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Letters From Readers - April 2008 - Military History

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: February 13, 2008 
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Cuban Nightmare

In his account of the Bay of Pigs fiasco [November] Grayston Lynch may have allowed his loathing of the Kennedy administration to cloud his judgment and recollection. First, there was no official recognition of Castro's "Soviet leanings" by the Eisenhower administration before he seized power New Year's Day 1959. It wasn't until Jan. 8, 1960, that the director of central intelligence ordered the clandestine service to form a special task force to overthrow Castro, according to Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.

Second, the Bay of Pigs became the landing site because it had an airfield nearby in which a U.S.-recognized "government in exile" could be flown. U.S. aircraft carriers were waiting over the horizon (giving rise to the mistaken belief that they would rescue the landing force if needed). Then the Cuba Task Force relied on 65-year-old maps that didn't show the modern extent of surrounding swamps.

Third, Kennedy's advisers didn't reduce "the air strikes by half" at "zero hour." Cuba Task Force chief Richard Bissell cut the D-1 air raid on Castro's three air bases from 16 to eight B-26 light attack bombers. When the cover story—that a single defecting Cuban pilot destroyed half of Castro's warplanes before flying to a hero's welcome in Florida—fell apart, Kennedy's aides decided that any further strikes would have to be launched from the beachhead. This inadvertently cancelled a D-day strike from Nicaragua.

Fourth, the mission was "doomed from the start" because it counted on sparking a popular uprising. By Nov. 15, 1960, the clandestine service had concluded that even a 1,500- to 3,000-man invasion could not succeed without direct U.S. military support. When they briefed President-elect Kennedy, however, they didn't tell him that, nor that Eisenhower had not authorized an invasion.

Finally, Lynch must know that the "ill-conceived notion of 'plausible deniability' [of American involvement]" is not mere face saving but fundamental to covert action itself. Otherwise, why be covert? Just send in the Marines!

Ronald R. Gilliam
Thonotasassa, Fla.

Vive La 4th!

I enjoyed the article and photographs of the August 1944 Liberation of Paris ["La Libération!" September]. I was surprised that no pictures of the 4th Infantry Division were included. The 1st Battalion, 110th Regiment, of the 28th Division participated in the liberation and the parade, but the 4th Infantry Division took the city. After many weeks of contact with the enemy, the 4th was in no condition to do a parade; therefore, the 28th was called on. For some reason, the 4th Division is rarely mentioned in military history magazines.

Bert C. Nicholson
Danville, Ill.

Frank Dismay

[Re. "Pressure/G Suit," Power Tool, December:] We [Canadians] get dismayed when others do not accurately depict our cherished icons. I am referring to the improper identification of "Frank" Banting. Sir Frederick Banting, co-developer of the G suit, was also the discoverer of insulin. In 1924 he was awarded the Nobel Prize. At the start of World War II he began working with Wilbur Franks on the development of a flight suit for pilots to counteract G forces and to prevent blackout. The flight suit is still in use.

M. Derlick
Toronto, Canada

En Garde!

"The Past Recaptured" [January/February] is an outstanding series of pictures of French veterans of the Napoleonic wars in original uniform. However, on P. 46, the description of the picture of Hussar Moret calls out a shield. No cavalryman of a European army of this period used one. However, I do see a sabretache behind his left leg. There are also sabretaches behind the left leg of Quartermaster Sergeant Delignon (P. 45) and touching the left leg of Hussar Fabry (P. 48). These were originally used by the hussars of various European armies who had copied their uniforms from the original Hungarian light cavalry, including the tight breeches with no pockets. The sabretache served as an attaché case for private possessions as well as a clipboard for sketching during reconnaissance and briefcase for delivering dispatches.

Steve Klein
Akron, Ohio

 

Lost Brigade

[Re. "Ghost Mountain, Papua New Guinea," by James Campbell, December:] Anyone reading the article would believe the U.S. Army's 32nd Infantry Division was the only force involved in the campaign and alone gave the Japanese their first land defeats. This could not be further from the truth.

The Japanese landed at Buna on the north coast of New Guinea on July 21, 1942. They were met by the 30th Australian Infantry Brigade Militia troops. Along with the 21st Australian Infantry Brigade, the 30th fought a protracted withdrawal over the Owen Stanley ranges almost to Port Moresby, the Japanese goal. The Japanese were slowed, stopped and finally withdrew back across the Owen Stanley ranges in September, pursued by the 25th Australian Infantry Brigade.

On August 25, the Japanese also landed at Milne Bay on the east coast of New Guinea. They were met and defeated here by September 6 by the 18th and 7th Australian Infantry Brigades, along with 75 and 76 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force. The 32nd Division was still in Australia at this time, leaving for New Guinea on September 15 and 18. The Japanese had been handed two land defeats before the 32nd left Australia. The northern beachhead battles of Buna, Gona and Sanananda, in which the 32nd Division fought, featured significant Australian involvement.

Russell Robert Scott Harris
Brisbane, Australia

 

A Challenge Ensues

[Re. "Napoleonic Action," by John Farr, December]: While I found his film synopses entertaining, I think Farr's decision to lump the entire French Revolutionary War era with that of the emperor's epoch was a mistake—like asserting that the kaiser's abdication in 1918 made Hitler possible, so we must include World War I films with those on Nazi Germany. I would replace five of his films with truly Napoleonic fare. First, A Tale of Two Cities gets the boot for Waterloo. Next, the Russian version of War and Peace replaces Love and Death, and the American rendition of same gets pride of place over any version of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Fourth, Master and Commander goes in favor of Captain Horatio Hornblower. And finally, Billy Budd is dumped for Désirée.

Now I'll give Farr a challenge: Suggest the 10 best films featuring Kaiser Wilhelm and the German High Command in World War I. Let's hope he keeps the Franco-Prussian War out of it.

Blaine Taylor
Towson, Md.

Author responds: While I'll take your point on my perhaps shaky historical perspective, Napoleon was indeed a direct outgrowth of the French Revolution and ascended in quicker succession in its wake (several years) compared to the span between the World Wars I and II. Regardless, I'm also as interested in film quality as you are in history. I agree with you on the Russian War and Peace, and considered including it, but felt its 6½-hour running time would be a stretch for most movie viewers. Your other suggestions are simply not great films: War and Peace with Fonda and Hepburn looks like Moscow via Rodeo Drive, and Hornblower gets sunk by a miscast, wooden Gregory Peck. As to your other challenge, I respectfully decline, as I am uncertain whether 10 truly great films are still available on the subject and period you reference.

 

Correction

On P. 60 of the January/February feature "Sensitivity Training for Generals?" by James Lacey, the article states that Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston attended William T. Sherman's funeral. In fact, it was Confederate General Joe Johnston who befriended Sherman and later served as an honorary pallbearer at his funeral. The error was made during the editing process.



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