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Brutal Valor Review

Brutal Valour: The Tragedy of Isandlwana (The Anglo-Zulu War Book 1)Brutal Valour: The Tragedy of Isandlwana by James Mace

I just finished the Kindle Edition and have to say I enjoyed the book immensely. The Zulu War has been an interest of mine since the movies Zulu and Zulu Dawn came out many moons ago. I’ve read The Washing of the Spears by Morris twice and Ian Knight’s work with Ian Castle more than once because I war-game the period. I’m about to delve into Knight’s epic Zulu Rising. Mace gives credit at the end of the book to those who helped him with research including Knight.

I mention all that because it’s clear that Mace has done his homework. Time after time I was reminded of my previous research as Mace’s character’s personalize the happenings and incidents leading up and including the disaster at Isandlwana.

Obviously much of the dialogue is made up but I found quite believable and logical given whatever circumstance Mace was describing.

The book was a fun read but also a sobering read as he pitted Zulu Warrior against British Redcoat and one realizes that although the Zulu’s won at Isandlwana they took horrendous casualties that meant doom for the Zulu nation.

I’ve read a couple of Mace’s earlier works about the Roman soldier and enjoyed those as well. I think Mace continues to get better and better and I look forward to his sequel on Rorke’s Drift.


WW2 Ads_Willard Battery

During WW2 Americans received their war news from short movie clips when they went to the theater, from radio and from print media such as Life Magazine.

Life Magazine not only brought the war home to civilians via news stories but also encouraged public support for the war effort through the advertisers.

The below ad appeared in the November 1, 1943 issue of Life. The advertiser is the Willard Battery Company, a subsidiary of The Electric Storage Battery Company.


The issue featured a pilot and a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter and the reason I purchased it at a rummage sale!

Willard is still in business today, owned by a South African Company.

During WW2 Willard switched production from automobile batteries to war production. In this particular ad Willard advertises the fact their batteries are used in American tanks.

The advertisement features the most common American tank of all-the M4 Sherman of which about 50,000 were built for use in the American Army, Canadian Army, British Army and even the Soviet Army due to Lend-Lease aid.

The ad is typical as it refers to the sacrifices our boys are making in fighting the war. The ad appeals to that sacrifice by encouraging the reader to buy more war stamps and war bonds so that our boys have the equipment they need to keep on fighting.

WW2 was the last of our wars that involved everyone. The nation was mobilized with one goal-to win the war as soon as possible. Since the Korean War the nation as a whole has not been involved. To be sure, if your family had\has a member in the military who are involved so are you, but for many Americans conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are remote and as a result none of the sacrifice so prevalent in WW2 is made upon most of us.



WW2 War Ads_Electric Boat

Recently I came across a cache of WW2 era Life Magazines and purchased three for three dollars each.

The magazines are snapshots filled with historical and cultural tidbits of life in the US during World War Two.

Not surprising are the number of articles related to WW2 and the advertisements that make reference to the war. Most are in black and white but quite a few are in color. Below is an ad from the Electric Boat Company. (Today EB is owned by General Dynamics.)

The Electric Boat Company was located and is located in Groton Connecticut. “EB” as it’s known builds submarines and during WW2 “EB” built quite a few.

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It got cut off in my scan but in the lower right hand corner of the top picture there is free offer that reads: Fine 18″ X 13″ enlargement of this painting will be sent on request while supply lasts. Write to our New York address for Lithograph E, enclosing 10c to cover postage and handling.

I’m thinking that anyone who saw the ad and had someone in the Navy’s Submarine Service probably took advantage of this offer.

The artist signed the painting and his name is Gerald Leake. Gerald Leake was an American artist (1885-1975). During WW2 a number of American artists were commissioned to do patriotic\war effort work and Mr. Leake appears to have been employed by the New London Ship and Engine Works in the department of Electric Boat that was devoted to the building of submarines.

The artwork is interesting on a number of levels including the details.

First, the picture shows the sub surfaced engaging a target with the deck gun. This was a common practice when a merchant ship or transport was not escorted by a destroyer and could picked off alone. There was limited space for torpedoes on a sub so they used them sparingly.

Second, there are seven Japanese flags on the side if the conning tower. The four plain flags (with the red circle only) represent merchant type ships while the three other flags represent warships. This sub has had seven “kills” total.

Third, the caption reads it is Mt. Fujiyama on the Japanese mainland in the background. American submarines did patrol the Japanese home waters although it is unlikely they would surface given the proximity of Japanese aircraft.

Fourth, the sailors manning the deck gun would have less than 30 seconds to get below if the sub suddenly had to dive! I’ve read accounts where men have dived head first into the open hatch to make certain they would make it.

In the lower left of the bottom picture there is a small insert picture of a US sailor with a quote underneath that reads; “You get at the Japs faster in a sub…says Fong On Git to New York’s Chinatown.”

Fong apparently was the first Chinese-American accepted by the Submarine Service. The paragraph tells us that Fong was anxious to avenge the land of his ancestors. That is a reference to the fact that Japan invaded China in 1937.

The remainder of the paragraph describes the benefits of enlisting in the Navy and the Submarine Service in particular. The benefits of service on a submarine include 50% higher pay, better food, comfortable air conditioned quarters, the opportunity to study technical subjects and “get quicker into action against the Japs.”

This past summer I toured the USS Cobia, a WW2 submarine built by EB on permanent display in Manitowoc, Wisconsin where subs of that type were also built. (Wisconsin Maritime Website. During the excellent tour I learned the following about serving on a US submarine.

US sailors had it better on our subs than any of our allies or enemies had on theirs. Apparently, Russian submarines were the absolute worst and an approximation of of what hell might be like.

However, the 50% higher pay was because of the much higher risk. Survivors from a depth charge attack were few and far between.

The food was better and often included ice cream-a luxury not enjoyed by anyone else. The better food was a morale boost as you can imagine. Being confined to under water most of the time with 60-70 other men had to be depressing which is why so many men could not survive the intense training and profiling they underwent.

They did have the opportunity to learn technical subjects. In fact they not only learned their speciality but everyone else’s speciality so that in case of an emergency anyone could do anyone else’s job!

As to the air-conditioning—that is a bit of a stretch although technically true. During WW2 submarines were powered by diesel engines that charged a battery bank. The battery was used when the sub was submerged. The diesel engines ran very hot and very smelly and the engine room was no doubt the worst place to do your duty. The diesel smell, heat and humidity, combined with the sweat of 60+ men produced a rather unpleasant environment which the air conditioning could not and did not cope with. Submariners earned their extra pay in more ways than one.

The Up and At’Em portion of the second picture explains submarine warfare against the Japanese who were often referred to as the “Jap” or “Japs.” World War 2 was not a time of political correctness and many ads and articles sought to stir the emotions particularly against the Japanese who launched a surprise attack against Pearl Harbor that drew the US into the war. No doubt racial prejudices fueled the fire.

The Life Magazine in which this ad appeared is dated November 1, 1943. It is claimed by the ad that up to that date 300 Japanese merchant ships had been sunk; a number that rings true with history. Japan was slowly being strangled as US forces took island after island and successfully reduced the numbers and effectiveness of the Japanese Navy. US submarines built by Electric Boat (and the Manitowoc shipyard) played a significant role in the victory that would come in 1945.




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Dare-Devil Aces, Dec. 1940


Awesome artwork is it not?

My wife and I go to flea markets, rummage sales and antique stores as one of our shared interests.

We do not buy much given that we live in a condo with limited space and our interests are narrow.

This past Saturday we went to a flea market and I found a gentlemen with a box full of WW2 Life Magazines and a smaller box full of pulp fiction that dealt with war aviation themes from the 1930s to 40s. It was a bonanza for a history geek like me especially because the WW2 Life Magazines were only $3.00 each!

Dare-Devil Aces (pictured above) cost a bit more and is an example of the pulp fiction magazines that were popular during the Depression and WW2 years.

Dare-Devil Aces was part of a publishing empire called Popular Publications founded by Henry (Harry) Seeger. Seeger’s motive was escapist literature to the masses-a niche that TV, movies and video games now fill more than the printed page.

Dare-Devil Aces was a type of pulp fiction that was based in the realities of WW1 and WW2 aviation and the issue I found (cover above) is from December, 1940. That is one full year before the US entered WW2 and at a time when England was under daily attack from the German Luftwaffe.

The cover of the Dare-Devil Aces never had anything to do with one of the particular stories in the magazine so it’s helpful to say something about the historical part (the airplanes in the artwork) and the pulp fiction part (the stories in the magazine).

The Historical Part

The cover was meant to convey a general theme and for most of the 1940 issues the general theme would have been the Royal Air Force versus the German Luftwaffe given the fact that 1940 was the year of the famous Battle of Britian.

The Battle of Britain was fought after France fell in May of 1940. The British were forced to evacuate France and did so in the epic of Dunkirk.

The Germans made plans invade England (Operation Sea Lion) but first had to attain air superiority in order to protect the troop conveys and prevent the Royal Navy from intervening.

Herman Goering promised Hitler that his Luftwaffe was up to the task but do to some strategic errors and the incredible pluck of the RAF the Luftwaffe failed. Great Britain would remain free from German occupation and eventually serve as the launching pad for the Normandy Invasion in June of 1944.

Despite some isolationist elements in the US many Americans were unabashedly pro-British and took an interest in how England was faring and what the US was doing to help them. Dare-Devil Aces was therefore quite popular with Americans who wanted to destroy Nazism and who saw it as the threat it was.

The Dare-Devil Aces cover  shows three Stuka dive-bombers, one of which is getting shot down. The British planes engaging the Stuka’s appear to be Bolton Paul Defiants, a two-seat aircraft sporting four .303 machine guns in the rear turret.

The ground scene seems to illustrate the British evacuation of Dunkirk earlier in 1940.

That’s about it for the history and the fact is both types of aircraft were obsolete by 1940 and in the case of the two-seat Defiant was quickly withdrawn or used in secondary theaters of war.

The Stuka too was withdrawn from the Battle of Britain because it was slow and vulnerable to the RAF’s Spitfires and Hurricane fighters. It would serve on effectively in other theaters as long as the Germans could maintain fighter air superiority to protect them.

The Pulp Fiction Part

Pulp fiction was never meant to convey historical fact. The stories in this particular issue are either part of a series or stand alone stories that have a fictionalized hero or heroes that triumph over great odds or significant obstacles to get the upper hand.

In the story I read the culprit is a Nazi bomber commander named Von Benz. In 1940 all Germans were considered Nazis in pulp fiction and Von Benz is typical of what you might expect of a Nazi-a cold blooded killer of women and children and a pilot that machine guns British pilots who have bailed out. Nasty guy for sure.

The story revolved around an American named Gary in the RAF (there was an Eagle Squadron of Americans who did fly in the RAF prior to the US entry but the story has nothing to do with the historical Eagle Squadron) and his closest British pilot friend, Bob.

Gary and Bob are both Spitfire pilots. (In 1940 there were way more Hurricanes than Spitfires but even in 1940 the glamor of the “Spit” was already evident.)

Von Benz is either directly responsible or indirectly responsible for a number of atrocities; one of which kills Bob’s mother and sister-the gal Gary is falling in love with (of course).

Gary and Bob vow vengeance with their Spitfires and both get shot down over France where the Luftwaffe base is located. Gary the American is shot down after Bob had been shot down some days earlier in the same place (of course).

Gary the hero (good to have an American hero for American readers) manages  in James Bond fashion to kill a German soldier and steal his uniform (and Luger) and fake his way into Von Benz’s HQ at the Luftwaffe base (of course).

There he encounters an earlier nemesis-a British Captain named Stanton who as it turns out is collaborating with the Nazis, something Stanton has accused “the American” of doing earlier and had resulted in a fist fight with Stanton losing (of course).

Needless to say Gary triumphs over Stanton, the Nazi guards and then the evil Von Benz himself (of course).

The story is pure propaganda designed to get Americans fired up about supporting Great Britain while we were officially neutral.

In fact the magazine editor in his preface to the issue calls American neutrality “pseudo-neutrality” since by that time we were all in for the British supplying WW1 destroyers for conveys and supplies of every kind.

Most Dare-Devil Aces magazines sell for $25.00 or more depending on condition and availability. My issue cost $10.00 (note the cover prince of 10 cents) which is more than I’d like but truth be known you hardly ever find them at flea markets or antique stores.

The cover pictured above is from the iNet as the one I purchased is not so clean.


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The Cumberland Clerk of Clark Field

Amazing story!

The American Warrior

Confession: Part of the perils of conducting archival research far from home is that I get easily distracted. I’ll be plowing through piles of government documents looking for nuggets relevant to my next book, then I’ll stumble across an insanely cool story that I can’t help but to track down. This was the case this week while working at the MacArthur Memorial archives in search of material related to Paul “Pappy” Gunn. There I was, digging around in the collection when I came across a debriefing document related to a clerk named Corporal Joseph Boyland. So I love stories about unlikely folks who step up in moments of great turmoil and crisis to become bigger characters than their rank and role might lead you to believe. In Afghanistan in 2010, I met a quartermaster named Captain Andrew Alvord–who happened to be out commanding an air assault platoon composed of support troops like…

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USS Cobia

The USS Cobia is a WW2 Gato Class submarine on permanent display in Manitowoc, Wisconsin at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.

The Cobia was actually built in Connecticut but is exactly the same as the 28 submarines built in Manitowoc during WW2.

The building of 28 submarines in a fresh water, inland port is something of a story in and of itself.

The US Navy needed more submarines after we entered the war and the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company was one of the few shipyards that had the capacity to build subs.

The Navy had a few obstacles to overcome if it hoped to get the subs into the Pacific Ocean in the fight against the Japanese.

First, they adapted a side launch technique that enabled a completed submarine to be launched in a relatively shallow river. They accomplished the feat 28 times.

From there they had to figure out how to get the boats (subs are called boats in Navy parlance) to the ocean.

From the river the completed submarines would undergo sea trials in Lake Michigan (in all kinds of weather including the bitter cold of a Wisconsin winter).

After the sea trials the sub would travel to Chicago and link up with the Illinois River. A special type barge was constructed to transport the sub from the Illinois River to the Mississippi River where it would be transported to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.

From there the sub would travel to the Panama Canal and from there to the Pacific Ocean and eventually Hawaii where the US Submarine Command was located.

From Hawaii and Australia the new subs would do what are called “patrols” or missions.

The usual task was to sink Japanese shipping and if possible warships of various sizes.

Other tasks included rescuing Allied pilots who had to ditch in the ocean, reconnaissance missions and supply runs.

The  25 Manitowoc boats that saw action had an impressive record sinking 128 Japanese ships.

Four Manitowoc boats were lost most with all hands. The memorial to the lost boats states they are on Eternal Patrol.

The tour of the Cobia takes about an hour with plenty of opportunities for questions for the tour guide.

The guide describes every facet of a WW2 submarine from how it dives, how it fights, how it evades depth charges, how the batteries are recharged and how the crew lived on 2-3 month patrols.

I can sum up how the crew lived on a submarine with one word-misrable!

Imagine being confined with 71 other sailors in a long narrow tube for 2-3 months at a time rarely seeing the light of day. Further imagine the fact you are allowed a shower only once every two weeks and that you are living in stifling heat on the sub. Imagine the stink of 72 sweaty men combined with the odor of diesel fuel and two tiny toilets that have a complicated flush procedure that must be practiced perfectly or the waste hits the next guy in the face when he uses it. The joke (not really funny) is that the victim would be known as a”freckle face.”

Also imagine a cramped sleeping arrangement on a “rack” (bed) that you shared with at least one another man. Twenty-four men were on duty at all times while the other 48 slept or relaxed. For this reason they slept in shifts with one man getting into your bed as you got out for duty. For this reason beds were often called “hot beds” reflecting the fact it was just slept in.

No wonder the men of the Submarine Service received extra pay and the best food in the Navy. They also had extensive psychological testing before being accepted as a submariner.

Submarine Service was not (and is not) for just anyone who thinks submarines are cool.

One of the more interesting facts the guide related is that the US genuinely considered creature comforts on our subs. This meant that although miserable by any reasonable standard our submariners had it much better than a crew on an Allied sub or enemy sub!

My first thought on hearing this it must have been absolute hell on a Russian submarine since the Russians were not known for providing any kind of creature comforts to their Army or Navy personnel!

The occasion for our visit was the back end of a fishing trip that my son, six-year-old grandson and I took a week ago. My son and I had been on the tour before and we thought it was never too early to start teaching his son something about WW2.

The museum is kid friendly and features much to look at including a room full of ship models, an interactive area about Great Lakes Waterways and submarine exhibits that are not on the sub itself.

Admission is reasonable at $15.00 per adult with discounts given for senior citizens and military veterans. Children between the ages of 4-12 are $8.00 and three and under are free.

The Wisconsin Maritime Museum is an important part of Wisconsin’s history during WW2 and not widely known. It’s a great day trip to a lovely city on the shores of Lake Michigan. Highly recommended!


Writing to the Interests of the State

Shortly after Adolf Hitler took power in Germany in 1933 his Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, a vicious anti-Semite, assembled 300 Berlin journalists to instruct them on the Nazi’s new National Press Law.

From that point on the journalists would have to be a licensed member of Goebbels’ newly formed Reichsverband der Deutschen Presse (press organization) and that they would be disqualified if they had even one Jewish grandparent.

The main purpose of the meeting was to inform the journalists that no editorials would be allowed unless approved by the Nazi Party (Goebbels’ himself).

Joseph Goebbels-Nazi Minister of Propaganda

Joseph Goebbels-Nazi Minister of Propaganda

The reason for the overt censorship was the potential to weaken the power of the Reich, either in Germany or abroad by saying something uncomplimentary to the regime.

Goebbels’ stated:

“I don’t see why you should have the slightest difficulty in adjusting the trend of what you write to the interests of the State. It is possible that the Government may sometimes be mistaken-as to individual measures-but it is absurd to suggest that anything superior to the Government might take its place. What is the use, therefore, of editorial skepticism? It can only make people uneasy.”

Shortly after the meeting the Reich enacted the death penalty on anyone who published “treasonable articles” just in case the journalists thought Goebbels’ advice could be safely ignored.


The source of the above information is The Boys in the Boat-Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.

The book was given to me by a friend who knew of my interest in WW2 and history in general. The nine Americans mentioned in the title is a reference to the US Rowing Team that took part in the 1936 Olympics-the same Olympics that a black man named Jesse Owens would win a Gold Medal-an affront to Hitler’s master race baloney.

The quote by Goebbels’ sets up the atmosphere in which the Americans would eventually compete for a Gold Medal in rowing.

The Nazi's sought to make the 1936 Olympics a showcase for Aryan superiority.

The Nazi’s sought to make the 1936 Olympics a showcase for Aryan superiority.

In the last two years or so I’ve made it a point to not discuss politics in this blog unless it was pertinent to whatever historical subject I was writing about. So today I make an exception and may make further exceptions as the situation demands.

The meeting Goebbels’ had with the Berlin journalists ought to chill freedom loving Americans to the bone because if you think it can’t happen here you are badly mistaken.

Just the other day the so-called Department of Justice redacted the transcripts that clearly recorded the Orlando killer’s allegiance to ISIS. Why censor really available transcripts unless you want to control the message?

President Obama has called Radical Islam and references to it as “political talking points” and Josh Ernest, our very own Minister of Propaganda lies with impunity assisted by an accomplice media to such an extent you would think they were threatened by the death penalty for questioning “the Government” who sometimes makes mistakes in regards to measures.

The Department of Justice, the entire Obama administration and the accomplice press are further assisted by a host of ignorant Americans who do not realize or seem to care that their liberty is at stake and that it’s only a matter of time before “the government” further shreds our Constitution and forces us to comply “for the good of the state.” The fact that a majority of American journalists do not seem upset by any of this speaks volumes about their lack of journalistic integrity.

USA Today reports today that the DOJ has backed down and released a unredacted transcript of the Orlando ISIS murderer.