Category Archives: Italy

Georgian Immigrants in Italy

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle p. 92:

We ate smoked anchovies. Alik showed me how to gut them. You snap off the head and use the fish’s sharp jaws like a knife, slitting open its belly with its own mouth to remove its innards. You eat the rest, complete with tail and fins. It tasted divine.

A quiet thirteen-year-old girl had dinner with us, a neighbour’s daughter. She was being brought up by her grandmother because her mother was working as a nanny for an Italian family in Bologna. Many Georgians had gone to Italy in recent years to look after children, care for old people, and work as housekeepers. Alik had an interesting theory about the bonds between the Italians and the Georgians. ‘They like us because we cook well, talk a lot, like to sing, and because we are warm-hearted. The Italians say the Georgians are how they used to be when they were still poor.’

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“Who Is Djilas?”

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 168-169:

As we are discussing books, I bring up the name of Milovan Djilas, the great World War II partisan fighter who was once Tito’s heir apparent, and later the original East European dissident, a man who wrote such classics of World War II and Cold War literature as Wartime, Conversations with Stalin, and The New Class. I interviewed Djilas every year in the 1980s in his Belgrade apartment behind the Parliament building. Through a clinical interpretation of history Djilas saw the vague outlines of the future, and specifically foresaw the war of the 1990s.

“Who is Djilas?” the students at the table exclaim, practically in unison. Though all are former Yugoslavs, these students and teachers have simply never heard of him. It turns out that the combination of censorship lasting into the 1990s, when they were young and in school—Djilas, after all, was a longtime dissident after he broke with Tito—and the constricting, often abstract, and theoretical reading lists of their university and graduate courses left no room for this great chronicler of an entire era in the second half of the twentieth century: an era that gave birth to the 1990s’ wars of the Yugoslav succession. Books and manuscripts vastly proliferate nowadays, even as less is really read, and so much of what is vital does not get passed down from generation to generation.

There is an air of depression and consternation at the restaurant table. And it isn’t just about the state of academia. Europe and especially the Balkans do not look hopeful. I am now told about how, among other things, Montenegro has become a colony of the Russian mafia and Albania the colony of the southern Italian mafia, accounting for the eruption of designer restaurants, bars, expensive hotels, and jewelry stores in Podgorica and Tirana. And there is, by now, the familiar litany about the poor and nasty ethnic climate in Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia. In this part of Europe at least, it seems that NATO is only a superficial layer of reality, and the European Union is simply out of gas and credibility.

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Rijeka vs. Fiume

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 160-162:

Rijeka—Fiume—was a place of conflicting sovereignties long before the 1940s. Beginning in the late fifteenth century, Rijeka was an important seaport of the Austrian Habsburg Empire, and after the establishment of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy in 1867 much of it came under the rule of Budapest, with new rail links connecting it deep into Central Europe. If Trieste is a fault zone, then Rijeka is the very border of that fault zone. In fact, following the First World War, ethnic conflicts among the urban population and the decision of foreign diplomats to hand over the city to the new Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes led 9,000 ethnic-Italian legionnaires to establish the vaguely anarchist and Fascist “Regency of Carnaro” here. That lasted a year, until 1920, when the Treaty of Rapallo declared Fiume a free state under Italian rule. In 1924, it became part of Fascist Italy. Through it all, the drama between Slavs and Italians nearby on the Istrian peninsula became a microcosm of the drama between East and West; between the free West and the Communist East. Though, given the cruelty and general insensitivity of the Italians towards the Slavs, something not restricted to Mussolini’s Fascists, one side was not always and not necessarily morally superior to the other.

For example, I look up at the balconies in Rijeka and think immediately of the leader of the Italian Regency of Carnaro, Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863–1938), a name that emerges from time to time in conversations here as a vague and occasional background noise: mentioned quickly in passing, but rarely explained. D’Annunzio was a charismatic intellectual with a lust for power and adulation, who consequently loved balcony appearances. For him, the purpose of politics was to supply an arena for glory and the erection of the perfect state. In Fiume, in 1919, with the collapse of the Habsburg Empire and the city the object of rival claims and protracted negotiations by Italy and the new Yugoslav kingdom, D’Annunzio seized power at the head of the far-right legionnaire movement, itself supported by flaky youthful idealists. Though he didn’t last long, this romantic thinker stylistically paved the way for Mussolini: he was a warning against hazy ideas and intellectual conceit. For lofty themes, if not grounded in moderation and practicality, can be the enemy of healthy politics.

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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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Republic of Venice, 726-1797

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 74-76:

Norwich writes: “Venice, alone of all the still-great cities of Italy, was born and brought up Greek…. Long after she shed her dependence on Constantinople, she continued to turn her back on Italy and to look resolutely eastward; the nightmare tangle of medieval Italian politics, of Guelf and Ghibelline, Emperor and Pope…none of this was for her.” Doges used Byzantine honorifics. The Venetian ruler’s dress was modeled on that of the Byzantine exarch. Byzantine girls were sent to Venice to marry; Venetians sent their sons to finish their education in Constantinople. Venice’s political links with Byzantium helped shield it from the quarrels among the other city-states of Italy, with their rapidly shifting tactical alliances that were the epitome of amorality. Because a rival commercial system, run by Arabs, stretched across North Africa and the Middle East, Venice became crucial to Constantinople as a Byzantine outlet to Europe. The Venetian model of beauty, as exemplified by the low domes and small windows of Saint Mark’s, recalling Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, was mainly Eastern.

Of course, the underpinning of Venice’s fortuitous separation from the rest of Italy was at root geographical. That great lagoon, the few miles of shallow water that protected Venice from the mainland in all its aspects, allowed it to focus eastward toward Byzantium, and, in addition, was the savior against Saracens, Magyars, and other invaders in the early centuries of Venetian independence. The lagoon, by confining Venetians to so restricted a space, also fostered internal cohesion. “Among Venice’s rich merchant aristocracy,” Norwich explains, “everyone knew everyone else, and close acquaintance led to mutual trust of a kind that in other cities seldom extended far outside the family circle.” The result was efficient administration by which risky trading ventures, involving vast outlays of capital, “could be arranged on the Rialto in a matter of hours.” Neither utopian nor egalitarian, Venice represented the triumph of a closed elite. Optimism was banned, unless it could be grounded in facts and percentages. (It was from such a tightly woven merchant aristocracy that Marco Polo, the late-thirteenth-century Venetian explorer of China and Central Asia, originated—of whom more later.)

Without the lagoon and the canals—without the presence of water, that is—Venice simply would not have had the beauty that endowed its population with such love of their city-state: it was a love of the polity, rather than that of one man or king. This, and the internal peace they enjoyed, fostered a “humaneness of feeling” that, as Berenson suggests, made Venetians “the first really modern people in Europe.”

What ensues, with its succession of eighty-four doges from 726 to 1797, is a thousand-year history as long, intricate, dense, intoxicating, and overwhelming as that of Byzantium itself, mind-numbing in its constant intrigues and periodic insurrections. It is a comparatively dim and opaque canvas that produced few giants and larger-than-life heroes (Pietro II Orseolo, who governed toward the end of the tenth century, being one exception to this rule), for trade and commerce, dull as these things are, reduce the long-term impact of bloodshed and its accomplice, glory. Because it is so thematically uninspiring, Venetian history is generally hard to remember, and for the literate, non-expert public is known best through the works of Shakespeare—who uses Venice as a somewhat shameless and cynical backdrop to reveal vulnerability and passion contained in everyone, Moor and Jew alike, people otherwise depicted as one-dimensional and therefore uninteresting in his day.

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What Was Italy from 476 to 1861?

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 36-38:

I look at more maps in my hotel room in Ravenna: those of the greater Adriatic. Rome is eventually replaced by Western Rome and Eastern Rome; then by the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths, the kingdom of Odoacer, and Eastern Rome, all elbowing for territory; then, in turn, by the Arians and the papacy, though by the sixth century the Adriatic is all Eastern Rome. In the early eighth century the division is between the Lombards and Eastern Rome, in the early ninth between the Franks and Byzantium. In the Middle Ages the Normans, Hungarians, and Serbs, as well as the German Empire, Salerno, Naples, and Venice, all gain prominence; until by the late fifteenth century, as the Renaissance reaches full flower, it is Venice facing off against the Ottoman Empire, even as northern Italy is divided among Savoy, Milan, Genoa, Mantua, Florence, and Siena, and southern Italy between the Papal States and the kingdom of Naples.

Later on, all of these polities, too, will become shades: disappearing, literally, into the past. Voltaire said Rome fell “because all things fall.” Indeed, empires are not illegitimate simply because they eventually collapse: the wonder is that so many have lasted as long as they did. Rome’s universal civilization, with its cruel yet rational, i.e., charmed-conservative paganism, ultimately became impossible to sustain in the hinterlands; and Rome’s breakup led to the panoramic migrations, coupled with the religious passions and particularism, that we associate with Late Antiquity and the Dark and Middle Ages, with all of their attendant political-territorial complexity. Still, the geographic breadth of Rome, lasting as it did for so many centuries, remains an astonishment: an imperial domain impossible to imagine reassembled in any form. Only world governance could equal or surpass it.

In sum, the passage from antiquity to Late Antiquity registers a more confused ethnic and territorial map, with the big shifts that merit chapter breaks in history books barely noticed at the time. For example, the deposition in A.D. 476 of Romulus Augustulus by the barbarian Odoacer—an Arian Christian soldier of vague Germanic and Hunnish descent—is commonly marked as the end-point of the Roman Empire in the West, though the event elicits little mention by any chronicler of the era: its significance becomes apparent only much later in hindsight. After all, Odoacer, rather than eviscerate what remained of the empire, actually restored some facade of order and stability to it, even as he reconquered Sicily from the Vandals in A.D. 477 and annexed Dalmatia in A.D. 480. The real break with the classical past occurs only later with the Gothic War of A.D. 535–554, which devastated much of Italy with famine and chaos, and was quickly followed in 568 by the Lombard invasion, so that Italy was at war for more or less seventy years until 605. Italy would never again be united until modern times. The Lombards, a Germanic confederation with a strong Arian element that included Saxons, Gepids, Bulgars, Sueves, and others—a fascinating horde first recorded by Tacitus—truly herald the passage of Late Antiquity into the so-called Dark Ages.

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Leigh Fermor’s Intelligence Training, 1940

From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle loc. 2085ff.

On release from hospital in early February, Paddy went to stay with his sister Vanessa. He had high hopes of joining the Karelian campaign, in which the Finns were fighting off a Soviet invasion. He had heard about a unit that was going to support the Finns and he was keen to join, but was still too weak; Finland was then forced to concede to Russia’s demands. The Intelligence Corps, on the other hand, were very interested in the fact that Paddy spoke French, German, Rumanian and Greek, and with the situation in the Balkans developing fast they offered him a commission. If he took it, he would be spared any more training at the Guards Depot, but he still clung to the hope of a commission in the Irish Guards.

He had an interview with the regiment’s commander. There was no opening for him in the Irish Guards at present, Lieutenant Colonel Vesey told him; indeed, he might have to wait for months before the opportunity arose. Although most regiments at this time were desperate for young officers, Vesey was in no hurry to commission this particular cadet: one of Paddy’s reports had described his progress as ‘below average’. The Intelligence Corps, on the other hand, were offering immediate employment and the opportunity to return to Greece.

The Intelligence Corps uniform was not very romantic, and he disliked the cap badge – a pansy resting on its laurels, as it was disparagingly known. But the lure of Greece was strong, and financially he could not afford to wait for a place in the Irish Guards. Paddy began his officer training in the Corps in early May, stationed at the 168th Officer Cadet Training Unit at Ramillies Barracks, Aldershot. Here he learned how to keep records of enemy movements, how to read and make maps, and how to assemble and coordinate intelligence. There was also much to absorb about the formation of the German army, and he tried to learn the Gothic deutsche Schrift. One of his fellow trainees was Laurens van der Post. Years later, on a television show with Paddy, van der Post recalled the moment they heard about the fall of France. The news left everyone shocked and aghast, van der Post recounted, except for Paddy ‘who was writing a poem about a fish pond in the Carpathians, and he didn’t really take it in until he had finished the poem’. Slightly embarrassed, Paddy added, ‘Well, I was pretty smitten after that.’

Soon Free French soldiers who wanted to continue fighting began to appear at Ramillies Barracks, and word went round that the Corps was looking for people who would be willing to be parachuted into occupied France. Paddy volunteered, and was rather offended when they rejected him. He spoke the language fluently and was widely read in French literature: why was he passed over? That the selectors were looking for quiet, inconspicuous people seems not to have crossed his mind. His training finished on 12 August. The final, prophetic remarks on Paddy’s report were written by his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel R. C. Bingham: ‘Quite useless as a regimental officer,’ he wrote, ‘but in other capacities will serve the army well.’ Paddy himself had very mixed feelings about his future. ‘I looked forward to my new life with interest and misgiving. It was rather like going to a new school.’

Second Lieutenant Fermor was ordered to proceed to the Intelligence Training Centre in Matlock, Derbyshire, where he was to take two month-long courses: one on war intelligence, and another on interrogation. The training centre, filled with polyglot officers, was housed in Smelton’s Hydro – ‘a castellated, bleak and blacked-out Victorian pile perched high above the rushing Derwent’. His initial reaction to the place was ‘Bedlam in a Morte d’Arthur setting’, made more depressing by the fact that all the windows were blacked out; but there were compensations. One of the perks of being an officer was that Paddy now had a batman, Geoffrey Olivier – ‘my first soldier-servant. It was peculiar to think that I would probably never shine a button or spit and polish a toe-cap again.’

The war intelligence course was hard work. Lectures were interspersed by long spells ‘scrambling over the Derbyshire hills . . . making out strategical and technical plans for advancing to, holding, or withdrawing from various features, holding improvised conferences . . . which invariably ended with the Major saying: “Now Leigh Fermor . . . What information have we about the enemy in the sector 22314567 to 4678?”’

In between one course and the next, there was a week’s break which Paddy spent in blitz-torn London. He saw three fires blazing in Piccadilly, while in Berkeley Square, ‘the blaze of an explosion revealed two sides of that sentimental quadrangle in a disordered wreckage of wood and stone. Only one thing remained standing. Perched three stories high on a tottering pinnacle was a white marble privy, glowing shyly in this unaccustomed radiance.’

Thanks to the services of anti-Nazi and Jewish volunteers, much of the interrogation course was conducted in German. One of the secrets of a good interrogation, he learned, was to conduct it while the prisoner had an empty stomach and a full bladder. With friends such as Gerry Wellesley and Osbert Sitwell at Renishaw close by, the high point of this happy time came when someone decided to organize a ball. One of the instructors, Henry Howard, brought over a spectacular couple from nearby Chatsworth: a tall young ensign in the Coldstream Guards, and an incredibly beautiful girl. He was Andrew Cavendish, who in 1950 was to become the 11th Duke of Devonshire; while she was Deborah Mitford, whose sister Diana and her husband, Sir Oswald Mosley, were in prison as pro-Nazi sympathizers. ‘Funny, Howard bringing that Mitford girl,’ said someone when they had gone. ‘After all, this is meant to be the Intelligence Training Centre, and there is a war on.’

Another of the Matlock instructors was Stanley Casson, ‘donnish, witty and slightly disreputable’, a Greek scholar and archaeologist who had had a lot to do with the British School of Archaeology in Athens. Casson, who always spoke to Paddy in Greek, was one of the moving spirits of what was to become the Greek Military Mission. The Italians had invaded Greece on 28 October 1940, and Paddy followed their rapid advance with anxiety. When the Greek army began to turn the Italian tide a few weeks later, ‘It was joy and agony mixed’, as he put it: joy that Greece was acquitting herself so well, agony because he was not there. Stanley Casson went to London, and soon after Paddy was told to join Casson’s Greek Military Mission.

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Evolution of Landing Craft

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 425-429:

Eight months earlier in North Africa, the Allies had relied on whatever vessels they could scrape together, including car ferries and passenger liners, for the Torch landings. The results had been sobering. As American Major General Lucian Truscott had noted, the landings were “a hit-or-miss affair that would have spelled disaster against a well-armed enemy intent upon resistance.” Chaotic as it was to land the soldiers, an even more serious problem had been the offloading of jeeps, trucks, and especially tanks. As the British had learned at Dieppe, landing tanks onto a hostile beach was extraordinarily difficult. Those experiences led British and American ship designers to create vessels to fulfill that function. The result was the emergence of an entire family of specialized amphibious ships, each of which was routinely identified by an acronym.

The largest and most important of them was the “landing ship, tank,” or LST. Large, slow, and ungainly, LSTs were designed specifically to solve the problem of landing large numbers of heavy tanks on an enemy beach. Previously, that task had been the duty of a much smaller vessel called a “landing craft, mechanized” (LCM) or Mike boat, often referred to as a “tank lighter.” While an LCM could carry one thirty-three-ton Sherman tank, it was self-evident that depositing tanks one at a time onto a defended beach was unlikely to overwhelm a determined enemy. By contrast, one LST could accommodate twenty Sherman tanks or thirty two-and-a-half-ton trucks (the famous “deuce and a half”) in its cavernous hold, plus another thirty to forty jeeps or artillery pieces on its weather deck. Moreover, despite their great size, the LSTs had a flat bottom (as one veteran noted, they were “shaped like a bathtub”) and could push right up onto the sand of the invasion beach. There they opened massive bow doors and deployed a short ramp, and the tanks and trucks could then drive out onto the beach. After discharging their cargoes, the LSTs closed their bow doors and retracted from the beach by using a powerful winch on the stern that hauled in on an anchor that had been dropped offshore. As Churchill himself noted, the LST “became the foundation of all our future amphibious operations.”

Before the war was over, the United States would build more than a thousand LSTs, but in April and May 1943, when the Allies assembled the plan for the invasion of Sicily, there were fewer than two hundred of them, and many of those were still undergoing sea trials. As a result, the invasion groups for Operation Husky sought to maximize each LST to its fullest capacity. During one pre-invasion exercise, Allied planners loaded one with 450 men, all of their equipment, and no fewer than ninety-four vehicles to see if it could still operate. It could.

Another new amphibious ship was a smaller tank carrier that the British called a “tank landing craft” (TLC) and the Americans a “landing craft, tank” (LCT) [see note below]. Half the length of an LST, and displacing only a third the tonnage, an LCT could carry up to five tanks or trucks in its open-air hold. These sturdy amphibs were especially useful for bringing tanks ashore during the first several waves, when it was too dangerous to expose the large, scarce, and expensive LSTs to shore-based artillery fire.

To carry the men ashore, the Allies would again rely heavily on the small landing boats, officially LCAs (British) or LCVPs (American), often (and herein) called Higgins boats. The newest versions had an armored drop-front bow so that the men did not have to climb out over the sides to get to the beach. Small, cheap, and almost literally disposable, the Higgins boats were ideal for the first several assault waves, though in order to build up troop numbers quickly during subsequent waves, the Allies also had a larger troop carrier called a “landing craft, infantry” (LCI), which their crews affectionately called an LC or “Elsie.” The most common type was an LCI(L), the second L standing for “large.” Significantly bigger than the Higgins boats, an LCI(L) could carry up to two hundred soldiers at a time. They did not carry any vehicles, as they had no bow doors. After pushing up onto the beach, they deployed two narrow ramps, one on either side of the bow, and the embarked soldiers charged down those ramps onto the beach. Armed with only four 20 mm guns and mostly unarmored, an LCI was all but helpless against hostile shore fire, but it was indispensable for bringing in large numbers of infantry.

NOTE: Officially any vessel displacing more than 200 tons was a ship while vessels displacing less than 200 tons were craft. This rule of thumb was not universally applied, however, since both LCTs and LCIs displaced more than 500 tons but were still called craft.

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British Retreat from Greece, 1940

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 101-102:

German intervention in the Greek war was decisive. Within days, British and Greek ground forces were in full retreat. If the Germans had failed to provide adequate air cover for Iachino’s fleet, their aircraft proved devastatingly effective in the land war, and Stuka dive-bombers and Junkers level bombers dominated the skies. In a kind of mini Dunkirk, British transports and destroyers sought to rescue the hard-pressed Allied forces. More than fifty thousand men were successfully evacuated from mainland Greece and carried 250 miles southward to the island of Crete, though four thousand British soldiers and two thousand colonial troops from British Palestine had to be left behind to become prisoners of war.

Cunningham issued orders that “no enemy forces must reach Crete by sea.” Nor did they. Absent a surface navy, the Germans could not pursue their foes across the Aegean. But on May 20, thirteen thousand German paratroopers jumped onto the island from the air. The paratroopers suffered horrific casualties, and initially the British and Greek commanders believed they could contain them. But poor Allied coordination allowed the Germans to secure the airfields, and that enabled them to fly in transport planes filled with reinforcements and supplies. Within days, the Allies had to evacuate Crete as well.

As at Dunkirk the year before, every available destroyer was assigned to the task, and as at Dunkirk, the evacuation had to take place at night due to German control of the skies. For four consecutive nights, from May 28 to June 1, the destroyers crept in at midnight and loaded troops from the jetties, putting to sea well before dawn filled with exhausted and hungry soldiers. Some 16,500 men were evacuated, though once again more than 5,000 had to be left behind. The Luftwaffe pursued and attacked the Allied ships all the way across the Mediterranean, and the toll on Cunningham’s fleet was shocking—greater than Italian losses in the Battle of Cape Matapan. Altogether the British lost three light cruisers and six destroyers sunk and sixteen more ships severely damaged, including the battleships Warspite and Barham, as well as the new carrier Formidable. More than 2,400 British sailors lost their lives.

Despite efforts by the Regia Marina, the British still commanded the sea, but the Germans controlled the air, so—much like the Italians—the Royal Navy could not operate effectively beyond the umbrella of land-based air cover. Arthur Tedder, head of the Royal Air Force, observed that “any excursion [by warships] outside a radius of about 150 miles to the east and north of Alex[andria] is an expensive adventure.” The Royal Navy retained its presence in the eastern Mediterranean, but its reach had been severely limited.

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Different Markets for Cod

From Cod, by Mark Kurlansky (Penguin, 1998), pp. 104-105:

From the Middle Ages to the present, the most demanding cod market has always been the Mediterranean. These countries experienced a huge population growth in the nineteenth century: Spain’s population almost doubled, and Portugal’s more than doubled. Many ports grew into large urban centers, including Bilbao, Porto, Lisbon, Genoa, and Naples. Barcelona in 1900 had a population of almost one million people—most of them passionate bacalao consumers.

But North Americans did not succeed in this market. Though Newfoundland, Labrador, and Nova Scotia remained almost entirely dependent on fishing, there was little quality and they largely sold to Boston or the Caribbean. The one North American exception was the Gaspé, where a quality Gaspé cure was sold to the Mediterranean. Some 900 years after the Basques won the competitive edge over the Scandinavians by salting rather than just air-drying fish, the Scandinavians became competitive by perfecting salting. Norway and Denmark, which controlled Iceland and the Faroe Islands, moved aggressively into the top-quality Mediterranean markets and have remained.

Even today, with goods and people moving more freely than ever before, most salt cod eaters are attached to the traditional cure of their region. Modern Montreal is a city of both Caribbean and Mediterranean immigrants. At the Jean Talon market in the north of the city, stores feature badly split, small dried salt cods from Nova Scotia and huge, well-prepared salt cod from the Gaspé. The Caribbeans consistently buy the Nova Scotian, while the Gaspé is sold to Portuguese and Italians.

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