Tuesday, July 29, 2014

BLACK JUNE - I.S.I.S. "Selfies" of head trophies should not surprise anyone

When Shakespeare summed up human failings, he could be devastating. "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." was not written to flatter us, but  rather to confirm that we are all beasts, and many of us monstrous beasts.  I thought of this recently as I examined a dozen atrocity photos shared I.S.I.S. warriors in  Syria, who were not content with executing captives, but felt the need to go further. They decided to cut off their heads and make a display of the gory trophies.  

A selfie from Syria  I.S.I.S.  fighters as headhunters
An I.S.I.S.  selfie posted on TWITTER.  Head-hunting shots flatter the beast.
He was born in the Netherlands, but his heart burned for an ISIL homeland.
The idea here is the killing of the "near enemy" or impure Muslims. The
killing of the "distant enemy" we impure Westerners, can wait for now.

Consider the two men in the photos, one a passport holder from the Netherlands and the other from Australia.  Don't let the beards fool you.  Not long ago these fellows were living on our side of the divide, sitting in a food court at some generic shopping mall, cheap baseball caps on their heads, munching on junk food.  You would not have given them a second glance, and they found that infuriating.  With these photos they spit in your salad, do they not?   2013 was declared the Year of the Selfie, so what did thousands of angry Muslim youth do? They flew to a war zone beyond American military supervision, where they could trump one of the most odious forms of narcissist Western expressionism - the Selfie.  (Even the Obama's employ the SELFIE gimmick without any hint of irony.) Now we have the head-hunting selfie. Bravo fellows!

The Australian press made a big deal out of the fact
that this immigrant, Mohamed Elomar, abused their passport, 
not to mention Aussie hospitality.   It's easy to be offended,  and 
many are these days, but harder to act. 

There is nothing new in this of course.  My ancestors were warrior Celts of the West European forests and river valleys. They were tribesmen who took heads whenever they felt the urge to publicize their fearsome courage.  They also successfully resisted the military power of the Roman Empire - less so the cultural intrusions which they considered a spiritual pollution.  The declaration of a new I.S.I.L. "caliphate" in territories which were reallocate by the Imperial British and the Imperial French, is a startling new reality.  The wheel of history is turning.  We will get used to radical Islam, or we won't.  In the Hollywood war fantasy - ALIENS -  Corporal Hicks, the sturdy Colonial Marine decides on Armageddon. "We'll nuke 'em from orbit. It's the only way to be sure."  Real life solutions are a bit trickier.  We cannot ever nuke our home world. Nuclear warheads are not an option for all the obvious reasons, but where is that antibiotic, the magic bullet,  capable of flushing the homicidal beasts who infect our pluralistic societies?   

Celtic head hunter, the warrior hero, c180 B.C.
A reconstruction of broken limestone statuary excavated in France -
a Celt hero figure, circa 300 BC,  displays  head trophies for all eternity.
Roman Legionnaires smashed it to bits, fearing its power to incite resistance.

If you are interested in the significance of head trophies, there is a mass of archeological evidence and art history which documents its function.  The only thing at all humorous about the atrocities we have seen committed (recently) in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, (and even more so in Mexico) is that the bearded beasts really think they have invented something new, when in fact they are reverting to something very ancient.  Head hunting has never completely disappeared from our world, any more than have cannibalism or even the plague.  As disgusting as the war-porn has become, it could get worse. So far at least we haven't witnessed full-reversion to the bloody ape, although recent African conflicts drew us very close indeed.  The Neanderthal would crack the human skull open to access the sweet brain. So far the Islamic Jihadists have refrained, but consumption of human flesh was witnessed in at least three recent war zones in sub-Saharan Africa.  The beasts are stirring.

severed head  c300 BC, in stone, Celtic head hunting tradition
A stone head  grasped by the hand of a Chieftain.  In a fusion of sorts,
the Greco - Roman form of expression (sculpture in stone) was used to
immortalize Celt values -  the Hero-Warrior displaying his trophies.

What is really ironic about the Islamic use of the ancient head-hunting motif, is that it has kindled interest in comparable Celtic symbolism in Western Europe, particularly in those countries where the hyper-vigilant police jump on any display of Nazi regalia, even when it appears in non-authentic, stylized form.  There is a huge European sub--culture now collecting, re-interpreting and sharing pagan symbolism, and much of it informs their political idealism.  For some, aggressive images on a T-shirt or a banner are a manifesto, and the sword or gun pose is too cliche.  A severed head, held high, is an arresting image which cannot be ignored. One can safely predict that when the next European war breaks out, possibly in the 'balkanized' Balkans, the display of head trophies will finally return to European warfare... shared of course on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Black June - JOINT BASE BALAD rendered an embarrassing relic of thwarted U.S. Military Power.

Control tower, Joint Base Balad
The control tower at Joint Base Balad.

The construction of Joint Base Balad, with its rebuilt runways and advanced electronic systems, coupled the sprawling Army logistical support facility known as LSA Anaconda, cost the American taxpayers an undisclosed fortune. Balad's reinforced runways are capable of receiving the giant C5 Galaxy transports, its hardened shelters are refurbished to receive the newly built Iraqi F16s, its base perimeter was the most secure in the Iraq-  and all of that was ABANDONED because the Obama White House suddenly lost interest in a profitless war which reeked too much like America's defeat in Viet Nam.

Town of Balad, Iraq is all that is stopping ISIL sweep into Baghdad
Can it really be true?  Balad, a small city astride a great highway,
is all that is stopping the ISIL sweep into Baghdad.  That is what a 
Shiite militia commander told the Los Angeles Times,  just a week ago.

The Balad - Baghdad Highway, which the American army truckers called MAIN SUPPLY ROUTE TAMPA,  has been raided by ISIL guerillas continuously for six weeks. ISIS/ISIL swept into Balad at least twice and then withdrew. Until very recently, when visited by the British BBC and the Los Angeles Times, we had only very sketchy reports of pinprick attacks along the asphalt corridor. In and around the Shiite controlled city, a tribal enclave which is an agricultural centre hosting a population of some 100,000, newly armed militiamen have concentrated and dug in, with some heavy weapons support from the Iraqi national army. But regular  army officers are not in command at Balad.  The Shiite militia commander has described his pattern of strong points as "the front line" in the defence of Baghdad.  But of course Balad is not Normandy. There are plenty of exit ramps on the Iraqi freeways.  The Muslim road warriors do have options. The President of Iraq has fewer.

Highway outside the wire defenses - Joint Base Balad, Iraq
This was the scene in 2010 as the principal American units pulled
out of JOINT BASE BALAD, leaving only small detachments of USAF
and CIA personnel to contribute to the covert Drone strike operations.
At the top of the photo - empty trailers wait under the overpass to
go into JBB to load military vehicles.  At the bottom, loaded transports
emerge from the base.  Not the tubular concrete gun tower. Many of
these highway fortifications have already been blasted by ISIL.

Camp Anaconda - section of defensive perimeter. Joint Base Balad
Tower 32 at LSA Anaconda - just one spot in a miles-long
defensive perimeter comprised of towers, razor-wire, mines, 
gun pits and irrigation canals.  It is still intact and functioning.


JOINT BASE BALAD  is still there, but no American journalists have entered the base in 2014.  Worse, we have no explanation for the White House's massive re-investment in the superbase. In America it seems they still have mountains of money to burn.  Until the bug-out in June, several hundred employees of American corporations were beavering away, prepping J.B.B. to receive Apache attack helicopters, Iraqi  F16s and a squadron of CIA assassination drones. It was a highly secretive American outpost.  Yes,  Iraqi oil was paying for the new gunships and fighter aircraft, but the American taxpayer was footing the bill for everything else. Almost a billion new dollars to refit a base which had already squandered billions. And since the CIA budget is black, we do not know how many UAVs were in the pipeline for delivery to Joint Base Balad. There is no reason for ISIL/ISIS commanders to waste resources on attacking the hardened base. Base personnel are bottled up and chewing their fingernails. It is now clear,  after more than a month of cringing silence, that the White House is not going to need the super-base, because the U.S. cavalry will not be going in to the rescue the Iraqi armed forces. The Muslim Road Warriors will ultimately break through at the city of Balad, and finish their campaign with a rush on the Shiite capital - Baghdad.

Hardened shelter for F-16 aircraft - Joint Base Balad

We are still waiting for the "Last Battle", the decisive event which allows the experts to declare a turning point in history. The final edit of the Wiki-page. How long will it be before we witness the FALL OF BAGHDAD?  Weeks? Months?   As a concerned Canadian, trying to make sense of "Great Power Thinking",  I have to rely on journalism for much of my factual information. More and more I feel like a sucker.  Didn't we all try to make sense of events in Iraq when the ISIS assault exploded as a news story?  I found it disgusting to see how quickly the interest of "news editors" evaporated in less than two weeks.  It really is a testament to the disproportionate influence American news production has on  the worldwide information flow. The noise from New York is near deafening. By now there are hundreds of thousands of U.S. service personnel who know that their government is lying to them, on an hourly basis, but I'll wager they are no more equipped to discover what has been happening at Balad, and on the highways of Iraq than I am.  Remember that sickening video, edited like a cat food commercial,  which documented ISIS death squads roaming Iraqi highways? It was presented to us as "news"  and according to whacky Wolf Blitzer, evidence that ISIS was a "band of terrorists".   CNN and other American infotainment producers insisted the ghastly video was proof that ISIS was "scarier" than Hezbollah. Remember the "scarier than scary" narrative of Iraq during Black June 2014?  We now know that ALL of that video was shot before the ISIS offensive in June, and had nothing to do with ISIS battlefield tactics. Now we also find that Hezbollah fighters  are at Balad, in the front line defending Baghdad and the Maliki government.   Hell just got hotter.

ISIS death squad video on LIVELEAK

What was simply stunning to witness, was how quickly the Obama government distanced itself from the hapless antics of the Iraqi puppet government.  The U.S. news media fell almost totally silent, as if the only thing worth reporting was White House blathering.  During the first days of the BLACK JUNE offensive, as the ISIS/ISIL "road warriors" blitzed along the network of Iraqi national highways, CNN (ever the mouthpiece of the White House) was totally devoted to covering the Iraqi military collapse. But as soon as Obama media flaks signalled that Iraq was cut loose,  CNN stopped covering the guerrilla war at all, and found other subjects for its "panel of experts" to chew on.  Americans hate to chew on defeat,  don't they?

The Fall of Iraq - the easiest victory in history
Assessing the Black June successes of ISIS, the
U.S. Statement sees historical parallels. The Crusades!
Need we  go further back than World War Two ?

The day after I posted my last blog (June 25) on the possible utility of Joint Base Balad to American military ambitions in the region,   I was parked at a shopping mall with a bottle of water and a good read  - John Williams "FRANCE  - SUMMER 1940". As I read the introduction written by Sir Basil Liddell Hart, "The easiest victory in history",  my thoughts turned to the possibility that that we are witnessing an even easier victory. A victory made possible not by any equivalence to German military innovation, but spawned by the reality American political arrogance.  The history purest will object, insisting that there are no direct parallels between France in 1940 and Iraq of 2014.  Perhaps.  It is true that ISIS commanders deployed columns of pickup-truck borne fighters, not columns of light panzers and waves of Stukas. And while the Iraqi  government was not dependant on any "Maginot Line" or superiority in tank forces, it WAS dependant on something even more daunting in this world -  it expected backup from its powerful U.S. military ally.   But rescue was denied.

If you think my historical analogy is half-baked, consider the opinion of a "Senior State Department Official" who accompanied John Kerry to Amman, Jordan.  In an important press briefing on June 22, 2014, (archived on the State Department web-server)  he reflected on the reasons for the unprecedented rout of the Iraqi military in the face of ISIS thrust south out of Syria.  "I'm not an historian, but if you read histories of the crusades... there's some historic parallels maybe..." (extract below).

U.S. State Department, Amman briefing June 22, 2014

American political thinking in mid-June is made clear, as Iraqi towns were falling in sequence to ISIS/ISIL.  "So we immediately faced some things we had to do.  We wanted to look for a circuit breaker to try to break that kind of domino from on and on."  Rather badly stated, don't you think?  But it is interesting to see the metaphor of a "circuit breaker" used to explain the evacuation of civilian contractors from Balad Airbase, rather than its reinforcement.  One cannot help wondering, what were the private thoughts of experts at the Pentagon, forced to accept throwing away a strategic asset which cost so much in  U.S. blood and dollars.

Instead of rescuing his putative ally, America's "Commander in Chief" bobbed and bleated on about how "undemocratic" and "sectarian" the Malaki government is.  Sure Malaki won the most votes, said Obama,  but he is undeserving of further American support because he doesn't invite opponents into a "Unity Government".  That's pretty rich coming from a De-moo-crat President, in the dis-united states of america.  Are there more than 20 countries in the entire world which could hope to meet the worn-out American notions of governance?   What the Americans seem incapable of understanding is that the entire world of nations is getting sick-to-death of lectures about democracy, American style.  The perfected form of American democracy is failing and we all see it clearly.  The United States, a two-party state, corrupt, heavily policed and polarized, is  now failing to provide the level of progress and safety for its citizens that even the Chinese people are coming to expect.  Chinese governance, a one party state, is beginning to look healthier and less frightening than the Orwellian police-state that the American warlords are hell bent on perfecting.  

A full century after World War 1resulted in the carving up of Ottoman lands, we are finally going to have to accept allowing the peoples of the Middle East to draft their own borders and make their own laws.   It will be messy and painful but the region must be allowed to determine its own natural balances.  The Americans have retreated from Iraq.  It's time they retreated from the entire region. They have troubles enough at home.

The Times has taken plenty of crap in recent years, largely due to the impression it gives off -  that it is "establishment media" ... "uber-liberal"...  "White House mouthpiece" and more. But sometimes we have to acknowledge the N.Y.T.'s efforts. Such was the case with the July 9th piece "On the Road to Samarra, Glimpses of Iraq's New Fractured Reality".  The by-line is Alissa J. Rubin,  a journalist who boldly entered bullet and mortar bomb pocked side-streets of Balad. Ms. Rubin took the time to determine the loyalties of the non-descript combatants, and reported with confidence that it is controlled by Kataib Hezbollah, "a militia trained and funded by Iran".  The Iraqi army at Balad is assisting Hezbollah fighters, and have set up a training camp in the centre of town.  Rather ironic that.   American trained Iraqi army officers are now training Hezbollah militiamen, who are being armed by Iran.    What she left unreported was activity inside Joint Base Balad.  Ms. Rubin had to drive past Balad Airbase to  get to Balad City, and pass it again in the return to Baghdad. Wasn't she curious?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

BLACK JUNE - South Africans helped cover the covert American Bug-out at Balad Airbase

I.S.I.S. Road Warriors - mobile column of ISIS fighters in opening phase of June 2014 campaign in Iraq
Iraq is an excessively militarized country, where virtually every adult male has
access to weaponry.  However the media may characterize the lightning advance of
I.S.I.S.  columns into Iraqi towns and cities, it was not a "cowardly" operation.


Initial ISIS  attacks on Balad  Airforce Base, June 2014  - situation map

On June 24th  the Iranian FARS News Agency, reported that the town of Balad, Iraq had been "recaptured" by Iraqi soldiers.  I take that factoid to mean the town had been swept of I.S.I.S. guerrillas by the Iraqi national army.  No mention was made of any recapturing of the American-built and-equipped fortress which was being prepped for the basing of Iraqi F16s and for the return of U.S. hunter-killer drone fleets. More important was the continued blackout of any news about what was going on inside Balad Airforce Base, which is larger than many American cities.  After the initial, and very brief U.S. media interest in the "besieged" American contractors at the heavily guarded super-base, and their extraction by Iraqi Airforce aircraft,  all went very silent at Balad.  The creepy silence was not due to the base being abandoned, (there are still plenty of Yanks there) but due to the imposition of enhanced secrecy, and the willing collusion of a tame media which is adjusting to the chilling new reality : any attempt to pry into the secret activities of the American Empire is to surrender yourself to lifetime of close surveillance, which is highly destructive of a career in journalism.   

C-RAM  Counter - Rocket, artillery, Missile - deployed to Joint Base Balad


During those few days in early June when U.S. civilian contractors were cowering in protected corners of "Joint Base Balad", waiting for the cavalry to arrive, various U.S. corporations (working under contract to the D.O.D.) issued statements assuring the worried families back home that extraction was imminent.  There was no Internet service available at Balad but a few employees, working for  Sallyport Global, Michael Baker International, Dyncorp, KS International or AMK9,  managed to get out cellphone calls, text messages and Skype video.  A few displayed bravado, claiming that the Iraqi base defence force had fled, but that Americans had picked up weapons and were defending themselves.  Given the immense size of the base it is doubtful that the civilian contractors knew that much about what was really going on around the perimeter, and for 24 hours were feeding off rumours. All U.S.-employed contractors were "herded" into a compact area adjacent to an aircraft ramp to await extraction The truth seems to be that a contingent of White South Africans, all of them dog handlers and all of them with police and military backgrounds, armed themselves and fell in with the base security forces.  The South Africans - to a man - have kept their mouths shut and will continue to be employed among alongside America's secret operators in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Iraqi Air Force C-130 transport photographed departing Joint Base Balad

After a few hairy days, during which many in Washington held their breath, the American civilians at Balad were airlifted by Iraqi C130s.  (All the White House ever really cared about is that "American civilians" would not become hostages.)  Only one photograph of those evacuees was ever published and no reporters covered the flights or tried to interview the evacuated workers.  In fact hundreds of publications contented themselves with printing American disinformation rather than trying to establish what had really happened.  The single American evacuee who opened his mouth, Anthony Akers of San Antonio, (an ex-Marine with Iraq service) was immediately fired for violating corporate media gag-policy.  It was further alleged that by talking about what he had seen, heard and done at Balad Airbase, Akers "gave out operational security details" that put lives at risk.  This was literally true, because there was, and still is an American security detachment at Balad guarding very sensitive facilities, not least of which is a newly completed Secure Compartmented Information Facility.  Airlift flights by American C17s out of Tinker AFB were already underway into Balad Field more than a month before I.S.I.S. launched its blitzkrieg columns down Iraqi highways. As much as the story is spun that Balad is Iraq's largest airbase, once the U.S. made the decision to deliver F16s and Apache attack helicopters to Iraq, as well as piggy-backing a secret MQ-9 Reaper operations centre to that FMS and basing agreement,  "Joint Base Balad" effectively returned to full American control.

Evacuation by C130 of American civilians from BALAD (Iraq) AIRFORCE BASE - June 13, 2014
This is the only available photo of the Evacuation of American civilian workers
from BALAD AIRFORCE BASE. Taken on June 13, 2014 it was leaked by an employee 
of Sallyport Global.  Only two flights out - and 73 South African personnel were left behind.

On June 25th information attributed to "U.S. intelligence officers" made the situation at Balad Airbase even muddier, as it was intended.  The story written by Eli Lake and Josh Rogin at THE DAILY BEAST,  "ISIS TRIES TO GRAB ITS OWN AIR FORCE" made headlines around the world. More important, it ensured that any snoopy journalists who might have been thinking of hitching a ride into Balad would definitely stay away.  Remember this was only a day after the Iranian news agency declared the town of Balad "recaptured" by the American-backed Iraqi regime.

"In its march to Baghdad, ISIS seized the heavy weapons of a modern army. Now, the jihadists are attacking Iraq’s biggest air base – and could soon be able to attack from the sky."
 The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham is threatening to take control of Balad Airbase, Iraq’s largest airfield and one of America’s most important military outposts during its occupation of the country.
Today, Balad still has plenty of vehicles and aircraft on the base that any terrorist group would covet, including Russian-made transport helicopters, surveillance planes, and a fleet of pickup trucks fitted with heavy machine guns. Now, that airbase is coming under fire—and is in danger of falling into the hands of ISIS, according to U.S. intelligence officers, internal reports from Balad, and outside analysts. Reuters reported Wednesday that the base was now surrounded on three sides by insurgents and taking heavy mortar fire."

Map showing extent of Iraqi territory overrun by ISIS fighters mid-June 2014
Typical map showing extent of I.S.I.S. successes during the initial
period of the June 2014 campaign.  (Internet scrape on June 17th)

What I have found of particular interest these past two weeks, are the many hundreds of maps and diagrams which have been created by the world news media to document the swathe of territory captured by I.S.I.S. (ISIL) forces. Almost never does Balad Airforce Base appear. How can that be, given its acknowledged strategic importance?  Well, largely it is due to the level of secrecy that the Americans have imposed on the facility and what their special operators are currently doing there.  If I.S.I.S. could have gotten through the gates, as was alleged in initial news stories, the Islamic black flag would already be flying on the roof of the Balad control tower. Should the White House  be unwise enough to choose to re-invade Iraq,(call it Option -X)  there would be no time available for a traditional build-up of forces outside of enemy borders.  Joint Base Balad is the largest secure facility in Iraq currently available to the Americans, and it would be the entry point for an assault armada in their president ordered one.  As such it will be held, unobserved by media, until such time as propping up the Iraqi government is no longer an option.   

Friday, June 13, 2014

BLACK JUNE - the former U.S.A.F. super-base at Balad, Iraq goes down

Iraqi Airforce -  F-16 Fighting Falcon shoulder patch
F-16 Fighting Falcon patch woven for the Iraqi officers
training with the 162nd Fighter Wing at Tuscon, Arizona.

BALAD - A massive airforce base that cost American taxpayers billions to construct and to maintain, has just fallen.

How did it come to this?  Less than two weeks ago the public relations folks at Lockheed Martin were blitzing the media with gorgeous photos of the F-16s in Iraqi Airforce colours, and crowing about their imminent delivery into the hands of Iraqi pilots.  Now the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is on the verge of collapse and the multi-billion dollar sale of warplanes is rendered meaningless. Certainly not 'too little', the Falcons are nevertheless 'too late'.  On Wednesday the U.S. State Department said the additional $838 million support program is on "indefinite hold"and that American contract workers were being evacuated from Iraq.  Just 48 hours later the situation is proving to be even more incredible.

First, some background. Until Lockheed sent out its press release with colour photos, most people were unaware of the fact that Iraqi airmen (most are high ranking officers) had been undergoing intensive training on F-16s with the 162nd Fighter Wing at Tuscon, Arizona. The average citizen simply does not follow the business of arms sales and base construction. The U.S. had competed with the Russians and Koreans  for Iraqi warplane business, which is intended to replace an entire airforce destroyed in war.  The Maliki government has ordered Russian helicopters and Korean ground-attack aircraft, but clearly the Americans got the juiciest contract. And what would be new home of the Iraqi Fighting Falcons?  It was to be Balad air base just north of Baghdad - the former U.S.A.F. super-base which was only relinquished to Iraqi national control in 2011, although secret U.S. drone operations continued from a dark corner of the sprawling facility.   The first two Iraqi F-16s were scheduled to arrive in September, with two-per-month delivery until the initial order of 18 was complete.  American contractors were already onsite at Balad prepping the base to become a Falcon roost,  ultimately to host 96 birds in hardened aircraft shelters. The bunkers which until recently protected American assets.   

Iraqi Airforce  F-16D Fighting Falcon - Lockheed Press handout
Iraqi Airforce F-16D goes vertical. Lockheed P.R. photo release.

Hundreds of thousands of United States service personnel know Joint Base Balad very well indeed.  When the U.S.A.F. decided to locate its Expeditionary Wing at Balad, billions of dollars were invested in a complete rebuild, and in fortification.  "JBB" occupies 25 square kilometers (nine square miles) and is ringed by a 20-kilometer security perimeter so well designed that press handouts described it as "a fortress". (see map) The perimeter is probably all that saved the contract work force this week, because many in the base security force bugged out.  Balad was the second largest American base in Iraq and it is still as well equipped as many bases in the continental U.S.A.  As of tonight it appears to be lost, and almost certainly we will soon see some cruise missile and drone strikes intended to demolish some of the more sensitive installations. 

Click on photo to enlarge

So who were those trapped at Balad airbase by  the advancing columns of militants known as I.S.I.S.  Islamic State in Iraq and the (Levant) Syria?   Contrary to the dis-information being willfully circulated by news outlets today, (the L.A. Times for example) most of them are employees of Contrack International Inc., a company headquartered in Maclean, Virginia and which is very tight with the U.S. military.  Contrack, one of several firms working under Michael Baker International,  was responsible for building many highly sensitive installations in Afghanistan and it dispatched very experienced personnel to Balad, because the basing of F-16s was a priority project. In spite of the $$billions already poured into Joint Base Balad, the latest upgrade required eleven additional buildings.  No doubt there were secret components to the contract, intelligence related,  as JBB was formerly launching area for strike drones targeting the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  We know that a U.S. training detachment was at Balad as late as yesterday, instructing Iraqi personnel in drone operations.  Senior Project Manager for BALAD is David Rutherford, who is actually not an American. He is South African and still keeps a home in Durban. No doubt he is with those evacuees who are resting safe in Baghdad tonight.  It must have been a harrowing two days for him.

David Rutherford, Senior Project Mgr., F-16 Support Facilities, Balad, Iraq
A South African national,  David Rutherford is Senior Project Manager 
at BALAD, prepping it for the basing of the F-16D  Fighting Falcons.  

BALAD, Iraq - Iraqi  Airforce Base near Baghdad - June 2014
BALAD AIRBASE MAP -  On June 12, and under intermittent fire from Islamic militia,
Iraqi Airforce C-30s extracted two-thirds of the American contractors working at the base.
Click on photo to enlarge.


CNN Headline, June 12 -  "Terrorists Stealing Control of iraq"
No Wolf, not "stealing".  They are winning control of Iraq.

The black banner of I.S.I.S.  has been displayed this week at dozens of sites in Iraq.

It was only late today that the first details emerged of the rescue of civilian contractors trapped inside the superbase at Balad. The news agencies have alluded to trapped employees and the U.S. State Department had, on Wednesday admitted the problem, but details were lacking. Clearly the crushing news of whole Iraqi cities being captured left scant room for thought of other prizes, such as the vast bases paid for by the American taxpayer, and defended at great sacrifice by American servicemen.  The conduit for first hard news was a website called WND, which received information from Americans who were communicating via the Internet with friends trapped at Balad airbase. Such personal communication contradicted an A.P. report that hundreds had already been evacuated from the base. There is always the possibility that it was not error but military disinformation. The salient point was that American citizens were boldly accusing the Iraqi army of having fled the base, and worse, accused the U.S. Government of having "abandoned" hundreds of  citizens who were about to be over-run by the most ruthless jihadists on the planet.  This after a week of nauseating political theatre in which the United States President (POTUS) blathered on and on about "never leaving a man behind". 


According to further word, 300 contractors and U.S. government employees were finally airlifted out of Balad on Friday, not on Thursday. Given the enormous size of the base, which sprawls over more acres than many American cities,  it was a reasonable precaution to "herd" foreign personnel into protected zones close to a runway.  The base had been under siege by I.S.I.S. guerrillas since Wednesday,  and as the Iraqi army had abandoned much of the base defences the civilian foreigners had armed themselves and were defending themselves. The attackers, so far, have nothing heavier than A.A.A. mounted on vehicles and the ubiquitous R.P.G.s, but it is only a matter of time before captured Iraqi army weaponry is brought to bear.  A perimeter breach was anticipated.

On Twitter, a fellow named S. Danel, who self-idenifies 
"South African" claims airfield defenders were South African.

[Note - One unsigned message was posted on a CNN forum by a contract worker inside Balad. He said that civilian Americans had been "herded" into a secure area and left in the dark about their possible Evac. He made no claim of contractors defending themselves... so the truth of what went down is very murky indeed.]

The evacuees give full credit to the Iraqi Airforce which supplied C-130 transports to extract the workers. It is apparent that the U.S. employers, Contrack International and others, had attempted to lease civilian planes, but due to the fact that Balad was taking fire, and the U.S. government was refusing to intervene, the pilots reneged on the job. At last Iraqi military pilots came through. As darkness fell  a further 100 foreigners were still waiting for rescue, but one must assume they are out by now. Flight time from Balad to one of the Baghdad airports is only a few minutes.  The I.S.I.S. fighters must understand that after all Westerners have fled the base, it may be hit by American missiles when the Obama government OKs the strikes.  It would be pointless to linger inside Balad, beyond the time it takes to loot the base.

Confirmation earlier Friday night, that the last Americans,
and hopefully one South Africa, are out. Balad is abandoned.

Arnold Schwarzenegger appearing at Joint Base Balad in 2008
TRUE LIES. In better times Joint Base Balad was so safe
that even the Governor of California could safely pay a visit.

Louis C.K. performing at Joint Base Balad, December  2008
MASTURBATION. In better times even Louis C.K.'s 
"fat ass" was safe to perform at Joint Base Balad.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Hitler's Armoured State Coach - Canada's Greatest War Trophy

In the autumn of 1945 ships began arriving in Canada loaded with war booty from Europe. Our soldiers smuggled home the obvious souvenirs ... Schmeisser machine pistols and Lugers, but our technical intelligence personnel filled cargo holds with tanks, artillery pieces, radar systems, jet engines and even V2 rockets. We missed out on the really sexy stuff -  Hitler loot.  The Americans, the British and the Russian had over-run his command posts and private residences, and so Canadian troops were denied some some of the most coveted war trophies.   And yet in the end, thanks to a savvy collector with an eye for undervalued artifacts, our national collection now includes one of the most iconic artifacts of the Third Reich - one of the Reich Fuehrer's armoured limousines -  prominent in most of the news reels which documented Nazi state events.

The Canadian War Museum acquired a Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering "staff car" in 1969 in exchange for a federal gift tax receipt. (All Canadian museum's may use tax receipts to acquire art and artifacts.)  Though thrilled to have the car, from the beginning the Museum harboured doubt that the Mercedes had been used by Goering. The provenance had been established by the U.S. Army at the time it was landed at the Port of Boston and introduced to the American news media.  That was how the C.W.M. displayed it, and from year of acquisition it became the favourite of museum visitors. 

Armoured limousine frequently used by Adolph Hitler, seized by U.S. Forces in 1945
A Mercedes 'Staatskarosse' or State Coach built by Daimler-Benz for Adolph Hitler.
This example was captured by men of the 20th Armoured Division on May 4, 1945.
Used briefly as transport by an American general, the car had its engine replaced
but arrived in the U.S. relatively intact. Arrows indicate bullet damaged glass and a
white star painted atop the convertible roof that helped authenticate the war trophy.

Closeup - shattered glass on Hitler's Mercedes limousine - Boston Harbour 1945
One of the myths perpetuated  for decades was that the armoured glass on the car
was damaged by testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Photo's taken at Boston in
August 1945 documented the fact that damage occurred prior to leaving Germany.

Several armoured limousines and staff cars, vehicles issued by the state to Adolph Hitler and Hermann Goering, were captured by men of the 20th Armoured Division and the 101st Airborne Division in early 1945.  Most young American males were, and are "car crazy," so it was quite natural that they would seize prestige automobiles wherever found. The "Goering car" was found loaded on a rail flatcar and before abandonment someone put a burst or two into it, ruining the armoured glass on the front passenger side and leaving bullets embedded here and there. From the beginning this car, a model known as a Grosser Mercedes  770 W  150, was mis-attributed to Goering,  senior military leader and second in state authority.  Moreover, as Hitler was dead and burned, while Goering had been captured, the latter was frequently in the news and his personal property was equally newsworthy.  When it off-loaded in Boston a local paper, THE DAILY GLOBE, ran the crude headline "Goering's Auto Bullet Proof to protect Fat Marshal's Hide".   Such digs were very common in 1945, but to be fair, had the table been turned and the Wehrmacht overrun Washington,  German headlines might have read "Roosevelt's Limo   armoured to protect his crippled ass".  Hate cuts both ways.

Two Nazi vehicles were used to sell U.S. War Bonds in 1945, but in the rush
to parade the trophies across America, one car was attributed to the wrong
German leader... and as a result in 1956 a Canadian collector ultimately scooped 
up one of Adolph Hitler's armoured state coaches for less than $6,000.  

"Goering's car" was given the royal treatment, including another coat of paint, and the men who captured it were rewarded with some plum duty.  They were assigned to accompany two "bullet proof" Nazi  (several had been captured including everything in the garages under Hitler's mountain retreat) on a cross country blitz to sell U.S. War Bonds.  The following year "Goering's car" was used in a recruiting campaign and then suddenly the U.S. Army had no further use for it. The Mercedes fell into the custody of the Property Disposal Office which put it into storage for nearly ten years. In 1956 a Montreal car collector saw a notice that the vehicle was up for public auction and he acquired it for $2,725. Fortunately his $5,000 of restoration efforts were careful to maintain the integrity of the artifact. For example he opted to leave the shattered glass in place and the car's odometer was left pegged  where it jammed in May of 1945.

In 1974, during  the commemoration of the 30th Anniversary of D-Day, the C.W.M.  put two of Hitler's paintings on display, but nothing fired the imagination of the public like "the Goering staff car" which the museum did not even believe had belonged to Hermann Goering. Also that year the museum provided pictures and text for an article in the British magazine AFTER THE BATTLE.  Entitled "Hermann Goering's Mercedes Benz" the piece repeated several of the myths and errors which museum staff had never even believed. Still, serious investigation of the artifact was put off by one excuse after another but finally in 1980 staff got serious, and the first thing they did was remove the paint which had obscured the original registration plate, which bore a number issued to Berlin, and it was not a military registration.  It could not have been issued to the Luftwaffe.  

Ludwig Kosche was the librarian at the Canadian War Museum and he also had an M.A. in History. He was also German and certainly the man to finally solve the mystery.  The car had been delivered to the Reich Chancellory in 1940 and it was for Hitler's use.  Kosche accomplished in a few short months what the curators and staff historians had failed to do in the preceding decade, and in so doing he transformed a popular exhibit into the Museum's most popular display item. While we Canadian's honour our heroes, the truth is that  a medal group issued to a Victoria Cross recipient can never attract as much attention as one of the sleek "chariots" Hitler often stood erect in as he passed before his people or his troops.

Hitler's Armoured Car - booklet distributed at War Bond rallies, 1948

AFTER THE BATTLE is one of my favourite history magazines and clearly it is well regarded by the staff of our national war museum.  No sooner had Ludwig Kosche completed his research than he submitted a highly detailed article which completely recants all that had been provided by a C.W.M. staffer in 1974.   True, there were a few outstanding mysteries, such as the current whereabouts of two other armoured limousines which were imported into the U.S. in 1945, but the file on the museum's acquisition was finally complete.

The Story of a Car - by Ludwig Kosche, AFTER THE BATTLE No. 35, 1982
The research article written by Ludwig Kosche, and published in 
AFTER THE BATTLE  No. 35, 1982 provided conclusive evidence linking
the armoured Mercedes limo to the Reich Chancellory and Adolph Hitler.

The armoured "Grosser" Mercedes-Benz limousine was just one of eight delivered for Adolph Hitler's personal use, but it witnessed some incredibly significant events, all itemized in the Kosche article.  It is undeniably Canada's greatest war trophy, and this opinion has been tested in the court of public opinion. When historian Jack Granatstein  was named Director General of the Museum in 1998 he was interviewed by CBC Television. When the interviewer, an Ottawa local, was queried about his own knowledge of the C.W.M. he admitted the Hitler car was the only artifact he could remember.

Jack Granatstein was still a York University lecturer, when in 1994 he was asked to appear on CBC Television coverage of the 50th Anniversary of D-Day.  He was also chosen for VE Day special coverage in 1995.  From that point on he cultivated a media persona and was seen regularly on national broadcasts. He re-appeared on CBC not only for the 60th and 65th veterans anniversaries  but became a daily fixture on television screens during the unprecedented and exhausting Somalia Inquiry  and throughout the period of Canada's involvement in the Iraq War.

Two years after taking the helm at the War Museum, Granatstein floated the idea of the C.W.M. selling the Hitler vehicle and using the proceeds to build a new museum facility. He "guessed" the car might fetch $20 million at auction. According to a report in the OTTAWA CITIZEN the Director's intentions were noble. "Adolph Hitler's bulletproof Mercedes limousine should be removed from Canada's War Museum because it glorifies the evils of Nazism and sends the wrong message to visitors, says the museum's chief." (Feb. 2, 2000) Granatstein had a further worry, which was described as "a horrible dilemma".  "If we put it up at auction, we can't control who buys it. This car would be such a powerful icon for a neo-Nazi or extreme group. If it fell into the wrong hands, we would feel very foolish, and worse. The possible consequences are frightening."

In the end the C.W.M. got to keep all of Hitler's mojo for itself. The neo-Nazis, if they existed, never ever had a chance of offering their $$millions for the Mercedes, because a vocal Canadian public wanted to keep our prize war trophy.  The outcry was so intense  that only one week later Granatstein was forced to backtrack because, it was reported, "selling the car would fly in the face of public opinion".   The CBC News report further stated - "The car has been the most popular exhibit at the museum for 30 years."

Friday, May 30, 2014

SHADOW OF THE HINDENBURG - Eastern Canada 1936

"He was a child of eight with impetigo on his knees, and he was standing on the bare clay playground of a country school when he looked up and saw the airship.  Silver, wearing for a reach across the wind, it floated over the schoolyard, scattering in the air behind it tiny objects that floated down - Baby Ruth candy bars on small parachutes. Running after the airship, Michael could stay in its shadow the length of the schoolyard, the other children running with him, scrambling for the candy bars. Then they reached the plowed field at the edge of the school yard and the shadow moved away, rippling over the rows. Lander in his short pants fell in the field and tore the scabs off his knees. He got to his feet again and watched the dirigible out of sight, rivulets of blood on his shins, a candy bar and parachutes clutched in his hand."   
(Childhood memory of "The American,"  the psychopath who plots to obliterate the Superbowl)     BLACK SUNDAY    Thomas  Harris, 1975.

Passenger handbook, Zeppelin D-LZ129, the HINDENBURG

On June 24, 1936  Zeppelin  D-LZ129 the HINDENBURG, passed over Saint John, New Brunswick and created an instant sensation.  The port city was one of several cities in Atlantic Canada that had a  municipal airfield, and its promoters constantly touted expansion of passenger service. But in truth the "aviation age" was passing them by. The zeppelin overflight was unexpected, because the huge dirigibles usually logged flights directly over the Atlantic, south of Nova Scotia. When local radio station CHSJ began announcing sightings of the zeppilin's approach  along the Fundy shore, all those with film in their cameras moved into the open to attempt a capture. It was a school day, so most of the kids missed it, but many, including my grandfather, had an experience they would cherish for the remainder of their lives. Canada was still three years from being thrust into a second war with Germany, so none were  offended by the giant red and black Nazi swastika flags passing overhead. [1936 was the year of the spectacular Nazi Olympiad and HINDENBURG also sported the five rings - blue, yellow, black, green and red.] Most were content to have witnessed one of the great technological wonders of their era, a form of swift transportation - "Two-Days to Europe" - which was priced well beyond reach of most folks during that  hard decade of economic depression.

Europe in 2 Days,  the HINDENBURG, Zeppelin advertisement 1937

A trip on a German Zeppelin cost  US$450 one-way, with a 10% discount for a round trip booking.   Those who kept up with current events in 1936 were very aware of the technological advances of Hitler's Germany where an outstanding female pilot had safely flown an autogiro into the  middle of a crowded stadium and where select sports events were already being broadcast on television.  North American aviation enthusiasts and the stamp collecting fraternity were downright passionate in their following  of  the GERMAN ZEPPELIN TRANSPORT COMPANY and as a result we can today find an astonishing diversity of ephemera on the market today.  In 1936 the HINDENBURG  was the darling of the popular press in the U.S. and in June when she passed over Canada,  our news stands were stocked with magazines which featured her as cover stories. 

Max Schmeling observes the shadow of the HINDENBURG
From the promenade deck of the HINDENBURG boxer Max Schmeling
watched the cool shadow ripple across whole American city blocks.

The flight which passed over Saint John departed Lakehurst, New Jersey on June 23, 1936 and was expected to reach Frankfurt, Germany 48 hours later. (One flight was exactly 48 hours and 8 minutes.) Given the high price of tickets the passenger manifests often included prosperous celebrities, and this flight included the German boxer Max Schmeling, who had recently fought Joe Louis in New York.  Schmeling made two trips in the HINDENBURG and many pictures exist of him being mobbed at airfields at both ends of the route. The only photo I have seen of him aboard the zeppelin is the award winning Joe Haas shot which shows him peering down at the streets of Philadelphia. (above)

Many in Saint John did capture a photograph of the giant airship, but the trick was to hold your camera steady and remember to squeeze a piece of Saint John into the corner of the image.  Most of the snapshots which survive are of low quality. There are sharper images of HINDENBURG passing over the rooftops of Halifax, but I favor those from Saint John as it was my birthplace.

The HINDENBURG slowed its engines over Saint John and made a single broad orbit of the  harbour. It would be nice to say the captain did it for the benefit of the passengers, but in fact the German's made a practice of photographing ports and military installations wherever their zeppelins flew. The Americans maintained photo-sets of Canadian ports in their intelligence archives, so why would not the Germans?  And as it happened, there was three American military observers among the passengers that day. The HINDENBURG carried seven extra passengers on this June trip and they were required to sleep on folding cots.  Given the number of cameras onboard, I hold out some hope that we may someday see lost images taken of Saint John from the HINDENBURG's promenade deck.  

This photo (below) shows the HINDENBURG passing over the train station in Saint John. The vantage point is the sidewalk opposite the New Brunswick Cold Storage plant. Image graininess is due to the fact it is a scanned newspaper clipping.  It is though my favourite of the HINDENBURG set because my grandfather was working directly below the airship at the moment this photo was taken, and for the rest of his life all he had was memory.  As a young father he had struggled to provide for his family during the early years of the Great Depression and had just secured a job the C.P.R.. He was working in the freight sheds astride the station and his recollection was of the immensity of the near-stationary airship and of the full minute it eclipsed the sun.

The HINDENBURG is one of the most heavily documented aircraft in aviation history and it was very difficult to decide which photographs to include with this article. I have for example, several colour images of the promenade decks, cabins and lounges.  The airship's extraordinary interior have been featured in several Hollywood movies, often in outrageously fanciful scenarios, such as in Disney's THE ROCKETEER and Brooklyn Films SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW. Both DVDs are recommended. Lot's of funky fun!

The passenger section was forward on the HINDENBURG so I
indicate the vantage point of Max Schmeling in the Joe Haas photo.

This cutaway diagram of the passenger berths and amenities is very helpful in understanding the flight experience.  Should intercontinental airship flight return, I would definitely be among those purchasing tickets.  These illustrations also help to put the HINDENBURG visit into some perspective, and are a reminder that when the ship into flames at Lakehurst, New Jersey  a year later, people died on those decks.  The explosion of the HINDENBURG at Lakehurst, New Jersey  is rated as one of the top news events ever captured on film and it destroyed an industry.   The newsreel of the ghastly disaster played in movie theatres throughout Canada, as did films of Max Schmeling's heavy-weight fights. 

After taking a good look at Saint John harbour  the Germans resumed course, continuing on their two-day flight  to Europe. A lucky few on the ground managed to get photographs of the HINDENBURG overflight, but hundreds at least had a story to tell their children.   The airship passed over several New Brunswick and Nova Scotia communities before heading out over the open Atlantic.