Section D

My interest in the less-well-known aspects of World War II (or at least less known to me) has been rekindled lately. I leafed through a few texts before settling on Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat. (Though I am enjoying it courtesy of my local library, not Amazon!)

Section D: D, for Destruction.

It was known as Winston Churchill’s Toyshop. (One of the chief designers could have been the role-model for Q from the James Bond series.) It seems to have been fluid in 1940. Some of it remained in the War Department, some became part of the Special Operations Executive. (SOE was how I started down this rabbit hole, with the story of Virginia Hall.) Officially, it came to be known as Military Intelligence (Research) or MI(R).

One of their operatives returned from Poland with the stolen Enigma machine that was provided by Polish Intelligence. They built bombs, mines and other “toys.” They produced manuals – written by engineers – detailing how to place charges to best destroy bridges, and viaducts, how to derail trains and in general how to raise hell.

And they sent teams of operatives into France to wreck power stations, derail supply trains, etc. Fairbairn and Sykes developed their famous knife and taught martial arts techniques – which had been picked up in the Far East – to the first commandos. The British Senior Officers were horrified. When a senior officer sat in on a training session, he threw a tantrum.

‘This is monstrous,’ [Major-General Sir Edward Spears] bawled. ‘Don’t pay attention to this dreadful teaching. Remember, we are British. We do not stoop to thug-element tactics. We do not stab in the back. We fight as men. We do not slash. Now this must cease.’

Winston Churchill, in that same session, pulled Teddy Spears out into the hall, and told the room at large, “Good work.”

The folks in the section were characters, which was to be expected. They were preparing for unconventional war, and they were themselves unconventional. And when they had problems in their personal lives, based on the long hours of work, they had unique ways of solving those problems.

[Millis] Jeffris’s approach to marital discord was the same as his approach to the Nazis: it was to be confronted with every heavy weapon available. When Ruth [Jeffris] and Mary [Macrae] complained about never receiving any flowers, Jeffris launched a floral blitzkrieg. He and [Stuart] Macrae drove to a flower shop in Hendon Central and bought the ladies a bouquet they would never forget. ‘We want to buy the contents of the shop, please,’ said Jeffris to the astonished florist as he pulled out his chequebook, ‘and will you have them delivered to this address.’ At first the lady thought he was joking – it was wartime after all – but Jeffris was most insistent. ‘When we got home that night, we had great difficulty getting into the little house,’ said Macrae. ‘There were flowers everywhere, including a palm tree in the lavatory, which made it impossible to sit down.’ Jeffris’s solution seemed to work, for both Ruth and Mary were completely silenced. ‘Flowers,’ said Macrae, ‘were never mentioned again.’

One of the more fascinating (and saddening) aspects of the whole effort was how, even as Germany was rolling across France, and as Britain prepared to be invaded, the bureaucratic infighting, the red tape (some of which was created specifically for Section D and SOE) and the other insanity prevailed. (“The Bureaucratic Mentality is the ONLY constant in the universe.” Dr. McCoy – Star Trek: The Voyage Home.) Even as war efforts were started to take the war to French soil, RAF officers refused to have their planes fly saboteurs in civilian wardrobe into France. It was “ungentlemanly” and should not be sanctioned. The supply division refused to authorize the production of various devices, like the sticky-bomb for attacking tanks, because they “broke the rules.” (Or because of turf-wars.) Churchill authorized the production of 1 million sticky-bombs, mostly for the home-guard. It’s as if the establishment couldn’t see this giant, German war machine sitting across the Chanel, getting ready to invade. This was after Dunkirk, and still it seems like the British officer corps was preparing to fight Napoleon, not an invasion in the style of the blitzkrieg.

I have to admit that I’m only about ½ way through the book, but I’m enjoying it immensely. It reminds me what history can be, when it’s done right. Compelling narratives, about interesting people doing important work, sometimes under ghastly conditions, and often the people are still able to find humor in life.

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A Look at Ferguson by Colion Noir

There is something here to upset folks on the Left and on the Right. Four Years After Ferguson: An Honest Look at History. A Hopeful Look Ahead..

A bleak history of economic upheaval, antagonism, mistrust and misunderstanding. Four years later, Colion Noir heads to Ferguson, Missouri and visits with local St. Louis residents to explore the issues that led up to and came out of Michael Brown’s death and the riots that followed.

It’s a 26 minute video.

Connections by James Burke

Connections: an alternate view of change by James Burke, was a 1978 production of the BBC (and a book of the same name). (The Wiki lists him as an historian, but I always thought of him as a science reporter.) But he was responsible for several of my favorite documentary series. Connections being the first one. (Or the first one I’m aware of.)

Anyway, I’ve written about this before, but some of the video was extremely low quality. These are a little better. Mostly. Some are much better. So if you’re interested in a look at the future as seen from 1978… Some of the questions raised are still quite good, and given that it is mostly about history, it still holds together pretty well.

Connections was followed in 1985 by The Day the Universe Changed. Then in the 1990s, Connections2, and Connections3 were produced. I will get to The Day the Universe Changed soon. I haven’t actually seen either of the 2 follow-on Connections series, but I hope I can find them eventually.

This is a good place to put in an ask for the Internet Archive. (Also known as the Wayback Machine.) They need your help if you can swing a few dollars in their direction.

We need your help to ensure that anyone curious enough to seek knowledge will be able to find it here, for free. We’re an independent, non-profit website that the entire world depends on. If the Internet Archive is useful to you, please take one minute to keep our services improving and free for everyone. Together we are building the public libraries of the future. [Brewster Kahle, Founder & Digital Librarian]

Georgia (The Country) To Participate in NATO War Games

I always wondered why Georgia (and Ukraine) didn’t join NATO – or at least try – in the 1990s or early in the 21st Century. Georgia slams Russia ‘occupation’ ahead of NATO war games.

Georgia is bordered by Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to the south, the Black Sea to the west, and Russia to the north. (A map can be found at this link.)

Several thousand soldiers from Georgia, the US, Germany and other NATO countries are set for two weeks of joint maneuvers. Georgia’s president has criticized the presence of Russian troops in South Ossetia.

The war games titled “Noble Partner” are starting soon. Russia is conducting drills in the North Caucasus region at the same time.

Russia has had troops deployed to the Ossetia region (ostensibly of Georgia) since the brief war in 2008.

Although Georgia is not a member of NATO, it has had close ties with the alliance since 1994, and is considered an “aspirant country.”

1981: The Year MTV Showed Up on Cable

While it would take a couple of years for most cable companies to pick it up, August was when it started. Saturday, August 1, 1981, at 12:01 am Eastern Time, to be exact. They started with the following quote:

MTV launched with the words “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll,” spoken by John Lack and played over footage of the first Space Shuttle launch countdown of Columbia (which took place earlier that year) and of the launch of Apollo 11.

They only dropped the use of the Space Shuttle launch in 1986 after the disaster.

The first song played on MTV was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. It was released as a single in 1979, and included on their 1980 album The Age of Plastic. I’m not sure I like this song, but you have to admit that it certainly was an appropriate choice.

By the middle-to-late 1980s, Music videos were a pretty good art-form. While there was a lot schlock – because you had to have something – there were some interesting videos. “Land of Confusion” and “Take on Me” come to mind.

The Most Dangerous American Spy in WWII – Virginia Hall

In honor of the anniversary of The Americans With Disabilities Act. An American who didn’t let the loss of her leg stand in her way. (OK, that’s an excuse – I didn’t want to wait for her birthday, which is in April.)

Born April 6, 1906. Virginia Hall: America’s Greatest Female Spy – Historic Heroines. This linked article is long, but still worth your time.

She spoke five languages, and worked at several consulates across Europe, but the Foreign Service kept rejecting her application. Mostly it seems, because she was raising the alarm about Hitler long before most Americans – and especially those in the US Foreign Service – were taking him seriously.

While hunting in Turkey, she had an accidental discharge of her firearm, which resulted in her losing her left leg below the knee. (She was climbing over a fence.) She named her wooden leg Cuthbert. Despite the injury she volunteered as an ambulance driver in France during the Blitzkrieg. After the Nazi occupation of France, she made her way to England and joined the Special Operation Executive. (SOE was competitor to MI6, but protected by Churchill.)

After rigorous spy training designed to test the mettle of even the most resolute male candidates, she returned to Vichy France undercover as an American Journalist (prior to the US having joined the war). There, at great personal risk, Virginia, worked doggedly to collect intelligence, help form the French Resistance and rescue downed RAF pilots. She organized sabotage efforts on German supply lines and successfully planned daring POW prison escapes. All the while, knowing that capture would mean imprisonment and certain torture at the hands of the Vichy Police or German Gestapo.

She was on the Gestapo’s “most wanted” list.

After America got into the war, she “transferred” to the OSS (which later would become the CIA). And did more of the same. By this point the Americans wanted experienced agents to prepare for the invasion everyone knew had to come eventually. But since she was known to the Gestapo, she disguised herself (and her limp) as an old woman.

Upon her return to occupied France, Virginia immediately jumped back in with the French Resistance working tirelessly as a covert wireless radio operator reporting critical intelligence that could affect the D-Day invasion. … While on the move, Virginia used her previous experience organizing resistance efforts to assemble a fighting force of French guerillas that could support the Allied Invasion. Many initially refused to take orders from a woman, however, as she demonstrated her ability to provide valuable weapons and explosives with London’s full confidence, their sentiments rapidly changed. When the Allied Troops invaded Normandy on June 6, 1944, Virginia and her resistance army of over 400 volunteers sprang into action. Destroying train tracks, disrupting supply lines, attacking German troops and committing other acts of sabotage, Virginia and her force slowed the Nazi response to D-Day in any way possible.

After the war, she was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the only civilian woman to receive one. The recommendation, and citation – from the desk of Harry S. Truman – can be viewed at this link. (The interface isn’t the best, but you can enlarge the documents.) Some of the documents weren’t declassified until 1991.

Rejected Princesses also has a nice piece on Virginia Hall. I am really starting to love Rejected Princesses. (“Well-behaved women rarely make history.”)

The CIA has an official site devoted to her, but it is a bit short. Virginia Hall: The Courage and Daring of “The Limping Lady”. Still, it is worth a look. (And they gave me the idea about the ADA.)

A native of Baltimore, Virginia Hall Goillot is perhaps best known for her heroic service in the British Special Operations Executive and the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II, but she actually spent more time in CIA.

She died in 1982. In 2017 the CIA named a training center in her honor, and a commissioned painting of her hangs in CIA headquarters.

Apollo 11 Launch Footage (July 16, 1969)

The launch of Apollo 11 took place on July 16, 1969. For those of you who don’t remember, it was the first Apollo mission to land men on the moon.

This is Saturn V launch-pad footage from that day. 16mm film at 500 frames per second. 8 minutes plus is about 30 seconds of real time. I think it is fairly interesting.

I love that video because there is expert commentary, but not everyone agrees with me. So here’s a link to a video that is a compilation of views from various cameras, including the control room, and the audience on site at Cape Canaveral.

Some stats on the Saturn V:

  • Produced thrust of 34.5 million newtons (7.6 million pounds)
  • Fueled weight 2.8 million kilograms (6.2 million pounds)
  • Height of 111 meters (363 feet)