Saturday, October 20, 2018

German U-boat menace of World War 2


            In World War II the German's conquered France in 1940 and turned it into a major support system for its war against the Allies.  On a trip to France my son-in-law Dr. Stephen Alan Bourque, professor emeritus of the School of Advanced Military Studies, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Leavenworth, became interested in the untold story of what toll the war had taken on French civilians.

            In his book, "Beyond the Beach: The Allied War Against France," he tells the story of the massive damage that was done to French civilians and cities in an attempt to contain the Nazi menace. He discovered the allies bombed 1,570 French cities and towns killing 68,778 men, women and children over the course of World War II.   This was greater than the damage done to Britain by the German bombings and attacks with rockets.   More than 100,000 French were injured, and 432,000 houses were completely destroyed.

            Immediately on taking over France the Germans built giant bomb proof submarine pens in French ports to protect their subs. These  ports were used to reload and repair the German U-boats after their fights in the "Battle of the Atlantic." One of the cities with a port supporting the U-boats that had been completely destroyed was St. Nazaire on the coast at the mouth of the Loire River. 

            The Allies bombed the area 200 times during the war and on one date in 1943, 413 British heavy bombers attacked the submarine pens.  Despite this massive attack  the pens  were left intact due to the tremendous amount of cement used in their construction.  On the other hand the bombs completely destroyed the city and killed French civilians, German soldiers and slave laborers who had been sent to work on the area. 

The German U-boat pens in France survived heavy bombing the surrounding villages did not

            These submarines (U-boats) were one of Germany's most dangerous  weapons that took a tremendous toll on the supplies and troops being shipped from America to its Allies in England and Russia.  The U-boats sometimes worked in wolf packs of as many as 20 subs attacking our convoys that consisted of 30 to 70 merchant ships with naval protection. 

            During the war the U-boats sank about 2,779 ships for a total of 14.1 million tons GRT (Gross Registered Tonnage). This figure is roughly 70% of all allied shipping losses in all theatres of the war and to all hostile action.

            The most successful year was 1942 when over six million tons of shipping were sunk in the Atlantic. This resulted in heavy loss of life on both sides.  The Germans lost 28,000 U-boat crew and 72,200 Allied sailors and merchant seamen were killed. It became clear that if the mass sinking's of supplies and troops couldn't be prevented the war would be lost.

            My daughter Debra Anderson made a trip with her husband, the author, to see the pens that are  open to visitors.

            Here is one of her notes.  "Steve wanted to see them for his research.  The day started out cool but turned into a nice day.   At St. Nazaire we went past the city to the west side to see the ocean."

            "Steve wasn't sure where the submarine pens were, but knew that the city had been destroyed because of them.   We then drove along the coast into the town.  There were beaches and several monuments along the coast.  We found a parking space and went exploring.   Wow!  We were at the submarine pens and they were so impressive.  They were massive and had proved to be indestructible.   Tons of cement.  We walked around and took pictures.   Just an amazing structure."

            "There’s a photo with me in a dark area next to the water.   It’s like a boat dock - a platform with a rectangular space for a boat to pull in or go out to the water.   But it’s a covered area, and what was docked were submarines, not boats.   It reminded me of a James Bond movie where the subs come into secret hiding places."  

            The number of merchant ships sunk peaked in 1942 with 1,150 ships sent to the bottom of the Atlantic.   England was on the verge of starvation.  The subs had to be stopped.

            To do this the Allies had to coordinate their various forces and a central office was developed that took messages from the air, the ground and naval forces.  With antisubmarine intelligence, electronic tracking and attack aircraft the allies set up their own Hunter-Killer Task Groups.

            In World War II Germany built 1,162 U-boats, of which 785 were destroyed and the remainder surrendered (or were scuttled to avoid surrender) at the capitulation. Of the 632 U-boats sunk at sea, Allied surface ships and shore-based aircraft accounted for the great majority (246 and 245 respectively).

            To see an U-boat in person go to the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago that has the captured U-boat on which we discovered a German M4 enigma coding machine.   This was to be a gift without price, since now the Allies could decode German messages.

A captured German U-boat on display at the Field Museum in Chicago


Native Americans's 13,000 years ago: Part 1


           Recently I read "Atlas of a Lost World: Travels in Ice Age America" in which Craig Childs, the author, re-travels the routes that the original settlers to the American continent took.  Many of these first Native American's came across the land opened between Asia and North America as the ice age was melting. Evidently they came in stages over thousands of years.  Some may have come 20,000 years ago, but they didn't build enough numbers to leave historical remains until about 13,000 years ago.  By then they were spread across the  continent living among the tremendous number of giant animals that existed at that time.

           I have visited a number of sites where the Clovis People left artifacts telling us about their life style: in California, Colorado, Missouri, Florida and Ohio.  To take over this much area they had to reproduce in large numbers. Childs says the magic, minimum number for human colonization is one hundred and sixty people, more would be better.  This means they came to this part of the world in large numbers to avoid the problem of inbreeding.

I believe what happened was that over the centuries they came in relatively small groups, at different times and different routes met and interbred until a 12,000 years ago they had pretty much taken over the continent. 

These Native Americans over the years had developed excellent tools and ways of  coordinating their attacks that mammoths became one of their chief foods and supply depot for other things they needed to survive.

The best nearby site for seeing a full-sized replica of a mastodon is at the Mastodon State Historical Site, 20 miles south of St. Louis on Interstate 55. The museum holds a large collection of bones, tusks and human artifacts from the Kimmswick Bone Beds, which are located a brief walk from the museum.

An Ice Age Mastodon

A dramatic finding was made there in 1979 when archaeologists excavated a spear point made by members of the Clovis culture (14,000 – 10,000 year ago) among the mastodon bones.  This was early solid evidence that early Indians coexisted with these giant prehistoric beasts. This has now been confirmed numerous times.

           In the Clan of the Cave Bear program we took in Colorado we learned about early man and his hunting skills.  In an area near Fort Collins multiple spearheads have been found indicating the bringing down of a mammoth by native hunters.  This gave another expert the opportunity to show us not only now to make spearheads, but also how to throw a spear with a spear thrower.

           The first day at Yosemite National Park, the Elderhostel group we had joined took a walk with a naturalist, an expert on the Miwok Indians who had lived in the area. The naturalist demonstrated how the tribe’s members made fire, chipped arrowheads, constructed bows and removed the tannin from acorn meal. He almost had a heart attack starting the fire and cut his finger rather badly showing us how to chip an arrowhead.

           We need to remember that there was no way to preserve information or to share it widely, so their tool kit developed over thousands of years without the advantages of books or metal.

Good stone weapons were needed for survival

Chipping was an art and over time the products improved and became almost perfect for the job of  killing big game.  Many museums have examples of Clovis spears and arrowheads.  The spears heads are large and sharp and of course deadly.  But they can't just be made anywhere.  You must have special material and this if often hard to come by.  

           At Flint Ridge in Ohio on the 525-acre site, visitors can take trails past various quarries dug by the Indians. The first in the area to mine flint were the Paleo-Indians, who came here as long as 15,000 years ago.

           In addition to weapons, other items made from flint included hide scrapers and drills. One of the displays pointed out that flint tools can be recycled — you just made a smaller item by flaking off pieces to create a new shape.

           As flint was not readily available in many places, tribes such as the Adena and Hopewell had a source of trading goods. They were probably among our country’s first traveling salesmen as they took their valuable flint products around the country trading for copper, sea shells, food, hides, pottery and other items of worth.

           Childs points out that Clovis was a way of working in stone that while developed in the East was almost identical coast to coast.  Tool makers in some cases had to make long hundreds of mile trips to get the kind of stone they needed.  The giant animals, including the Mammoths disappeared and other tribes replaced the Clovis.  I talk about that in Story 2 on the Clovis Native Americans.

My daughter Debra admires an Ice Age giant sloth at the La Brea Tar Pits.

The Auburn, Cord, Dusesenerg Automobile Museum


1937 Cord 812S

When I was a child in the 1930s, the most frequent cars I saw around me were Model A Fords and Chevies.  These were mass produced, assembly line products from Detroit that many people could afford.  But, there was something else on the road that looked different, and when I saw one, I stopped in wonder to admire it.  That car was the Cord, produced in Auburn, Indiana.  Individually made they were considered then and even more so now as not only cars, but as works of art.

  Recently on one of our trips to Indiana, my wife and I were fortunate enough to stop in Auburn, Indiana, and visit the Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg Museum where the Cords with their sister/brother cars the Auburn and the Duesenberg are on display restored to all their original beauty.

    The manufacture of these cars ceased in 1937 because the depression had seriously cut into their sales, and they became collectors’ items with a group of mechanics dedicated to keep them operational. 

   After closing down the factory  37 years later in1974, the museum was opened in the former headquarters of the Auburn Automobile Company, a three-story building that is an ideal setting for the 131 impeccably restored automobiles.

     In 1997 the museum was accredited by the American Association of Museums, an award given to only 5% of all museums in the country.   Added recognition came in 2005 when the museum was designated a National Historic Landmark joining an exclusive group that includes Mount Vernon and the White House.

   The Cords with their Art Deco styling are what first caught our eyes as we entered, the Cords seem to be moving even when standing still and still made me think of rocket ships and science fiction.   The L-29 Cord was 11 inches lower than the average production car of its day.  This along with a 137 inch wheel base made it a very sleek looking vehicle.

Duesenberg a car for the rich and famous

 The Duesenbergs are big, massive and look like they cost a fortune.  We don’t remember seeing any as children, they were the automobiles of the rich and famous and Gary Cooper and Clark Cable drove them.  The Duesenberg cost $15,000 when a Ford could be bought for $500. 

  The Auburn’s were the innovator in other ways.  We studied one that amused us because it had the first seat back that lay down to create a bed, a solution for the fact that few motels existed in those days and a car that gave you a bed was one solution to getting a good night's rest on the road.

   A radiator covered with a cleverly designed front, front wheel drive, and a hood that lifted from the front; all innovations that were copied by other manufacturers.  In fact by 1936 Fords and Chevies were taking a stylistic look with curves that while not quite as arty as the Cords and Auburns improved their looks. 

   These cars still get attention.  In 1951 the Museum of Modern Art named the Cord 810 as one of the greatest car designs of all times.  This year, 2018,  a 1935 Duesenberg SSJ sold for 22 million dollars.

    In one of the films at the museum we noted that Jay Leno who is a famous as a classic car collector had some in his collection.

       The Museum's Education Department offers schools a variety of study experiences, including science, technology, engineering, artistry and math.  

    The museum welcomes thousands of students each year including school study trips, scout, and other children’s groups.

Auburn is the center of a great collection of other museums, besides this one there are seven others open to visitors.  Among them are The National Auto and Truck Museum, The Hoosier Air Museum, the Garrett Historical Railroad Museum and the Early Ford V-8 Museum.