How the Knights Hospitaller ‘accidentally’ became a major European air power

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Sod Pepsi’s navy.

Let’s talk about the point after WW2 where the Knights Hospitaller, of medieval crusading fame, ‘accidentally’ became a major European air power.

I shitteth ye not. ?️?️

So, if I asked you to imagine the Knights Hospitaller you probably picture:

1) Angry Christians on armoured horses
2) Them being wiped out long ago like the Templars.
3) Some Dan Brown bullshit

And you would be (mostly) wrong about all three. Which is sort of how this happened.

From the beginning (1113 or so), the Hospitallers were never quite as committed to the angry, horsey thing as the Templars. They had always (ostensibly) been more about protecting pilgrims and healthcare.

They also quite liked boats. Which were useful for both.

Over the next 150 years (or so), as the Christian grip on the Holy Lands waned, both military orders got more involved in their other hobbies – banking for the Templars, mucking around in boats for the Hospitaller.
This proved to be a surprisingly wise decision on the Hospitaller part. By 1290ish, both Orders were homeless and weakened.

As the Templars fatally discovered, being weak AND having the King of France owe you money is a bad combo.

Being a useful NAVY, however, wins you friends.

And this is why your first vision of the Hospitallers is wrong. Because they spent the next 500 YEARS, backed by France and Spain, as one of the most powerful naval forces in the Mediterranean, blocking efforts by the Ottomans to expand westwards by sea.
To give you an idea of the trouble they caused: in 1480 Mehmet II sent 70,000 men (against the Knights 4000) to try and boot them out of Rhodes. He failed.

Suleiman the Magnificent FINALLY managed it in 1522 with 200,000 men. But even he had to agree to let the survivors leave.

The surviving Hospitallers hopped on their ships (again) and sailed away. After some vigorous lobbying, in 1530 the King of Spain agreed to rent them Malta, in return for a single maltese falcon every year.

Because that’s how good rents were pre-housing crisis in Europe.

The Knights turned Malta into ANOTHER fortified island. For the next 200 years ‘the Pope’s own navy’ waged a war of piracy, slavery and (occasionally) pitched sea battles against the Ottomans.
From Malta, they blocked Ottoman strategic access to the western med. A point that was not lost on the Ottomans, who sent 40,000 men to try and take the island in 1565 – the ‘Great Siege of Malta’.

The Knights, fighting almost to the last man, held out and won.

Now the important thing here is the CONTINUED EXISTENCE AS A SOVEREIGN STATE of the Knights Hospitaller. They held Malta right up until 1798, when Napoleon finally managed to boot them out on his way to Egypt.

(Partly because the French contingent of the Knights swapped sides)

The British turned up about three months later and the French were sent packing, but, well, It was the British so:

THE KNIGHTS: Can we have our strategically important island back please?
THE BRITISH: What island?
THE KNIGHT: That island
THE BRITISH: Nope. Can’t see an island

After the Napoleonic wars no one really wanted to bring up the whole Malta thing with the British (the Putin’s Russia of the era) so the European powers fudged it. They said the Knights were still a sovereign state and they tried to sort them out with a new country. But never did
The Russian Emperor let them hang out in St Petersburg for a while, but that was awkward (Catholicism vs Orthodox). Then the Swedes were persuaded to offer them Gotland.

But every offer was conditional on the Knights dropping their claim to Malta. Which they REFUSED to do.

~ wobbly lines ~

It’s the 1900s. The Knights are still a stateless state complaining about Malta. What that means legally is a can of worms NO ONE wants to open in international law but they’ve also rediscovered their original mission (healthcare) so everyone kinda ignores them

The Knights become a pseudo-Red Cross organisation. In WW1 they run ambulance trains and have medical battalions, loosely affiliated with the Italian army (still do). In WW2 they do it too.

Italy surrenders. The allies move on then…

Oh dear.

Who wrote this peace deal again?

It turns out the Treaty of Peace with Italy should go FIRMLY into the category of ‘things that seemed a good idea at the time’.

This is because it presupposes that relations between the west and the Soviets will be good, and so limits Italy’s MILITARY.

This is a problem.

Because as the early Cold War ramps up, the US needs to build up its Euro allies ASAP.

But the treaty limits the Italians to 400 airframes, and bans them from owning ANYTHING that might be a bomber.

This can be changed, but not QUICKLY.

Then someone remembers about the Knights

The Knights might not have any GEOGRAPHY, but because everyone avoided dealing with the tricky international law problem it can be argued – with a straight face – that they are still TECHNICALLY A EUROPEAN SOVEREIGN STATE.

And they’re not bound by the WW2 peace treaty.

Italy (with US/UK/French blessing) approaches the Knights and explains the problem.

The Knights reasonably point out that they’re not in the business of fighting wars anymore, but anything that could be called a SUPPORT aircraft is another matter.

So, in the aftermath of WW2, this is the ballet that happens:

The Italians transfer all of their support and training aircraft to the Knights.

This then frees up the ‘cap room’ to allow the US to boost Italy’s warfighting ability WITHOUT breaking the WW2 peace treaty.

This is why, in the late forties/fifties, a good chunk of the ‘Italian’ air force is flying with a Maltese Cross Roundel.

Because they were not TECHNICALLY Italian. They were the air force of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

And that’s how the Knights Hospitaller ended up becoming a major air power.

Eventually the treaties were reworked, and everything was quietly transferred back. I suspect it’s a reason why the sovereign status of the Knights remains unchallenged still today though.

And that’s why today, even thought they are now fully committed to the Red-Cross-esque stuff, they can still issue passports, are a permanent observer at the UN, have a currency…

..,and even have a tiny bit of Malta back.

Nazi spies awarded fake medals after war by their MI5 controller

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Two fascist spies were awarded fake Nazi medals after the end of the second world war by an MI5 officer who penetrated their secret network, a newly published book on wartime espionage has revealed.

Copies of German bronze honours for non-combat gallantry were commissioned from the Royal Mint and presented at a covert ceremony in January 1946 to both British citizens by Eric Roberts, a former bank clerk who spent years impersonating a Gestapo officer.

I love this. It’s the obvious end to the Double Cross system: giving the unwitting double agents you’ve turned fake medals “from” their own country so that they’re still in the dark about the fact that their handler isn’t on their side!

What Cyber-War Will Look Like

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When prompted to think about the way hackers will shape the future of great power war, we are wont to imagine grand catastrophes: F-35s grounded by onboard computer failures, Aegis BMD systems failing to launch seconds before Chinese missiles arrive, looks of shock at Space Command as American surveillance satellites start careening towards the Earth–stuff like that. This is the sort of thing that fills the opening chapters of Peter Singer and August Cole’s Ghost Fleet. [1] The catastrophes I always imagine, however, are a bit different than this. The hacking campaigns I envision would be low-key, localized, and fairly low-tech. A cyber-ops campaign does not need to disable key weapon systems to devastate the other side’s war effort. It will be enough to increase the fear and friction enemy leaders face to tip the balance of victory and defeat. Singer and company are not wrong to draw inspiration from technological change; nor are they wrong to attempt to imagine operations with few historical precedents. But that isn’t my style. When asked to ponder the shape of cyber-war, my impulse is to look first at the kind of thing hackers are doing today and ask how these tactics might be applied in a time of war.

Mark Cancian thinks like I do.

In a report Cancian wrote for the Center for Strategic and International Studies on how great powers adapt to tactical and strategic surprise, Cancian sketched out twelve “vignettes” of potential technological or strategic shocks to make his abstract points a bit more concrete. Here is how Cancian imagines an “asymmetric cyber-attack” launched by the PRC against the United States Military:

 The U.S. secretary of defense had wondered this past week when the other shoe would drop.  Finally, it had, though the U.S. military would be unable to respond effectively for a while.

The scope and detail of the attack, not to mention its sheer audacity, had earned the grudging respect of the secretary. Years of worry about a possible Chinese “Assassin’s Mace”-a silver bullet super-weapon capable of disabling key parts of the American military-turned out to be focused on the wrong thing.

The cyber attacks varied. Sailors stationed at the 7th Fleet’ s homeport in Japan awoke one day to find their financial accounts, and those of their dependents, empty. Checking, savings, retirement funds: simply gone. The Marines based on Okinawa were under virtual siege by the populace, whose simmering resentment at their presence had boiled over after a YouTube video posted under the account of a Marine stationed there had gone viral. The video featured a dozen Marines drunkenly gang-raping two teenaged Okinawan girls. The video was vivid, the girls’ cries heart-wrenching the cheers of Marines sickening And all of it fake. The National Security Agency’s initial analysis of the video had uncovered digital fingerprints showing that it was a computer-assisted lie, and could prove that the Marine’s account under which it had been posted was hacked. But the damage had been done.

There was the commanding officer of Edwards Air Force Base whose Internet browser history had been posted on the squadron’s Facebook page. His command turned on him as a pervert; his weak protestations that he had not visited most of the posted links could not counter his admission that he had, in fact, trafficked some of them. Lies mixed with the truth. Soldiers at Fort Sill were at each other’s throats thanks to a series of text messages that allegedly unearthed an adultery ring on base.

The variations elsewhere were endless. Marines suddenly owed hundreds of thousands of dollars on credit lines they had never opened; sailors received death threats on their Twitter feeds; spouses and female service members had private pictures of themselves plastered across the Internet; older service members received notifications about cancerous conditions discovered in their latest physical.

Leadership was not exempt. Under the hashtag # PACOMMUSTGO a dozen women allegedly described harassment by the commander of Pacific command. Editorial writers demanded that, under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, he step aside while Congress held hearings.

There was not an American service member or dependent whose life had not been digitally turned upside down. In response, the secretary had declared “an operational pause,” directing units to stand down until things were sorted out.

Then, China had made its move, flooding the South China Sea with its conventional forces, enforcing a sea and air identification zone there, and blockading Taiwan. But the secretary could only respond weakly with a few air patrols and diversions of ships already at sea. Word was coming in through back channels that the Taiwanese government, suddenly stripped of its most ardent defender, was already considering capitulation.[2]

How is that for a cyber-attack?

The Pig War of 1859

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‘The Pig War’ is perhaps one of the most obscure and unusual wars in history. The story begins back in 1846 when the Oregon Treaty was signed between the US and Britain. The treaty aimed to put to rest a long standing border dispute between the US and British North America (later to be Canada), specifically relating to the land between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific coastline.

The Oregon Treaty stated that the US / British American border be drawn at the 49th parallel, a division which remains to this day. Although this all sounds rather straightforward, the situation because slightly more complicated when it came to a set of islands situated to the south-west of Vancouver. Around this region the treaty stated that the border be through ‘the middle of the channel separating the continent from Vancouver’s Island.’ As you can see from the map below, simply drawing a line through the middle of the channel was always going to be difficult due to the awkward positioning of the islands.

An early map of San Juan

The First Time I Met Americans

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HANOI, Vietnam — I first visited the United States in the summer of 1998, when I was invited to attend a literary conference in Montana with four other Vietnamese writers. We flew from Hanoi to Taiwan to Los Angeles. As we crossed the Pacific Ocean, passing through many time zones, I buried myself in sleep and woke up only when the plane hit the tarmac. At passport control, we found ourselves in a huge hall, and I was abruptly taken aback: There were Americans all around us, lots of them! I will never forget that strange feeling. It was bizarre, unbelievable, surreal, that I, a veteran of the Vietnamese People’s Army, was in the United States, surrounded by Americans.

The first time I ever saw Americans was when I was 12 years old. It wasn’t actually blond-haired, blue-eyed Americans that I was seeing up close. The Americans I saw that day were F-4 Phantom bombers, brutally attacking small towns on the shore of Ha Long Bay. It was Aug. 5, 1964, and I was at the beach on a school trip, swimming with my classmates. That was right after the Tonkin Gulf incident, the day President Lyndon B. Johnson announced his decision to expand the war throughout Vietnam…

Going to a memorial service today? Help update the national record of your war memorial.

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Since 1989, the War Memorials Archive has been trying to keep an up-to-date database for everybody to read, showing the location of every war memorial in the UK as well of details of the dead commemorated there. But their records are incomplete, and sadly many memorials (especially rural ones) are degrading: someday the information on them may be lost.

You can help, and it’s really easy. First, find your nearest local war memorial at http://www.ukniwm.org.uk/server/show/nav.23 – just search in your town or village and you’ll find one. See if it appears and if the information is complete: some records barely show that the memorial is there, others have full lists of names, but many are in-between, merely listing which wars are represented.

Then head out to the memorial and take photos of all sides of it, close enough that you can read all of the text. In the top right corner of the page about your town’s memorial, there’s a link to provide updated information: just type in the new details that you found and send it off. Or, if your memorial wasn’t in the database at all, send them an email.

This Remembrance Sunday you can do more for the memory of those killed in war by helping future generations remember and research, too. Thanks for your help.

Jersey

A couple of weeks ago – and right at the end of the incredibly-busy development cycle that preceded Three Rings‘ Milestone: Krypton – Ruth, JTA and I joined Ruth’s mother on a long-weekend trip to the island of Jersey. I’d been to the Channel Islands only once before (and that was spent primarily either in the dark and the rain, or else in the basement meeting room of a hotel: I was there on business!), so I was quite pleased to get the chance to visit more “properly”.

The Bay of St. Helier, looking out towards Elizabeth Castle.
The Bay of St. Helier, looking out towards Elizabeth Castle.

Of particular interest was the history of the island during the Second World War. Hitler had been particularly pleased to have captured British territory (after the islands, which were deemed undefensible by the British, had been demilitarised), and felt that the Channel Islands were of critical military significance. As a result, he commanded that a massive 10% of the steel and concrete of the Atlantic Wall project should be poured into the Islands: Jersey was, as a result, probably more heavily-fortified than the beaches of Normandy. In the end, this impregnable island fortress was left until last – Berlin fell before Jersey and Guernsey were liberated – and this was a factor in the great suffering of the islanders during the occupation. We visited the “war tunnels“, a massive underground complex built by the German defenders, and it was one of the most spectacular wartime museums I’ve ever experienced.

The main entrance to the Jersey War Tunnels: a tunnel cut directly into the mountainside, painted as a hospital entrance.
The comparatively-small main entrance to the Jersey War Tunnels doesn’t even begin to do justice to the warren of criss-crossing corridors, rooms, and bunkers that span the underside of the hill.

The tunnels are, of course, an exhibit in themselves – and that’s what I expected to see. But in actual fact, the care and attention that has gone into constructing the museum within is breathtaking. Starting with a history of the islands (in a tunnel filled with the music and postcards of the 1930s), you can just about hear the sounds of war, echoing distantly from the next chamber. There, you walk through a timeline of the invasions of Poland, Denmark, Norway and France, and see how – even with the enemy just barely over the horizon – Jersey still marketed itself as a holiday destination for Britons: a place to escape from wartime fears. Then comes the evacuation – the entire population given barely a day to decide whether they’re staying (and doubtless being occupied by Germany) or leaving (and never knowing when or if they’ll return to their homes). And then, the story of the occupation: framed in a wonderfully “human” context, through exhibits that engage with the visitor through storytelling and hypothetical questions: what would you do, under German occupation?

JTA and Ruth play adventure golf
As a result of politically-correct amendments in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it’s become unacceptable to use the word “crazy” to describe minature golf courses with obstacles.

Certain to ensure that the whole trip didn’t turn into an educational experience, we played a fabulous round of adventure golf under the glorious sunshine of the Channel Islands. I did ever so well, up until the moment where I lost my ball and, swiftly afterwards, my ability to play the game in any meaningful capacity whatsoever. Eventually, Ruth and I tied, with JTA just a little behind… but we were all quite-embarrassingly well over par.

Ruth lining up an adventure golf shot
The landscaping was actually really impressive. The fake cave had successfully fooled a family of ducks into taking up residence: we found a nest full of confused-looking ducklings when I explored around a corner, looking for a lost ball.

Jersey is apparently moderately famous for its zoo. Ruth’s mother had apparently been looking forward to visiting it for years, and – despite it only being of a modest size – had opted to spend an entire day there, and considered taking another half-day, too. Once the rest of us caught up with her there, we certainly had to agree that it was a pretty impressive zoo.

A pair of komodo dragons in an enclosure at Jersey Zoo
A young pair of komodo dragons use their forked tongues to smell a sack of meat that has been hung in the centre of their enclosure.

I was particularly pleased to visit their pair of very active young komodo dragons, their bat cave, their tortoises, and their remarkable aye-ayes – Jersey hosts one of very few successful captive aye-aye exhibits anywhere in the world (and let’s face it, aye-ayes are a fascinating enough species to begin with).

Ruth under a dome in a meerkat enclosure.
The crawl-through tunnel and dome within the meerkat enclosure seemed like a good idea, but once inside it became apparent that it was basically a tiny, airless greehouse… and no closer to the animals than we were from the outside.

Ruth, her mother and I also got out for a little geocaching, an activity that I’d somewhat neglected since last summer. It turns out that there’s quite an active community on the island, and there were loads of local caches. We hit Not much room? first, which turns out to be among the best cache containers I’ve ever seen (spoilers below; skip the remaining photos if you’re ever likely to go ‘caching on Jersey), and certainly a worthy find for my 100th!

Not much room? - there's a geocache hidden in this picture.
We were certain that we were within 5 metres or so of the cache, and were – in accordance with the title – looking for something small, or concealed in a crack. But this cache was smarter than that. Can you see it in this photo?

Later, we set out for View over St Aubins (which I’m sure must have been at a great viewpoint, once, until the trees grew taller and cut off the view), and a quite-enjoyable puzzle cache called Dear Fred… all in all, a great excuse to stretch our legs and to see a little more of the island than we might otherwise have.

A mushroom-shaped geocache
Here it is! Did you find it? Amazingly, Ruth’s mother was the first of us to spot it, despite this being her very first geocaching expedition. Yes, that really is a wooden mushroom with a micro cache hidden within it.

I’m pretty sure I spent most of the holiday, though, catching up on sleep (interspersed with tiny bits of Three Rings work as we came to the tail end of the testing period – the WiFi at our B&B was, by-now-unsurprisingly, faster than that which we get at home). Or drinking. Or one, then the other. After a hard run of Three Rings development, coupled with “day job” work and the ongoing challenge of buying a house, I was pleased to be chilling out and relaxing, for a change.

Jersey Quaker Meeting House.
We also got the chance to visit Jersey Quaker Meeting House: a light, modern building near the middle of St. Helier, sandwiched discretely between the grand hotels and tall townhouses of the island’s capital.

Most-importantly, I reflected as we passed back through airport security on our way back to the mainland, nobody felt the need to kill anybody else the entire trip. Ruth’s mother and I, for example, haven’t always seen eye to eye (something about me ‘stealing’ Ruth from a life of monogamy, or otherwise being a bad influence, might have been an early issue), and it’s not unknown for relations to be strained between her and her daughter or her and her son-in-law, either. But even as we bickered our way through the departures lounge at Jersey Airport, at least I knew that we’d all survived.

Liz gets her bags searched at airport security.
Amazingly, I didn’t hold us all up by getting stopped and searched at airport security, which is usually my speciality when I travel. However, Liz did so on my behalf, by failing to remove everything metal before she went through the metal detector.

All things considered, then: a successful trip. Fun times were had, lots of exciting history was learned, tortoises were prodded, and nobody killed anybody else, however much they might have been tempted.

TIL that ‘Hellburners’, 16th century fire-ships filled with decks of gunpowder sandwiched between bricks and tombstones, are considered to be an early WMD.

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Hellburners (Dutch: hellebranders) were specialised fireships used in the Siege of Antwerp (1584-1585) during the Eighty Years’ War between the Dutch rebels and the Habsburgs. They were floating bombs, also called “Antwerp Fire”, and did immense damage to the Spanish besiegers. Hellburners have been described as an early form of weapons of mass destruction.

Wikipedia

Memorial to Quakers’ wartime service

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A memorial recognising the wartime work done by Quakers has been unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

Quaker beliefs, among them pacifism, meant that many were unable to serve in the armed forces during wartime.

Many volunteered to serve in warzones in the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU).

Leslie Steed, 94, from Birmingham, who served with the FAU during World War II, said: “I would rather have been killed than kill somebody.”

BBC News

Wargames As Public Acceptance

[this post has been partially damaged during a server failure on Sunday 11th July 2004, and it has been possible to recover only a part of it]

[more of this post was recovered on Friday 24 November 2017]

There’s a lot of defence for wargames, as Command & Conquer: Generals to see how far this can be taken. In Generals (set in the near future), the United States unite with a (reluctant) China in order to suppress terrorism in (you guessed it) the Middle East. All sides have weapons of mass destruction, but the wording is clear: while the American WMDs are called “Superweapons” the Chinese have “Nuclear Weapons” and the arab states have “Biochemical Terror Weapons”. And that’s not all – the American soldiers all say things like “Doing the right thing,” and “Defending our people,” in true American Hero voices. Meanwhile, the other sides are made to sound insidious and crafty. The Armerican tanks have names like “Crusader” (yeh; let’s make a reference to Jerusalem, shall we?) and “Patriot”, while the global …