Lost Battalion Publishing Dispatch #22

A Curated Weekly Review of Interesting Historical Occurrences

The Lost Battalion Dispatch #22 for the Week of November 27, 2022

This Week in History

The French Fleet Ends, the Winter War Begins, and Computer Gaming is Born

German Panzer Troops Watch the French Cruiser Colbert Burn
The French Navy scuttled 77 ships in Toulon harbor to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Germans on November 27, 1942.

After the fall of France and the Armistice of June 22, 1940, the French fleet was to be confined to its harbors in the Vichy-controlled sector of France. A German seizure of the powerful French ships was greatly feared by the British, but also expressly prohibited by the French-German armistice agreement. The main strength of the French fleet was based at the heavily defended harbor of Toulon. The ships had no ammunition and little fuel aboard, measures insisted upon by the Germans to prevent the fleet from defecting. However, clever manipulation of fuel records and tampering with gauges by French sailors had suborned these dictates and most of the fleet had sufficient fuel to reach North Africa.

When Operation Torch began and Allied forces took possession of French naval bases in North Africa, the Germans invaded the Vichy sector of France and moved to take control of the fleet at Toulon. French Admiral François Darlan defected to the Allies, possibly in response to promises from Churchill that he would be placed in command of French North Africa. His replacement Admiral Gabriel Auphan suspected the Germans would seize Toulon and ordered the ships there prepared for scuttling.

Two Panzer divisions were sent to Toulon on November 19th with orders to capture the French fleet. A Marine detachment was attached to the Panzer divisions to prevent scuttling. When the Germans reached the harbor around 4 AM on the 27th, the Vichy officers were taken by surprise but managed to radio orders to scuttle the fleet. Fighting broke out between Germans attempting to board the ships and French sailors. The French resisted while opening sea valves and setting off demolition charges. Several French submarines ignored the scuttling orders and used their secretly hoarded fuel supplies to reach North African ports. The Germans were only able to capture three disarmed destroyers, some badly damaged submarines, and the hulks of two sunken battleships. Many of the major French warships burned for weeks, polluting the harbor with so much oil that it was not possible to swim in it for two years.

General Charles de Gaulle was very critical of the French admirals for not attempting to escape to North Africa. In reality, this would have been practically impossible as most of the crews had been detailed to man shore defense and could not have been recalled and gotten the ships underway before the Germans overwhelmed them.

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Lift-Off of Mariner 4
When an Atlas Agena rocket launched Marnier 4 from Launch Pad 12 of the Cape Canaveral Air Station on November 28, 1964, the United States Space Program was finally on its way to achieving notable success in interplanetary exploration.

Mariner 1, destined for Venus, had been destroyed when the launch vehicle veered off course shortly after lift-off. Mariner 2 made a successful fly-by of Venus carrying scientific instruments but no cameras in 1962.

Both missions were preparation for the big planetary prize of the day, Mars. Earth-based telescope imagery had revealed nothing but mysteries on Mars. Many scientists believed that the available evidence supported the idea of a planet that was habitable and might even support alien life. Mariner 3 launched for Mars on November 5, but the shroud protecting the spacecraft failed to open properly.

After a flawless launch and an eight-month journey to the Red Planet, Mariner 4 became to the first spacecraft to photograph another planet. The images were disappointing to those, like Wernher Von Braun, who expected to find a planet capable of supporting life. They revealed many lunar-like craters, showing that the Martian atmosphere was very thin-too thin to hold the water vapor and oxygen needed for Earth-like organisms. They did, however, detect what seemed like frost on the rim of some of the craters, leaving hope for the possibility primitive bacteria could exist. The success of Mariner 4 resulted in numerous follow-up missions to Mars, none of which have detected the hoped-for lifeforms.

Atari release the Pong video arcade game on November 29, 1972. The crude table tennis simulation was the first commercially successful video game. It spawned the video arcade craze which would eventually lead to home video games and personal computers. Few would have predicted that it would also be the harbinger of death for cardboard and lead wargames which have experienced a rapid decline in popularity ever since such games were developed for personal computers.
Pong Arcade Cabinet
Dead Russians on the Raate Road
The Soviet Union invaded Finland on November 30, 1939, starting the Winter War. The war ended after only three and a half months. Despite huge advantages in numbers and weapon technology, the Russians were unable to achieve the quick victory predicted by their military establishment. Initial plans called for Soviet units to occupy Helsinki within a week.

The Finns countered their disadvantage in numbers by using guerrilla tactics and rapid maneuver warfare to concentrate forces against isolated pockets of enemy troops, often trapping the Russians in pockets (called motti by the Finns) where they quickly became more concerned with surviving the harsh environment than fighting the elusive Finns.

The Finns offered minimal resistance during the first week of fighting, allowing the Russians to advance 20 to 40 miles across the Karelian Peninsula while they called up their large and well-trained body of reservists. These reservists occupied a series of strong points that would become known as the Mannerheim Line, named for Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, commander-in-chief of the Finnish Defense Forces.

The Russians were stymied by the Mannerheim defenses until a massive attack by their 8th Army caused a temporary panic among the outnumbered Finns. The Finns rallied at a small stream surrounded by steep ridges called Kollaa. The phrase “Kollaa kestää” (Kollaa holds) became a Finnish metaphor for perseverance. The legend of Finnish sniper Simo Häyhä nicknamed the “White Death” was born at Kollaa. He is officially credited with 505 kills.

The Russians were unable to advance cross-country. Limiting their operations to roads provided ample opportunities for Finnish ambushes. During the Battle of the Raate Road in early January, 6000 Finns cut off 20,000 Russians, killing at least 7000 and capturing 1300.

Despite inflicting serious losses on the Soviets, the Finns were nearing exhaustion by March 1940. Fortunately, the Soviets were keen to avoid further embarrassing failures and feared French and British intervention, so they agreed to a peace treaty wherein Finland ceded the Karelian Peninsula and several islands.

The Russians lost over 200,000 men, thousands of tanks, and hundreds of aircraft. Within weeks of the peace agreement, Finland secured an alliance with Germany. The poor performance of the Russian army during the Winter War also convinced Hitler that he could easily destroy the Soviets, paving the way for the Russo-German War.

Georgy Zhukov
Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov was born to a poor peasant family on December 1, 1896. He was conscripted into the Russian army during World War I, was wounded fighting the Germans, and was promoted into the NCO ranks for bravery in battle.

He fought in a Bolshevik cavalry brigade during the Russian Civil War and received an officer’s commission. Post-Civil War purges in the Soviet military brought him rapid advancement in rank. By 1938, he was deputy commander of a Military District.

He saw action during the Soviet-Japanese border conflicts of 1938-39. At the Battle of Khalkhin Gol, he executed a double envelopment of the Japanese 6th army, using armored forces to capture the enemy supply area. This forced the Japanese to abandon the border and saw Zhukov named a Hero of the Soviet Union.

When the Germans invaded Russia, he was removed from his position as chief of the general staff after advising Stalin that Kiev should be evacuated. His successful defense of Moscow put him back in the dictator’s good lights. In August 1942 he was sent to defend Stalingrad. His success their earned him promotion to Marshall of the Soviet Union. He was the main architect of the Soviet victory at Kursk. He then presided over an unrelenting campaign to drive the Germans from Russia and capture Berlin. He personally accepted the German Instrument of Surrender.

After the war, he refused to kowtow to Stalin. Remarkably his attitude seemed to garner grudging respect from the dictator although it did result in his removal as the commander of the Soviet Occupation Zone. After Stalin’s death, he was restored to power as Defense Minister and facilitated the ascension of Nikita Khrushchev to First Secretary of the Communist Party. Khrushchev, like many in the Party, feared Zhukov’s power over the military and he was soon accused of “non-party behavior” and removed from the government. When Khrushchev was deposed in 1964, Leonid Brezhnev publicly rehabilitated Zhukov’s reputation as a means of securing his own favor within the military.

In the 1960s, Zhukov’s health began to fail. His later years were spent working on his memoir which was published in 1969 and became a best seller. He died on June 18, 1974.

President James Monroe declared his eponymous Doctrine on December 2, 1823, during his seventh State of the Union Address. It was designed to discourage European colonialism and held that any intervention in the political affairs of the Americas by foreign powers could be considered an act of hostility against the United States.

The text of the Doctrine was largely composed by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. The key passage was: “We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power, we have not interfered and shall not interfere. But with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.”

The United States’ lack of a credible army or navy led most European nations to ignore the Doctrine at the time it was delivered, but by the end of the 19th century it had become regarded as a defining moment in the United States’ rise to international power.

President James Monroe
The Indo-Pakistani War began on December 3, 1971, when the Pakistani Air Force launched pre-emptive strikes on Indian air bases.

Pakistan was responding to Indian support for the rebellious province of East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh. It was an ill-considered move. India was well-prepared for offensive operations on the East and West Pakistan fronts. In only 13 days of combat, Pakistan suffered 35,000 casualties and had 93,000 troops captured. They lost 75 aircraft, 200 tanks, and a dozen naval vessels.

The Instrument of Surrender, signed on December 16, recognized the formation of Bangladesh as an independent nation. It also put an end to a genocide of between 300,000 and 3 million Bengali civilians by the Pakistani Army and pro-Pakistani Islamist militias.

Indian Army T-55 Tanks Crossing into Pakistan
Conquer the Galaxy!

In Traveller Ascension: Imperial Warrant your customizable Faction attempts to curry favor with the Emperor. Gather support from Noble Houses, Corporations, and various Societies of the Imperium. Command fleets of ships, diplomatic envoys, shadow agents, and soldiers as you attempt to bring new Systems into the Imperium, bringing glory to your Faction and outshining those of your opponents.

Find out more here: Traveller Ascension

About the Lost Battalion Dispatch

This weekly newsletter is brought to you by Cher Ami, the homing pigeon whose heroic flight helped bring relief from a barrage of friendly fire to the First Battalion, 308th Infantry of 77th New York Infantry Division and alerted high command that over 500 American troops were holding out against all odds while surrounded in the Argonne Forest during World War One.

At Lost Battalion Publishing we take inspiration from the historical Lost Battalion that never gave up, never lost hope, and persevered despite a series of devastating setbacks.

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