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Military History - November 2014 - Letters From Readers

Originally published by Military History magazine. Published Online: August 28, 2014 
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Zulu Fact and Fiction
[Re. "Shaka Zulu: Africa's Napoléon," by Stephan Wilkinson, September:] Are the stories about this man mostly myths and legends? The Zulus are masters of storytelling but at the same time have passed on the crucial events of their history rather successfully and correctly. What is more, a number of serious researchers and historians of the time recorded facts and not Zulu fancy. This tradition of storytelling among the Zulus is still a powerful means of communicating their history from one generation to the next.

Zulu pride is not "black pride" resurfacing as a result of apartheid. They were always a proud people and still are today. [South African] President Jacob Zuma is a Zulu and has surrounded himself with a cabinet dominated by Zulus. He has overturned, in a sense, the Xhosa dominance of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki in the African National Congress. That spells problems for South Africa. The old dividing lines have not disappeared in a black "unity" party.

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Marinus Wijnbeek
Hoevelaken, Netherlands

What sort of soldiers are those on P. 3 [Zulu illustration, Table of Contents, September]? Their most obvious problem is faded trousers. Those questionable fellows further confound the problem by wearing cavalry-type boots without spurs. So, are they mounted rifles? One chap wears an apparent sword attachment on his belt, but mounted fellows usually wore yellow piping on their trousers, not white. Further, their tunics are red. This seems to hint at being infantry. But they have no black infantry boots, the kind that didn't go much above the ankles. If infantry, their piping should be red on dark blue trousers, and their collars and cuffs could be any color but would fill the whole space defined by the clever white triangle on the cuff. Historically, the lads who faced Zulus wore green cuffs and collars. Also, they weren't grenadiers, as indicated by a collar device in the illustration.

Dennis R. Roeder
Gahanna, Ohio

Editor responds: Actually, those aren't soldiers at all but actors. That's Stanley Baker charging with fixed bayonet at the center of this promotional poster for the 1964 film Zulu. Given its Hollywood origins, all bets are off as to historical accuracy. Then again, the legend of Zulu warriors and warfare is the central point of Stephan Wilkinson's article "Shaka Zulu: Africa's Napoléon."

Witness to Massacres in the Ardennes
In the September issue I read of the December 1944 murder of the black artillerymen in the Ardennes ["Wereth, Belgium," Hallowed Ground, by Sarah Cokeley] and also of the Malmédy massacre. I have seen both places on trips to Europe.

On Jan. 4, 1945, my unit—Company C, 134th Infantry—broke through the German lines near Lutrebois, Belgium, was surrounded and lost two officers and 86 enlisted men, of which one officer and 13 enlisted men were KIA. I joined Company C on January 8, and on January 24 we were informed that six of our men had been found murdered, with a bullet to the heart or head.

So the Germans continued their murder of POWs during the whole Ardennes campaign. Sorry to say that we did retaliate.

James Graff
Middletown, Ill.

Bankrolling the French
Peter Moreira's piece on Henry Morgenthau Jr. ["Bankrolling the French," July] profiled the former Treasury secretary at the height of his power and influence. But as World War II entered its last years, and the extent of the Nazi atrocities became known, "Henry the Morgue"—as Roosevelt referred to him—developed hatred so fierce of anything German that he took on extreme views. On the eve of the Potsdam Conference in July 1945 Morgenthau still argued for postwar Germany's reduction into a dismembered, deindustrialized, agrarian nation. President Harry S. Truman and Secretary of State Jimmy Byrnes, however, recognized the need for a reinvented and democratic Germany that would become an ally in opposing Soviet Russia's expansionist designs in Europe. As Truman said, "We intended to make it possible for Germany to develop into a decent nation and to take her place in the civilized world." As the U.S. delegation departed for Yalta, Truman unhesitatingly accepted Morgenthau's resignation.

Wallace Sagendorph
Roswell, Ga.

Task Force Smith
Re. "Rush to Disaster," by Ron Soodalter, July 2014: The article once again reminds us that ill-equipped parade-ground soldiers will be killed when attacked by a large element of brutally trained soldiers.

Task Force Smith was the U.S. Army poster child for an ill-trained, poorly equipped fighting unit. TF Smith had the American anti-tank rocket launcher popularly known as the "bazooka." But any World War II rifleman knew as early as 1944 that bazooka rounds had bounced off German tanks, so why would they not bounce off Soviet-built North Korean T-34s?

In the May 1987 issue of Armed Forces Journal International I authored an article, "The Hallelujah Weapon," that addressed the story of the ill-fated, poorly equipped TF Smith. In this article I quoted Sergeant Bill McCarthy, a former member of TF Smith, who in 1985 informed the president of the United States that even then the U.S. Army did not have an effective anti-tank weapon that could kill a Soviet tank.

The sad fact was that in 1950 the U.S. Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground had examples of an effective, battle-proven anti-tank weapon called the Panzerfaust. German combat veterans called it the "hallelujah Waffe" ("hallelujah weapon")—a sort of weapon of last resort, because if you did not have a Panzerfaust during a Soviet armor attack, it was hallelujah.

Your article "Rush to Disaster" is a timely reminder for military leaders to periodically review the fighting capabilities of our armed forces. They must also remember not to be mesmerized by high technology but to ask the grunt what he really needs to defeat the enemy without getting killed himself.

Gerhardt B. Thamm
Fernandina Beach, Fla.

 

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