Lost Battalion Publishing Dispatch #23

A Curated Weekly Review of Interesting Historical Occurrences

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The Lost Battalion Dispatch #23 for the Week of December 4, 2022

This Week in History

Smoke on the Water, Fire in the Harbor, and Peruvian Independence

Smoke on the Water from Montreux Casino
Montreux Casino burned to the ground on December 4, 1971, when “some stupid” fired a flare gun into the rattan-covered ceiling of the theatre during a concert by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. The historic building, built in 1881 on the shore of Lake Geneva for the city’s symphony orchestra, was hosting its final concert of the year before closing for a winter renovation.

While the casino was closed to the public, the rock group Deep Purple had contracted to use the theatre to make their debut album Machine Head. From this disaster on the eve of their recording session was born “Smoke on the Water,” the group’s most memorable song and one of the most iconic songs in rock history.

Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore has frequently gaslighted gullible interviewers with the claim that the song’s familiar riff is really the motif from the beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony played backward. It’s not. It doesn’t even use the same interval between the notes. Beethoven’s Fifth uses the major third interval. “Smoke on the Water” uses the perfect fourth.

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Frederick the Great
The Battle of Leuthen was fought on December 5, 1757, between a Prussian army led by Fredrick II and a Hapsburg (Austrian) army led by Prince Charles of Lorraine. Frederick’s victory, over a force twice the size of his own, secured his reputation as a great military tactician.

Fredrick used a feint attack against the Austrian right to distract the enemy while he marched the bulk of his force behind concealing terrain to attack the left. Deceived by this, Charles transferred his reserves to his right. The Prussians advanced around the Austrian left flank in oblique order and attacked. The first line of defense for the Austrians was Württemberger infantry. Württemberg was a Protestant duchy within the Roman Catholic Hapsburg Empire. As the Prussians were also Protestant, the Württembergers may have been less than enthusiastic about fighting them. They fired a few volleys before routing when they saw the Prussian columns advancing through the smoke. The rout carried a contingent of Catholic Bavarians away with it.

Charles belatedly rushed troops to his left flank but by this time the Prussians had pushed the Austrians back into the village of Leuthen where, crowded together, they suffered terrible casualties. The arrival of an Austrian artillery battery allowed their infantry to redeploy, but Prussian heavy guns soon moved into position to bombard them. Austrian cavalry attempted to intervene but was countered by Prussian cavalry and, in their defeat, the Austrians were swept into the redeployed infantry lines creating a confusing mess. Realizing he had lost; Charles ordered a retreat.

Fredrick the Great, like Alexander the Great, owed a modicum of his success to his father’s preparation of a well-drilled professional army. Fredrick William I, the “Soldier-King,” had expanded the size of Prussia’s standing army and drilled his men relentlessly to improve firing speed with their flintlock muskets and quicken the pace of formation maneuvers. His son used this to full advantage. Fredrick the Great also had a keen eye for terrain and was quick to adopt tactical innovations like oblique order. He is perhaps overrated as a military genius because his opponents were still fighting the “last war” while he was moving on toward the next.

The city of Kiev succumbed to a siege on December 6, 1240. The besiegers were Mongols under the leadership of Batu. Mongol catapults battered down the city walls in a little over a week. Voivode Dmytro, commander of the Rus defenders, led his men in a spirited hand-to-hand defense in the streets before being wounded by an arrow. For his bravery, the Mongols spared his life. The Mongols plundered the city, burned most of it to the ground, and massacred the vast majority of the estimated population of 50,000.

The fall of Kiev effectively ended the Kievan Rus civilization, a federation of Norse, Finn, and East Slav peoples ruled by the decedents of Rurik, a Viking adventurer whose men rowed their way down the Volga River and established themselves at Novgorod in the 9th Century.

Kievan Rus Park: Recreation of the City’s 13th-Century Walls
USS Arizona Memorial
December 7, 1941, was, in the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, “a date which will live in infamy.” A somewhat surprising attack by Japanese carrier-based aircraft wrecked much of the United States Pacific Fleet based at Pearl Harbor. The attack was carried out before Japan formally declared war because the declaration message took longer than expected for the staff of the Japanese embassy in Washington, D. C. to decode. Thus, the infamy.

Four battleships were sunk and four more heavily damaged along with 11 other Navy ships. 2,335 sailors, Marines, and soldiers were killed as were 68 civilians. 1,177 of those killed were crewmen aboard the battleship USS Arizona. Of the battleships sunk at Pearl Harbor, all but Arizona were raised. USS Oklahoma was deemed too old and badly damaged to refit, but the others returned to service.

Fortunately for the Americans, the Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers Enterprise, Saratoga, and Lexington were not at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese also failed to destroy the fuel storage facility south of Hickam Field, leaving 4.5 million gallons of fuel oil untouched.

Quintus Horatius Flaccus
Quintus Horatius Flaccus was born on December 8, 65 BC. Known, when he is remembered at all, by the anglicized name Horace, his works were central to the education of English-speaking people until Classical education was eliminated from the Western curriculum by “Progressive” educators in the 1960s.

Horace was born a Roman slave but later bought his freedom. He was a poet who composed in Latin in an age when most educated Romans read their poetry in Greek. Thus, he used Greek poetic conventions that could be easily adapted to Latin. His work was imitated by contemporaries, Medieval and Enlightenment writers, and 19th-century poets including William Wordsworth and Robert Frost.

Despite his disappearance from Western education, quotes from Horace are common within the Western collective conscience. Most notable, and the only one sometimes rendered in Latin, is carpe diem, “Seize the day.” The full quote, “Seize the day, put no trust in tomorrow,” did not, however, mean to Horace what it is often taken to mean today. Rather than advice to enjoy life in the moment it was an admonishment to plan ahead. “Anger is a brief madness,” “Once begun, half done,” and “Keep the faith” are only a few samples of Horace that survive in modern memory.

Peru effectively won independence from Spain at the Battle of Ayacucho on December 9, 1824.

The Peruvian War of Independence had its roots in political upheaval in Spain caused when Ferdinand VII returned to power. After the fall of Napolean, Ferdinand revoked the Constitution of 1812 that had been established while he was a prisoner in France. Trouble in the homeland meant that no Spanish reinforcement could be spared for the Americas.

The Spanish viceroy in Peru was overthrown by a coup in 1821, but Royalist forces remained in control of the southern part of the country and the fortress at the important port of Callao. Confusion and political infighting among the Patriots allowed the Royalists to regain much of their losses until the entire Royalist army in Upper Peru (Bolivia) revolted, allowing an army led by the great liberator Simon Bolivar to move into Peru and defeat a Royalist force led by Jose de Canterac. The other Peruvian Royalist commander Jose la Serna sent troops to occupy Cuzco and block Bolivar’s advance.

Patriot politics resulted in the removal of Bolivar from command while his army was besieging Cuzco and his replacement by Antonio de Sucre. La Serna force marched an army into the area and attempted to relieve the siege of Cuzco by cutting off Sucre’s line of supply. The subsequent maneuvers led to the Battle of Ayacucho.

The opposing forces at Ayacucho each numbered about 6000 men. The Royalists attempted to outflank the Patriot line on the right, but their maneuvers were uncoordinated. Sucre took advantage of the confusion and defeated the outflanking force in detail. La Serna’s attempt to rally and reorganize his troops was hampered by the lack of veteran soldiers in the ranks, all of whom had deserted to the Patriots. Some of the Royalist soldiers shot their own officers for attempting to prevent them from retreating. La Serna himself was wounded and captured.

A peace agreement was made following the battle that ceased hostilities and eventually led to independence for Peru and Upper Peru. The latter was renamed the Republic of Bolivar in honor of the Liberator.

Simon Bolivar
Three days after the Pearl Harbor attack, on December 10, 1941, a Dauntless dive bomber from USS Enterprise sighted a Japanese submarine on the surface near the island of Molokai. The bomber attacked, scoring a near miss with a 1000-pound bomb on submarine I-70. Damage from the explosion prevented the submarine from diving. Another Dauntless from the same squadron attacked later. This time crewmen were on deck and opened fire on the aircraft with the deck gun. Another near miss was scored, blowing some of the crew overboard. I-70 went dead in the water and sank 45 seconds after the explosion, becoming the first of many Japanese warships to be sunk by carrier-based US aircraft during World War II.
Douglas SBD Dauntless
Take Command of USS Enterprise!

IBattlegroup lets you refight the naval actions of World War II. You make the decisions that make the difference between a burning aircraft carrier and an impressive victory. Check it out by clicking here: Battlegroup.

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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