The Best Defense

The eternal BS of higher headquarters: An example from German pilots in 1940

One of the eternals of combat is that frontline fighters will always feel betrayed by the BS being peddled by top leaders. I thought of this when I read that during the summer of 1940, the German leaders kept saying that the Royal Air Force was on the verge of collapse. It didn't feel that way to Luftwaffe pilots, who supposedly would radio each other sarcastically as they crossed the British coast, "Here they come again, the last fifty British fighters."

The RAF did take a beating that summer, of course. I was surprised to see that the majority of Australian pilots flying for the RAF were killed -- that is, 14 of 22, according to Len Deighton's Battle of Britain. (Other sources offer different numbers.) By contrast, Deighton's chart shows that 418 of the 2,543 British-born aircrew members were lost.


The Best Defense

Maps and charts (III): Even during World War II, a good world map still didn't exist

One of the other striking points in Lloyd Brown's The Story of Maps is how recent mapmaking really is as a science.

As I wrote earlier, for most of human history, maps and charts were closely held state or commercial secrets. Making maps publicly available didn't really start occurring until the 19th century, Brown writes. It was only later that century that "the science of cartography reached maturity," he adds.

But even decades later, at the start of World War II, he relates, much of the world was poorly mapped. This touched off a search for forgotten maps in archives that might help fill in the blanks. "In the absence of anything better, a map published in 1880 or even 1860 was to be treated with respect," Brown writes. "Historical cartography suddenly became current and highly desirable."

National Archives