Friday, June 27, 2014

Farb-a-licious !

The word Farb is one of my favorites. Especially as it is so versatile: farb, farby, farbulous, farboishness, farbosity, farbapalooza(I can go on all day with variations I have actually used).

 But here is what irritates me.  All kinds of people talk about the origin of the term as if they were right there at the start.  I wasn’t. I bet you weren’t as well.

What I can say is that I first started hearing the term in the (wonderful) Dark Ages group The Markland Medieval Mercenary Militia. NOT to be confused with the highly farbish SCA. 

This was mid 70s. Long before most of you guys out there had even heard of reenacting (let alone been born).  I asked around about where the hell the word came from, and what it really meant.

It was at the 1,010th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Hastings (take that 125th ACW vets!) when a friend pointed to a guy and told “hey, I think he knows about the word farb.” I went over and asked the guy.  Sadly, I no longer have no idea who it was.

He was an old time ACW reenactor and told me it came from there, and had been started by a friend of his.  Seems they wanted a polite way of pointing out stupid non-period stuff that was out of character when walking around the camp. The example given to me was that there might be a blue cooler sitting outside a tent. They could nod that way and say “Farb.” Meaning Look at the totally wrong colored item. The guys with said item would have no idea they had just been dissed. I just assumed that since this  was so reasonable and probable it was true.

And then, many, MANY years later after most people who would have been around in the early days, some WW2 reenactors from the Midwest started telling people it was short for ‘far be it from me to blah blah blah…’  I remember the first time I heard that. I thought it was so totally stupid and obviously a derivative explanation based upon a best guess by someone that had no real clue. I mean, WHAT are the chances someone would come up with that? Seriously? Unless they had the word farb to being with and were trying to think of what it could be from.

Then, the whole far be it thing gets in print (although to be honest I had printed the German color explanation long beforehand in a unit newsletter and not one person every told me they had heard of another answer).  And as the old reenactment guard drifted away, the new experts decided they had read the "far be" thing in print so it must be true.

Even later it pissed me off reading wikkipediahat they didn’t even consider a different meaning. I added in my explanation with dates and such so that an alternative (and probably correct) version was at least represented.  It was deleted in a week.

So I was really pleased to discover the writings of Jonah Begone, Scourge of American Civil War Reenacting !

He writes a lot of really amusing stuff about ACW and REV war reenacting. Not really my periods, but his comments ring so true to other periods I have been in that I find them a hoot. I also find it even more of a hoot that reenactment humor translates so well between periods. I recommend them highly.

Anyway, The esteemed Jonah (not his real name) happened to write a nice little article about the word Farb that puts everyone else to shame. HE has names, places, units, and dates.  Take that far be it.crowd.  I thnk we can finally say  BUSTED!

I mean think of it.  What makes more sense? Some guys use a simple German word to privately indicate to each other that something is not authentic, or someone takes a strangely worded and highly awkward phrase, and breaks it down to create a word from parts of it. (or that it comes from some old and never referenced letter where someone discovered if you take the first letter of a description it spells farb).

Until someone can come up with better proof that the word does not derive from the German word for color, this is the answer to that question.

You dont like it?  Well, do your research, and show us your evidence.

Oh, and the Hastings event? It was at the University of Baltimore. In Maryland. Where Jonah says the word started. Coincidence?  Maybe, but it does wrap things up nicely.



Monday, June 16, 2014

D-Day Dweebs - The Magnetic Sands of Omaha Beach

There's a news story that is making the rounds again for some reason. It concerns an academic (from Texas) who took one vial (ONE!) of sand from Omaha Beach, analyzed it, and decided that 4% of the entire beach is magnetic metal material from the invasion.  Someone please beat my head until it stops hurting.

First: scientifically taking ONE vial from one place and looking at it tells you essentially nothing. There are any number of reasons why that vial could have more, or less, metal material than elsewhere on the beach.

Historically: What metal was flung into the area on D-day?  Brass and lead from small arms fire don’t count as they are not magnetic (and would still be a pretty small amount). The bombs supposedly dropped inland, so did most of the naval shelling. So you've got the German mortars, bits of exploded boats and tanks and jeeps and other wreckage. Keep in mind the actual fighting there only lasted for a day. That's not a lot of shelling. As there is the low area between the beach and the bluff, little from the high ground would probably make it to the beach.

There is, however, all the junk from the blockships and the big storm. They would give off some particles, but as we've seen a lot of the big metal things are still somewhat intact.  So you have to have that material move in from the deeper water onto the b each. This can happen, but then you expand the size of the area that the metal must be distributed in.

So you have a two mile long beach, and then due to currents you have to extend that out a ways on either side, and then bring that area a ways out into the sea.  That is a massive region that, in theory, to have an evenly distributed 4% component. Now add in how deep does it go into the sand, and you have a staggering volume, of which 4% then has to be metal bits. How many 75mm shells, 81mm mortars, webbing bits, vehicle fenders, helmets, boot grommets, cases of c rations dropped overboard, etc. would it take to fill that volume? Then add in that a great percentage of what was originally there has oxidized to the point of being way too tiny to count.  Is there enough metal there to even begin to make up 4% of the beach?

Now, if this is true, why is this phenomenon not been noticed elsewhere, like at Pacific beaches which were pounded for days, or smaller beaches where a ship broke up offshore? What about places like Verdun or the Somme where ton after ton of steel rained down on it day after day? Shouldn’t the ground be red with rust?

So the next time you are at Omaha, drag a magnet along behind you in the sand. If they are correct, it should soon become covered in rusty particles. Then look at that beach and think about just how much steel it would take to "magnetize" the sand.
The real mystery is how the University of Texas permitted this story to come out.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

and yet more D-day Dweebs.

Actung! Minen.  Unt, Blood on the sands.

Look at every reconstruction of the landing beaches, and (assuming they get the obstacles correct) you will see mines strapped to some of them. Yeah, right.

Here's the thing: sand water corrodes landmines; quickly.  There are notes in the original records that the Germans were VERY short of salt water resistant mines, so they were specifically told to keep them in storage until a landing seemed imminent, and only them put them out. There may have been a handful; of them deployed in the sea area, but consider that when a mine corrodes it can damage the firing system, and make the mine very dangerous to disarm or move.  If you have these unstable mines out there, would you want to go change one out knowing that the fuse could trigger for no reason? Didn’t think so.   The only safe way to deal with one would be to blow it in place, which would also blow the obstacle, and mean you'd have to dig out a new hole and pound in a new one. I can’t say for sure how many mines might have been on the beach obstacles that day, but it was a lot less than people would have you think. I suspect most of those craft that "hit a mine" near the beaches were actually just hit by either a mortar or shell.

If you look at photos that actually show mines on an obstacle, most of them are from German propaganda photos. Of course they would put them up for the photos.

Now let's look at one of the most famous quotes of D-day: "the sea ran red with blood."  How very old testament.  Now of course if a guy is cut up he'll bleed. And it will redden the water around him. But think about how many gallons of water that blood gets dispersed in. If he was on the beaches you could see water trickling down to the sea and it was a small amount so I am sure it turned red. However one D-day veteran family told me their dad" landed on D+1, and the water was still red with blood." A day later? I seriously doubt it. That's the kind of implanted memory you get from hearing too many references to that sort of thing, or in movies.

 I recall one 29th vet (Harold Baumgartener, and MD) once told me the whole red water was hogwash. He never saw anything like that. Of course one of the reasons he gave was that many of the wounds were self cauterized due to the heat of the projectile, which is something that just is not true in many cases, but that was his explanation of why he didn’t see bloody water.

If you wonder how long it would take to disperse the blood, go pour 10 pints of fake blood into an ocean. See how long it takes before you can't see it.  Of course if you know anyone at a blood bank and can get expired blood, that's even better! If you pour it on the beach it'll drain down to the sea, but dump it in the ocean and it'll soon be gone.

The sea red with blood is another one of those "go to phrases," just like "bodies stacked like cordwood."

Friday, June 06, 2014

Thoughts on D-day

You have to wonder why D-day is the one day of WW2 that gets all the attention. For WW1 it's Armistice Day. Which is cool as everyone in the war worked toward that, and it was really something to celebrate. Although today it is more of national day of mourning for many people.

Even though you could make a case that Vicksburg was the pivotal battle of the Civil War, it is Gettysburg that is always the big day in that war.  Do wonder if its geographical location being closer to DC and might have helped nudge it over the edge. But you think the ACW and it's Gettysburg. I don’t think there is a day remembered for the war of 1812, although one might suspect the day the British burned the White House.  In Boston the Revolutionary War day is Evacuation Day- the day the British left the city. However, that is really just an excuse to celebrate ST. Patrick's Day so it doesn't count.

We have no days for Viet Nam, nor for Korea or the French and Indian Wars. Napoleon will forever be linked to Waterloo, but I don’t think the British recognize Boudicca Day, or any Seven Years War Day.

I can’t think of what the future will bring for the Gulf Wars, however if someone makes a movie about the pulling down of Saddam's statue that could well become "the day." Or, if I wanted to be clever it could "Mission Accomplished Day." I doubt we'll ever really have a "final Day for those.

But for WW2 it is not VE or VJ Day.  I doubt most people even know those days. But they will remember December 7th, and June 6th. The sad part of June 6th being "the WW2 Day" is that not everyone took part in it. VE day everyone, even the very first guys to die, were part of the final victory.  Land on June 7th and you take a big step down in awesomeness. Heck, even land at dusk on 6 June and you are not as awesome as a guy who landed at 6:30.  Which is kind of sad. No, it's very sad actually.

I think that while Hollywood and TV documentaries have had a great deal to do with this vast interest in 6 June, it's also easier for most people to understand. On one day a bunch of guys got off boats, battles inland, and won the war. No maneuvering, no difficult maps to read (just memorize the five beach names for a Class one D-day Fan; memorize all the beach sections for a class two D-day Fan).  It's a very limited concept to grasp, and it is a lot easier to write about than a larger battle that covers weeks, moves over staggering amounts of territory, and some bits overlap other bits - making it more confusing to actually understand.   

By now I bet most of you could sketch out a D-day documentary in your sleep. You know all the bits that every show covers, all the proper film clips, and what the animations of arrows leading into the beaches should look like.

I'm not saying that June 6th is a bad day for WW2, but I do have to wonder what in human psychology makes us choose THAT day.  Logic would choose we celebrate VE/VJ day , and maybe December 7th, The Ying and Yang of WW2.  And it extends to collectors as well. If I were to have two 100% sure provenanced helmets : one that I can prove was at D-day, and the other I can prove was worn by someone on VE day- the D-day one would sell for astronomical amounts, which no one would care about the VE day one. Make that one a helmet worn by some lower ranking, no name guys how as there when the surrender was signed, I mean ACTUALLY in the room, and it would be a curiosity but no be very valuable.

D-day is now firmly ensconced in our minds as a legend. I wonder if years from now there will be an athletic event where you sprint up a few hundred yards of sand carrying a backpack? Will it be our Marathon?

But if you have read this far I suppose you deserve some sort of treat. So here: This is the coin given to vets in 1969 in Normandy. Actually, it was my dad's, but he tuned and handed it right to me. Back then they didn’t really care if he landed on 6 June or 4 July. All they cared about was that he came across the ocean and helped kick out the Germans.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

More D Day Dweebs

D-Day Dweebs

Hobart's Funnies

Everyone is an expert; especially tank enthusiasts. One trip to Bovington, or a few games of Panzer Leader and some people will expound on anything related to tanks. This is why I get a wee upset when people, generally the British, make a statement to the effect that "the Americans had such a hard time on D-0Day because they refused the use of Hobart's specialty tanks because they did not invent them."

To which I say, "Bollocks! Can't you read a map?"

So the British developed all manner of oddball vehicles ranging from the useful, to the not so useful. They offered them to the Americans who said, "No thank you, we're fine." 

I wish I could dig out this photo I found of a tank at the assault training center stuck in the sand nose down, buried almost half way, with its rear end up in the air. I don’t mean at an angle, I mean the tank looks like somone dug a hole, stood the tank straight up on its nose and filled in the hole.  (I just looked again and can’t find it, damnit!). That was taken after one of the problems they had testing how to best land tanks off small boats (mainly the LCM). They had a lot of issues and decided that it was not a good idea as especially in rough water the boat could turn over, the tank would fall out, and no one would be happy.  So they were very careful about how and when to land heavy vehicles.

Mind you, the Americans did adopt the DD tank, and while there were issues, there is no doubt the ones that landed played important roles in getting off the beach. Actually, their main role was to lumber up the beach, draw fire from the blockhouses, and see if they could help the assault teams knock them out. However, we all know what happened to many of them on the right flank, and the troops in that area lost a great deal of support when they went down.

One of Hobarts vehicles was a tank with a bulldozer. Check. We had those. We could have used more, but hindsight is 20/20, and more of the dozer kits were just not available at the time. I suppose if the Americans had a bunch of extra tanks they didn’t need, as someone was giving them masses of better, new ones, we could have developed a lot of odd military vehicles as well. Oh wait, we did. There are scores of experimental designs created in the USA during the USA for all manner of things. Problem is, they didn’t all work that well.  This is why so few of them were actually fielded.

But what about the mighty and powerful Flail tank that would wisk units through a minefield? Well, what people generally don’t say is that every time one of the chains hits a mine, it has a bunch of links blown off. It doesn’t take all that many to reduce the chains to where they do not provide decent enough coverage to use, and the vehicle has to move back and more added on. This is not always that handy when you are stuck in the middle of a minefield, under fire, and you realize you now have to back out of the mine field on the same path.

So, this comes to map reading. Look at Omaha Beach. You have a beach, some obstacles, and then a high bluff with only a handful of exits. Knock out a tank in one of those exits and it's blocked. Tanks can’t move inland over the bluffs, so they have to move to the exits to get off the beach. On the other hand, infantrymen can cross inland at any place they can find that is not under fire. Thus the last thing you want to do is land a bunch of LCT's (LCM's can flip as we have seen, and an LCT coming in would draw fire from every major weapon in range until it was knocked out), under fire, and trust that a handful of vehicles will make it though said fire and actually get off the beach. They are pretty much limited to actions on that short stretch. That being said, I am not sure exactly what special vehicles would have made much difference on Omaha. The sand was not an issue. The Sherman main gun was faster and more accurate than the special weapons, and the only real way to knock out the pillboxes was a round through the opening.

Looking at Utah Beach we see there is something familiar. You have a beach, then obstacles, a line of defenses, and then more water: the inundated area. There are only a handful of exits from Utah Beach to the mainland, and there is a second line of defenses along its bank. This second line was taken out by the paratroops, or it might have prevented anyone from getting off the beach. But at least the men could walk across the flooded ground. So again you have a very tight space with little room to maneuver.  So ask, what special armored vehicles are going to be useful here?

I suppose you could have used some of the fascine/bridgelayer vehicles to cross the anti-tank ditch, but then again you are creating a bottle neck for everyone else to pass over. Enemy anti-tank weapons love bottlenecks.  Plus, everyone knows that if you stand out, you are more likely to get shot at. "Hey, that guy loks different. He must be important. Shoot him!"  

Now this is all a great oversimplification, but it boils down to the fact that the people running the invasion were not stupid. In fact, many of them were pretty damn smart. I don’t care who he is, but someone has to have some kind of talent to make General, or even Colonel. Most of the time if you if you assume that these guys made a major blunder, you're probably over looking something they knew and you do not. Or you are overlooking some limitations that they knew about.

So unless you can tell me what special vehicle was not used but should have been, and include how it was going to get to shore, and where and when it was going to be used, and rule out other things that could do the same thing, stop with the idea that the American planners were too stupid to use something that you think is kewl because Tamyia makes a 1/35th scale model of it.

Special purpose vehicles are great for special purpose uses; just not all the time.  And oh yeah, Monty still didn’t get Caen on time.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

D-Day Dweebs: Human Wave tactics

I have seen some really funny postings on the internet, and some TV experts, say that the landings on D-day were little more than getting as many men on the beach as possible and pushing them on until they broke through. As one individual wrote "just like Russian human wave tactics." Imbecile.
The landings, and here I speak of the American landings as I never claim to know much about the Commonwealth beaches, were actually pretty well planned and choreographed with specific fire and maneuver tactics. Yeah, you think we took the beaches by having a mass of materiel?
The Assault Training Center was set up to figure out the best way to take the beaches. That is what they did, and they did a pretty good job of it. They made the conscious decision to not put all their eggs in one basket, and divided the firepower up throughout the boat teams. First you land the DD tanks (before the infantry so they don’t get driven over) and hopefully the Germans go "Vas ist das?" and flip out.  Just behind them come the assault teams, and together they would try to knock out a number of the defending positions using a combination of 75mm gun, bazooka, flamethrower, explosive charges, and plain old hand grenades.  In doing so these groups (and tanks) posed the largest threat to the Germans, which hopefully kept them from firing at the gap assault teams that followed.
Then you take a break and let the gap teams do their thing, then you bring in more assault boat teams to reinforce the first wave. All this time the assault teams are using fire and movement to get to beach defenses, pin down the men firing from the embrasures, and allow others to get into a position where they can take the bunker or MG nest out. This was planned and practiced many times, and the variety of weapons allowed them work in different ways, and be able to continue to function if part of the team was knocked out. Diversification at its best.
Of course if you land in the wrong place you have to toss away all your planning, but by having the mixed teams they could take on anything they ran into. Did it always go as planned? Of course not. There were things that went wrong, and things that went right. Mainly the use of individual initiative that we Americans are supposedly known for.  
But the US army DID NOT push man after man onto the beaches and into the jaws of death as a human wave.