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This Date in History: April 23

Jürgen Stroop (center) at the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto

On April 23, 1943 the fifth day of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was a pivotal day.  Stroop heeded the instructions from his SS superiors and focused the fighting on Leszno and Nowolipie Streets.  A Jewish resistance squad at Nowolipie and Karmelicka Streets set out, according to a post-war source, to attack a headquarters of the Gestapo at 103 Zelazna Street.  However, the Germans intercepted the group and killed most of the fighters.    Stroop reported that 150 of the “Trawniki Men” were detached from his command for special purpose duties.  We do not know exactly what this duty entailed.  On this day it appears that the Germans expanded their tactic of setting fires to burn out the resistance fighters.  Zugwachtmeister d. Sch. Erich Waclawik (grenade shrapnel), Wachtmeister d. Sch. Karl Neidhard and Wachtmeister d. Sch. Oskar Hexel (right lower leg; later amputated below the knee), of the 3rd Battalion, 22nd SS Police Regiment and Wachmann Grigor Iwanyschyn, Trawniki camp, were wounded in action.  (The Ghetto Men: The SS Destruction of the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto April-May 1943)


John C. Woods surveying his latest hanging

A Board of Medical Survey for Seaman John C. Woods convened on April 23, 1930 at the U.S. Naval Hospital at Mare Island.  The report, submitted by Commander W.M. Kerr, Lieutenant Commander L.J. Roberts and Lieutenant Junior Grade B.L. Roberson, read:

“This patient, though not intellectually inferior, gives a history of repeatedly running counter to authority both before and since enlistment.  Stigmata of degeneration [moral degeneration] are present and the patient frequently bites his fingernails.  He has a benign tumor of the soft palate for which he refuses operation.  His commanding officer and division officers state that he shows inaptitude and does not respond to instruction.  He is obviously poor service material.  This man has had less than five months service.  His disability is considered to be an inherent defect for which the service is in no way responsible.  [He] is not considered a menace to himself or others.”

(American Hangman: MSgt. John C. Woods: The United States Army’s Notorious Executioner in World War II and Nürnberg)

This Date in History: April 232021-04-02T15:23:10-06:00

eBook Denial Online and Free to Read

Denial: A Crime Mystery Novel of Puerto RicoDenial, a novel about an unusual crime, some unique detectives, and a lot of local color about the island of Puerto Rico, is now available for you to read in its entirety — right here on the website and for FREE.

Many thanks go Olga’s family members for helping get all the details about the island accurate and timely.  There are three options for downloading.  In the PDF download, the book is 211 pages long.

Whether you’re looking for something to read on vacation, or a good read over a weekend at home, you’ll learn a lot and have fun doing it.

The pandemic has really caused an upheaval in all our routines.  Its about time that you get an opportunity to forget about those troubles and not have to pay anything for the experience.

Have a great read!


PS.  If you like it, let me know and I’ll bring Detective Sergeant Antonio Ponce out of retirement for another adventure.

eBook Denial Online and Free to Read2021-03-29T19:54:01-06:00

New Book on Waffen-SS Tiger Crews at Kursk 1943 Published !

This man knocked out 77 enemy armored vehicles in World War II as a panzer gunner.  Do you really want to take him on in tank combat?

It’s here!  I always wanted to write about Kursk, and not have “just another” recount of the fight.  Not a rehash of Tiger tanks at Kursk but a whole new treatment of the machines and men at this pivotal battle: Waffen-SS Tiger Crews at Kursk: The Men of SS Panzer Regiments 1, 2 & 3 in Operation Citadel, July 5-15, 1943 which is published by Schiffer.

They were as hard as Krupp steel and as swift as greyhounds, the men who crewed the Waffen-SS Tiger tanks at the Kursk Offensive in July 1943.  Primarily enlisted men, not only did they fight – and fight well – at one of the largest tank battles in history, they also later formed the nucleus of Tiger operations in key future battles.  Franz Staudegger, Michael Wittmann, Bubi Wendorff and Bobby Woll became household names as the men who rode the Tigers to victory, but over 200 other crewmen had fascinating careers as well.

The SS men who fought in these Tigers were not ten feet tall, although the Russians may have believed that during those few days that the Tigers shook the earth at the attack on Kursk in central Russia.  No, these men were far more ferocious than huge physical goliaths.  These soldiers had no concept of defeat.  This is their story.

At Kursk, often described as the “Greatest Tank Battle in History,” the Wehrmacht fielded a total of just 120 Tiger tanks, including 35 operational Tigers from the 2nd SS Panzer Corps in its powerful Leibstandarte, Das Reich, and Totenkopf divisions.  The Tiger became a legend, but any tank is only as good as its crew.  For the first time, we know the identities of over 220 Waffen-SS Tiger crewmembers at Kursk – not just the few dozen officers, but the enlisted men as well.

Their biographies are stunning: some were veteran panzer men; others were previously in the infantry and a few had just transferred from the Luftwaffe.  Eight would win the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross; others would receive very few medals.  Eighteen would die at Kursk, while thirty-five would be wounded.  And the survivors?  Unfortunately for many an American, British, Russian tank crew, these SS Tiger men in their black uniforms would go on to form the deadly nucleus of the Waffen-SS Heavy Panzer Detachments that fought at Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, and the Battle of Berlin.

Daily battle maps show the location of each of the three Tiger companies in the 2nd SS Panzer Corps.  Original German Luftwaffe aerial photos show the terrain taken within days that the Tigers rolled over it.  Over 110 photographs of Waffen-SS Tiger tanks, crewmen, award documents, anti-tank ditches, including many from private archives never before published show you what life was like from combat to eating a meal.

Before the offensive, German Colonel General Heinz Guderian, one of the “fathers” of modern armored warfare, who wanted the offensive postponed, dramatically chided the Führer, Adolf Hitler, to his face with this acerbic question: “How many people do you think even know where Kursk is?”

You are about to find out.

Waffen-SS Tiger Crews at Kursk: The Men of SS Panzer Regiments 1, 2 & 3 in Operation Citadel, July 5-15, 1943

New Book on Waffen-SS Tiger Crews at Kursk 1943 Published !2021-03-29T19:55:29-06:00

American Hangman Published!!!

American Hangman

(September 23, 2019)  American Hangman: MSgt. John C. Woods: The United States Army’s Notorious Executioner in World War II and Nürnberg is published and you can start ordering now.  The book is fabulous; the price of $29.99 is an excellent buy considering that it has 108 black and white photos from the period, several of which are from the family with their kind permission, and where he resided that I guarantee you that you have never seen before.  The work is 256 pages, with endnotes and sources that dispel all the myths surrounding this fascinating character.  Most importantly, this is what I call a “one off” book.  Once you read this, you will know everything you would want to know about the “American Hangman.”  There are no other books about him.  There are a few magazine articles, first published in 1946 and continuing occasionally to today, but most of the information in them is extremely inaccurate which you’ll see.

But don’t worry; his actual life is more interesting than the myths about him were.

You will be able to read, from primary official documents, the details of every man for which John Woods was the assistant or primary hangman.  He did not, as magazines claimed, hang 347 men, nor did he hang, as he once claimed, 200 men.  Some were American soldiers; others had been  German or Austrian war criminals.  Then there were the last ten men Woods would ever hang, the top Nazi war criminals that had been condemned to death at the International Military Tribunal at Nürnberg.  Only Hermann Göring cheated Woods as he took poison just hours before his schedule execution.  You’ll read about that too and also about how Woods hanged Julius Streicher, one of the ten men, after Streicher had “disrespected” Woods on the scaffold!

But the story goes much deeper and reveals his young days, his short stint in the United States Navy about 1930, almost missing his wedding ceremony just after Prohibition was lifted, his brush with the law bouncing checks, driving a truck for a hearse company, joining the United States Army in 1943 and fighting at the Easy Red sector of Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 as men died in bunches around him.

Did you know that John Woods could smoke a cigarette and blow smoke out of his ears?  Well, his nieces remembered that and a great deal of additional information about a man who adored his wife, loved dogs, liked to make officers uncomfortable, had an affinity for Wild Crow bourbon whiskey, had a storehouse of entertaining stories to tell his friends and who botched more than a few hangings, the reports of which made it back to the War Department in Washington, DC.

After reading this book, you will feel that not only do you know about John C. Woods but that you would have enjoyed having a beer with him.  In fact, one of the characters in this book used to do just that in various pubs at Le Mans, France almost every day for six months in 1945.  He’ll fill you in on details that the US Army never knew about the “American Hangman.”

But beware, it might not stop with a beer; as John might tell you: “I never saw three quarts of whiskey disappear so fast in my life.”  (Said to True: The Man’s Magazine at Fort Dix, New Jersey in November 1946, concerning his team having a few drinks after the Nürnberg hangings.)

An easy read, in deference to my Army Buddies, American Hangman sheds crucial light on the death penalty in the US Army in Europe in World War II, the execution of Nazi war criminals, and the effects of participating in an execution on the part of those ordered to carry it out.  And his mysterious death?  Well you’ll just have to hold off reading that last chapter till you get through the rest of the book!

For much of World War II, history books have described the influence that commissioned officers have had on shaping significant events.  Now it’s time for you to meet the man that went from private to master sergeant in one day and who had officers, from lieutenant to brigadier general, dancing to his tune.



American Hangman Published!!!2020-10-28T14:10:51-06:00

The Po Po Report

Paul Ciolino

Sometimes I have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, but once I found how easy it is to watch Podcasts, I was glad I did.  First, you can listen whenever you want; second, you can listen more than once; and third, for the ones I have found, all the commercials are cut out of regular broadcasts.

Take the Po Po Report broadcast every Saturday night from 7:00-9:00 p.m. on WLS Radio, 890 AM.  First, even if this show had no podcast, it would still be as hilarious and worthwhile as it is.  Led by Paul Ciolino, a former policeman and now a private investigator, the show delves into police, crime and punishment in Chicago, so you know that they are never at a loss for material.  They talk about street crime, transgressions by political bosses — giving kudos to special police officers and slamming crooks.  Po Po is just one of the nicknames for the police in Chicago, hence the name.

Paul is my age; in fact we were in the same infantry company in Germany in the mid-1970s.  Being the only two guys from Illinois, I would swing by the company arms room, which he ran, and checked what the latest was in Chi-town.  A few years later, Paul got out of the Army and went into law enforcement, finally becoming a private investigator.

Let me sum him up: if I ever was arrested for a major crime I did not commit, Paul Ciolino is the private detective I would want on my side.  He has been involved in the OJ Simpson Case, the Oklahoma City Bombing Case, the Amanda Knox Case, and several cases in Illinois that proved that the wrong people were sitting on death row, which led to a policy change on the death penalty in Illinois.

Now Paul is the savvy old-timer; his partner on the show is Lupe Aguirre, a younger lawyer and police officer; my guess is early 40s, so he knows the current state of play in the police department (like how a police lieutenant can take a nap on duty), as well as the Millennial scene, not that too many listeners care about the latter.  You want Chicago accents, often politically incorrect language, and stuff on crime you won’t find anywhere else.  This is it.  You hear about murders every weekend in Chicago.  You’ll hear about them here, but you will also hear that there is probably a serial killer loose in the city that may have murdered 51 women in Chicago.  That’s right, 51 women and a whole lot of the media hasn’t bothered to cover it.

The guys also give you tips about using Uber drivers and other things to keep you safer in Chicago.  Supposedly the show even has a following in Statesville, the replacement prison in the state for the infamous Joliet Prison.  Try the show live or go to WLS.com to go to the podcast.  In a perfect world, you could have a couple of beers every week with Paul at a Chicago watering hole; this is the next best thing.

The Po Po Report2019-07-20T10:33:24-06:00

The Murder of Tsar Nicholas II and His Family 1918

The Murder of Tsar Nichols II and His Family 1918

(July 11, 2018)  After a lifetime of research, and final research lasting a decade, the Romanovs’ Murder Case: The Myth of the Basement Room Massacre solves the mystery of the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his family is finally out.  And what a book it is.  The Romanovs’ Murder Case destroys the myth that the entire family, plus a number of personal servants, were shot together in the basement of the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg, Russia in the early morning hours of July 17, 1918.  Lawyer and author T. G. Bolen, using architectural analysis determines that the basement murder room simply was not wide enough to allow for the Bolshevik version of events.  Enlisting a state police forensic handwriting expert, he has concluding that the last entry of the Tsarina into her diary was probably done later by another person, thus putting the accepted timeline into question.  Finally, he presents the fascinating career of an American Army military intelligence officer, Major Homer H. Slaughter.

Interviewing Colonel Slaughter’s family,  the author found physical pieces of evidence that support that Homer Slaughter was actually in the Ipatiev House withing hours of the crime, and that Slaughter determined that some people were murdered there, but that murders occurred in at least two rooms.  Slaughter’s personnel file at the National Archives in St. Louis, revealed that Slaughter received a promotion to Colonel and in the 1930s was the chief of Army Intelligence for the Far East.  A master of many languages, an expert map-maker, with probably a photographic memory, Homer Slaughter was America’s “James Bond” without the glitz or pretension.  During his career, he intercepted a proposed treaty between Japan and Russia, appeared throughout Asia in the most dangerous places and face great dangers.  Once, in Harbin, China, he was being followed by a Japanese secret service agent.  Slipping away to his Chinese contact, he informed him of the problem.  The next morning, Homer heard a knock on his hotel door, but when he opened the door, no one was there — only a medium sized box.  He took the box into the room and opened it.  Inside was the head of the agent who had been following him!  In true Slaughter style, Homer closed the box, dressed and took the closed box downstairs to the hotel concierge with instructions to deliver the box to the Japanese consulate!

However, the most important contribution to history by Homer Slaughter was not exposing a treaty or engaging in the “Great Game” of the 1930s between the intelligence assets of the United States and Japan, but in an innocuous small, glass slide used in presentations to selected military audiences in the 1930s.  It is a depiction of an architectural drawing of the second floor of the Ipatiev House, the floor in which the Russian royal family resided during their final stay in the Ipatiev House.  Homer personally modified the floorplan, and it is this modification, shown in the book as Plate 4A, that will forever change the way in which historians view the final moments of Tsar Nicholas II and his family.

The Murder of Tsar Nicholas II and His Family 19182018-07-11T12:32:01-06:00

Occidental Hotel

Occidental Saloon

(October 2, 2017)  For my money, the best historical hotel in the United States is the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, Wyoming, so it was quite pleasing to see that Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Gold and Guns is now being sold in the hotel bookstore.  That may be, in part, because the book discusses the Legend of the Lost Cabin Gold Mine and part of that legend occurred along Main Street in Buffalo just yards away from where the hotel stands today.

Everywhere you walk in this famous hotel, you will be walking where many famous people of the Old West walked – the young Teddy Roosevelt, Butch Cassidy and the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill Cody, Tom Horn, General “Little Phil” Sheridan, sheriffs Frank Canton and “Red” Angus, numerous figures from the Johnson County War, as well as more modern figures such as Ernest Hemingway and Owen Wister.

Occidental Hotel Lobby

In the rip-roaring days of early Wyoming, the Occidental Hotel saloon was famous far and wide as the lawful and lawless played faro and poker, talked up local ladies, consumed way too much hard liquor and beer and occasionally shot up the place, just like many of the gold-hunters on that 1874 Yellowstone Wagon Road and Prospecting Expedition in the book.  One visitor in the early days, the establishment opened in 1880, called the Occidental Saloon “a regular gambling hell,” where high-stakes poker games could last for days, before being ended by a gunshot.  In 1908, the original rough barroom was replaced with one of the most elegant saloons in Wyoming, which is what you see today; but the raw underbelly is still present as are 23 bullet holes in the tin ceiling.

View from Hemingway Suite at Occidental Hotel

There is a trout stream right next to the hotel.  In fact, if you stay in the Ernest Hemingway Suite, you can walk out the back door to a small porch, and if you are a good fly-rod caster you can fish right from the porch.  There is a hotel museum, but really the entire hotel is a museum.

We stay there twice a year; you can get excellent food in the saloon or try and really gourmet meal at the hotel restaurant, known as The Virginian.  Elk filet, buffalo steaks and other fabulous entrees are served in a unique atmosphere.

It is certainly not an overstatement to say that the Hotel Occidental (and all its features) simply has to be on your personal bucket list.  Maybe you can even pick up the trail and find your own Lost Cabin Gold Mine.

Occidental Hotel book store


For more information, go to: http://www.occidentalwyoming.com




Occidental Hotel2018-07-11T12:30:35-06:00

Freedom Arms Model 97 .45 Colt

Freedom Arms Model 97 in .45 Colt

“If we couldn’t build a better gun than the rest of the industry, we wouldn’t stay in it.”

When you get to be my age, you appreciate quality.  My wife of 37 years has attained absolute perfection, for example.  My close friends all deserve to be best friends and we all count on each other through thick and thin.  I always wanted a Jeep Wrangler with a World War II Army green paint scheme, so one sits in the driveway as I write this; it is our only vehicle.  On an unaccompanied Army tour to Germany, I skimped and saved enough to buy a set of Zeiss binoculars.  The same feeling goes for firearms.  It is flat amazing shooting a Shiloh Sharps .45-70 rifle, a Smith & Wesson Model 627 .357 Magnum revolver and a Walther PPQ M2 .45 ACP.  The same experience happens with a Johann Fanzoj combination 16 gauge shotgun over a 7X57R Mauser rifle, made in 1962 in the Ferlach valley of Austria, or with a similar “drilling” made by master gun producer Ludwig Borovnik at the same location (and which you can read about on this website as well.)

Freedom Arms Model 97 .45 Colt with additional .45 ACP cylinder

Freedom Arms revolvers have a well-deserved reputation as the Rolex watches of single action revolvers and while I thought I understood that comparison, until I extensively fired one I did not realize just what fine machines they are.  Built of space-age stainless steel to remarkably precise tolerances for production pieces, they are extraordinarily durable and accurate.  Parts are machined in batches; more complicated parts are made in smaller batches.  Once all the batches are completed and the all the parts for a model are ready, the highly-skilled Freedom Arms machinists put the revolvers together by hand.  Then, other experts assemble the revolver and test it for accuracy at 25 yards – think a shot group as small as a dime to a quarter.  You’ll get the actual group shot with your weapon when you buy it.

Close-up of Freedom Arms Model 97 with .45 Colt cylinder. Tolerances are extremely fine.

Then the pieces go to the finishing room.  The exterior finish is just as precisely made, with polishing that is the envy of the industry.  While stainless steel heat-treated in the 45 R(C) hardness range is almost impervious to the elements, it is also almost “invulnerable” to classic bluing, engraving and color hardening.  Tolerances are extremely fine.  Some reviewers compare the movement of the trigger, hammer and cylinder to the locking mechanism of a bank vault.  Being an old Army guy, I would use a different comparison and just say that the action reminded me of the breech block locking in a 120mm cannon in an Abrams tank, just before the round is fired down-range at a speed of about a mile per second.

Finish on the Freedom Arms revolvers is excellent

Freedom Arms really geared up in 1978, under the direction Wayne Baker and Dick Casull, of  with the Model 83 chambered for the .454 Casull pistol cartridge, which for a while was the most powerful handgun cartridge in the world.  The company expanded the range of its offerings from the ubiquitous .22 Long Rifle to the monster .500 Wyoming Express and filling in with many hi-performance revolver round in between such as .475 Linebaugh, .44 Magnum, .41 Magnum and .357 Magnum.  In what one reviewer called the “thermo-nuclear calibers,” the pistols are “cold, calculating, killing machines.  If you suffer from a terminal case of the wheel-gun warm-and-fuzzies, they may not be for you.”

The box tells you exactly what options are on this firearm.

In 1997 Freedom Arms may have sensed this feeling and introduced a down-sized, handier version of the Model 83 chambered for high-demand cartridges such as the .17 HMR, .22 Long Rifle, .327 Federal, .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .44 Special and .45 Colt.  Known as the Model 97, in the last twenty years this model has compiled an enviable record both in the field and on the range.

Determining how many revolvers the company [307 883-2468] produces is a difficult proposition.  Waiting times after ordering can last in the vicinity of one year.  A BATF report of revolver production for the company in 2007 was 376; the BATF in 2012 reported that Freedom Arms manufactured 404 revolvers for the year. For 2015, the total had risen to 499 revolvers.  Think about that for a minute.  There are approximately 262 work days per year.  So for all practical purposes, the men and women at Freedom Arms make only two firearms per day.  Production by caliber, of course, is even smaller.  My guess is that the company may produce only twenty-five Model 97 Colt .45s because, in my opinion, the monster calibers, such as the .454 Casull, probably take the lion’s share of production.

That is what I fired, a Model 97 in .45 Colt.  This particular example has a 5.5-inch barrel, overall length of 10.75 inches, adjustable sights (with an interchangeable gold bead front sight,) black Micarta grips, and a factory trigger/hammer adjustment to a three-pound pull, all weighing in at 2.29 pounds (36.64 ounces.) This configuration gives the firer a sight-radius of 6.75 inches; for reloaders, the barrel twist rate is 1-24 (the number of inches the bullet moves along the bore while the bullet rotates one full turn, in this case 24 inches.)  It also had an additional .45 ACP cylinder, that like the .45 Colt cylinder, is line-bored in which the frame and barrel are assembled, and then a cylinder “blank” is fitted.  That is then drilled out for each bore through the barrel.  As a result, the alignment between each chamber and the barrel is absolutely perfect; in fact each cylinder is marked with the same serial number as the frame, so you know the exact pairing that should be made.

To test the weapon, I chose the seven following factory rounds, as I am not a handloader: Winchester Super X (Cowboy/Target) with 250 grain Lead Flat Nose bullets; Winchester Super X (Target) with 255 grain Lead Round Nose bullets; Ultramax with 250 grain Round Nose Flat Point bullets; Ultramax with 200 grain Round Nose Flat Point bullets; Hornady Critical Defense FTX 185 grain bullets; Black Hills 250 grain Round Nose Flat Point bullets and Sig Sauer Elite Performance V-Crown 230 grain Jacketed Hollow Point bullets.

My first impression was that the Model 97 .45 Colt is a “blast” to shoot.  The big bullets make big holes in the paper targets.  They should, as anything over 218 grains is over half an ounce of lead.  The recoil pushes more than it snaps the hand; the trigger guard did not slam back into my fingers.  The second impression is that this firearm will expose batches of ammunition that lack consistency.  Using a sandbag rest, the firer will instantly be able to assess which factory rounds are consistent in powder quality and quantity, and also the flight dynamics of the bullets themselves.  It can be a harsh verdict and with more than one factory load on that first day and days since that I concluded that I was not going to waste my time or money on firing rounds which were inferior to this revolver’s capability; and for this .45 Colt, the 25-yard accuracy shot group as tested at Freedom Arms was just 0.68 inches center-to-center (shown in top photo.)

As mentioned, you will wait several months after ordering.  If you just cannot wait that long, Gunbroker.com usually has several dozen Freedom Arms on auction at any one time. GunsAmerica.com and GunsInternational.com have dozens more for sale, often by regional Freedom Arms FFL-holders who serve as dealers.  Two of these that usually have a wide selection of Model 83s and Model 97s are First Stop Guns in Rapid City, South Dakota (605) 341-5211 and SMJ Sports (owned by Steve Bredemeyer) in Columbia City, Indiana (260) 396-2349.  I drove 275 miles each way to visit Steve and he patiently showed me several 83s and 97s in a variety of calibers.  If you wish to purchase one of these new pistols – and I’d like to meet the shooter who declines after actually holding one of these masterpieces – Steve will promptly ship it to your local FFL location.  Instead of a year, you’ll be pulling the trigger in six days.

I do not hunt with a revolver, although it seems to me that this .45 Colt would make a great wild pig weapon.  It packs easily and could be used in a pinch for self-defense – the caliber being more than sufficient to drop an attacker with one shot to the center of mass – although considering the five-round cylinder and carrying with the hammer over an empty cylinder gives you only four rounds.

I’ll update this as I find the rounds that work best.  After firing twenty-five of each of the seven factory rounds mentioned above, the Sig Sauer Elite Performance V-Crown 230 grain Jacketed Hollow Point bullets and the Ultramax with 200 grain Round Nose Flat Point bullets showed the most promise for accuracy.

If it turns out that hand-loads are far superior, that’s what friends are for and I hope they won’t mind loading for me, especially if I let them shoot this great pistol.

Freedom Arms Model 97 .45 Colt2017-10-02T12:53:37-06:00




(May 15, 2017) I was watching the original 1984 version of the movie Red Dawn, with Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen and Ben Johnson the other day.  What a great movie; it is a fictional account of an invasion of the United States by the Soviet Union and Cuba and how a group of young adults in Colorado fight against the occupation.  After watching it, I started to think how one famous military strategist would have counseled the patriots who fought back.

The Art of War by Sun-Tzu

This is the granddaddy of all books on war, and just about anyone who wishes to understand war starts with this – at least Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong, American General Douglas MacArthur and Vietnamese General Võ Nguyên Giáp did.  The Art of War presents a philosophy of war for managing conflicts and winning battles and is accepted as a masterpiece on strategy, frequently cited and referred to by generals and theorists.  The text is composed of 13 chapters, each of which is devoted to one aspect of warfare.  Do not get hung up on who may have written The Art of War.  Some historians trace it back to a Chinese military strategist known as Master Sun from the 6th century BC, while others attribute the work to Sun Wu who lived at some point between 776 BC and 471 BC.  Still other experts name the author as Sun Bin in the 4th century BC.  The work very succinctly presents the tenets for developing and executing a strategy that will defeat the strategy of your opponent.   It is presented in lists and recommendations.  Also, different translators give different titles for each of the chapters; don’t worry about that.  It is more important to grasp the salient facts than it is to know what chapter or page they are found.  Here are some of the highlights in italics and a brief description:

Chapter One: Detail Assessment and Planning, also called Calculations.

Study the five factors of warfare: Way, Heaven, Ground, General and Law. Calculate your strength in each and compare them to your enemy’s strengths.

A good commander constantly evaluates the situation, which includes the level of support of the people, weather conditions, geographic factors, the competency of your officers and your organization, logistics and other resources.  You compare your strengths in each of these to your enemies to see where you can gain an advantage.

Warfare is the Way of deception… if able, appear unable; if active, appear inactive; if near, appear far; if far, appear near… attack where your enemies are not prepared; go to where they do not expect. 

In fighting a superior enemy occupying your country, by definition you will be inferior in numbers and likely in technology.  You won’t be able to go one-on-one.  You will have to keep your plans and intentions secret and you can’t do that if you are blabbing them all over the internet, unsecure tactical radios, telephone, emails and other electronic communications devices.

Chapter Two: Waging War, also called Doing Battle

When doing battle, seek a quick victory.  A long battle will blunt weapons and diminish ferocity.  If troops lay siege to a walled city, their strength will be exhausted.  Therefore, the important thing in doing battle is victory, not protracted warfare. 

This is pretty clear for conventional war, but what about fighting against a power occupying a country.  Unfortunately, a population striving to throw off the yoke of enslavement is in for a long haul and it will not be over until the occupying power quits, so these guidelines actually apply to the enemy in our case.  They have to make the enemy believe that we will never quit and never surrender.  They will deny them victory because we have the will to continue to fight, but for the enemy it will be a long, protracted, bloody war.

Chapter Three: Strategic Attack, also called Planning Attacks

The best warfare strategy is to attack the enemy’s plans, next is to attack alliances, next is to attack the army and the worst is to attack a walled city; laying siege to a city is only done when other options are not available…one who is skilled in warfare principles subdues the enemy without doing battle, takes the enemy’s walled city without attacking and overthrows the enemy quickly, without protracted warfare.  Generally in warfare: if ten times the enemy’s strength, surround them; if five times, attack them; if double, divide them; if equal, be able to fight them; if fewer, be able to evade them; if weaker, be able to avoid them.

Try and defeat the enemy’s strategy before the conflict; pick on the weakest ally in the enemy chain and hammer them (like the Russians did when they attacked the Italians and Romanians on the flanks of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad.)  Be there “firstest with the mostest,” as Nathan Bedford Forrest would say.

Therefore I say: one who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be in danger in a hundred battles.  One who does not know the enemy but knows himself will sometimes win, sometimes lose.  One who does not know the enemy and does not know himself will be in danger in every battle.

You have probably seen this many times before and it applies to warfare, business, sports and other areas of competition.  You have to gather all the facts you can and rehearse how you want to fight; you have to know the strengths and weaknesses of every one of your soldiers and be relentless in gathering similar information about the enemy.

Chapter Four: Disposition of the Army, also called Formation

One takes on invincibility defending; one takes on vulnerability attacking.  One takes on sufficiency defending, one takes on deficiency attacking.  Those skilled in defense conceal themselves in the lowest depths of the Earth.  Those skilled in attack move in the highest reaches of the Heavens.  Therefore, they are able to protect themselves and achieve complete victory.  Those skilled in warfare establish positions that make them invincible and do not miss opportunities to attack the enemy.

To take an enemy position the general rule is that the attacker must have three-to-one odds; that is because the defender knows the terrain better than the attacker (because the defender has been on the terrain for some period of time) and that the defender can use the terrain, maybe by digging in or hiding, to lessen the effects of enemy weapons.  Having said that, the defender always needs to be prepared to counter-attack, once the attacker has exhausted his resources.

A victorious army first obtains conditions for victory and then seeks to do battle.  A defeated army first seeks to do battle, then obtains conditions for victory. 

You have heard the phrase: “Ready, Aim, Fire.” Study and prepare first, pick out your target and only then fire (or fight.) When soldiers who need more training get scared, their actions can often be: “Fire”, “Aim, Fire, Ready” or “Ready, Fire, Aim.”  Not only do you have to fire, you have to fire at the key targets and identifying them occurs before you pull the trigger.

Chapter Five: Forces, also called Force

Generally, in battle, use the common to engage the enemy and the uncommon to gain victory.  The force of those skilled in warfare is overwhelming and their timing precise.  Even in the midst of the turbulence of battle, the fighting seemingly chaotic, they are not confused.

Sun-Tzu called for basic infantry to pin the enemy down, and then use more capable troops, like cavalry to finish off the enemy.  In almost every fight, you are going to need a reserve to exploit, or respond to, unforeseen circumstances.  That reserve force needs to be one of your best: one that can respond quickly, understand what to do in uncertain circumstances, and press home the attack in difficult situations.  You need the ability to use not only great force, or strength, but also to apply that force with great precision.  That is the theory of high-value targets; it is better to kill the enemy commander than it is to kill ten of his soldiers.  What targets do we need to destroy first to give us a better chance to win?

Chapter Six: Weaknesses and Strengths

To be certain to take what you attack, attack where the enemy cannot defend…to be certain of safety when defending, defend where the enemy cannot attack…the place of battle must not be made known to the enemy…if it is not known, then the enemy must prepare to defend many places…if he prepares to defend everywhere, everywhere will be weak.

These are the very tenets of guerilla warfare and guerilla warfare is exactly what a population must practice in order to throw out an invader.  You know the terrain and from your contacts you must determine the enemy’s plans and intentions.  Then you start picking off his outposts and installations, striking quickly and then disappearing into the population until the next attack.

Therefore, know the enemy’s plans and calculate his strengths and weaknesses…provoke him, to know his patterns of movement…determine his position, to know the ground of death and of life…probe him, to know where he is strong and where he is weak…The ultimate skill is to take up a position where you are formless…if you are formless, the most penetrating spies will not be able to discern you.

America has had numerous skilled fighters who appeared out of nowhere to strike, disappeared into the mist and re-appeared where they were least expected to attack again.  Francis Marion (“the Swamp Fox,”) John S. Mosby (“the Gray Ghost of the Confederacy,”) and Geronimo fought outnumbered time and time again against much larger antagonists.  They knew that they had to remain dispersed until the last second when you can mass and attack because the enemy’s technology and intelligence services was constantly  trying to locate them.

Chapter Seven: Armed Struggle, also called Military Maneuvers

If an army is without its equipment it will lose; if an army is without its provisions it will lose; if the army is without its stores it will lose.

You do not need to strike the combat elements of the enemy to win; by destroying his equipment and supply dumps you can starve the enemy forces.  This was one of the major characteristics of the blitzkrieg, which advanced deep behind the front of the enemy to attack headquarters command and communications, transportation hubs and supply bases.  An added advantage is that a logistical unit has a lesser ability to fight and generally has inferior weapons.

One who does not know the mountains and forests, gorges and defiles, swamps and wetlands cannot advance the army.  One who does not use local guides cannot take advantage of the ground.

This may be your greatest advantage; you know the geography of your area of the country.  You know where you can hide, where alleys are in big cities, what off-road terrain you can take a vehicle through, where the small paths are in a wooded area; no detail is too small to study.  GPS is great, but there is no substitute for personal knowledge of every fold in the terrain and every building in a town or city.

Therefore, the army is established on deception, mobilized by advantage, and changed through dividing up and consolidating the troops…therefore, it advances like the wind; it marches like the forest; it invades and plunders like fire; it stands like the mountain; it is formless like the dark; it strikes like thunder.

You have to own the night and strike where the enemy least expects it.  And to invade the enemy “like fire” you have to show no mercy and ensure you kill the enemy…not just scare him.  If you can do that, you will start putting the fear of God in your adversaries.

Chapter Eight: Nine Changes, also called Variations and Adaptability

There are routes not to be taken; there are armies not to be attacked; there are walled cities not to be besieged; there are grounds not to be penetrated; there are commands not to be obeyed.

There are times when you have to be smart enough to know when not to do something. It is called flexibility.

There are five dangerous traits of a general: he who is reckless can be killed; he who is cowardly can be captured; he who is quick tempered can be insulted; he who is moral can be shamed; he who is fond of the people can be worried…these five traits are faults in a general, and are disastrous in warfare.

We will discuss how to organize later; sufficed to say, you are probably going to elect a leader, or at least make a decision whether or not you want to serve under an existing leader.  Obviously you aren’t going to pick a coward, but it is also important not to select someone who is reckless or one who does not think through a situation and thus gets angry easily.  The leader is going to have to sometimes put his own troops in harm’s way for the greater good.  Choose wisely.

Chapter Nine: Army Maneuvers, also called Movement and Development of Troops

To cross mountains, stay close to the valleys; observe on high ground and face the sunny side. If the enemy holds the high ground, do not ascend and do battle with him.  After crossing a river, you must stay far away from it.  If the enemy crosses a river, do not meet him in the water.  When half of his forces have crossed, it will then be advantageous to strike.  If you want to do battle with the enemy, do not position your forces near the water facing the enemy; take high ground facing the sunny side and do not position downstream.  After crossing swamps and wetlands, strive to quickly get through them and do not linger.  If you do battle in swamps and wetlands, you must position close to grass, with the trees to your back.  On level ground, position on places that are easy to maneuver with your right backed by high ground, with the dangerous ground in front, and safe ground to the back.

You have to practice analyzing terrain; what you are striving for is to use the terrain to your advantage, so you can observe, maneuver and engage the enemy easier than he can. Generally, the force that can get to the potential battlefield first will win.  If you can do that, and entice the enemy to attack you, you can use the advantage of the defense, inflict casualties and then get out of there quickly.  Sun-Tzu’s comment on swamps and wetlands applies more to conventional armies than irregular troops.  If you know your way around local swamps and other difficult terrain, they can give you a huge advantage.

If the birds take flight, he is lying in ambush; if the animals are in fear, he is preparing to attack.

The fundamentals of warfare are a lot like the fundamentals of hunting and many successful armies in the past maneuvered as if they were on a great hunt, especial Genghis Khan and his army.  Many of the best soldiers in an insurrection against a foreign enemy or tyrannical government have been lifetime hunters, whose knowledge of field craft is second nature.  If you are not a hunter now, consider learning how, and ask your hunting friends if you can go with them.

Chapter Ten: Ground Formation, also called Terrain

Ground is accessible, entrapping, stalemated, narrow, steep, and expansive.  If you can go through but the enemy cannot, it is called accessible.  For accessible ground, first take the high and the sunny side, and convenient supply routes.  You then do battle with the advantage. I f you can go through but difficult to go back, it is called entrapping.  For entrapping ground, if the enemy is unprepared, advance and defeat him.  If the enemy is prepared, and you advance and are not victorious, it will be difficult to go back; this is disadvantageous.  If it is not advantageous to advance or for the enemy to advance, it is called stalemated.  For stalemated ground, though the enemy offers you advantage, do not advance.  Withdraw. For narrow ground, we must occupy it first; be prepared and wait for the enemy.  If the enemy occupies it first, and is prepared, do not follow him.  If he is not prepared, follow him.  For steep ground, if you occupy it first, occupy the high on the sunny side and wait for the enemy. If the enemy occupies it first, withdraw; do not follow him.  For expansive ground, if the forces are equal, it will be difficult to do battle.  Doing battle will not be advantageous.

As you can see, you must always be evaluating the lay of the land, because your enemy will be doing so. Terrain sometimes changes based on the weather – what might be a perfectly good avenue of approach to attack the enemy on a warm summer day, might be a muddy bog after several days of rain in the early spring.  A wise general once told me, when our tanks were finding it difficult to advance through a wooded training area in Germany: “Never let the terrain beat you.”  If you look at most disastrous battles, the losing commander did not properly read the terrain and was caught on a battlefield disadvantageous to him.  General Robert E. Lee may not have realized that the mile long field on which the famous “Pickett’s Charge” would take place, was almost all uphill and that his men would be tired when they reached Union lines.  General George A. Custer, when he took five companies of the Seventh Cavalry on the right bank of the Little Bighorn did not see that the undulating terrain would allow the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne warriors to remain concealed until they advanced to within 200 yards of the cavalry, at which point the warriors’ repeating rifles had an advantage over the single shot Springfield 1873 carbines of the cavalrymen.

Chapter Eleven: Nine Grounds, also called the Nine Battlegrounds

This chapter, in my opinion, primarily deals with an offensive invasion into another country, which is not the situation you will be facing.  Having said that, there are several descriptions that have value so read the whole chapter as well as the others; here is one of them:

Therefore, those skilled in warfare are like the shuaijan.  The shuaijan is a serpent on Mount Chang.  If you strike its head, its tail attacks; if you strike its tail, its head attacks; if you strike its middle, both the head and tail attack.

You want to create in the mind of your enemy that you have the ability to attack from anywhere, no matter how the enemy deploys his army.  You are everywhere, but when the enemy looks for you, you are nowhere.  Create an aura of fear in your enemy by exploiting propaganda that your forces are like a deadly snake.

Chapter Twelve: Fire Attacks, also called Attacking with Fire

In Sun-Tzu’s day, setting fires was a combat multiplier to prevent the enemy from using certain terrain, destroying his supplies and causing the enemy to leave a particular area.

There are five kinds of fire attacks: one, burning personnel; two, burning provisions; three, burning equipment; four, burning stores; five, burning weapons. 

The problem is that once fires start, they are unpredictable.  But the thrust of his idea is correct, you simply cannot just attack enemy combat units, but have to also attack enemy supply dumps, maintenance facilities and other key logistical targets.

Chapter Thirteen: Using Spies, also called Intelligence and Espionage

Sun-Tzu was all about using the cerebral to defeat superior force, and nowhere is this more evident than his discussion of intelligence and espionage.

What enables the enlightened rulers and good generals to conquer the enemy at every move and achieve extraordinary success is foreknowledge.  Foreknowledge cannot be elicited from ghosts and spirits; it cannot be inferred from comparison of previous events, or from the calculations of the heavens, but must be obtained from people who have knowledge of the enemy’s situation.  There are five kinds of spies used: local spies, internal spies, double spies, dead spies, and living spies.  When all five are used, and no one knows their Way, it is called the divine organization, and is the ruler’s treasure.

For local spies, we use the enemy’s people.  For internal spies we use the enemy’s officials.  For double spies we use the enemy’s spies.  For dead spies we use agents to spread misinformation to the enemy.  For living spies, we use agents to return with reports.

Every other American out there can provide information on enemy intentions and capabilities.  Every enemy headquarters in the occupation is going to have Americans doing the jobs such as cleaning, and maybe even facility maintenance.  Those people know schedules; they know where enemy officers are billeted; they know who has a mistress and who has a gambling problem.  They are the key to leveraging and turning enemy individuals to provide information.  Wait staff in restaurants know who regular customers are and when they frequent the facility, which is key information for ambushes and targeted attacks.  You want to create the image in the mind of the enemy that there are millions of spying eyes on them from the moment they wake up each morning.


Red Dawn started out pretty demoralizing as I thought about the country being invaded and occupied.  Watching the resistance develop turned the movie around; they could have defeated the invaders a lot quicker if they had followed Sun-Tzu.  The Art of War is an excellent book and can help you develop strategies for a lot of challenges in life, not only if Russian troops are marching down Main Street!

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