Archive for the ‘war’ Category


The Battle of Midway (June 4th to 7th 1942) was a sea and air battle between the Japanese and Americans near the island of Midway, a thousand miles (1600 km) west of Hawaii. Japan lost four aircraft carriers, America only one. It was the turning point of the Pacific part of the Second World War, turning the war in favour of the Americans.

The top admirals at the battle: Yamamoto for the Japanese and Spruance for the Americans.

Aircraft carriers:

  • Japanese (4): Hiryu (sunk), Soryu (sunk), Akagi (sunk), Kaga (sunk)
  • American (3): Yorktown (sunk), Hornet, Enterprise

Before the battle Japan had more warships than anyone in the Pacific. America had lost most of their ships six months before at the Battle of Pearl Harbor. But it had broken the secret code of the Japanese and knew they would strike at Midway. That allowed America to put what few ships it had at the right place at the right time.

The battle turned at about 10:20 in the morning: the Japanese were preparing to send out a second wave of bombers, which were sitting on the flight decks of the carriers ready to take off in five minutes. Just then American dive bombers suddenly appeared from behind the clouds and destroyed the bombers and the three aircraft carriers they were on: the Akagi, Kaga and Soryu. Only the Hiryu was left.

The fighter planes that were supposed to protect the carriers while the bombers got ready had been drawn off to fight American torpedo bombers. They destroyed most of them, but left the three ships naked and helpless.

The Hiryu went on to destroy the Yorktown, but in the end it was sunk too.

Before Midway and the Battle of the Coral Sea a month before, sea battles were largely a fight between battleships with big guns. It had been that way for hundreds of years. But now the Americans had shown that it was aircraft carriers and their warplanes that mattered most. The Japanese knew that air power was important in sea battles, but the Americans had an even more profound understanding of this new fact.

Admiral Yamamoto, even after he lost his four carriers, still had far more ships. He might have pressed home his advantage to take Midway. And in the old days he would have. But having lost all his carriers he no longer had any air cover. His ships would be sitting ducks. So he had to pull back.

Churchill had said the British and Americans would gain the upper hand in the Pacific by May 1942. Not bad. He based that on how fast Japan, America and Britain were building ships. Battleships and carriers take years to build, so the loss of four carriers at Midway was a grave one for Japan: for every carrier Japan built, America built two. So once America got the lead, Japan would never catch up.

After the battles of Midway and the Coral Sea, Australians no longer had to fear the Japanese landing on their shores.

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Jihad is holy war as a religious duty for Muslims. In our time some use the word in a moral rather than a military sense. In Muslim law, where it gets a whole chapter, it is always used in a military sense.

A jihad is a war either against infidels (those who do not believe in Islam) or against apostates (Muslims who have fallen away from the true faith). Only rulers can call a jihad.

Those who fall in battle in a jihad go straight to paradise. They are called martyrs or shahids.

Jihad has certain rules. Among others:

  1. Women and children are not to be killed unless they attack first.
  2. Those not fighting in the war should be treated well.
  3. Rulers must honour agreements they make – jihad does not allow them to break their word.
  4. Enemies must be told that war is coming.

On the other hand, jihad is winner takes all: the winner has rights over the property and persons conquered.

The conquered are treated differently according to their religion:

  1. People of the book: these include Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and Mandeans – those who follow a revealed religion. They can either convert, pay a tax or die.
  2. Kafirs: those who worship gods, idols or spirits. They can either convert, become a slave or die.

So, for example, jihad does not justify 9/11: it killed thousands of unarmed men, women and children, some of them even Muslims. It was not called by any recognized ruler, it was hardly an attempt to extend Islam to America. It was merely a low, cowardly act. Thus the hijackers did not go to paradise but where they belong.

For the same reason it does not justify those who blow themselves up at bus stops since, again, they wind up killing old men, women and children.

In theory, jihad is unending until all the world falls under Muslim rule. In history, however, jihad does not go on all the time: only when and where it makes political and military sense to Muslim rulers.

In our time, the greatest jihad by far has been in the south of Sudan where countless Christians and others have died or been sold as slaves.

The most famous jihad of our time, however, is the one Osama bin Laden has declared against America. Not being a ruler or even a religious authority, his ability to do this is highly questionable. That has not stopped thousands from gathering to his black flag.

Sometimes jihad is between Muslims. For example, the Arabs under the Saudis fought a jihad against Turkish rule: the Turks were not Wahhabis like the Saudis, so the Saudis did not see them as true Muslims.

Christians have fought holy wars for their faith too. But unlike jihads, their aims were limited and falling in battle did not mean you would go to heaven. Popes and bishops have promised that only on occasion. It is not general doctrine as it is in Islam.

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Churchill on war

Here are some of Churchill’s guidelines on how to fight a war. I got these from reading his account of the Second World War:

  • “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” To trick your enemy, cover the truth with lies.
  • Always keep your enemy guessing about where you will strike next. This forces him to spread out his forces. Sea power gives you this advantage.
  • If you can strike at more than one point, then pick just one point and apply all your force there. This is something Hitler failed to do in 1944 when he fought to the last in Russia, Italy and France. This divided his strength and made him easier to defeat.
  • The element of surprise works: hit your enemy at a place and time he does not expect. Feed him false intelligence about more likely places and times.
  • War is about killing your enemies: the more the better.
  • Give your enemy no rest.
  • If you are outgunned, then kick as much sand in your enemy’s face as possible. Never never let him off easy.
  • Tie down and drain your enemy, as much of his men and supplies as possible.
  • Cut off your enemy’s lines of communications (supply lines). Or at least draw him into lengthening them.
  • Turn the flank.
  • Always keep a reserve of forces that can quickly move to any part of the front: never put everything you have on the front. France made this mistake in 1940. Hitler failed to take notes and repeated it in 1944.
  • Those who make decisions must bear their consequences. No armchair generals, no decision-makers who do nothing but debate.
  • In time of war, he who rules the country must also direct the war. If power is split between two people, then they will constantly be at odds and no one mind will hold all the necessary facts.
  • Seize on what chances come your way. In war the future is far too uncertain to wait for something better – it may never come.
  • Do not wait for set-piece battles.
  • Always think out what you will do, in battle and in war, but know that none of it may ever come to pass.
  • Victory in battle cannot be overrated. Much will be forgiven those who win.
  • What matters in warships: range and size of its guns, speed, ports of repair, when it can be seen (smoke, mist) and how much it can carry.
  • What matters in shipping: throughput.
  • Pack ships backwards: last in, first out.

Churchill thoroughly understood the nature and use of sea power and especially the military nature of islands.

Churchill only half understood air power. For example, he thought the Japanese could still have taken Midway even after losing four aircraft carriers. He also spent much of Britain’s precious air power on terror bombing of German cities instead of destroying the German army.

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