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Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 6511
Joined: 2004
Anecdote from Salerno : do you believe this ?
6/15/2023 3:21:39 AM
A recommendation : Naples’44, by Norman Lewis .

Norman Lewis was a British Intelligence Officer, and in 1978 he published his account of what he experienced in the Italian Campaign.

It’s hard stuff to read in places, the sort of thing we tend to try and draw a veil over as we prefer to sanitise the narrative of Allied victory.

My Dad had been there, too, and he did confide in me once or twice about some harrowing things that he witnessed.

But let me unleash this revelation from Norman Lewis’s account, and see how you react.

Page 15, depicting events of September 11, 1943 :

Lining up for chow this evening we were told by Americans belonging to the 45th Division that they had been ordered by their officers not only to take no German prisoners, but to use the butts of their rifles to beat to death those who try to surrender. I find this almost incredible.

September 28, 1943 :

Admitted to the American 16th Evacuation Hospital at Paestum with malaria………. Most of the patients have battle wounds, and from several of these I received confirmation of the story I found so hard to believe, that American combat units were ordered by their officers to beat to death Germans who attempted to surrender to them. These men seem very naive and childlike, but some of them are beginning to question the ethics of this order.

It’s not the account of killing of the prisoners that shocks - it’s the manner of the killing that makes this such a startling anecdote.

Everything that Lewis wrote - and I’m halfway through the book - suggests complete veracity, an avoidance of hyperbole and , at times, even understatement.

He doesn’t flinch from depicting the horrible actions of British soldiers, either .

September 20, 1943 :

Here I saw an ugly sight : a British officer interrogating an Italian civilian, and repeatedly hitting him about the head with a chair ; treatment which the Italian, his face a mask of blood, suffered with stoicism. At the end of the interrogation, which had not been considered successful, the officer called in a private of the Hampshires and asked him in a pleasant, conversational sort of manner, “ Would you like to take this man away and shoot him ?” The private’s reply was to spit on his hands , and say, “ I don’t mind if I do, sir.” The most revolting episode I have seen since joining the forces.

Do you think that American officers were ordered to inculcate their men with a primitive killing instinct, in order to make them more effective in combat ?

Regards, Phil
----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Wazza
Sydney  Australia
Posts: 815
Joined: 2005
Anecdote from Salerno : do you believe this ?
6/15/2023 4:39:35 AM
My question is, was there a particular savage aspect to the fighting at Salerno to warrant this kind of behavior and the order to do it?
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 6511
Joined: 2004
Anecdote from Salerno : do you believe this ?
6/15/2023 5:23:37 AM
Quote:
My question is, was there a particular savage aspect to the fighting at Salerno to warrant this kind of behavior and the order to do it?


Fair question.

My guess is that this reflects a deliberate policy to encourage a murderous approach to the task in hand, an approach deployed before the battle, rather than reacting to the way that battle turned out.

A guess, that’s all.

A complaint by Montgomery before the Second Battle of El Alamein - the trouble with my British boys is that they’re not natural killers - has a haunting resonance here.

I wonder how green the US 45th Division was at Salerno.

I think that’s pertinent.

Veteran soldiers determined to kill prisoners would - I suspect- resort to efficient and speedy methods of dispatch, entailing minimum effort. Clubbing to death with rifle butts wouldn’t fulfill those criteria.

I remember reading about a fierce but little known encounter between British and German troops in France in June 1918 at a place called Le Becque .

The British soldiers were - in many cases - young and inexperienced, a draft of conscripts to replace the massive casualties of the preceding four years. It was a raid, not a major engagement by that war’s terrible standards.

After the battle thirty to forty German dead were counted in a heap, all of them bayoneted.

I can’t help wondering if this was on the orders of British officers who wanted to “ blood” their green troops.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
OpanaPointer
St. Louis MO USA
Posts: 1974
Joined: 2010
Anecdote from Salerno : do you believe this ?
6/15/2023 6:27:43 AM
Giving the gabby nature of all GIs I doubt that would be just surfacing. Based on twenty years active duty.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 6511
Joined: 2004
Anecdote from Salerno : do you believe this ?
6/15/2023 11:29:41 AM
By which you mean all talk and no walk ?

Regards, Phil
----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
DT509er
Santa Rosa CA USA
Posts: 1528
Joined: 2005
Anecdote from Salerno : do you believe this ?
6/15/2023 12:14:40 PM
Quote:
I wonder how green the US 45th Division was at Salerno.

I think that’s pertinent.

Regards, Phil


The 45th saw no action in Africa but was a leading division during the Sicily invasion and battle. How green were they, well I suspect in Italy with replacements filling in for the casualties in Sicily there were green troops but, the division had a core of "veterans" from Sicily.

It would be interesting to understand what level of officers directed the use of rifle butts on German (Italian?) prisoners. Did this derive from the platoon, company, battalion, regiment, or division level? I suspect, this went no higher than regiment (complete speculation on my behalf) based on:

1) Casualty rates amongst platoon, company & battalion officers.

2) Above battalion/regiment does not seem practical to me as anything above that level removes such commanders from the daily, immediate grind of combat which the lower levels of command faced. Don't get me wrong, division commanders were fighters as well but, their interaction directly in frontline combat to include the control of PoW's seems beyond their typical interactions. Plus, now we begin to see message creep, word getting out, as shown in the initial comments of this thread and that leads to the possible accountability of officers making such commands in a manner that is more likely to occur than the lower frontline grunts.

Dan
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"American parachutists-devils in baggy pants..." German officer, Italy 1944. “If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment.” Lord Ernest Rutherford
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 6511
Joined: 2004
Anecdote from Salerno : do you believe this ?
6/15/2023 4:01:46 PM
Thanks, Dan : very helpful regarding combat experience of the 45th.

I feel, honestly, that I’ve been clutching at straws here : it’s such an outrageous order that it’s hardly surprising that Lewis was unable to believe it.

It was clearly being discussed by the rank and file, and I’m convinced that Lewis was anything but a liar.

The rumours implicit in Army life - what Dad used to call the “ latrine- o- gram “- had, I suspect, been flourishing.

Regards, Phil
----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 6511
Joined: 2004
Anecdote from Salerno : do you believe this ?
6/20/2023 2:20:57 AM
Another horrible story; this is hard to read, so forgive me if I overstep the mark by citing it :

May 28 1944

The French colonial troops are on the rampage again. Whenever they take a town or a village, a wholesale rape of the population takes place. Recently all females in the villages of Patricia, Pofi, Isoletta, Supino , and Morolo were violated. In Lenora, which fell to the Allies on May 21, fifty women were raped, but - as these were not enough to go round - children and even old men were violated. It is reported to be normal for two Moroccans to assault a woman simultaneously, one having normal intercourse while the other commits sodomy. In many cases severe damage to the genitals, rectum and uterus has been caused. In Castro di Volscian doctors treated three hundred cases of rape, and at Ceccano the British have been forced to build a guarded camp to protect the Italian women. Many Moors have deserted, and are attacking villages far behind the lines, and now they are reported to have appeared in the vicinity of Afagola to add a new dimension of terror to that already produced by the presence of so many marauders.

Today I went to Santa Maria a Vico to see a girl said to have been driven insane as the result of an attack by a large party of Moors. I found her living alone with her mother ( who had also been raped a number of times) , and in total poverty. Her condition had improved, and she behaved rationally and with a good deal of charm, although she was unable to walk as the result of physical injuries. The Carabinieri and the PS said that she had been certified as insane, and would have been committed to an asylum had a bed been available. She would be unlikely in the circumstances ever to find a husband.

At last one had faced the flesh-and-blood reality of the kind of horror that drove the whole female population of Macedonian villages to throw themselves from cliffs rather than fall into the hands of the advancing Turks. A fate worse than death : it was in fact just that.

Back at the Municipio I was confronted by a group of sindacos from neighbouring towns , and an ultimatum was presented : ‘ Either clear the Moroccans out, or we will deal with them in our own way.’ All these men looked like the toughest of movie gangsters, and I was convinced they would carry out their threat.

What is it that turns an ordinary decent Moroccan peasant boy into the most terrible of sexual psychopaths as soon as he becomes a soldier ? From further enquiries among the communities that have suffered from them I learned that the attackers of the Santa Maria a Vico family were roaming the countryside in several jeeps, led by a sergeant-chef who fancied himself as a dancer, and dressed up as a female when not in action.


And now for the sequel :

June 4, 1944

The inevitable has happened with the murder of five Moors in a village near Cancello. They were enticed into a house with the offer of women, and then given food or wine containing paralysing poison. While fully conscious they were castrated, and then beheaded. The decapitation was entrusted to pubescent boys to prove their worth, but the boys lacked both the skill and the strength to carry the task out in a speedy and effective manner. The bodies were buried under cabbages, , which were first dug up and then replanted over them in several village gardens, and there has been a sinister merriment in the Zona di Camorra about the prospects of fine vegetable crops in the coming year. These facts were passed to me by my reliable contact in Afragola.

The Psychological Warfare Bureau has been very energetic in its investigations into the crimes committed by the Moors. I wonder if any news of this episode will find its way into the bulletin.


Words fail, don’t they ?

Regards, Phil

----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
kaii
Oslo  
Posts: 3159
Joined: 2010
Anecdote from Salerno : do you believe this ?
6/22/2023 4:07:47 AM
Quote:
Another horrible story; this is hard to read, so forgive me if I overstep the mark by citing it :

May 28 1944

The French colonial troops are on the rampage again. Whenever they take a town or a village, a wholesale rape of the population takes place. Recently all females in the villages of Patricia, Pofi, Isoletta, Supino , and Morolo were violated. In Lenora, which fell to the Allies on May 21, fifty women were raped, but - as these were not enough to go round - children and even old men were violated. It is reported to be normal for two Moroccans to assault a woman simultaneously, one having normal intercourse while the other commits sodomy. In many cases severe damage to the genitals, rectum and uterus has been caused. In Castro di Volscian doctors treated three hundred cases of rape, and at Ceccano the British have been forced to build a guarded camp to protect the Italian women. Many Moors have deserted, and are attacking villages far behind the lines, and now they are reported to have appeared in the vicinity of Afagola to add a new dimension of terror to that already produced by the presence of so many marauders.

Today I went to Santa Maria a Vico to see a girl said to have been driven insane as the result of an attack by a large party of Moors. I found her living alone with her mother ( who had also been raped a number of times) , and in total poverty. Her condition had improved, and she behaved rationally and with a good deal of charm, although she was unable to walk as the result of physical injuries. The Carabinieri and the PS said that she had been certified as insane, and would have been committed to an asylum had a bed been available. She would be unlikely in the circumstances ever to find a husband.

At last one had faced the flesh-and-blood reality of the kind of horror that drove the whole female population of Macedonian villages to throw themselves from cliffs rather than fall into the hands of the advancing Turks. A fate worse than death : it was in fact just that.

Back at the Municipio I was confronted by a group of sindacos from neighbouring towns , and an ultimatum was presented : ‘ Either clear the Moroccans out, or we will deal with them in our own way.’ All these men looked like the toughest of movie gangsters, and I was convinced they would carry out their threat.

What is it that turns an ordinary decent Moroccan peasant boy into the most terrible of sexual psychopaths as soon as he becomes a soldier ? From further enquiries among the communities that have suffered from them I learned that the attackers of the Santa Maria a Vico family were roaming the countryside in several jeeps, led by a sergeant-chef who fancied himself as a dancer, and dressed up as a female when not in action.


And now for the sequel :

June 4, 1944

The inevitable has happened with the murder of five Moors in a village near Cancello. They were enticed into a house with the offer of women, and then given food or wine containing paralysing poison. While fully conscious they were castrated, and then beheaded. The decapitation was entrusted to pubescent boys to prove their worth, but the boys lacked both the skill and the strength to carry the task out in a speedy and effective manner. The bodies were buried under cabbages, , which were first dug up and then replanted over them in several village gardens, and there has been a sinister merriment in the Zona di Camorra about the prospects of fine vegetable crops in the coming year. These facts were passed to me by my reliable contact in Afragola.

The Psychological Warfare Bureau has been very energetic in its investigations into the crimes committed by the Moors. I wonder if any news of this episode will find its way into the bulletin.


Words fail, don’t they ?

Regards, Phil




Considering my own personal experiences in places like Darfur and the Balkans, as well as what is currently playing out in Ukraine, I have no problems believing this to be a fairly true account of events.
There appears to be no limit for the depth of human behaviour in conflict.

Using colonial troops to commit atrocities is similar to ordering in Chechens or recruiting Syrians to fight in Ukraine - they do not have the same "ethnical" connection to the victims, which in some cases can perhaps limit how far they are willing to go.


K
As you say Phil truly horrible stuff, and always useful to get a reminder that "we" are not immune to this sort of behaviour either.
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 4814
Joined: 2004
Anecdote from Salerno : do you believe this ?
6/22/2023 11:41:44 PM
Kai,
You say: “As you say Phil truly horrible stuff, and always useful to get a reminder that "we" are not immune to this sort of behaviour either.
It is, of course, horrible. Personally, I’m more prone to believe that the examples Phil has given are simply typical of any war man has generated. I have difficulty rejecting any instances or anecdotes of such conduct, to be honest. War simply makes such human behaviour easier to occur and then ignore.

Do I condone such behaviour/conduct/activity? No. Do I expect it when war is being made? Yes.

I do understand that such conduct is in contravention of (probably) a number of international conventions concerning the conduct of war. So what? War strips man of his humanity more quickly than many deem possible. And “combat” isn’t the only thing that does it. The British Air Ministry made decisions sending RAF Bomber Command to “dehouse” at least 600,000 in Germany. Certain Nazi civil servants, and Swansee, created a “protocol” that slaughtered 6,000,000 humans. The Japanese, under the spell of a debased version of Bushido, felt an enemy who surrendered was no longer entitled to humane treatment. If we have war, we are going to have such behaviour, whether rape, torturing, theft or whatever humans are capable of. Whether the slaughter is enacted personally or by edict, it is an indication of how repulsively brutal and hateful man can be, once he is given licence by the state to ignore social restraints and go to war.

You also say: “Using colonial troops to commit atrocities is similar to ordering in Chechens or recruiting Syrians to fight in Ukraine …
I find that comment upsetting as hell, perhaps because one of my uncles was sent to war under British control and command. He died a boy of 18 or 19, probably a virgin with no meaningful contact with girls. You imply that “colonials” have less sophisticated or honourable human values than home-grown, nationalist troops, while suggesting it is easier to convince colonials to commit atrocities. Not sure I can buy that! Seems to me those in command might be either encouraging or at least condoning violent conduct or behaviour. Let’s not blame the troops for receiving orders. And in some instances, for obeying them.

In WW2, another uncle went to war, coming home as a Sgt. He had been offered the chance to reach officer status, and rejected it. He said he was fully prepared to clean up the mess the officers created by their idiotic orders (he was a medical corpsman), but he refused to become one who would issue such orders. By the time of WW2, of course, Canadian troops were Commonwealth troops. Tell that to the folks (both military or civilian) who treated them as colonials.

Do I get a gold star for offering two rants in one post?
Brian G
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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 1071
Joined: 2005
Anecdote from Salerno : do you believe this ?
6/28/2023 5:15:20 AM
Brian,

I hear you, but I think you've taken Kai's point beyond what he meant.

I'm not sure the British leadership treated the 'white' Commonwealth forces in the same way they did with troops who were black African or from the Indian sub-continent. Certainly by the end of 1915 the forces drawn from Canada, Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were valued as highly (and perhaps higher) than the ordinary Tommies from the UK and Ireland. Consideration was given to how casualties in these units might affect the political realities in the UK, back in their home country and also within the framework of the Empire. By the Second World War, Canadian forces in particular operated, IMO, on a level of partnership alongside UK forces that was unthinkable when Canadian forces first went abroad during the Boer War of 1899-1902. I've seen no evidence that troops from the settled Commonwealth were used as amoral (or should it be immoral?) invaders and occupiers who could be relied upon to do their worst.

As for forces drawn from elsewhere, the view of the British leadership seems to have been they were absolutely fine for combat roles outside of the European theatre. Indian troops didn't take to the Western Front especially well and the African forces were largely used in combat in Africa or in labour roles elsewhere.

France, of course, took a different view and integrated their colonial forces into their armies rather well. Of course, France wasn't able to draw upon an expatriate settler population like Britain, so the decision was made for them.

In all cases, these are very different examples from the Russians using Chechens or Syrians. These forces are more akin to mercenaries or auxiliaries, IMO, rather than 'colonials'. I think we're comparing apples with oranges.

Cheers,

Colin
----------------------------------
"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 6511
Joined: 2004
Anecdote from Salerno : do you believe this ?
6/28/2023 5:31:33 AM
An important difference needs to be noted : Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders were referred to as “ Dominion “ troops. I think South Africans, too : I’ll need to check .

Maybe some use of the word “ Colonial “ was evident in British banter when there was a caricature of Aussies and Kiwis, but that was partly a wind up.

The Dominion status was held in high regard by British soldiers and civilians, and those soldiers were regarded as special and perhaps superior to poor old Tommy Atkins.

Regards, Phil
----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 1071
Joined: 2005
Anecdote from Salerno : do you believe this ?
6/28/2023 6:27:03 AM
I would agree, Phil. When the British were looking to raise light cavalry for the Boer War and the First World War, they weren't trawling the streets of Manchester or even the moors of Devon; they recruited from the more rural areas of the Dominions. The troops raised were absolutely first rate and the Boers had an enduring respect for the Aussie light cavalrymen, in particular.

We know the merits of the ANZACs and the Canadian Corps; it's also worth mentioning that the South African infantry brigade raised for service on the Western Front was as hard and durable as any German stormtrooper unit.

Cheers,

Colin
----------------------------------
"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 13552
Joined: 2009
Anecdote from Salerno : do you believe this ?
6/28/2023 7:41:15 AM
I am sure that while the troops from the "White Dominions" at least were well respected for their fighting ability during the Boer War, WWI and WWII, we must acknowledge that there was a degree of tension at the higher levels of the military between British and Dominion officers. Often British officers were perplexed that the leadership of a Dominion force would question orders or indeed, refuse to comply without modifications to plans.

Burgeoning Canadian nationalism in both world wars was considered by some British officers to be an annoyance. I recall that a Captain Bernard Montgomery during the Great War commented that the Canadians were a bit too full of themselves. (No, I can't find the source).

Canadian General Arthur Currie was often at odds with the highest levels of British command as he refused to allow his Corps to be broken up. He was accused of undermining the war effort. He was not sacked simply because he had the full backing of his government and PM Robert Borden.

During WWII the Dominions were thrown a bone, much to the chagrin of British Air Command, when they were permitted to create their own national air squadrons. Not much perhaps but significant to the Dominions who did not wish to see their air crew simply shuttled into RAF squadrons. Now that happened anyway but my point is that the Dominions had to fight for recognition and a degree of independence at times.

When Britain came to Canada to promote the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, the officers were shocked to discover that the Canadians were not simply prepared to follow their instructions. There was tension during the organizational period which only intensified throughout the war as the Canadians assumed most of the financial responsibility for the plan and expected to be at least equally responsible for its implementation.

However, there were British officers who understood the nationalistic tendencies of the Dominions who while proud members of the Empire, wished to be seen as equal partners.

Again without being able to make a reference, I recall one British officer in WW1 who, when discussing the galling obduracy of some Dominion officers said, "We must learn to see them as they wish to be seen and not as we wish them to be."

While the Dominions were all in during the wars of the 20th century in which Britain was engaged, there was internal squabbling as the Dominions demanded to be recognized as independent forces. I say that knowing full well that to an extent the Dominions relied upon British logistical planning and other supports to be successful.

Cheers,

George
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 1071
Joined: 2005
Anecdote from Salerno : do you believe this ?
6/28/2023 9:42:04 AM
Hi George,

You make some interesting points. I have a few comments to offer, if I may.

Quote:


I am sure that while the troops from the "White Dominions" at least were well respected for their fighting ability during the Boer War, WWI and WWII, we must acknowledge that there was a degree of tension at the higher levels of the military between British and Dominion officers. Often British officers were perplexed that the leadership of a Dominion force would question orders or indeed, refuse to comply without modifications to plans.



When one thinks of campaigns like Gallipoli, the standard image in the public eye is of upper class British (largely English) officers taking tactical command and sending waves of 'colonials' to their doom. Alas, we know it was ANZAC officers who made the ballsup in co-ordinating the artillery during the dismounted cavalry assault on the Nek, for example. There were grievous errors throughout the tactical and strategic leadership of the war effort of the British Empire that were not limited to the British Establishment. Whilst any arrogance of the British officer class is unforgivable, is there perhaps an element of the Dominion officers leaned too heavily towards larrikinism and might have wished to listen more, especially in the early days before they had substantial combat / camapaign experience? Most of the senior British officers had seen service across the Empire prior to the First World War, particularly in Africa and India and knew about the value of planning over all else. We know that the Americans similarly steamed into the war and didn't listen to Allied concerns about the deployments of their battalions, brigades and divisions; how many young American men died because Pershing refused to learn from updated tactical doctrine?

Quote:


Canadian General Arthur Currie was often at odds with the highest levels of British command as he refused to allow his Corps to be broken up. He was accused of undermining the war effort. He was not sacked simply because he had the full backing of his government and PM Robert Borden.



This is true, but I also think a big part of why Currie wasn't sacked and why he got his own way was because his Corps kept getting the job done when other formations, largely drawn from the UK, were failing. It's hard to scold the top performing student in the classroom when everyone else is falling behind. The King was, I believe, also known to favour keeping the Dominion forces as intact entities, as they had generally always been in the service of the monarch.

However, would integration of Dominion soldiers into individual UK units have been as repulsive a notion in 1917 as it would have been in 1940? Time marched on and I think the notion of those living in the Dominions being of more, and separately, Canadian, Australian or Kiwi than British really took hold after the First World War. Prior to that, my feeling is that the idea of nationality depended on how long you had lived in the Dominions; how many soldiers in the Canadian Corps or ANZACs were actually born in the UK or had UK-born parents and therefore felt a tangible bond with the 'mother country'? I would think the proportion would be pretty high. I'm happy to be corrected on that though. On the other hand, we know that many of the French-Canadians wanted as little to do with the war as possible.

Quote:


Again without being able to make a reference, I recall one British officer in WW1 who, when discussing the galling obduracy of some Dominion officers said, "We must learn to see them as they wish to be seen and not as we wish them to be."



Whoever the officer was has made the point much better than I could ever hope to!

Quote:


While the Dominions were all in during the wars of the 20th century in which Britain was engaged, there was internal squabbling as the Dominions demanded to be recognized as independent forces. I say that knowing full well that to an extent the Dominions relied upon British logistical planning and other supports to be successful.



Referring to your earlier point about independent Dominion air forces / squadrons, that all took up valuable resources in terms of logistics and organisation. You can see why the British were perplexed why the Dominion nations would 'waste' resources setting up structures that would ultimately more or less mirror what was already in place and was freely available to them. However, I totally get why the Dominions wanted their own squadrons, especially for Australia when it came to defending them from attack from Japan.

Cheers,

Colin
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"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 6511
Joined: 2004
Anecdote from Salerno : do you believe this ?
6/28/2023 10:30:59 AM
Colin, George and Brian,

One of the most scathing remarks that comes to mind when it’s a question of supercilious British reference to Dominion soldiers was in 1916, when an Australian division was massacred in mid July in the notorious Battle of Fromelles.

Now, memory might be playing me false here, but if I’m right, Haig, the BEF commander in chief, had expressed concern that the Australian contingents were displaying hubris after the wide acclaim they’d won In Gallipoli.

He had opined that the Australians were not aware of the superior nature of the new enemy they were about to encounter, and when the Aussies came to grief in a horrific manner at Fromelles, he said to them

You’re not fighting Bashi Bazouks now !

Again, I must make a disclaimer if I’ve got this wrong and I promise to check the story.

Editing : Said by Haig to White and Birdwood after the fighting at Pozieres, where Australian dead lay more thickly than on any other battlefield. Birdwood was a British officer, whom the Australians he commanded liked.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
kaii
Oslo  
Posts: 3159
Joined: 2010
Anecdote from Salerno : do you believe this ?
6/28/2023 12:08:56 PM
Quote:
Kai,
You say: “As you say Phil truly horrible stuff, and always useful to get a reminder that "we" are not immune to this sort of behaviour either.
It is, of course, horrible. Personally, I’m more prone to believe that the examples Phil has given are simply typical of any war man has generated. I have difficulty rejecting any instances or anecdotes of such conduct, to be honest. War simply makes such human behaviour easier to occur and then ignore.

Do I condone such behaviour/conduct/activity? No. Do I expect it when war is being made? Yes.

I do understand that such conduct is in contravention of (probably) a number of international conventions concerning the conduct of war. So what? War strips man of his humanity more quickly than many deem possible. And “combat” isn’t the only thing that does it. The British Air Ministry made decisions sending RAF Bomber Command to “dehouse” at least 600,000 in Germany. Certain Nazi civil servants, and Swansee, created a “protocol” that slaughtered 6,000,000 humans. The Japanese, under the spell of a debased version of Bushido, felt an enemy who surrendered was no longer entitled to humane treatment. If we have war, we are going to have such behaviour, whether rape, torturing, theft or whatever humans are capable of. Whether the slaughter is enacted personally or by edict, it is an indication of how repulsively brutal and hateful man can be, once he is given licence by the state to ignore social restraints and go to war.


I see Colin already answered this one quite well, but I thought I'd have a go too, although I am a bit scared I might just make things worse.

Brian,
you are quite right that these events that are described are, unfortunately, what one must expect in war - at least a war of some length- and I am not sure how you have read my comment to say something else. War times bring out the absolutely worst in humans and I do not think a human exists that could not be pushed to do the worst imaginable things given the right mix of triggers.

However, at the same time a better trained army with better trained officers is more likely to avoid incidents like these, than one where this is essentially part of the doctrine. Western armies are generally better trained and will generally have less incidents like these, than say, the Russian or most African armies, but that does not mean that there will not be incidents, of course.

There is a whole school of military academia dedicated to the study of how, when and by whom atrocities in war are committed, and how decisions to deviate from humane treatment of civilians is formed at different levels, both in individuals and groups. One common factor is the "how similar to me" factor, where soldiers that feel more distance to the victim, be it ethnically, culturally, historically etc., are more likely to accept taking part in atrocities against civilians or pows.

The decision to bomb a German city, taken by a man in London is quite different from the decision to rape a grandmother, taken by a soldier or perhaps a platoon commander on the ground. They may both be a breach of the rules of war, but at considerably different levels and there are considerably different psychological processes and triggers behind them.
Dave Grossmann, for instance, touches on to these processes in his book "On killing", and has an interesting discussion in his follow up "On killing remotely" where the difference in effect between killing someone up close and killing someone from a distance on the human psyche, is discussed.

Quote:

You also say: “Using colonial troops to commit atrocities is similar to ordering in Chechens or recruiting Syrians to fight in Ukraine …
I find that comment upsetting as hell, perhaps because one of my uncles was sent to war under British control and command. He died a boy of 18 or 19, probably a virgin with no meaningful contact with girls. You imply that “colonials” have less sophisticated or honourable human values than home-grown, nationalist troops, while suggesting it is easier to convince colonials to commit atrocities. Not sure I can buy that! Seems to me those in command might be either encouraging or at least condoning violent conduct or behaviour. Let’s not blame the troops for receiving orders. And in some instances, for obeying them.


OK, I clearly did not make my point very well here. "Colonial" was probably not the right word I see, given that it obviously carries different emotional weight for people from different cultures and locations.

The point was not whether Canada (or Australia, NZ) was a colony or dominion - which I frankly don't really care about - or whether black or white skin ensures a higher or lower ethical standard. It does not.
The point I was trying to make was that it has been standard practice throughout history to use, if possible, soldiers that are not closely linked culturally, ethnically, historically or otherwise, when atrocities especially against civilians, but also against prisoners of war, are committed.

The Bucha massacres in Ukraine appears, for instance, to have been conducted by Russian troops that were not ethnically Russian, but rather primarily from the Far east. That does not mean that these have lower ethical standard or are worse people at the outset, but their mental block might be easier to overcome as long as the victims do not look or talk like themselves.

Sure, Syrians or Chechens in Ukraine are not comparable legally to, say, Moroccan regiments in the French army in ww2 and definitely not to units from Canada or Australia, but in terms of how "easy" it is/was to get them to follow orders to rape and kill these civilians, the same basic underlying factor applies.

Not sure whether I made anything clearer, but rest assured I never intended to indicate that Canadians of previous generations were more violent than others....

K

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