Category Archives: military

The Times of Appeasement, 1930s

From Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, by Thomas E. Ricks (Penguin, 2017), Kindle Loc. 842-62:

The Times of London, then co-owned by another member of the Astor clan, John J. Astor, was at the time the daily journal of the British establishment. As Lord Halifax, Chamberlain’s foreign minister, put it, in prewar Britain, “Special weight was held to attach to opinions expressed in its leading articles [that is, editorials], on the assumption that these carried some quality of government stamp, if not approbation.” The newspaper fervently supported appeasement throughout the 1930s, to the point that it was willing to tolerate and even embrace Hitlerian tactics. Following the “Night of the Long Knives,” a series of shocking political murders carried out on Hitler’s orders in mid-1934, the newspaper soothed, “Herr Hitler, whatever one may think of his methods, is genuinely trying to transform revolutionary fervour into moderate and constructive effort and to impose a high standard of public service on National-Socialist officials.”

In 1937, Geoffrey Dawson, editor of the Times, confided to his Geneva correspondent, “I do my utmost, night after night, to keep out of the paper anything that might hurt their susceptibilities.” According to the Times’s own official history of itself, published in 1952, those who opposed appeasement were all too often “intellectuals, utopians, sentimentalists and pacifists satisfied with a programme of resistance without the means of resistance.” The Times’s history, with extraordinary nerve, blames those hotheads for making the disastrous policy of appeasement necessary, arguing that the newspaper, “like the Government, was helpless in the face of an apparently isolationist Commonwealth and a pacifist Britain.” What this explanation fails to note is that the role of a leading newspaper is not just to follow opinion but to try to shape it, especially when a major government policy rests on faulty assumptions. And it certainly is not the role of a newspaper editor to suppress news on the grounds that it might bother people or force government officials to reconsider their policies.

King Edward VIII himself, during his eleven-month reign in 1936, supported appeasement. According to one account, when Hitler sent troops into the Rhineland in March 1936, breaking the terms of the Versailles Treaty, the king called the German ambassador in London to tell him that he had given Prime Minister Baldwin “a piece of my mind.” To wit, “I told the old-so-and-so that I would abdicate if he made war. There was a frightful scene. But you needn’t worry. There won’t be war.” The king actually would abdicate for other reasons later that same year. During the war, his rightist views and contacts would become a persistent worry for Churchill and British intelligence.

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Battle of Britain Advantages, 1940

From Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, by Thomas E. Ricks (Penguin, 2017), Kindle Loc. 1849-76:

The whole theory of fighter defence was created to avoid what they called “standing patrols.” If you were guarding the country by having aeroplanes up all the time, you ran out of engine hours and you were on the ground when the attack occurred. So the RAF developed a system of reporting incoming raids. First, he used radar to plot the aircraft as they were approaching Britain and then he used the Observer Corps to spot them when they’d crossed the coast. All the information was fed to a filter room and then to an operations room where you got a picture of the developing raids plotted on a table. That picture would be three or four minutes old but it was sufficiently up to date to get the fighters off when they were really needed.

Thus the characteristic image of the Battle of Britain that we have today is of young tousle-haired pilots lounging near their aircraft, not flying but ready to go aloft at a moment’s notice. In historical retrospect, the British air defense system was the equivalent of a human-powered computer, a remarkable real-time information-processing system that worked so well in conserving British aerial resources—aircraft, pilots, and staff attention—that it was one reason the Royal Air Force actually grew more powerful with the passage of time in 1940. A second reason was that British aircraft factories finally swung into high gear.

The third reason that the British prevailed in the Battle of Britain was German incompetence in waging an aerial offensive. Contrary to the Teutonic reputation for martial skill, the Luftwaffe’s approach was “astonishingly amateur,” concluded Bungay, amounting to “little more than flying over England, dropping some bombs on various things to annoy people, and shooting down any fighters which came up as a result.” It is no accident, Bungay adds, that the military service operating so incoherently was the only one of the German armed forces led by a Nazi politician, Goering, who before going into politics had been a pilot during World War I. Hitler supposedly liked to say that he had a conservative army, a reactionary navy, and a Nazi air force. That politicized air arm flew into English airspace unprepared for what it would encounter. Hans-Ekkehard Bob, who flew a Messerschmitt 109 fighter, recalled being surprised on a fogbound day: “I experienced a Spitfire formation all of a sudden coming up from behind, having a clear line of fire and I wondered how this was even possible. Having no visibility whatsoever, from above nor from below, how was it possible that an enemy formation was able to get into a firing position from behind?” The answer, of course, was the well-tuned British radar and early warning system.

The Germans in their days of pride also consistently overestimated the damage they were doing, believing in mid-August 1940 that the British had only 300 working fighters available. In fact, they had 1,438—which was twice as many as they had on hand just six weeks earlier. The kill ratio always favored the British, who lost a total of 1,547 aircraft while destroying 1,887 German ones. On top of that, because most of the aerial combat took place over England, British pilots could fly many missions in one day, with their aircraft reloaded with ammunition in under four minutes. And when they were shot down, they often could parachute to friendly soil and fly again, while parachuting Germans who survived became prisoners of war, and those who ditched in the frigid waters of the channel often were lost either to drowning or hypothermia. (For the same reasons, the RAF lost more bomber crew members during this period than it did fighter pilots—801 from Bomber Command versus 544 for Fighter Command.)

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The Middle-class RAF, 1940

From Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, by Thomas E. Ricks (Penguin, 2017), Kindle Loc. 2053-64:

Moreover, it was not the gentlemanly army, nor the powerful navy, but the Royal Air Force that played the most significant role in 1940. The air force was a distinctly middle-class organization, carrying with it a whiff of gasoline and engine lubricants.

Both Orwell and Churchill noticed and commented on the middle-class nature of the RAF. Orwell observed that it was “hardly at all . . . within the ruling-class orbit.”

Indeed, one historian has noted that there were jibes at the time that its members were “motor mechanics in uniforms,” not unlike the nameless men who chauffeured the rich. Evelyn Waugh, always alert to class differences, has a character in one of his novels set during World War II bemoan the fact that a senior Royal Air Force officer has been allowed to join an elite dining club. This gaffe occurred, the character explains, because it came during the Battle of Britain, “when the Air Force was for a moment almost respectable. . . . My dear fellow, it’s a nightmare for everyone.” Aspects of the class system did manage to persist in the RAF. Members of some “auxiliary” units formed by the wealthy and titled of London amused themselves, recalled one pilot, Hugh Dundas, by referring to the regular RAF as “the coloured troops.” Class differences also reached into the cockpit—RAF officers generally enjoyed the helpful privilege of flying the same aircraft every day, while sergeant pilots were assigned whatever machine was available.

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African & Japanese Mercenaries in Asia, 4

The following is part 3 of a condensed version (with footnotes omitted) of “African and Japanese Mercenaries in Southern China and Southeast Asia, c. 1550-1650” by Richard Bradshaw, in Kokujin Kenkyu 76 (April 2007), published by the Japan Black Studies Association.

Chinese and Sino-Japanese merchant-pirates also recruited Japanese and African mercenaries. In the early Zheng Zhilong (or Nicholas Iquan), father of the famous Coxinga, recruited about 500 African soldiers from Macao to form his “Black Guard”. Zheng Zhilong and his raider-traders were a multicultural military force that included numerous Japanese, but he trusted his African troops more than any of his other soldiers and used them as his bodyguards.

After the Manchus took Beijing in 1644, Zheng Zhilong and his son Coxinga became staunch supporters of the Ming loyalist resistance in southern China. Zheng Zhilong was eventually convinced to join the Manchus and took 300 of his African mercenaries with him. These African soldiers were soon incorporated into the Manchu army and fought as a separate unit against Ming loyalists who Zheng Zhilong’s son Coxinga continued to support. Coxinga’s mother was Japanese, his bodyguards were African and Indian, and his chief envoy was an Italian missionary. Among his ‘Chinese’ loyalist troops were German and Dutch defectors as well as Japanese and Sino-Japanese soldiers.

In 1661 Coxinga attacked the Dutch fort at Zeelandia in Taiwan. Dutch commander Frederick Coyett complained about Coxinga’s elite musketeer ‘black-boys,’ some of whom he suspected of being recruited from among former slaves of the Dutch. Once again, these African mercenaries fought alongside Coxinga’s multicultural force of Japanese as well as Indian and Malay soldiers. The Dutch were defeated and forced to leave Taiwan and to this day Coxinga is considered a national hero by both mainland and Taiwanese Chinese because he is regarded as the first to defeat European imperialists. He did so with the help of Japanese, African and European mercenaries.

Evidence of encounters between Japanese and Africans in many other locations in Asia during the early modern period can undoubtedly be uncovered. In c. 1600, the Captain of Malacca had a Japanese bodyguard, for example.

The study of encounters between Japanese and Africans on land and at sea between Africa and Japan can add to our knowledge of African and Japanese diasporas as well as to the history of Japanese-African relations. This brief account of a few encounters between Japanese and African mercenaries in southern China and Southeast Asia during the early modern period will hopefully stimulate more research on this topic.

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African & Japanese Mercenaries in Asia, 3

The following is part 3 of a condensed version (with footnotes omitted) of “African and Japanese Mercenaries in Southern China and Southeast Asia, c. 1550-1650” by Richard Bradshaw, in Kokujin Kenkyu 76 (April 2007), published by the Japan Black Studies Association.

The Dutch also employed both African and Japanese mercenaries who often fought together. In 1608, Japanese mercenaries helped the Dutch East India Company fight the Portuguese in the Spice Islands. In 1613 the Netherlands East India Company ships leaving Hirado transported Japanese adventurers to Java. Hendrik Broewer, chief of the Hirado factory, recorded that 68 Japanese left Hirado in February 1613 but that there was not enough room on the ship for the 300 Japanese requested by Dutch Governor General Both. Of the 68 Japanese sent, 9 were carpenters, 3 smiths, and 2 or 3 plasterers, but 51 were sailors and soldiers. In 1615, the Dutch signed a contract to obtain 59 Japanese, of whom 7 were carpenters and 2 were grooms, but 50 were sailors and soldiers.

After laying the foundation for the city of Batavia in 1619, Governor General Coen repeatedly asked the chief of the factory at Hirado to send as many Japanese as possible. By January 1620, 71 Japanese soldiers had arrived and Gov.-Gen. Coen took took 87 Japanese soldiers with him when he attacked the Bandanese in 1621. By this time the total number of Japanese residents at Batavia – including women, children and slaves – was certainly over 100, but many Japanese mercenaries were soon sent to Amboina and other places so that by 1622 the number of Japanese mercenaries in Batavia decreased to 30 while their numbers elsewhere in the Dutch East Indies were growing. Additional Japanese and African residents of Batavia arrived when the Dutch captured Portuguese ships. In 1637, 13 Japanese prisoners from a Portuguese junk captured off the island of Bintan arrived at Batavia, for example, where they obviously encountered Africans.

One Japanese mercenary, Anthony Japon, appears in records as a mardijker or soldier. In 1652 he was a sergeant of the black citizens (swarte borgerije). He is listed as an ensign by 1653 and as a lieutenant by 1655, but he was also a slave trader and a money-lending. Another resident, Michiel Itchiemon of Osaka, was Captain of the Japanese residents in 1626 and his son, Domingo Itchiemon, was a mardjiker soldier.

In 1622 Japanese and African mercenaries fought together and against each other when the Dutch attacked Macao. In 1621 the Dutch learned that the Ming rulers of China had asked the Portuguese of Macao to provide them with 100 mercenaries and cannon to fight the Manchus. The Dutch concluded that this left Macao vulnerable and so eight ships with multicultural crews, including Africans, were sent to attack Macao. Along their way the Dutch encountered a Siamese warship with twenty Japanese sailor-soldiers who had fled Portuguese service and now offered their services as mercenaries to the Dutch.

When the Dutch fleet reached Macao on 22 June 1622 with about 600 Europeans and 200 sailor-soldiers from Japan, Africa and elsewhere, they found themselves confronted with eight Europeans who commanded numerous African and Chinese soldiers. Some accounts state that the African defenders were slaves armed by their masters, but others suggest that Guinean mercenaries helped to defend the Portuguese port. In any case, African soldiers, whether slaves fighting for their freedom or Guinean mercenaries (or both), were crucial to the successful defense of Macao in 1622 against the Dutch and their Japanese and other mercenaries.

In 1623 the Dutch beheaded 10 Englishmen, 10 Japanese mercenaries and a Portuguese overseer of slaves at the English East India enclave on Amboina. The justification for this famous “massacre of Amboina” was that a Japanese mercenary arrested by the Dutch on suspicion of spying in February 1623 confessed under torture to a plot by English factors, aided by Japanese mercenaries, to attack the Dutch and seize Fort Victoria. There were “about thirty” Japanese mercenaries “regularly employed by the [Amboina] castle authorities” at this time. Some of the slaves overseen by the unfortunate Portuguese overseer who was beheaded were probably Africans, which puts Japanese and Africans together on Amboina at this time.

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African & Japanese Mercenaries in Asia, 2

The following is part 2 of a condensed version (with footnotes omitted) of “African and Japanese Mercenaries in Southern China and Southeast Asia, c. 1550-1650” by Richard Bradshaw, in Kokujin Kenkyu 76 (April 2007), published by the Japan Black Studies Association.

Many Spaniards and Portuguese in Asia came to regard the Japanese – particularly members of the samurai class – as a “warlike race” from which soldiers could be recruited for new conquests. Spain’s occupation of Portugal and the uniting of the two kingdoms in 1582 “unleashed the imperialist and messianic imagination of the king’s subjects, among them some of the Portuguese clergy.” In 1584 a Portuguese Jesuit in Macao assured King Philip II of Spain that the Japanese were a warlike race and thus that only three thousand Japanese Christian soldiers would be enough to conquer. In 1586 officials in Manila signed a petition encouraging the invasion of China and suggested that 6,000 Japanese and an equal number of Filipinos should be recruited to join the invasion force. The proposed “Spanish” force of 12,000 soldiers would have included many black slaves and freemen as well since they often fought for the Spanish. By the time the petition reached Madrid in January 1588, however, Spain’s attention and resources were focused on sending the Great Armada against England and so the plan to conquer China with Japanese, Filipino and African mercenaries did not receive support.

Manila’s need for military and other labor led to a rapid increase in the numbers of Japanese and African resident in Manila. During the sixteenth century, Spaniards in Manila imported large numbers of African slaves from Arab and Chinese traders. “The country is flooded with black slaves,” one observer noted at the end of the sixteenth century. In 1603, three hundred Japanese, fifteen hundred Tagalogs, and an unknown number of African slaves or freemen joined Manila’s Spaniards in attacking Chinese residents of the city. There were massacres of Chinese in Manila by Spaniards and their Asian and African soldiers in 1639, and 1662 as well. By this time many of the Africans in Manila had become freemen. In 1638 “the number of free blacks serving in Manila as soldiers, laborers and sailors was estimated at around five hundred.” “The diversity of the peoples who are seen in Manila and its environs,” reported a friar in 1662, “is the greatest in the world, for these include men from all kingdoms and nations – Spain, France, England, Italy, Flanders, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Muscovy; people from all the Indies, both east and west; and Turks, Greeks, Persians, Tatars, Chinese, Japanese, Africans and other Asians.”

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African & Japanese Mercenaries in Asia, 1

The following is part 1 of a condensed version (with footnotes omitted) of “African and Japanese Mercenaries in Southern China and Southeast Asia, c. 1550-1650” by Richard Bradshaw, in Kokujin Kenkyu 76 (April 2007), published by the Japan Black Studies Association.

Krieg, Handel und Piraterie, (War, trade and piracy)
Dreieinig sind sie, nicht zu trennen. (Are an inseparable trinity.)
Goethe, Faust, II, 5:3

Studies of early encounters between Africans and Japanese have focused on the presence of Africans in Japan during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The fact that Africans came to Japan on Portuguese and Dutch ships, resided in Japanese ports, accompanied Europeans on visits to Japanese rulers, and served Japanese masters has been well-documented by scholars. Very little attention has been paid to early Afro-Japanese contacts in the lands and on the seas between Africa and Asia during either the millennium before the first appearance of Africans with Europeans in Asia or during the era of European maritime empires in the early modern period.

Such encounters undoubtedly took place from time to time during the millennium before Africans first visited Japan. African merchants and slaves are known to have visited China during the era of the Roman Empire and during the Tang dynasty African slaves were imported into China, whose capital at Chang’an was a huge metropolis which received visitors from Japan as well as Southwest Asia. Arab, Persian and other visitors from Southwest Asia brought Africans to China with them in subsequent centuries as well. Traders from the Ryūkyū Islands (including Okinawa) sent ships to ports in the straits of Malacca, where they undoubtedly encountered African merchants and slaves before the Portuguese conquered Malacca in the early 16th century. However, few if any details about Japanese-African encounters during the millennium before the sixteenth century may ever come to light due to a lack of specific evidence.

Beginning in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, both European and Asian sources provide considerable evidence of Japanese and Africans encounters in numerous southern Chinese and Southeast Asian ports where a floating population of freebooters from all over the world found frequent employment as servants, sailors and soldiers for hire. Military labor markets tend to thrive in areas where trade is expanding, particularly in regions where political fragmentation or consolidation is taking place. One reason that so many African and Japanese soldiers were available for hire during this period was the fragmentation of political power in Japan as well as West Africa in the sixteenth century. In Japan, civil wars left many soldiers without patrons and so many refugees and exiles had little choice but to sell their labor to new patrons. Many rōnin and refugees thus left Japan and served as soldiers, sailors, or pirates in other parts of Asia during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In Africa, the decline and fragmentation of the empires of Mali and its successor states left many Mande soldiers without patrons. Some sold their military labor to Portuguese paymasters who employed them in Asia as well as Africa.

In the early 1600s alone an estimated 100,000 Japanese left Japan to engage in trade and about 5,000 Japanese emigrated to places such as Faifo, Turane, Ayudhya, Phnom Penh, and Luzon. Many of these appear to have served as sailors and soldiers for hire or mercenaries. Masterless samurai (rōnin) (or soldiers who had fought for foreigners in Southeast Asia) often served as the leaders of overseas Japanese communities and many Japanese mercenaries fought with, or against, African soldiers. Thus encounters between Japanese and Africans in the early modern era in Asia, particularly from about 1550 to 1650 CE, were often between African and Japanese sailors and soldiers working for a wide variety of patrons in the lands and on the seas between Japan and Africa.

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