A Forgotten WW2 Anniversary

2014 is a year redolent of World War, not least because anniversaries have been observed marking 100 years since the start of WW1 and 70 years since WW2’s D-Day on 6 June 1944. Another 70th anniversary passed almost un-noticed in 2013: on September 3rd 1943, 9 months before the more widely celebrated Normandy landings, the liberation of mainland Europe really began with the invasion of Italy. The Italian Campaign, initially seen by America as a “sideshow” of the cross-channel invasion, became one of the bloodiest and most protracted anywhere, with fighting continuing until 29th April 1945, the day before Hitler’s suicide.
With experienced and capable commanders, German and Italian troops fought fiercely, falling back to well prepared defensive lines then counter-attacking to regain ground already won at the cost of tens of thousands of allied casualties. For many months in 1943 and1944 there was stalemate while bad weather and mountainous terrain prevented either side from gaining advantage, except by skirmishes from hilltop to hilltop. One such fight, in the Tuscan village of Sommocolonia, deserves to be remembered on its 70th anniversary – 26th December 2014.
Unlike the multi-ethnic British and Commonwealth Army, the American military was almost exclusively white but, pressed for manpower, had re-activated an all-black infantry division disbanded after WW1: the 92nd.
Known as The Buffalo Soldiers, the 92nd was segregated and came from a deeply segregated homeland. Most of its soldiers were conscripts; ill-educated, poorly trained, badly equipped and their senior commanders were, for the most part, white southern officers whose attitude to them, their safety and success, was at best ambivalent. At worst they regarded them as a liberal experiment which they wanted to fail. Consequently their use in combat was resisted up the chain of command and they were initially deployed in menial roles like stretcher bearing or cooking. However, ever mounting casualties forced a change: the 92nd division committed four combat regiments, including the 366th, in August 1944.
The inexperienced soldiers were out-gunned and spread thinly against opposing forces, their own commanders refusing to reinforce them, or even give their wounded blood transfusions, except from other black soldiers. Results were poor and morale understandably low, providing evidence for those desperate to criticise their ability. The Buffalo Soldiers were fighting fascists whose attitudes to them were almost indistinguishable from those of their own commanders: they were considered less than men.
On 26th December 1944 a young, black, officer in the 366th regiment found his hilltop position being over-run by vastly superior forces. Having first ensured that his surviving comrades withdrew to safety, Lt. John R. Fox deliberately, and suicidally, called artillery fire onto his own position. When Sommocolonia was retaken the next day his body was found among 100 enemy dead.
Though posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross it took 38 years for it to be actually presented. 15 years later still a Presidential review of racial bias in the award of WW2 honours gave him America’s highest military decoration: the Congressional Medal of Honour.

Andrew Gold©
499 words
23 October 2014

It was’nae me

I’ve been watching bits of media coverage of the 2014 LibDem conference in Glasgow. Danny Alexander’s (Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the coalition government) claims to ‘own’ the so-called recovery plan: “it wasn’t Cameron and Osborne (Conservative Prime Minister and Chancellor respectively) it was Nick and me” (Nick Clegg is LibDem leader /coalition Deputy Prime Minister) . Meanwhile Nick is trying to disclaim responsibility for the negative effects!  I’m sorry, Nick but “we did the good bits but not the bad bits” won’t wash. The LibDems chose to go into coalition with the Tories, not Labour, they chose to go along with policies they now find repugnant.  Now there is an election looming they are suddenly more like Labour really, all warm and socially cuddly. They are even suggesting they lean toward policies that are oddly reminiscent of Labour proposals they rejected in order to gain power with the Tories!  My late, lamented, Mum used to say “scratch a Liberal and you’ll find a Tory underneath.”: she was no fool.

The only saving grace for the Tories is that elements of the Labour party might not want to win this time round: I suspect they don’t really have the stomach for imposing more cuts. I think they’d rather let the ToryLibs take the blame for another dose of austerity and win an outright majority next time: they want to inherit a ‘fixed’ economy without the blame for the pain.  It’s hard to think of another explanation for sticking with ‘Wally the Unelectable’ as leader. What odds on a new Labour leader after May, another (but febrile) coalition that will last only 2 years and an election in 2017 – about the same time as the hokey-cokey vote on EU membership?

By the way, Scottish ‘friends’ already know what a “cleg” is; for eveyone else, a cleg is a type of annoying horsefly: it will give you a nasty bite if you let it, but they are dozy and easily swatted. Ha Ha.