if Crimea belongs to Ukraine. Eight and a half, if Crimea belongs to Russia. Nine, if you’d prefer to let Crimea stand alone.

Nine and a half, if you count the ruined empire of ancient Greece, whose vestiges I encountered on every shore in the form of weathered stones; in place names mangled by foreign tongues; in family stories of scattered Black Sea Greeks; on the menus of countless Aphrodite Restaurants, Poseidon Cafés, Olympus Hotels and Amazon Bars, written in Cyrillic, Latin, and Georgian letters; and in the deep-seated Black Sea tradition of always expecting the worst from your neighbours.

28 November 2022

Whither Europe Now?

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 283-284:

Once again, the ground is moving silently under our feet, as city- and region-states grow in importance and a neo-medievalism sets in. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as the British historian Mark Greengrass (echoing Denys Hay) explains, the concept of Christendom was gradually replaced by that of Europe. Though Christendom had in the course of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages come to represent a geographical concept, it remained at root a religious identity, whereas Europe was at root all about geography. Europe’s subjugation of Christendom was complete when Christianity stopped being a political identity and became merely a private religion having to do exclusively with the soul. Given that Europe replaced Christendom, are we now in a transition period in which some concept will replace Europe? And if it does, where does identity finally settle—at the national level, at the regional level, the level of the city or town? Or will Europe revert to a religious identity, a neo-Christendom of some sort, to psychologically wall off Muslims from the Middle East? Or might Europe itself simply fade as a concept, as it dissolves into Afro-Eurasia and identities within the continent become, as I’ve speculated, increasingly local? Greengrass traces the destruction of the concept of Christendom over an arc of 131 years. So it is quite likely that the real substantive changes that are occurring now will not be apparent inside the strictures of any news cycle.

The late British-American historian Tony Judt provides a somewhat alternative view; or rather, a view focused on the immediate future rather than on the middle-term and distant one. As he explains, the integration process that culminated eventually in the European Union was in part an accident born of the realpolitik of politicians who each needed a predictable economic framework for their own national aims. To wit, France needed German coal, but at the same time needed to contain German political power; and Germany needed to hide its own national interests within a larger community in order to regain legitimacy in a post-Hitler era. The context for this realpolitik was a just-ended Second World War that was “peculiar,” in that countries were often divided among themselves and “almost every European participant lost.” Thus, everybody wanted to forget about what had just happened, so that defeatism, pacifism, and ahistoricism reigned. At the same time, the Cold War had enforced unity in the western half of the continent. It was defeatism and unity that gave birth to this new Europe. Yet, because the combination of these and other factors (e.g., the Marshall Plan) was specific to a certain moment in history, they could never be repeated in the same way, and so the European Union could not simply go on as it had indefinitely—for other factors must eventually intrude.

What is particularly impressive is that Judt published this analysis in 1996, when few troubles loomed on the horizon and Europe was dull and happy. He then goes on to expose Europe’s “foundation myth”: that it must keep expanding to the east in order to improve not only Europe but the world, or else the current success would merely indicate an amoral utilitarian arrangement. Of course, as we know, Europe’s eastward expansion following the end of the Cold War occurred under different historical circumstances and so the result has been complex and not altogether a triumph. Judt concludes his 1996 essay noting again, presciently, that with postmodern life hollowing out the communal functions of family, church, school, the military, and even political parties and trade unions, all that is left now is the nation. For it is the nation that embodies a common memory and a community within an “appropriately scaled frame”: larger than that of the city, but smaller than that of a nebulous pan-European or global identity.

27 November 2022

Greek Travails, 1949-2009

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 272-274:

The end of World War II brought not peace but a civil war lasting until 1949, between the Communists and the ultimately victorious right-wing loyalists, which resulted in 80,000 dead and 700,000 internal refugees. Because of the brutality on both sides, particularly against civilians, Greek politics would remain polarized for decades, divided between parties of the hard Left and the hard Right, so that a modern liberalism and a modern conservatism would find little room to emerge. Thus did Greece, abetted by its geography—as close to Moscow as to Brussels—become an ideological battleground of the Cold War.

Greece’s Cold War years were marked by weak governments as well as deep, internecine political divisions, which were further aggravated by the independence struggle on Cyprus, with its consequent calls for Enosis (or union) of the island with Greece. (Of course, this itself was an echo of the Great Idea.) In 1967, junior officers staged a coup, toppling the Greek government in Athens. This led to a particularly brutal seven-year military dictatorship in which the Athens “Regime of the Colonels” bore greater similarities to those of the Third World than to any government in Western Europe. The Colonels’ regime dissolved in 1974 after their failed political intervention in Cyprus led to a Turkish invasion and occupation of the northern part of the island.

It was only with the reestablishment of democracy in July 1974 under the conservative politician Constantine Karamanlis (who had returned to Greece from exile in France) that Greek politics began slowly—for the first time in history—to stabilize and achieve a modern, Western character. Greece, the birthplace of the West, finally reentered the West. This process was helped by the country’s admission to the European Economic Community (later the EU) in 1981.

Like membership in NATO, membership in the EU and Greece’s subsequent admission to the Eurozone represented purely political decisions on the part of the Western alliance. In fact, neither Greece’s bureaucratic institutions nor its economy was ever up to the standards of core-Europe and the West. Yet, it was felt (if never publicly admitted) that leaving Greece outside European institutions, given the country’s vulnerable geographical position and its long history of instability, would pose a greater threat to the West than bringing Greece inside them. As it turned out, the Greek variant of the Great Depression, in which the country was brought to its knees beginning in 2009 by widespread poverty, a dramatically declining GDP, and mass unemployment—leading to a far-left-wing government initially close to Moscow—was directly related to the country’s abject lack of preparedness for the rigors of the Eurozone. The Byzantine and Ottoman legacies of underdevelopment, while not determinative and always able to be overcome, still counted for something in Greece in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

26 November 2022

Albania and Montenegro: Tough Transitions

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 247-248:

Because the decades of Communist autarky only further decimated the already weak polity, the 1990s saw massive corruption and bouts of anarchy undermine an embryonic democratic system that was buffeted by social upheaval, as masses of people deserted the countryside and rushed into the cities. But near the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century, a more nuanced picture began to emerge amid dramatically higher living standards among part of the population, and a commercial transformation and revitalization of the cities. Albania had joined NATO in 2009 and was possibly on a path toward membership in the European Union. It had avoided ethnic and religious conflict and had proper, peaceful relations with its Balkan neighbors—no mean feat considering the epic and bloody past.

Nevertheless, organized crime and endemic corruption had become major elements of daily life. Albania, as I write, is still a deeply divided and weak democracy. An opposition leader has accused the government of promoting “narcotraffickers, pimps, even killers as Members of Parliament.” The U.S. State Department and Europol have declared Albania the largest producer of cannabis and the key gateway for heroin into Europe. In 2016 Albanians “came second only to Syrians as asylum seekers in Germany and France. More than 42 per cent of the population live on less than $5 a day,” reports Besart Kadia, executive director of the Tirana-based Foundation for Economic Freedom. While the long, historical ages of extreme isolation have receded, Albania remains a world removed from Italy, less than fifty miles to the west across the narrowest point of the Adriatic.

Albania and Montenegro both are, in developmental terms, places where Europe ends and also begins. Geographically they are unquestionably part of Europe, even as their mountainous topographies have tempered the influence of the Mediterranean. Moreover, historically and culturally they have been mightily shaped by the long centuries of often weak rule by the Ottomans, whose imperial footprint was planted mainly in the Near East. These are in many respects Europe’s borderlands, which Europe cannot disown. If Europe makes any claim to universal values, it has no choice but to find a way to spiritually incorporate these two far-flung outposts of imperial Venice.

25 November 2022

From Ethnic to Criminal Networks

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 229-230:

A middle-aged writer, who comes to Montenegro often from an adjacent country, informs me soon after I arrive:

“The real issue here is the security problem on account of the cocaine wars between gangs located in the suburbs of Kotor. This is a function of the corruption, the nepotism, and the weak government institutions. Whoever runs the casinos runs Montenegro, so you don’t ask who runs the casinos. Criminal networks flourish at the same time as the building of resorts near the Adriatic. There is money here, I mean. Without the clans there is no mafia, but without the clans there is also no tradition. If you don’t hire your relatives, you’re a bad guy. Everyone privately cries for Tito. They want him back. Under Tito, there were almost no gangs, no rapes, much less drugs, more safety, more security, dignity to life. You didn’t have to worry about what could happen to your kids like you do now. People were not so rich and not so poor as today. And so what if you couldn’t vote every few years.”

With the exception of Slovenia, safely tucked inside Central Europe, this is the refrain that I have heard throughout the former Yugoslavia where the rule of law has sunk shallow roots and thus atavistic allegiances thrive. Of course, this is all a legacy of Communism, which Tito himself inflicted upon everyone. Except that in Montenegro I have reached a geographical juncture in my travels—far to the south and deep in the mountains—where the ethnic politics I observed in a place like Croatia has deteriorated into (and been replaced by) outright criminality.

23 November 2022

"Who Is Djilas?"

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 168-169:

As we are discussing books, I bring up the name of Milovan Djilas, the great World War II partisan fighter who was once Tito’s heir apparent, and later the original East European dissident, a man who wrote such classics of World War II and Cold War literature as Wartime, Conversations with Stalin, and The New Class. I interviewed Djilas every year in the 1980s in his Belgrade apartment behind the Parliament building. Through a clinical interpretation of history Djilas saw the vague outlines of the future, and specifically foresaw the war of the 1990s.

“Who is Djilas?” the students at the table exclaim, practically in unison. Though all are former Yugoslavs, these students and teachers have simply never heard of him. It turns out that the combination of censorship lasting into the 1990s, when they were young and in school—Djilas, after all, was a longtime dissident after he broke with Tito—and the constricting, often abstract, and theoretical reading lists of their university and graduate courses left no room for this great chronicler of an entire era in the second half of the twentieth century: an era that gave birth to the 1990s’ wars of the Yugoslav succession. Books and manuscripts vastly proliferate nowadays, even as less is really read, and so much of what is vital does not get passed down from generation to generation.

There is an air of depression and consternation at the restaurant table. And it isn’t just about the state of academia. Europe and especially the Balkans do not look hopeful. I am now told about how, among other things, Montenegro has become a colony of the Russian mafia and Albania the colony of the southern Italian mafia, accounting for the eruption of designer restaurants, bars, expensive hotels, and jewelry stores in Podgorica and Tirana. And there is, by now, the familiar litany about the poor and nasty ethnic climate in Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia. In this part of Europe at least, it seems that NATO is only a superficial layer of reality, and the European Union is simply out of gas and credibility.

22 November 2022

Rijeka vs. Fiume

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 160-162:

Rijeka—Fiume—was a place of conflicting sovereignties long before the 1940s. Beginning in the late fifteenth century, Rijeka was an important seaport of the Austrian Habsburg Empire, and after the establishment of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy in 1867 much of it came under the rule of Budapest, with new rail links connecting it deep into Central Europe. If Trieste is a fault zone, then Rijeka is the very border of that fault zone. In fact, following the First World War, ethnic conflicts among the urban population and the decision of foreign diplomats to hand over the city to the new Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes led 9,000 ethnic-Italian legionnaires to establish the vaguely anarchist and Fascist “Regency of Carnaro” here. That lasted a year, until 1920, when the Treaty of Rapallo declared Fiume a free state under Italian rule. In 1924, it became part of Fascist Italy. Through it all, the drama between Slavs and Italians nearby on the Istrian peninsula became a microcosm of the drama between East and West; between the free West and the Communist East. Though, given the cruelty and general insensitivity of the Italians towards the Slavs, something not restricted to Mussolini’s Fascists, one side was not always and not necessarily morally superior to the other.

For example, I look up at the balconies in Rijeka and think immediately of the leader of the Italian Regency of Carnaro, Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863–1938), a name that emerges from time to time in conversations here as a vague and occasional background noise: mentioned quickly in passing, but rarely explained. D’Annunzio was a charismatic intellectual with a lust for power and adulation, who consequently loved balcony appearances. For him, the purpose of politics was to supply an arena for glory and the erection of the perfect state. In Fiume, in 1919, with the collapse of the Habsburg Empire and the city the object of rival claims and protracted negotiations by Italy and the new Yugoslav kingdom, D’Annunzio seized power at the head of the far-right legionnaire movement, itself supported by flaky youthful idealists. Though he didn’t last long, this romantic thinker stylistically paved the way for Mussolini: he was a warning against hazy ideas and intellectual conceit. For lofty themes, if not grounded in moderation and practicality, can be the enemy of healthy politics.

21 November 2022

Slovenia, Misfit in Yugoslavia

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 149-150:

Ljubljana: known in German as Laibach, a place more historically associated with the Habsburg Empire than with any particular nation-state. Here in 1821, one of the crucial congresses was held to stabilize Europe after the Napoleonic Wars. Thus, in the very sound of its name Laibach recalls such personages as Metternich and Castlereagh. I was last in Ljubljana in October 1989, just a few weeks before the Berlin Wall fell, on a concluding trip through Yugoslavia, from where I had reported often during the 1980s. This was still twenty months before the start of the war there. But I would ultimately leave Slovenia out of the final version of Balkan Ghosts, even though it had been a member of the Yugoslav federation, while I would include Greece in the manuscript though it was a long-standing member of NATO. Greece, I had argued to my editors, was Near Eastern despite its ties to the Western alliance, while Slovenia was Central European despite being for so long a part of the largest Balkan country.

Ljubljana in 1989 has left a deep imprint on my memory. A section of my diary from the period, published as a travel essay in The New York Times, records: “Mornings are a blank canvas. Not until 9:30 or so does the autumn fog begin to dissolve. Then the outlines of steep roofs, spires, leaden domes, statues, and willows and poplars emerge like an artist’s first quick strokes. At first it is a pen-and-ink with charcoal. By mid- or late morning come the richer colors of the palette: facades of orange and yellow ochers, pinks, sandy reds, and dazzling greens. As for the architecture itself,” I went on, “it is not only baroque and Renaissance but also Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and so forth. This was partly because, with the exception of five years of Napoleonic rule, Ljubljana between 1135 and 1918 was inside the Habsburg Empire, and thus artistic influences from the far-flung domain filtered in.” Truly, I was infatuated with the city.

But there is even more from my notebooks about Ljubljana that I did not publish at the time: Men smoking in the damp and cold hotel restaurant while waiters talked and ignored customers amid loud rock music (Blood, Sweat & Tears singing “Spinning Wheel”). People had ravaged eyes under matted hair, without the blow dryers and designer glasses that were already ever-present in nearby Austria at the time, and everyone with bad-quality shoes. It was a place where people began to drink early in the day. And yet one after another of the persons I interviewed back in 1989 complicated those initial impressions. For Yugoslavia was already starting to fall apart, even if it wasn’t yet in the news. “The Serbs look backward while we look forward: away from the archaic system” of Tito’s Yugoslavia. “In Slovenia, Tito [a half-Slovene] has been completely forgotten.” “Slovenes are like conscientious objectors in the Yugoslav federation.” “We watch Austrian television, not Serbian television.” “We are a small country that looks out, Serbia is a great country that looks in.” All in all, in October 1989, Slovenia was a poor and downtrodden place by Western standards that, nevertheless, evinced a distinct bitterness about having to prop up the even poorer and yet more powerful states within the Yugoslav federation, notably Serbia. Yugoslavia had, in a political and cultural sense, dragged Slovenia southward into the Balkans, and away from its rightful place in Central Europe, to which Slovenia’s own Habsburg legacy entitled it. Indeed, it was Slovenia’s very resentment over that fact which caused it, like Poland and Hungary, to fiercely aspire towards membership in the West, and thus towards liberalism and free markets.

19 November 2022

Trieste at the Edge of Empires

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 103-106:

Trieste signals a fault zone. It is a city that has hosted Romans from the West, Byzantines from the East, Goths, Venetians, Napoleon’s empire, the sprawling and multiethnic Habsburg Empire, Italy, Nazi Germany, Yugoslavia, and Italy again since 1954. That last handover took years of diplomatic wrangling, as if to confirm that Trieste’s very location—on a spit of territory that could have been placed in either Italy or Yugoslavia—constitutes proof of Trieste’s unstable position on the map. The mid-twentieth-century American journalist John Gunther noted that between 1913 and 1948, Trieste lived under no fewer than five different occupations. The race between Allied and Communist Yugoslav forces for control of Trieste in May 1945 was arguably the first major confrontation of the Cold War, perhaps providing a “reference point” for President Truman in the later crises of the Berlin blockade and the Korean War.

Trieste marks the borderline not only between the Latin world and the Slavic one, but also between the Latin world and the German one. Indeed, this city of Italians, Germans, Austrians, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Greeks, Armenians, Jews, and so on registers Mitteleuropa, with its own unparalleled cosmopolitanism, broadening out into an international civilization. Though, if this neoclassical, utilitarian, and commercial city has one cultural identity or spirit above others, it might be that of the Austrian Habsburgs, who ruled here between 1392 and 1918, except for a short Napoleonic interlude.

Trieste does indeed put empire on your mind. I visit the castle of Miramare, just north of the city, built with round porthole-like windows by Maximilian, the younger brother of Franz Joseph, who believed that the Habsburgs had no choice but to control the Adriatic. It is a monument to imperial delusion.... Maximilian, who believed deeply in liberal reform as a means of preserving and sustaining empire, was fated (of all things!) to go to far-off Mexico in 1864 as its new emperor—encouraged by his wife—only to be executed by indigenous revolutionaries three years later, completing his dark and tragic imperial fantasy.

Trieste reminded historian and travel writer Jan Morris “poignantly of the passing of all empires, those seductive illusions of permanence, those monuments of hubris which have sometimes been all evil, but have sometimes had much good to them.” Because empires, by definition, are often multinational and multiethnic, it is when empires collapse that “racial zealotry,” in Morris’s words, can rear its head. When the Italians seized Trieste from the Habsburgs in 1919, they closed Slovene schools in the city and tolerated violence against the Slavs. When the Yugoslavs arrived in the city in 1945, they reopened the Slovene schools and forced many Italians to change their names. In 1946, when Morris first saw Trieste, the writer “pined” for a cohesive and “distilled” Europe, and imagined this city as “the ghost of that ideal.” But the “false passion of the nation-state,” Morris continues, “made my conceptual Europe no more than a chimera.” History isn’t over, though. And as Morris says in old age, “One day the very idea of nationality will seem as impossibly primitive as dynastic warfare or the divine right of kings…a hobby for antiquarians or re-enactment societies.”

In the present day, the port of Trieste will soon sign an agreement with Duisburg, the world’s largest inland port, located at the confluence of the Rhine and Ruhr Rivers in western Germany, with the aim of increasing traffic on the new Silk Road that China is organizing. Trieste will acquire through Duisburg access to the northern—land—part of the Silk Road that terminates at the Pacific; while Duisburg will acquire by way of Trieste access to the southern, maritime Silk Road that runs through the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean. A postmodern, multinational imperial system may re-emerge, this time supervised by the Chinese, and encompassing Trieste. A few months hence, I will get a message from a friend about “Chinese, Russian, American, and Mitteleuropean investors competing for bases in the port here—the second great opportunity after Maria Theresa,” during whose reign the city became a vibrant, multiethnic hub. Yes, Trieste always did prosper under a big project—this time maybe with the Chinese, who will make Trieste another imperial reference point.

18 November 2022

Republic of Venice, 726-1797

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 74-76:

Norwich writes: “Venice, alone of all the still-great cities of Italy, was born and brought up Greek…. Long after she shed her dependence on Constantinople, she continued to turn her back on Italy and to look resolutely eastward; the nightmare tangle of medieval Italian politics, of Guelf and Ghibelline, Emperor and Pope…none of this was for her.” Doges used Byzantine honorifics. The Venetian ruler’s dress was modeled on that of the Byzantine exarch. Byzantine girls were sent to Venice to marry; Venetians sent their sons to finish their education in Constantinople. Venice’s political links with Byzantium helped shield it from the quarrels among the other city-states of Italy, with their rapidly shifting tactical alliances that were the epitome of amorality. Because a rival commercial system, run by Arabs, stretched across North Africa and the Middle East, Venice became crucial to Constantinople as a Byzantine outlet to Europe. The Venetian model of beauty, as exemplified by the low domes and small windows of Saint Mark’s, recalling Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, was mainly Eastern.

Of course, the underpinning of Venice’s fortuitous separation from the rest of Italy was at root geographical. That great lagoon, the few miles of shallow water that protected Venice from the mainland in all its aspects, allowed it to focus eastward toward Byzantium, and, in addition, was the savior against Saracens, Magyars, and other invaders in the early centuries of Venetian independence. The lagoon, by confining Venetians to so restricted a space, also fostered internal cohesion. “Among Venice’s rich merchant aristocracy,” Norwich explains, “everyone knew everyone else, and close acquaintance led to mutual trust of a kind that in other cities seldom extended far outside the family circle.” The result was efficient administration by which risky trading ventures, involving vast outlays of capital, “could be arranged on the Rialto in a matter of hours.” Neither utopian nor egalitarian, Venice represented the triumph of a closed elite. Optimism was banned, unless it could be grounded in facts and percentages. (It was from such a tightly woven merchant aristocracy that Marco Polo, the late-thirteenth-century Venetian explorer of China and Central Asia, originated—of whom more later.)

Without the lagoon and the canals—without the presence of water, that is—Venice simply would not have had the beauty that endowed its population with such love of their city-state: it was a love of the polity, rather than that of one man or king. This, and the internal peace they enjoyed, fostered a “humaneness of feeling” that, as Berenson suggests, made Venetians “the first really modern people in Europe.”

...

What ensues, with its succession of eighty-four doges from 726 to 1797, is a thousand-year history as long, intricate, dense, intoxicating, and overwhelming as that of Byzantium itself, mind-numbing in its constant intrigues and periodic insurrections. It is a comparatively dim and opaque canvas that produced few giants and larger-than-life heroes (Pietro II Orseolo, who governed toward the end of the tenth century, being one exception to this rule), for trade and commerce, dull as these things are, reduce the long-term impact of bloodshed and its accomplice, glory. Because it is so thematically uninspiring, Venetian history is generally hard to remember, and for the literate, non-expert public is known best through the works of Shakespeare—who uses Venice as a somewhat shameless and cynical backdrop to reveal vulnerability and passion contained in everyone, Moor and Jew alike, people otherwise depicted as one-dimensional and therefore uninteresting in his day.

17 November 2022

What Was Italy from 476 to 1861?

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 36-38:

I look at more maps in my hotel room in Ravenna: those of the greater Adriatic. Rome is eventually replaced by Western Rome and Eastern Rome; then by the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths, the kingdom of Odoacer, and Eastern Rome, all elbowing for territory; then, in turn, by the Arians and the papacy, though by the sixth century the Adriatic is all Eastern Rome. In the early eighth century the division is between the Lombards and Eastern Rome, in the early ninth between the Franks and Byzantium. In the Middle Ages the Normans, Hungarians, and Serbs, as well as the German Empire, Salerno, Naples, and Venice, all gain prominence; until by the late fifteenth century, as the Renaissance reaches full flower, it is Venice facing off against the Ottoman Empire, even as northern Italy is divided among Savoy, Milan, Genoa, Mantua, Florence, and Siena, and southern Italy between the Papal States and the kingdom of Naples.

Later on, all of these polities, too, will become shades: disappearing, literally, into the past. Voltaire said Rome fell “because all things fall.” Indeed, empires are not illegitimate simply because they eventually collapse: the wonder is that so many have lasted as long as they did. Rome’s universal civilization, with its cruel yet rational, i.e., charmed-conservative paganism, ultimately became impossible to sustain in the hinterlands; and Rome’s breakup led to the panoramic migrations, coupled with the religious passions and particularism, that we associate with Late Antiquity and the Dark and Middle Ages, with all of their attendant political-territorial complexity. Still, the geographic breadth of Rome, lasting as it did for so many centuries, remains an astonishment: an imperial domain impossible to imagine reassembled in any form. Only world governance could equal or surpass it.

In sum, the passage from antiquity to Late Antiquity registers a more confused ethnic and territorial map, with the big shifts that merit chapter breaks in history books barely noticed at the time. For example, the deposition in A.D. 476 of Romulus Augustulus by the barbarian Odoacer—an Arian Christian soldier of vague Germanic and Hunnish descent—is commonly marked as the end-point of the Roman Empire in the West, though the event elicits little mention by any chronicler of the era: its significance becomes apparent only much later in hindsight. After all, Odoacer, rather than eviscerate what remained of the empire, actually restored some facade of order and stability to it, even as he reconquered Sicily from the Vandals in A.D. 477 and annexed Dalmatia in A.D. 480. The real break with the classical past occurs only later with the Gothic War of A.D. 535–554, which devastated much of Italy with famine and chaos, and was quickly followed in 568 by the Lombard invasion, so that Italy was at war for more or less seventy years until 605. Italy would never again be united until modern times. The Lombards, a Germanic confederation with a strong Arian element that included Saxons, Gepids, Bulgars, Sueves, and others—a fascinating horde first recorded by Tacitus—truly herald the passage of Late Antiquity into the so-called Dark Ages.

14 November 2022

Operation Magic Carpet, 1945-46

From When the Shooting Stopped: August 1945, by Barrett Tillman (Osprey, 2022), Kindle pp. 261-262:

With broad vision, two years before VJ Day, Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall anticipated the need to return millions of servicemen to their homes. He raised the subject as early as 1943, and after D-Day in June 1944 some planners thought that VE Day might dawn by year’s end. But whenever the timeframe, some essential factors forced themselves upon joint staffs.

First was the need for large-capacity staging areas and processing facilities, not only in Europe but in the much broader expanse of the Pacific. Internal concerns within the U.S. included receiving ports and railroads capable of absorbing huge numbers of personnel and delivering them to “separation centers” in every state.

Paramount was shipping, as the vast majority of returnees had to travel by sea. The U.S. Navy was only marginally available at the time, with millions of tons of vessels committed to the two-phase invasion of Japan in November 1945 and March 1946. Therefore, heavy reliance was placed upon Army and Merchant Marine ships with some augmentation by Coast Guard vessels.

Tasked with finding enough hulls to meet the demand, the War Shipping Administration (WSA) came through. Shortly after VE Day it identified nearly 550 vessels capable of carrying useful numbers of personnel.

In the actual event, absent Operation Downfall, the Navy suddenly afforded a huge bonus for Operation Magic Carpet. Ten aircraft carriers, six battleships, and 26 cruisers were hastily modified to accept cheek-by-jowl accommodations for troops who willingly endured long days and nights at sea, returning to “Uncle Sugar.”

Within two months of Emperor Hirohito’s surrender announcement, more than 700 ships of all types were available, notably Liberty and Victory cargo ships. Foreign vessels obtained for the project included origins as diverse as Panama and Italy.

The record for returning troops home belonged to the veteran aircraft carrier Saratoga (CV-3), which embarked some 29,000 grateful veterans, as fleet carriers were among the fastest ships afloat. But for maximum capacity, living space was likened to cramming 12 pounds into a ten-pound bag. The new carrier Lake Champlain (CV-39), only commissioned in June, was altered to accept 3,300 bunks. On her first Magic Carpet mission she set a transatlantic record of 32 knots, only surpassed by the liner United States in 1952.

The millions of personnel returned from war zones were not limited to American servicemen. The Army and WSA allocated 29 troop ships to transport nearly 500,000 European war brides. On the other side of the globe, it was estimated that 12,000 Australian women married American servicemen as well.

Magic Carpet was an immense success. At the time of VE Day in May 1945 more than 3 million soldiers were stationed in Europe alone. By year’s end, seven months later, the Army counted fewer than 700,000 troops.

The Navy also experienced a huge reduction: from 3.3 million personnel in 1945 to fewer than 500,000 at the end of 1946.

Overall, Magic Carpet spanned the year following the climax in Tokyo Bay. On average, between September 1945 and September 1946 the operation landed 22,000 men and women at a U.S. port every day for 13 months. As noted by the National WWII Museum, “The sum total of which provides the mathematical framework behind the staggering post-war baby boom nine months later.”

13 November 2022

Last Naval Battle of World War II?

From When the Shooting Stopped: August 1945, by Barrett Tillman (Osprey, 2022), Kindle pp. 208-210:

Meanwhile at sea, probably the last naval engagement of the war was fought off the China coast. On the morning of August 21 two sailing junks with American-Chinese crews were en route from Haimen to Shanghai. They were attached to the clandestine Sino-American Cooperative Organization, supporting guerrilla operations in Asia.

Lookouts sighted a large junk ahead; then the stranger came about, unmasking its armament, and opened fire.

Unknown to the two U.S. skippers – Navy Lieutenant Livingston Swentzel, Jr. and Marine First Lieutenant Stuart L. Pittman – their black-painted rival was a potent adversary. It carried a 75mm-pack howitzer, six machine guns, and more than 100 rifles for the 83 Japanese soldiers on board. Swentzel was a 35-year-old New Yorker with a degree from William and Mary whose excellent academic education ill prepared him for the situation.

The enemy’s first round was eerily accurate, severing Swentzel’s foremast to the consternation of most of his crew. Four Chinese were killed or wounded and the rudder damaged. However, Swentzel radioed Pittman, who coordinated the response. And in a brief moment of recalled glory from the age of sail, Swentzel hoisted the Stars and Stripes before returning fire.

Closing to 100 yards, the Yanks opened up with their heavy weapons – two bazookas intended for antitank action rather than naval warfare. One of Pittman’s sailors took two rounds to get the range, then knocked out the Japanese cannon, but both sides retained automatic weapons. After holing the enemy vessel, Swentzel directed Pittman alongside the Japanese and gave an order that John Paul Jones would have approved 170 years before: “Prepare to board!”

Hull to hull, Pittman’s half of the seven Americans and 20 Chinese led their attack with a hail of hand grenades to kill or disperse the superior Japanese numbers. With the Marine in the lead, a brief, violent skirmish subdued most of the remaining enemy, driving others below decks. More grenades followed down the hatches, forcing the survivors to surrender.

After 45 minutes the issue was settled, climaxing when the opposing skippers clashed hand to hand, with Pittman victorious. Before he expired, the Japanese officer told the Chinese that he had thought the junks were pirates. Americans and Chinese sorted the Japanese casualties, reckoned at 44 dead and 35 wounded. The Allies lost four dead and six injured. Swentzel and Pittman reversed helm for Haimen, and delivered their prize and prisoners to the Chinese before proceeding to Shanghai. Both skippers received Navy Crosses for their utterly unique action.

12 November 2022

U.S. & Japan Negotiate in German, 1945

From When the Shooting Stopped: August 1945, by Barrett Tillman (Osprey, 2022), Kindle pp. 206-207:

Thousands of American servicemen crowded both sides of the landing strip, watching the historic moment. Military police could barely restrain them from swarming the two planes, seeking a closer look or perhaps souvenirs.

With minimal fanfare the Japanese disembarked from the two bombers and approached MacArthur’s personal transport, the gleaming aluminum C-54 dubbed Bataan in memory of his Philippine service. Leading the delegation was Lieutenant General Torashiro Kawabe, sporting a long sword and spurs. Besides Kawabe and a major general were six other army officers including two interpreters, a rear admiral with four other navy men, and three civilians. The senior diplomat present, Katzuo Okazaki, had been a runner in the 1924 Paris Olympics.

The Douglas Skymaster loaded its human cargo and headed 920 miles south.

In Manila, skirting angry Filipino crowds, the entourage motored to an apartment building that, unlike City Hall, had survived the liberation relatively intact. The Japanese received a pointed message from the conqueror: they were not present to negotiate. Their purpose was simply to learn the specifics as to the terms of surrender and protocol of the impending ceremony. Keeping himself remote from the discussion as befitted a budding emperor, MacArthur allowed his intelligence chief, Major General Charles Willoughby, to conduct much of the meeting. Willoughby asked Lieutenant General Kawabe, vice chief of the Imperial Army, what language they should speak, to which the multi-lingual general replied, “German.” That suited Willoughby – he had emigrated from Germany as a child in 1910.

The details were thrashed out with minimal problems. MacArthur’s staff intended to land at Atsugi in four days, to which the Japanese objected for practical reasons. It was a kamikaze base and “a hotbed of revolt against the cease-fire.”

11 November 2022

Imperial Japan's POWs at War's End

From When the Shooting Stopped: August 1945, by Barrett Tillman (Osprey, 2022), Kindle pp. 180-182, 187:

VJ Day also was Survival Day to large numbers of prisoners of war and internees in Japanese hands. In August approximately 150,000 Allied personnel were thought held captive in some 130 camps throughout Asia. However, a complete accounting revealed 775 facilities in the Japanese Empire; 185 in Japan itself.

The prisoners represented not only the U.S. but Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands, and India. Approximately 36,000 soldiers and sailors were sent to Japan itself with most of the balance in the Philippines, China, Korea, Burma, Malaya, Java, and various Pacific islands. Japan also held large numbers of civilian prisoners and internees, as many as 125,000, mainly in the Dutch East Indies and Philippines, with more than 10 percent in China and Hong Kong. That figure excluded Nationalist Chinese personnel. Frequently the Imperial Army killed Chinese prisoners as a matter of policy.

One quarter to one third of Anglo-American prisoners held by Japan had died in captivity, with about 12 percent dying in the Home Islands. In contrast, about 3 percent of Western POWs perished in German Stalags. War crimes investigators later determined that 27 percent of Allied POWs in the Pacific died in captivity – officially seven times the rate of Western POWs in German camps.

...

Allied POWs existed in a hellish world of perennial malnutrition during Japan’s food shortage amid disease and routine brutality. Postwar investigators often referred to ritual or informal executions but the killings were largely extrajudicial or, to put it bluntly – murder.

Though Tokyo had signed the Second Geneva Convention in 1929, the government had never ratified the agreement regarding treatment of prisoners of war. After a qualified pledge to abide by the convention in early 1942, Japan quickly reverted.

Prisoners endured horrific conditions in captivity, eventually subsisting on 600 calories per day. What few Red Cross parcels arrived often were confiscated by the captors. The situation could hardly have been improved in the final months of the war, however, because in mid-1945 virtually all Japanese civilians were also malnourished.

...

Almost lost amid war’s end was the residue of its origin: Japan’s conquest of the Dutch East Indies’ petro-wealth. In 1940 Tokyo had requested half of the Dutch oil exports, but officials in the capital Batavia replied that existing commitments permitted little increase for Japan. That response set the Pacific afire. With only two years’ oil reserves on hand, and denied imports from the U.S. and Java, Tokyo’s warlords launched themselves on an irrevocable course.

The Japanese had to sort out a large, diverse population of some 70.5 million. Upwards of 250,000 were Dutch, mostly blijers, Dutch citizens born in the East Indies. Around 1.3 million Chinese had enjoyed preferred relations with the Netherlands’ hierarchy, but there was also a small Japanese population.

Conquest of the archipelago only took 90 days, ending in March 1942. Japan pledged Indonesian independence in 1943 but never honored it. And despite the Asia for Asians theme of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, Indonesians suffered terribly under Japanese rule. The new rulers interned all Dutch military personnel and 170,000 civilians. Conditions were appalling: approximately 25,000 died in captivity. Estimates range between 2.5 and 4 million total deaths, more than half of whom perished during the Java famine of 1944–45.

Additionally, millions of Javanese were pressed into servitude elsewhere, notably on the Burmese railroad.

09 November 2022

USSR vs. Japan, 1945

 From When the Shooting Stopped: August 1945, by Barrett Tillman (Osprey, 2022), Kindle pp. 118-120:

The Far East blitz represented the acme of Russian military operations in the Great Patriotic War. An American historian properly described the Manchurian offensive as “a post graduate exercise for Soviet forces, the culmination of a rigorous quality education in combat begun in Western Russia in June 1941.”

Red Army losses in the 25-day campaign were 35,000 overall with 11,000 killed, while naval components added 1,400 casualties. In the Kremlin’s hard-eyed accounting, it was nearly a bloodless conquest of an immense, productive area.

Overall in the Far East, the Soviets captured 594,000 Japanese troops, including 143 generals and 20,000 wounded. Almost certainly the astonishing bag of general officers would not have occurred a month before, suicide being the preference.

Postwar Western figures placed Japanese losses at 674,000 including 84,000 dead. American intelligence estimated that the Soviets captured 2.7 million Japanese, two thirds of them civilians. Eventually some 2.3 million were repatriated to Japan, with 254,000 known dead and 93,000 presumed dead.

Of some 220,000 Japanese farmers established in Manchuria, about 70 percent reportedly perished, including perhaps 80,000 in the severe winter of 1945–46. More than 10,000 were thought killed by outraged Chinese, or had committed suicide. Presumably the surviving 140,000 eventually returned to Japan.

The Russians dismantled much of Manchuria’s industrial plant within three weeks of the war’s end, ceding the territory to the Communist Chinese. Thus, without realizing it, Moscow had set the stage for the next war, only five years downstream.

* * *

In the vacuum attending Japan’s defeat, Soviet forces entered Korea in mid-August, advancing southward to the designated 38th Parallel that would mark the boundary between Soviet and American occupation zones. The Russians lost little time exploiting their control over the area, especially since many Koreans welcomed an end to 40 years of Japanese rule.

In the north, Korea already possessed two military organizations: Kim Il-sung’s guerrilla force and the Korean Volunteer Army headquartered in China. The Soviets established headquarters at Pyongyang and almost immediately founded an air force academy.

Meanwhile, the Americans – thin on the ground in the south – planned to retain many Japanese for continuity of government. The reaction among South Koreans was stridently vocal, leading to a quick reversal by the U.S. administrators. However, frequently they consulted their Japanese counterparts, who naturally recommended Koreans who had cooperated with Tokyo. Two distinct Koreas were emerging and battle lines, however unwittingly, were already drawn for the coming Cold War.

05 November 2022

Planning the Invasion of Japan, 1943-45

From When the Shooting Stopped: August 1945, by Barrett Tillman (Osprey, 2022), Kindle pp. 57-58:

While naval air combat carried on unabated, groundwork continued for the ultimate objective, an invasion of Japan. The overall Allied invasion plan, aptly titled Downfall, originally had been discussed at the 1943 Casablanca Conference, calling for a two-phase assault: Operation Olympic against the southern island of Kyushu in November, and Operation Coronet on the main island of Honshu the following March. Both would be enormous undertakings: Olympic involved about 350,000 men in combat units plus a further 125,000 support personnel; Coronet more than half a million. In comparison, the initial D-Day landings in Normandy committed approximately 150,000 Allied troops.

Building the force to invade Japan required a gargantuan combination of planning, coordination, and logistics. Previously, Admiral Ernest King, chief of naval operations, had reportedly quipped, “I don’t know what the hell this ‘logistics’ is that General Marshall is always talking about, but I want some of it.” In fact, the Navy was the essential factor in transferring troops from Europe and the United States. Nearly everything without wings had to go by sea, and so did many aircraft.

By August 1945 at least four armored divisions were based in the continental United States, with two or more infantry divisions preparing to deploy west.

The Army also intended to redeploy more than 395,000 men directly from Europe, all between September and December. They included units dedicated to Olympic or Coronet, representing Army Ground Forces, Air Forces, and Service Forces.

At the same time planning proceeded for 477,000 soldiers and airmen to round out the Coronet order of battle, moving from Europe through “ConUS” to the Pacific between September 1945 and April 1946. That amounted to a total of nearly 875,000 personnel moving halfway around the world in eight months. And that did not count Army, Navy, and Marine Corps personnel already in the Pacific. Nor did the redeployment figures include Doolittle’s Eighth Air Force units transitioning to B-29s with 102,000 aircrew and maintainers, either from Europe or originating in the States. The transport burden was further increased by 75,000 European Theater hospital patients beginning in late 1944.

Despite the clear logistical nightmare of such an undertaking, there was one clear advantage to the Allies. Throughout the war they had consistently outperformed the Axis in the crucial realm of supply, which was far more than simply building “stuff.” King’s quip concealed the Anglo-American mastery of the logistical trilogy: planning, production, and distribution. British historian Richard Overy properly noted that the American “tooth to tail” ratio of warfighters to rear-echelon and support personnel ran 18 to one; Japan operated at a support to combat ratio of a mere one to one.

03 November 2022

ULTRA vs. IJN Submarine I-29, 1944

From Ultra in the Pacific: How Breaking Japanese Codes and Ciphers Affected Naval Operations Against Japan, 1941-45 (The Secret War), by John Winton (Sapere Books, 2022), Kindle pp. 294-296:

ULTRA betrayed not only convoys but single blockade runners. The fate of I-29 was a perfect ULTRA coup. I-29, named Matsu, was the submarine which rendezvoused with a German U-boat off Madagascar in April, 1943, embarked Subhas Chandra Bose, the leader of the movement for Indian independence and self-styled C-in-C of the Indian National Army, and took him to Penang. I-29 (Cdr T. Kinashi) left Penang, bound for Europe, early in November, 1943, and sailed from Lorient, bound for Japan, on 16 April, 1944. Among the passengers were four German technicians and thirteen Japanese Army, Navy and civilian personnel. The cargo included German anti-submarine counter-measure equipment, acoustic and magnetic torpedoes, radar apparatus, plans for the latest high-submerged-speed submarines, and influenza virus.

I-29’s passage was traced through intercepted signals from Berlin, and a Singapore broadcast in diplomatic code, addressed to I-29 only on 3 July, indicated its presence in the Indian Ocean. An ULTRA from Anderson on it July read: ‘Friendly sub [identified as probably I-29] scheduled to pass through Sunda Strait on morning of 12 July, and arrive at eastern entrance to Singapore at 1200 on 14th.’ It was later confirmed by ULTRA that I-29 had indeed arrived that day.

On 17 July, 1944, a decrypted message from Berlin to Tokyo listed I-29’s cargo in detail: five ‘special weapons’, various radar apparatus, 20 Enigma coding machines, ordnance parts, rocket-type launching apparatus, bomb sight plans, pressure cabin parts and plans, parts of a British Mosquito plane, and atabrine ampoules and tablets. Two days later, in a decrypted message, Berlin congratulated Tokyo: ‘It is indeed gratifying to learn that the MATSU has arrived safely at Singapore with her passengers and cargo. We pray for her safe voyage to Japan.’

But on 20 July Kinashi broadcast a fatal signal giving full details of his route to Japan: leaving Singapore at 1500 on the 22nd, arriving Kure at 1000 on 30 July, and giving his noon position for the 26th as the Balintang Channel [between Formosa and Luzon]. CincPac’s Bulletin for 24 July read: ‘I-29 recently arrived Singapore from Europe carrying samples and plans of many recent German developments in fields of radar, communications, gunnery, aeronautics and medicine. Left Singapore 22 July en route Kure. Believe very important cargo very likely still aboard. Will pass through posit 15 N., 117 E., at 251400 and through Balintang Channel at 261200, speed 17 arriving western channel of Bungo Channel at 291000.’

On 25 July I-29 signalled that a surfaced enemy submarine had been sighted (possibly the ‘cover story’) and gave the position, about 300 miles west of Manila. On the 26th Sawfish (Cdr A. B. Banister, leader of ‘Banister’s Beagles’) signalled: ‘He did not pass. At 0755Z [1655 local time] in posit 20-12 N., 121-55 E. [Balintang Channel] put three fish into Nip sub which disintegrated in a cloud of smoke and fire.’

On 7 August a mournful Tokyo broadcast to Berlin was intercepted: ‘All her passengers had proceeded to Tokyo from Singapore by plane, but her cargo had been left aboard. Though it is indeed regrettable, we can no longer hope for her safety. Despite the fact that we received, through your great efforts and the understanding cooperation of the Germans, many articles which were to strengthen the nation’s capacity to prosecute the war, our inability to utilize them owing to the loss of the ill-fated ship is truly unfortunate and will have a great effect throughout the Imperial Army and Navy.’

I'm pleased to see that Cdr. T. Kinashi's name is spelled consistently in this book, and that this remarkable naval officer has a detailed article in English Wikipedia (linked above). Several other Japanese names are handled quite sloppily. For instance, the IJN destroyer Kuroshio ('Black Current') is consistently misspelled Kurishoyo six times on pp. 276-278, and Lt. Gen. Kuribayashi, the Japanese Army commander on Iwo Jima, is transliterated correctly on p. 304, then misspelled as Kuribayasha twice on p. 306. (The Hawaiian place name Wahiawa is also misspelled as Wahaiwa on p. 158.)

31 October 2022

Destroying Truk, February 1944

From Ultra in the Pacific: How Breaking Japanese Codes and Ciphers Affected Naval Operations Against Japan, 1941-45 (The Secret War), by John Winton (Sapere Books, 2022), Kindle pp. 225-227:

Known as the ‘Gibraltar of the Pacific’, Truk was in fact not nearly as strongly defended as legend had it, but it was the best fleet anchorage anywhere in the Japanese mandated islands and had been the regular base for the Combined Fleet since July, 1942.

Truk’s geographical layout, of scattered volcanic islands inside a triangular-shaped coral reef, made it virtually impregnable to surface attack from outside its perimeter. But it was open to the air. After the same FRUPAC analysis of air search patterns from Truk as from Kwajalein, a powerful task force including six fleet and four light carriers in three groups under Mitscher (who had relieved Pownall in January) made a fast and undetected run towards Truk in the night of 16/17 February, 1944, to carry out Operation HAILSTONE.

Spruance himself was present, flying his flag in the battleship New Jersey (the fleet commander had also been present during the Marshalls landings, ready to take over command if the Combined Fleet sallied out). But there was no chance of that. Truk was just within bombing range of Kwajalein and Bougainville, and its supply route from the Empire was constantly beset by US submarines. Thus, Truk was no longer the safe base it had once been.

Photo-reconnaissance of Truk on 4 February showed plenty of targets, but the same reconnaissance flight had given the game away to Admiral Koga, who sent most of his warships to Palau and went back to Japan himself in the giant battleship Musashi.

The last cruiser, Agano, left Truk on 16 February and was torpedoed and sunk by the submarine Skate the next day. But the fleet auxiliaries, the oilers, seaplane carriers, submarine tenders and many Marus of the support force were due to leave later and were still in Truk when the first fighter sweep, launched from a point 90 miles north of Truk before dawn on 17 February, caught the defenders by surprise.

Seventy-two fighters followed by eighteen Avengers with incendiaries found some fifty merchant ships in the harbour and 365 aircraft ranged on the airfields. The strike put all but a hundred of the aircraft out of action. The carriers then mounted more or less continuous strikes of fighters, bombers and torpedo-bombers to work over the airstrips and attack shipping. That evening the Japanese made their only reply, a torpedo attack by Kates who scored a hit on the carrier Intrepid (a somewhat unlucky ship, nicknamed ‘The Evil I’), putting her out of action for some months.

In the meantime Spruance in New Jersey with another battleship, Iowa, two heavy cruisers, four destroyers and the light carrier Cowpens to give air cover, made one anti-clockwise sweep round Truk to catch any would-be escapers. They sank the light cruiser and Sixth Fleet submarine flagship Katori and the destroyer Maikaze.

That night a strike of Avengers, specially equipped and trained for night bombing, attacked shipping in the lagoon. It was the first time in the war such a raid had been made and it was a signal success: one-third of the total tonnage destroyed at Truk was sunk by these Avengers.

Strikes resumed the next day, 18 February. Everything that moved or floated had now been sunk or strafed and the aircraft turned their attention to fixed fittings — hangars, fuel tanks, storage dumps, buildings and vehicles. When the carriers retired at noon their aircraft had flown 1,250 sorties, dropped 400 tons of bombs and torpedoes on shipping and 94 tons on airfields and shore installations. They had sunk the cruiser Naka, auxiliary cruisers Aikoku Maru and Kiyosumi Maru, destroyers Oite, Fumizuki and Tachikaze, the armed merchant cruiser Akagi Maru, two submarine tenders, an aircraft ferry, six tankers and seventeen other ships — a total of about 200,000 tons. This was a crushing blow to the Japanese Navy. The loss of so many fleet supply and support vessels was as grave an operational defeat as the loss of capital ships. Truk was never the same again.

30 October 2022

U.S. vs. Japanese Submarine Warfare

From Ultra in the Pacific: How Breaking Japanese Codes and Ciphers Affected Naval Operations Against Japan, 1941-45 (The Secret War), by John Winton (Sapere Books, 2022), Kindle pp. 190-193:

‘PRESS home all attacks,’ wrote Rear Admiral James Fife USN, Commander Submarines South-West Pacific, in his standing orders. ‘Pursue relentlessly, remembering that the mission is to destroy every possible enemy ship. Do not let cripples escape or leave them to sink — make sure that they do sink.’

The American submariners in the Far East, very ably assisted by the British and the Dutch, put Admiral Fife’s orders faithfully into effect and achieved devastating results. By VJ Day, 1945, Allied submarines in the Far East were actually running out of targets. By that time, although submarines still constituted only 2 per cent of the American war effort on the Pacific, American submarines had sunk two-thirds of the total Japanese merchant ship tonnage sunk during the war, and had also sunk one out of every three of the Japanese warships sunk.

The United States and the Imperial Japanese Navies were roughly equal in submarine strength in the Pacific at the outset of the war. Neither navy had had any operational experience of submarines in the First World War. Both had prepared for submarine warfare on a long-range scale, and primarily for use against enemy warships. The crucial difference in the Second World War lay in the US Navy’s technological advances, its readiness to profit by tactical experience, and its proper strategic deployment of its submarines. In all three areas the Americans were superior.

...

The one advantage the Japanese submarines had was the quality of their formidable 40-knot, oxygen-powered, longer ranged torpedoes, with twice the explosive charge of the American torpedoes. American torpedoes were frequently defective and, incredibly, it was nearly two years before the US Navy established the causes of the defects and remedied them. Under operational patrol conditions American torpedoes nearly always ran eight to ten feet below their proper depth, so that their magnetic detonators, designed to be activated by the target ship’s metal hull, failed to work properly. Similarly, the contact detonators only worked best after an oblique impact, thus, ironically, penalizing the very submarine captains who aimed best and hit their targets broadside on.

Design faults were compounded by bureaucratic obstruction: shorebound officers and bureaucrats continued to insist that the whole fault lay with incompetent submarine captains who could not aim properly, and refused to believe submarine captains who said they had heard their torpedoes hitting the target and failing to explode.

For the first months of the war Japanese submarines had considerable success in sinking Allied warships, especially in ‘Torpedo Junction’ in the summer of 1942. But the fatal Japanese tendency to indulge in non-profitable peripheral activities soon began to drain away their submarine patrol strength.

The Japanese diverted their submarines to carry midget submarines, to no tactical purpose, or to act as communication links, or to wait at rendezvous to refuel flying-boats, or to carry out unimportant surface bombardments, which had no more than pinprick nuisance value, of Midway, or Canton Island or Johnston Island, or (in 1942) the coasts of Vancouver and Oregon.

The largest Japanese submarines carried aircraft — requiring an hour after surfacing to assemble and launch — which they transported thousands of miles for valueless reconnaissance flights. One submarine, I-25, launched her aircraft loaded with incendiaries with the serious intention of setting light to the forests of North America. As the war progressed more and more Japanese submarines were taken off patrols and used to carry men, ammunition and food to beleaguered Japanese island garrisons bypassed and left to ‘wither on the vine’ by the Allied advance.

Unquestionably the best strategic use the Japanese could have made of their submarines would have been to make a determined effort to cut the supply lines from Pearl Harbor to Micronesia and Australia. They made no such effort. There was never any submarine war in the Pacific remotely comparable with the struggle against the Atlantic U-boat. The US Navy began by escorting their ships in convoys in the Pacific, but by the end of 1943 there was so little enemy submarine activity that single ships were steaming across the Pacific unescorted.

To misuse of submarines in exotic sideshows the Japanese Navy added an almost complete failure to safeguard their own surface ships against submarines. The Japanese were obsessed by the idea of an ‘offensive’ war. Like the British in the First World War, they regarded convoys as ‘defensive’ and therefore somehow demeaning and unworthy of a warrior nation. Convoy did not appeal to the Samurai spirit.

29 October 2022

Growth of U.S. Intelligence Staff, WW2

From Ultra in the Pacific: How Breaking Japanese Codes and Ciphers Affected Naval Operations Against Japan, 1941-45 (The Secret War), by John Winton (Sapere Books, 2022), Kindle pp. 182-183:

Radio intelligence had also improved (although ‘Joe’ Rochefort had left Pearl Harbor in October, 1942, the victim of Washington intrigues). The Allies had begun to realize the full potential of communications intelligence. ‘In my opinion, the value of Radio Intelligence has been demonstrated to the extent that we can never again afford to neglect it as we did before the war,’ said Commander (later Rear Admiral) Joseph N. Wenger, a member of OP-20-G, in a lecture on ‘Future Co-operation between Army and Navy’ on 1 June, 1943. ‘Furthermore, the difficulties of obtaining Intelligence have increased so greatly that we shall have to maintain an organization constantly at work on high-speed electronic equipment if we are to be prepared for any future wars. The equipment necessary to obtain Radio Intelligence is growing so complicated that we cannot wait until war comes to provide it. Certainly we cannot afford to risk another Pearl Harbor.’

By 1943 the Allies were also coming to realize the scale of resources needed for communications intelligence. For instance, the number of personnel involved, both US Navy and Army — 300 in 1939 — had risen to 37,000 by the end of the war in 1945. There was an enormous expansion, in the United States and in the United Kingdom, in courses to train large numbers of people, many of them university students, to speak or read Japanese; classicists and students in dead languages usually learned to read Japanese, while modern language students learned to speak it.

Techniques had improved in every respect of intelligence, from the interrogation of prisoners-of-war to the evaluation of aerial reconnaissance photographs (colour-blind men and women were recruited because their disability enabled them to ‘see through’ camouflage).

By 1943 the Allies began to sense they were really winning the radio intelligence war against the Japanese. As more codes were decrypted, over longer periods, the cryptanalysts believed they were at last beginning to feel their way into the Japanese mind. As the Japanese suffered defeats on land and retreated, there were more opportunities to capture documents, such as diaries, operational orders and, as from [beached submarine] I-1, actual code books.

28 October 2022

ULTRA Protocols in the Pacific

From Ultra in the Pacific: How Breaking Japanese Codes and Ciphers Affected Naval Operations Against Japan, 1941-45 (The Secret War), by John Winton (Sapere Books, 2022), Kindle pp. 16-18:

As the war went on, the flow of ULTRA swelled like some great tidal wave, giving accurate and timely information on every aspect of the Japanese war effort, from the strategic to the domestic — not only Japanese war intentions, but individual ships’ machinery defects and junior officers’ promotions. The number of signals involved was enormous: the National Archives and Research Administration (NARA) in Washington DC has 290,908 decrypts of Japanese Navy signals on file, as well as many more thousands of naval attaché signal decrypts, intelligence summaries and daily digests.

ULTRA provided information broadly in four main categories. There was information of critical operational value, such as convoy sailings, warship movements, impending attacks, tactics and battle orders for on-going operations, which was directly applicable to current operations and provided in time for action to be taken on it. There was information of strategic value, such as intelligence of future operations, supplies, reserves, reinforcements and current strategy; on orders of battle, including the strengths, equipment and disposition of ships, aircraft and troops; and on Japanese intelligence, such as the results of Japanese spy activity, interrogations of Allied prisoners-of-war, captures of Allied documents, and the Japanese’ own traffic analysis, reconnaissance, and interceptions and decrypts of Allied signals.

Special arrangements were made for handling ULTRA. It was revealed only to certain Flag and Senior Officers and selected members of their staffs who had been ‘indoctrinated’ into the secret. When Arleigh (‘Thirty-one Knot’) Burke was Chief of Staff to Admiral Mitscher in the carrier Lexington in 1944, he was at first curious and finally angered by the mysterious behaviour of a junior naval reserve Lt (jg) who, alone of everyone on board, was allowed private and privileged access to the Admiral. Burke would see the two talking in low voices on the wing of the Admiral’s bridge, or sometimes withdrawing into the privacy of the Admiral’s sea cabin.

The officer was Charles Sims, Mitscher’s ULTRA intelligence officer, a Japanese language specialist trained in codebreaking, who gave Mitscher highly classified intelligence available through ULTRA. Burke himself was eventually admitted into the ULTRA secret, despite Sims’ protests, but not until special permission had been sought from CincPac.

The US Navy, unlike the Royal Navy, permitted the use of the word ULTRA in the text of signals. They regularly used some phrase such as ‘This is ULTRA’, but not habitually at the beginning of a signal, which would render it vulnerable to cryptanalytical attack, but always somewhere in the body of the text.

When information from an ULTRA source was passed on in another signal, that signal had to be paraphrased and so worded that, if captured or intercepted by the enemy, any reference to enemy intelligence could not be traced back to ULTRA. Any reference to the name of an enemy ship was to be avoided and any positions taken from an ULTRA signal had to be given in a different way.

ULTRA was so powerful a weapon that it often could not be used. Much of the information it provided could not be acted upon. Too many U-boats sunk at their remote fuelling rendezvous, for instance, would arouse enemy suspicions and imperil the ULTRA secret. Any operation undertaken as a result of ULTRA therefore had to have a ‘cover story’ — some corroboration from another source, such as naval or air reconnaissance, to account for the presence of Allied forces on the scene and at the time of the action. It was very easy, through an excess of zeal, especially in the Pacific, to make mistakes over this vital requirement.