Category Archives: Unconventional Warfare

Do You Tell the Family Everything?

Flag at Half StaffSometimes, men die in war. Sometimes, their deaths are fast and clean, like that of a character in a 1950s Western. He’s reached the end of his character arc, so, “Ah! They got me!” and he crosses over to the other side, chest clutched. Or he just tumbles off the livery-stable roof, dropping his Winchester. (And as fake as the deaths in those entertainments were, at least they don’t “respawn,” like the dead in today’s video games).

Sometimes, their death is not so clean and pure. Mortal wounds are sometimes instantaneous, and sometimes induce such shock as to be de facto painless, to be sure. But sometimes they’re excruciating, and sometimes the victim suffers for an extended period. It can be an hour on the field, or it can be a month in the burn unit at Ft. Sam, but both are unendurably long to the suffering individual.

The Question, and Some Cases

If you have knowledge about someone’s last minutes or hours, do you tell his family? Let’s make this idea concrete with some real-world cases.

Case 1: Epic toughness meets unsurvivable wound

A man of our acquaintance received such a massive wound that he had no prospects of survival, but instead, was expected to die in moments (we were not there).  The best combat medics on Earth despaired of any way to treat him, yet due largely to his personal toughness and will to live, this dead man endured over eight hours in the shadowlands between life and death, much of it conscious, and in unimaginable pain.

Case 2: A Tactical Risk is Exposed as Fatal Error

A small element did something daring and risky  — some, including the unit CO, would have said foolhardy, if there had been anyone left to say it to. A single massive explosion left all the Americans and the English-speaking interpreter dead or unconscious. The long delay in getting medevac for the surviving American may have contributed to his suffering. He died  weeks later as infection ravaged his weakened, burnt body in hospital.

Cases 3 & 4: An Embarrassing Death, and a Horrifying One

And then, there are the circumstances and manner of death. A story circulates from the Vietnam War of a young officer slain by the random fall of a short mortar round, who was attending to a bodily function at the time. Another man died at the enemy’s hands in such a bestial and inhumane manner that those who were there at the time have, over the years, told only a few. Whom they have sworn to secrecy.

Case 5: The Urge to Open the Box

We had a situation where family members demanded to see their loved one, His casket was closed for good reason. The morticians at Dover did pretty good for government work, but they didn’t have a really good set of remains to work with. (At least this guy died instantly and was dead before the nerve impulses could have reached his brain, as a matter of physics).

Case 6: All a Senseless Screwup

And you have probably heard the story of former NFL starter Pat Tillman, where his unit initially concealed the fact that he died, not facing the foe, but trying to get an element of his own unit to stop shooting mistakenly at his element. The snap judgment and ace marksmanship of his own Ranger unit was a bad combination for Tillman.

So, What Do You Do?

Ultimately, the question for the living is: what do you tell the family?  The two extremes are: you always tell them everything, or, you never tell them anything that’s going to increase their pain. In our opinion, people who inhabit those extremes have not faced this actual decision. In our opinion, the answer is: you tell them as much of the truth as you think you need to, and take it case by case.

  • Case 1: There is no concealing this death from the family, as a reporter described it in some detail, and some day, the man’s children will have to face a description of their dad’s death (actually, it happened long enough ago that they have no doubt done so). Others who were there had given the family a story that elided some of the details (and in fairness to the reporter, he left out things he could have included had he had some prurient interest in the death).
  • Case 2: While the decisions of the men that day have been the subject of a good deal of tactical discussion (and motivated the CO to send a “don’t do stupid $#!+” rocket to his far-flung troops), nothing was committed to writing or communicated to the family that reflected ill on the dead.
  • Case 3: The officer was, according to legend, awarded the Silver Star. Several versions of this story appear in Vietnam novels, and it may have been the Army/Marine version of urban legend.
  • Case 4: The family remains unaware. The men with this knowledge are determined to die without passing it on any further (indeed, actuarial tables saying what they do, many of them already have).
  • Case 5: Unit members’ fear was that their friend’s closest family members would have their last memory be of his damaged face and body, not of the very different living man. But ultimately, the decedent’s relatives insisted. Steps were taken to make the viewing less traumatic, including dim lights, mortician work, judiciously placed silk cloth, and bringing the relatives in from the far corner of the room in hopes they’d change their minds before their retinas could resolve a true picture. Two burly soldiers, selected for size and reflexes, stood by each the two concerned ladies. Neither lady went more than a step into the room (and one did have to be caught by the two guys).
  • Case 6: We all know the outcome of the Tillman case. Measures taken by his unit to “spare” his family just alienated the family further, and drove their pre-existing dislike of the Army to a level of white-hot hatred. In this case, what looked like the best call to the people on the ground looked like a cover-up to the suspicious family.

Which of these cases were handled well, and which not? Your opinion may vary. Indeed, the family members and unit members had a wide variety of feelings about these cases at the time, and even today.

The culture says you must let the truth out, you must pick at the scab every time. But the people driving that cultural message, the Hollyweird types and the coastal elites,

We’re just glad to be far removed from making these sorts of decisions.

Where’s Daesh Cannon Fodder From?

Daesh, or ISIL (ISIS if you’re one of the media guys egging them on sotto voce), only looks invincible when it’s up against the tissue-thin and cracker-brittle (and abandoned by its American mentors) Iraqi army, or when it’s shooting, slicing, or beheading women, children and other helpless captives. These inbreds, product of generation after generation of first-cousin marriage, seek not victory but death, and when their opponents, like the Kurdish YPG, are granted arms and reasonable competence, the performance of ISIL as combatants is pathetic in the field.

Being pathetic in the field means: you take a lot of casualties. Yet if anything, the numbers of Daesh troopies seem to be increasing. So where do the replacements come from? This graphic, lifted from the Washington Post’s story on the identity of “Jihadi John”1, shows some of the flows.


There are some interesting details here: ISIL is drawing, if those numbers be true, more Belgians than Egyptians, as many Germans or Britons as Turks, more Swedes than Yemenis, three times as many Russians than Pakistanis. More than 100 have come from the US and Canada each, 300 from China, and 250 from Australia.

Of course, these clowns pursuing the high status of shaheed tourist are not really Canadians or Russians or Swedes. They’re members of the unassimilated, uncivilized Moslem diaspora who have been called to their Holy Land on their own Crusade for their own values, which include the beheading of children, rape of women, and pedophilia.

The European and Western Hemisphere nations try to arrest these movements and keep their own human pathogens from emigrating and joining up. Why? Why not let them go? And then when they’re all in Raqqa, the civilized Powers ought to use it as a neutron bomb test site. We think nothing about using WMD on equivalent threats: we spray haldane on mosquitos, and set coumadin baits for mice and rats. Why not a brief dose of non-survivable radiation for jihadis?

Why not nuke ISIL? It’s not like anybody would miss them. They want martyrdom, we have the means, the motive, and the opportunity to fulfill that wish.

Just so long as we give our own jihad wannabees every possible opportunity to be under Ground Zero at flash hour.


  1. Quelle surprise for our State Department: he’s a well-off, well-educated kid, just like bin Laden, Zarqawi, and Zawahiri; in other words, “Poverty, my @$$”

Science on the Army’s Failed UCP

Quick, spot the soldiers (One is in ACU. Two more in Ghillie suit over MultiCam).

Quick, spot the soldiers (One is in ACU. Two more in Ghillie suit over MultiCam).

Today, most US Army soldiers still wear the Army Combat Uniform in the spectacularly failed Uniform Camouflage Pattern, despite the fact that its poor performance across the board reduces soldier concealment and increases soldier exposure. The problems of concealment and exposure are why armies issue camouflage materials in the first place, and ineffective concealment, such as the day-glo UCP, is worse than no attempt at camouflage at all.

We’re currently reading Animal Weapons: The Evolution of Battle by University of Montana biologist Douglas J. Emlen. We were attracted to the book by its title and cover, which promises a lively read with illustrations of a saber-toothed cat and a knight on an armored and caparisoned horse. But a quick skim brought up two disturbing facts. First, it’s largely based on extrapolation from Emlen’s career as a ground-breaking student of dung beetles, somewhat the opposite end of the animal glamour scale from prehistoric tigers. Second, he concludes with a pointy-headed academic’s ambivalent condemnation of the US side of the Cold War and a feeble complaint that “weapons of mass destruction change the stakes… we’re not likely to survive another arms race,” without proposing an alternative. (The implication seems to be some kind of unilateral or negotiated disarmament. Yet he knows, from his studies, how that works out for humans as well as for animals. The conclusion has the feel of something pasted on to justify his crimethink to his academic peers).

Nonetheless, we are slogging our way through the book. (We’ve mentioned before the SF curse/blessing of persistence to the point of perseverance). And it turns out to be full of many insights, like this one:

Over and over, night after night, Donald [Kaufman] released dark mice and white mice into cages side-by-side. Each time the owl snatched one of the mice, Kaufman recorded which one died, and which survived. He showed that both soil color and mouse color mattered. When the mouse dashed across dark soil, the white mouse was most often taken. When the soil was pale, the pattern was reversed. Owls snatched the darker mouse.NOTE1

Obviously, blending in with backgrounds is essential for soldier survival for precisely the same reasons that it is in mice (imagine conducting a night operation wearing white winter camo). In fact, in 2003 the US Army used a process not unlike Kaufman’s experiment with owls to determine the most effective camouflage patterns for our troops. More than a dozen color and pattern types were assessed against urban, desert, and would want environments, to identify uniforms least likely to stand out.

Ideally, the uniform selection process should have unfolded just like owls selecting for mismatched mice, with the population – in this case the Army – evolving towards the best camouflage possible. Unfortunately, politics in the economics of mass production intervened. Rather than to several different types of uniforms, each the best available for a particular habitat, the army opted for a single Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP).

This may have solved logistical problems of production and distribution, but it also caused our troops to sometimes stand out when they were supposed to be blending in. After all, the solution with mice was two colors, not one, and the reality of diverse combat habitats is that no one pattern blends well in all places.

It didn’t take long for our troops to complain, and by 2009 it was obvious to everyone that the UCP was performing terribly in Afghanistan. The Army then rushed to develop a new pattern called “Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern” (OCP) for soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, which it began issuing in 2010.

We’ve covered the UCP debacle to the death here, before, but it’s interesting to see our views validated, and to see the description of the Kaufman experiments, which we were unaware of (they date to the 1960s), and of more recent findings that confirm Kaufman’s, and that explain the genetic functioning of this natural-selection experiment at the genetic and even molecular level.

“Ding-dong! A bomb calling!”

That’s been the message that ISIL forces around Kobani have received from the US Air Force’s 9th Bombardment squadron, which is bombing enemy targets before the Kurds, using a plan that seems designed to impose as much friction and Fog of War as possible between the fighters on the ground and the guys toggling off the JDAMs and SDBs.


The Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. had established close communications with the People’s Defense Units, or YPG, a Kurdish secularist group that led the fight to defend Kobani. YPG fighters communicated with liaisons and air controllers in the operations centers set up by the U.S.

The Combined Air Operation Center in Qatar then took that information and sent bomb coordinates to the B-1s flying over Kobani.

June 26 airpower summary: B-1Bs bomb enemy vehicles

During as much as eight hours flying over Kobani, the 9th Bomb Squadron would get targets called in to the air operations center from air controllers working with the Kurds. The B-1 crew would get the target, drop a weapon and then get confirmation from the fighters on the ground.

Get that? There’s some JTAC or some individual somehow insulated from being Boots On The Ground™ as designated by the Bugger-Outer-In-Chief. (Probably a non-US person who is employed by a non-DOD agency). He gets on the satcom horn and makes a call for fire, that includes his identity, and the famous “9 lines”:

  1. the initial point/battle position (something identifiable to the aircrew)
  2. heading from that IP/BP to the target or and/or offset;
  3. distance from that IP/BP to the target;
  4. target elevation in feet above Mean Sea Level;
  5. target description (“four enemy technicals in laager”);
  6. target location;
  7. type of target marking, and code if encoded;
  8. location of friendlies;
  9. egress (aircraft’s safest route out after weapons release).

That call arrives at the Combined Air Operations Center in Qatar. It’s received, and logged, and a checklist is run on it to make sure it’s not going to bomb friendlies, or otherwise cause embarrassment to Beltway princelings.

Then, the CAOC in Qatar transmits the targets to the bomber. The crew of the bomber (usually the Offensive Systems operator) transmits the target’s coordinates to the bomb, and the bomb is released to do its thing.


Now, this is better than doing nothing. Although not by great leaps and bounds. (In Afghanistan it worked like this: we called the aircraft. The fighter, for fighter-bombers, or offensive systems operator, for bombers, read back the coordinates. And the bomb landed on it within, really, two minutes).

But the guys are out there flying, and trying. We all know what risks the guys making these calls are taking: ISIL has no Gitmo. And the risks that the B-1B crews are taking are very real, making them rather unlike the Beltway princelings who award each other as Profiles in Courage for following the crowd. And the bomber crews’ story is worth telling — read the whole Wall Street Journal Thing™ — but this is not going to beat ISIL or win the war.

In all history, there has never been a war or campaign won by air power alone. Air power has never even degraded an enemy to the point where he was unable to fight, and every promise to do so — Italy in ’43, France in ’44, Korea in ’50-’53, Vietnam, Kosovo, Desert Storm — beat him up pretty good but certainly didn’t take the fight out of him. Using air power alone says one thing out loud: nobody on our side is really trying to beat ISIL or win the war.

Lesser Battles in the Press Offensive

Promoting the 9th Bombardment Squadron, which will dutifully bomb the grid coordinates given them, and has no doubt manufactured vast quantities of dust and smoke, and some amount of terror and death among the deserving, is one thing. Other parts of the Administration’s press offensive to rehabilitate the battered reputation of Strategic Simpering or whatever they’re hashtagging it this week haven’t gone so well. Spokeswoman Marie Harf, who peaked a couple of years ago as an undergrad when she was measured solely by her ability to replay professors’ shibboleths on demand, looks callow, shallow, and stupid every time she faces a real interviewer.

Probably because she’s actually callow, shallow, and stupid.

Confirming our view that nobody in the Beltway is actually trying to beat ISIL or win the war, Harf spouted endless, ill-formed nonsense about creating jobs and inspiring them to move on from jihad and similar rubbish, nonsense that does our sworn enemies the discourtesy of assuming that they are as callow, shallow and stupid as, for example, Marie Harf.

There is a conspiracy theory that Harf was added to the State Department payroll as a whipping child, to make the callow, shallow and stupid Jennifer Psaki seem statesmanlike. It’s just a reminder that A players hire A players, and John Kerry hires ZZZ players. (And it doesn’t say much for the cat that hired him, either).

But the Administration’s foreign policy rehab offensive, like Lindsey Lohan’s, has many twists and turns on its Nantucket sleighride to the depths of irrelevancy. This morning we caught a report from Iran by the state-controlled media outlet, NPR. NPR is doing a series about how wonderful Iran is, in order to pre-sell the upcoming Chamberlain deal with Iran to the last constituency still starry-eyed over President Selfie’s statesmanship: NPR listeners.

The subject of this installment? How good the Jews have it in Iran. They’re not all oppressed like they are in other countries, like the Zionist Entity. Lord love a duck.

Guerilla Warfail: What Killed Che

Che and Stechkin APSThe greatest t-shirt salesman in the long and bleak history of Marxism had a short and eventful career selling two products: revolution, which got a mixed reception, and himself, which was more of a success. Today, hundreds of thousands of ill-educated students who couldn’t pick his theories out of a lineup wear his glowering visage on their unwashed selves, much as they wear the similarly “hip” faces of similarly “hip” pop singers or actors. Indeed, Che’s brain-dead experimentation with guerrilla warfare wrote his doom in much the same way that, say, Kurt Cobain’s brain-dead self-medication with heroin or Brian Jones’s with the whole pharmacopeia wrote theirs. 

Ché is a pop-art icon, but he was a lousy guerilla.

Che is a pop-art icon, but he was a lousy guerilla.

While centuries from now the revolutionary effects of Che’s contemporaries, and the music of some of Cobain’s or Jones’s, may be remembered fondly in some circles, they themselves will be images dissociated from their former human beings. Which is probably for the best.

Che grew up a red-diaper baby in a respectable Argentine family who supported the Spanish Republicans, the Soviet Union, and the dictatorship of Juan Perón. No one in the family was enough of a supporter of the Republicans to go and join them, and so, none of them suffered the fate of the other Argentine volunteers, which was to be purged, like most foreign volunteers, by the comintern. Indeed, even today it’s an open question whether more of the International Brigades perished by means of German and Italian fascist armaments, or by means of Russian-sponsored commissars.But the well-off salon communists in the New World didn’t send their sons, and in any event Che was just a boy, which let him have all the excitement of supporting Le Revolución with none of the risks.

Indeed, Che was shuffled off to medical school, where he was no great shakes and seems to have ground along with Gentleman’s C’s. The Che legend says he graduated, but he never practiced; the Argentine equivalent of a trust-fund baby, he had no need to work, and less desire to. However, he entered in 1948 and departed by 1951 on the first of his motorcycle journeys. Argentina in 1950 was unscathed by the cataclysm of World War II and was one of the richest countries in the world (#12 in GDP), but it was in the throes of Perón’s first Five-Year Plan and on the way to penury.

In Guatemala, Guevara was present during the overthrow of leftist dictator Jacobo Arbenz. (Arbenz is often described as “elected,” but the opposition wasn’t allowed to contest his “election” in 1950; he was one of a group of Soviet-sponsored officers who had seized power in 1944). He fled to Mexico, where he met a Cuban revolutionary, you guessed it, Fidel Castro, who dreamed of overthrowing the Cuban dictatorship and setting up himself as dictator. Guevara signed on.

In 1956 when Fidel and a small band of guerrillas landed in Cuba, Che was among them. In the end, this small band became the cadre for a larger guerrilla movement, and Che rose to the level of Comandante, the highest rank bestowed on a non-Cuban. (Later, Che would take Cuban citizenship). After Fidel’s victory, in which Che did not play any great military part, the Comandante was a celebrity in Havana, and received several top jobs in succession, all of which he bungled. (He failed successively as head of the Banco Naciónal, the Minister of Industry, and as a leader of diplomatic delegations). He became known as a promoter of endless, exported revolution. And that’s when he wrote his book on guerrilla warfare, or, possibly, had it ghostwritten.

The book is a strange combination of unexceptional Boy Scout-level fieldcraft with extremely muddled guerrilla and communist theory; it’s complicated by the low quality of the writing and of the most common translations. Occasionally he has an insight, but only occasionally:

When the combat morale of the individual is very high and self-respect strong, deprivation of his right to be armed can constitute a true punishment for the individual and provoke a positive reaction. In such cases, this is an expedient punishment. The following painful incident is an example. During the battle for one of the cities of Las Villas province in the final days of the war, we found an individual asleep in a chair while others were attacking positions in the middle of the town. When questioned, the man responded that he was sleeping because he had been deprived of his weapon for firing accidentally. He was told that this was not the way to react to punishment and that he should regain his weapon, not in this way, but in the first line of combat.

A few days passed, and as the final assault on the city of Santa Clara began, we visited the first- aid hospital. A dying man there extended his hand, recalling the episode I have narrated, affirmed that he had been capable of recovering his weapon and had earned the right to carry it. Shortly afterwards, he died.

It’s hard to tell if that pat story is true or not; the only source is Che, and he’s not a reliable narrator. Here, though is the foreshadowing of Che’s demise:

One of the most important characteristics of guerrilla warfare is the notable difference between the information that reaches the rebel forces and the information possessed by the enemy. While the latter must operate in regions that are absolutely hostile, finding sullen silence on the part of the peasants, the rebels have in nearly every house a friend or even a relative; and news is passed about constantly through the liaison system until it reaches the central command of the guerrilla force or of the guerrilla group that is in the zone.

This is logical, coherent theory, and every evidence indicates that Che actually believed this. He acted on this basis in the Congo, where he had been sent to get him out of domestic Cuban power politicians, and had to bug out with anti-communist forces hot on his heels. From there, he made his way under cover and documentation provided by the KGB (who may have been running him as an asset completely independently of his actions on behalf of Cuba, in other words, using him to spy on other Cubans) to Bolivia, where he acted on this basis again.

I'm gonna need some clean up before I go on a t-shirt. ¡Hasta la muerte siempre!

I’m gonna need some clean up before I go on a t-shirt. ¡Hasta la muerte siempre!

However, Che did not find the peasants on his side; it was Che’s guerrillas, mostly foreigners and university Marxists, who were met by “sullen silence” and forced to use threats and gunpoint to steal the peasants’ food. It was the Rangers of the Bolivian Army, with their American advisors, who found the campesinos eager to tell of the filthy, sick men from the jungle who mistreated them. Soon Che was posing for more pictures; these ones, unfortunately, are seldom made into t-shirts or dorm-room posters.

In his 1998 introduction to the Bison Books (University of Nebraska Press) edition reprint of the version published by the KGB-funded propaganda outlet Monthly Review Press, Marxist historian Marc Becker (now at Truman State, and still a Marxist who grades his students on their political orthodoxy) notes that:

Che … also broke with orthodox thought [by this Becker refers to Marxist orthodoxy -Eds.] over the role of the peasantry in a revolutionary movement. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote that the peasantry was “not revolutionary, but conservative.” He proceeded to note that “nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history.” …. Although Marx thought that peasants were inactive, passive like a “sack of potatoes,” Che believed they could head a revolutionary movement.

Hey, he cleaned up good. Who's got dibs on his hands?

Hey, he cleaned up good. Who’s got dibs on his hands?

Marx was wrong about a lot of things, but he wasn’t wrong about the essential small-c conservatism of peasants. Subsistence farmers live in a world of physical laws and cause and consequence, and people preaching a new religion, which is a fair description of the Ches and Beckers of this world, are likely to get a rude welcome.

Che actually believed that, absent the conditions for successful guerrilla warfare, the g’s themselves could create the conditions and desire for revolution, what he called a foco. As Becker honestly points out, this did not work. It failed for Héctor Béjar in Peru in 1965, and it failed spectacularly for Che in 1967. (Becker, whose primary research interest is Latin America, doesn’t note Che’s Congo failure).

Your ultimate measure as a man: was the world better for your life, and worse for your death? In the case of Guevara, the answers remain no, and no.

Medal For Sale… Unfortunately

Harkess RackThe headline and subheds of this Daily Mail story pretty much say it all. A Brit career soldier is in the awkward financial position where his only real asset is the medal rack he earned in his years of service.

He’s not even guaranteed the money; he’s putting the medals up for auction, and that’s what the auctioneer estimates. (I hope the auctioneer lowballed the estimate, as is common at gun auctions. Which reminds us we need to write about a couple of those coming up, but we digress). Anyway, back to the story of the temporarily down-and-out Color Sergeant, Retired, James Harkess, of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment:

Hero of Iraq war who helped wipe out 50 enemy in one of the conflict’s bloodiest battles to sell bravery medal for £120,000
Colour Sgt James Harkess was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross
Sgt Harkess was awarded the medal for three acts of inspiring bravery
But he is to sell cross after his declining health stopped him from working
The 46-year-old helped wipe out 50 enemy soldiers during battle in Iraq
He put himself at risk on three separate occasions to save his soldiers

via Hero of Iraq war James Harkess who helped wipe out 50 enemy to sell bravery medal | Daily Mail Online.

The mech infantry regiment — their Warrior vehicle is analogous to our Bradley IFV — is called “The Tigers,” and was formed by the amalgamation of the Queen’s Regiment and the Royal Hampshires in 1992. It is the most senior infantry regiment in the British Army, with battle honors that date to the 17th Century. (That’s older than any active US Army regiment, but the 181st, 182nd and 104th Infantry Regiments of the Massachusetts Army National Guard date to 1632, 1636, and 1639, vice the PWRR’s Johnny-come-lately 1661 — although the 104th recently fell to budget cuts. We blame Cromwell for costing the cousins their precedence, here. Or maybe George III, because these were British units before Lexington).

James HarkessIn one [battle], he and his Warrior armoured vehicle crew were lucky to survive a six-hour battle on June 11, 2006, fighting off 200 Mahdi Army soldiers in Al Amarah. The four-man team was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, sniper fire and blast bombs.

Sergeant Harkess, who spent much of the battle exposed from the turret, said: ‘It was constant. There was no let-up, and I was firing all through. My crew took down 50 enemy in total easily. They were coming at us in waves – you could see bodies stacked up where we’d been killing them.

Anybody who performed retroactive selective termination on 50 Mahdi Army geeks is a true pillar of civilization in our book.

The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross is a relatively new medal, created in 1993 as a more egalitarian valor award to replace three valor awards that were junior to the Victoria Cross, the Distunguished Service Order (for Gallantry), the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal. Each award entitles a British hero to postnominal letters, so formal address for Harkess is Color Sergeant Harkesss, CGC, Retired.

The DSO was strictly for officers; a non-gallantry version for exceptional service still exists.  The DCM and CGM were strictly for enlisted men; in historic British precedence, all medals earned as enlisted men were subordinate to those awarded as officers, which created some imbalanced racks as historic class stratification in the military yielded to rank mobility, as early as World War II (in the RAF; the Army and the Senior Service were not as quick to bestow commissions on exceptional “enlisted swine”).

As with any change to military tradition, there are service members who are against it. It will be interesting to see if, over time, the old British system of de jure class stratification in awards is replaced by the classless system its designers intended, or something more like the American system where the same act earns a lieutenant colonel a Bronze Star, a lieutenant an Army Commendation Medal, and a corporal a, “Not bad, Jack!”

It would be nice if someone who had an extra couple hundred grand lying around could buy the medals and give them back, or donate them to the regimental museum (a 400-year-old regiment ought to have one, oughtn’t it?) Maybe some clever English kid can start a Kickstarter for that purpose. We’d throw in.

Misunderstood Merrill

Merrills Marauders ChandlerIn 1962, a film starring Jeff Chandler brought a new hero into the American pantheon: Brgadier General (later MG) Frank D. Merrill, leader of the eponymous Merrill’s Marauders. Theater-goers watched Chandler and a cast of TV actors defeat the Japs heroically in the low-budget movie, and then Chandler’s character, beloved by his men, collapses of a heart attack. The movie was a huge success, in part because it was Chandler’s last — the 42-year-old wasn’t faking pain on the set, he was acting with an injured back, and then he had the sour luck to die during what should have been routine back surgery after the film wrapped.

As often is the case with movies, the connection with reality is a bit thin. Merill’s Marauders did do some amazing things, as a long-range penetration unit modeled on Orde Wingate’s Chindits; but Merrill’s own connection with the unit was tenuous and intermittent, despite his being the nominal commander.

The guy who trained the volunteers? It wasn’t Merrill.

The guy who led the unit in combat, through its bleakest days? That wasn’t him either.

Merrill wasn’t a Stolen Valor case, exactly; he wasn’t absent for dishonorable reasons, but because he was, in the first place, appointed late as commander, and then, he had persistent heart trouble that took him off the line.

Stilwell, Hunter (the real commander) and Merrill (the sickly, rear-area figurehead)

Stilwell, Hunter (the real commander of the 5307th) and Merrill (the sickly, rear-area figurehead). US Army photo.

But Merrill could have done the honorable thing, and said a few good words about the man who actually did all the stuff that Jeff Chandler portrayed Merrill as doing, Lt. Col. Charles N. Hunter. Instead, he seldom missed a chance to run down the man, despite (or because of?) Merrill’s legend being based on Hunter’s deeds.

As it is, Merrill has a Jeff Chandler movie and a famous unit named after him; he’s part of the history every Ranger memorizes; one of the three Camps that Ranger students have all attended since 1950 is Camp Frank D. Merrill. Merrill is famous beyond his deeds, and scarcely anybody has ever heard the name of Charles N. Hunter, who was never a general, and who lived and died in complete obscurity. There isn’t even a good photo of Hunter in the field, just one at the end of operations, with Stilwell and Merrill, as usual, hogging the camera.

Insignia of the 5307th was unofficial, but would later form the regimental crest of the Rangers.

Insignia of the 5307th was unofficial, but would later form the regimental crest of the Rangers.

The actual Marauders were never so named officially. The idea was for a provisional unit for a misison in Burma. In Army terms, “provisional” units are formed for a given period of time or a given task, and always intended to be disbanded on mission completion. For example, when the Army Reserve lost its combat units, some members of the former Army Reserve SF units were clustered together in a “D Company, Provisional” to each National Guard SF battalion. At the end of one year, there was sort of a tournament in which the three companies with the highest readiness figures survived and the fourth was disbanded (its members could join any other Guard SF unit if they were so inclined, and a few did, leading to men who traveled 1000 miles for weekend drills). The provisional need in Burma in 1942 was not an administrative need to absorb a political reduction in force, but instead, a need to form an infantry unit for a long-range penetration modeled on Wingate’s Chindits, and originally intended to be under Wingate’s command, along with parallel British units.

Several commands were asked for jungle-trained volunteers — some came from the combat zone of the South Pacific, but most came from the Caribbean Defense Command (including the Panama Canal Zone) and the Zone of the Interior (i.e., the Continental USA). The volunteers were formed into serials of the 1688th Casual Detachment and began to train and to travel to India. (The destination, the mission, and the unit’s Army codename — “Galahad” — was known only to select officers. The men were kept in the dark). The request was for battle-trained and, in the South Pacific and South-West Pacific, “battle-tested”, volunteers for a “hazardous and dangerous” mission.

the marauders ogburn“How the hell can it be hazardous, and not dangerous?” Lieutenant Charlton Ogburn, Jr., a Harvard grad who had been a newspaperman, thought. Bored with garrison life, he signed up. So did a number of other adventure-seekers. But not all the volunteers fit that mold. Some commanders, notably Douglas MacArthur, were not having their own units stripped of the bold and adventurous, not to mention the combat-experienced. MacArthur told the Army they’d get who he sent, and he sent some pretty questionable guys. He wasn’t the only commander (and certainly, top sergeant) who saw the call for volunteers as a way to dispose of discipline cases and problem children. Ogburn, who became a signals officer in the unit, thought he was with a blend of “idealists and murderers.” But the initial commander, Hunter, was able to forge these disparate materials into an effective unit. The employment scheme for the unit was a single, long-range penetration, that would last for three months, then be followed by R&R.

Unique among the unit’s men were 14 nisei (second-generation American) interpreters, selected at the language school at Camp Savage, Minnesota. Some were volunteers, but others were not: they were picked because of the strength of their Japanese language skills, which not all nisei had in equal measure (they were second-generation Americans and grew up speaking English, after all). They were not told they were headed for “hazardous and dangerous” duty, but being bright fellows they figured it out. The Japanese-American terps had been heaped with indignities by an ungrateful nation — even their bank deposits had been seized, because they were “enemy aliens,” and they had initially been forbidden to enlist under the “4C, enemy” draft status — but they’d prove their loyalty over and over.

When the unit arrived in India, Hunter enforced what a later generation of soldiers would call “big boy rules”: he treated his volunteers as adult men, and expected high standards. He began to build a unit that would work hard, and play hard. Two visitors to camp were a representative of CBI theater deputy commander Joseph Stilwell, a desk officer named Col. Francis Brink, and the man for whose command the unit was raised, Orde Wingate, who inspired, bemused, and puzzled the Americans. The eccentric Wingate was, if nothing else, never visibly in doubt, whether he was right or obviously wrong.

Wingate also warned the Americans about their own general, Stilwell. Wingate had a reputation for being callous with the lives of his men, but Stilwell’s indifference to the resupply and, really, to the survival of their own forces had shocked the English innovator. “If you fall under Stilwell’s command, he’ll never pull you out at three months,” Wingate warned.

But Stilwell was already scheming to pull the 1688th Detachment out from under the compact, messianic Briton. Stilwell’s representative, Brink, forced a reorganization on the unit, breaking up the nascent squads, platoons and companies in support of his theories of organizational balance. This also had the effect of breaking up buddy teams that had volunteered together.  (Like all of Stilwell’s staff officers, Brink was selected for his willingness to toady to Stilwell, and lack of any experience or knowledge that might show up the insecure and vain general). Brink did organize good training, modeled on that of the Chindits, and the unit, still the 1688th, trained with the Chindits themselves.

Toady, and toad: Merrill and Stilwell.

Toady, and toad: Merrill and Stilwell.

The actual commander of the theater, Adm. Lord Louis Mountbatten, was everything Stilwell loathed: competent, self-assured, English, a leader by birthright. Their relations were tense and difficult, but Stilwell spent his time importuning Mountbatten for command of the 1688th, backstabbing Wingate, whom he condemned for abandoning his wounded to the Japanese on the first Chindit long-range penetration. Mountbatten finally yielded to Stilwell and gave him full control of the 1688th. Stilwell renamed it the 5307th Composite Regiment and put another of his toadies, Merrill, in command, promoting Merrill to Brigadier General. Some bright spark noted that colonels command regiments, prompting a hasty set of orders renaming the Regiment a “Unit,” a generic term that could be commanded by anybody.

Stilwell, insecure and cowardly, couldn’t even nerve himself up to tell Wingate he’d lost the command of the 1688th and would have to do his next Chindit operation with British and Chinese elements alone. He sent Brink and Hunter to do it. “You tell Stilwell he can take his Americans and stick ‘em up his ass!” the pint-sized Englishman exploded. They didn’t bother passing that detail of the message on, for obvious reasons.

Merrill commanded the unit during its movement to contact in January and February 1944 and at the time of its first contact with Japanese patrols on 25 Feb 44. Then he had his first heart attack on 28 Mar 44, and was flown back to the rear, where, after a recovery, he returned to duty as a Stilwell horse-holder. He appeared once, on the airfield at Myitkyina, his nose firmly pressed to Stilwell’s rear area as usual, to steal the victory Hunter had won with an exhausted unit

Along with the Marauders, unsung Chinese units also were part of the offensive -- and also were allowed to collapse from starvation and sickness.

Along with the Marauders, unsung Chinese units also were part of the offensive — and also were allowed to collapse from starvation and sickness.

In May 1944, six of the Marauders’ three months were up, and they were almost all sick. Stilwell had strangled the unit of supplies, expecting them to die gloriously to advance his legend and not wanting to waste resources on them. “Pleas for at least a cupful of rice per man in the food drops summarily rejected,” platoon leader Phil Weld wrote in his journal. (Combat casualties were a small fraction of the losses the unit took; they died of dysentery,  in the end, only two men in the entire regimental-sized unit were not sick). The medicine then used as a dysentery preventative, halazone, was later found to be useless for that purpose). Despite this they had seized Myitkyina Airfield. Stilwell was dissatisfied and ordered them to seize the city, too, and he and Merrill ordered their sick and starving men out of hospital and into the field, condemning them as cowards. Merrill was giving interviews to the press at South East Asia Command headquarters, and intended to fly in with his press retinue once the victory was secure, but was too ill with his heart disease to do it. Meanwhile, the reporters built Merrill up as a great jungle fighter, with Stilwell’s approval.

Ghostly, sick scarecrows.

Ghostly, sick scarecrows.

The 5307th, reduced to a band of ghostly, sick scarecrows in tattered shreds of uniform cloth, smeared with the product of amoebic dysentery, took Myitkina in the first week of August, 1944, nine months into a three-month mission. Stilwell was delighted: he was promoted to four stars. He promptly sacked LTC Charles N. Hunter by way of celebration, having learned that Hunter was furious with Stilwell’s abuse of the 5307th and its men.

In the end, the unit was disbanded and some of its convalescents were rolled into a new unit, the 475th Infantry. Hunter was ordered home, and Stilwell specifically ordered him home by ship to silence him (that mode of transport guaranteed Hunter would be a month or more at sea, inaccessible to reporters).

It didn’t work, as a Hunter letter got to the press and was instrumental in tainting Stilwell’s reputation. “A small man in a big job” was Ogburn’s opinion of him at the time.

Stilwell ordered an investigation, and was shocked — remember, this is a guy who surrounded himself with yes-men — when it told the truth about the unit and the command’s abuse thereof, and shocked again when it leaked to the press. (Stilwell, abusive even to the subordinates most loyal to him, considered the leak the greatest betrayal since Judas).

Merrill was sent on a press tour with Stilwell’s blessing. The press tour was essentially a large exercise in stolen valor, seeking to arrogate to Merrill the achievements of Hunter, while Merrill had been mostly hospitalized or resting comfortably in Assam. And of course, to praise Stilwell, Merrill’s sugar daddy.

Live Marauders, dead Japanese. Small thanks to Merrill.

Live Marauders, dead Japanese. Small thanks to Merrill.

Stilwell’s position would survive that, but it would crimp his prospects for further command assignments, and he soon would be fired (in October, 1944) — not because of his callous waste of American lives, but because Chiang Kai-Shek would not put up with his racism and hatred of the Chinese any longer, and would cheerfully allow an American to command Chinese troops — any American but Stilwell.

Through the 475th, the 5307th’s legacy and lineage led through a sinuous course to the 75th Infantry, today’s Rangers. (At times, parts of the lineage were borrowed, as it were, by SF while no Ranger units existed. We were glad to release them to our Ranger brothers). The 5307th earned a Presidential Unit Citation (upgraded from a Distinguished Unit Citation in 1966), and six members at least won the equivalent individual valor award, the Distinguished Service Cross.

In 1959, Charlton Ogburn Jr., a once-embittered former 2nd Lieutenant in the 5307th did what he swore he never would do, and wrote the history of his old unit. He even tried to say a few good worlds about Stilwell and Merrill, both of whom were hated by the men of the unit. He took pains to be fair to all, which meant pointing out the unsung excellence of forgotten Hunter. But the main result of his The Marauders, sadly, was the Jeff Chandler film, in which all characters portrayed are fictional, except for three who are fictionalized: Chandler’s phony Merrill, an unrecognizable Stilwell, and surgeon Lewis Kolodny.

Jeff Chandler, sweating as Merrill seldom did, on location.

Jeff Chandler (r.), sweating as Merrill seldom did, on location.

Or to put it another way, Ogburn’s well-meaning attempt to restore to Hunter the valor Merrill and Stilwell stole from him further advanced the bogus Merrill legend.

And that’s the rest of the story.

Today, Let Me Be Jordanian


The name of that human torch is Muath Kasasbeh, and his name is on every Jordanian’s lips today. King Abdullah and Queen Rania visited Muath’s family; the King said that his feeling of loss could have been no greater if the fallen pilot had been his own son, Crown Prince Hussein. “My son is your son,” a heartbroken Safi Kasasbeh replied. (Crown Prince Hussein, only a few years younger than Muath, also made his own visit to the bereaved family).

It is not just Jordan that has lost a good man by this bestial gesture. It is the civilized world writ large, a world which counted Muath Kasasbeh as a valuable member, a world rejected by the savages who murdered him.

Speaking to the nation, His Majesty noted that despite their loud claims to fight for Moslems, terrorists’ bestial conduct always seems to fall upon their fellow Moslems. And speaking to the Kasasbeh family and tribe, Muath “fell while defending the beloved Jordan, the message of Islam and humanity”, said the King, of the “martyr whose name will forever be carved in the hearts of Jordanians.”

Safi Kasasbeh replied that the youth of the tribe, like Muath, stand loyal and ready to die for their country and their faith, if need be.

It’s probably a pretty good day to be a military recruiter in Karka.

Here is another post on King Abdullah. It’s a second hand Abdullah story from a professional writer and old Ranger buddy, Marty Kufus.

The American Bando Association’s trademark weapon was (and I believe still is) the kukri. It is the forward-curving, almost boomerang-shaped, short sword carried by the famed Gurkha soldiers who long have served with distinction in the British Army. (OK—dots connecting now?)

At some point, perhaps around 1986–87, Prince Abdullah and a few of his best soldiers journeyed to Ohio to secretly train out in the Appalachian woods with Dr. Gyi and a few of his hand-picked senior students. The prince and his guys especially wanted to learn how to use the kukri—well enough to kill with it, too, not just to wave around and cut air (which often is the case with martial-arts weapons training in America). This short sword is a formidable in-close weapon (with its own system of precise techniques) that would scare the crap out of any Palestinians—or anybody else—who might try to get past the perimeter defense to harm the royal family.

After this Ohio training, a few months went by and the Jordanian government brought Dr. Gyi and a number of his senior students to Jordan to train the rest of the 999 unit. I wasn’t around for anything of this, of course, but I later conversed at length with several men (including my Bando instructor, known locally as “Mr. D” in Athens) who had participated firsthand. I also saw photos—one, of the prince in military fatigues and beret—and read one or two local newspaper clippings from when the prince’s comings and goings leaked out.

That was then; this is now.

Is King Abdullah—several pounds heavier and no longer sporting a commando beret—really going to track down and exterminate the Daesh (ISIS) barbarians who torched one of his F-16 pilots for the world to see? I think so. In fact, those Daesh punks probably have pissed off the wrong westernized Arab warrior–nobleman.

We’re not sure how Westernized His Majesty is. He can “pass” for Western, but we think Marty has nailed his essence there — Arab warrior-nobleman. (As was his father). While the King has friends in the West, he is loved by his people. We saw this just this past year in interactions with ordinary Jordanians. He does not yet have the reverent adoration that characterizes Jordanians’ memory of the late King Hussein, there is a very strong love for the King and the Crown Prince at every stratum of Jordanian society, except the sort of person who would incline to join terrorist movements.

And in Jordan, even their families turn on them (which was part of the undoing of the last Jordanian bad guy you probably heard of, Ayman al-Zarqawi).

At the moment, the murder of Muath Kasasbeh seems to have been a mortal miscalculation on the part of the nihilists running Daesh. Jordan has launchedd aerial attacks, which had been suspended. They are calling it Operation Martyr Muath; Jordanian F-16s pounded IS positions in Raqqa (among other targets) with unguided bombs, overflying both Amman and Muath’s hometown of Ai near Karka on their return to base.

jordanian f-16 op martyr muath

Jordanian F-16 taxies out for Operation Martyr Muath. Jordanian Air Force photo.

The air strikes will continue. While a ground invasion is unlikely, commando raids are a distinct possibility.

Jordanian public opinion, previously lukewarm in favor of strikes, is red-hot in favor of action now. Even the Islamic Action Network, Jordan’s native Muslim Brotherhood Islamist party which had previously taken the side of ISIL has changed its position, condemning Muath’s murder and supporting the strikes.

In addition to unleashing the Jordanian military, the UAE military, which had desisted from bombing Daesh targets after Muath was taken prisoner, has placed their services at Jordan’s disposal.

In addition to that, members of the US Congress are clamoring to provide aid to Jordan, a solid ally by regional standards but one with profound refugee and revenue problems (Jordan, unlike its neighbor Iraq, lacks economically exploitable oil).

And by the way, Marty, the King still wears his beret from time to time. Whenever it suits him, actually. Really, who’s going to tell him to take it off?

UW Bleg: Imperial Japanese Special Operations Forces?

Every once in a while, we expect to find something in the historical record that just doesn’t seem to turn up. A perfect example of that is the special operations forces of the Empire of Japan in World War II.

What Imperial Japanese special operations forces? We could find scarcely an indicator of such a thing. Now it’s true that there were amphibious 46, which in Japanese doctrine were primarily Army forces. And it’s true that the Naval special landing force was a sort of a maritime ranger or commando force. And it’s true that they had airborne forces, parachute forces. But while every other WWII combatant except pre-1940 France (including Free France) had competent SOF, the Japanese seem not to have done.

It’s not that the officers of the army or navy of Japan were incompetent; their incredible run of victories in the first months of World War II, and the fact that much of the Japanese Army was still in the field undefeated when Japan surrendered, suggest otherwise.

It’s not that they didn’t have the technology. Their technology was limited by Japan’s industrialization but they worked around it. Lacking a robust aluminum forging capability like the US or Germany, they made parts that we’d have forged out of riveted assemblies of shaped sheet aluminum, and developed a stronger sheet alloy — one we’d reinvent as 7075, and use mostly for forging — to permit that. Lacking some of the welding technology the West had, they made ships of riveted assemblies of smaller weldments. Kaiser would have been shocked, but it worked.

When they defined a need, they met it. Japanese landing craft, whether used by the Army or Navy (command of an amphib op, except for Special Landing Force raids, chopped to the Army once the fleet anchored to launch landing craft)  were faster and more seaworthy than their American counterparts, meant to travel 150 miles overnight and surprise an enemy from outside the combat radius of his fighters and dive bombers.

So… we reluctantly conclude that either (1) we’re missing well-known sources; (2) the Japanese never defined a need for an SOE/OSS/Brandenburg/Commando capability'; or, (3) they did really, really well at sanitizing their records at war’s end and keeping us long-noses in the dark..

We’re guessing, based on their crude COIN techniques in China and the Philippines, that the answer was (2). But what do you guys know?

UW: Terry and the Particularized Intelligence

Terrence John “Terry” Peck was a cop on a rural beat, in one of the last remaining backwaters of the British Empire, but he’d retired from the force — as Chief — some time before. But the people in his community — Stanley, which passed for the capital of the windswept Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic — were alarmed by the news, and he had to do something. The Falklands were a British possession, claimed centuries before, and settled by a hardened breed who called themselves “Kelpers” and considered themselves and their community as British as a bowler hat.

But Argentina also had a claim to the Falklands, which it calls the Islas Malvinas, and to the even more remote, generally uninhabited, abandoned whaling station of South Georgia Island, remembered today primarily for Shackleton’s crossing of the island. Argentina has pressed that claim with greater or lesser vigor for approximately two centuries itself. (At one time or another, since their discovery in the 17th Century, the islands were claimed by Britain, France, Spain and even the United States; but the Falklands have been continuously British since the Spanish governor bugged out in 1806 as a result of British victories over Spain in the Napoleonic Wars). In the spring of 1982 Argentine dictator Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri, struggling with the chronic bane of Argentine governments since Perón, an incompetently micromanaged economy, was looking for a good patriotic issue to distract his people from their woes.

Terry-PeckInvading the Falklands looked like a smart play. The British had a navy of similar size and power to Argentina’s, but it was one that was about to get smaller: several warships, including one of the RN’s only two carriers, had already been sold overseas and were pending delivery. Argentina had an old, but jet-capable, conventional carrier, and the British ships could carry only compromised STOVL Sea Harriers. The Falklands, moreover, were extremely distant from the UK, and only 400 miles from Argentine air bases. In early 1982 rumors spread in Buenos Aires, London and Port Stanley (capital of the Falklands) alike, that the Argentines were going to invade, to give the struggling people of metropolitan Argentina a great war victory over the garrison, which then comprised about a platoon of Royal Marines.

An Argentine “emergency landing” at Port Stanley was an excuse for senior military officers, who were onboard the military-operated “airliner”, to survey their objectives. This attempted special operation was so ineptly done that it was reported to London (and Washington) within the hour of the plane’s landing.

Despite that, the British Foreign Minister, Lord Carrington, insisted he could find a peaceful solution in negotiations. Like the Japanese before Pearl Harbor, Argentina continued bad-faith negotiations while planning a surprise attack. Now that the scene is set…

Terry Peck rejoined the force as a Special Constable. It was what he knew how to do, after all.

The next day Argentina invaded.

The Royal Marine fought with Argentine special operations forces for a while, but they were outnumbered, and finally ran low on ammunition. They surrendered. Their presence had never been intended to secure the islands against an invasion, but to make an invasion an act of war on Britain itself. They were, in fact, a bluff.

Galtieri called the bluff.

Humiliated, Carrington resigned. Some elements of British public opinion called for war.

Still, they were minority elements at this point. The smart money was on Britain caving to Argentina’s fait accompli. Regaining the islands would be costly and impractical — the Argentine garrison was going to be a lot larger than a platoon. Galtieri had plans for the islands — plans that involved a brutal Argentinization of the locals, like it or not, and a flood of settlers, rewarded with whatever might be looted there — mostly rocky pastures, and sheep. Today, we’d call the Argentine plans ethnic cleansing, but the term had yet to be coined in the Balkans Wars ten years ahead.

The British probably couldn’t do it, certainly wouldn’t do it. Why, they didn’t even consider the Kelpers British subjects, not real ones — they were lumped in with the West Indians and other former Commonwealth citizens in a literal second-class citizenship that was designed to keep them from becoming a burden on the dole: they were British, sort of, but they couldn’t come to England or Britain. Galtieri was handing them a you-know-what sandwich with Argentine citizenship, but at least it was real citizenship. It would improve their odds of immigrating to the UK!

But the Kelpers, you see, thought they were British, and so they thought that Britain might need some help. The Argentines never took the inhabitants of the city seriously, but after the invasion, an underground flourished overnight, which in the early stage primarily collected and communicated intellience to MI6, using methods that mostly remain classified, but are known to have included clandestine radio transmission and smuggling by British contract workers such as teachers, whom the Argies permitted (and even encouraged) to leave.

(One known method was an amateur radio operator, lighthouse keeper Reginald Silvey. The Argentines had a list of all hams in the islands, but Reg handed over his set and let the Argies knock down his antenna. The quick-thinking resister had fobbed the polite Argentine officer off with a spare set, and had already made another antenna — they never asked why his clothesline was made of metal wire. Silvey maintained contact with the UK throughout the occupation and transmitted, and received, a great deal of valuable information).

Terry Peck, for his part, was on the collection end of this enterprise, and provided many photographs of Argentine installations and activities. He carried a camera in a length of pipe, and told any curious Argentines that he was a plumber. Most of them weren’t curious enough to ask — everyone knows Englishmen are eccentric, right? (Meanwhile the other locals, who knew him well, suspected he had lost his mind).

Peck gathered intel for several days, but then the head of the Argentine military police element, an Irishman named Patrick/Patricio Dowling, somehow figured out who he was and what he was up to. Dowling started suspecting him, and decided to arrest him. But one of his “collaborating” local constables was actually supporting Peck from inside the Argentine effort, and the word got to him long before the Argies did.

Meanwhile, GCHQ had been monitoring Argie communications, but as the Argentines established their garrisons, they ran landlines — and went off the air, limiting the electronic spies’ “take.” Could the locals do anything? Terry couldn’t — he was on the run — but local veterinarian Steve Whitley found a castrating scissor was just the thing for communications lines. The Argies went back on the air, and patrols sought the wire-cutters, Whitley and his buddy, teacher Phil Middleton. (They also continued the clandestine photography Peck had also been doing).

Terry Peck with the Paras

Terry Peck with the Paras on Longdon

With Stanley and environs too hot, Terry Peck lit out for the country, on a “borrowed” motorcycle. Being a former policeman means you know people, and one of the people he know expertly forged a new name onto Peck’s identity documents. As he traveled to outlying farms, he was pursued by Argentine officers seeking him in a Puma helicopter. The copter would land, the Argies would search for Peck and other fugitives, and then they’d leave. Once, he hid when the helicopter showed up; at the next farm, he had to brazen it out with the altered ID and the plumber story. To his relief (and, perhaps, surprise), it worked, and the correct Argentine officer reboarded his Puma and continued looking for the man he’d just politely taken leave of.

Fearing he’d bring the wrong kind of attention to the locals (none of whom ever refused him aid, he then became a one-man reconnaissance patrol, living rough in the bleak hills. He looked like a soldier, too, having armed himself with weapons buried by the surrendered Marines (another Kelper tipped him off as to where the guns were), and dressed himself in camouflage stashed by Naval personnel. He also acquired — from where, it’s not clear — a short-wave radio that let him communicate with far-flung settlements.

It was through the radio that Peck learned from San Carlos farmer Isobel Short that the men of the 5th Brigade had landed. In her improvised code, San Carlos was hosting “a lot of friends.” He took “his” motorcycle and raced to the nearest house with a telephone, and rang up San Carlos. “Let me speak to a British officer.”

To the Paras at San Carlos, Peck was a Godsend. He knew the area, and the people. He had just covered the ground they had to, in the opposite direction. He was clearly a man of versatile ability. The 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, attached him to D “Patrol” Company and he was assigned to act as a guide during the move. But then, he overheard the British officers fretting about logistics. The Paras were not afraid of hiking the distance, “yomping” in the then-current British Army argot. But they had a lot of gear to move, and the battle plan had them moving it by Chinook HC.1 helicopter. The trouble with that plan was that one of the daring Argentine air attacks on the British fleet had hit the ship, Atlantic Conveyor, bringing up the ‘Hooks. All but one of the copters went up in in the Atlantic Conveyor inferno.

Peck had the answer to this. He dialed up the farmers whose generosity had fed and helped to equp him over his weeks of espionage and evasion, and called for help. And help came: Land Rovers, tractors, trailers and skids showed up and hauled Paras and their kit over the tundra-like pastures at speeds that couldn’t be a helicopter, unless the helicopter wasn’t there. That let the surviving HC.1, “Bravo November,” move only the most critical and urgent stores.

Terry Peck still wasn’t done. He, and fellow Kelper Vern Steen, participated in the reconnaissance of Mount Longdon, and then in the battle. At one point, Terry carried a wounded Para back to safety:

We carried him down this slope but sometimes we had to lie across him, because of the fire that was coming. We were catching it left, right and centre. It was lit up like Blackpool illuminations. It was really horrendous. We got this guy down into a crater caused by a shell. We had eight wounded in that hole with two medics, that’s how big the hole was.

The Land Rover logistical auxiliaries, under the “command” of Trudi McPhee (then Trudi Morrison), brought up munitions for the mortars and MGs. At the Argentine surrender, Terry Peck was on top of Mount Longdon with A Coy., Vern Steen was guarding prisoners, and Trudi and the volunteer drivers were still hauling stuff for the Crown.

The resisting islanders weren’t forgotten in the aftermath of the battle. Mrs Morrison was commended by the Task Force C-in-C, Terry Peck was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire, and (to his greater pride) an honorary member of 3rd Para. All the Kelpers were made in law what they had been in their minds all along, as they proved with their doughty resistance to occupation: British citizens with the same rights as any in England, Scotland, Wales or Norther Ireland.

Terry Peck lost his final battle, with cancer, in 2006, but his name deserves on as an inspiration to any who chafe under hostile occupation.


Uncredited. Behind Enemy Lines. Falklands: Untold Stories of the War in the South Atlantic. Stamford, Lincs.: Key Publishing, 2012. pp. 24-30.

Uncredited. Palace Barracks Memorial Gardens: the Falkland Islands. Retrieved from: