Wahai Mohammed!: The Red Devils’ Cry

The British Paratroopers, also known as the Red Devils, have the strange battle cry of “Wahai Mohammed!” The Arabic phrase seems odd to many. How did the Paras get it?

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British Paratroopers in WWII

The cry originated with the 3rd Parachute Battalion during WWII during the raid on Bone, Tunisia. Allegedly, the Paras had seen an Arab man yelling to his donkey “Wahai Mohammed” to get the animal moving. The Brits took a liking to the phrase and began using it as a rallying cry. The British Paratroopers used the phrase everywhere, including during bar fights with American Airborne. Paratrooper veteran Dennis Edwards explained how “we [Paras] used to yell at the top of our voices ‘Wahai Mohammed’ and here the guys used to leave their girlfriends, whatever they were doing, leave other pubs […] and they’d all come piling in.”

 

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Tootsie Roll: the United States’ Unlikely Hero

In the winter of 1950, the Korean War was in full swing as North Korean forces had been turned back from the Pusan perimeter and over the 38th parallel as US and UN forces arrived to assist the South Koreans. Douglas MacArthur sent troops ever closer to the Yalu River, the border between the Korean peninsula and China, and disobeyed President Harry S. Truman. By winter, the US forces had become bogged down as millions of Communist “volunteers” from China streamed into North Korea and hammered back an under equipped American force.

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At the Battle of Chosin, the Americans became surrounded and had to fight their way out in brutally freezing temperatures. US Marines of the 1st USMC Division fought bravely to escape the Communist forces surrounding them. When calling in a resupply of 60mm mortar rounds, the US airdropped something out of the ordinary to the stranded Marines: Tootsie Rolls. Why? The code name for mortar rounds was “Tootsie Roll” and a mixup in intelligence led them to believe the Marines were asking for the candy, not the ammunition.

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Members of the 1st Marine Division at Chosin. Those who served there were nickamed “the Frozen Chosen.”

Surprisingly, Tootsie Rolls were a blessing for the troops. Their high sugar kept the Marines energized in the nights, and the candy didn’t freeze when kept in their coat pockets, making them one of the only things the Marines could eat.

Book Review: Malta 1940-42

Osprey Publishing have recently released their newest series- Air Campaign- which discusses some of history’s greatest air battles. This is the fourth title in the series since they released four titles early this year. The book talks about the Axis air raids on the British-controlled island of Malta. Malta, a crucial naval base for the North African Campaign, sits off the coast of Sicily and prompted Mussolini’s Air Force (Regio Aeronautica) to lead multiple assaults on the island. As years dragged on, the X and II Fliegerkorps of the Luftwaffe arrived on the scene to attempt to neutralize the Allied presence in the Mediterranean. Steady reinforcements from the British mainland helped the Allies survive in a crucial campaign for North Africa and the later campaign in Italy.

Osprey’s Newest Series: Air Campaign

Praise:

The ORBAT is really nice here with information on all of the planes used in that particular squadron. There’s a description of some of the main aircraft used which is helpful for people who aren’t very familiar with planes. There are also handy charts comparing dimensions, engines, and armament of numerous planes. The illustrations and photographs are all good, as you’d expect from Osprey

Criticism:

The maps in this book look nice, but make no sense. Some of the numbers indicating units are repeated and some are completely left out. The difference between times of maneuvers or altitude isn’t specified well and they’re just extremely confusing. It feels like this book was rushed to be printed and they missed some pretty basic errors.

Rating: 3/5

Rhodesia: The Colossus of Southern Africa

The Modern Wars of Africa are some of the bloodiest and racially divided of the 20th century and no nation exemplified those traits quite like Southern Rhodesia, an autonomous nation under the control of the British Empire. Named for Cecil Rhodes, Rhodesia lasted for a decent portion of the 20th century until it became Zimbabwe in 1980 after years of conflict. Whites led the government in Rhodesia much like South Africa, where blacks were violently suppressed.

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Rhodesian troops sitting on their tank armed with FALs and AK-47s

Ian Smith, Prime Minister of Rhodesia, led his white supremacist supporters in the RF (Rhodesian Front). When he attempted in 1965 to create an independent Rhodesia, Britain was outraged. Not only was a colony declaring independence, but Smith was determined to repress all blacks in the country. Britain attempted to defuse the situation, but refused to send troops into Rhodesia. The United Nations criticized Smith’s regime’s blatant racism and encouraged sanctions to be imposed in order to cripple the economy. With a failing economy and international pressure, the blacks in Rhodesia rose up in order to create an independent Zimbabwe. Smith’s response? War.

In 1972, the white population of Rhodesia was overwhelmingly small compared to the black population. Apartheid-era South Africa assisted white Rhodesia with their economy and sent troops and police to keep things in order. Black independence movement like the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) took up arms against Smith’s regime in guerrilla and targeted attacks. Chinese-backed ZANU and Soviet-backed ZAPU stood mainly to remove the white elite from power and create a better government where the 4 million-strong black majority had the real power. ZANU attacked white farmers in the northeast in large guerrilla operations. This prompted Operation Hurricane that December, which managed to quiet the number of attacks.

 

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Map of the main Rhodesian operations against ZANU and ZAPU

The war trickled into Mozambique and Zambia as many ZANU and ZAPU bases were located there. As the Zimbabwe ‘Freedom Fighters’ butchered whites all throughout the nation, the Rhodesians stepped up their military attacks. Conscription escalated and no Rhodesians over 17 were allowed to leave the country to study in attempts to avoid draft. Those who refused to join were often arrested and tortured. The Rhodesian Bush War exploded into a racial war of atrocities. Villages were burned, civilians were slaughtered, and no quarter was given.

By 1976, the situation for white Rhodesia was becoming worse as forces clashed with Mozambican and Zambian troops on several occasions. The border was closed and the Rhodesian Air Force bombed multiple sites along the border as well. The whites were only supported by South Africa with just two precious rail lines. If they lost those, they would be alone. Tourism was halted as many became caught in the crossfire. The state of white Rhodesia was deteriorating fast as they fought Zimbabwean guerrillas, Zambian forces, and Mozambican troops. Operations Tangent and Repulse attempted to assuage threats to the east, but to no avail. Henry Kissinger met with the South African PM and managed to convince them to stop sending aid to Rhodesia. They were alone.

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Rhodesian Light Infantry outside their helicopter

Zimbabwean militants destroyed railroad bridges for Rhodesia’s supplies in 1976 and managed to further cripple the economy. Mozambican troops fought against Rhodesians but they were crushed by the RhAF. The USSR, the US, Britain, and the UN denounced the invasion, prompting Smith to remove his forces. By 1978, the war had reached peak brutality as 50 civilians were cut down and 106 militants were killed in Salisbury, the capital of Rhodesia. Helicopter attacks by Rhodesian troops were common. By 1979, the war was too much for Smith’s white government. The Lancaster Agreement was signed, transferring power to the black majority. Zimbabwe became its own nation.under the leadership of Canaan Banana.

Book Review: The Last Battle

Peter Hart’s new book, The Last Battle, is a study of the concluding months of the First World War. Beginning at the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Hart takes readers through the dying days of the war and reveals its ferocity and brutality even with hours before armistice. I was wildly impressed with this book and enjoyed it much more than I originally thought.

Praise:

Hart’s use of quotes is fantastic and there is rarely a page without one. The large number of quotes paint a great picture of the soldiers’ experiences. Many of the quotes are from British troops, but it includes a number of Commonwealth troops. American, French, and German perspectives also add to the book. Since Hart is an oral historian, he knows how to use quotations perfectly in his books. If you have read Gallipoli, you will not be dissapointed. here are a few maps included of certain battles as well as an overview of Flanders in Sept. 1918. Hart includes the sectors of each individual army and breaks it down by division. Chapter 1 is very useful since it reviews the effects of Operation Michael (Kaiserschlacht) on the Western Front. A casualty list gives readers an idea of how costly this war has proven. A lot of people would assume this book is about the infantry. The book includes a large number of sources from artillery and air units, including vivid descriptions of dogfights and devastating air crashes. This book gives you a feeling, something not many history books do. When you know a war is drawing to an end, each lost life you read about hurts just a bit more. Men die with weeks, days, hours, even minutes before peace. It feels horrible when you know somebody is so close to being safe and returning home to their mothers, wives, and children.

Criticism:

I have little criticism about this book, but the main thing is the lack of German or French sources. There are a decent number, but a few more wouldn’t hurt at all. The maps were VERY confusing at first thanks to complex objective lines, but there’s a key so it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Rating:

5/5

Greek Propaganda of WW1

The World Wars were full of colorful propaganda posters urging people to buy bonds or enlist to serve their respective nations. Minor nations continued to galvanize their populations for war, so this is an exploration of Greece’s propaganda. Greece, originally split by a pro-Germany monarch and a pro-Entente parliament, hosted the Salonika front and fought in her fair share of battles after joining in 1917. Their famous evzones and crack mountain troops proved capable in the First World War thanks to the Balkan Wars of 1912-13.

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“Greeks! Enlist! The barbarians slaughter our brothers, our villages, old men and women? What are you waiting for? To arms!”

This poster shows a Greek soldier in a drab coat holding his hand out to the countryside where we see a group of dead citizens, one of which is a baby. The trees are cut down and the village is blazing in the background while thick black smoke curls around the soldier. He shouts, raising his Greek Mauser to the sky, and beckons the reader to enlist and prevent the “barbarous” Turks and Austrians from destroying their home. If you pay close attention, you can see the Orthodox Church on fire in the town. This man is an evzone, an elite Greek infantryman perfect for fighting in the rocky hills. The classic tasseled fez is a giveaway, as are the pants. Evzones and other Greeks usually did not wear puttees- preferring long socks or stockings over the leg wraps.

2. Balkan Wars

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“5 October, 1912. The Balkans against tyranny!”

Yes, this is not technically a First World War poster, but I find it’s meaning fits comfortably for that. This depicts the situation in the Balkans in October 1912, just two years before Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination. Two days later than the date (Oct. 5) on the poster, the nations above declared war on the “sick man of Europe”- the Ottoman Empire. The Turks are shown as a hideous dragon-like creature surrounded by bones. The nations (from left to right) of Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, and Russia are all slicing the monster in quarters. Behind them is an angel wielding a cross. This poster shows the extreme anti-Turkish sentiment of Greeks at this time. The Greek soldier wears much more traditional dress, showing us the pre-war styles of these four nations. Again, note the stockings and fez. Of course, the Turks are not monsters as this pictures- this is simply outdated wartime propaganda.

 

3. The White Tower

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“White Tower of Thessaloniki…but what hard stone!”

Salonika is the northern region of Greece over which all of the Central Powers and the majority of Entente members clashed with one another. The city of Thessaloniki sits in this region, and standing proud is the White Tower. In this poster, a German officer charges headfirst into the tower, cracking his head repeatedly while a Greek peers over the edge. Greek, British, Russian, French, Serbian, and Romanian forces held Salonika for the duration of the campaign in bitter sieges, but the Germans and Bulgarians were unable to defeat them. This is a perfect symbol! An image of Thessaloniki stopping the invaders.

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The White Tower

 

Though Greece played a minor role in the Great War, she still produced a collection of colorful propaganda posters.

Movie Review: 7 Days in Entebbe

7 Days in Entebbe recounts the events of the 1976 Israeli Operation Thunderbolt to rescue over 100 passengers from a hijacked Air France flight. The film, directed by Jose Padilha, came to theatres in mid-March and stars Daniel Bruhl, Rosamund Pike, Eddie Marsan, and Lior Ashkenazi. I saw the movie last weekend and felt I should review it, since a lot of critics have been saying it does not live up to its expectations.

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Wilfried Bose (Bruhl) and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Pike) in front of the plane at Entebbe Airport

THERE WILL BE SOME SPOILERS IN THIS POST

First, we need to know a very basic background to Operation Thunderbolt. Air France flight 139 was hijacked by members of the PFLP (People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine) on its way to Paris from Tel Aviv, Israel via Athens. Two Germans, Brigitte Kuhlmann and Wilfried Bose, assisted in the hijack. The plane was taken to Benghazi and refueled, before arriving in Entebbe, Uganda. A large portion of the passengers were Israelis, prompting worry from Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Over a period of 7 days, Israel teetered over whether to negotiate with the terrorists or not. Rabin launched Operation Thunderbolt in which Israeli commandos and IDF paratroopers landed at Entebbe and rescued the captives while killing all of the terrorists and a number of Ugandan soldiers sent by Idi Amin to help guard the airport.

Praise:

The variety of foreign languages in this film is fantastic. We hear Greek at the Athens Airport where the hijackers boarded the plane. Bose and Kuhlmann speak German throughout the film. The French pilots and stewardesses speak French. Palestinians speak Arabic. Israelis speak Hebrew. While this is not a major part of the film, it gives a great asthetic to it and helps convey the global reach of the incident. The personal motives of the terrorists are all explored separately; the Germans have their ideals, the other terrorists have theirs. The film jumps from a variety of points-of-view as we see Rabin’s, Defense Minister Shimon Peres’, and the view of an Israeli commando. This was a little confusing at parts, but the jumps back and forth help you understand each person clearly and what they feel. There is a lot of period style in this movie and everybody smokes. The font style, camera lighting, and other aspects all scream 1970s. The movie is also accurate. A British-Israeli is let off the plane after faking a miscarriage, just like in real life. The raid itself is not very long, just as it was in real life. Israeli commandos use AK-47s and -74s as they did in the actual raid. The portrayal of Idi Amin as a lunatic obsessed with hunting and saying he is sent from God is all true. The casting is also very well done, especially for Israelis. Yoni Netanyahu, elder brother of Benjamin, looks extremely similar to his real-life counterpart. Rabin and Peres are also very well casted. The emotional tension of both sides is captured in great detail in the film as well. Another thing I specifically liked was the use of newscasts and historical film blended into the movie to help demonstrate the raid better.

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Israeli commandos on a practice run of the Operation in “7 Days in Entebbe”

Criticism:

There are a number of things left out of this movie, notably the rest of the Israeli paratroopers. The only troops shown are just commandos, but that makes sense since we are mostly focused on the main terminal. There is also an obsession with interpretive dance for some reason in the movie. The commando we meet, played by Ben Schnetzer, has a girlfriend who dances and there are a lot of scenes about her. I tried to find some reason for this, but I can’t really think of any good theories to say about it. At some points, I felt the movie was trying to change your opinion on the German hijackers, making them seem much more sorry for their choices. Yes, this does show we’re all human, but they did hijack an airplane and threaten to kill 106 people. It could have done a bit better of a job on the raid itself, and not put some random dancing in it, since that sorta killed the mood.

All in all, I don’t think this movie deserves the amount of criticism it gets. I really enjoyed it, and while it is not an extremely violent and explosion-filled film, it shows the abruptness of the raid itself and focuses a lot on the motivations behind each personality involved. I would highly recommend seeing it.

Rating: 4/5