Wednesday, August 27, 2014

National Army Museum

Rifleman 95th
National Army Museum, London

My good friend Stuart Laycock wrote a book called All the Countries We've Invaded.  I reviewed it earlier...  According to Laycock Britain has, over the course of its history, invaded or fought in nearly 90% of all the countries in the world.  You can find Laycock's book  The British Empire, on which the sun never set, once spanned about one quarter of the earth and one quarter of the world population.

If you want to gain an insight into the British forces that have done most of the invading please consider a visit to the National Army Museum in the Chelsea section of London.  Here is the link for the National Army Museum...  Sadly, the NAM is now closed for redevelopment until 2016.  The museum is located near the Chelsea pensioners barracks which is the ancient home for retired British veterans.  These are the fellows in those magnificent scarlet coats that one can still see tottering around London.

Commander K. with Napoleon's horse's skeleton
National Army Museum, London
At NAM you can trace the history of British land warfare from colonial days to the the present day.  The Napoleonic era is well represented in this museum with displays of the battle of Waterloo, whose bicentennial will be celebrated next year (June 18, 2015).

Scotch Highlander
National Army Museum, London
Many generations of soldiers have taken the King's shilling and served their country around the world.  English soldiers in the British Army were augmented by Welshmen, Scots, Irishmen as well as colonial troops including the extraordinary Gurkhas.

British Army Mustering Sergeant
National Army Museum, London
The class system that dominates so much of British society also obtained in the Army.  The red coats worn by officers and sergeants were dyed with cochineal (made from beetles) while the coats of ordinary soldiers was dyed with madder, a vegetable dye, that tended to run in wet weather.

Many may recall the chorus from the television series Sharpe's Rifles written by John Tam (see video below)...

O'er the hills and o'er the main
Through Flanders, Portugal and Spain.
King George commands and we obey
Over the hills and far away.

British Colonial Redcoat
National Army Museum, London
The Pax Britannica was preserved in the 19th century with a "thin red line" of Colonial troops such as these.  The phrase "thin red line" was originally coined by Times correspondent William Howard Russell who described a "thin red line, topped with a line of steel" at the battle of Balaklava in the Crimean war in 1854.

Commander K. and Protected Fighting Vehicle
National Army Museum, London
You can get a sense of life in the trenches in World War I and well as the Tommys' experience in WWII here.  Even recent British deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are featured here with many testimonies from serving soldiers.

I look forward to the re-opening of the NAM in 2016.

How many Americans have served their Uncle Sam "over the hills and far away"...?

I am excited to announce that this September a new history of America's Military Involvement with the world will be published.  I have collaborated on this book with the historian Stuart Laycock.  Our work is titled America Invades: How We've Invaded or been Militarily Involved with nearly Every Country on Earth.  You can learn about our work

We invite you to join our mailing list and learn more about America Invades here...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Fort Lewis Museum

Commander K. and Fort Lewis Museum
Tacoma, WA
The first American soldiers to visit the Northwest were Captain Meriwether Lewis and Captain William Clark on their 1804 expedition.  They spent a wet winter on the Oregon coast near what is today the town of Astoria.

Commander K. with M4 Sherman
Fort Lewis Museum
In 1904 the US Army and Washington National Guard held maneuvers by the shores of American Lake in what is today Lakewood Washington (just south of Tacoma).  In 1917, with America's entry into WWI fast approaching, the federal government bought the land on which Fort Lewis is located from Pierce county.

Fort Lewis Museum
Construction began on the camp on July 5, 1917 less than three months after the United States declared war on the Central powers in WWI.  At an astonishing cost of just over $7 million 1,757 buildings and 422 other structures were erected in just 90 days.  Many generations of soldiers would learn to become soldiers under the shadow of Mount Rainier.
Washington State's US Civil War History
The 91st Division, known as the "Wild West Division," trained at Fort Lewis prior to being sent "over there" to fight in Europe.  The 91st was drawn mainly from soldiers from Western states.  In spite of the segregation of the US Army at that time many ethnic groups did train at Fort Lewis.  Squa De Lah, for example, was a native American who trained at Fort Lewis and was killed on Christmas day 1917 on the Western Front.

US Army Canon
Fort Lewis Museum
After WWI the site was allowed to languish becoming effectively a "ghost town".  During the 1930s the pace of military activity picked up significantly at Fort Lewis.

Dwight D. Eisenhower
Grosvenor Square, London
From November 1940 to June 1941 Lt. Colonel Dwight Eisenhower served as chief of staff of the IX Army corps based at Fort Lewis.  He was regarded as "amiable and efficient".  Ike would, of course, become the leader of Operation Overlord -- the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe and, later, President.
Vietnam Display
Fort Lewis Museum
A hotel built by the Salvation army was later transformed into the Fort Lewis Military Museum ( which now houses two floors of military artifacts and displays.

Anti-air missile
Fort Lewis Museum
Today the JBLM (Joint Base Lewis McChord) is home to over 25,000 military from the US Army and US Air Force.  Visitors to the JBLM require a day pass which can be obtained with presentation of a valid driver's license, registration and proof of insurance at the visitor's center.  See...

Source: Fort Lewis, Images of America, Alan H. Archambault, 2002,

For more on Eisenhower and my new upcoming book with Stuart Laycock please watch the following video...

Coming this September...

Sunday, August 3, 2014

USS Essex

Commander K. aboard the USS Essex
Seattle, WA

This week I had the opportunity to tour the USS Essex while it visited Seattle for the annual Seafair celebration.  The Essex is a USN Amphibious Assault ship (LHD-2) that was first launched in 1989.  the ship can carry 33 aircraft, a crew of 1,200 as well as 1,800 marines.  She is the fifth ship to bear the designation Essex and her nickname is "Iron Gator".  Her motto is "Take notice" and her home base is San Diego.

USS Essex, Iron Gator
Seattle, WA
 The first Essex was a 32-gun frigate that fought in the War of 1812.  The fourth Essex (CV-9), launched in 1942, was an aircraft carrier with a distinguished record of service in World War II.  Below you will see the original ship's bell from the WWII carrier...

Ship's Bell, USS Essex (CV-9)
The current USS Essex has a short flight deck which works for helicopters such as the new MV-22A Osprey and short take off aircraft such as the British-made Harrier jump jets.  Some helicopters perform Search and rescue missions such as the one pictured below...
Search and Rescue Chopper
The Navy and Marine pilots aboard the USS Essex pride themselves on being "straight-shooters"...

USN Pilots are Straight Shooters!
The Marines aboard the ship even allowed the young gentleman pictured below to hold a stinger missile.  President Reagan had these weapons shipped in quantity to the mujahideen during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan where they made a decisive difference in the conflict.  This simple weapon is still in service.

Stinger missile
The USN defends our country and protects the free flow of commerce around the world.  If you drive an imported car, thank the Navy.  If you drink an imported beer, thank the Navy.  If your job depends on exporting US-made products overseas, thank the US Navy.

The USS Essex has also been deployed on numerous humanitarian missions. Thank you for your service to all those who serve aboard the USS Essex!

Coming this fall...

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day + 70

Virgin Mary + US Paratroopers
St. Mère Eglise, France

Seventy years ago the Allied armies waded ashore on the beaches of Normandy to liberate Nazi-occupied Europe.  The night before on June 5th American airborne forces (82nd and 101st) landed on the Western flank of the invasion area near St. Mere Eglise while British airborne (6th para) forces secured the Eastern flank and Pegasus bridge.  They jumped out of C-47 Dakota Skytrain transport planes through darkness and into glory.  Some arrived by glider.  Private John Steele of the 82nd airborne landed on the steeple of the church at St. mere Eglise (see photo below).
C-47 Dakota Skytrain, Musee Airborne, St. Mere Eglise
They came ashore the next morning on five different beaches.  Brigadier General Ted Roosevelt jr. (the sone of President Teddy Roosevelt) landed with his men on Utah facing relatively little German opposition.  The Canadians stormed ashore on Juno (  Sword and Gold were reserved for the British forces.  A small contingent of French commandos joined the British on Sword and helped capture Ouistreham destroying the Casino.  The worst Allied casualties took place on bloody Omaha partly due to an abbreviated naval bombardment of the German positions.

Private John Steele, St. Mere Eglise
The Allies, in spite of the vast size of their armada and the relative openness of their societies, had, remarkably, managed to achieve strategic surprise over the Germans.  Rommel was in Germany celebrating his wife's 50th birthday.  Hitler persisted in the mistaken belief that the Normandy invasion was a feint and that the "real" blow would be struck at the Pas de Calais.  For more on how the Allies pulled off this amazing sleight of hand see...

Eisenhower, Normandy, FR
Eisenhower had planned the invasion form his offices at 20 Grosvenor square in London (a construction site today).  Number One Grosvenor square (now the Canadian High Commissioners Office) was the wartime location of the American embassy.  Averell Harriman presided over Lend Lease from 3 Grosvenor square helping to fund our wartime Allies.  The OSS (Office of Strategic Services), forerunner of the CIA, had its offices at 70 Grosvenor square (now an office building).  Little wonder that this neighbourhood was know as "Little America" at the time.  Some wags even referred to Grosvenor square as "Eisenhowerplatz".  The American embassy at Grosvenor square was recently featured in the TV series "24: Live Another Day".

US Sherman tank
Musee Airborne, St. Mere Eglise, FR
Imagine if the Normandy invasion had to occur today in 2014 in the age of social media!  There would be an interactive poll taken on Allied strategy: "Which beach do you like more, Normandy or Pas de Calais?"  Could all the members of the 101st Screaming Eagles painted in Indian warpaint with their Mohawk haircuts be counted upon to not post their pictures on Facebook?  One might hope so but...?

US Cemetery, Normandy, France
We must remember always what happened seventy years ago today.  Over 10,000 Allied soldiers were killed on June 6, 1944 and many more in the weeks and months to come.  General Patton may have summed it up best when he said,"It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived."

A visit to Normandy can help all of us, regardless of political ideology, learn a bit more about what it means to be an American.  We can all take pride in what those very young men did seventy years ago.

Coming this fall...

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

St. Marks, SJW

St Marks, London
St. Marks is our neighborhood Anglican church.  Here is their web address...  They are a welcoming congregation with a distinguished music program.  Aidan Platten is their friendly vicar.

This church was first consecrated in 1847 and lies between St. John's Wood and Maida Vale.  In those days there really was a "wood" in Saint John's Wood.

Pepe in full "Beast Mode"
I walk by this church nearly every morning with our faithful hound, Pepe. He's the black lab who loves the Seahawks and Marshawn Lynch!

St Marks, London
Look carefully at this picture of St. Marks.  Do you notice anything unusual?  Look again.

Do you notice that the top of the tower is different from the rest of the church structure?  It is a more recent construction than the rest of the building.  Why?

In October of 1941 a Luftwaffe bomb fell across the street from the church on Hamilton Terrrace.  The blast wave did extensive damage to the church steeple which had to be removed.  It was not rebuilt until the 1950s.

St. Marks remembers the
World Wars 
During the Second World War the RAF made us of the church as a collecting center and for parades.  In 1944 a flying bomb narrowly missed the church.  For more on another London church that was not so fortunate see my earlier post..."Guards Chapel" (

London wears her combat scars with pride.  No one would dare suggest that the Blitz-pockmarked exterior of St Paul's Cathedral or the Ritz hotel be repaired!

St. George blessing the troops.
History is all around us.  Not just in London, but wherever you live too.

Coming this fall...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

World War I Centennial

Commander K. at Guards Memorial
St. James Park, London

"The World breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places."  Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

This year we mark the centennial of the start of World War I - 1914 to 2014.  This devastating war was a catastrophe that very nearly broke the fabric of Western civilisation.  The war claimed more than 16 million lives including over 116,000 Americans (A staggering 26X more than the total 4,427 American combat deaths of the Iraq war!) and over a million from the British Empire.  Is civilisation itself, as Hemingway might suggest, now stronger at the "broken places," the "fault lines" of this terrible conflict?  Well, perhaps.  We know, however, that Wilson's "war to end all wars" did not work out quite as intended.

WWI Munitions
Great War Museum, Cortina, IT
Even in the year 2014, one hundred years on, we are still seeing tangible reverberations from the First World War.  Two construction workers in Belgium were killed this year by unexploded munitions from this conflict

We also know that chemical weapons used in World War I continue to contaminate the water table of Belgium making it unsafe for infants to drink the local tap water
Last Flight of the Hapsburg Eagle
Great War Museum, Cortina, IT
The decision to launch a war is fateful and pregnant with long term consequences which are almost impossible for participants to foresee.  Four Empires -- Tsarist Russia, Imperial Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire -- would all cease to exist as a result of the First World War.

WWI Pilot, San Cassiano, IT
The First World War would transform the waging of war from an aristocratic semi-feudal undertaking into an major industrial enterprise.  This war would see the dawn of military aviation (see..., submarine warfare and the use of chemical weapons.  It was the First World War that gave birth to the "Military Industrial Complex" as described much later by President Eisenhower.
Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph
Fort Tre Sassi, Cortina, IT
The war started in Sarajevo when a nineteen year-old Serbian Gavrilo Princip fired the pistol that assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Duchess Sophie.  TheArchduke's last words were, "Sophie, Sophie, don't die -- stay alive for our children."  Austria-Hungary, bent on avenging the death of their crown Prince, immediately mobilized its armed forces to confront Serbia.  Tsarist Russia felt compelled to mobilize to defend her Slav ally Serbia.  The Kaiser's Imperial Germany gave Austria a blank check to use force in the Balkans.  France was bound by treaty to assist Russia.  The invasion of Belgium made British participation inevitable.  Kaiser Wilhelm II had rolled the "iron dice"... and would lose everything.
A Necessary War
Max Hastings has rendered the reading public a great service with his new volume Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War (  Hastings demolishes the popular notion (the "Black Adder theory of history" he labels it) that the First World War was simply a pointless, muddy slaughter.  In the final analysis, the Central Powers were chiefly responsible for the outbreak of war.  Wilhelm II, who had been building up his navy for years, sought an excuse to go to war and turmoil in the Balkans furnished one.   The Kaiser's Empire was an autocracy that had already waged a genocide in German Southwest Africa (Namibia today) between 1904 and 1907 that claimed the lives of over 75,000 people.  Over 6,000 Belgian civilians were killed as a matter of German policy in the opening months of the war.
Commander K., Great War Museum
Fort Tre Sassi, Cortina, Italy 
In 1915 Italy, who had previously been allied to the Central Powers.  Italy sold her soul for territorial gains.  She fought a terrible war that cost her 460,000 dead and won her Trieste and Cortina.  A war that began in the Balkans and goring on in the trenches of the Western front would also be fought in the high altitudes of the Alps and Dolomites (see  Avalanches would claim many lives as well as combat.

WWI Winter Warrior
Great War Museum, Cortina, IT
In 1917 Tsarist Russia dropped out of the war and was consumed by a Revolution that brought Lenin to power.

That same year President Wilson led the U.S. into the war on the side of the Triple Entente.  There were four major factors driving Wilson's decision.  First, the Kaiser had launched unrestricted submarine warfare that led to the sinking of merchant ships such as the Lusitania.  Second, Germany had committed atrocities in its invasion of neutral Belgium executing many civilians and even a British nurse (See...  Third, Germany had clumsily plotted to ally herself with Mexico in the event of a U.S. intervention (Zimmerman telegram).  Finally, Allied arms purchases had stimulated the American economy and made them substantial debtors to U.S. financial institutions.

Hastings writes, "The Americans accession of strength more than compensated for the Russian's retirement from the conflict in March 1918."  (Source: Catastrophe 1914: Europe goes to War, Max Hastings, 2014).

"Johnny Get Your Gun"
Great War Museum, Cortina, IT
A staggering four million doughboys were shipped "over there" to Europe from 1917 to 1918.  Consider that number for just a moment.  Today we regard George H.W. Bush's deployment of 500,000 Allied troops to Saudi Arabia in 1990 (Operation Desert Shield) as "massive".  The deployment of General "Black Jack" Pershing's American Expeditionary Force (AEF) to Europe was 8X greater and it was all handled by the transportation technology of the early 20th century -- the same transportation technology that was responsible for the Titanic.  The Americans set up naval and air bases in Ireland, a British dominion at the time, to protect all the shipping that passed through the Irish sea from the Kaiser's marauding submarines.

In 1918 Ernest Hemingway from Oak Brook, Illinois went "over there," volunteering to serve as an ambulance assistant on the Italian front.  He was wounded by a mortar shell and spent six months in hospital recovering.  His First World War novel, A Farewell to Arms, was published in 1929 (

Hastings writes, "It would be entirely mistaken to suppose, as do so many people in the twenty-first century, that it did not matter which side won.  The Allies imposed a clumsy peace settlement at Versailles in 1919, but it f the Germans had instead been dictating the terms as victors, European freedom, justice and democracy would have paid a dreadful forfeit.  Germany adopted territorial war aims in the course of the First World War which were were not much less ambitious than those favoured by its ruler in the Second.  It thus seems quite wrong to describe the undoubted European tragedy of 1914-18 also futile, a view overwhelmingly driven in the eyes of posterity by the human cost of the military experience.  If the Kaiserreich did not deserve to triumph, those who fought and died in the ultimately successful struggle to prevent such an outcome did not perish for nothing, save insofar as all sacrifice in all wars is just cause for lamentation."

Source: Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, Max Hastings, 2013 (

Coming this fall...

Luftwaffe Aces...Supermen?

"Luftwaffe Day"
Flying Heritage Collection, Everett WA

If you look up "World War II aces" in Wikipedia ( you will find something extraordinary.  The first several pages of the list of Aces of World War II is made up entirely of Luftwaffe pilots.

Last summer the Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, WA featured a "Luftwaffe Day" which I attended with my son (see

Erich "Bubi" Hartmann, 1922 - 1993
Ace of Aces
At the top of the list of you will find Erich "Bubi" Hartmann ( who was the top fighter ace of all time having scored an astonishing 352 confirmed victories, mostly on the Eastern front.  This highly-decorated pilot flew with the Luftwaffe from 1940 until May 8, 1945, V-E day, the last day of the war in Europe.  He even shot down five American P-51s while based in Romania (see...  He was surrendered to American forces in Czechoslovakia at the end of the war and was turned over to the Soviets who imprisoned him on trumped up war crimes for over ten years.  Hartmann was, of course, an extremely fortunate fellow who managed to survive the war and worked for the West German Bundeswehr air arm.

Focke Wolfe
Flying Heritage Collection, Everett, WA
Why is this?  Why is it that German pilots lead the list of World War II pilots?  The raw data compels one to ask an unsettling question, "Were the Germans really Supermen as  Goebbel's propaganda machine claimed?"

Many Germans were excellent pilots; they were not, however, supermen.  Hardly.

Some Luftwaffe pilots gained valuable combat experience flying in the Condor Legion during the Spanish civil war.  German aircraft outclassed all of their opponents, save the RAF, for the first three years of the war.  Luftwaffe aircraft were faster than the planes of the Red Air Force, giving them a significant advantage in air to air combat on the Eastern front.

Storch (type of plane used to rescue Mussolini in 1943)
Flying Heritage Collection, Everett, WA
The reason these pilots are at the top of this list actually points out a fundamental weakness of Hitler's war machine.  Simply put, the Germans were desperate!  Unlike the Allies, they did not allow Luftwaffe pilots to be rotated home to train new pilots, sell war bonds and generate positive home front propaganda.  These men, like Hartmann, were compelled to keep flying until they died, unless a miracle saved them from destruction.  Many other German aces such as Otto Kittel and Walter Nowotony were shot down during the war.  Heinrich Ehler rammed his fighter into an Allied plane on April 4, 1945.

Many Japanese pilots also outscored all Allied pilots.  The Japanese were just as desperate as their Germans allies though their planes were, in general, not as good as those of the Luftwaffe.

Ivan Kozhedub ( from the Ukraine was the most successful Allied ace of World War II with 64 credited kills.  He survived the war and even shot down two American P-51s during the Korean war.

Major Richard Bong ( of the USAAF was the highest rated American ace of the war scoring at least 40 - enemy kills.  He was killed while working for Lockheed as a test pilot on August 8, 1945 -- the same day that the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

Spitfire, RAF Museum Hendon
Marmaduke Pattle ( of South Africa was the highest scoring RAF ace of the war with over 40 kills (see  He was shot down and killed over Athens in 1941.

A handful of Luftwaffe aces, such as Erich Rudorffer and Walter Schuck, are still alive today (  Their courage is undeniable though they fought for a morally tainted cause.

Coming this fall...

Monday, March 31, 2014

Capa, Hitchcock & Rear Window

Commander K. and Hitch, Hoxton, UK
Statue by Antony Donaldson

One of my great heroes, Robert Capa (, inspired one of my favorite movies, Rear Window (  This film was directed by Alfred Hitchcock ( and starred Jimmy Stewart -- two other heroes of mine.

June 6, 1944, Omaha Beach, Robert Capa
Robert Capa was a Hungarian-born photographer who documented the Allied liberation of Western Europe in World War II.  He was fiercely anti-fascist, but also disdained socialism -- my kind of guy!  He took extraordinary risks as a war photographer.  His mantra was "If you're pictures are no good, you're not close enough."   He got closer than any other photographer on June 6, 1944.  Only eight out of the 100 or so shots that he took that day survived the developing process.  Those eight shots, however, are truly amazing.

On the day that Paris was liberated, August 25, 1944, Capa rode into the capital city "on a tank made by the Americans who had accepted me, riding with the Spanish Republicans with whom I fought against fascism long years ago, I was returning to Paris-- the beautiful city where I first lean red to eat, drink and love."  (Source: Slightly Out of Focus, Robert Capa

Ingrid Bergman 1915 - 1982
After the war he met and had an affair with the actress Ingrid Bergman who had been sent to Europe in 1945 to entertain the many American troops in the European Theatre of Operations.  Just after the war Alfred Hitchcock cast Bergman in Notorious with Cary Grant.  Capa hung around the set where he became friends with the famous director.

Capa was totally committed to his trade as a photographer which meant that he had to be ready to travel on a moment's notice to war zones and other locations.  He could not commit himself to a traditional marriage with Bergman who also could not accompany him into dangerous war zones.

On the set of Notorious (1946) Bergman turned to Hitchcock as her father confessor, telling of her frustrations with Capa between takes.

Alfred Hitchcock Blue plaque
153 Cromwell Road, London
Photo courtesy: Tim Lyons
Hitchcock remembered these tales of the adventurous photographer and the glamorous beauty and incorporated them into his film Rear Window.  Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly starred in Rear Window which follows the adventures of a bed-ridden photographer (racing accident) who may or may not have witnesssed a murder from outside the window of his NYC apartment.  Stewart had, like Capa, exposed himself to great danger in world War II piloting over 20 missions in a B-24.  (

Hitchcock statue, Hoxton
Gainsborough Studios
The enormous bust of Hitchcock made by Antony Donaldson can be found in London's east end neighbourhood of Hoxton.  Gainsborough studios was used by Alfred Hitchcock during his "English" period.  The statue is surrounded by apartment buildings which could easily provide a location for an updated version of Rear Window.

Rear Window was released in 1954, the same year that Robert Capa stepped on a landmine and was killed in Vietnam.

Source: Richard Whelan's Introduction to Robert Capa's 1947 memoir Slightly Out of Focus

Coming this fall...