S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

Archive for the tag “Military History”

Book Review – The 1929 Sino-Soviet War: The War Nobody Knew

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Rating – Four Stars

Congratulations to Michael Walker on his assiduous research and lucid manuscript about this seminal 1929 conflict between the Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) over control of the China Eastern Railroad (CER). The CER runs through Chinese Manchuria and links the Russian Far East city Chit with Vladivostok. This railroad spur is a shortcut of about 1,200 miles between these two cities on the northern loop of the Trans-Siberian Railroad that skirts Manchuria. If you study a map of this area, you will understand why both its economic and its military value have been apparent to Imperial Russia, the USSR, Russia, and China.

In 1896, after the first Sino-Japanese War, 1894–1895, the Chinese Qing dynasty was weak and adrift under the inept leadership of the Empress Dowager Tz’u His. Under intense Russian pressure, the Qing government granted a concession to Czar Nicholas II of Imperial Russia to construct the CER through northern Manchuria. Work began on the CER in July 1897. The contract provisions provided for dual control by the USSR and Imperial China, and for employment of Chinese executives and workers.

A large Russian army occupied Northern Manchuria to control the CER and protect it from bandit raids and Japanese incursions. The Japanese were gravely concerned that Russia was appropriating their sphere of influence; this led in large measure to the Russo-Japanese war of 1904–1905.

Freight traffic on the CER line started in November 1901, and regular passenger traffic from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok across the Trans-Siberian railway and the CER began in July 1903.

Problems of ownership of the CER and its operations festered for years.. In July 1919, the Soviets promised to return the CER to Chinese control without compensation. The Soviets had laid the foundation for a double-cross to regain complete control of the CER and its auxiliary lines. In 1924, the Soviets, under the reign of Joseph Stalin, reneged, and began a campaign of subterfuge to get rid of all Chinese control and interest in the CER. The Soviet Comintern spread Marxist agitprop among the Chinese executives and workers, led strikes, and encouraged sabotage.  In the ensuing years, the controversy escalated.

In 1929, Generalissimo Chang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang government in Nanking was weak and controlled only about fifty percent of the land area of China. A collage of warlords controlled the remainder. The powerful warlord Chang Hsuch-liang (Wade-Giles spelling), the leader of the Fengtian clique, governed Manchuria with a large, well-trained, and well-armed modern army

The Soviets intensified their perfidious campaign with wide-ranging agitations, purloining of CER funds, and assassinations. In turn, Chang began retaliation activities including the kidnapping of Soviet CER executives—leading to his goal of a forced hostile takeover. Realizing that armed conflict with the USSR was inevitable, Chang Hsuch-liang pledged his army and his loyalty to the Kuomintang government in Nanking. In turn, Chang Kai-shek pledged what support he could. Warlords in other cliques also offered backing.

The armed conflict started slowly in the summer of 1929 with skirmishes along the Amur and Songhua Rivers. The first battle started on 17 August 1929, when the Soviets attacked Chalainor. Chang’s troops retreated to a heavily armed trench line. The Soviets advanced into a killing zone, and suffered heavy losses. Following that, the Chinese troops fought a valiant and bloody defensive campaign. However, by late November, the USSR’s overwhelming military power forced the Chinese to sign a treaty on Soviet terms on 13 December 1929.

The most serious negative I find with Walker’s narrative is the absence of a series of small-scale maps to detail the conflict areas and include the many geographical names mentioned in his text.

Note. The USSR conceded ownership of the Chinese Eastern Railway to the People’s Republic of China in 1952.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China by David J. Silbey

box rebellionThis treatise on the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 in Shantung Province in northern China and in Peking is exceptionally well researched and told. Silbey has written this book with keen understanding and the perceptive knack to engulf the audience deeply into his chronicle. Of what I know of the Boxer Rebellion, I would suggest that this book is the most comprehensive and accurate of all other popular histories. Of note, he engages us in the big pictures and leads us skillfully into minute details of individual exploits and heroism.

I fault Silbey for not providing custom-designed, detailed maps of the various campaigns and a large-scale map of northern China with key geographic features and city names. This is a serious failure and negates a five-star rating. He does suffer us with six maps from that period that are minuscule and worthless—including one of the innards of Peking. The overall map of northern China that he does provide is small and inefficacious. Accordingly, it is extremely difficult to follow the coalition’s campaign up the Dagu River to relieve the besieged legations in Peking. Included in the coalition army were elements of the armed forces from America, Great Britain, Imperial Germany, France, Austria-Hungry Empire, Imperial Russia, and Japanese Empire.

He opens his book with an overview of western imperialism in China over the past fifty years. He details the negative effects this imperialism engendered on and the general populace’s emotions and on the Imperial government; led by the Dowager Empress Tzu-his (“Cixi” in the current Pinyin spelling) and Prince Duan of the fading Qing Dynasty. Compounding the contempts was the Chinese adversarial perception of the special privileges endowed on Chinese Christians by missionaries and the western powers.

The drought in the spring of 1900 in Shantung Province crippled the breadbasket of northern China. The idle and starving farmers and peasants convinced themselves that the imperial westerners caused the drought to further humiliate and dominate them. Without leadership, the Boxer movement evolved and morphed quickly into a ragtag fighting force throughout the province. Some few of the Boxers were students of the ancient Chinese martial arts collectively dubbed “ch’uan fa.” They slaughtered Christian converts, missionaries and their families, and even important westerners; for example, the Baron August F. von Ketteler, the German minister to the Imperial Throne.

The Boxers moved into Peking and laid siege to the foreign legations—ensconced behind the Tartar wall. The Empress Dowager Cixi made the fateful decision to declare war on “the invaders,” and ordered the imperial army to repel the aggressors. The collation forces fought spirited campaigns at the Chinese’s key forts and strong points along the Dagu River in their difficult campaign to relieve the besieged legations in Peking.

The Chinese, army supported by the irregular Boxers, mounted a spirited defense causing serious causalities among the collation forces. Unfortunately, they could not fight as a unified command because of international rivalries (Japan and Russia, for example), petty jalousies, and failure to develop of a comprehensive operations plan. Of note, credit goes to the Japanese whose bravery and innovative tactics forced the fall of the key city of Tientsin (Tianjin) and they led the way to the capitol.

Nonetheless, after fifty-five days collation forces reached Peking and relieved the legation. The peace treaty, the Boxer Protocol, was harsh and unforgiving to the Chinese—imposing a ₤67 million-indemnity and territorial concessions.

Buy the The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China on Amazon.

Works by S. Martin Shelton

BOOK REVIEW: Killing Patton by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

killing pattonKilling Patton is a compelling tale of World War II’s greatest general: George S. Patton (1885 to 1945).  The manuscript reads easily—almost as an adventure novel.  We are propelled into the story as a participant as our intense empathy builds. Importantly, one does not have to have a keen knowledge of the War to follow Patton’s exploits. The authors lead us with guiding words that sets the perspective and the scene.  I would suggest that Killing Patton is the superior of the other three “Killing” books they’ve written.  It’s a must read.

Patton was not a man of subtlety or tact: he was narcissistic, proud, boisterous, forthright, aggressive, disrespectful, stubborn, insubordinate, and the most successful American general of the war.  His highly successful campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, and Western Europe are text-book examples of his motto, “Attack.  Attack.  Attack.  And attack again.”  A captured German officer told his American captors that, “General Patton is the most feared general on all fronts.  The tactics of General Patton are daring and unpredictable.”

It was during the Battle of the Bulge (16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945) that exemplified the best, and perhaps the most, important example of Patton’s aggressive tactics.  In late-December, he thrust his Third Army from southern France to Belgium to relieve the Battling Bastards of Bastogne—the men of the 101stAirborne Division and other elements that were fighting heroically to fend the German Wehrmact and SS Division that have this crucial town surrounded.  It was freezing cold, snowing, and sometimes raining. Accordingly, there was no American air support.  The inclement weather had slowed down Patton’s advance.  He prayed to God and chided him, “I am beginning to wonder what’s going on in Your head.  Whose side are You on anyway.”

Meantime at Bastogne: the American forces suffer many casualties, ammunition was low, and hope for relief was fading. German General. Lt. Gen.Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwit sent a note to General Anthony McAulife demanding that he surrender.  McAuliffe’s reply, “NUTS!” The weather cleared, and on 26 December, elements of the Third Army relieved Bastogne.

During the Battle of the Bulge, a German SS Division captured several hundred Americans near the town of Malmedy.  The SS soldiers machine-gunned the Americas—only two soldiers escaped this massacre.

Patton speaks his mind and the aftermath be dammed. He offends his superiors: General Dwight Eisenhower, General Omar Bradley, President Harry Truman, and the British.  He believes that Eisenhower is a fool, Bradly is ineffectual, and President Truman is gullible.  Patton says, “Truman just doesn’t like me.”  And Truman says, “Patton is a braggart who struts around like a peacock in his showy uniform, with polished helmet and bloused riding pants.”  General Eisenhower tells President Truman that, “Patton is a mentally unbalanced officer, and suffers from bouts of dementia.”  General Marshall orders that Patton’s telephones be tapped.   The head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), William (Wild Bill) Donovan answered “Yes” to the question from a subordinate’s question, “Shall I kill him?”  All the while, the Soviets are spying on Patton.

Patton has an abiding distrust of the Communists and the duplicitous Joseph Stalin and says so loudly and to anyone nearby.  He states that after Germany surrenders, we should continue our war to defeat the Soviets.  He makes deadly enemies on both sides of the conflict.

He escapes two attempts on his life.  On 18 April 1945, while flying in an L-5 Sentinel aircraft, a Supermarine Spitfire (a British fighter) with Polish markings made two aggressive attacks. The L-5 pilot took desperate evasive tactics and pushes his aircraft close to the ground.  The spitfire plows into the ground.  Records indicate that no Polish spitfires were in the area on 18 April.  The Soviet army does have several squadrons of Spitfires.

On 3 May, Patton is riding in an open air jeep.  A German peasant’s ox cart with a sharpened pole extending in front of the cart slams into the jeep.  The pole misses Patton by inches.

On 8 December, Patton is in the back seat of a sedan en route to a hunting trip.  A large army truck smashes into the sedan head on.  Patton suffers serious head injuries.  He is taken to a hospital in Heidelberg.  On 21 December Patton dies.

I do have some negatives.  The authors spend too many words on numerous back stories that are only marginally relevant.  For example, long discourses about Adolph Hitler and his activities inside his bunker: ditto re President Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin and the USSR, the Great Depression, Winston Churchill and the Parliament, William Donovan, excruciating details re the Auschwits-Birkenau Extermination Complex, Anne Frank and the Nuremburg trials of Nazi war criminals.

My greatest disappointment is that the authors skipped details of the German surrender.  They should have described this monumental event in detail—the defeat of Germany was the central theme of their book—the raison d’être for this story of Patton. Perhaps they could have deleted some of the back-story text to make room for this scene.

Here are the highlights of the German surrender.  On 7 May 1945, the Chief of Staff of the German Armed Forces High Command, General Alfred Jodel, on orders from Admiral Karl Donitz signs the unconditional surrender document. General Dwight Eisenhower signs for the United States of America. All German military activities cease on 8 May, (Victory in Europe Day, VE-Day).

Beretta 32 Caliber Semi-Automatic Pistol

The Beretta is a magazine-fed, semi-automatic pistol that fires the 32 ACP* caliber bullet.  Beretta first introduced this pistol in 1935, and produced approximately 500,000 copies in various models.  The Italian armed forced adopted the Beretta 32 ACP as the standard service firearm in 1937.  The German Wehrmact used the pistol in 1944 and 1945.

 

pistol

 

Specifications

This pistol has the capacity for eight rounds: seven in the magazine and one in the chamber.  Its semi-automatic function is a single-action, blowback process. It has a manual safety, and when the last round is expended, the empty magazine keeps the slide open. The Beretta M1935 model is made of carbon steel and the grip is plastic.

  • Muzzle velocity is 925 feet per second.
  • Weight is about 22 ounces
  • Length is six inches.

Intended for military use, Beretta designed the model 1935 with minimal parts for maximum reliability and ease of maintenance.  In particular, the feeding and extraction cycle is very dependable.  Its robust construction insures a long service life if properly maintained.

In my historical novel St. Catherine’s Crown, the female protagonist, Black Orchid, uses the Beretta 32 with deft skills.

  • ACP = Automatic Colt Pistol

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