Tag Archives: World War II

Roger (as used in radio commands)

So my sister set me this challenge. Actually I knew it already, so ’twas no biggie.

Roger is used on the radio to mean ‘message received’. But why? Was there some larger than life radio control man called Roger? Sadly not. Well there might have been, but it certainly was not he who sired the phrase.

The use of Roger  comes from military pilot radio transmissions in the Second World War. In 1941, before the now internationally accepted alpha, beta etc.  both British and American phonetic alphabets used Roger as the standard abbreviation for R, as in Received.

Incidentally, if you ever find yourself on a US military radio channel, do not say ‘repeat’ unless you want to see ash and brimstone fall from the sky. Repeat is only used to request additional artillery fire (you would say ‘say again’ if you wanted somebody to repeat their last message). Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Fun Friday Fact #18

Due to an oversight at the end of the First World War, Andorra found itself engaged in two world wars at the same time.

The tiny Pyrenean state’s name was omitted from the Treaty of Versailles (1919), meaning that the 11-man national army remained technically at war with Germany. The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 placed too much of a strain on the Andorran resources. The beleaguered country hastily signed a private treaty with Germany, finally concluding the First World War and confirming its neutrality in the Second. In benching itself for the second global conflict, Andorra joined a long line of heroes including Ireland, Switzerland and those once mighty empires of Spain and Portugal.

Note: neutral status provided no guarantees from attack. For example Britain invaded the neutral Iceland, whilst Hitler was quick to take over the low countries and add them to his treasure chest.

That was fun now, wasn’t it? I’m sorry to inform you, my beloved readers, that this will be my final Fun Friday Fact. It’s been real, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey, but I want to turn my attention elsewhere. I know you’ll understand. Goodbye, friends, goodbye.

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Fun Friday Fact #17

Between July and December 1941, with its economic centres around Moscow within reach of the advancing German army, the Soviet Union dismantled 1,523 enterprises piece by piece and transported them to the Urals, Volga, Kazakhstan and eastern Siberia.

On June 22nd 1941, Germany declared war with Russia and launched the now infamous ‘Operation Barbarossa’. Within a matter of months, the German army was only 150 miles away from the Russian capital. The German’s sweep through the rich iron, coal and steel regions of western Russian and the Ukraine had deprived Soviet industry of 3/4 of its iron ore, coal and steel, the beating heart of modern industry. 1/3 of its railway was lost and the availability of resources vital for the production of modern weapons, such as aluminium, manganese and copper, was cut by 2/3. To top it all, the rich grain lands in the Soviet ‘bread basket’ were in enemy hands, so that grain supplies fell by half for the 130 million Soviet citizens living in unoccupied Russia. In short, by December 1941, the Russian economy was on its knees.

Had Russia have fallen in 1941, then it is unlikely that Britain would have survived alone, certainly not against a Germany with the bulk of European industry under its control. But somehow the Soviet economy survived. In a truly staggering feat of human ingenuity, those factories within enemy range were dismantled and carried eastwards out of danger in one and a half million wagon loads on the Soviet rail network. In addition, 16 million Soviet workers were able to escape the German net, to stoke the fires again, some of them starting up production on the frozen floor as the factories were built around them. For the remainder of the war, the Russian war effort was sustained on this remarkable expansion so much so that from 1942, the eastern zones supplied 3/4 of all Soviet weapons and almost all the iron and steel.

The state of the affairs grows all the more incredible when one reflects on the fact that, in 1942, Russian industry produced more weapons in a year than it had done so before and more weapons than the enemy.

The main reason behind Russian industrial success was that the economy was centrally planned. This meant that, unlike America’s free market economy, where one could not simply turn milk into planes, anything and anyone could be used to promote war productions at the expense of everything else. The Soviet Union was turned into ‘Stalin’s single war camp.’ Businesses did not need to show a profit – there were no material incentives offered to factory workers working 16 hour days. The Soviet people were well used to state-set targets, and had been since the pre-war Five-Year plans. They knew the price of failure.

The effectiveness of the Russian economic plan from 1941-45 lay in its scale and its simplicity. The industrial centres in the Urals were not pretty, but each served a specific purpose: Magnitogorsk was the main producer of steel; Chelyabinsk, or ‘Tankograd’ churned out T-34s. The Soviet Union could not afford the luxury of employing a wide range of different types of weapons (they lacked the skilled labour and factory capacity) but this actually transpired to work in their favour. Crude mass-producition ensured large numbers and robust construction of a single model. This meant that spare parts (for tanks, planes etc.) were readily available, and that mechanics were well-versed with a particular model and could fix it quickly when it invariably broke down.

By comparison, the German economy in the Second World War was a bureaucratic nightmare. Hitler had attempted to take military control of economic affairs in a country where there was no precendent. As a result of the German military’s obsession with technological excellence each time a small problem was noticed in the performance of one of their machines, a whole new model would be developed so that the German army fielded a dizzying array of machinery. For example, while the Soviets had 5 main aircraft types, the Germans had 425. There was no chance that a German engineer would know how to fix all of them, or carry the necessary parts.

The German penchant for quality over quantity also meant that they were unable to compete with the Russians in terms of numbers. They saw mass-production as a synonym for ‘shoddy goods’ to the point where each of their weapons was painstakingly custom built. The great strengths of their economy had always been (and still are) high quality, skilled workmanship. But this was not enough. The Germans did produce better weapons than their enemies in many cases, but they were too expensive in terms of money and labour.

This failure on the part of the German economy to identify a winning strategy meant that the new Russian industrial centres were able to outproduce the Germans with a fraction of their resources and from a much smaller skilled work base. In 1943, the Soviet Union turned 8 mil tons of steel and 90 mil tons of coal into 48,000 heavy artillery and 24,00 tanks, while the Germans turned 30 mil tons of steel and 340 mil tons of coal into 27,000 heavy artillery and 17,000 tanks.

However tempting it is to claim the Germans lost the war with Russia, it is clear that the Russians won it. And as I have mentioned before, Stalin owed his country’s survival to the Soviet people, heroically toiling day after day on 1/5 of the British rations. For more details about their story, or the Second World War in general, one should consult Richard Overy’s excellent ‘Why The Allies Won’.

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Fun Friday Fact #12

The first Allied shot of the First World War was fired by the Australian coaster Woniora. By coincidence, the first Allied shot in the Far Eastern theatre of the Second World War was fired at the same ship.  

A pretty remarkable state of affairs, I think you’ll agree.

On August 5th 1914, the UK having declared war on Germany only the day before, the Woniora fired on the German steamer Pfalz (not to be confused with the manufacturer of German planes) when it attempted to leave Australian waters. The Pfalz was captured and served out the rest of the war the Australian troopship HMT Boorara.

Then on September 3rd 1939, the Woniora was fired upon by a (n Allied) twin 6-inch gun emplacement at Point Nepean, the entrance to Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay. The ship’s commander, Captain F. N. Smale, had ignored orders to heave-to for inspection.

If you’re interested, the first shot of the Second World War in Europe was fired at 4:47am on the morning of September 1st 1939 (thats 20 years, 9 months, 19 days and 18 hours after the last shot of the First World War) from the 13,000 ton German gunnery training battleship Schleswig Holstein. The target was the ‘Westerplatte,’ an area of Danzig, now Gdansk, containing Polish troop barracks, munitions storage and workshops.

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Fun Friday Fact #9

New location, same format. As part of my relentless categorising the Fun Friday Facts have moved to become part of the larger History section. They can now be found under the Second World War heading. And now to business…

Colonel-General Ernst Udet, chief technical director of the German air force (1941) had a diet that consisted exclusively of meat.

Interesting. You will, of course, remember Udet from his dashing exploits in the First World War, where he was a great German air-ace, second only to Manfred von Richthofen,  the legendary Red Baron in terms of victories (62 to 80). He was a gouty buffoon of a man. His peculiar dining habits left him in chronic ill health for large periods at a time that was critical for German operations in the Eastern Front. The Luftwaffe’s technological superiority of the early war years had faded away in the wake of Russian air reforms in 1941. It badly need to reinvent its image. But, whatever his past glories, Udet was singularly unqualified for the job. Indeed his only contribution to air force development was to insist that all bomber aircraft, even the large, four-engined craft, should have a dive bombing capability. This pointless and taxing demand, which was subsequently abandoned after a great deal of time and effort and vast sums of money, set German bomber development years behind that of the Allies.

Eventually the strains of his office overwhelmed the beleaguered man and on 17 November 1941, with a courage bought by two bottles of brandy coursing through his meat-clogged veins, Udet shot himself in the head. But by this point it was too late. The prospect of developing German air strategy with long-range bombing and enhanced battlefield firepower evaporated. Priority switched to defending the Reich against the Anglo-American bombing campaigns, (see they did do something!). Air superiority on the Eastern front passed to the Russians. It was never recovered.

Udet, we hardly knew thee. RIP.

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Fun Friday Fact #8

On August 15, 1943, following an intensive naval bombardment, 35,000 US and Canadian troops stormed onto the Japanese owned island of Kiska. There were 17 fatalities in the ensuing fire-fight. 

Things might have been worse but for the absence of the enemy.

Unperturbed by the silence that greeted them, those brave boys prowled the island for several days – skirmishing here and there and triumphantly bearing their standards aloft – all the while completely unaware the Japanese had withdrawn. By the time they realised their mistake there had been roughly 200 casualties from accidents, friendly fire, enemy booby traps and general over excitement about the whole thing. An additional 130 men suffered cases of trench foot. And all this for an island of little to no strategic or military value. Nice one.

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Fun Friday Fact #7

Of all the high-ranking members of the Nazi party – many of whom were Catholics – only Joseph Goebbels was excommunicated, and he was not excommunicated for his involvement in killing millions of people (mainly Jews), as one might have thought, but because he married a Protestant woman.

Controversial. Historically I have avoided the discussion of delicate issues like religion on my blog out of respect for the fact that if I have strong opinions about the subject then so do most people. I have nothing against the religious person as he typically appears, but I do not enjoy some aspects of religious authority, and this fact deftly indicates why.

Excommunication is the ultimate Roman Catholic punishment. It removes a person from the grace of the Church and the grace of God and consigns them to eternal condemnation in hell. It is perhaps surprising to us today that Hitler was never excommunicated, indeed he was never even threatened with excommunication. Nazi Germany was a proud Christian country – standing in direct and physical opposition to the ‘godless’ Russia – and it was proudly supported by the Catholic Church and its new pope, Pope Pius XII, a fervent Hitler fan. It should be noted that the Protestant Church was as culpable as the Catholic Church, but lacked a pope to play the role of figurehead in actively bringing about its designs.

It might be suggested that one should not judge the Church(es) too harshly in this matter. Hindsight, after all, is a wonderful thing; perhaps they did not know the depths of Hitler’s mischief. I’m afraid that this simply isn’t true. Although the Catholic and Protestant Churches did stand in opposition to Hitler from 1930-33, from then on in they were as thick as thieves. Both Churches eagerly furnished their little Führer with their records to better determine which Germans were Jewish or had “Jewish” blood and which did not, so that all Jews (including those who had converted to Christianity) could be sent to concentration/death camps. Moreover the German chaplains serving on the frontline, far from being appalled by what they had seen, cheerfully arranged ‘group absolutions’ for those soldiers enacting the final solution.

Shortly after the end of WWII, the pope did excommunicate all communists; he crushed the liberal ‘Worker Priest’ movement in France. Thank God. The Nazis he left alone except when he put the Vatican to work ‘underground’ to get some of the worst of the Catholic Nazi war criminals out of Europe to safety – often in Latin America – using Church resources.

It is difficult to see how ‘Hitlerism’ could have taken such a strangle-hold on Germany without this widespread and insidious religious support. Everyday people turning to their churches for moral guidance found the men of God sitting squarely on the side of the Nazis. Rather like the aids/condoms debacle confronting the Catholic Church today, this rather shocking fact demonstrates one of the ways in which (organised) religion can obfuscate what really matters. It also warns us not to marry a Protestant, of course.

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