Archive for category History
Last year I posted some pictures my sister took of the WWII memorial in Washington DC. Now that another anniversary of D-day has rolled around, I thought I’d post those pictures and captions again.
I also want to say thank you to all who served during WWII or during other conflicts, and to those who serve our country now. Included in this list is my late grandpa, who was training to be navy pilot during WWII, and my little brother, who leaves for Afghanistan this month. Today, and every day, is a good day to pray for our troops!
I know it’s not Memorial Day yet, but the weekend is about to start, and I expect most people won’t be at their computers on Monday, so I wanted to post this today. Memorial Day has its origins in the American Civil War. For many years, Decoration Day was a time to visit the graves of those killed during the War Between the States and remember their sacrifices. Now we remember all those who have perished while serving in the armed forces, and to a certain extent, all those who have left this life. This Memorial Day, I hope you’ll take a moment to think of the blessings we have here in the United States because of those who have given that “last true measure of devotion” for our freedom. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday!
Sworn Enemy Links
My hometown newspaper, The Columbia Basin Herald, wrote an article about me, and you can read a scanned-in version here: CBH article.
Also, a few weeks ago I was a guest on The Good Word Podcast with Nick Galieti. You can download or listen to the podcast at
. We talked about Espionage, Sworn Enemy, and writing in general. Included in the podcast is an audio clip of Sworn Enemy.
A friend of mine asked me about the name of one of my characters, Sherlock. He’s in Sworn Enemy, a British medic and a paratrooper, and his real name is Richard Holmes. I thought it would be fun to explain how he got his name, in case anyone else is curious.
A few years ago I read Pegasus Bridge: June 6, 1944, by Stephen Ambrose. It tells the true story of the British glider-borne troops who landed on the far east end of the Normandy D-day invasion sites. (It’s a good book—I highly recommend it.) In Pegasus Bridge, there was a man named Todd (or maybe more than one—its been a while since I read the book) and at least one man with the last name Sweeney. So naturally, all the Todds had the nickname Sweeney, and the man named Sweeney had the nickname Todd, on account of the books and movies about Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I’ll confess I had a little trouble keeping track of all the Todds called Sweeney and the Sweeneys called Todd, but according to Ambrose, such nick-names were fairly common at the time. Thus, I decided to have a character with the last name of Holmes go by Sherlock.
Have you come across any book-or-play-inspired nicknames, either for yourself, a family member, a friend, or a character in a book you’re writing?
I recently read an article about the first naval battle of Narvik, which took place in April 1940 between British and German ships in Ofotfjord (also called Narvik Fjord) in Norway. I won’t give a detailed blow-by-blow of the battle, but I’ll give you a summary. I also found a map in the public domain, and it even shows some of the shipwrecks.
At the time, Norway was officially neutral, and Narvik was a vital stop on the route Sweden’s iron ore took on its way to Germany. Naturally, the British wanted to deny Germany access to this resource, and Germany wanted to secure it. Germany also wanted to prevent a British blockade similar to what had happened during WWI.
Despite Norway’s official neutrality, the Royal Navy was laying mines in Norwegian waters, and Germany sent a portion of their fleet into Ofotfjord, sunk two of Norway’s warships, landed troops on the ground, and invaded Narvik.
Wary of the Royal Navy, the German Navy planned a quick trip back to more friendly waters, but the Norwegians had managed to sink one of their two tankers, so the refueling took twice as long. While five German destroyers stayed in Narvik harbor, five others hid in other areas of the fjord.
Meanwhile, five Royal Navy destroyers entered Ofotfjord in a snowstorm. They were H-class, thus their names: Hardy, Hunter, Havock, Hotspur, and Hostile. (I love the names, but I also found it easy to be confused by them–I wonder if their opponents had the same problem?) They attacked the German destroyers refueling at Narvik and sunk or damaged several of them.
Here’s where we get into the interesting names, first with the British destroyers, then with the Havock’s skipper, Lieutenant Commander Rafe E. Courage. I wonder if having a skipper with a name like Courage was an automatic boost to morale. (I’m sure sinking a German destroyer also helped in the morale department.)
The British destroyers regrouped and went back for another run at the German ships. But they didn’t know that the there were five additional German destroyers in Ofotfjord, and they were soon caught in a trap.
Though it wasn’t commanded by someone with the last name of Courage, I was impressed with what happened next aboard the Hardy. On the Hardy was Captain Warburton-Lee, the flotilla’s leader. The last orders he gave were to “Keep on engaging the enemy.” Then a German shell struck Hardy’s bridge and killed Warburton-Lee and everyone else on the bridge, with the exception of Lieutenant Geoffrey Stanning. Despite his broken leg, Stanning climbed down a ladder (ouch!) and used the damaged wheel to steer the ship. He was going to ram one of the German destroyers, but when the Hardy took another hit, he decided to beach the ship instead, and was thus able to save most of the crew. Stanning is a hero in my book.
The battle continued on for a while, and in the end, the British had lost two destroyers and one other ship, and the Germans had lost two destroyers and six other ships. There was another naval battle of Narvik a few days later, but that’s a story for another blog post. In the end, Germany occupied Norway for the remainder of the war. In fact, I read recently that as late as May 1945—after Hitler’s death—a few Nazi generals (Keitel and Jodl) had plans to flee to Norway and continue the fight there. Fortunately, they didn’t make it.
Keeping with the interesting names theme, I have a character with the last name of Weiss who appears in Espionage and in Sworn Enemy. It means “white,” but if you pronounce it in German, it sounds like “vice,” as in something bad. Or as in something that could be used to torture someone. Both fit the character. In Sworn Enemy, he’s promoted to Rottenführer Weiss. I couldn’t resist giving him a rank that looked like “rotten.”
Names can be interesting: five British destroyers starting with the letter “H,” Commander Courage, and the fictional Rottenführer Weiss. Do you have any examples of names that are almost perfect? Or that are too perfect?
On an unrelated tangent, the finalists for the 2012 Whitney Awards were announced this week, and Espionage is one of the historical fiction finalists. You can find the others at the Whitney Awards website. If you’re looking for a good fiction read, the Whitney lists are a good place to start—find your favorite genre and read away!
Seventy years ago today, on February 2, 1943, the last German troops in Stalingrad surrendered.
The fight for Stalingrad was huge in terms of lives lost and prisoners taken. (Estimates of total casualties vary, but are somewhere between one and two million.) It’s easy to argue that the German defeat on the Russian steppes was the most important turning point in World War II. Probably bigger than D-day or El Alamein or Midway.
In 1942, German strategy with its Army Group South was to take the oil fields in the Caucasus. As part of this campaign, the Germans needed to secure the area between the Don and Volga rivers, including the city of Stalingrad. German troops entered the city on September 12. They outnumbered the Soviet defenders, but every building (and often every room in every building) became a struggle. Both sides suffered heavy losses, but by mid-November, Germans forces had managed to take almost 90% of the city.
On November 19, the Soviets launched a counteroffensive on the steppes west of Stalingrad. Soviet troops moving from the north and from the south succeeded in encircling the German Sixth Army and their allies from Romania, Italy, and Hungary. At that point, the German army probably could have broken out, withdrawn, and regrouped. But Hitler refused to let them leave. Goering’s promise of resupply by air failed miserably, and an attempted relief offensive led by General von Manstein was turned back by the Soviets.
Slowly, the German men and their allies inside the Soviet ring lost ground. They were surrounded, starving, running out of ammunition, and facing determined Soviet advances and a freezing Russian winter. Bit by bit, the noose was tightened, and more soldiers fell. About 110,000 German troops surrendered during the last days of the battle. Less than 6,000 returned home.
The Nazis had lost in the east. The end would take another two years, but the Nazi Empire had reached its high-water mark and from then on would shrink.
The leader of the German Sixth Army was General Friedrich von Paulus. Last fall, while I was reading a book about Stalingrad (Enemy at the Gates—recommended if you like nonfiction history books), my husband was reading up on his Roman history, specifically the wars against Carthage.
The battle of Canae took place in what it now southern Italy on August 2, 216 BC. The Roman army faced their enemies from Carthage (and her allies), who were assembled in an arch. The Romans attacked the center, and almost broke through, but were drawn into the Carthaginian line. Their enemies attacked their flanks, the Roman army was surrounded, and 50-70,000 Romans (out of an army of 80-85,000) were slaughtered.
Carthage was led by Hannibal Barca. The Roman leaders were Tarentius Varro and Aemilius Paullus.
Paullus and Paulus. Both surrounded and their armies largely slaughtered. Does anyone else find that spooky?
Visit again next week for What’s in a Name, Part II.
I didn’t have a map for my first novel, Espionage. Most of the novel took place in Calais, France, so hopefully it didn’t need one. But when two test readers for my next book suggested I include maps (note: one of those test readers has an advanced degree in military history and the other has a degree in geography), it encouraged me to look into it.
I met my mapmaker, Briana Shawcroft, at a book club meeting I was invited to in southern Colorado. She helped me narrow down concepts and patiently worked with me to get exactly what I wanted. This is what she created:
Last weekend a good friend went to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, for their Remembrance Day activities. She posted these pictures on facebook, and with her permission, I’m reposting them (with her descriptions) below. I know I usually stick with WWII history, but today we’ll go a little further back in time, to the American Civil War.
Thank you to my friend (she prefers not to be named) for allowing me to share this album with my blog readers. This Thanksgiving week, I am very grateful for all the sacrifices others have made so that I can have the blessings of freedom.
I’m having this post at 11 in the morning, French time (at least according to the time zone chart I found online). Why? Because Veteran’s Day used to be Armistice Day, a day to remember the cease-fire on the western front during WWI. The cease-fire took place on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918. The day was later expanded to commemorate all veterans who have fought for our country’s freedom. So this Veteran’s Day, I hope you’ll thank a veteran, or pray for our current servicemen and women. We owe them a great deal of gratitude.
If any veterans happen to read this blog: THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE AND SACRIFICE.
Research Find: Why you shouldn’t tell the newspapers if you’re breaking someone’s code or tracking their satellite phone
In 1927, the government of Great Britain was looking for a reason to break off diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. They had plenty of reason—for one, the staff from the Soviet embassy in Great Britain was involved in espionage. Proof could be found in several diplomatic messages that the British had intercepted and decrypted. The British released the decoded messages and published them in The Times. Thus, the reason for the break was justified publicly.
The Soviet Union promptly dropped their diplomatic code and switched to using one-time pads. The British were unable to break any Soviet codes for the next twenty years. In the meanwhile, several very successful Soviet spies were able to steal all sorts of British secrets (if you’re looking for an example, google the Cambridge spy ring).
This bit of history reminded me about a more recent event. Osama Bin Laden used to have a satellite phone (fourteen, fifteen years ago). He used it. The CIA (or NSA) tracked it. In 1998, the story leaked and was printed in a major US newspaper. Bin Laden stopped using his satellite phone. The US government could no longer listen in to his phone calls. I think everyone remembers what Bin Laden went on to do in the years between 1998 and his death in 2011.
Before posting this blog, I looked up the Bin Laden story, just to make sure I had it right. Turns out the way I remember it isn’t completely accurate. When the Washington Times reported that Bin Laden had a satellite phone, it didn’t say the US was tracking it, and it wasn’t the first time word had gotten round about Bin Laden’s phone. Bin Laden did dramatically decrease how often he used his phone after the Washington Times story, but at about the same time he was almost killed by a US missile strike, which may have been a larger factor than the article. The LA Times was the first paper to report that the government was actually tracking the satellite phone, and after that the calls dropped off completely.
So what was the point of this post? Just to say that some things never change—intelligence successes are usually secret. And if they become publicly known, they often change into intelligence failures. Also, it seems that anything involving George W. Bush is still controversial. I wonder how many decades it will take for that to change?
One thing about writing historical fiction—you have to do a lot of research. Good thing I like learning new things. A lot of tidbits I come across won’t appear in one of my novels anytime soon, but they’re dang interesting. Here a two recent examples:
Is that sanitary?
When the US Army invaded Oran, Algeria, in November 1942, female nurses went with them, on d-day, in the landing crafts, through smoke cover and shell fire. That was the only invasion where the nurses were sent in with the first wave, because it’s hard to send your sons off to die, but it’s even harder to send your daughters off to die. Once landed, the nurses were kept busy caring for casualties.
For a few days it was difficult to get supplies from the fleet onto the beach and into the hospitals because the French (yes, the French) wouldn’t stop shelling the American ships. Medical staff at forward hospitals ran out of suture material. So what did they do? Rather than letting wounded soldiers bleed to death, they stitched them up with hair: nurses’ hair, soaked in alcohol before it was used. Kind of gross, but better than bleeding to death, right?
Since reading about this, I’ve found myself playing with pieces of my hair almost daily. I guess if it was doubled up through a needle, it would hold alright. I wonder how long it would take to dissolve . . .
Rumors of a Japanese-French Alliance
When I think about WWII and Africa, I picture tanks rolling across sand and think of El Alamein, Kasserine, Rommel, Patton, and Montgomery. I don’t think of Madagascar. But did you know there was a battle of Madagascar? I didn’t, until I was looking up info on Lysander airplanes and noticed the caption in a photo mentioning Madagascar.
Madagascar was a French colony, so when the French surrendered to the Nazis in 1940, it became part of Vichy France. Its location made it a great spot for Japanese submarines wanting to attack British shipping. So in May 1942, the British attacked with a naval barrage and an amphibious landing. The main port of Diego Suarez was captured within two days, but the French and native forces didn’t surrender until November. As far at WWII battles go, casualties were low, but I was still surprised I’d never heard of it before.
I’m curious, other than this post, have you ever heard of the battle of Madagascar? And what do you think about nurses donating hair to stitch up their patents?