Russian special ops to get futuristic ‘mini-subs’

Russian special forces — SPETNAZ — are set to receiving as many as a half-dozen new futuristic mini-submarines that they’ll use for a range of missions, including covert insertions, according to Tass.

Called bathyscaphes, the underwater craft are transparent and were originally designed to inspect and troubleshoot underwater pipelines.

“However, the Main Directorate of Deep-Water Research of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation showed interest in the apparatus, and it considers these bathyscaphes as a means for conducting special underwater operations,” a military source told the news agency.

The source noted that “the unit during its transfer to the Navy will perform tasks on three fleets – the Northern, Pacific and Black Sea. Each of these fleets will receive at least two vehicles.”

Officials noted that work on the vessels is expected to begin this year.

Each bathyscaphe is equipped with manipulators that allow them to perform work at depths up to 2.5 km (1.5 miles) with a crew of three.

“The device will have the form of a ball with a transparent case of acrylic and titanium, the engine will be electric, ensuring continous operation for at least 24 hours,” the official noted. “Almost any civilian and military vessel can be the carrier of this device.”

The mini-subs can “operate on the sea floor in many parts of the global ocean,” Samuel Bendett, a researcher at the CNA Corporation and a fellow in Russia Studies at the American Foreign Policy Council, told Defense News.

“The fact that there are no limitations on what vessel can carry it where means that there would be fewer limitations for the Russian special forces to act, via this deep-diving vessel,” he added.

Defense News noted further that the U.S. Navy is in the process of developing similar undersea vessels for its SEAL operators.

Lockheed Martin received a $166 million contract in 2016 to design and build new combat submarines based on its commmercial S301i submersible. Testing should be finished this year, the news site reported.


B-2 bombers deployed to Hawaii to be ‘on watch’ 24/7 called ‘China’s nightmare’

The U.S. Air Force is deploying three B-2 bombers to Hawaii from their normal station at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Mo., for training in the Pacific, though it’s possible a flight of the stealthy, nuclear-capable aircraft could become permanent fixtures there.

The bombers were accompanied by 200 support personnel and are part of a U.S. Strategic Command-led Bomber Task Force.

A recent defense analysis noted that the deployment of B-2s to Hawaii is “China’s nightmare,” adding that it’s “something Beijing should get used to.”

The B-2 Spirits’ first deployment to (Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam) highlights its strategic flexibility to project power from anywhere in the world,” Maj. Gen. Stephen Williams, director of air and cyberspace operations, Headquarters Pacific Air Forces said in a statement in October.

“The B-2s conducted routine air operations and integrated capabilities with key regional partners, which helped ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific. The U.S. routinely and visibly demonstrates commitment to our allies and partners through global employment and integration of our military forces,” Williams added.

As for this new deployment of B-2s, it “enables us to showcase to a large American and international audience that the B-2 is on watch 24 hours a day, seven days a week ready to protect our country and its allies,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Joshua Dorr said in a statement.

A Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs press release did not expressly mention China because such official statements regarding the deployment of U.S. military assets rarely single out nations. That said, China’s increasing aggression in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, coupled with Beijing’s ire over U.S. Navy operations in the SCS and B-2 flyovers in recent months, likely contributed to the deployment of the bombers.

In addition, Chinese warships have had close calls with U.S. Navy vessels in the SCS, including one in October in which a People’s Liberation Army Navy destroyer nearly struck an American destroyer, the USS Decatur.

“We will not tolerate threats to American service members. We’re determined to keep international sea lanes open. This is something the Chinese need to understand. Their behavior has been unnecessarily provocative for far too long,” National Security Adviser John Bolton said last fall following the near-collision.

The bombers’ “presence in the Hawaiian Islands stands as a testament to enhanced regional security,” the US military statement added.

The Air Force also touted the B-2’s ability to “penetrate an enemy’s most sophisticated defenses,” as well as “put at risk their most valuable targets” due to its “low-observable, or stealth, characteristics”.

The statement continued, “This training is crucial to maintaining our regional interoperability. It affords us the opportunity to work with our allies in joint exercises and validates our always-ready global strike capability.”

In December Chinese officials issued threats against what was described as American military “meddling in China’s affairs”. For example Dai Xu – President of the Institute of Marine Safety and Cooperation, and a PLA Air Force Colonel Commandant, recently stated: If the U.S. warships break into Chinese waters again, I suggest that two warships should be sent: one to stop it, and another one to ram it… In our territorial waters, we won’t allow US warships to create disturbance.”

Pompeo: Iran’s space launch tests are cover for nuclear missile development

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that Iran’s testing of space-launch vehicles is really cover for the further development of nuclear-capable ICBMs.

Speaking in Abu Dhabi in advance of private meetings with Gulf States to discuss Iran’s ongoing support for terrorist groups, Pompeo said U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that Iran’s satellite launches are part of Tehran’s quest to continue advancing its ballistic missile technology.

Iran is preparing to launch several satellites into space in the coming days, U.S. officials believe, which is spurring new concerns that the regime is using them to cover up ICBM development, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

Such ICBM testing violates United Nations rules prohibiting such activity, Pompeo told reporters, in describing Tehran’s actions as provocative in nature. The secretary also said the Trump administration planned to rally countries in the region to help hold Iran to account for its suspected nuclear weapons-related work.

“You’ll see in a handful of days the Iranians intend to launch a space launch vehicle,” Pompeo told the Free Beacon. “The claim is that it is to put some satellites in the air. The truth is this will be another step in their understanding of how it is you can launch an ICBM.”

“The whole world needs to come together to oppose that,” Pompeo added.

He went on to confirm the Trump administration’s policy that such tests by Iran violate U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which declares that Iran must stop its ongoing tests of various types of advanced ballistic missiles.

Pompeo noted that it was the administration’s hope that countries throughout the region would come together to condemn Iran and help to curb its nuclear ambitions.

Iranian government and religious leaders in the past have frequently threatened to destroy Israel using nuclear weapons.

“The nuclear proliferation risks from Iran are incredibly real,” Pompeo noted further.

UK’s F-35Bs are ready for combat, MoD says

The United Kingdom has become the latest country equipped with U.S.-made F-35Bs to get them operational, significantly adding to the Royal Air Force’s combat capabilities.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD), in a statement, described the milestone as “a huge landmark” in what has been “the biggest defense project in history.”

Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson made the announcement in a brand-new hangar at RAF Marham, where the RAF has also built a state-of-the-art training facility for F-35 pilots.

“The incredible F-35 jets are ready for operations, a transformed Typhoon has the power to dominate the skies into the 2040s and we continue to look even further into an ambitious future. The RAF has long shown Britain at its great and global best, and today it lifts our nation to even greater heights,” said Williamson, the UK Defence Journal reported.

Currently, the RAF has 17 F-35s in its inventory, with 18 more being built or on order. The plan is for the UK to procure 138 planes over the life of the program.

Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier described the “significant step,” adding that “our F-35s are now ready to deploy on operations and, alongside our combat-proven Typhoon, offer a step-change in our ability to employ air power around the world.”

Williamson said that the Typhoon has been integrated with three new weapons: Stormshadow, Brimstone, and Meteor, allowing it to take over for the Tornado ground attack aircraft which the UK will retire later this year.

Of the original nine partner countries –  Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States – six have received their first jets.

Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, UK, US, Israel and Japan have pilots and maintainers either fully trained or at some point in the training process.

China’s first domestically-built aircraft carrier finishes sea trials and could be ready for combat within months

China’s first domestically designed and produced aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, has finished its fourth rotation of sea trials and could now be ready for its first combat deployment within months.

The South China Morning Post reported the ship could be ready for fleet review by April following 13 days of trials in the Yellow Sea before returning to its home port in Dalian.

The ship, which has not yet been named, is actually China’s second carrier. The first, Liaoning, was actually a Soviet hull but had not been completed by the end of the Cold War. China purchased the hull and completed the vessel, though it has largely been used as a training carrier.

The Type 001A, by comparison, will be the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s first operational carrier.

Beijing-based military expert Li Jie told the SCMP sea trials and testing of the ship was nearly finished.

“The vessel has probably completed 80 to 90 percent of the necessary tests,” Li said. “I think it’s possible it can be delivered by the Chinese Navy Day on April 23.”

He added that the ship could be able to take part in the PLA Navy’s fleet review to be held on that date off Qingdao, in Shandong province.

Photos of the ship returning to port circulated online and appeared to show a J-15 multi-role fighter and a helicopter on its deck, the paper reported.

When the ship left port last month, it carried three warplanes and three blast shields that protect flight crews from jet exhaust during take-off.

The ship was launched in April 2017. It will carry 32 J-15 fighter jets – more than the Liaoning’s 26. The 315-meter-long (1,033 feet) Type 001A is steam-turbine powered and has a ski-jump deck, which means that fighters have to carry lighter loads than they normally would if they were launched like fighters from U.S. carriers.

At 70,000 tons displaced, the Type 001A is smaller than the USS Ford-class carriers (100,000 tons), and carry only about half as many aircraft than U.S. carriers (75-plus).

China is building two more carriers and could have as many as five or six by 2030.

As war loomed, visionary FDR declared American defenses inadequate

On 28 January 1938, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared our national defenses inadequate in the face of warlike preparations abroad which constituted “a threat to world peace and security.” He then asked for appropriations, largely naval, to improve our defenses.

The itemized list of requirements included a sum for antiaircraft materiel but not for aircraft. A year later, with conflict threatening in Europe and an undeclared war raging in Asia, the President asked for a much larger sum with which to strengthen our military establishment. This time Air Corps requirements accounted for more than half the total requests.

These appropriations marked the beginning of a radical change in our foreign policy. In the decade after World War I, repudiating the League of Nations, we had based our hopes of security on the outlawry of war, on international disarmament, and on our geographical isolation.

In the mid-thirties, as other great powers began to rearm, we had sought further to insulate ourselves against foreign wars by enacting neutrality legislation, which in effect abrogated our traditional policy of freedom of the seas and which denied to our government the right to distinguish morally between aggressor nations and their victims.

A Japanese soldier stands guard over part of the captured Great Wall of China in 1937, during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

But by the beginning of 1939 we had turned to rearmament, and before the year had run out we had begun to scrap the neutrality restrictions. For three years before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor we were preparing, by these and other measures, for a war which we did not want but which many had come to feel was inescapable if we were to maintain our traditional way of life.

This preparation was without precedent in our national history, unless an exception be claimed for the very limited efforts of 1916-17.

Our habit in respect to war had ever been first declare, then prepare. That this policy had enjoyed the apparent sanction of success was not because of any virtue inherent in it. Actually, our victories in foreign wars owed much to three factors: the weakness of enemies like Mexico and Spain; the involvement of enemies like England and Germany with other European powers; and the geographical isolation of our nation.

In the period 1939-41, these factors obtained, if at all, to a lesser degree. Our potential enemies were strong, not weak; they were girded for war materially and spiritually. The friendly powers upon whom we might have depended for respite long shrank from war, and when war came they crumbled one by one until only Britain remained and then, precariously.

Italian troops raise the Italian flag over Macalle, Ethiopia in 1935.

And new techniques of war and new weapons–particularly the long-range bomber and the carrier-borne plane–had weakened the security once offered by our geographical situation. Given these changed conditions and the revolutionary doctrines and aggressive activities of the Axis powers, the United States could ill afford its customary delay in preparing for war.

The national administration appreciated the new threat to our security earlier than did most American citizens, but before Pearl Harbor, the public had, for the most part, come to recognize that threat. This change in public opinion was, in reality, a psychological preparation for war; it was brought about by the sheer logic of events abroad and by the activities of private citizens, acting individually or through organized groups, as well as by the educational efforts of the national administration.

Perhaps in the last analysis, the psychological preparation was the most important single factor in improving our national defense, but this chapter is concerned only with more tangible measures inaugurated by the government.

Hundreds of German tanks in the mid-1930s.

When war broke out in Europe in September 1939, the United States declared its neutrality. Its stated policy was to remain out of the conflict if possible and at the same time to keep the totalitarian powers out of the Western Hemisphere.

The latter objective demanded a further extension and an acceleration of previous programs for strengthening American armed forces. It called also, because of the threat of new weapons and modes of warfare, for the establishment of new strategic bases. The declared policy was wholly consonant with the Monroe Doctrine, and the measures taken to enforce it were, for a while, consistent with our traditional ideas of defense.

Like most Americans, FDR didn’t want war but he knew it was coming. He had the vision to get America prepared ahead of time, to some degree, rather than wait until we were attacked when it may have been too late to react and recover.

Japan’s pre-Pearl Harbor air tactics perfected in war with China

The Japanese air forces, divided into separate army and navy air arms, had developed under the influence of foreign aviation.

In 1911 two Japanese army officers received air training in France, and they were followed by a few more officers during the next two years. In 1919 a French mission comprising some 60 airmen arrived in Japan to assist in army air training; in the same e army established an aviation section. By 1920 the first military aviation school had been opened near Tokyo; two additional schools were established in 1922.

Organizational changes came with the expansion of the Japanese Army Air Force, which soon occupied a place along with the infantry, field artillery, and cavalry. Before the end of the 1930s, the post of Inspector General of Military Aviation had been created, making one commander directly responsible to the Emperor for the training of the air force.

The Japanese Navy Air Force had a similar history in its origin, development, and gradual assumption of importance.

The functions of the two Japanese air forces were clearly divided. The army air force was designed solely to support the army ground forces, while the l air force, in addition to supporting the fleet, was responsible for coastal defense, convoy protection, and sea and antisubmarine patrols. There was apparently little co-operation between the two forces, for they had developed independently and they were under the direction of the respective army and navy commanders who showed little desire to coordinate the activities of the air arms.

In the period of 1937-41, Japanese air power received its first extended test in combat. In 1931 the Japanese army had moved into Manchuria, and from that stronghold drove into China in the summer of 1937. The air forces of the aggressor had virtually an open sky, for the weak Chinese Air Force was unable to offer strong opposition.

Chinese Curtiss Hawk II

Under the stimulus of civil war, from 1911 to 1928, the several factions in China had developed air services consisting of a few obsolete aircraft purchased from abroad. Upon establishment of the central government in 1928, a more stable program was possible, and during the thirties, expansion and improvement of Chinese military aviation were accomplished with the aid of foreign technical advisers.

But the Chinese Air Force was in no sense prepared to meet the relatively modern air force with which the Japanese opened the war in 1937. By the end of the year, the Chinese Air Force had been almost completely destroyed. Assistance from the Soviet Union and other nations enabled the Chinese to continue their air opposition, but their efforts were ineffectual. The lack of a modern training program, inadequate maintenance and repair facilities, and deficiencies in organization accounted for much of the weakness of the Chinese force.

At the outbreak of the conflict in 1937, air combat on both sides was poorly executed, although there was no question as to the courage of either Chinese or Japanese pilots. Bombing was inaccurate, but the Japanese improved with practice and they revealed a talent for modifying their tactics in order to meet changing tactics of their opponents.

Japanese Ki-27 “Kate” fighter

The Chinese, forced to fight a defensive war on their own territory, concentrated on improving their interceptor aviation. in the early days of the fighting, Japanese bombers without pursuit protection made daylight attacks on Nanking and other cities, but following a few disastrous encounters with Chinese pursuit planes, the bombing halted until pursuit planes could be brought from Japan to provide the necessary protection.

Japanese bombing formations, which at first numbered about nine planes, soon increased to an average of twenty-seven planes per wave of bombers. The attacks, against both Chinese troop concentrations and Chinese cities, were usually preceded by one or two reconnaissance planes which gathered weather information and intelligence of enemy air dispositions. Carrier- and shore-based planes of the naval air force operated against the Chinese, particularly in attacks on Chungking and in support of ground troops in the Shanghai and Tsingtao areas.

Japanese “Nell” bombers over China.

The air force of the Japanese army participated on a larger scale, and personnel were rotated frequently in order to give combat experience to more airmen. In the Russo-Manchurian order fighting which broke out in May 1939, the Japanese Army Air Force received a much more severe and devastating test of its strength. The Soviet Air Force, designed primarily as immediate support to the Red Army, administered a resounding defeat to the Japanese force, which committed almost its entire strength to the engagement and lost approximately 500 planes and 150 pilots.

According to the Japanese, their losses were worthwhile because they brought about important changes in organization, training, and tactics. These changes, however, were accompanied by no marked departure from existing concepts of air warfare, and the chief development came in an accelerated rate of expansion.

Japanese Zeros.

As the border fighting ended in September 1939, the poor record of the Japanese Army Air Force led foreign observers to conclude that the army’s force was inferior in both training and efficiency to the naval air force. There was some justification for such a belief. Training in the army flying schools was devoted almost exclusively to pilots, and training of other aircrewmen was largely neglected until their assignment to tactical units.

The navy, on the other hand, gave closer attention to the training of all members of the crew, and by 1941 its training program was designed to turn out annually some 2,500 navigators, bombardiers, gunners, and flight engineers. At the same time, the navy was training about 2,000 pilots a year, while the army was turning out pilots at the rate of approximately 750 a year. In equipment, too, the army air force lagged behind the navy air force. The latter possessed some excellent four-engine patrol bombers, while the army had nothing heavier than a two-engine bomber.

Air operations aboard Japanese carrier Kaga in 1937.

Prior to 7 December 1941, the army air force flew almost exclusively over land, and its longest-range bombers had an operational radius of only some 500 miles. The navy’s force had been trained to operate over water with a radius of about 800 miles. Both forces, however, had a number of well-tried torpedo bombers, dive bombers, and level bombers, reconnaissance and transport planes, and several models of the Zero fighter–a fast, highly maneuverable but somewhat vulnerable plane with a maximum speed of approximately 350 miles per hour.

The planes were hybrids of foreign designs, with German influence being particularly notable after 1936 when Japan threw in her lot with Germany by signing the Anti-Comintern Pact. By 7 December 1941 Japanese air strength consisted of some 27,000 aircraft assigned to fully trained air units.

Approximately 6,000 pilots had been graduated from air schools or training units, 3,500 of which were assigned to the navy and the remainder to the army. About 50 percent of the army pilots had been in combat either in China or in the border fighting against the Soviet Air Force, while 10 percent of land-based navy pilots had participated in the Chinese operations.

Japanese dive bombers prepare to strike U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Some 600 of the best navy pilots were assigned to aircraft carrier units. In contrast to the 200 hours in primary, basic, and advanced training then being given to Air Corps cadets in the United States, the Japanese pilots were receiving about 300 hours in training units before being assigned to tactical units. The average first-line Japanese pilots in 1941 had about 500 flying hours, and the average pilot in the carrier groups which were destined to begin hostilities against the United States had over 800 hours.

Though somewhat discounted by officials of other nations, the Japanese air forces had now reached a peak of efficiency, at any rate in their first-line strength, which gave them a commanding position in the Pacific.

A reluctant President William McKinley goes to war against Spain: 1898

Between 1895 and 1898 Cuba and the Philippine Islands revolted against Spain. The Cubans gained independence, but the Filipinos did not. In both instances, the intervention of the United States was the culminating event.

In 1895 the Cuban patriot and revolutionary, José Martí, resumed the Cuban struggle for freedom that had failed during the Ten Years’ War (1868-1878). Cuban juntas provided leadership and funds for the military operations conducted in Cuba. Spain possessed superior numbers of troops, forcing the Cuban generals Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo, to wage guerrilla warfare in the hope of exhausting the enemy. Operations began in southeastern Cuba but soon spread westward. The Spanish Conservative Party, led by Antonio Cánovas y Castillo, vowed to suppress the insurrectos, but failed to do so.

An estimated 200,000 Cubans died of starvation and disease during the Cuban push for independence. Source: Wikipedia

The Cuban cause gained increasing support in the United States, leading President Grover Cleveland to press for a settlement, but instead, Spain sent General Valeriano Weyler to pacify Cuba. His stern methods, including reconcentration of the civilian population to deny the guerrillas support in the countryside, strengthened U.S. sympathy for the Cubans. President William McKinley then increased pressure on Spain to end the affair, dispatching a new minister to Spain for this purpose. At this juncture an anarchist assassinated Cánovas, and his successor, the leader of the Liberal Party Práxedes Mateo Sagasta, decided to make a grant of autonomy to Cuba and Puerto Rico. The Cuban leadership resisted this measure, convinced that continued armed resistance would lead to independence.

In February two events crystallized U.S. opinion in favor of Cuban independence. First, the Spanish minister in Washington, Enrique Dupuy de Lóme, wrote a letter critical of President McKinley that fell into the hands of the Cuban junta in New York. Its publication caused a sensation, but Sagasta quickly recalled Dupuy de Lóme. A few days later, however, the Battleship Maine, which had been sent to Havana to provide a naval presence there exploded and sank, causing the death of 266 sailors. McKinley, strongly opposed to military intervention, ordered an investigation of the sinking as did Spain. The Spanish inquiry decided that an internal explosion had destroyed the vessel, but the American investigation claimed an external source.

President William McKinley, who said during his first inaugural address, ” War should never be entered upon until every agency of peace has failed.” Source: Miller Center

The reluctant McKinley was then forced to demand that Spain grant independence to Cuba, but Sagasta refused, fearing that such a concession would destroy the shaky Restoration Monarchy. It faced opposition from various domestic political groups that might exploit the Cuban affair by precipitating revolution at home. Underlying strong Spanish opposition to Cuban freedom was the traditional belief that God had granted Spain its empire, of which Cuba was the principal remaining area, as a reward for the conquest of the Moors. Spanish honor demanded defense of its overseas possessions, including Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Spain sought diplomatic support from the great powers of Europe, but its long-standing isolation and the strength of the U.S. deterred sympathetic governments from coming to its aid.

On 25 April Congress responded to McKinley’s request for armed intervention. Spain had broken diplomatic relations on 23 April. The American declaration of war was predated to 21 April to legitimize certain military operations that had already taken place, particularly a blockade of Havana. To emphasize that its sole motive at the beginning of the struggle was Cuban independence, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution, the Teller Amendment, that foreswore any intention of annexing Cuba.

USS Maine in Havana Harbor after the explosion. Source: National Archives

Neither nation had desired war but both had made preparations as the crisis deepened after the sinking of the Maine. McKinley, having opposed war, hoped to end it quickly at the least possible expenditure of blood and treasure. The U.S. possessed a small well-trained navy, but the army was composed only twenty-eight thousand regulars. Spain had large garrisons in Cuba and the Philippines, but its navy was poorly maintained and much weaker than that of the U.S. Prewar planning in the U.S. had settled upon a naval blockade of Cuba and an attack on the decrepit Spanish squadron at Manila to achieve command of the sea and preclude reinforcement and resupply of the Spanish overseas forces. These measures would bring immediate pressure on Spain and signal American determination. The small army would conduct raids against Cuba and help sustain the Cuban army until a volunteer army could be mobilized for extensive service in Cuba. Spain was forced to accept the U.S. decision to fight on the periphery of Spanish power where its ability to resist was weakest.

The war began with two American successes. Admiral William Sampson immediately established a blockade of Havana that was soon extended along the north coast of Cuba and eventually to the south side. Sampson then prepared to counter Spanish effort to send naval assistance. Then, on 1 May, Commodore George Dewey, commanding the Asiatic Squadron, destroyed Admiral Patricio Montoyo’s small force of wooden vessels in Manila Bay. Dewey had earlier moved from Japan to Hong Kong to position himself for an attack on the Philippines. When news of this triumph reached Washington, McKinley authorized a modest army expedition to conduct land operations against Manila, a step in keeping with the desire to maintain constant pressure on Spain in the hope of forcing an early end to the war.

On 29 April a Spanish squadron commanded by Admiral Pascual Cervera left European waters for the West Indies to reinforce the Spanish forces in Cuba. Sampson prepared to meet this challenge to American command of the Caribbean Sea. Cervera eventually took his squadron into the harbor at Santiago de Cuba at the opposite end of the island from Havana where the bulk of the Spanish army was concentrated.

As soon as Cervera was blockaded at Santiago (29 May) McKinley made two important decisions. He ordered the regular army, then being concentrated at Tampa, to move as quickly as possible to Santiago de Cuba. There it would join with the Navy in operations intended to eliminate Cervera’s forces. Also on 3 June he secretly informed Spain of his war aims through Great Britain and Austria. Besides independence for Cuba, he indicated a desire to annex Puerto Rico (in lieu of a monetary indemnity) and an island in the Marianas chain in the Pacific Ocean. Also, the United States sought a port in the Philippines but made no mention of further acquisitions there. The American message made it clear that the U.S. would increase its demands, should Spain fail to accept these demands. Sagasta was not yet ready to admit defeat, which ended the initial American attempt to arrange an early peace.

Major General William Shafter then conducted a chaotic but successful transfer of the Fifth Army Corps from Tampa to the vicinity of Santiago de Cuba. The need to move quickly caused great confusion, but it was a reasonable price to pay for seizing the initiative at the earliest possible moment. The navy escorted his convoy of transports around the eastern end of Cuba to Santiago de Cuba, where he arrived on 20 June. After landing at Daiquirí and Siboney east of the city, he moved quickly toward the enemy along an interior route, fearful of tropical diseases and desirous of thwarting Spanish reinforcements on the way from the north.

The navy urged a different course, suggesting an attack on the narrow channel connecting the harbor of Santiago de Cuba to the sea. An advance near the coast would allow the navy’s guns to provide artillery support. Sweeping of mines in the channel and seizure of the batteries in the area would enable the navy to storm the harbor entrance and enter the harbor for engagement with Cervera’s forces. Shafter rejected this proposal, perhaps because of army-navy rivalry.

The Spanish commander did not oppose Shafter’s landing and offered only slight resistance to his westward movement. He disposed his garrison of ten thousand men along a perimeter reaching entirely around the city to the two sides of the harbor channel, hoping to prevent Cuban guerrillas under General Máximo Gómez from getting into the city. Three defensive lines were created west of the city to deal with the American advance. The first line was centered on the San Juan Heights, but only five hundred troops were assigned to defend the place. The Spanish intended to make their principal defense closer to the city.

U.S. Army recruits taking the oath of service in 1898. Source: National Archives

Shafter’s plan of attack, based on inadequate reconnaissance, envisioned two associated operations. One force would attack El Caney, a strong point of the Spanish left to eliminate the possibility of a flank attack on the main American effort, aimed at the San Juan Heights. After reducing El Caney, the American troops would move into position to the right of the rest of the Fifth Corps for an assault in the San Juan Heights that would carry into the city and force the capitulation of the Spanish garrison. Shafter’s orders for the attack were vague, leading some historians to believe that Shafter intended only to seize the heights.

The battle of 1 July did not develop as planned. Lawton’s force was detained at El Caney where a Spanish garrison of only five hundred men held off the attackers for many hours. Meanwhile, the rest of the Fifth Corps struggled into position beneath the San Juan Heights. It did not move against the Spanish positions until the early afternoon. Fortunately, a section of Gatling guns was able to fire on the summit of San Juan Hill, a bombardment that forced the Spanish defenders to abandon the position to the American force attacking on the left.

Another group on the right that included the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, commanded that day by Theodore Roosevelt, moved across an adjacent elevation, Kettle Hill. The Spanish retreated to their second line of defense, and the Fifth Army Corps, exhausted and disorganized, set about entrenching itself on the San Juan Heights. Having failed to seize the city, Shafter considered abandoning this position, which was exposed to enemy artillery fire, but mandatory orders from Washington led instead to the inauguration of a siege, soon supported by the arrival of U.S. reinforcements.

Teddy Roosevelt. Source: National Archives

The partial success of 1 July produced consternation in Havana. The commander in Cuba, General Ramón Blanco, ordered Cervera to leave Santiago de Cuba, fearing that the Spanish squadron would fall into American hands, to face the concentrated fire of all the American vessels outside, a certain recipe for disaster. Blanco persisted, and on 3 July Cervera made his sortie. Admiral Sampson had just left the blockade, moving east to compose differences with General Shafter. This movement left Commodore Winfield Scott Schley as the senior officer present during the naval battle. Schley had earned Sampson’s distrust because of his earlier failure to blockade Cervera promptly. This concern was justified when Schley allowed his flagship to make an eccentric turn away from the exiting Spanish ships before assuming its place in the pursuit. Cervera hoped to flee west to Cienfuegos, but four of his five vessels were sunk near the entrance to the channel. The other ship was overhauled over fifty miles westward where its commander drove it upon the shore to escape sinking.

This destruction of Cervera’s squadron decided the war, although further fighting occurred elsewhere. Sagasta decided to capitulate at Santiago de Cuba and to inaugurate peace negotiations at an early date through the good offices of France. He also recalled a naval expedition under Admiral Manuel de la Cámara that had left Spain earlier, moving eastward through the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal to relieve the garrison in the Philippines. The navy had organized a squadron to pursue Cámara, but his recall ended any requirement for it.

Spanish army and volunteers in Cuba.

After the Spanish forces at Santiago de Cuba capitulated on 17 July, a welcome event because the Fifth Army Corps had fallen victim to malaria, dysentery, and other tropical diseases, the Commanding General of the Army, Nelson Miles, led an expedition to Puerto Rico that landed on the south coast of that island. He sent three columns northward with orders to converge on San Juan. These movements proceeded successfully but were ended short of the objective when word of a peace settlement reached Miles. Meanwhile, the Fifth Army Corps was hastily shipped to Long Island to recuperate while volunteer regiments continued the occupation of Cuba commanded by General Leonard Wood.

The last military operations of the war were conducted at Manila. An expedition under Major General Wesley Merritt arrived during July and encamped north of the city. Preparations for an attack were made amidst increasing signs of opposition from Filipino insurrectos led by Emilio Aguinaldo. He had become the leader of a revolutionary outburst in 1896-1897 that had ended in a truce. He established himself in Hong Kong, and in May 1898 Commodore Dewey transported him to Manila where he set about re-energizing his movement. During the summer he succeeded in gaining control of extensive territory in Luzon, and his forces sought to seize Manila. Dewey provided some supplies but did not recognize the government that Aguinaldo set up.

Dewey hoped to avoid further hostilities at Manila. To this end, he engaged in shadowy negotiations with a new Spanish governor in Manila and the Roman Catholic Bishop of the city. An agreement was reached whereby there would be a brief engagement between the Spanish and American forces followed immediately by the surrender of the city, after which the Americans were to prevent Aguinaldo’s troops from entering Manila. General Merritt was suspicious of this deal, but on 13 August, after the American troops moved through a line of defenses north of Manila, the Spanish garrison surrendered to Dewey. The guerrillas were denied access, and the American troops occupied the city. Continuing American failure to recognize the Aguinaldo government fostered increasing distrust.

American troops moving to the front during the Battle of Las Guasimas. Source: Wikimedia

Meanwhile, negotiations between McKinley and the French ambassador in Washington, Jules Cambon, came to fruition. The string of Spanish defeats ensured that the U.S. could dictate a settlement. On 12 August, McKinley and Cambon signed a protocol that provided for Cuban independence and the cession of Puerto Rico and an island in the Marianas (Guam). It differed from the American offer of June only in that it deferred action on the Philippines to a peace conference in Paris.

The cautious McKinley hoped to limit American involvement with the Philippines, but a strong current of public opinion in favor of the annexation of the entire archipelago forced the President’s hand. He developed a rationale for expansion that stressed the duty of the nation and its destiny, arguing that he could discern no other acceptable course. The Spanish delegation at the peace conference was forced to accept McKinley’s decision. The Treaty of Paris signed on 10 December 1898 ceded the Philippines to the U.S. in return for a sum of $25 million to pay for Spanish property in the islands.

When the treaty was sent to the Senate for approval, anti-imperialist elements offered some opposition, but on 6 February 1899, the Senate accepted it by a vote of 57 to 27, only two more than the necessary two-thirds majority. Fatefully, two days before the vote, armed hostilities broke out at Manila between the American garrison and Aguinaldo’s troops, the beginning of a struggle that lasted until July 1902.

Although Cuba received its independence, the Platt Amendment (1902) severely limited its sovereignty and stimulated a dependent relationship that affected the evolution of Cuban society. This dependency leads some historians to maintain that the events of 1895-1898 were simply a transition (la transición) from Spanish imperialism to American imperialism. Eventually, the U.S. rejected the expansion of 1898, which included the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands, canceling the Platt Amendment, granting independence to the Philippine Islands, and admitting Hawaii into the Union. The war heralded the emergence of the United States as a great power, but mostly it reflected the burgeoning national development of the nineteenth century.

(c) Library of Congress.

The German ‘Blitzkrieg’ of 1940 smashed the armies of Norway, Denmark, and France

The period between Germany’s defeat of Poland in October 1939 and her invasion of Norway in April 1940 is often referred to as the “Phony War” because there wasn’t much happening.

The French stiffened their defenses while the British moved troops to the continent. The British wanted to send their air force to bomb targets inside Germany but were persuaded not to by the French who feared German reprisal. The major activity consisted of dueling propaganda messages blared from loudspeakers across the German and French lines.

Maginot Line defenses.

The French felt secure behind their vaunted Maginot Line. Paris was ready to fight World War I all over again – a war of defense, but of course, Adolph Hitler and his high command had a different strategy in mind. In order to isolate the iron ore resources of Sweden, and secure his northern flank, Hitler invaded Norway and Denmark on April 9.

The next blow came a month later. In the early morning darkness of May 10, the Germans unleashed their Blitzkrieg (Lightning War) against the Netherlands and Belgium. Blitzkrieg was a new kind of warfare integrating tanks, air power, artillery, and motorized infantry into a steel juggernaut emphasizing speedy movement and maximization of battlefield opportunities.

German tank in Belgium.

The attack sent the defending troops reeling.

The roads overflowed with refugees fleeing the front. French and British troops rushing to the rescue were caught in the headlong retreat and pushed back. German dive-bombers – the Stukas – filled the sky, strafing the retreating mix of civilians and soldiers with machine gun and bomb. The Allies fought valiantly but in vain – the German war machine advanced unperturbed. In England, the invasion forced Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to resign, to be replaced by Winston Churchill.

The Germans defied military doctrine, skirted the Maginot Line and slashed into France through Luxembourg and the Ardennes Forest. The Blitzkrieg moved with lightning speed as Hitler’s tanks turned and raced headlong to the sea. They reached the English Channel on May 21 cutting off the Allied armies in the North.

The Germans turned again, fighting their way north to secure the coastal ports and annihilate the trapped armies. Miraculously, the German high command called a halt to the advance. The reprieve lasted 48 hours, long enough for the British to defend Dunkirk and evacuate what they could of the Allied armies. The Germans entered Paris on June 14. In a humiliating ceremony on June 22, France signed an armistice with Germany, leaving Britain to carry on the fight alone.

General Erwin Rommel, who would later gain fame in the African desert as the “Desert Fox”, led the 7th Panzer Division as it crashed through the Belgian defenses into France, skirting the Maginot Line and then smashing it from behind.

Hitler Violates Polish-German Nonaggression Pact with 1939 invasion

Polish support was sought by both the Allies and the Central Powers in World War I. The Allies announced as one of their war aims the re-establishment of an independent Polish state. The Germans, occupying the country with the Austrians after driving out the Russian armies, set up a Polish Government on 5 November 1916 in an effort to gain the favor of the nationalists. The Allied offer had a greater appeal to the Poles, and the Polish National Committee in Paris, the strongest exile group, under Ignace Paderewski, identified itself with the Allies.

The new Polish state commenced its existence in the midst of ruin and poverty following World War I. Its territory had been the scene of heavy fighting between the Central Powers and the Russians in the opening stages of World War I, and the German and Austrian occupation forces had systematically exploited the country in the several years that followed. The end of the war found Poland’s factories destroyed or idle, its livestock decimated, and the nation’s economy in a state of chaos.

But in the intervening years between world wars, Poland recovered, at least somewhat. At the same time, however, Adolph Hitler — Austrian by birth and an enlisted soldier during World War I, rose to power in Germany. More than anything else, Hitler’s rise was attributed to the conditions imposed on Germany following the first World War — reparations, drastic limitations in military capabilities, and a general neutering of German patriotism.

Hitler’s National Socialist regime quickly assumed complete control over Germany’s national life and future. A dictatorship was created and opposition suppressed. An extensive armaments program, expansion of the small armed force permitted the Reich under the treaty, and public construction work brought Germany a measure of economic recovery and improved the country’s military posture. Germany soon regained a semblance of the position it had held as a European power before its defeat in 1918.

The former Allies presented an obstacle to whatever plans Hitler may have had to recover the territories taken from Germany. Their armed forces had not been modernized or equipped with great numbers of the latest weapons, but these countries collectively controlled an industrial and military base stronger than Germany’s. Britain had the preponderance of seapower and could rely upon the population and material resources of its world-wide empire for support. France had the largest reservoir of trained manpower in western Europe by reason of its conscription program. Moreover, France had made defensive arrangements with Romania and the postwar states of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, in addition to its alliance with Poland.

Britain and France were reluctant to engage in an armed conflict with Germany to compel compliance with the territorial changes made at the time of Allied victory which were not absolutely essential to their own vital interests. Hitler estimated correctly this sentiment of the former Allied nations, and his foreign policy became a game of bluff. But to minimize the risks of an armed conflict while he executed his first designs in Europe, the German dictator felt it necessary to effect a rapprochement with Poland.

German tank factory in the 1930s. Source: Wikimedia

On 26 January 1934 the Polish and German Governments announced the signing of a pact binding both to the arbitration of differences. The agreement was to be in effect for 10 years unless renounced 6 months in advance by either of the contracting parties. In his justification of the agreement to the German people, Hitler claimed that he had entered into the pact to prevent the crystallization of bad feelings over the boundaries into a traditional enmity between the Germans and Poles. Relations with Poland had been bad at the time the National Socialist government was established, and Hitler desired to better these relations in the interests of peace.

Or so he said.

On 30 January 1937 Hitler reaffirmed the importance of the Polish-German pact to the assembled Reichstag, declaring it instrumental in easing tension between the two countries. However, since making the original agreement, Germany had reintroduced conscription and greatly expanded its Army. An Air Force had been organized, new warships constructed, and an underseas fleet created. Germany had remilitarized the Rhineland in March of the preceding year, and National Socialist agitators were stirring up trouble in Austria and Czechoslovakia, both soon to feel the pressure of Hitler’s demands.

Hitler gave the Poles no cause to doubt his intentions through the remainder of 1937 and into late 1938. During that time, he was fully occupied in his machinations to gain control of Austria and of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland area that had been part of Austria prior to World War I and was inhabited by a German-speaking population.

Hitler accelerated his war of nerves, and in March 1938, forced the resignation of Austrian Chancellor Dr. Kurt Schuschnigg, who was reluctant to bring war to his country. He was replaced by National Socialist Dr. Arthur Seyss-Inquart, whom he reluctantly brought into his cabinet as Minister of the Interior, giving Seyss-Inquart control of the police. Seyss-Inquart’s elevation to chancellor paved the way for German troops to enter and occupy the country. The Republic of Austria was dissolved and its territory incorporated into the Reich.

German troops march into Prague, Czechoslovakia, March 15, 1939. Source: Pinterest.

The annexation of Austria increased considerably the German threat to Czechoslovakia. Konrad Henlein’s Sudeten German Party within the country claimed to represent Czechoslovakia’s three million ethnic Germans and clamored for autonomy and union with the Reich. Hitler’s threatening attitude caused the Prague government to order full mobilization in September 1938. War appeared imminent.

On 29 September the former Allies and the pro-German Italians met with Hitler at Munich to hear his claims. Czechoslovakia was not represented at the meeting, but an agreement was reached granting the German leader’s demands. The Czechoslovak government, urged by Britain and France, accepted the stipulations laid down by Hitler; the alternative undoubtedly would have been war, without British or French support. The pact was hailed in the west for attaining “peace in our time,” as per Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain — words that would later come back to haunt him.

The Czechoslovak question settled temporarily, Hitler was free to turn his attention to Poland. On 24 October 1938 Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Reich Foreign Minister, made a series of requests that reopened old Polish-German wounds and precipitated a new crisis. The German proposals involved the return of Danzig to Germany, with Poland assured railway, port, and other economic facilities. Poland was also to permit the construction of an extraterritorial road and railroad across the Corridor. In return for these concessions, Germany would guarantee the Polish-German frontiers and extend the nonaggression pact as long as 25 years.

Pilsudski had warned his countrymen years earlier that the German attitude toward Danzig would be an indication of Germany’s true intentions toward Poland and Polish public opinion would never condone the surrender of Poland’s sovereignty in part of the Corridor. The diplomatic world was not surprised when Poland firmly rejected the German offer.

On 23 March 1939 Lithuania acceded to German demands for the Memelland, a small strip of former Reich territory along Lithuania’s southwestern frontier. The following day Germany and Romania concluded an economic agreement whereby the Germans would acquire almost the entire product of Romania’s extensive oil industry, partially resolving a pressing problem for the conduct of military operations by the German Armed Forces.

On 31 March Chamberlain addressed the British House of Commons, stating that Britain and France would assist Poland in the event Poland was attacked. The British and French Governments had reached an understanding, and Britain was to act as spokesman for the two nations. The issue of peace or war was left for Germany and Poland to decide.

Hitler would not permit much further delay in arriving at a solution of the territorial controversy favorable to Germany. The Poles, for their part, were determined to reject all German demands, since it was apparent to them that any concession would mean the fate that had befallen Czechoslovakia. This was the state of relations between Germany and Poland at the end of March 1939.

War would come next.

The German attack was a tactical surprise to the Polish Army, despite both the troop concentrations the Polish High Command knew were taking place beyond the frontier and the worsening diplomatic situation. The Polish Government had ordered a general mobilization on 30 August, but many reservists were still en route to join their organizations and some units were in the process of moving to concentration areas or defensive positions when the Wehrmacht commenced operations. Hitler’s headquarters, OKW, was in Berlin at the time of the attack, while OKH directed the Army effort from a field headquarters at Zossen, outside the Reich capital.

At 1000 on 1 September Hitler reported the opening of hostilities to the assembled Reichstag in the Kroll Opera House in Berlin. According to Hitler, the Wehrmacht was defending German territory and taking necessary counteraction to an organized Polish attack.