Heroes & Villains - Hubert Zemke

Pilot, Prisoner, Pugilist, Paragon

I had a lot of trouble coming up with a way to introduce Hubert Zemke. I wanted to talk about how he excelled at various things. I wanted to say some nonsense about rising above and beyond his already impressive peer group. But none of it was quite right.

I believe I have come up with an introduction that *is* quite right.

Hubert Zemke was an impossibly useful human being.

Examining the .50 caliber machine guns on his P-47C Thunderbolt.

Examining the .50 caliber machine guns on his P-47C Thunderbolt.

Zemke was born in 1914, in Missoula, Montana. Or, to put it in 20's-40's terms, Zemke came from The-Bumfuck-Middle-of-Nowheresville. Missoula is currently a decently sized city with an airport, so we don't get to call it that anymore, despite it being in Montana. Also, he was the son of a pair of German immigrants, the irony of which was probably not lost on him.

As a kid, Zemke was bullied at school, at least according to the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Whether or not this fueled his interest in boxing is debatable. Sports explicitly dedicated to injuring other people were more popular back in the day. Still, it meant he knew how to handle bullies, boxing or not.

In 1936, Zemke entered the Army Air Corps, and a year later was a fully qualified fighter pilot, assigned to a squadron of P-40 Kittyhawks in Texas.

I couldn't find and verify any pictures of a 37th Pursuit Group P-40, so here's just a basic picture of a P-40 to give you an idea of what it was like. The guns located in the nose indicate that this is a very early variant. Most of the variants used in WWII had 4-6 .50 caliber guns in the wings instead.

I couldn't find and verify any pictures of a 37th Pursuit Group P-40, so here's just a basic picture of a P-40 to give you an idea of what it was like. The guns located in the nose indicate that this is a very early variant. Most of the variants used in WWII had 4-6 .50 caliber guns in the wings instead.

In 1940, the United States entered a long running trend of foreign policy that hinged on not really knowing what "neutral" means. To express the nation's uninvolvement in the war, President Roosevelt sent representatives to countries engaged in combat with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan to learn and exchange military theory. This occurred in tandem with "lend-lease", which, to keep it simple, was functionally the US giving free weapons and equipment to Allied nations.

Zemke was sent to England to act as a liaison to the RAF. He would be one of the first American pilots to see how the Luftwaffe operated, and how the Brits developed counter-tactics to those operations. Without flying a single combat mission, Zemke had become a valuable asset to the Army Air Corps.

A year later, he was sent to the USSR to do the same thing. Zemke had a certain degree of fluency in the Russian language. That and his training on the P-40 meant he was exactly the right man to go teach the Russians how to fly the P-40. Zemke would later have "мой товарищ" painted on the side of his P-47 Thunderbolt, to celebrate the connection he made through the imminent Iron Curtain.

That translates to "My Comerade". Zemke's fluency would serve him well, even after his time in the USSR was up.

That translates to "My Comerade". Zemke's fluency would serve him well, even after his time in the USSR was up.

On December 7th of 1941, the Japanese launched a daring strike on US Navy ships stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Four days later, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States. It seemed America's weak attempts at neutrality weren't going to be enough to stop Hitler and Hirohito. Someone needed to go over there and help the the Allies wreck the Axis' shit.

In March of 1942, Zemke was assigned to the 56th Fighter Group, transferring to P-47C Thunderbolts, and deploying to Europe in January of 1943. The P-47 was a heavy bastard of a fighter, armed with 8 Browning AN/M2 .50 caliber machine guns in the wings, and capable of carrying 2500 lbs. (Just over 1100kg) of bombs and rockets for ground attack. The Thunderbolt also boasted good performance at low and high altitudes, decent range for a fighter, and exceptional durability for a fighter. The only downside was the somewhat high cost.

Zemke's P-47C-5. Image from http://www.gaetanmarie.com

Zemke's P-47C-5. Image from http://www.gaetanmarie.com

By October, Zemke was an ace and his "Wolfpack" squadron was developing new tactics of air combat that would shape how every other fighter unit in the world operated. One of the more innovative tactics was the "Zemke Fan". The Fan was an arrangement of 3 fighter squadrons. The lead squad flew low, with the next squad flying above, and the last squad flying high as a reserve for the other two.

The positioning and doctrine of this tactic meant the Zemke Fan could cut off interceptors from all manner of approaches without leaving escorted bombers vulnerable. The stacked squadrons could reinforce any squad below them if the need arose while the other regrouped.

Later, in August of '44, Zemke transferred to the 479th Fighter Group. The 479th was being issued the new P-51 Mustang to replace their P-38 Lightnings, and he wanted to get him some of that. Unfortunately, Zemke's plane was damaged on October 30th, and subsequently caught in a thunderstorm.

He had no choice but to ditch over enemy territory. Unable to evade capture, Zemke's role in Europe's air war was over with 17..75 victories credited and over 150 missions flown. His role of being impossibly useful, however, remained unchanged.

Just as an aside, Russian wasn't the only other language Zemke knew. His German parents meant he spoke the language of his captors. This was good for Zemke. Not only could he better communicate with the guards (and interrogators), he could also endear himself to them and start building up favors for himself and the other prisoners.

Though not as imperiled as, say, Polish Jews, captured airmen in Germany had two huge burdens to deal with.

First, there was a chance they'd be caught by the SS and not the Luftwaffe or Wehrmacht. The Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht drew from the greater population, and had people who appreciated the experiences of the soldiers and pilots they apprehended. The SS drew from dedicated members of the Nazi party, and encouraged a brand of hatred as of yet unmatched by any other organization.

The second is that the US and UK were bombing the ever-loving hell out of Germany's industrial infrastructure. The collateral damage was extensive. The Nazis used this fact as propaganda against the Allies, but it was also not an unreasonable thing to be upset about. More than one captured pilot and crew-member was subjected to torture (or a mob beating) by people wanting to get even for the bombing.

 

Zemke's mugshot while being taken into German custody. You know, he kind of looks like Tom Hanks.

Zemke's mugshot while being taken into German custody. You know, he kind of looks like Tom Hanks.

Zemke was shipped off to Stalag Luft 1. It wasn't a concentration camp, but it wasn't great by any stretch of the imagination. Stalag Luft 1 was also located in Barth, Germany. Barth is in a part of Germany that would best be described as "The shitty cold part for most of the year".

He also spent some time with Hanns Scharff, the legendary interrogator of the Luftwaffe, known for being able to get all kinds of useful information from prisoners. Scharff's technique was brutal. He took efforts to ensure prisoners were treated humanely, and then he'd get in casual and polite conversations with them, sometimes after getting them drunk. Scharff was a trailblazer in the field of interrogation, and his methods of "treating people like people" and "malt liquor" live on to this day in the form of things that are eschewed in favor of unreliable torture.

Scharff is on the left, an American POW is in the middle, and a Luftwaffe officer on the right.     "YOU SHALL TELL US WHAT WE WISH TO KNOW, OR HERR OFFICER AND I SHALL HAVE TO... uh... make a note of that and send you back with some coffee to share with the others."

Scharff is on the left, an American POW is in the middle, and a Luftwaffe officer on the right.

"YOU SHALL TELL US WHAT WE WISH TO KNOW, OR HERR OFFICER AND I SHALL HAVE TO... uh... make a note of that and send you back with some coffee to share with the others."

Scharff knew a lot about Zemke and the 56th Fighter Group. In fact, aside from what he knew as an intelligence worker, it seemed that Scharff was a genuine fan of pilots in general. Still, underneath his amicable exterior and distinctly un-Nazi concern for his enemy's well-being, Scharff was still an interrogator.

In Zemke's own words:

"There is no doubt in my mind that he did extract something from me, but I haven’t the slightest idea what. If you talked to him about the weather or anything else, he no doubt could get some information or confirmation from it. He reminded me of the typical American insurance salesman who left you with a $10,000 insurance policy after getting his foot in the door. Though he never seemed to press for information, he’d pop an innocent remark out of the blue, making me think twice."

Whether Zemke actually gave anything away to Scharff, it definitely wasn't enough to change the balance of the war. After the war, Zemke would invite Scharff to dinner. Also Scharff would design the mosaic inside Cinderella's Castle for Disney World in Orlando. But that's a story for another time.

At the rank of Colonel, Zemke was the highest ranking Allied officer at Stalag Luft 1. Under the Geneva Convention, that meant that the US prisoners all reported to him, *and* the Germans were obligated to respect his rank in matters of prisoner interaction. To translate, that means that Zemke was only obligated to salute and hold attention for a German soldier only if their rank exceeded Colonel. In fact, Zemke technically didn't have to even speak to a German soldier of a lower rank. Most of the Allied officers took pleasure in exploiting these rules to annoy their captors. While risky, these shows of defiance were a source of inspiration to the rest of the prisoners.

In addition to shows of defiance, Zemke found other ways to boost morale. One notable example was the staging of a boxing match. Zemke's opponent was drawn from a pool of volunteers with backgrounds in boxing (or not, anyone who wanted to throw their name in was able). The name drawn for the bout was Major Cyrus Manierre. Let's talk about Manierre for a minute. Stalag Luft 1 was a cesspool of fascinating people.

Major Manierre was a captured OSS agent who had been working with the French resistance. But the Germans didn't know this. The Major had spun a convincing story of being a downed bomber pilot, and was able to back that up thanks to the fact that his brother was a bomber pilot. Cyrus's brother, Bill, was, in fact, a bomber pilot who had been downed over Germany and captured. When the Germans found out they had captured two pilots who were also brothers, they made a big point of "reuniting the brothers", then shipped them to Stalag Luft 1. If they had known Cyrus was really an OSS agent, they'd have turned him over to the SS, and he almost certainly would have been hanged.

Major Manierre outweighed Colonel Zemke by a fair margin, and also had 4 inches of height on the Colonel. Although both men had boxing experience, Zemke's greater experience  was more than enough to close the weight gap. After Manierre held his own in the first round, he began to tire and Zemke would win by a unanimous vote from the appointed judges.

Based on the one photograph of the event, I'm guessing that what really happened is that two malnourished men put on boxing gloves they got from somewhere and traded punches, and it was the best entertainment anyone at the camp, prisoner or guard, had gotten for a long time.

Based on the one photograph of the event, I'm guessing that what really happened is that two malnourished men put on boxing gloves they got from somewhere and traded punches, and it was the best entertainment anyone at the camp, prisoner or guard, had gotten for a long time.

Soon, the year was 1945, and the Allies were closing in from the East, South, and West. The so-called "master race" was having its ass handed to it by a group of starving, scared Soviets on one front, and a huge, multinational military that was quietly starting to de-segregate on the other front. It was a bad year for nationalism and racism. It was also a bad year to be a prisoner to the Axis.

POW camps all over Germany were being liquidated, and prisoners were being forced to move hundreds of miles to alternate camps further away from the advancing armies. In April, the German officer in charge of Stalag Luft 1 informed Zemke that they were to be moved to Hamburg. Zemke refused to follow this plan. Instead, Zemke convinced the Commandant that it was in his best interest to get his 200 or so poorly armed men and bugger off before the Russians showed up.

The Commandant agreed and left the camp with his men. 9,000 Allied airmen (and at least one spy pretending to be an airman) now controlled Stalag Luft 1, under the direction of Colonel Zemke. In the event the Germans had been stubborn, Zemke had spent the past several months getting weapons smuggled in and stashed around the camp. Fortunately, it didn't come to that.

On May 1st, the Soviets finally showed up, led by General Marozil, a man I am having an astounding amount if difficulty finding any information about. The liberating Soviets immediately set about planning to move all the prisoners to Odessa. Zemke, again annoyed at the prospect of a pointless march to somewhere worse, also refused this plan. The Colonel's mastery of the Russian language meant he could better communicate the needs of the prisoners to the Soviets.

I'm going off topic here, but someday I'm going to track down more information on General Marozil. All I have to go on currently is that he worked for Borisov, his name might be Uzbeki, and there's two photographs of him with the Stalag Luft 1 prisoners.

I'm going off topic here, but someday I'm going to track down more information on General Marozil. All I have to go on currently is that he worked for Borisov, his name might be Uzbeki, and there's two photographs of him with the Stalag Luft 1 prisoners.

Once the containment fences had been ripped down, the Soviets asked Zemke what he needed, and his first answer was food for 9000 men. The Russians went into the surrounding countryside and rounded up several hundred cows and pigs.

Actually, according to one account, the cows were more than enough, but a Soviet soldier rolled up with a couple hundred pigs and explained that he couldn't reach the goal of 1000 pigs. When a prisoner explained that the cows were enough, the Soviet replied "The General has ordered me to get you the pigs." So this prisoner went into the abandoned admin office and used a typewriter to work up a receiving message saying all 1000 had been delivered. He probably saved that Soviet a lot of grief.

Here's Zemke with some more Soviets. Note F.LT. Delarge. Delarge also spoke Russian, so he could represent the prisoners alongside Zemke. Also note that officer on the left who didn't hold still for the camera. And finally, note General Borisov sitting to Zemke's right (viewer's left).

Here's Zemke with some more Soviets. Note F.LT. Delarge. Delarge also spoke Russian, so he could represent the prisoners alongside Zemke. Also note that officer on the left who didn't hold still for the camera. And finally, note General Borisov sitting to Zemke's right (viewer's left).

Zemke's next objective after feeding his men was to let the Western Allies know where they were. He gave this task to RAF Group Captain Weir, who went to the Russians to further convince them that moving everyone to Odessa was a waste of time, and that what they really needed was a working telephone or radio. Between Zemke and Weir, they finally convinced the Soviets to get in touch with General Eisenhower, who had several hundred B-17s sent to a nearby airfield to bring the prisoners home.

To summarize Hubert Zemke's role in the War, I'll make a bulleted list. This list can also be my TL;DR, for the impatient

  • Zemke oversaw lend-lease deliveries of P-40 fighters to the UK, USSR, and China (to a smaller extent).
  • During his time in these countries, Zemke crossed cultural and political gaps between the western and eastern Allied forces.
    • He also got a closer look at the Luftwaffe than most other American pilots would get until 1942.
  • Zemke developed and applied new tactics for bomber escort and fighter suppression that became a standard for other units in the Army Air Corps.
  • Zemke survived being shot down by God.
  • Zemke met Hanns Scharff, famous Axis interrogator and Disney mosaic designer.
  • Zemke ably represented the prisoners at Stalag Luft 1, and protected them against being put on a death march by retreating German forces. He spoke German, too.
  • He also guarded the prisoners from being shipped to Communist controlled Odessa and presumably having their souls devoured by Stalin. Zemke was fluent in Russian.
  • Hubert Zemke kind of looked like Tom Hanks.

Hubert Zemke was an impossibly useful human being.


Sources

  • W.Smith, Mary.  World War II - Prisoners of War - Stalag Luft I.  http://www.merkki.com/.
    • Just as an aside, Merkki is a site that's crammed full of fascinating stories.
  • “Zemke, Hubert A. ‘Hub.’” Atlantikwall - Batterie D'Azeville - Azeville - TracesOfWar.com, www.tracesofwar.com/persons/46544/Zemke-Hubert-A-Hub.htm?c=aw.
  • “Secrets of the Nazi Interrogators.” HistoryNet, 25 Apr. 2018, www.historynet.com/secrets-nazi-interrogators.htm.

Got 'Em! USS Archerfish Sinks the Shinano, and its Deadly Cargo!

So I've had an idea for another history-oriented series of posts, called Got 'Em! The theme will be hard targets, impossible engagements, and daring bluffs that people walked away from victorious. Also, it'll be an exercise in writing article titles in the style of an old stag mag. There will be less focus on full histories, and more focus on action.

First up is the story of the USS Archerfish, an American submarine that wiped out multiple Imperial Japanese superweapons in a single strike.

archerfish1.jpg

November 28, 1944. The USS Archerfish, under Commander Joseph Enright, spotted a large ship leaving Tokyo Bay under heavy escort. For the entirety of the engagement, including his after action reports, Enright incorrectly determined his target to be a Hayataka-class Carrier.

A Taiho class carrier. The Hayataka was essentially an upgraded version of this.

A Taiho class carrier. The Hayataka was essentially an upgraded version of this.

However, the Archerfish's enemy was a far more important target, as was the contents of its cargo holds. The carrier was actually, the Shinano, which had been constructed from one of three Yamato-class hulls. It was the largest aircraft carrier in the world at the time, built on the hull of the largest battleship ever to exist.

Assume the bridge is around 1.5x the size of the one on the Taiho, and you might have a sense of scale.

Assume the bridge is around 1.5x the size of the one on the Taiho, and you might have a sense of scale.

Archerfish pursued, her engines struggling to keep them close to the enemy ships. The Japanese ships apparently spotted the Archerfish, and made a few rudimentary evasive maneuvers, but then seemed to lose contact with the submarine. At one point, one of the destroyer escorts (Most likely the Isokaze) broke formation and moved towards Archerfish, and promptly sped right past the sub, none the wiser. This, combined with a large heading adjustment by the Shinano, left Archerfish in a perfect position to launch an attack.

Commander Enright's Chart of the pursuit of the Shinano

Commander Enright's Chart of the pursuit of the Shinano

All six forward tubes launched torpedoes at the Shinano. The Archerfish Crew reported all six hits. The Japanese crew of the Shinano only reported four. It is possible that secondary explosions caused by a hit were registered as additional hits. My theory regarding secondary explosions is lent weight by the fact that a fireball was spotted climbing the side of the Shinano after the first torpedo hit.

The Shinano began listing, and the sound equipment on the Archerfish was filled with the noise of a large ship hull breaking up as its engines stopped, never to start again. On the Shinano itself, the captain fought to keep the ship on course, thinking the damage was less extensive than it was. Below decks, multiple failsafes and bulkheads failed to operate as intended, and the massive ship continued to take on water past the point of no return. of around ~2500 crew, only around half would survive.

As it became clear the Shinano was lost, the destroyers broke formation and started dumping depth charges. But even that was too late, the Archerfish escaped with minimal damage, and racked up the most tonnage sunk in a single target by a submarine.

It wasn't until a post-war review that the crew understood the full extent of the target they had destroyed. First, what they thought to be a further modified Hayataka had instead been the Shinano, the largest carrier of the Japanese fleet and, at the time, largest carrier in the world, built from a hull meant to carry the largest battleship ever built. Furthermore, the Shinano had been carrying cargo of a deadly, horrifying nature.

Inside the Shinano were the first 50 completed MXY-7 Ohka ("Cherry Blossom") rocket planes. These were designed to be the ultimate Kamikaze aircraft. The Ohka's mostly wooden airframe was propelled by a series of three rocket motors, fired all at once or one at a time depending on the situation. All of this enclosed over a ton of explosives.

Normally I'd say that what I've just said describes a fucking rad way to die. However, I think the mere fact that the Imperial Japanese approved the standardized production of this plane shows a horrific lack of morals and regard for the lives of their soldiers.

Normally I'd say that what I've just said describes a fucking rad way to die. However, I think the mere fact that the Imperial Japanese approved the standardized production of this plane shows a horrific lack of morals and regard for the lives of their soldiers.

Because of this sudden break in the production and distribution of the Ohka, the entire program was set back far enough that very few were ever utilized, and only three attacks against American ships were successful.

Diagram of the damage done to the USS Hugh W. Hadley. The "Unidentified Aircraft" mentioned were determined to have been MXY-7 Ohka sucide planes. Though the Hadley survived the attack, it was damaged beyond repair.

Diagram of the damage done to the USS Hugh W. Hadley. The "Unidentified Aircraft" mentioned were determined to have been MXY-7 Ohka sucide planes. Though the Hadley survived the attack, it was damaged beyond repair.

The Hadley's survival was partially due to one of the Ohkas failing to detonate properly, instead passing clear through the ship. Even a large breech in the hull is a lot easier to handle when it hasn't been compounded by the detonation of a metric ton of explosives.

The Hadley's survival was partially due to one of the Ohkas failing to detonate properly, instead passing clear through the ship. Even a large breech in the hull is a lot easier to handle when it hasn't been compounded by the detonation of a metric ton of explosives.

Alongside the 50 Ohka aircraft, the Shinano was carrying 5 Shinyo-class suicide motorboats. Shinyos were a simple motorboat packed down with explosives, acting as a man-guided torpedo.

I don't know what to say. The Japanese made a lot of these and it was horrible.

I don't know what to say. The Japanese made a lot of these and it was horrible.

A quick rundown of the Archerfish's accomplishments in this engagement is in order.

  1. The Archerfish snuck up on a high value target, slipping literally right underneath destroyers bristling with anti-sub equipment, who were aware of its presence.
  2. The Archerfish sunk the largest aircraft carrier in the world (at the time), which had been built around the hull of the largest battleship class ever.
  3. Along with the Shinano, the Archerfish destroyed the first shipment of one of the sickest terror weapons ever devised, as well as some of its close relatives.

I will now conclude with a photo of Commander Enright.

Kind of a lanky, goofy looking guy. What a perfect person to be taking down Axis terror weapons.

Kind of a lanky, goofy looking guy. What a perfect person to be taking down Axis terror weapons.

Heroes & Villains - Nikita Khrushchev

You know, when I started planning this series of posts, I didn't mean to go hurling myself straight at the Soviet Union. And yet here we are. I start the series with a badass Soviet marksman lady, and now I'm moving right on to a hardass Soviet premier guy. Nikita Khrushchev.

Allow me to take a first turn that few American writers would, and *start* with something that establishes Mr. Khrushchev's status as a Hero. This photo is of Khrushchev comforting a fellow Soviet in Stalingrad, 1942. I don't exactly have specific criteria for "Hero" status. That being said, participation in the Battle of Stalingrad immediately makes someone eligible for that title by my metric.

Allow me to take a first turn that few American writers would, and *start* with something that establishes Mr. Khrushchev's status as a Hero. This photo is of Khrushchev comforting a fellow Soviet in Stalingrad, 1942. I don't exactly have specific criteria for "Hero" status. That being said, participation in the Battle of Stalingrad immediately makes someone eligible for that title by my metric.

Khrushchev was born in 1894 in Kalinovka, near the Ukraine border. This may or may not explain why he was one of, like, two Russian leaders who even vaguely gave a shit about the Ukrainian people.

After spending his teens as a coal miner, Khrushchev got involved with the communists in 1918, just in time to be involved in the Russian civil war. His first wife, sadly, succumbed to typhus at this time, meaning he had two children to look after alone while fighting for the Bolsheviks. Soon, Khrushchev was rising through the ranks of the party. Let that be a lesson to us all. It's a short leap from being cursed to serve The Man and being The Man. One day, you're mining coal and raising your kids and the next, you're lining up revisionist sympathizers and shooting them in the head (and they might not even deserve it this time).

So, depending on how you look at it, he got in with the wrong crowd, or got dragged into the wrong crowd. He was in the wrong crowd, in any event.

Khrushchev with Stalin, 1936. For those of you not familiar with Stalin's HR policies, there are very few people ever photographed this close to Stalin who were ever seen or heard from again.

Khrushchev with Stalin, 1936. For those of you not familiar with Stalin's HR policies, there are very few people ever photographed this close to Stalin who were ever seen or heard from again.

Khrushchev came into the confidence of Joseph Stalin. This was a very precarious position. On the one hand, the great and powerful leader of the USSR recognized and valued his skills as a leader and member of the party. On the other hand, being close to Joseph Stalin was a great way to disappear from the space/time continuum, so efficient was he at disposing of those who fell out of favor.

The man on the right is Nikolai Yezhov. He is one of the lucky few whose even vaguest memory can be recalled after one of Stalin's purges. Before vanishing himself, Yezhov helped facilitate some of Stalin's purges. A good communist doesn't believe in Karma. Heh.

The man on the right is Nikolai Yezhov. He is one of the lucky few whose even vaguest memory can be recalled after one of Stalin's purges. Before vanishing himself, Yezhov helped facilitate some of Stalin's purges. A good communist doesn't believe in Karma. Heh.

Compounding on the complexity and peril of Khrushchev's life, Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa in late June, 1941. This was the beginning of the Ostfront of World War II, or, as the Soviets would later call it, the Great Patriotic War. Khrushchev was involved in coordination and planning during the Battle of Stalingrad, which meant he had one of the most important and least fulfilling tasks of the war. During this time, he made good friends with Georgy Zhukov. Rumor has it that Khrushchev accidentally became involved in the then-secret plans for Operation Uranus (A push to encircle and eliminate German units in late 1942) when proposing a counteroffensive of his own.

Khrushchev with Zhukov (right). Taken in 1956, slightly less perilous times.

Khrushchev with Zhukov (right). Taken in 1956, slightly less perilous times.

The Soviet Union's troubles, sadly, did not end with the war. They stopped the Nazis at the cost of putting Eastern Europe under the control of Stalin. The Allies saved the world, but the price for doing so was to split the world in half. In March of 1953, all of creation breathed a thorough, but tentative sigh of relief as Joseph Stalin was declared dead. There are some theories that Stalin was poisoned, but that is the topic of another article. No doubt calling on his experience crushing fascists, Khrushchev crushed a brief coup attempt and was appointed the Premier of the Soviet Union.

Khrushchev's ability to hold the Union together and consolidate it into a true world Superpower surprised the West. The United States did not anticipate such organization and power to come from Stalin's legacy. Meanwhile, that same year, dissidents in an Asian nation called Vietnam began a communist uprising against French occupation. The soviets began lending increasing amounts of support to this movement. The United States, in turn, lent increasing levels of support to the residing government, hoping to halt the advance of communist power and doctrine.

In February of 1956, Khrushchev called a secret meeting of the soviet 20th Congress. In this session, he shocked the Communist community by decrying the legacy of Joseph Stalin. Khrushchev drew upon recent discussion of the dangers of "cults of individualism" within the party. From this, he highlighted that Stalin himself had fostered a powerful cult of personality around himself. With the power granted by this social status, Stalin had engaged in evil, destructive acts that were contrary to the purposes of the Communist party.

Khrushchev's speech began a process of de-Stalinization. Stalin's crimes were made apparent, and his infallible demi-god image was erased. Countless prisoners of the infamous gulags were released, and draconian laws restricting expression and speech were loosened. Of course, the Communist party still asserted absolute dominance of the Soviet Union.

Despite rising tensions between the USSR and the USA, Khrushchev did his part to reach out and became the first Soviet leader to visit the United States.

1959. Khrushchev meets US President Eisenhower. Sure, they look friendly, but I have the strangest notion that the only people in this picture who trust each other are the President and his wife.

1959. Khrushchev meets US President Eisenhower. Sure, they look friendly, but I have the strangest notion that the only people in this picture who trust each other are the President and his wife.

During an American exhibition in Moscow, 1959, Khrushchev (left), argues about production and supply with then US Vice-president Richard Nixon (right).

During an American exhibition in Moscow, 1959, Khrushchev (left), argues about production and supply with then US Vice-president Richard Nixon (right).

Khrushchev enjoying a hot dog in Iowa, 1959. In his own words, it was "Wonderful, but not enough." He declined having a second one, though. He was a good Communist.

Khrushchev enjoying a hot dog in Iowa, 1959. In his own words, it was "Wonderful, but not enough." He declined having a second one, though. He was a good Communist.

Khrushchev's relationship with Eisenhower was irreparably damaged in 1960. A Lockheed U-2 Spyplane was downed over Russia. The pilot, Gary Powers, along with equipment and photographs from the plane were recovered.

Eisenhower claimed the plane was an off-course weather surveyor. The Soviets didn't like that, and produced evidence that Powers was alive and in custody, along with equipment from the downed plane which was inappropriate for weather forecasting, but very good at photographing nuclear assets.

It's customary to paint weather planes low-viz black. It's important the weather doesn't see them at night, so as to not contaminate the science.

It's customary to paint weather planes low-viz black. It's important the weather doesn't see them at night, so as to not contaminate the science.

The united states would somewhat rebuild Khrushchev's trust after the transition to the Kennedy presidency. But things would never really be okay between the East and West. Especially not with escalating warfare in Vietnam, with each superpower backing their respective interests.

1961, Khrushchev meets with President Kennedy in Austria.

1961, Khrushchev meets with President Kennedy in Austria.

Closer to US soil, in 1961, American operatives utterly failed to ruin the rising Communist government in Cuba. In the wake of that failure rose Fidel Castro. Castro was a mangy, cigar smoking pile of evil, and also super cool and possibly invulnerable to the puny weapons of man. He and Khrushchev had an understanding.

Khrushchev (left), models a Soviet gas mask for Fidel Castro (right). There are a surprising amount of candid photos of this Soviet Premier. In a similar vein, that jacket makes Castro look the frumpiest he ever looked.

Khrushchev (left), models a Soviet gas mask for Fidel Castro (right). There are a surprising amount of candid photos of this Soviet Premier. In a similar vein, that jacket makes Castro look the frumpiest he ever looked.

In 1962, American spy planes were once again photographing suspicious Communist activity (all communist activity is suspicious). Their findings were more alarming this time. Soviet freighters were moving cargo to their Cuban allies. This cargo was quickly determined to be nuclear warheads and launch equipment.

In response, the US went on full alert, since someone was moving nukes right off their coast. Cuba was blockaded, and the entire world hit the dirt, prepared for everyone in possession of nuclear weapons to start using them.

Fortunately, neither the United States nor the USSR actually wanted a nuclear war.

Khrushchev and Kennedy talked it out. The US made some minor concessions over in Europe, and Khrushchev withdrew the nuclear weapons from Cuba. The World avoided nuclear war, but to this day, most people agree that the Cuban Missile Crisis was too damn close.

Between 1963 and 1964, Khrushchev's control over the Soviet government began to diminish. When US President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Khrushchev lost a friend and a connection to the West that he could rely on. At the same time, his attempts to revise domestic agricultural policies failed, resulting in shortages and dissent.

Not even his close friendship with corn was enough to recover the failure of Khrushchev's agricultural policy.

Not even his close friendship with corn was enough to recover the failure of Khrushchev's agricultural policy.

Poised to take control was an old guard Soviet, cut from the cloth of Stalin. His name was Leonid Brezhnev, and he had the support of the military, which was enough to fill the gaps in Khrushchev's waning political power. Khrushchev stepped down in October of 1964, and Brezhnev took control.

Khrushchev meets with Leonid Brezhnev (right). Date unknown, but I suspect it's late 40's or early 50's.

Khrushchev meets with Leonid Brezhnev (right). Date unknown, but I suspect it's late 40's or early 50's.

Brezhnev's power and militaristic leaning rolled back many elements of Khrushchev's de-Stalinization policies. He also continued the escalation in Vietnam, leading to a full-on war between the Communist backed NVA and the US backed South Vietnam, a war that would last another decade.

As for Khrushchev, I think history is still deciding where he sits in the spectrum of heroism and villainy. He participated in a government that was often cruel and oppressive. When he came to control that government, he tried, with limited success, to undo the damage. He reached out to his ideological enemies in the west, and the west reached back, for a brief moment, anyways.

As for my assessment, I'll just say this: Nikita Khrushchev was not a bad man, but he *was* a good Communist.

 

Main sources for this article were as follows:
"Nikita Khrushchev." Biography.com. Biography.com, n.d. Web. <http://www.biography.com/people/nikita-khrushchev-9364384>.
Khrushchev, Nikita. "Speech to 20th Congress of the C.P.S.U." Marxists.org. Marxists.org, n.d. Web. <https://www.marxists.org/archive/khrushchev/1956/02/24.htm>.

Heroes & Villains - Lyudmila Pavlichenko

As my first article of the year, I'd like to announce the launch of a new series that I will be focusing on creating for 2017. I like how I use the term "announce", like I have a following that merits that sort of scale. But anyways, that's not the point.

When I was a young LT, my parents would read me bedtime stories. Sometimes, these were the typical fare about Mr. Grumpy and Little Miss Perfect having a mediocre day at the beach or something. Most of the time, however, they read to me from Greek and Norse mythology. I didn't See Jane Run, I saw Jane become blessed by Athena and break into a sprint towards the Minotaur, cleaving its head from its shoulders with a blade crafted by Hephaestus. I believe it is this that was the beginning of my true passion in life.

In the broad sense, my passion is History. More specifically, my passion is the Heroes and Villains of history. I love to learn and teach the stories of people who were true paragons of humanity, as well as people who highlighted our worst qualities. I especially like the people who blurred the lines between those two things.

In this first installment, however, I'll be talking about someone who pretty thoroughly falls into the "Hero" side of things. Her name is Lyudmila Mykhailivna Pavlichenko. Or, in her native Ukrainian: Людмила Михайлівна Павличенко. Though to most, she'd likely just be "Ma'am" or "Major Pavlichenko."

THIS is what a Nazi-killing feminist looks like, in case you were wondering.

THIS is what a Nazi-killing feminist looks like, in case you were wondering.

Pavlichenko was born in the Ukraine region of the Russian Empire in 1916, which was just in time for the Russian Empire to become the Soviet Union.

While living with her family in Kiev in her teens, she focused on three main things in life. The first was working at the Kiev Arsenal Factory, where she no doubt became what kids today refer to as "swole", since you kind of had to be that to work in a Soviet munitions plant. The second was earning a degree in history at college. And the third was becoming a highly qualified sharpshooter in the Soviet equivalent of the Junior Marines.

Just as a side note, according to Pavlichenko herself, she took up shooting after hearing a boy boast about his skills. She wanted to show him that a girl could shoot, too. Soon, she'd prove that to everyone, including a personal demonstration to around 300 fascists.

In 1941, Nazi Germany decided to try and cure Russia of communism the same way a doctor might try to cure a fever with bloodletting followed by total body immolation. Pavlichenko decided to put her scholarly studies on hold and join the Red Army.

Originally, they were planning on putting her in as a nurse since that's what you did with women back in the day when they weren't considered real people. Even her marksmanship certificate from OSOAVIAKhIM (aforesaid Jr. Marines parallel) wasn't enough. Eventually, she demonstrated her skill to the Red Army's satisfaction by shooting two enemy Romanian soldiers dead.

According to Pavlichenko, her nerves did get to her in her first real engagement, in Odessa. These weren't under-trained Romanian coalition soldiers she was facing this time. These were bloodthirsty professional Wehrmacht killers fielding some of the finest military equipment in the world. When a young Russian man was shot right next to her, she found new resolve, and started shooting back with devastating efficiency. Her first Nazis killed were a pair of scouts, who were probably not terribly happy they found her.

After Odessa fell to the Nazis, Pavlichenko moved with Soviet forces to Sevastopol. There, she found herself frequently assigned the unenviable task of counter-sniping operations. Normal sniping is where the shooter makes surprise attacks against an enemy force after sneaking to covert positions. Typically, a sniper is obligated to engage high value targets above all else, focusing on Officers, emplacement and vehicle crews, machine gun operators, and so on. A sniper on the job will follow a pattern of shoot-move-shoot, never making a shot from the same position unless the situation both warrants it and still permits exfiltration before the enemy can return fire.

Counter-Sniping operations are focused explicitly on enemy snipers, so as to keep them from sniping. The sniper is obligated to engage enemy snipers, and only enemy snipers, who are themselves on the lookout for snipers. It is a duel between two units specialized in stealth, camouflage, and surprise attacks enabled by those two things. A sniper duel, especially on the Ostfront, could last several days, in which one or both snipers could spend upward of 24 hours staying in the same position, waiting for any indication of the others' presence. Pavlichenko defeated a total of 36 better equipped Nazi men in counter-sniping operations.

Pavlichenko on the job. Well, I think she probably got a bit cleaned up for the photo. She's holding an SVT-40 semi-automatic rifle. They didn't give those to just anyone.

Pavlichenko on the job. Well, I think she probably got a bit cleaned up for the photo. She's holding an SVT-40 semi-automatic rifle. They didn't give those to just anyone.

On hitting 257 confirmed kills in May of 1942, Pavlichenko was given a citation of recognition, to which she responded with "I'll get more".  Worth noting is that the 257 did not include the two Romanians she had to kill to be let in the army in the first place. She considered them her trial run. Her final confirmed kills against the Nazis was 309.

That's 309 pieces of evidence against segregation in the military. It's also 309 pieces of evidence that Lyudmila Pavlichenko is nobody's bitch. There were many Soviet snipers with higher kill scores in roughly the same period of time. However, they were all men, and had to only deal with bullshit in the form of Nazi munitions and Stalin's logistics, while Pavlichenko had to also put up with the bullshit of people not taking her seriously because she was a woman.

To the Soviets' credit, they were better at taking Women seriously than most at the time.

To the Soviets' credit, they were better at taking Women seriously than most at the time.

After finally getting the Nazis to take her seriously enough to wound her (only slightly seriously) with mortar fire, Pavlichenko was withdrawn from the front lines to become an instructor for other snipers. This was only partially because of her injury, which was not terribly incapacitating. The real reason for this shift was to keep Pavlichenko safe, as she had become a powerful icon of Soviet propaganda.

Around this time, the Germans actually tried to tempt Pavlichenko into defecting with, no shit, chocolate rations and an Officer position. When that didn't work, they resorted to threatening her directly in propaganda, stating they'd rip her into 309 pieces, one for every German she'd killed. Pavlichenko's response was an enthusiastic "They even know my score!"

A slightly more formal photograph of Pavlichenko. Like most living soviets in the '40s, she didn't often put her rifle down for very long.

A slightly more formal photograph of Pavlichenko. Like most living soviets in the '40s, she didn't often put her rifle down for very long.

Pavlichenko was sent on a propaganda tour to the other allied nations. In America, she was patronized by reporters about her lack of usage of beauty products in battle, the drabness of her uniform, and her appearance. Americans have long had a reputation for being terrible at survival instincts, hence, they harassed a lady who has killed 309 harder men.

Yes, there's lots of time to apply makeup while keeping the Fascists out of Ukraine so they don't take the rest of Eastern Europe and then the world.

Yes, there's lots of time to apply makeup while keeping the Fascists out of Ukraine so they don't take the rest of Eastern Europe and then the world.

Pavlichenko took it in stride, brushing away stupid questions and occasionally chastising the exceptionally obnoxious. She made friends with Eleanor Roosevelt, and was presented a Colt handgun by FDR. Actually, she got rather a lot of guns from foreign representatives on her tour.

S.C. Associate Justice Jackson, Major Pavlichenko, First Lady Roosevelt

S.C. Associate Justice Jackson, Major Pavlichenko, First Lady Roosevelt

The message she carried with her was reflective of the greatest qualities of the Soviet Union.

“Our women were on a basis of complete equality long before the war. From the first day of the Revolution full rights were granted the women of Soviet Russia. One of the most important things is that every woman has her own specialty. That is what actually makes them as independent as men. Soviet women have complete self-respect, because their dignity as human beings is fully recognized. Whatever we do, we are honored not just as women, but as individual personalities, as human beings. That is a very big word. Because we can be fully that, we feel no limitations because of our sex. That is why women have so naturally taken their places beside men in this war.”

The majority of this tale references the following source:
King, Gilbert. "Eleanor Roosevelt and the Soviet Sniper." Smithsonian.com. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/eleanor-roosevelt-and-the-soviet-sniper-23585278/.