Category Archives: China

Trieste at the Edge of Empires

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 103-106:

Trieste signals a fault zone. It is a city that has hosted Romans from the West, Byzantines from the East, Goths, Venetians, Napoleon’s empire, the sprawling and multiethnic Habsburg Empire, Italy, Nazi Germany, Yugoslavia, and Italy again since 1954. That last handover took years of diplomatic wrangling, as if to confirm that Trieste’s very location—on a spit of territory that could have been placed in either Italy or Yugoslavia—constitutes proof of Trieste’s unstable position on the map. The mid-twentieth-century American journalist John Gunther noted that between 1913 and 1948, Trieste lived under no fewer than five different occupations. The race between Allied and Communist Yugoslav forces for control of Trieste in May 1945 was arguably the first major confrontation of the Cold War, perhaps providing a “reference point” for President Truman in the later crises of the Berlin blockade and the Korean War.

Trieste marks the borderline not only between the Latin world and the Slavic one, but also between the Latin world and the German one. Indeed, this city of Italians, Germans, Austrians, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Greeks, Armenians, Jews, and so on registers Mitteleuropa, with its own unparalleled cosmopolitanism, broadening out into an international civilization. Though, if this neoclassical, utilitarian, and commercial city has one cultural identity or spirit above others, it might be that of the Austrian Habsburgs, who ruled here between 1392 and 1918, except for a short Napoleonic interlude.

Trieste does indeed put empire on your mind. I visit the castle of Miramare, just north of the city, built with round porthole-like windows by Maximilian, the younger brother of Franz Joseph, who believed that the Habsburgs had no choice but to control the Adriatic. It is a monument to imperial delusion…. Maximilian, who believed deeply in liberal reform as a means of preserving and sustaining empire, was fated (of all things!) to go to far-off Mexico in 1864 as its new emperor—encouraged by his wife—only to be executed by indigenous revolutionaries three years later, completing his dark and tragic imperial fantasy.

Trieste reminded historian and travel writer Jan Morris “poignantly of the passing of all empires, those seductive illusions of permanence, those monuments of hubris which have sometimes been all evil, but have sometimes had much good to them.” Because empires, by definition, are often multinational and multiethnic, it is when empires collapse that “racial zealotry,” in Morris’s words, can rear its head. When the Italians seized Trieste from the Habsburgs in 1919, they closed Slovene schools in the city and tolerated violence against the Slavs. When the Yugoslavs arrived in the city in 1945, they reopened the Slovene schools and forced many Italians to change their names. In 1946, when Morris first saw Trieste, the writer “pined” for a cohesive and “distilled” Europe, and imagined this city as “the ghost of that ideal.” But the “false passion of the nation-state,” Morris continues, “made my conceptual Europe no more than a chimera.” History isn’t over, though. And as Morris says in old age, “One day the very idea of nationality will seem as impossibly primitive as dynastic warfare or the divine right of kings…a hobby for antiquarians or re-enactment societies.”

In the present day, the port of Trieste will soon sign an agreement with Duisburg, the world’s largest inland port, located at the confluence of the Rhine and Ruhr Rivers in western Germany, with the aim of increasing traffic on the new Silk Road that China is organizing. Trieste will acquire through Duisburg access to the northern—land—part of the Silk Road that terminates at the Pacific; while Duisburg will acquire by way of Trieste access to the southern, maritime Silk Road that runs through the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean. A postmodern, multinational imperial system may re-emerge, this time supervised by the Chinese, and encompassing Trieste. A few months hence, I will get a message from a friend about “Chinese, Russian, American, and Mitteleuropean investors competing for bases in the port here—the second great opportunity after Maria Theresa,” during whose reign the city became a vibrant, multiethnic hub. Yes, Trieste always did prosper under a big project—this time maybe with the Chinese, who will make Trieste another imperial reference point.

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Last Naval Battle of World War II?

From When the Shooting Stopped: August 1945, by Barrett Tillman (Osprey, 2022), Kindle pp. 208-210:

Meanwhile at sea, probably the last naval engagement of the war was fought off the China coast. On the morning of August 21 two sailing junks with American-Chinese crews were en route from Haimen to Shanghai. They were attached to the clandestine Sino-American Cooperative Organization, supporting guerrilla operations in Asia.

Lookouts sighted a large junk ahead; then the stranger came about, unmasking its armament, and opened fire.

Unknown to the two U.S. skippers – Navy Lieutenant Livingston Swentzel, Jr. and Marine First Lieutenant Stuart L. Pittman – their black-painted rival was a potent adversary. It carried a 75mm-pack howitzer, six machine guns, and more than 100 rifles for the 83 Japanese soldiers on board. Swentzel was a 35-year-old New Yorker with a degree from William and Mary whose excellent academic education ill prepared him for the situation.

The enemy’s first round was eerily accurate, severing Swentzel’s foremast to the consternation of most of his crew. Four Chinese were killed or wounded and the rudder damaged. However, Swentzel radioed Pittman, who coordinated the response. And in a brief moment of recalled glory from the age of sail, Swentzel hoisted the Stars and Stripes before returning fire.

Closing to 100 yards, the Yanks opened up with their heavy weapons – two bazookas intended for antitank action rather than naval warfare. One of Pittman’s sailors took two rounds to get the range, then knocked out the Japanese cannon, but both sides retained automatic weapons. After holing the enemy vessel, Swentzel directed Pittman alongside the Japanese and gave an order that John Paul Jones would have approved 170 years before: “Prepare to board!”

Hull to hull, Pittman’s half of the seven Americans and 20 Chinese led their attack with a hail of hand grenades to kill or disperse the superior Japanese numbers. With the Marine in the lead, a brief, violent skirmish subdued most of the remaining enemy, driving others below decks. More grenades followed down the hatches, forcing the survivors to surrender.

After 45 minutes the issue was settled, climaxing when the opposing skippers clashed hand to hand, with Pittman victorious. Before he expired, the Japanese officer told the Chinese that he had thought the junks were pirates. Americans and Chinese sorted the Japanese casualties, reckoned at 44 dead and 35 wounded. The Allies lost four dead and six injured. Swentzel and Pittman reversed helm for Haimen, and delivered their prize and prisoners to the Chinese before proceeding to Shanghai. Both skippers received Navy Crosses for their utterly unique action.

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Imperial Japan’s POWs at War’s End

From When the Shooting Stopped: August 1945, by Barrett Tillman (Osprey, 2022), Kindle pp. 180-182, 187:

VJ Day also was Survival Day to large numbers of prisoners of war and internees in Japanese hands. In August approximately 150,000 Allied personnel were thought held captive in some 130 camps throughout Asia. However, a complete accounting revealed 775 facilities in the Japanese Empire; 185 in Japan itself.

The prisoners represented not only the U.S. but Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands, and India. Approximately 36,000 soldiers and sailors were sent to Japan itself with most of the balance in the Philippines, China, Korea, Burma, Malaya, Java, and various Pacific islands. Japan also held large numbers of civilian prisoners and internees, as many as 125,000, mainly in the Dutch East Indies and Philippines, with more than 10 percent in China and Hong Kong. That figure excluded Nationalist Chinese personnel. Frequently the Imperial Army killed Chinese prisoners as a matter of policy.

One quarter to one third of Anglo-American prisoners held by Japan had died in captivity, with about 12 percent dying in the Home Islands. In contrast, about 3 percent of Western POWs perished in German Stalags. War crimes investigators later determined that 27 percent of Allied POWs in the Pacific died in captivity – officially seven times the rate of Western POWs in German camps.

Allied POWs existed in a hellish world of perennial malnutrition during Japan’s food shortage amid disease and routine brutality. Postwar investigators often referred to ritual or informal executions but the killings were largely extrajudicial or, to put it bluntly – murder.

Though Tokyo had signed the Second Geneva Convention in 1929, the government had never ratified the agreement regarding treatment of prisoners of war. After a qualified pledge to abide by the convention in early 1942, Japan quickly reverted.

Prisoners endured horrific conditions in captivity, eventually subsisting on 600 calories per day. What few Red Cross parcels arrived often were confiscated by the captors. The situation could hardly have been improved in the final months of the war, however, because in mid-1945 virtually all Japanese civilians were also malnourished.

Almost lost amid war’s end was the residue of its origin: Japan’s conquest of the Dutch East Indies’ petro-wealth. In 1940 Tokyo had requested half of the Dutch oil exports, but officials in the capital Batavia replied that existing commitments permitted little increase for Japan. That response set the Pacific afire. With only two years’ oil reserves on hand, and denied imports from the U.S. and Java, Tokyo’s warlords launched themselves on an irrevocable course.

The Japanese had to sort out a large, diverse population of some 70.5 million. Upwards of 250,000 were Dutch, mostly blijers, Dutch citizens born in the East Indies. Around 1.3 million Chinese had enjoyed preferred relations with the Netherlands’ hierarchy, but there was also a small Japanese population.

Conquest of the archipelago only took 90 days, ending in March 1942. Japan pledged Indonesian independence in 1943 but never honored it. And despite the Asia for Asians theme of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, Indonesians suffered terribly under Japanese rule. The new rulers interned all Dutch military personnel and 170,000 civilians. Conditions were appalling: approximately 25,000 died in captivity. Estimates range between 2.5 and 4 million total deaths, more than half of whom perished during the Java famine of 1944–45.

Additionally, millions of Javanese were pressed into servitude elsewhere, notably on the Burmese railroad.

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USSR vs. Japan, 1945

From When the Shooting Stopped: August 1945, by Barrett Tillman (Osprey, 2022), Kindle pp. 118-120:

The Far East blitz represented the acme of Russian military operations in the Great Patriotic War. An American historian properly described the Manchurian offensive as “a post graduate exercise for Soviet forces, the culmination of a rigorous quality education in combat begun in Western Russia in June 1941.”

Red Army losses in the 25-day campaign were 35,000 overall with 11,000 killed, while naval components added 1,400 casualties. In the Kremlin’s hard-eyed accounting, it was nearly a bloodless conquest of an immense, productive area.

Overall in the Far East, the Soviets captured 594,000 Japanese troops, including 143 generals and 20,000 wounded. Almost certainly the astonishing bag of general officers would not have occurred a month before, suicide being the preference.

Postwar Western figures placed Japanese losses at 674,000 including 84,000 dead. American intelligence estimated that the Soviets captured 2.7 million Japanese, two thirds of them civilians. Eventually some 2.3 million were repatriated to Japan, with 254,000 known dead and 93,000 presumed dead.

Of some 220,000 Japanese farmers established in Manchuria, about 70 percent reportedly perished, including perhaps 80,000 in the severe winter of 1945–46. More than 10,000 were thought killed by outraged Chinese, or had committed suicide. Presumably the surviving 140,000 eventually returned to Japan.

The Russians dismantled much of Manchuria’s industrial plant within three weeks of the war’s end, ceding the territory to the Communist Chinese. Thus, without realizing it, Moscow had set the stage for the next war, only five years downstream.

* * *

In the vacuum attending Japan’s defeat, Soviet forces entered Korea in mid-August, advancing southward to the designated 38th Parallel that would mark the boundary between Soviet and American occupation zones. The Russians lost little time exploiting their control over the area, especially since many Koreans welcomed an end to 40 years of Japanese rule.

In the north, Korea already possessed two military organizations: Kim Il-sung’s guerrilla force and the Korean Volunteer Army headquartered in China. The Soviets established headquarters at Pyongyang and almost immediately founded an air force academy.

Meanwhile, the Americans – thin on the ground in the south – planned to retain many Japanese for continuity of government. The reaction among South Koreans was stridently vocal, leading to a quick reversal by the U.S. administrators. However, frequently they consulted their Japanese counterparts, who naturally recommended Koreans who had cooperated with Tokyo. Two distinct Koreas were emerging and battle lines, however unwittingly, were already drawn for the coming Cold War.

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U.S. Submarine Success, 1944-45

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 591-594, 611:

The quality of life on American submarines was greatly improved by 1944. Occasional showers were now possible, and rations were dramatically better. The captain of one sub reported that “our freezer was filled with boned meats—including steaks, roasts, chops, and hamburgers. The baker was up at 0300 each day to prepare fresh breads, rolls, cakes, and cookies.” On most subs, there was an “open door policy” that allowed crewmen to help themselves to cold cuts and sandwiches as well as fresh coffee around the clock. A number of boats had self-service Coca-Cola machines, which one skipper called “a real morale booster.” Periodically, the crews might gather in the forward torpedo room to watch a movie. Such luxuries were unimaginable to the crews of Germany’s “iron coffins,” or, indeed, those of Japanese or British submarines.

The new American subs were also more efficient. The torpedo problems had been largely solved (though the loss of the Tang showed that some problems remained), and the number of Japanese ships sunk increased dramatically. Whereas in 1942, American submarines sank a total of 612,039 tons of shipping, in 1944 they destroyed 2,388,709 tons, nearly four times as much. If that was less than the tonnage claimed by Dönitz’s more numerous U-boats back in the “happy time” of 1942, as a percentage of Japanese shipping it was far greater. In 1941 the Japanese had nearly 6.4 million tons of merchant shipping. Despite adding 3.5 million more during the war—nearly half of it in 1944—by the end of that year there was less than 2.5 million tons left. The Japanese merchant marine was steadily disappearing because Japan could not do what the United States did: build ships as fast or faster than its enemy could sink them.

Another reason for American success was that Japanese anti-submarine warfare was not particularly effective. Japanese escorts had both sonar and depth charges, but their crews were less efficient in using them than the British in the Atlantic or the Americans in the Pacific. It was not uncommon for American subs to endure prolonged depth charge attacks with little or no damage…. Of course, having to lie quiet and endure a depth-charge attack, even an unsuccessful one, was psychologically draining. The repeated concussions often shattered lightbulbs and loosened the cork lining on the bulkheads; still, as long as the pressure hull held, the boat survived. Japanese inefficiency in depth-charge attacks is especially curious since they were extraordinarily efficient in most other areas of naval warfare. The explanation may be at least partly cultural. Valuing the offense over the defense, Japanese destroyermen worked harder at perfecting torpedo attacks than they did at the more pedantic job of escorting lumbering merchant ships or pinpointing the location of unseen American submarines.

In addition to the gradual depletion of the number of Japanese ships, those that survived became increasingly inefficient. One reason was a shortage of cargo handlers. By 1944, conscription had swept up most experienced longshoremen into the armed forces and Japan was compelled to rely on dock workers rounded up from the regions they had conquered—Filipinos, Koreans, and Chinese—as well as Japanese women and even American prisoners of war. Such workers were inexperienced, and many of them were less than enthusiastic in their labor, so efficiency suffered. Another problem was Japanese reluctance to embrace convoys. They did not put a convoy system in place until late in 1943, and convoys did not become routine until the spring of 1944. Even then, there were so few escorts that convoys were delayed, sometimes for weeks, for lack of an escort vessel. In such circumstances, it seemed wiser to send out ships individually, especially through what were assumed to be safe areas. The problem was that by 1944 there were no safe areas.

The firebombing of Japan’s major cities was apocalyptic. The postwar Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that “some 40 percent of the built up area of the 66 cities attacked was destroyed. Approximately 30 percent of the entire urban population of Japan lost their homes and many their possessions.” The impact that such devastation had on Japan’s wartime economy is less clear. At the time, the [Army Air Forces] insisted that destruction of the “housing units” of factory workers weakened Japanese industry. Yet most of the industries in the areas that were destroyed by firebombing had ceased to function long before the raids began because American submarines had halted the delivery of most raw materials. A factory without access to raw materials is just a building. Several of the air strikes directed at Japan’s petroleum resources, for example, hit refineries that were no longer functioning and tank farms that were empty. The historian Mark Parillo put it anatomically: “The submarine had stopped Japan’s industrial heart from beating by severing its arteries and it did so well before the bomber ruptured the organ.” Given that, the B-29 firebombing raids that began in March 1945 and continued almost without interruption for the rest of the war were less strategic bombing than terror bombing.

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U.K. vs. U.S. Views of Alliance with China, 1941

From Japan Runs Wild, 1942–1943, by Peter Harmsen (War in the Far East, Book 2; Casemate, 2020), Kindle pp. 33-35:

China’s willingness to hurl millions of its own people into a long, bloody war was a major asset to its new American and British allies. “The stubborn resistance of the Chinese,” a US State Department memorandum declared, “destroys Japan’s claim that she comes to emancipate either China or Asia!”19 At the same time, a track record of having stood up to Japan for more than four years prior to Pearl Harbor gave China new confidence. This was in evidence shortly after the outbreak of the Pacific war when Archibald Wavell, the commander-in-chief of British forces in India, visited Chiang Kai-shek in Chongqing, carrying only news of endless defeats and setbacks. “You and your people have no idea how to fight the Japanese,” Chiang told his British guest in language that was only slightly mitigated by the nervous translator. “Resisting the Japanese is not like suppressing colonial rebellions… For this kind of job, you British are incompetent, and you should learn from the Chinese how to fight against the Japanese.”

China was a prominent issue dividing the United States and Britain from the outset. Churchill and Roosevelt did not see eye to eye. On his trip across the Atlantic for the Arcadia Conference, the first summit on British-American strategy after the US entry into the war, the British prime minister later said, “If I can epitomize in one word the lesson I learned in the United States, it was ‘China’.” Britain’s lukewarm attitude towards the Chinese friend was a mirror image of its denigration of the Japanese foe, partly borne out of more than a century as a colonial power in Asia, which had led to an ingrained feeling of cultural and even racial superiority. In conversations with Roosevelt in Washington DC, Churchill stretched as far as he thought he could on the issue, which was not much: “I said I would of course always be helpful and polite to the Chinese, whom I admired and liked as a race and pitied for their endless misgovernment, but that he must not expect me to adopt what I felt was a wholly unreal standard of values.”

The two leaders and their governments had entirely different views on the value of China as an alliance partner. United States envisaged a major role for China in the war in East Asia and expected it to become one of the predominant Allies setting the tone for the entire effort to defeat Japan. Britain, on the other hand, expected little from China and often treated it as something in between an annoyance and a strategic competitor. When China offered to send two armies to the British colony of Burma, which had up to then largely escaped Japanese aggression, Britain initially turned down the offer. This was based on the belief that Japan was too tied up elsewhere to attempt a major offensive onto Burmese territory. In this perspective, a Chinese presence on British-controlled soil was a price not worth paying considering expectation of only meager payoff.

In spite of the British reservations, Sino-American cooperation was beginning to materialize in a small way, even as Roosevelt, Churchill, and their aides were talking in the US capital. For Claire Chennault, the former Army aviator who had been hired to head a group of American volunteer pilots in China, the time had now come to put his men into action. One morning a few weeks after Pearl Harbor, staff at his airbase near the city of Kunming in southwest China received reports from a network of Chinese observers on the ground that ten unescorted Japanese bombers were heading in his direction. He ordered one squadron of P-40 planes in the air to intercept the approaching aircraft. “This was the decisive moment I had been awaiting for more than four years,” Chennault wrote in his memoirs. “American pilots in American fighting planes aided by Chinese ground warning net about to tackle a formation of the Imperial Japanese Air Force, which was then sweeping the Pacific skies victorious everywhere.”

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Flying from New York to Calcutta, 1942

From Japan Runs Wild, 1942–1943, by Peter Harmsen (War in the Far East, Book 2; Casemate, 2020), Kindle pp. 104-105:

The United States retained high hopes for China’s potential, and for the overall importance of what was known as the China-Burma-India Theater. From early 1942, large numbers of American personnel were sent to the region, primarily India. Given the conditions, a world at war, moving from one theater to another was a drawn-out affair. The China specialist John Paton Davies Jr, who was assigned as political attaché to Joseph Stilwell, described the 13-day trip from New York to Calcutta: “We flew by one of Pan American’s original clippers, a flying boat, to Belém at the mouth of the Amazon—moist, mossed, suffocating, hyper-tropical—then Natal, and across the Atlantic to somnolent Fisherman’s Lake in Liberia. The remainder of the trip was by two-engine C-47 transport planes to Kano and then Maidugiri, both in Nigeria, across the scrubby wilderness of Chad to Khartoum dominated by the Nile, up to Cairo, swarming with handsome British staff officers whom the troops called the gabardine swine, over to Tel Aviv, down to Shatt-al-Arab, carrying the mingled waters of the Tigris and the Euphrates, out above the azure-emerald Persian Gulf to Sharjah’s desert airstrip manned by an RAF ground crew of a forlorn half dozen and a gazelle, along the desolate, jagged coast of Iran and Baluchistan to Karachi, and finally trans-subcontinentally to teeming, beholy-cowed Calcutta.”

The main priority for the United States was to keep China and its vast manpower resources in the war. Since the late 1930s, one of the main routes for keeping China supplied from the outside world had been the Burma Road, linking Burma to Chiang Kai-shek’s landlocked government in southwest China. “Though maladministration and corruption had reduced its inherently low capacity,” according to the official US history of the China-Burma-India theater, the road had for years “had great symbolic value as China’s last tie with freedom.” It had been built by hand for more than 700 miles through inhospitable terrain by tens of thousands of workers and had proved an invaluable asset, even though it had been closed briefly in 1940 by the British government, bowing to Japanese pressure.

By the time of the US entry into the war, the Burma Road was again in operation, and it had to be constantly maintained, again with the help of China’s most abundant economic resource: manual labor.

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British vs. Japanese Tactics in Malaya, 1941

From Japan Runs Wild, 1942–1943, by Peter Harmsen (War in the Far East, Book 2; Casemate, 2020), Kindle pp. 22-24, 40:

The first troops which the Japanese encountered when disembarking on the Malay coastline were Indians, and Indian units remained their main opponent throughout the campaign. Britain used one part of its empire to defend another. Out of 31 Commonwealth battalions deployed on the Malay Peninsula, 18 were Indian, six were British, six were Australian, and one was Malay. A large number of Indian troops had originally been earmarked for the Middle East and had undergone training in Australia, specializing in tactics suitable for desert warfare. Now they were in the jungle. “One could argue that the Commonwealth troops in Malaya failed to unlearn the lessons of desert warfare in tropical conditions,” Indian military historian Kaushik Roy writes, “and failed to adopt the required tactical techniques for fighting effectively in the different ecological landscape.”

The poor preparation of the Commonwealth troops made the preparations carried out by the Japanese seem all the more impressive. As a matter of fact, the Japanese campaign in Malaya was a rush job, planned in less than a year by a small group of dedicated officers operating on a minimal budget, seeking information from whoever in the Japanese Empire might be a good source. An old sea captain who had spent many years plying routes in the areas Japan planned to invade provided details about weather patterns and coastal conditions. The Ishihara Mining Company had useful information about the geography of the Malay Peninsula. Professors at Taiwan University filled the group in on hygiene in the tropics and measures against malaria.

The Japanese, whose main experience with war had been on the Mongolian steppe and the rice fields of China, were no more used to jungle warfare than their Western counterparts, but they went into battle better prepared because of the questions that the planners asked, and found answers to. “What alterations had to be made in the organization of troops and the type of weapons and equipment used on the Siberian and Manchurian battlefields at twenty degrees below zero to meet requirements for fighting in the dense jungles of the tropics?” asked the planners, led by the capable but brutal officer Tsuji Masanobu. “How should tactics and strategy used against the Soviet Union be revised for action against British and American armies, and what comparisons could be made between the tactics, equipment and organization of Soviet, British, and American troops?”

The preparations paid off. The Japanese soldiers landing in Malaya were equipped for quick, decisive movements through terrain where modern roads were only sparse. They had light tanks, light trucks, and first and foremost bicycles. An Australian staff officer, C. B. Dawkins, concluded that the Japanese had, in fact, understood what the Westerners had not: “Jungle, forest and rubber areas are par excellence infantry country—every move is screened from air and ground observations, the value of fire of weapons of all natures is very limited, and troops on the offensive can close to within assaulting distance unmolested.”

By Christmas, Lieutenant General Arthur Ernest Percival, the overall commander of Commonwealth forces in Malaya, had to revise many previously held views of the Japanese foes, as he explained later: “It was now clear that we were faced by an enemy who had made a special study of bush warfare on a grand scale and whose troops had been specially trained in those tactics. He relied in the main on outflanking movements and infiltration by small parties into and behind our lines… his infantry had displayed an ability to cross obstacles—rivers, swamps, jungles, etc.—more rapidly than had previously been thought possible.”

Faced with a terrifying foe, the Commonwealth defenders went from underestimating the Japanese foes’ quality to overestimating their quantity. “A British soldier is equal to ten Japanese, but unfortunately there are eleven Japanese,” an injured Tommy told American correspondent Cecil Brown. The British Army in Malaya could not believe it was being beaten by the Japanese, and its members had to conjure up superior numbers to explain what happened to them. In fact, there were about twice as many British-led soldiers as there were Japanese. In Malaya as in all other major land campaigns that the Japanese waged early in the war, they invariably fielded numerically inferior troops, which nevertheless excelled in all other parameters.

National differences came out more clearly in the harsh jungle. The stiff pecking orders of the British military were maintained even in the primitive conditions, whereas the flat hierarchies of the Australians appeared to some observers more suited for the new strange environment. “The Australian Army is undoubtedly the world’s most democratic, and the troops in Malaya prove it,” wrote American correspondent F. Tillman Durdin, reporting how the salute resembled a “Hi, there” gesture. “An Australian officer can command his men only if he proves himself as good a man as any of his unit.”

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Few Troops in the Philippines, 1941

From Japan Runs Wild, 1942–1943, by Peter Harmsen (War in the Far East, Book 2; Casemate, 2020), Kindle p. 15:

The Japanese pilots flying over the Philippines in the days after Pearl Harbor were experiencing an entirely new form of war. Many of them were veterans from the long conflict in China, where they had been facing Chinese and sometimes Soviet aviators in Russian-built planes. Now, in the midst of the crucial battle for control of the Philippines skies as a prelude to the planned invasion of the islands, they were up against Americans in US-built aircraft. They found to their relief that their own Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighter was a more than adequate match for the American P-40, as the Japanese plane outshone its US counterpart in everything except diving acceleration. “The confidence of our fighter pilots continued to grow, nurtured by the absence of effective opposition,” wrote Shimada Kōichi, on the staff of the Eleventh Air Fleet, which had the responsibility for air operations over the Philippines.

The Philippines, under the overall command of General Douglas MacArthur, was not Wake. And yet, despite its much larger size and more awe-inspiring defensive potential, it was essentially just another piece of US-held territory that the military planners in Washington had to effectively abandon beforehand. In the tense years prior to the outbreak of war in the Pacific, the US government, faced with the likelihood of being sucked into the ongoing war in Europe, had been forced to allocate desperately scarce military resources elsewhere. “Adequate reinforcements for the Philippines at this time,” according to General George C. Marshall, the US Army’s chief of staff, “would have left the United States in a position of great peril should there be a break in the defense of Great Britain.” What was not clear at the time was the fact that the Japanese were similarly constrained, and that the Japanese high command intended to take the Philippines with the smallest feasible number of troops.

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Origins of the Santa Fe Railroad

From From the River to the Sea: The Untold Story of the Railroad War That Made the West, by John Sedgwick (Avid Reader / Simon & Schuster, 2021), Kindle pp. 83-85:

It no longer needed a visionary. It needed moneymen from the great capital centers of Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.

Of the three, Boston was the most railroad minded. It had been the nation’s first major hub, with any number of lines running in and out of the city. For a small city on a stub of a peninsula, Boston was surprisingly worldly. The first great Boston fortunes were made in the China trade, then amplified by investments in the textile mills of early industrialization, only to be compounded by provident marriages to the daughters of other wealthy Bostonians. The investors were referred to as the Boston Crowd because of this interbreeding. They were mostly drawn from that class of Bostonians—Brahmins was the derisive term—whose members were, in the main, Harvard-educated Episcopalians, with the occasional Unitarian thrown in, who lived for their clubs and thought of themselves as existing on a social plane only slightly down from God. They were like honeybees in a hive—industrious but interchangeable.

From this esteemed collective about the only one to emerge with a distinctive personality was Thomas Jefferson Coolidge—and he on the strength of a surprisingly frolicsome memoir he had privately printed, the copies limited to just forty-eight—who served as the Santa Fe president for a year starting in 1880. Coolidge took his middle name from the American president, his great-grandfather on his mother’s side, but his lineage could be traced back to a Coolidge who settled in Watertown, just downriver from Boston proper, in 1630.

Coolidge grew up in Canton, China, where his father was a partner in a Boston trading firm that dealt tea and opium in the China Trade. After Harvard, he married the daughter of William Appleton, clipper ship owner, European trader, president of Boston’s Second National Bank, congressman, president of the Massachusetts Hospital, and one of the richest men in the city.

Coolidge served as the ambassador to France, and on any number of important national commissions, but he prized above all else his membership in The Friday Club, which, he noted, had once blackballed the eminent Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, father of the Supreme Court Justice, for fear he would dominate the conversation. His memoir is rich in frivolity—meeting the actress Fanny Kemble at a monastery in the Alps, touring the Caribbean aboard his eighty-foot yacht, riding a donkey to the temple of Ramses in Egypt.

In recounting his life, Coolidge mentioned his yearlong presidency of the Santa Fe railroad only in passing. In October of 1878, he wrote, he took his son and namesake for an extensive tour of the West that covered almost ten thousand miles, particularly enjoying the Colorado portion aboard the Santa Fe Railroad with one William Barstow Strong. Coolidge did not mention that he was a director of the company at the time. When he returned to the West two years later, he noted that he again boarded a Santa Fe train, but this time stepped off at Topeka, where “I was elected president of the Atchison Railroad at the annual meeting.”

Six sentences later, he was done with it. “I resigned as soon as I could,” he wrote. “I think in about a year and a half.” He failed to mention that on assuming the presidency, he had purchased $700,000 worth of the company. The point being, he presided over the Santa Fe only as an investor. The moment the investment seemed unpromising, he sold it and got out.

None of the Boston Crowd served as presidents for more than a few years. But this was the way of the modern corporation as they came to define it. They were not managers, but investors, and that inclined them toward caution in a business that demanded daring.

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