Drake, French Indochina, and Tokyo Rose

As September ends and the richness of fall is upon us, we should reflect on events on 26 September that have nearly nothing to do with the season–or not.  But the completion of Drake’s circumnavigation, the Japanese occupation of French Indochina, and the death of Francis Aquino all happened on 26 September, with a half millennia or so separation.

On 26 September 1580, Frances Drake, a career navigator, scoundrel, pirate, politician and seaman sailed his 300 ton galleon Golden Hind into Plymouth harbor in southern England, completing the first circumnavigation of the world as captain, and the second ever (Magellan died on his voyage).  Elizabeth I knighted him soon thereafter.  What was most extraordinary about the voyage wasn’t the three years it took to complete, or the six tons of Spanish gold she captured, but that it was completed with a crew that was half of what he started out with. Drake’s circumnavigation, though mostly a military expedition, was also the first time a English ship had crossed the Pacific Ocean, and may have been the first time that an Englishman saw Indonesia.

What was most extraordinary about the voyage … that it was completed with a crew that was half of what he started out with.

Since the beginning of the “China Incident” in 1937, the Vietnamese port of Haiphong in French Indochina (northern Vietnam) had been one of several ports used by China to receive arms shipments (until 1939, China’s was Germany’s best arms customer), and was an important source of foreign currency for the cash-strapped Vichy French government in Hanoi. After several months of dithering, the Japanese finally got around to moving into French Indochina and, later, what was then Cochinchina (southern Vietnam) on 26 September 1940, after weeks of unsuccessfully negotiating with the Vichy into allowing some sort of “guest” occupation.  The Japanese occupation of French Indochina was the last straw for the Roosevelt administration, which moved to embargo oil, scrap metals, and Japanese funds in American banks.  This embargo was one of the driving forces behind Japan’s attacks on American, British and Dutch holdings in East Asia beginning in December, 1941.

The Japanese occupation of French Indochina was the last straw for the Roosevelt administration

“Tokyo Rose” was the nickname for several female English-language, American-vernacular Japanese propaganda broadcasters during World War II.  The best known announcer was Iva Toguri D’Aquino, a native American caught in Japan at the outset of the war.  Broadcasting her ten to fifteen minute harangue (sometimes accurately naming units, commanders and even enlisted men and their stations) during the Zero Hour program of popular American music, most regarded her broadcasts as harmless, and for the most part useless as an anti-morale weapon.  Though cleared of war crimes in Japan, she was tried and found guilty of treason in 1949 when she returned to the United States.  Released in 1956, she was eventually pardoned in 1977 by Gerald Ford. D’aquino died in Chicago on 26 September, 2006.

 Broadcasting … during the Zero Hour program of popular American music, most regarded her broadcasts as harmless, and … useless as an anti-morale weapon.

From Drake’s epic 16th century expedition to the death of Tokyo Rose in the early 21st, East Asia, Europe and the Pacific have been tied to 26 September, and to many other dates.  Though D’aquino was largely a victim of circumstance, so too was French Indochina, caught as she was in between quarreling giants in a conflict not of her making.  Drake’s ship, one of the first ever to be put on public display, gradually rotted into destruction, and two replicas have also been lost over the years.  Tokyo Rose, too, had copies, like Pyongyang Sally during the 1950-53 war in Korea, and Hanoi Hanna during the American involvement in Vietnam.  The threads of human events are often interwoven in common calendar dates.  We’ll continue to explore this line of thought next week.




Britain and the American Revolution

JDB Communications, LLC is pleased to announce the publication of another essay collection by John D. Beatty, Britain and the American Revolution on Amazon.

Most scholars—especially Americans—when writing about the American Revolution emphasize the Western Hemisphere when considering the effects.  However, in this scribe’s opinion this view is short-sighted.  Great Britain, after all, is still around, and its Empire indeed flourished a century after it lost its then-largest and most prosperous colonies.  The Empire may have steadily degraded after Victoria’s diamond jubilee gala in 1897, but by the much-ballyhooed “Brexit” from the European Community in 2016, Britain herself was still a force to be reckoned with.

Great Britain, after all, is still around, and its Empire indeed flourished a century after it lost its then-largest and most prosperous colonies.

Recent writers, especially Steven Sears in The British Empire, have suggested that the British Empire was really nothing more than a jobs program for the English middle and upper classes.  In some ways this is arguably true.  However trivial this may seem in the great scheme of things, Great Britain was the largest single influence on human civilization between the fall of Rome and the triumph of the United States and the Soviet Union in 1945.  As these essays argue, this influence was in part because of the sheer genius of hard-pressed Britons to survive on their harsh, rocky islands.

Great Britain was the largest single influence on human civilization between the fall of Rome and the triumph of the United States and the Soviet Union in 1945

“Changing the Great Game” is an exploration of how the concept of “rights” was grudgingly preserved by dynasty after dynasty ruling the British Isles.  Even if the Scots, Irish and other ethnic groups didn’t recognize it, the rights enjoyed by Englishmen that were unique to their legal system did rub off on them as well, if only in small doses from time to time.  The ancient legends of Arthur, Alfred and the rest of the traditional lawgivers may have been perfected in the 19th century, but their origins are clearly much older.  The legal tradition that no sovereign is above his own laws far predate the Normans.

The ancient legends of Arthur, Alfred and the rest of the traditional lawgivers may have been perfected in the 19th century, but their origins are clearly much older.

“Kings, Kin and Killers” is something of an experiment.  Steven Pincus in 1688: The First Modern Revolution talks extensively about the motives of the supporters of the Stuarts and those who … well, did not support the monarch.  They hadn’t yet expressed a desire to throw out the monarchy as they would later, but the non-supporters of the Stuart kings were far more interested in the power of capital than that of land.  Their arguments were eerily similar to those that would take place in America before the shooting started in 1861.  It is almost certain that many of the philosophical animosities in English society between country and town, between farm and workshop, were locked into American society after the Revolution, and hung on in animus for another two generations.

… arguments [in 17th century Britain] were eerily similar to those that would take place in America before the shooting started in 1861.

“The Limits of Empire” is explicitly that: an essay into the administrative and technical limitations of imperial administration in the late 18th century.  Law, trade, finance, and community administration all depended on communications, and there was simply no good or reliable way to improve trans-Atlantic communications in the 1770s such that the Revolution, or one like it, could be put down.  Even if India were to become the most prosperous of all of Britain’s imperial properties, it wasn’t yet.  If the Gandhi revolution had come two centuries earlier, by that remove it may have succeeded much faster.

“Copper Bottomed Wizardry” began as a challenge—a sort of a bet.  This writer was wagered that he could not find enough technological innovation between 1775 and 1805 to explain how Britain defeated France at Trafalgar.  Knowing that coppering became standard by 1783, the research started there and proceeded to produce this essay.  The carronade, the short-barreled “smasher” that was the terror of small-vessel warfare before the shell gun, was intentionally left out because of other innovations that made British ships not only reliable and easier to handle, but overall better vessels.  Any sailor can tell you that, pound for pound, any well-handled warship in peacetime is worth three that are better gunned.  In wartime, it’s how well the guns are laid and how long they can stay on station, not just how well they can blast a target.

This writer was wagered that he could not find enough technological innovation between 1775 and 1805 to explain how Britain defeated France at Trafalgar.

Four essays are hardly a working thesis, but they may point to one: Britain was strengthened by the conflict that resulted in the loss of her thirteen colonies that would eventually become the United States.  Both she and the United States, ultimately, resolved the last of a conflict in Anglo-Saxon society that had raged since the Tudors: Do governments have a right to rule, or a duty?  Is society the master of an economic structure, or a servant or product of it?

Let these essays inform the reader’s decision.

John D. Beatty is a writer and historian who has published ten books on military history.  Britain and the American Revolution on Amazon is available on Amazon Kindle.

Ruminations On War

JDB Communications, LLC is pleased to announce the publication of another in the series of essay collections from John D Beatty.  “Ruminations On War” contains five essays on topics as wide ranging as air power, militias, disease, the origins of warfare, and early military theorists.

Speculation on issues like the beginning of war is usually beyond the pale of “military philosophy” and well into anthropology, but sometimes the thoughtful scholar has to want to know how humanity got from hunter-gatherer to suicide bomber.  Though these essays were written in an academic environment, I had given some thought as to how warfare in general came about for some time.  We like to think in Rousseau-like terms about early man, but I think about that idealistic picture long enough and there’s a disconnect.  The “Which Came First” essay is an initial foray into the possibilities of early hominid warfare, a rumination based on what we know, what we guess at, and the laws of physics and, very generally, on Jack London’s Law of Meat that he spent a whole chapter on in White Fang.

We like to think in Rousseau-like terms about early man, but I think about that idealistic picture long enough and there’s a disconnect. 

That the early Bronze-Age civilizations of North America were devastated not just by Old World technology but also by Old World diseases is not new, but the effects of contagious disease in combination with their already slow population growth was a fatal combination for their continued existence.  “Deadly Emigres” is an exposition into the dynamics of a one-two punch that the Indians got when the waves of invaders reached their shores.

“Obligations of Freedom” is an experiment in the legal and historical grounds for militia service.  Though it didn’t start out that way, it is a sturdy rejoinder against the argument that the US National Guard is what Amendment II of the Constitution meant by “militia,” when the record is clear that it is anything but.

Academic history is very certain that the four classical philosophers discussed in “Four Philosophers Revisited” were the ur-scribes of modern strategic thought.  The truth is that three of them at least were less concerned with philosophy than they likely were in seeing their name in print—and repeated what others wrote in the doing.  But one, the first—Sun Tzu—we can’t even be certain how he was compensated, or if he wasn’t a pen name for some scholar who put a lot of other writers together.  Writing during the Iron Age in China, whoever wrote the original text attributed to Sun Tzu really had little to say that others didn’t say afterwards who never heard of him, making him perhaps the first to re-state what was obvious to military professionals since the beginnings of organized warfare.

Traditionally, “a marriage made in Hell” was the unity of the machine gun and barbed wire on the Western Front in France and Flanders.  “A Divorce from the Marriage Made in Hell” is an exposition on the earliest philosophies that poses a question: are separate air forces the answer?  That, of course, depends on what the question is.

“Ruminations On War” is available on Amazon Kindle, and is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.  See other books from JDB Communications, LLC on John D. Beatty’s Author Page.

The Malay Emergency 1948-1960: An Assessment

The Cold War skirmish on the Malay Peninsula just after WWII has been said to have been a “post-colonial, nationalist struggle,” but there is evidence that it was somewhat more, and less, than that.  It was one of the first long-term modestly successful counterinsurgencies by Britain since the Act of Union in 1804, and used successful techniques known as “hearts and minds” to win popular support away from the insurgents.  However, there were several motives behind the conflict in the first place that went beyond the many post-1945 Third World struggles of  at nation building:  it was an extension of the generations-long Chinese civil conflict that ended a most important phase in 1949.  The Chinese communist-led Malay uprising pitted the Maoists and other crypto-Marxists against all those who would get in their way.

All insurgencies start from some grievance somewhere, so it is instructive to look at the situation in Malaya before the “emergency” was declared. Before 1941 the ground was ripe for rebellion, and some stirrings of rebellion.  European contact with the peninsula began with the first Portuguese contact in 1511.  By the end of the 18th Century the British East India Company gained control as a counterweight against the growing Dutch presence in the East Indies, and to prevent revolutionary France from exploiting the feuding sultanates that controlled the strategically vital Straits of Malacca.  The British found their new sources of latex and tin ores to be lucrative, and settled in for a stay by 1867.

The Malays apparently had little control over their own destiny.  While the colonial administration and the plantation and mine workers enjoyed a very high standard of living, most of the native workers were edging poverty.  By 1895 the last sultan of a major Malay state was no more than a figurehead, and the largest and most populous states accepted confederation status with Britain.  And just in time, because the British situation in the area was becoming desperate.  The lavish and powerful naval base at Singapore, built as an anchor against the growing German presence in the East Indies before WWI, was immune to seaward invasion but vulnerable to landward attack.  Worse, the British Army garrison troops were forbidden to train in the jungle-covered peninsula because it was so disease and hazard-infested for European troops.

By the end of the 1914-18 war European influence was restricted to Britain and the Netherlands, but China was beginning to affect events in the region.  Seeking external sources of support, both KMT and communist agents had infiltrated the large Chinese refugee population working in Malaya and Singapore.  The Malayan Communist Party (MCP) was founded in 1920 by Maoists of the Nan Yang, also known as the South Seas Communist Party, a fairly obscure study-group-style movement with little power, and little heard of until the 1930s.  Both the KMT government and the Chinese communists encouraged various anti-colonial movements in the East Indies and Indochina, even while they were at each other’s throats.

When war with Germany began in 1939 the flow of German arms to China (the KMT government was Germany’s biggest overseas customer) came to an end, and with it the trickle of support to the Malay nationalist movements.  The two Chinese factions joined forces when Japan invaded China, but their influence was beginning to wane as Japanese agents fomented the ideals of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in 1940, and soon the Chinese were again at odds with each other in Malaya.

The Japanese invasion of Malaya in 1941 triggered open civil war between the factions, but the communists were getting help.  The MCP formed a front group called the Anti-Enemy Backing-Up Society (AEBUS) that received arms and training from the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS).  In 1942 the MCP also formed the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Union and Forces (MPAJUF) that, with the AEBUS, fought the Japanese at the far end of a very long logistical tether.  With practically no supplies coming in the disparate groups did considerable damage to Japanese efforts, but Japan had no trouble recruiting sizable security forces from among the Malays.

In August 1942 the MCP leadership was arrested by Japanese authorities and large numbers executed, but Leninist party Secretary Lai Peck and his Stalinist assistant Chen Ping survived.   While the nationalist insurgency continued in a dispersed fashion, the communist effort was centrally and tightly controlled, not risking cadres in combat but exposing them occasionally to safer raids.  The MCP guerrillas also spent a great deal of resources in killing informers and reeducating recalcitrants who deviated from the party line.  When Japan surrendered and the SOE supplies ended, the MCP had some 7,000 highly trained and disciplined cadres.  Soon after the British returned to Malaya Lai Peck disappeared with the MCP treasury, and Chen Ping was left in the vacuum.

Taking advantage of the administrative confusion after the war, the MCP organized labor strikes and guerrilla raids to coordinate with the 100th anniversary of the 1848 revolutions that so inspired Marx and Engels.  They also introduced an organization called Min Yuen; a peacetime version of the Anti-Japanese Union, as a political front to coordinate a shadow government. The British reaction to the violence began with a conventional military response of large units in sweeps through unfamiliar territory that had practically no effect other than to embolden the guerrillas.  After ineffectively bungling up through 1950, the Korean conflict brought new prosperity to Malaya, and new attention to the insurgency as a communist Chinese effort to destabilize Asia.  While Chen Ping apparently wanted to liberate Malaya, there’s no evidence that Mao had a mind for a presence in the Straits of Malacca.

But no matter, because a distinct change in strategy was yielding results by late 1951.  While population control measures such as food rationing and strict curfews were imposed on the villages that supplied the guerrillas, the army turned to more auxiliaries, intelligence-gathering, police and small-unit operations that began to yield results by the end of 1951.  By 1953 MCP recruiting was less than half what it had been in 1950, and guerrilla casualties to starvation began to outnumber those to combat.   Local elections were held in 1955, when the combat phase of the British operation was at an end; a national government was in place by 1957; the consolidation of government control was complete by 1960.

Chen Ping, however, wasn’t done.  He and a few hundred of his followers retreated to the Malay-Thai border and operated an insurgency from there at least until the mid 1970s, concentrating his efforts on the 40% of Malaya’s ethnic Chinese population.  He was never captured, and the MCP still raids into Johore, mostly attacking the economic infrastructure of Malaysia.

While ultimately successful in keeping a communist-dominated group from controlling the Straits of Malacca, the British counterinsurgency was a mechanistic one that failed to address the root of the problem: discord among the ethnic Chinese and the refugees from the Chinese mainland that was about 40% of Malaya’s population, and that still boils over today.  While the MCP is a legal organization in modern Malaysia, its renegade counterpart is pirate band in the Straights, responsible for billions in shipping losses and a twenty-fold increase in insurance rates in forty years.  It boasts of control of large parts of the most rugged country close to Thailand, but exercises it only occasionally.  While the decentralized counterinsurgency approach the British used  to stabilize the country were effective, the problem of the large ethnic Chinese population remains..  Modern Malaysia may have to deal with a wider problem again soon.


Asprey, Robert, War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History, Volumes 1 and 2.  New York: Doubleday and Company, 1975.

Black, Jeremy, War Since 1945.  New York: Reaktion Books, 2006

Carver, Michael, War Since 1945.  New York: Prometheus Books, 1990

Kensington, Roger LTC (Ret) Special Air Service, British Army (Maintenance supervisor, MinePro Services Malaysia (a division of P&H Mining Equipment), personal interview with the author, July 2010.

Marston, Daniel, and Carter Malcasian (eds), Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare.  Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2008.

Pye, Lucian W., Guerrilla Communism and Malaya–Its Social and Political Meaning.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1956.

HMS Dreadnought Changes Everything ca 1906

On 10 February 1906, HMS Dreadnought was launched amid great fanfare…and consternation.  What’s another coal-fired battleship when the Royal Navy already had scores of them afloat?

To begin, Dreadnought, the brainchild of John “Jackie” Fisher, was not just another battleship, but a revolutionary advance on naval architecture.  at somewhat under 19,000 tons, she was bigger than the Lord Nelson class that was under construction at the time, and had heavier longitudinal bulkheads.  But mere size and bulkheads were not enough.  She carried ten 12 inch/45 caliber guns in five turrets for main armament and over her short service life several quick-firing gun arrangements.  Other battleships before Dreadnought carried as many as five different sizes of “main” armament, making ammunition supply a nightmare and compromising the most important thing a battleship had to do: destroy other battleships.  Before Dreadnought, some commentators doubted that a typical battleship carried enough ammunition to sink their counterparts.  With four Parsons turbine engines (Dreadnought was the first battleship built with turbines), she was fast–at 24 knots, close to the speed of some destroyers. With Krupp cemented steel armor in an 11 inch armor belt, she was built in less than a year, albeit with a great deal of stockpiling and prefabrication.  Dreadnought represented everything that British naval supremacy and industrial might had meant since Trafalgar.

Navalists for years had talked about combining speed with gun power in a warship, but Fisher was the first to finish his.  Japan with the Satsuma class and the Americans with the South Carolina class would closely follow, but it was Germany that became most alarmed.  And therein lay the biggest challenge: Wilhelm II demanded that his Imperial German Navy be a challenge–if not a threat–to British naval supremacy, for reasons that are debated still.  But British policy at the same time demanded that the Royal Navy be as large or larger than the next two navies combined.  This meant that if Germany, Japan, and the United States (other powers had long before given up on the “battleship race”) built fleets of modern battleships in response to Dreadnought, regardless of diplomatic status, the Royal Navy had to build more.

And Dreadnought was only the first.  Every battleship completed afterwards–there would be more than a hundred–were called “dreadnoughts” or “super-dreadnoughts” after the introduction of oil furnaces, and every one before her launching “pre-dreadnoughts.”

Germany soon unveiled a plan to build a fleet of battleships and supporting vessels that in twenty years would exceed the dock space available in all of Europe.  The competition between Germany and Britain, and soon thereafter between the US and Japan, heated up before WWI to meet the demand for more and more ships, guns, engines, fuel sources and armor plate until the shots at Sarajevo in the spring of 1914 sparked the fire that would end–arguably–only in 1945.

So what happened to Dreadnought?  She was the only one of her class built, and throughout her career she was a maintenance challenge.  Apparently she leaked rather severely, and spent much of her career in the waters around Britain.  She was a notorious sucker of coal, needing her bunkers filled at least every four days even in good weather.  She was, however, the only battleship to sink a submarine when in May 1915, she rammed and sank the German U-29.  The only shots he ever fired in anger were at German aircraft headed for England.  She was broken up in 1923.

Beginnings: Crop Duster a Winner; Japan Attacks Russia and Britain; Bloody Mary is Beheaded; Elizabeth II Becomes Queen

As the badge on today’s post says, Crop Duster: A Novel of WII is an Honorable Mention in the 2014 Writers Digest Self-Published E-Book Awards for Mainstream Fiction.  This is a long-winded way of saying that Crop Duster is regarded at one of the five best of over a hundred submitted books in this category.  It’s also a Notable Book in Shelf Unbound’s Self-Published E-Book Awards for 2014 for Page-Turners. Find out what the judges see is so great about Crop Duster today.  Available in paperback and E-book at fine booksellers everywhere.

On the night of 8 February 1904, Japan attacked the Russian naval base at Port Arthur with torpedoes from four destroyers.  A Russian protected cruiser (Pallada) keeled over and sank, and two battleships (Retvizan and Tsarevich ) were damaged.  An indecisive daylight action the next morning damaged vessels on both sides, but the Japanese had the advantage of being able to sail out of range of the Russian shore batteries, while the Russians were trapped in port by the strong Japanese fleet.

As the opening battle of what would come to be called the Russo-Japanese War, Port Arthur was a template for Japanese conflict initiation for the next fifty years: strong attacks with little warning followed by relentless pressing of the advantages of surprise.  While the Japanese attacks in 1904, 1914, 1932, 1937 and 1941 were expected in a general sense, their location often was not.  The 8 February 1942 invasion of Singapore after two months of attacks all around the Pacific Rim was forewarned, but the British had never expected an attack from landward along the Malay Peninsula.

What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look At Japan at War, 1941-1945 probes the Japanese mindset reaching back to before the Tokugawas. Available in hardback, paperback and PDF.

Two distantly related events, ironically, are marked in early February.  Mary,Queen of Scots was beheaded on 8 February 1587, an unfortunate victim of a dynastic feud begun in prehistory, for all intents and purposes.  The Stuart throne of Scotland dated from the 14th century (or 12th, for purists) in a country that had the poor luck of being weaker than most of her neighbors but stronger than her closest kin.  Britain had the sense to try to “civilize” the traditionally tribal Scots off and on for centuries, while Scotland allied with France and was used as a cudgel against Ireland in between periods of independence.  Mary’s poor timing that she would reign while Elizabeth I sat in Windsor, but was lucky enough that Elizabeth would be childless, so that her son would inherit the throne of England.

Nearly four centuries later, Elizabeth II,oldest daughter of George VI would be proclaimed queen on 6 February 1952.  She would be the first British monarch for over a century who was not also empress of India. She is at this writing the longest reigning British monarch in history.

Argonaut: The Beginning of a Bipolar World

On 4 February 1945 the Yalta conference began in at the Crimean  resort town that had been mostly abandoned since the German invasion of Russia in 1941.  Joseph Stalin hosted the only other two world leaders that mattered in early 1945, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt.  Together, it is said, they divided the postwar world between them at Yalta.

The truth is somewhat more prosaic, and somewhat more sad.  FDR was dying, and that was obvious to everyone.  Churchill commanded large forces, but they were fragile and dependent on the US for much.  Stalin’s armies were killing three of every four Germans dying in the war, and he had the will and the might to do pretty much whatever he wanted to do…in Europe.  Asia was a different matter, and if he had to cross an ocean even as small as the Yellow or South China Sea his power diminished tremendously.  Still, he was capable to invading Japan from Korea, and everyone knew it.

It was at Yalta that it was decided that Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and much of the Balkans would fall under a Soviet “sphere of influence,” an irrelevant concession since the Soviets were already there or would be soon.  FDR was in no position or state to argue about it, and Churchill lacked the power without Roosevelt’s insistence to resist Stalin’s “requests.”

In all, the Yalta conference did more to create a myth of “concessions” in Europe, but left unsettled the issues surrounding Japan, including the future of Korea.  Kim Il-Sung, the grandfather of the current dictator of North Korea, was a Major in the Red Army of the Soviet Union, commanding a nominal battalion of Korean guerrillas at Vyatskoye on the Amur River.  Soviet cooperation in an invasion of Japan was secured at the cost to Stalin of a French occupation zone in Germany.

Poland and China were the losers of the conference, primarily because their futures were decided without their direct participation.  The winners were the Soviet Union…and the undertakers.  The next half century would see how a truly divided world could work.