Gamers’ Corner : Set Europe Ablaze Bibliography

November 6, 2014–Just a head’s up! We have now posted a product which lists the various histories consulted in the course of designing the game Set Europe Ablaze and compiling the historical articles that appear with it. Not everyone will be interested in the bibliography, but for anyone who wants to look into Resistance to the German occupation of Western Europe in World War II, the history of the Special Operations Executive, and the French and American (OSS) special services that matched it, this listing furnishes a useful compilation of the sources. This product can be found in the “Downloadable” section of the website. It is a premium content item.

Leyte Gulf and ISIS

October 26,2014–Seventy years ago today the United States fleet was off the Philippines, hurling bolts of lightning at the remnants of a Japanese fleet in frantic retreat from what was the greatest naval battle of World War II. The fight was the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Americans were in the Philippines to make good on General Douglas MacArthur’s promise that “I shall return!” The Japanese responded because loss of the Philippines would cut the Home Islands off from their major source of raw materials and fuel. The Imperial Navy was being destroyed without a fight. It might as well make a last stand.

In history, the Leyte Gulf battle climaxed yesterday in October 1944, with U.S. warships pursuing the fleeing Japanese down Surigao Strait, where the Allies had soundly defeated the Imperial Navy; while other Americans mopped up the last active Japanese aircraft carriers off of Taiwan, and yet other American ships desperately sought to defend themselves against a huge Japanese battle fleet that had suddenly materialized out of the dawn.

It is that last piece of the story that’s of interest here. In October 1944 all the decks were stacked in favor of the Allies. The fleet supporting MacArthur outmatched the Japanese in numbers in every category from torpedo boats to battleships, way more in tonnage (therefore size of the fleet) and in numbers of aircraft; with huge advantages in combat logistics and organization–plus highly capable intelligence. It had been a full year since the Japanese fleet had laid a glove, other than pinpricks, on the Allies. The Imperial Navy had no chance. The admiral who led that battle fleet which came out of the dawn told his captains, “You must all remember there are such things as miracles.”

As it turned out, Leyte Gulf more or less followed the pattern. The detached Japanese force in Surigao Strait was largely destroyed, the core of the carrier force was sunk, and the battle fleet suffered tremendous damage. But what is most significant is that three years into a war Japan was losing by a wide margin, its sailors, by dint of determination and fighting spirit, were able to turn the tables on the Allies despite all their advantages, and put that battle fleet up against a greatly inferior detachment of the Americans. The miracle seemed like it was happening after all.

The Japanese squandered their opportunity. Thus seventy years ago today it was Americans mopping up fleeing Japanese and not the other way around. But that is a story for another day. What is more interesting for right now is the parallel we can draw with the jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the foe whom Americans and other allies are today fighting across both those countries. Today again the allies have many advantages. The ISIS fighters have only a small amount of heavy equipment, limited to what they have been able to capture from the Syrian government. The allies have air power–and complete control of the air–and can strike anywhere in the region with complete flexibility against an adversary who must move on the ground under the constant threat of air attack. ISIS fighters are also far outnumbered by the troops of the Iraqi government, the Kurds, and the other Syrian partisan factions, not to mention the forces of the Syrian government.

But like the putative Allied dominance at Leyte Gulf, the situation in the Middle East today is not so clear cut as would seem. Like the Japanese seventy years ago, what ISIS has going for it is determination and the willingness to die. That has carried it a long way under the rain of aerial munitions already. The Iraqi army and the Kurdish Peshmerga have proven much less determined. The Syrian islamist fighters other than ISIS have been divided against multiple enemies. The Turkish government, having promised to help, is effectively dragging its feet.

Those Americans at Leyte Gulf who took a complacent view of the Japanese were destined to be shocked. Do not be surprised if the same happens with ISIS today.


Gamers’ Corner: Set Europe Ablaze

September 2, 2014–Just a quick note! Some of you will know that Against the Odds magazine has selected my Western European  (WW2) Resistance game Set Europe Ablaze as their “annual” issue game for this year. The game is a two-player simulation of the partisan war against German occupation from 1941 to 1944. Anyway, while ATO completes its playtesting and starts to put the game itself into production, I’ve taken time to craft the historical articles that will accompany the publication. (Thus I’ve been only fleetingly on this website of late.) That work is now done.

ATO doesn’t have space for everything I did. Accordingly I lopped off the Bibliography I had prepared for the game and articles. In the next few days I am going to post that biblio as a product on this website. FYI.

John Walker: Why Remember One of the Worst?

August 31, 2014–We learned on Friday that John Walker had died. Walker, the greedy and narcissistic ringleader of a circle of U.S. Navy spies from the 1960s into the 80s, became the most notorious spy our sea service has ever seen. The extent of the damage he wrought remains unknown but it is enormous–something I’ll return to in a moment. He died in a federal prison hospital in North Carolina on August 28. Ironically Walker’s brother Arthur passed away, likely in that very same Butner, North Carolina prison, barely six weeks earlier, on July 7. It was a measure of John Walker’s selfish desire that the best people he could come up with as subagents were family–his son Michael, a sailor; his brother Arthur, a naval officer; and Jerry Whitworth, a fellow petty officer. Thus the Walkers’ case became known as the “family of spies,” after the book-length account published by Peter Earley.

Beginning in 1967, and until his 1985 arrest, John Walker sold U.S. secrets to the Russians. From what we know these consisted of documents concerning the movement and dispositions of U.S. naval vessels plus, most important, lists of codenames and encryption machine settings used in top secret U.S. military communications. These were of vital importance to the Soviets, who actively intercepted American communications traffic. The code keys Walker handed over corresponded to on-line encryption devices in U.S. service at the time. Those same types of machines were aboard the Navy spy ship Pueblo, which was pirated by North Koreans off their coast in 1968. Although it has never been clear whether the North Koreans actually captured the encoding devices or the technical manuals for them–crewmen assured the Navy the equipment had been successfully destroyed–the U.S. security services have always assumed the North Koreans passed the machines to the Russians and these were compromised. If so, the Walker code keys would have given the Soviets access to a wide assortment of U. S. military communications.

I shed no tears for Mr. Walker. His brother, nephew (Michael Walker spent fifteen years in prison) and Navy buddy (Whitworth still serves a 365-year sentence) deserve slightly more sympathy for being cajoled and duped into serving Walker’s conspiracy. Never mind that. What I want to address here is the then-and-now question.

Walker would be turned in by his divorced wife, who phoned the FBI one day to say she suspected the ex- was up to no good. After a seven months investigation the Bureau arrested him and his cohorts. The Walker ring became just one of the cases of 1985, which included those of the Israeli spy Jonathan Jay Pollard, who also targeted the U.S. Navy; Ronald Pelton, who spied for the Russians against the National Security Agency; the Soviet defector case of Vitali Yurchenko, and a number of CIA spies, the most important of whom was probably Edward Lee Howard, whose defection to Russia helped cloak the truly serious penetration of Aldrich Ames. That period became known as “The Year of the Spy” in much the same way that 1975, the time of the Church and Pike committees and the Rockefeller commission, was called the “Year of Intelligence.”

In typical Washington fashion the shortcomings of security systems that had failed to uncover all these spies led to demands for reforms in American counterespionage, and ultimately to the creation of what is now known as the National Counterintelligence Executive. That represented an expansion of a center that had been revealed by the Ames and Robert Hanssen affairs to be essentially moribund.

During the Year of the Spy the U.S. counterintelligence apparatus had its hands full combating the efforts of agents working for adversaries. What an inversion, today, where the counterspies are chasing the U.S. Congress, terrified that it is going to reveal the sordid truth of the CIA torture program; as well as intelligence community whistleblowers, whom the agencies fear will reveal other abuses. This is the world turned upside down, where the spooks create an apparatus to fight foreign spies and then turn it on Americans. Sounds just like the NSA surveillance dragnet doesn’t it?

What America needs today is a mechanism to change direction,  implement course corrections to get the spooks back on track. In The Family Jewels I called for a national commission to investigate the abuses. The paperback edition of that book, now out, discusses this option in greater detail with new material on recent cases of abuse.

Normandy Breakout: Paris Didn’t Burn!

August 27, 2014–Seventy years ago yesterday General Charles de Gaulle, leader of the provisional government of the French Republic entered newly-liberated Paris for a victory parade. Marching with him were French soldiers of their 2nd Armored Division and American GIs of the 4th Infantry Division. They were in a city that in large part had been freed by the civilian irregulars of the Resistance, also known as the French Forces of the Interior. The actions of the irregulars still stand in history among the most notable achievements of partisans against regular military forces. Indeed, the Resistance frustrated Adolf Hitler’s orders to his Wehrmacht to destroy the City of Light.

The battle of Paris formed the capstone of the long and frustrating Allied slog through Normandy, and their final breakout which resulted in the battle of the Falaise Pocket, all documented in the book Normandy Crucible.

While I don’t have enough time today, and shall have to complete this piece tomorrow or Friday, the Normandy battle and the associated one for Paris have some elements of interest for us today. Stay tuned!