Monthly Archives: December 2012
For some time (nearly three years) I have been working on the outline and story of a U-Boat during WWII. The story has undergone numerous changes and modifications, as all stories do, but the goal remains to tell a story that is both entertaining and as historically accurate as possible.
As a submariner myself, I have a particular interest in the German U-Boat sailors of World War II. It has become obvious to me through the years that they knew how bad things were, they knew the odds were more than stacked against them and yet not only did they still go to sea, they did so willingly and with a staggering lack of training. That strikes us today as odd, because we perceive the U-Boat crews as elite and fanatical, but seldom was that the real case.
At any rate, my story involves a Commander who is stoic, dedicated and familiar with both the United States and Great Britain, with distant but familiar to him relatives in both and with some education in the United States, gaining him a love of American sports. For the record, I outlined that long before tonight.
Eventually I settled on a name, although I am still bouncing back and forth on the first name, I decided to go with Baumann as a last name, giving me a closer connection to him as I write his story. I am still trying to decide between Lüdwig or Lothar for a first name.
At any rate, he has a history with the Navy, and is well connected politically and socially, enough so that when Admiral Dönitz suspects (he will never truly discover) Baumanns big secret, he cannot take direct action for fear of retaliation. Thus he is forced to come up with another scheme to deal with the issue at hand.
Having decided on my characters name (at least his last name), I decided to spend some of my vacation time researching U-Boat Commanders to see if any had the last name “Baumann,” and as it turns out, two (2) did. The first, Heinz Baumann commanded three boats, but made no war patrols, serving instead as a training boat commander. One has to wonder how he felt about that, but in any case, there was not much in his story that appealed to me directly.
The second was Fregttkapitän Arend Baumann. He was the commander of U-131, a Type IXC boat sunk off of Spain during the battle for Convoy HG76 by a combination of destroyers, sloops and aircraft and an amazing run of just plain bad luck.
But the most amazing thing about Commander Baumann and the U-131 story was that – and this is unusual – the entire crew survived the sinking. They were, of course, captured and sent to Gibraltar and then on to the UK for internment. And in that record of their interrogation there exists a more incredible story than I could have ever dreamed up.
The story is remarkably personal, including their accounts of their last night ashore, their jokes about Grand Admiral Raeder and their opinions about shipmates and service histories of each other. The accounts of their training voyage is heart stopping.
In the submarine fleet there is an old saying, “If you aren’t lucky, we don’t want you.” Baumann seems to have taken that mindset to heart and done everything humanly possible to eliminate luck from the equation, but in the end, a set of broken hydrophones (maintenance and training failures?) and some bad plotting led directly to the loss of the boat and their capture.
Commander Baumann went on to lead a long life, passing away in December of 1985 at the age of 82.
The Second World War is filled with untold stories of courage, intrigue, adventure, horror and terror. So many stories are untold and unknown and more are disappearing into the dust of history each and every day. My story is fiction, but maybe it can bring Commander Baumann and the story of his boat and crew back to life in our collective memory.
Lothar(?) von Baumann is a highly successful and trusted U-Boat Commander. His unorthodox tactics (radio silence) infuriate Admiral Dönitz, but his family connections to the highest political authorities make him untouchable, unless his biggest secret becomes known. Then it will be a race to the death, either by Allied anti-submarine forces or by those in the German Navy who want him eliminated before others start emulating him.
When Dönitz becomes suspicious, he hatches a secret plan to rid the fleet of von Baumann. Operation “David” sends the solitary U-Boat into the teeth of Allied anti-submarine defenses.
Unknown to the crew, the boat has been rigged to not be able to return.
What will win out, loyalty to the Navy and the nation, or to the past and to the crew?
For what it’s worth – and of course, it’s easy to say this now – I was never concerned about the proposed December 21, 2012 Mayan apocalypse. I did, however, enjoy it very much.
Okay, maybe “very much” is too strong of a phrase, but really, if it hadn’t been for the ToTaL fraud of the Mayan predictions, I would never have learned of the Juan Fernandez Islands which are now #4 on my “Places I Must Visit Before I Die” list.
I do have such a list, and I am not kidding when I say that the Islands owe their spot on the list solely to a completely random chance watching of the History Channel (which ought to have known better) airing of “Apocalypse Island,” a veritable cornucopia of everything that was wrong both with the “so-called’ prophecy AND the idiots who paid people to tell them about it.
Apocalypse Island tells the story of a “archeologist” (in the sense that he seems to have seen a movie staring Harrison Ford at some point and wore the same kind of hat) was “somewhere in the Marshall or Solomon Islands” when he stumbled across something that initially seemed impossible but later became the focal point of his carnie snake oil – a large collection of rocks that with a little imagination and some venture capital investment, a History Channel Camera Crew and some fancy CGI could seem to appear to be shaped like a giant snail with a jaguar on its back.
You think I jest. Just stay with me.
The show follows the “archeologist,” a fellow by the name of Jim Turner*, as he convinces a reluctant fellow anthropologist AND motivational speaker (because really, who else would be good at explaining why you’d better get off of your ass and succeed than a man who studies human failure and frailty?), Jim Salz to travel with him to Chile, charter a rickety old fishing boat and travel over empty seas to a lush, rugged and beautiful island which for some reason they fail to name and which only took two days to get to which pretty much eliminates either the “Marshall or Solomon Islands” from consideration.
The voyage is dangerous and rough, requiring a beach landing worthy of the Marines, followed by a couple of days hike through desolate wind blown heights until at long last, there we are, watching the two intrepid men stare at the rocks.
The rest of the show is filled with Jim Turner explaining that the rocks are actually a Mayan carving put here thousands of years ago because this remote, difficult to travel to and as yet unnamed island is the only place on Earth where – as I understood him – one could observe the Mayan Apocalypse without actually getting involved (I think). He said something about an eclipse and then described in detail some really fancy drug taking that involved piercing a penis – again, not making this up – and I was pretty well done except that I was stunned by the beauty of this island and my own quest began to find out where he had gone, even if I did not believe in the Mayan rocks.
Which I wish to be clear about, I had no belief that these rocks were (a) carved, (b) related in any way to the Mayans and (c) was where some Mayan Holy Man pierced his penis so that Turner could warn us (for a donation used to fund his “research” into the (as it was) coming Mayan Apocalypse) thousands of years later.
And as it turns out, the whole thing was a get up. I mean, not only did 12/21/12 NOT result in the much ballyhooed Mayan Apocalypse, but neither did the rouge Planet Nibiru show up, nor did a black hole swallow us up nor did Jesus come back.
Likewise, turned out that the island, which was beautiful in a way that seems to beckon Sailors, is named “Robinson Crusoe Island.” It’s located 324 nautical miles (373 statute miles) off the coast of Chile and as it turns out, is inhabited with a rather bustling city AND an airport AND a port where once upon a time the German Cruiser SMS Dresden was caught during World War I by the British and scuttled by her crew and where the Chilean Navy regularly conducts diver training since she lays in about sixty feet of water, again, off the shores of a rather bustling tourist port.
The whole tourist part of things is based, naturally, on the islands history which includes the story of Alexander Selkirk who spent four years on the damn island (or one of its close neighbors) and was later the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s, Robinson Crusoe; after whom the Chilean Government, since it knows a good tourist trap name when it sees one, named the island after in 1966, more than twenty years before Jim Turner “discovered” it and found his Mayan carvings just off the main tourist hiking path on one of the busiest tourist destinations in the South Pacific.
All of which goes to show how far the people who were making a buck on the Mayans were willing to go. For all of that, I enjoyed watching people follow them.
For what it’s worth, the thing was beautifully filmed (by a crew that flew into San Juan Bautista Airport) and really showed the island’s beauty – enough so that I put it on my list of places to go and see before the real apocalypse, which is, of course, my final moment on Earth.
And if you want to know when that will be, just send me a “donation” (to further fund my ongoing research) of $199.99 and you’ll get my free book, “The Coming Daveaclypse And What You Can Do To Get Ready Today”
*NOT the Jim Turner who kicked three Field Goals in Super Bowl III and later caught a touchdown pass for the Broncos against the Raiders in 1977, which I missed seeing live because I was compelled to go to Grand Junction for a Church Youth Retreat. Not that I remain bitter about it…
Like pretty much everybody else these days, I am a Facebook junkie. I like how it involves me in conversations that I would otherwise never have had a chance with which to be a part.
So one of the Fan Pages I follow, Oklahoma Nation, a page dedicated to the wonderment that is Oklahoma, the State where I was blessed to have been born, asked this question: What are your memories of Christmas in Oklahoma?
If there was any one wish that I could have, I would want my grandparents to have had the chance to meet and get to know Ben. They were all gone long before I had the chance to get to know them as I wish now that I had, one Grandfather passing five years before I was born, the last, my other grandfather, passing in the Spring of 2000. My Grandmothers were both amazing in their own ways, and the more I find out about them later in life, the more I wished that I had known them better in life.
My folks moved to Colorado in 1966, but it was common for us to return to the ancestral homeland for the holidays, including at least one trip where we were caught in a major Kansas blizzard resulting in a family adventure that fortunately most of kids have forgotten about for the most part. But it was always a moment of excitement when we would reach El Reno, knowing that we were literally minutes from the Exchange Ave exit and then on to SW 14th Place in Oklahoma City and the wonderful porch swing, pull out couch (“divan,” as Grandma called it) and all those wonderful treats and presents waiting under the tiny tree in the living room in which my own father had grown up.
For the most part, I don’t recall the actual presents. There is, of course, one that will always stand out, but what I really recall of the holidays in Oklahoma was being together with family. Grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and all the associated people who knew our family. Those moments are what I still recall, even long after the toys broke, the clothes no longer fit and the treats were eaten.
There came a time when we celebrated Thanksgiving in Oklahoma City, in 1976, after the passing of Grandma Clara. For the longest time it was the largest family gathering we’d had on the old home grounds. And until March of 2000 it would remain so.
What I remember of Christmas, and other holidays, in Oklahoma is my family. And I wish that it had lasted long enough for Ben to have been a part of it.
At the end of the Army-Navy game, the Army QB, a young man named Trent Steelman, the best name ever for an Army quarterback, fumbled the ball and lost a chance for Army to break a ten game losing streak to Navy.
Let me be clear, I am Navy Blue and Gold, so I am happy we won. But it was heartbreaking to watch.
Many commenter’s on boards and stories have given Cadet Steelmen a bunch of shit for crying his eyes out at the end of the game. I am not one of them. Indeed, for what it’s worth, I cried a little bit with him.
This game is about so much more than just football, so much more than simple winning or losing paradigms. This game is about kids becoming men and being entrusted with our, make that my, rights and freedoms. And many of the lessons they learn along the way to gaining that trust come on the fields of athletics, particularly in Cadet Steelman’s case, the gridiron.
For a few brief moments, late in the 4th quarter, Army, led by Steelman, reached down and found the resolve and “can do” that the American fighting man is famous for having. Refusing to go quietly into that good night, the Army rolled its caissons down the field reaching the Navy Ten yard line and by then, everybody knew that Army was going to win today and end the streak of frustration.
It’s odd how things happen sometimes.
If there is anything that the military indwells into its members, it is a loyalty to our fellow sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and Coasties. A drive to not let the rest of my shipmates or teammates down. To not be the cause of a failure. But of even greater importance, to take responsibility for my own actions and failures. To make no excuses, but to learn from the mistakes and make myself not only stronger, but the unit as service and country in the process.
You may have watched and thought to yourself, “It’s just a football game, why is he crying like that?”
I watched and I saw a young man learn a lesson today. A hard lesson, but a lesson today that was learned in athletics, and one that I fear will, but pray will not, be put into use on the battlefield.
On Sunday you will see a great deal of athletic prowess and skill. You will see quarterbacks make amazing throws and lead their teams to wins or comebacks that fall just short. You will see some of them preen and gesture so that the whole world see their magnificence.
But none of them are as much the man in whom I will place the safety of my liberty, Trent Steelman.
Don’t worry, Trent, I cried too. Because I understand what it means and I know the challenge you will now go on to undertake. There will be no million dollar contracts, no shoe endorsements, no fancy jets and hotels, no adoring fans and no talking heads analyzing your every move.
But every day I get up a free American I will know that it is because of you and your teammates who lost a football game, but won what really matters.
The worst trap any historian can fall into is judging events with his own standards and his own knowledge of events without taking the time to put him or herself into the event at it’s time. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, so it’s easy to look at an event after a period of time and say, “They did it wrong,” or “If only they had done this instead.” But that ignores basic human nature and more importantly it judges without being in the position of the events in question.
In many ways, the better way to judge history is in the manner of jury. Have the facts presented as they were known. Allow no speculation and allow no evidence into the debate that would not have been available at the time. Determine from that information if we would not have done the same things for the same reasons. And usually with the same results.
Of course if we were omniscient things would have been different, but we are not.
In my senior year at Ogden High School, I wrote for my creative writing class (how apropos is that now?) a paper detailing what I had come to believe – that the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was a sham. That Roosevelt had known it was coming and allowed it to happen because he wanted the nation rallied to war. Looking at the event through MY eyes in 1981 it was obvious that the US had to have been able to see that something was coming. Q.E.D., I reasoned, the coming of the attack was known and allowed to proceed for political reasons (recall that all reasoning for war is political).
It was years before I learned that judging history with objectiveness is harder than one thinks. It is virtually impossible to unknow what I know, and simultaneously remember that the participants in the events did NOT know what I know. Interestingly enough, when put into scenarios in which my own knowledge was limited, I found that I tended to make the same decisions – for the same reasons – as those in history. But as I said, while I recognize that today, it was many, many years before I realized what was happening and how it was effecting my judgment of history.
Clearly on the morning of December 7, 1941, the United States knew that conflict with Japan was imminent. But knowing that a conflict is brewing and knowing how it will unfold in advance are two very different things. In point of fact, the lessons of history, repeated over and again, were that despite the warnings and in the face of the direct evidence, men and nations would ignore what might have been clear and continue to see things as they wished them to be as opposed to what they really were. Robert Massie’s wonderful book, Dreadnought, walks the modern reader through a decade long slide into World War that reminds us that people will always see what they want to see at the time, they will always interpret events through their own beliefs, politics and prejudices, not the cold hard facts of history after the fact.
But when one takes the time to try and place oneself not in the role of historian or Judge, but in the place of those who were there at that moment, sometimes it can become clearer why things were done the way they were done. Many times in my life I have made errors in judgment and in actions. Invariable I am later asked, “Would you do that again?” The answer is almost always “No.” But I often wonder if that is really the case. I believed that I made the right judgment and took the right action based on the facts and evidence before me at that time, not later.
Maybe the real lesson of history is to keep in mind that there is always something that is unknown to those involved at the time.
On December 7, 1941, nearly three thousand Americans died in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Hundred of Millions of dollars of military equipment was damaged, including two ships that were never returned to service.
Today, in the quiet warm waters of Pearl Harbor, the wreck of USS Arizona still rests, slowly seeping oil like tears shed for the loss of over a thousand men, most still aboard her wreck. She represents the beginning of the Pacific war. directly ahead of her, face to face, sits USS Missouri. Another battleship aboard which the instrument of Surrender of the Empire of Japan was signed. Beginning and ending together in the same place ask us the same question:
What have we learned?