Rating General Montgomery: A Further Rebuttal

The blog “Rating the Generals of WW2” has certainly stirred a hornet’s nest. Firstly Luigi admonished me for neglecting General Slim of Burma.  This unintended omission confirms that both the 14th Army and its Commanding Officer are now forgotten, true to their namesake, The Forgotten [14th] Army. In this case, a peremptory mea culpa and honour was satisfied. Not so in the case of Montgomery. After publishing Blaine’s rebuttal on my rating, I then used the right of reply to question the speed of Montgomery’s advance from El-Alamein after crushing the Axis Powers. Blaine has taken umbrage with my interpretation of Montgomery’s “ponderous” advance across Cyrenaica & Tripolitania in Libya. The essence of the dispute is whether Montgomery was rightly cautious and considered or whether he was ponderous and unimaginative. Whereas Blaine favours the former interpretation, I favour the latter.

Main picture: Montgomery and his adversary Erwin Rommel, both vainglorious and publicity seeking

Continue reading

Hitler: The Formative Years

From around fourteen years of age – no precise age can be determined – Hitler started experiencing delusions of grandeur. He wanted to become a world famous painter. More insightful into Hitler’s character than this fantasy, was the fact that he scorned the notion of having to earn one’s daily living. Being a loner he seldom had friends. To use an expressive modern term, Hitler was an odd-ball, the archetypal non-entity, the little grey man who blended into the background. As such, detailed records and acounts of Hitler’s youth are sparse at best but whatever is extant all points to an eccentric misanthropic youth. What was Hitler like as a child and why did he develop these surreal notions about life?

Main picture: One of Hitler’s water colours

Continue reading

The Generalship of “Uncle Bill” Slim Assessed

I have received a number of responses to my blog rating the Generals of WW2. Some of the correspondance is highly provocative but as none of these respondents used the comments facility, I will instead engage them in future blogs. Their cogent comments deserve a wider audience that my inbox. This is the first of them that I will share.

Main picture: “Uncle Bill” Slim in his classic pose.

Continue reading

Rating the Generals of WW2

My brother Blaine posed me a question the other day. “How do you rate the Generals of WWII and why?  I’ve listed my candidates and was wondering what your opinion of them is?To do this topic justice, I would have to do some extensive research. Due to time constraints, my opinion would not be based upon an ex libris search. Instead I would do the equivalent of an ad-lib speech and improvise.

Main picture: Erwin Rommel in North Africa during June 1942. Many, if not most pundits, would rate Rommel as the best General of WW2. His ability to smash the Allies line at its most vulnerable point on numerous occasions begrudgingly made him a hero in many Allies eyes.

Continue reading

The Hand Pump in Broad Street

Advances in medical science are often made by the most unlikely people. Sometimes they are outsiders or more likely they are involved or trained in another discipline. The person making the breakthrough is usually mercilessly vilified by the gatekeepers of the status quo. Ultimately the discovery is adopted without so much as a muted apology from the previously virulent detractors. So it was with cholera.

Main picture: John Snow

Continue reading

You take two sugars, don’t you?

What status in the social, political and even the religious pecking order did a female hold prior to WW1? Apart from having no outlet for advancement, their station in life was limited to the nurturing and servile occupations such as teaching, house work and nursing. Even though the suffragette movement had commenced its campaign as far back as the 1860s to obtain voting rights for females, this array of radical reformers antagonised rather than aided the feminist agenda. Did WW1 accelerate woman’s advancement and if so how and what was the quantum thereof? Or was the change ephemeral and only for the duration of the war?

This is the odyssey of a number of females who took advantage of the situation and spread their wings. Without the condescending guffaws of males to cajole them not to be foolish, they each in their own way proved that females could achieve their dreams with ingenuity, perseverance and hard work.

Main picture:

A woman at work in an armaments factory, during the first world war.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Continue reading

Was Sir Edmund Hillary the first person to summit Mount Everest?

Arguably for the contrarians, Tenzing Norgay was the first. The facile explanation would be something along the lines of because he led the way or he only stepped aside at the last moment so that Edmund Hillary, the New Zealand beekeeper, could overtake him in order to summit first. What is not factored into this superficial comment is that without Hillary’s finance, determination & wherewithal Tenzing would never have set foot upon the summit. Aside from Tenzing could there indeed have been an earlier person?

Even though the Tibetans & Nepalese had occupied the area adjacent to Chomolungma or Sagarmāthā, as they respectively called Mount Everest for millennia, both are unlikely candidates for two very cogent reasons: technological and religious aside from the fact that Tenzing Norgay had already attempted the climb six times previously and failed. The technological reason is that the majority of climbers require bottled oxygen in order to climb the last 3000 feet. A number of people have attempted a natural climb but that is an extreme rarity even for Sherpas. Even with supplementary oxygen, the average climber is at the limit of their oxygen endurance.

Main picture: Conrad Anker climbing Everest

Continue reading

TE Lawrence: Was he an Accidental Hero?

Born in an age when class and status in life preordained one a priori to a particular station in life, Thomas Edward Chapman aka Lawrence of Arabia rose above such strictures to become universally acclaimed and renowned for his exploits in the Arabian Desert, Transjordan and Mesopotamia. How was that meteoric rise possible for somebody so taciturn, ascetic and iconoclastic in outlook?

Much of which is known about TE Lawrence is discerned from his autobiography entitled The Seven Pillars of Wisdom which I have never actually finished reading in spite of various attempts. Many accounts of Lawrence’s exploits and ordeals are at odds with one another. In broad outline and Lawrence own sang froid attitude have been attested to by many colleagues but Lawrence will forever remain an enigma where one is never able to grasp the real man with any certainty.

Main picture: Thomas Edward Lawrence in traditional Arab garb

Continue reading

A Retrospective Look at Cycling and the Tour de France in particular

With the 102nd Tour de France currently underway, this epic three-week-long event is emblematic of man’s tenacity and perseverance. The unremitting odyssey encompasses tortuous mountain climbs, harrowing hairpin bends and breakneck speeds through hamlets and villages along the 3360km route from Utrecht in Holland to Paris in France.

The agonies and the ecstasies will be closely followed by hundreds of millions every day. What attracts these viewers is not merely the regurgitation of facts about each participant but more importantly the verdant fields, the Alpine vistas and the quaint forgotten hamlets through which the race traverses.

Main picture: The finish of the first Tour. At the right: the first winner, Maurice Garin. At the left: probably Leon Georget (not sure). Tour de France 1903.

Continue reading

Was the WW2 German Tank design philosophy of bigger-is-better correct?

Nazi Germany undoubtedly produced some of the most advanced and impressive tanks of WW2 but were they truly better than their opponents vehicles? Were the designs after the Panzerkampfwagen iv including the renowned Tiger 1 as excellent as was claimed or were they merely a vanity project of Adolf Hitler which was ultimately an evolutionary cul-de-sac or did their design presage the future of tank design?

Disregarding the fact that Hitler had been only a corporal in the Deutsche Wehrmacht during WW1, Hitler ever the indolent dreamer had never held a proper job before becoming leader of the Nazi Party. Instead he had been a dissolute layabout without an income apart from charity of family and friends.

Main picture: One version of the 1000 tonne Landkreuzer which never even got past the prototype stage
Continue reading