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Stories by Sean Linnane
Sean Linnane is the pseudonym of a US Army (retired) Special Forces Combat Diver NCO, still serving in other capacities.
Washington (CNN) – Two men who worked as security contractors for the company formerly known as Blackwater have been charged with murder in the killings of two Afghan men, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.
Christopher Drotleff and Justin Cannon are charged with two counts of second-degree murder and one count of attempted murder each in connection with the May shootings in Kabul. The 12-count, 19-page indictment returned by a federal grand jury in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia also includes weapons charges against the two men.
The indictment was returned Wednesday but unsealed Thursday.
Both men were in Afghanistan working for the security company Paravant, a subsidiary of Xe, the military contracting firm formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide. FBI agents have arrested both men, the Justice Department announced.
Drotleff, Cannon and two other contractors, Steven McClain and Armando Hamid, were involved in the May 5, 2009, shooting that left two Afghan civilians dead and another wounded. The men had been hired by Paravant to help the U.S. Army train Afghan troops.
The contractors said they were driving their interpreters on a busy Kabul street called Jalalabad Road at around 9 p.m. when a car slammed into one of their two cars.
This vehicle driven by a contractor was hit in Kabul, Afghanistan, in May, leading to a deadly shooting.
“I immediately thought we were under attack,” McClain said in May.
The contractors got out to help their colleagues, and the vehicle that had struck the car did a U-turn and headed back at them, the men said. The contractors fired at the oncoming vehicle.
“The car was coming at us,” Cannon said in May. “At that point we attempted to stop and immobilize the vehicle and we engaged it in small arms fire. And the car didn’t stop, it just kept going.”
While I’m not a huge fan of Blackwater, in this case I say the burden of guilt is on the accuser. After what happened in Fallujah in 2004, any and every Westerner in the Middle East has got damn good reason to have a good immediate action drill for Jihad-fueled Road Ragers:
March 31, 2004: Four Blackwater Employees Killed and Mutilated in Fallujah
Where is the outrage? The burned, mutilated corpses of two Blackwater contractors hang from a bridge outside Fallujah while Iraqi civilians celebrate.
Four employees of the private security firm Blackwater; Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona, Scott Helvenston and Michael Teague, were blockaded by a mob while driving through Fallujah, and killed by small arms fire. Their bodies were then taken out of their two vehicles and mutilated by the angry mob. Images of two corpses of the contractors hanging from a bridge over the Euphrates River were seen all over the world.
We’ve got a few places here in the United States where whatever happens – you don’t stop and you never get out of the vehicle. Parts of Fayetteville, North Carolina are like that and I can name them for you. Oakland, California – where I joined the Army – has a few ambush zones of it’s own.
Sounds to me like these guys will walk – they’ve already said the magic words: “I immediately thought we were under attack.”
SGT Joshua Brennan, B Co 2-503, 173rd Airborne Brigade, KIA 26 Oct 07
Josh Brennan was critically wounded on 25 October 2007 in a Taliban ambush on patrol with his platoon in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. During the ambush the Taliban attempted to drag Josh away. SPC Hugo “Doc” Mendoza gave his life, and two others were severely wounded attempting to save Josh from the enemy. His platoon continued to fight the enemy and were successful in getting Josh back. One of those men has been nominated for the Medal of Honor for his actions that day.
SGT Josh Brennan on the day of his last mission: Operation Rock Avalanche
Inspired by his cousin’s footsteps, Joseph Brennan enlisted in the US Army, went Airborne (that’s Joe Brennan being pinned with his cousin’s wings at Fort Benning), and shipped out to Vicenza, Italy to join the same outfit his cousin had served in.
Two years to the day after Josh was killed in action, Private Joseph Brennan entered the same platoon that Josh had served in and met several of Josh’s friends. Their outfit – 2d Battalion of the 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment – deployed to Afghanistan just before Christmas, 2009. Joseph’s platoon was sent to Camp Joyce, in Kunar province where his cousin Josh was ambushed and killed.
Joseph has already been out on several missions since Christmas. Then his family got the word; his platoon CAPTURED THE GUY WHO PLANNED THE AMBUSH THAT KILLED JOSH BRENNAN AND HUGO MENDOZA.
* SGT Brennan was wounded in combat on 25 October 2007 and died of his wounds the next day, 26 October 2007.
* PVT Brennan left the US for his overseas duty station in Vicenza, Italy on 26 October 2009 (the second anniversary of his cousin’s death)
* PVT Brennan was assigned to the same unit his cousin SGT Brennan had served in: B Company, 2nd Battalion of the 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade.
* PVT Brennan’s platoon went on patrol that captured the High Value Target who masterminded the ambush that killed his cousin SGT Joshua Brennan.
PVT Joseph Brennan, graduating from Airborne school and being pinned with his cousin Josh's wings
Four Taliban were captured that day in this unbelievable chain of events, including the HVT known to have planned the ambush where Josh Brennan and Doc Mendoza were killed. His family got the word immediately afterward, from Joe Brennan himself.
Although not new by any means, the privatization of the military was foreseen as early as 1993 by futurists Alvin and Heide Toffler in their book War & Anti-War:
The idea is nothing new – no army in history has ever marched one step without private enterprise providing everything from boots and uniforms to meals, weaponry, tires, spare parts and maintenance – in an earlier era horseshoes – and of course the horses themselves and the feed they ate.
Berlin, 1961, height of the Cold War
The Tofflers’ book was timely because it coincided with the immediate end of the post-Cold War Era; hallmarked by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Soviet Union two years later. The First Gulf War against Saddam Hussein – a long-time client of the Soviet Union – was viewed by many historians as an epilogue of the Cold War.
At that point in history it was immediately evident that there was no longer a requirement for a huge standing military; the Communist Block had imploded and the commonly-held belief was that a kind of World Peace would ensue.
The need for a standing military along the lines of World War II armies was over; the United States had long since dispensed with the draft and had gone with a conscription-free, all-volunteer professional army. To streamline operations, to enhance the flexibility this new army requires, many functions have been contracted out. While the Army still has cooks and mechanics, most overseas mess halls are staffed by locally hired civilians, and military motor pools include qualified technicians representing commercial suppliers such as Land Rover.
I joined the U.S. Army in 1983. Infantry, Airborne, 11 Charlie. Our squad leaders and platoon sergeants were professionals, and they told us horror stories of serving amongst draftees of the Vietnam era; drugs, rampant crime within the ranks, disciplinary problems in garrison AND in combat.
We listened and learned; whatever the Army threw at us, we were willing to deal with, because we wanted to be there. What we DIDN’T want; was to be with people who didn’t want to be there. We were professionals.
Everywhere I served overseas, our operations were enhanced by civilian contractors. They ran the mess halls, fixed our radios, issued boots and uniforms, and in very extraordinary circumstances served in a paramilitary role, providing us with security details, training resources and even sources of intelligence. Of these activities there is nothing unethical, illegal, unorthodox or new in any way.
It is my professional opinion that it is better – and CHEAPER – to hire civilian contractors to perform service functions – to include personal security details – than to add these “garrison” duties to troops who should be out on patrol, taking the fight to the enemy.
Byron Cousin, an instructor of battlefield forensics, briefs students of his class. Cousin spent 18 years with the 82d Airborne Division, where he retired in 2006 as a first sergeant. On this day, his students were 82d Paratroopers.
Consider: a uniformed soldier has to be recruited, armed & equipped, fed, paid, kept healthy, trained, paid, housed, educated (and his FAMILY has to be housed, fed, medically taken care of and educated) and then paid retirement for X # of years. A contractor just has to be paid, point blank and simple.
Since I retired from active duty I have provided goods and consulting services to the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and to various state and local law enforcement agencies. At this time, I am a professional security consultant. There is nothing unethical, irregular, or illegal in any of these activities. I provide a service, and a perspective, that an active duty soldier simply could not perform. I am paid well for what I do, and this is exactly what I am worth – less than, if anything.
To anyone out there who suggests the United States should revert to involuntary conscription, populate the Army with unwilling draftees who don’t want to be there, and tie up the military performing chores outside of the military role or mission, I ask: what are the details of your honorable military service?
In the extremely lethal overseas environment post 9/11, the role of private security contractors has expanded from guard forces to services outside the perimeter, such as Personal Security Details (PSDs) for diplomats, etc. It is this security function that has generated controversy.
Amongst the general public there is a great deal of confusion regarding the practice of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) contracting out logistics and security services. Although largely viewed as a phenomena of the post-9/11 conflicts in the Middle East, the practice is not new.
Traditionally providing supplies and materiel, private contractors have been involved with the U.S. military since the Revolution. Following the end of the first Gulf War, the DoD contracted Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root Services (KBR) to study the use of private military forces with American soldiers in combat zones. The rationale was to free up military personnel for the pure military mission by contracting out services such as running mess halls, service functions such as garbage collection, etc, and base security.
Modern security professionals have been referred to in the media as “mercenaries”. This is a derogatory reference, and is inaccurate; a mercenary sells his services to the highest bidder – a purely mercantile relationship – and their activities may cover the entire operational spectrum, outside of legal constraints. In serving the U.S. DoD overseas, independent contractors are limited to a defensive role, and – contrary to commonly-held belief – are fully accountable under U.S. and international law.
There is an unwritten code of ethics amongst security professionals; we are not criminals or “soldiers of fortune”. Amongst my colleagues, an operator who conducts himself as some kind of flamboyant gunslinger is regarded as a potential loose cannon, to be avoided.
We possess a unique skill set and we perform a vital service. Like professional athletes, we are paid exactly what we are worth and it is never enough – for example: try to get a life insurance policy in this line of work.
Currently the largest of the U.S. State Department’s three private security contractors, Xe Services LLC is a privately owned security services firm founded as Blackwater USA in 1997 by Erik Prince and Al Clark. Erik Prince previously served as a Navy SEAL officer on deployments to Haiti, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean, including Bosnia.
In Iraq, Blackwater became poster boys for excess. A “photo cartoon” circulating in Baghdad among security contractors and some U.S. soldiers – and the laughter it generated – speaks for itself:
“Blackwater has become a symbol of testosterone-fueled excess,” one security contractor stated, who like most remains unnamed because the industry is under such scrutiny.
In February 2009 Blackwater USA, was renamed “Xe”, reflecting a change in company focus away from the business of providing private security. A company spokesman stated that it was felt the Blackwater name was too closely associated with the company’s work in the occupation of Iraq.
Based in North Carolina, Xe operates a tactical training facility which the company claims is the world’s largest, and at which it trains more than 40,000 people a year, mostly from the U.S. and other military and police services. The training consists of military offensive and defensive operations, as well as smaller scale personal security.
Of the 987 contractors Xe provides, 744 are U.S. citizens. Xe has provided security services in Iraq to the United States federal government, particularly the Central Intelligence Agency on a contractual basis. They no longer have a license to operate in Iraq: the new Iraqi government made multiple attempts to expel them from their country, and denied their application for an operating license in January 2009.
Based in Alexandria, Virginia, MPRI is a private military contractor that provides a wide range of services to both public and private customers, most notably the U.S. DoD. MPRI specializes in various professions such as law enforcement, security, military training, logistics, etc. By its own account MPRI operates in over 40 countries.
A member of International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), MPRI was founded in 1987 by eight retired officers of the U.S. Army. In June of 2000 MPRI was acquired by L-3 Communications.
Triple Canopy is a private military contracting company headquartered in Herndon, Virginia that provides global security and risk management services in North America, South America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Africa, and the Middle East. The company’s website claims that it delivers “a broad range of security and risk management services including assessments, training, crisis management, protective, and support services.”
Triple Canopy was founded in 2003, and it is best known for its work in the Iraq War. Since April of 2009 the Obama administration signed contracts for Triple Canopy to work in the Middle East.
The name Triple Canopy was initially chosen to refer to the layered canopy jungle of Southeast Asia and Central America, where some of the key founding members received their military training and operational experience; it also refers to the distinction among U.S. Army personnel of wearing the Airborne, Ranger, and Special Forces tabs, if authorized, when assigned to Special Forces units.
Under the tab “Careers” the Triple Canopy website proclaims, “Quiet Professionals Wanted”. Quiet Professionals is a military buzzword that specifically implies U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers (Green Berets). It is rumored that leadership at Triple Canopy has roots from the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta (commonly referred to as Delta Force).
CACI International Inc founded in 1962, is a professional services and information technology (IT) company headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. A member of the Fortune 1000 Largest Companies, CACI has approximately 12,700 employees in over 120 offices in the U.S. and Europe.
Abu Ghraib Controversy
In 2004, CACI was linked to the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse along with another U.S. government contractor, Titan Corp (now owned by L-3 Communications). 2 CACI employees were investigated in the Taguba inquiry. The U.S. Army found that “contractors were involved in 36 percent of the (Abu Ghraib) proven incidents” and identified six employees as “individually culpable”, although none have faced prosecution.
According to CACI’s website, “the company provided a range of Information Technology (IT) and intelligence services in Iraq. These services included intelligence analysis, background investigations, screenings, interrogation, property management and recordkeeping, and installation of computer systems, software and hardware. Only a small portion of these employees worked as interrogators. The company states that “no CACI employee or former employee has been indicted for any misconduct in connection with this work, and no CACI employee or former employee appears in any of the photos released from Abu Ghraib”.
CACI interrogation services in Iraq concluded in the early fall of 2005 upon the conclusion of a contract with the Department of the Army.
Operating from offices in the southeastern and midwestern U.S., Wexford offers management consulting services to the federal government (including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Army, and various other U.S. Department of Defense agencies), as well as clients in the private sector. Its services cover acquisition management, organizational and performance management, risk mitigation, strategic communications, and tactical training.
Sean Linnane is not employed by any of the companies mentioned in this article.
Washington (AP) — A federal judge dismissed all charges Thursday against five Blackwater Worldwide security guards accused of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians in a crowded Baghdad intersection in 2007.
Citing repeated government missteps, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed a case that had been steeped in international politics. The shooting in busy Nisoor Square left 17 Iraqis dead and inflamed anti-American sentiment abroad. The Iraqi government wanted the guards to face trial in Iraq and officials there said they would closely watch how the U.S. judicial system handled the case.
Urbina said the prosecutors ignored the advice of senior Justice Department officials and built their case on sworn statements that had been given under a promise of immunity. Urbina said that violated the guards’ constitutional rights. He dismissed the government’s explanations as “contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility.”
This is a relief for the guys, and for every man on the ground out there, doing the job without military status and all the rights and benefits that go with that.
Whether the Blackwater crew was right or wrong, I don’t think anybody around here would know one way or the other. What I do know is you can’t armchair quarterback these guys from 8,000 miles away from the combat zone. Think about it – you stick a guy out there on the two-way firing range with a lawyer in his back pocket (ROE) but WITHOUT the protection of the Law of Land Warfare (Hague & Geneva Conventions) and then when he does what he has to do to stay alive on the most lethal battlefield in the history of the world, you throw the book at him? Eff that.
It might surprise the readership out there that I’m not an especially big fan of the Blackwater operation (now known as ‘XE’ of course) – and not just because they’re the competition. Having said that, I harbor no ill will against them; they are Americans doing a thankless job under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. I say Godspeed to all the BW operators, and ALL my fellow contractors out there; best wishes and good fortune in all you do, all day every day.
“Keep your musket clean as a whistle, hatchet sharp and scoured, sixty rounds powder and ball, and be ready to march at a minute’s warning.”
The man said he was directed by al Qaeda to explode a small device in flight, over U.S. soil.
The device went off as Northwest Airlines Flight 253, an Airbus 330 carrying 278 passengers and operated by Delta, was arriving in Detroit from Amsterdam.
The suspect was identified as Abdul Farouk Abdul Mutallab, 23, who according to federal documents is an engineering student at University College of London.
Federal law enforcement authorities are trying to determine the credibility of Abdul Mutallab’s story; i.e. IS he an Al Qaeda operative, or is this another episode of what I have coined ‘Self-Induced Jihad Syndrome?’
Abdul Mutallab certainly fits the ‘Self-Induced Jihadi’ profile – he is young, intelligent, educated, AND “inspired” – according to his entry visa he was flying from Nigeria to the United States for a “religious seminar”.
The suspect had been in a law enforcement-intelligence database but was not on the government’s no-fly list. According to a federal situational awareness bulletin: “The subject is claiming to have extremist affiliation and that the device was acquired in Yemen along with instructions as to when it should be used.”
BRILLIANT – we have apparently returned to the pre-9/11 mindset. There’s your Federal government taking care of you.
I am a Special Forces engineer – I have extensive training and experience in what we refer to as ‘field expedients’.
The suspect told authorities that he had explosive powder taped to his leg and used a syringe of chemicals to mix with the powder that was to cause explosion. This is of concern because it is a method of mixing that is consistent with terror techniques.
The trouble with this sort of improvised explosives is that they are not reliable, and are very difficult to initiate. Factors such as temperature, ambient pressure and relative humidity affect chemical reactions. A chemical mixture that may have initiated perfectly well in a hot, dry desert climate like Yemen obviously failed to produce results in a jetliner at altitude, thankfully.
The popular television show Mythbusters put these ‘MacGyver‘-type energetics to the test: in one episode, they tried to replicate how MacGyver once blew a man-sized hole in a wall with one gram of sodium reacting with water. The MythBusters placed sodium in a gel capsule, placed it in a bottle full of warm water, placed the bottle against a cinder block wall, and tamped it with sand. One gram of sodium was not powerful enough to damage the wall (or even the bottle it was in), and 100 grams of sodium was also not enough. The MythBusters then used 500 grams of more-reactive potassium placed inside a cannon-like contraption to direct all the force onto the wall, but still failed to cause any damage. The MythBusters finally resorted to using C4 high explosive to demolish the wall.
The Battle of the Bulge was the single largest and bloodiest battle American forces experienced in World War II.
In all, 840,000+ Allied soldiers participated in the Battle, with 1,300 medium tanks, plus tank destroyers, and 394 artillery pieces.
19,246 Americans were killed in the Bulge, 47,500 wounded, 23,000 captured or missing (an astonishing 89,746 total casualties), approximately 800 tanks destroyed. 200 British soldiers were killed, 1,200 wounded or missing.
They fought and died for our freedom. Remember them as you enjoy your Christmas festivities this year, and every year.
Due to horrific conditions at the hands of the Wermacht, many of these GI's did not survive their captivity
The German Wehrmacht went into the offensive with 500,000 men, 1,800 tanks, and 1,900 artillery pieces. 67,200 German Wehrmacht were killed, 32,800 wounded or missing and approximately 700 tanks destroyed. On top of these staggering statistics, approximately 3000 civilians were killed during the course of the Ardennes campaign of 1944-45.
I have lived in and around the Fort Bragg area for many years. There are not too many WWII paratrooper veterans left, but I have had the honor to meet a few over the years. I knew a retired Sergeant Major who served with the 101st in Normandy, the Low Countries and was at Bastogne. I asked him once, “How did you do it? How on Earth did paratroopers fight tanks, and hold out?”
“Oh, well, we just did what we had to do to stay alive.”
“I always heard they put you guys in there without any winter gear?”
“All we had was bedsheets, white bedsheets, over our uniforms.”
“Oh man. How did you do it? How did you deal with the cold?”
“Oh my Lord, that was the coldest I have ever been in my entire life. I will never forget that cold, as long as I live. On Christmas Day, they served turkey stew. We were on the front lines, we’d have to go back one at a time. They’d fill our canteen cups with turkey stew, and by the time we’d get back to our positions, the turkey stew would be frozen solid.”
Kind of puts the great Blizzard of 2009 into perspective, doesn’t it?
* * *
A massive artillery barrage in the early morning hours of 16 December 1944 signaled the beginning of a massive German assault on Allied positions in the Ardennes forest.
By 0800 hours three German armies attacked through the Ardennes. Waffen SS General Sepp Dietrich’s Sixth SS Panzer Army moved toward the offensive’s primary objective: Antwerp, to capture the critical Allied supply depots there – most especially the fuel dumps. In the center von Manteuffel’s Fifth Panzer Army attacked toward the strategic road junction cities of Bastogne and St. Vith.
To the north at Lanzerath, Belgium and the Elsenborn Ridge, attacks by the Sixth SS Panzer Army’s infantry units encountered unexpectedly fierce resistance by the U.S. 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions. On the first day, an entire German battalion was held up for 20 hours by a single 18-man Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon from the 99th Infantry Division, causing a bottleneck in the German advance.
As it became obvious to the Allied High Command that the German attacks represented a major Nazi offensive, snowstorms engulfed the Ardennes. While having the desired effect of keeping the Allied aircraft grounded, the weather also proved troublesome for the Germans because poor road conditions hampered their advance. Poor traffic control led to massive traffic jams and fuel shortages in forward units.
The Western Front, showing the German "Bulge" Ardennes Offensive 16-26 December 1944.
The main armored spearhead of the Sixth SS Panzer Army was Kampfgruppe Peiper; 4,800 men and 600 vehicles of the 1st SS Panzer Division under the command of Waffen-SS Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) Joachim Peiper. At 07:00 on 17 December, they seized a U.S. fuel depot at Büllingen, where they paused to refuel before continuing westward.
At 12:30, near the hamlet of Baugnez, on the height halfway between the town of Malmedy and Ligneuville, forward elements of Kampfgruppe Peiper captured troops of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, U.S. 7th Armored Division. The Americans were disarmed and sent to stand in a field near the crossroads, where approximately 150 of them were machinegunned to death.
The Malmedy Massacre
Even though executing prisoners and shooting civilians were a trademark of Waffen SS operations, news of the killings raced through Allied lines. Although there is no record of an SS officer giving an execution order, following the war SS soldiers of Kampfgruppe Peiper were to be held accountable during the Malmedy massacre trial.
Belgian civilians killed by SS units during the offensive
The fighting went on. By the evening of the 16th Peiper was already behind schedule; it had taken him 36 hours to advance from Eifel to Stavelot, compared to just 9 hours in 1940. As the Americans fell back, they blew up bridges and fuel dumps, denying the Germans critically needed fuel and further slowing their progress.
In the central ‘Schnee Eifel’ sector, the Fifth Panzer Army surrounded two regiments (422nd and 423rd) of the 106th Division in a pincer movement and forced their surrender. The official U.S. Army history states: “At least seven thousand men were lost here (the figure was probably closer to eight or nine thousand). This substantial amount of manpower, arms and equipment represents the most serious reverse suffered by American arms during the operations of 1944–45 in the European theater.”
American soldiers taken prisoner by the German Wehrmacht
Further south the main German thrust crossed the River Our, increasing pressure on the key road centers of St. Vith and Bastogne. The 112th Infantry Regiment (of the US 28th Division), held a continuous front east of the Our, keeping German forces from seizing and using the Our river bridges around Ouren for two days before withdrawing progressively to the west.
The 109th and 110th Regiments both offered stubborn resistance in the face of superior forces, keeping the German offensive days off schedule. Denied their intended avenues of approach, Panzer columns took outlying villages and widely separated strong-points in bitter fighting, slowed in their advance to Bastogne.
An American road-block with .30 caliber machine gun in the Ardennes, December 1944
By 17 December, Eisenhower and his principal commanders realized that the fighting in the Ardennes was a major offensive and not a local counter-attack, and they ordered vast reinforcements to the area. Within a week 250,000 troops had been sent. In addition, the 82nd Airborne Division was also thrown into the battle north of the bulge, near Elsenborn Ridge.
In the center of the ‘Bulge’ salient the town of St. Vith, a vital road junction, presented a major challenge for German Wehrmacht forces. The defenders included the 7th U.S. Armored Division, and remnants of the 106th U.S. Infantry, with elements of the 9th U.S. Armored and U.S. 28th Infantry, all under the command of General Bruce C. Clarke.
Clarke’s forces successfully resisted the German attacks, significantly slowing their advance. Under orders from Montgomery, St. Vith was given up on 21 December; U.S. troops fell back to entrenched positions in the area, presenting an imposing obstacle to a successful German advance. By 23 December, as the Germans shattered their flanks, the defenders’ position became untenable, and U.S. troops were ordered to retreat west of the Salm River. As the German plan had originally called for the capture of St. Vith by 18:00 on 17 December, the prolonged action in and around the city presented a major blow to their timetable.
U.S. M4 Sherman tanks take up positions on the outskirts of St. Vith, 20 December 1944
The struggle for the villages and American strong-points, plus transport confusion on the German side, slowed the attack sufficiently to allow the 101st Airborne Division (reinforced by elements from the 9th and 10th Armored Divisions) to reach Bastogne by truck on the morning of 19 December. In fierce defensive fighting, the American paratroopers denied the Germans their critical objective Bastogne, with its important road junctions. Panzer columns swung past on either side, cutting off Bastogne on 20 December but failing to secure the vital crossroads.
According to Wehrmacht plan, by 19 December the town of Bastogne and its network of eleven hard topped roads leading through the mountainous terrain and boggy mud of the Ardennes region were to have been in German hands for several days.
Eisenhower realized the Allies could destroy German forces much more easily when they were out in the open and on the offensive than if they were on the defensive. Meeting with senior Allied commanders in a bunker in Verdun, Ike told his generals, “The present situation is to be regarded as one of opportunity for us and not of disaster. There will be only cheerful faces at this table.”
General Dwight Eisenhower poses with a group of soldiers during a visit to the Battle of the Bulge battlefield. The soldiers were members of the 334th Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) Battalion
By the time of that meeting, two separate west-bound German columns were to have by-passed Bastogne to the south and north, the 2nd Panzer Division and Panzer-Lehr-Division of XLVII Panzer Corps, as well as the 26th Volksgrenadier Division. Instead these units had been engaged and slowed in frustrating battles at outlying defensive positions up to ten miles from the town proper.
Members of the 101st Airborne Division armed with bazookas, on guard for enemy tanks. On the road leading to Bastogne, Belgium, 23 December 1944
Eisenhower asked Patton how long it would take to turn his Third Army (located in northeastern France) north to counterattack. To the disbelief of the other generals present, Patton said he could attack with two divisions within 48 hours. Before he had gone to the meeting, Patton had already ordered his staff to prepare three contingency plans for a northward turn in at least corps strength. By the time Eisenhower asked him how long it would take, the movement was already underway. On 20 December, Eisenhower removed the First and Ninth U.S. Armies from Bradley’s 12th Army Group and placed them under Montgomery’s 21st Army Group.
By 21 December, the German forces had Bastogne surrounded. Conditions inside the Bastonge perimeter were tough — most medical supplies and medical personnel had been captured, food was scarce, and by December 22 artillery ammunition was restricted to 10 rounds per gun per day. The weather cleared the next day, however, and supplies (primarily ammunition) were dropped in by parachute over four of the next five days.
The perimeter held despite determined German attacks. The German commander, Generalleutnant Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz, requested Bastogne’s surrender. When acting commander of the 101st General Anthony McAuliffe was told of this, he responded with a frustrated, “Aw, nuts!” After turning to other pressing issues, his staff reminded him that they should reply to the German demand. One officer (Lt. Col Harry W. O. Kinnard) recommended that McAuliffe’s initial reply would be “tough to beat”. Thus McAuliffe wrote on the paper delivered to the Germans: “NUTS!” The famous reply – a morale booster to his troops – had to be explained both to the Germans, and to non-American Allies.
General Patton pinning the Distinguished Service Cross on BG Anthony C. McAuliffe, acting commander of the 101st Airborne Division during the Siege of Bastogne
Both 2nd Panzer and Panzer Lehr moved forward from Bastogne after December 21, leaving only Panzer Lehr’s 901st Regiment to assist the 26th Volksgrenadier Division in attempting to capture the crossroads. The 26th VG received one panzergrenadier regiment from the 15th PzG Division on Christmas Eve for its main assault the next day. Because it lacked sufficient troops and those of the 26th VG Division were near exhaustion, the XLVII Panzer Corps concentrated its assault on several individual locations on the west side of perimeter in sequence rather than launching one simultaneous attack on all sides. The assault, despite initial success by its tanks in penetrating the American line, was defeated and all the tanks destroyed. The next day, December 26, the spearhead of the 4th Armored Division broke through and opened a corridor to Bastogne.
In the extreme south, Brandenberger’s three infantry divisions were checked after an advance of four miles (6.5 km) by divisions of the U.S. VIII Corps; that front was then firmly held. Only the 5th Parachute Division of Brandenberger’s command was able to thrust forward 12 miles (19 km) on the inner flank to partially fulfill its assigned role.
GERMAN DECEPTION & SPECIAL OPERATIONS IN THE ARDENNES
Before the offensive, the Allies were virtually blind to German troop movement. During the reconquest of France, the extensive network of the French resistance had provided valuable intelligence about German dispositions. Once they reached the German border, this source dried up. In France, orders had been relayed within the German army using radio messages enciphered by the Enigma machine, and these could be picked up and decrypted by Allied code-breakers to give the intelligence known as ULTRA.
German Wehrmacht soldiers sending an encrypted message via the Enigma machine
The foggy autumn weather also prevented Allied reconnaissance planes from correctly assessing the ground situation
In Germany, such orders were typically transmitted using telephone and teleprinter, and a special radio silence order was imposed on all matters concerning the upcoming offensive. The major crackdown in the Wehrmacht after the 20 July plot resulted in much tighter security and fewer leaks.
Waffen SS Obersturmbahnfuhrer Otto Skorzeny - "the Most Dangerous Man in Europe"
Two major special operations were planned for the offensive. By October it was decided Otto Skorzeny, the German commando who had rescued the former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, was to lead a task force of English-speaking German soldiers in Operation Greif.
These soldiers were to be dressed in American and British uniforms and wear dog tags taken from corpses and POWs. Their job was to go behind American lines and change signposts, misdirect traffic, generally cause disruption and to seize bridges across the Meuse River between Liège and Namur.
By late November another ambitious special operation was added: Colonel Friedrich August von der Heydte was to lead a Fallschirmjäger (paratrooper) Kampfgruppe in Operation Stösser, a nighttime paratroop drop behind the Allied lines aimed at capturing a vital road junction near Malmedy.
Originally planned for the early hours of 16 December, Operation Stösser was delayed for a day because of bad weather and fuel shortages. The new drop time was set for 03:00 on 17 December; their drop zone was 7 miles (11 km) north of Malmedy and their target was the “Baraque Michel” crossroads. Von der Heydte and his men were to take it and hold it for approximately twenty-four hours until being relieved by the 12th SS Panzer Division, thereby hampering the Allied flow of reinforcements and supplies into the area.
Fallschirmjäger exiting a JU 52 in the unique German headfirst technique
Just after midnight on 17 December, 112 Ju 52 transport planes with around 1,300 Fallschirmjägern took off amid a powerful snowstorm, with strong winds and extensive low cloud cover. As a result, many planes went off course, and men were dropped as far as a dozen kilometers away from the intended drop zone, with only a fraction of the force landing near it. Strong winds also took off-target those paratroopers whose planes were relatively close to the intended drop zone and made their landings far rougher.
By noon, a group of around 300 managed to assemble, but this force was too small and too weak to counter the Allies. Colonel von der Heydte abandoned plans to take the crossroads and instead ordered his men to harass the Allied troops in the vicinity with guerrilla-like actions.
Wehrmacht Fallschirmjägeren in combat, 1944
Because of the extensive dispersal of the jump, with Fallschirmjägeren being reported all over the Ardennes, the Allies believed a major division-sized jump had taken place, resulting in much confusion and causing them to allocate men to secure their rear instead of sending them off to the front to face the main German thrust.
Operation Greif and Operation Währung
For Operation Greif, Otto Skorzeny successfully infiltrated a small part of his battalion of disguised, English-speaking Germans behind the Allied lines. Although they failed to take the vital bridges over the Meuse, the battalion’s presence produced confusion out of all proportion to their military activities, and rumors spread quickly. Even General Patton was alarmed and, on 17 December, described the situation to General Eisenhower as “Krauts… speaking perfect English… raising hell, cutting wires, turning road signs around, spooking whole divisions, and shoving a bulge into our defenses.”
Checkpoints were set up all over the Allied rear, greatly slowing the movement of soldiers and equipment. Military policemen drilled servicemen on things which every American was expected to know, such as the identity of Mickey Mouse’s girlfriend, baseball scores, or the capital of Illinois. This last question resulted in the brief detention of General Bradley; although he gave the correct answer — Springfield — the GI who questioned him apparently believed the capital was Chicago.
The tightened security nonetheless made things harder for the German infiltrators, and some of them were captured. Even during interrogation they continued their goal of spreading disinformation; when asked about their mission, some of them claimed they had been told to go to Paris to either kill or capture General Eisenhower. Security around the general was greatly increased, and he was confined to his headquarters.
Because these prisoners had been captured in American uniform, they were later executed by firing squad. This was the standard practice of every army at the time, although it was left ambiguous under the Geneva Convention, which merely stated soldiers had to wear uniforms that distinguished them as combatants. In addition, Skorzeny was aware under international law such an operation would be well within its boundaries as long as they were wearing their German uniforms when firing.
Skorzeny and his men were fully aware of their likely fate, and most wore their German uniforms underneath their Allied ones in case of capture. Skorzeny avoided capture, survived the war, and may have been involved with the Nazi ODESSA escape network.
Otto Skorzeny addressing his troops in the field
For Operation Währung, a small number of German agents infiltrated Allied lines in American uniforms. These agents were then to use an existing Nazi intelligence network to attempt to bribe rail and port workers to disrupt Allied supply operations. This operation was a failure.
So great was the confusion caused by Operation Greif that the U.S. Army saw spies and saboteurs everywhere. Perhaps the largest panic was created when a commando team was captured near Aywaille on 17 December. Comprising Unteroffizier Manfred Pernass, Oberfähnrich Günther Billing, and Gefreiter Wilhelm Schmidt, they were captured when they failed to give the correct password. It was Schmidt who gave credence to a rumour that Skorzeny intended to capture General Eisenhower and his staff.
A document outlining Operation Greif’s elements of deception (though not its objectives) had earlier been captured by the US 106th Infantry Division near Heckhuscheid, and because Skorzeny was already well-known for rescuing Italian dictator Benito Mussolini (Operation Oak or Unternehmen Eiche) and Operation Panzerfaust, the Americans were more than willing to believe this story and Pernass, Billing, and Schmidt were given a military trial at Henri-Chapelle, sentenced to death, and executed by a firing squad on 23 December. Thirteen other men were tried and shot at either Henri-Chapelle or Huy.
More to come…
Eisenhower was reportedly unamused by having to spend Christmas 1944 isolated for security reasons
Insurgents Hack U.S. Drones
$26 Software Is Used to Breach Key Weapons in Iraq; Iranian Backing Suspected
When I heard this story on Thursday I thought right away, ‘this isn’t such a big deal.’ If for no other reason than live video isn’t encrypted.
Text and voice signal can be encrypted, but video is such a LARGE bundle of one’s and zero’s that it’s hard to send live in the first place. Trying to encrypt and send live video – well, I won’t say it’s impossible, but it’d be damn hard to achieve.
Live video eats up so much signal and bandwidth on the electromagnetic spectrum, that it’s hard for ground pounders to even get a frequency to use video, never mind the power source necessary to send the stuff.
But I’m just a lowly knuckledragging Neanderthal, what do I know? SO . . . I ran it past the team techie – our “Q” – and he confirmed what I already suspected: video can’t be encrypted (as far as he knows, and he knows a LOT). Ergo this is NOT hacking, this is eavesdropping:
Dale Meyerrose, former chief information officer for the U.S. intelligence community, compared the problem to street criminals listening to police scanners.
“This was just one of the signals, a broadcast signal, and there was no hacking. It is the interception of a broadcast signal,” said Meyerrose, who worked to field the unmanned systems in the 1990s, when he was a senior Air Force officer.
The problem, he said, is that when the drones were first being developed they were using commercial equipment, which as time goes on could become vulnerable to intercepts.
There is a tendency to de-humanize your enemies, and to underestimate them – especially if they are Asians or Africans. The Taliban have displayed some ingenuity here, granted, but this does not put them in the same category as the SpyKids.
Differential Theory of U.S. Armed Forces (Snake Model)
Upon Encountering a Snake in the Area of Operations (AO):
1. “Straight-Leg”: Sees snake, runs screaming from the area.
2. Airborne Infantry: Lands on and kills the snake.
3. Ranger: Sees snake, picks up snake and plays with it. Snake bites Ranger. Ranger calls in AC130 Spectre gunship fire mission on snake; kills snake and every other living thing within 100 meters of the target.
4. Marine Recon: Follows snake, gets lost.
5. Air Force Para-Rescue: Wounds snake in initial encounter (accidentally, of course), then works feverishly to save snake’s life.
6. Navy SEAL: Expends all ammunition and calls for naval gunfire support in failed attempt to kill snake. Snake bites SEAL and retreats to safety. Hollywood makes fantasy film in which SEALS kill Muslim extremist snakes.
7. U.S. Army Special Forces: Makes contact with snake, then ignores all State Department directives and Theater Commander Rules of Engagement and establishes rapport with snake; wins its heart and mind. Trains snake to go out, find other snakes, and kill them. Files enormous travel settlement upon return.
11 June 1919, Dublin, Ireland - 3 December 2009, Little Humby, Lincolnshire, England, UK
Sir Richard Todd died earlier this month at the age of 90.
Actor, World War II Veteran; officer, 7th Battalion (LI) The Parachute Regiment. On D-Day this Battalion made contact with Major Howard at the Orne Bridge now called Pegasus Bridge.
Sir Richard Todd’s acting career spanned his World War II exploits. He played out his wartime heroic exploit at Pegasus Bridge twice in films; in the The Longest Day (1962) he played Major Howard meeting with Todd (himself), and in D-Day the Sixth of June (1956) he played the commander of his Battalion in the filming of the same scene.
He was a hell of a great actor, apparently – a little before my time; His performance as Lachie in The Hasty Heart (1949 – also starring Ronald Reagan, with whom he became lifelong friends) earned him an Oscar nomination as Best Actor.
He did some great roles in the film noir genre:
He played opposite Marlene Dietrich in Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright (1950)
Sir Richard’s most memorable role was that of Wing Commander Guy Gibson, VC, in The Dam Busters (1955):
Todd was Ian Fleming’s first choice to play James Bond in Dr No (1962), but a scheduling clash gave the role to Sean Connery. He would have made a terrific Bond. Instead, he played Inspector Harry Sanders in Lawrence Huntington’s Death Drums Along The River (1963), a role he reprised in Coast of Skeletons the following year. In a rather more unlikely casting, he played a counter-culture hippie guru professor in The Love-Ins (1967).
By the late 1960s Todd’s star had waned, and his later film parts were mostly forgettable, with the possible exception of Michael Winner’s remake of The Big Sleep (1978), in which he played the police commissioner opposite Robert Mitchum’s Philip Marlowe.
“I let myself become a willing workhorse. The roles were good, bad and indifferent, but I always gave a part my best shot and tried to enjoy it.”
“I have no idea why but acting was in my blood. God knows how I managed it, but none of it was spilled in the war.”
“I wish I had half the courage of some of those chaps I’ve played on the screen.”
“I am not going around saying, ‘Why me? Why me?’ What helps me is accepting it, getting on with things. You can’t let yourself go on wallowing.” - in a 2006 interview regarding the suicide deaths of two of his sons.
“You don’t consciously set out to do something gallant. You just do it because that is what you are there for.” - referring to his heroism during WWII
In May of 2008, he laid poppies on the water of Derwent Reservoir, Derbyshire, UK, in honor of the 65th anniversary of the “Dambusters” mission in WWII.
Pegasus Bridge, June 1944
He was a Hero of the British Empire . . . he was Class Personified – “All The Way” (as we say in the Airborne) – AND he was IRISH ! ! ! If I had a choice of any life to lead, he’d be right up there at the top of my list.