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Bonnie and Clyde

In regione caecorum rex est luscus

In the Land of the Blind, the One-eyed Man is King

Bonnie and Clyde

Lately I have been reading a lot about the days of Bonnie and Clyde, and what we can learn from back then.

The country was a mess.  This “Public Enemy Era” spanned from 1931 through 1935, during the depths of the Great Depression that crushed the economy, and the Dust Bowl – a period of severe dust storms that greatly damaged the agricultural output of the American and Canadian prairies – that caused mass hunger.  10,000 banks went out of business, taking $3 billion of depositor’s life savings with them, leaving account holders penniless.  With 80% unemployment in some areas, those unfortunates would remain destitute, unless they took matters into their own hands, and some turned to crime.

Today, rampant government spending is out of control, leading to increasing inflation that steals buying power.  We have some wealthy people, but as I travel around the U.S. – my latest trek a 1,081-mile drive from Decatur, Illinois to Worcester, Massachusetts, I’ve seen a lot of help-wanted signs; undocumented illegal aliens working for far less than minimum wage; obscenely-high gas prices; rental cars that have over 40,000 miles on them and are in constant need of maintenance yet sometimes costing $100 a day; and infrastructure problems (read bad roads, run-down bridges) that will remain poor, because these big spending programs always end up targeting pet projects of the rich and voting constituencies of the lazy.

For the first two years – 1931-1933 – it was a stupid era.  Prohibition in the United States, beginning in 1920 and ending in 1933, was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages.  While some people regarded the attack on alcohol as a noble cause, an overwhelming number did not, and Prohibition single-handedly caused tens of millions of Americans to view the law as lacking any moral obligation to follow it; they became felons overnight and they felt no remorse at doing so.  This disregard for law and order became a cancer in society; one day citizens refused to follow Prohibition; the next they began to support organized crime to provide the illegal goods they wanted.

Today’s version of Prohibition aims at stripping Americans of their right to bear arms, another stupid idea.  Were it to get close to happening, tens of millions of us – maybe more – will become felons overnight, because we will not comply, and organized crime will start a shipping tsunami of firearms into the country, just like it did booze.

Bonnie and Clyde

For the first years of Bonnie and Clyde, most regular folks hated the police and were on the side of the renegades, even though they were a far cry from modern day Robin Hoods portrayed in movies.  It was only after several murders of police, including one trooper on his first day of the job and another scheduled to be married in three weeks before he was cut down by Clyde in cold blood – the bride-to-be wore her wedding dress to her fiancée’s funeral – that attitudes toward the police changed.

Today, police are equally disrespected – mostly in big cities from Portland to Atlanta.  I’d like to think that Champaign Police Department Officer Chris Oberheim didn’t die in vain, and it seems like many folks in central Illinois know that too, but this country is in a whole lot of trouble right now with its negative view of the thin blue line.  What doesn’t help is when senior FBI personnel start helping one political party against another, though.

There’s another takeaway from Bonnie and Clyde.  In our era of concealed carry and the ubiquitous Glock-this and Glock-that, maybe we put too much emphasis on pistolcraft – not that we shouldn’t be proficient with these weapons.  But Clyde Barrow didn’t terrorize people with a pistol; he did it with Browning Automatic Rifles, BARs, whose .30-06 rounds would go through one side of a car and out the other, killing anyone in between.  And when the law finally did catch-up with Bonnie and Clyde one morning on a Louisiana dusty dirt road, what put finis to the two marauders were a couple of Remington Model 8s, a BAR, a Colt Monitor, and some Remington Model 11 semi-automatic 12-gauge “riot guns”.

Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (played by Kevin Costner in the excellent movie The Highway Men), who led the posse that nailed Bonnie and Clyde, was a big believer in the old phrase, “A handgun is for fighting your way to a long gun you shouldn’t have left behind.”  While he was an excellent shot with a .45 Colt and a .44 Special, mostly it was a long gun that got Frank’s bacon out of the fire.  We might want to consider that today.

 

Bonnie and Clyde2021-11-10T17:54:28-06:00

Simon Wiesenthal

I was just reorganizing my desk and found some photographs almost twenty years old.  One was a picture from July 2002 when I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Simon Wiesenthal in his office in Vienna.  I guess it isn’t really news, but sometimes you have to make an exception.

Nazi hunter

Simon Wiesenthal (here in his later years) was born on December 31, 1908, in Buchach, in the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  His father was a wholesaler, who had left Russia in 1905 to escape the anti-Jewish pogroms.  The elder Wiesenthal was called to active duty in 1914 in the Austro-Hungarian Army at the start of World War I; he was killed in action on the Eastern Front in 1915.  Simon, his younger brother and his mother fled to Vienna, when the Russian Army overran Galicia.  In the ebb and flow of war, the family returned to Buchach in 1917, after the Russians retreated.  Simon attended the Czech Technical University in Prague, where he studied from 1928 until 1932.  After graduating, he became a building engineer, working mostly in Odessa in 1934 and 1935.  The next six years are unclear, concerning Wiesenthal’s life; he married in 1936, when he returned to Galicia.

After the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941, Wiesenthal’s mother came to live with him and his wife in Lvov.  Wiesenthal, a Jew, was detained by German authorities on July 6, 1941, but was saved from an Einsatzgruppe firing squad by a Ukrainian man, for whom he had previously worked.  German police deported Wiesenthal and his wife in late 1941 to the Janowska labor and transit camp and forced to work at the Eastern Railway Repair Works.  Every few weeks the Nazis would conduct a selection of Lvov Jewish Ghetto inhabitants unable to work.  In one such deportation, Wiesenthal’s mother was transported by freight train to the Belzec extermination camp and killed in August 1942.  On April 20, 1943, Wiesenthal avoided execution at a sand pit by firing squad, when at the last moment a German construction engineer intervened, stating that Wiesenthal was too skilled to be killed.

On October 2, 1943, the same German warned Wiesenthal that Janowska and its prisoners were about to be liquidated.  Wiesenthal was able to sneak out of camp and remained free until June 13, 1944, when Polish detectives arrested him in Lvov.  With Russian troops advancing, the SS moved Wiesenthal and other Jews by train to Przemyśl, 135 miles west of Lvov, where they built fortifications for the Germans.  In September 1944, the SS transferred the surviving Jews to the Płaszów concentration camp in Krakow.  One month later, Wiesenthal was transferred to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp.  While working at a rock quarry there, Wiesenthal was struck on the foot by a large rock, which resulted in the amputation of the large toe on his right foot.  The advancing Russian Army forced the evacuation of Gross-Rosen; Wiesenthal and other inmates marched by foot to Chemnitz.  From Chemnitz, the prisoners were taken in open freight cars to Buchenwald.  A few days later, trucks took the prisoners to the Mauthausen concentration camp, arriving in mid-February 1945.   When the camp was liberated by American forces in May 1945, Wiesenthal weighed 90 pounds.

Wiesenthal dedicated most of his life to tracking down and gathering information on fugitive Nazis.  His goal was to bring as many conspirators to the “Final Solution” as possible to justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity.  In 1947, Simon Wiesenthal co-founded the Jewish Historical Documentation Center in Linz, Austria, in order to gather information for future war crime trials. He later opened the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna.  Wiesenthal was instrumental in the capture and conviction of Adolf Eichmann.

Visiting Mr. Wiesenthal in Vienna, 2002

The author interviewed Simon Wiesenthal at his small office in the Jewish Documentation Center in central Vienna in July 2002.  During the visit, Mr. Wiesenthal said that there was one thing wrong with his book, The Camp Men.  Dismayed, French waited for the explanation.  “You were born 50 years too late.  You found how to look through their officer files to prove they had been in the camps, while I had to rely on eye-witnesses.  If you had been there to help me back then, I would have found more.  But you weren’t born yet!”

Wiesenthal wrote The Sunflower, which describes a life-changing event he experienced when he was in the camp.  He died in Vienna on September 20, 2005; his remains are buried at Herzliya, Israel.

Simon Wiesenthal2021-11-10T17:58:44-06:00

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?

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 !2021-05-15T12:26:51-06:00

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 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

New Book Distributor for Europe

(March 12, 2014)  Schiffer Publishing has hired Gazelle Book Services to sell and distribute Schiffer publications in Europe.  This will shorten delivery time and reduce postage costs.  The information on this distributor is:

Gazelle Book Services     White Cross Mills      Hightown      Lancaster   Lancashire      LA1 4XS      UK Tel: +44 (0) 1524 68765    Fax: +44 (0) 1524 63232     E-mail: sales@gazellebooks.co.uk

For those readers in Germany or those travelers fortunate enough to be able to visit Munich, Germany, another bookstore can also assist you in finding the books found on this website.  In my 40 years experience, the Christian Schmidt bookstore is one of the best military bookstores in the entire world.  You can spend hours in there browsing!  Ask for Gabi; they speak perfect English.  You can take the U6 U-Bahn from the center of the city in the direction of the Klinikum Grosshadern and get off at Grosshadern, one stop before the end.  It is marked in blue on U-Bahn maps.

Christian Schmidt Buchhandlung
Sauerbruchstrasse 10
D-81377 Muenchen
Germany

Email: info@christian-schmidt.com
Web Page: www.christian-schmidt.com
Phone: (49) 89 703227

 

New Book Distributor for Europe2014-03-12T20:14:52-06:00

US Army Executions World War II in Europe and Africa Data

(March 9, 2014)  Due to numerous requests by readers, we have added a table showing the names, dates of execution and places of execution for all 96 American soldiers executed in World War II in Europe and North Africa, the subject of The Fifth Field.  Included at the top of the table, which is found in the published work section for The Fifth Field, is a photograph of the last face that probably 34 American soldiers ever saw before they were hanged — that of US Army hangman, Master Sergeant John Woods.  Previously published biographical information on Woods has been mostly incorrect, as until two years ago, Woods’ official personnel records had never been released to the public.  The Fifth Field is the first work to incorporate those files and shows that Woods had been in the US Navy in 1930 but had been discharged for psychological reasons.  He also had never been an assistant hangman in Texas and Oklahoma — as he had claimed in 1944 to help secure the position as hangman, which took him out of a combat engineer unit slated for frontline duty, and also elevated him from the rank of private to master sergeant in just one day!

US Army Executions World War II in Europe and Africa Data2014-03-09T19:28:25-06:00

Kudos for The Fifth Field

(December 25, 2013)  Kudos for The Fifth Field are coming in and are reaffirming that this book will not only shed a light on one of the last great mysteries of World War II, but might also serve as a focal point for a much-needed national discussion on the future of the death penalty.  After only a few weeks since the publication of the book, the author has received wonderful letters from FOUR United States Supreme Court Justices, the deans of Harvard Law, Columbia Law and Stanford Law Schools, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Judge Advocate General of the United States Army.  One of the Supreme Court Justices noted, “I was not familiar with the events recounted in the book.”  One of the deans wrote, “It will reward serious reading,” while another dean added, “I look forward …to learning more about the soldiers you have so tirelessly researched and bring to life their stories.”  On the military side, one General Officer wrote, “This will be very thought provoking,” while a second General Officer opined, “Your demonstrated commitment to the individual lives of Soldiers and the military justice system is truly commendable.”

Perhaps the most poignant comment was made by the child of one of the men who did not come home from the war — one of the 96 described in The Fifth Field.  The descendant, now in old age, said, “God bless you, Colonel; for 65 years, no one would tell me where my father is buried.”

Kudos for The Fifth Field2014-03-10T19:18:59-06:00

Kudos for Stalingrad

(November 8, 2013)  Distinguished Stalingrad author Jason Mark, who has written such classics as Island of Fire: The Battle for the Barrikady Gun Factory in Stalingrad, Death of the Leaping Horseman: 24. Panzer-Division in Stalingrad, Into Oblivion: The Story of Pionier-Battalion 305, Angriff: The German Attack on Stalingrad in Photos, and An Artilleryman in Stalingrad, now offers Stalingrad: The Death of the German Sixth Army on the Volga, 1942-1943 for purchase on his website (www.leapinghorseman.com).  Jason writes on his site:

“Leaping Horseman Books gives this two-volume set its highest recommendation. The level of detail is astounding.  For every day of the battle there is map and an account of the actions and casualties of every corps and division in 6. Armee, followed by a closer look at an individual soldier who died on that day.”

Check out his website for this book and for many of Jason’s excellent offerings.

Kudos for Stalingrad2013-12-12T17:01:04-06:00

Fifth Field Responses Arriving

(November 6, 2013)  Responses to the publishing of The Fifth Field are starting to arrive.  A Supreme Court Associate Justice, an Army 4-star and Deans of two east coast “Ivy League” Law Schools and one California Law School have written that they each have a copy of the book and look forward to reading it.

Fifth Field Responses Arriving2013-11-07T08:59:30-06:00
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