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Paul Garson

Motorcycles, Hot Rods, and Fine Art:
The Life and Times of Renaissance Man, Don Nowell

 

 

by Paul Garson

 

With half the year already gone, one can start reflecting not only on the future but the past as well. It can get pretty interesting when you’re looking back 75 years and start clicking off the redlined high points. You also add in Father Time and Mother Gravity calling in their chips. Case in point, Don Nowell of Don Nowell Design.

We’ve known about Don for some 30-odd years…and there have been some really odd ones…but you could say anything he touches turns to gold in one form or another… especially when horsepower, performance and innovative design figure into the project at hand. When it comes down to it, Don is an “artist” in the real sense of the word, one gifted with an analytic mind and a work ethic that nudges fanatical in its attention to details.

Let’s start from the beginning. When we made the call to check on his current doings, we heard his reply to our opening query “Is this the famous Don Nowell?” to which he replied “I think you’ve got the wrong number.” But before he could hang up, we explained the reason for our visit and started gathering the facts.

Don was born in Inglewood, CA on May 22, 1941 at 4:30 in the morning. Since then he likes to get an early start. By ten he was earning money mowing lawns, hawking newspapers and selling flowers on the weekends. In Junior High during the ‘50s it gave him some coin to buy some nifty clothes. “It was all about impressing the girls,” chuckles Don. “They were all wearing their poodle skirts and tight sweaters, so we guys had to look cool.”

His first wheels was naturally a bicycle which he “hot-rodded” by placing playing cards in the spokes to produce some “vroom-vroom.” Then in 1956 Don was in high school taking shop classes where he earned his first award, winning Best in Class in a Rotary Club competition for his electric motor, the best of 320 entries. “It was at this point I learned to operate a lathe. I also couldn’t resist hopping up that little motor, trying to get the most rpm out of it and had it smokin’ and jumping all over the bench.” You could say the die was cast, as this was Don’s first motor, one of a long line of high performance engines that would power cars, bikes and boats.

Another milestone arrived at age 16, when after working his butt off after school at a model toy shop, he saved enough to buy his first car, a turnkey 1951 Chevy Bel Air coupe, paying a grand total of $325. “Most of my friends had ’49, ’50 Fords but I just liked the look of the ’50- ‘51Chevies better.” The car just had a stock 6-cylinder, but Don took it right to the Cohia muffler shop in San Fernando and had it slammed to the ground with a spindle kit, leaving ¾ inches of inch ground clearance.” Don was already letting off sparks. He laughs and adds, “At San Fernando High, they wouldn’t let you in class unless your car was lowered.” He also bought himself an airbrush set and tried his hand at scalloping his own custom paint job, cream over charcoal grey. “I just read some articles in Hot Rod magazine to see what Larry Watson was doing, his work just taking off.” But when he took his “low-rider” to Bob’s Big Boy in Van Nuys, he got turned away. Only hot rods allowed. This was 1957, the year of Sputnik and a rapidly changing world.

Graduating high school, he wrangled a job at the San Fernando based Tom Carroll Chevrolet as a lot boy handling deliveries. One day he spotted a spiffy ’59 Impala, white with a turquoise interior. It happened to be a repo and the price was tempting. Says Don, “It came with a 3-2-barrel carbed 4-speed with a hydraulic cam so it wouldn’t turn much rpm, but it was a pretty car, a neat car. I painted the wheels the color of the interior and street raced it all over the Valley.”

Then one night, Don’s ’59 got bested by a ghost white ’57 Chevy. Later he spotted the car, now parked and went to investigate. “The owner’s name was Kenny Safford and we became best of friends. He later became famous as a fuel dragster racer. He was also a member of the Road Kings and I started hanging out with those guys. It eventually brought me to a ’57 Chevy with a motor built by Ray Cash. I sold my Impala and got it. It was my first serious street racer and skirt chaser.”

Since the motor had seen plenty of racing and was a bit tired, Don decided to rebuild it, his first time tackling a pro hot rod motor. When asked where he got the skills to do the wrenching, Don laughs again and says, “I didn’t. I just took the heads off and started doing it. Rappa-rappa, I got it together.”

In late1960, Don took another quantum leap,  buying a ’37 Chevy Coupe bodied car was not in top form after being flogged at El Mirage and Don had to work his magic to get it up to snuff for the B Gas drags, choosing that class because it was the most competitive with more cars to race. He then took part in the early NHRA sanctioned events and at independent ¼-mile drag strips at San Fernando, Long Beach and Irwindale. “My pit crew was me and my buddy John with my tow car tied with a rope. It was run what you brung.

“The first time I raced the car at San Fernando, in September 1963, I ran 11.85 on an 11.84 record, beat everybody and took a trophy home. That was a good day.”

People started taking notice, Don and his dragster featured in the December 1965 issue of Hot Rod. It would also get him invited to join the Hot Rod crew for both the ’65 and ’66 events at the Bonneville Salt Flats.  He would campaign his Gasser for four years, lastly setting the speed record in ’66 at Irwindale with 121.80 mph in B Gas.

Don with some of the trophies won by his super Chevy and his heavy foot. The tall trophy on the far left was for a First Place at the L.A. Sport Arena, the trophy with the globe awarded at the Winter Nationals Car Show circa 1965 while the smaller trophies represent wins at the various drag races.

Don was also slinging a hammer to help pay for work on his car, and things were getting pretty slow financially, but then he got a call in April of ‘67 to work at engine shop, and not just any shop, Don finding himself building Cam Am race motors at the famous engine shop run by  Al Bartz. In fact Don was his first employee. “I first started just doing rebuilds because Al wanted to check my assembly knowledge in building a small block before I started both rebuilding engines and all the new engines. They were 350 Chevy’s stroked a little, making about 525 horses. I’d also modify other parts like the distributors, the water pump, the front timing cover, etc. to get parts ready for the engine builds. By ’68, he was shop foreman, but left to start his own business, working out of his Dad’s garage.

 

In the process he met a boat racer, Tom Paterson, who also owned a helicopter company and ended up building parts for choppers, including the very first Los Angeles TV station news helicopter, that for KTLA Channel 5. Asked if he got in some rides, he says, “No, I don’t like to fly so wouldn’t have enjoyed that a bit. Airplanes are bitchin’ but I don’t like being up in the air.” But Don was still building car motors and flying as fast as he could on terra firma, but he did step off onto the water.

Don’s stint in the Air Force reserve helped fuel his interest in aviation.

Seen here is one of his favorite, the F-4 Phantom Navy fighter, in this case a radio controlled scale model

“The Sparkler” skittering across the Colorado River.

Don found himself working on race boats, even piloting his buddy Paterson’s 385 horsepower, 1300 lb. 16-ft long “Crackerbox” class race boat aptly named “Sparkler” with its motor in the center, rider in the back. “It’d scare the wee out of you like an ocean going Sprint car. We set the record at 95.70 mph in the Flying Kilo at the Colorado River. Tom’s now 88 and still racing boats.”

Jerry Titus campaigned in Trans-Am, motors built by Don.

In 1969, Don got another of those milestone making phone calls, this time from the legendary racer and moto journalist Jerry Titus who wanted him to build his engines, 302 Chevy’s with cross ram manifolds, to race the last part of the season. Titus also raced for Carroll Shelby winning championships in ’67 and a class victory at the ’69 24 Hours of Daytona. Sadly, Titus aka “Mr. Trans Am,” would die in a 1970 crash during the Trans Am race at Road America.

When asked when he got into motorcycles, Don points to 1964 when he bought his first bike, a Yamaha 80 motocross, then wanting more power went for a 175 Montesa for blasting out into the desert and through the canyons. Says Don, “Back then people were running imported Greeves and the Dots fitted with Blooie pipes, basically straight pipes and you could them making bitchin’ music playing off the canyon walls, but then they went to those expansion chambers for more power but they sounded like bumble bees.”

In 1970 he met up with a young guy named Terry Dorsch who raced AMA Grand Nationals, mostly flat track events on Triumphs against the likes of John Hateley. Terry had ordered a Trackmaster frame and it was specially marked with#1 on its bottom. “I started riding with Terry on the fire roads and he taught me how to go fast and slide in the corners. We did that for ten years. It was a ball and very addictive. Terry used to say it was the most fun you could have with your pants on. I got to go with Terry when he raced flat rack at Ascot, then he started running Champion frames in Northridge. He asked me to make brake rotors for their Champion flat trackers and I made about 200 of them, some probably still being used in vintage racing. That’s also the time period when I did my first frame-up build, my Honda thumper. ”

Don’s first scratch built bike powered by rare Honda race motor was built for doing it in the dirt…and fast!

Don built the frame out of .049 chrome moly tubing, tipping the scale at a mere 15 lbs. plus a 4 lb. swingarm. Says Don, “That was a cool thing, building that frame from scratch, a real education.” Into that frame Don stuffed a rare Honda factory short rod, big bore 350cc motor made for the Baja 1000 race. “I just happened to get one of those trick engines with its sandcast barrel. I got some metric wrenches and took it apart. The cylinder had a quarter inch lining, so I bored that baby out to 385. The frame was nickel plated, the gas tank yellow, the seat upholstered in metallic blue Naugahyde. It was some bike, but then Yamaha came out the TT500 and I just had to have it, so like a dummy I sold my Honda, and I still wonder where it is today.”

During the 1970s while working on his race motor builds, Don figured necessity was the mother of invention. Since it was a mother trying to get the angles of a valve job to meet exactly which then determines the diameter of the valve and where it seats, he came up with a tool of his own design, calling it Qwik-Seat, and it made the job much easier. Gaining a patent, he sold them to machine shops all over the country.

1923 McFarlan, owned by silent film star Fatty Arbuckle, was restored by Don. The rear section featured a special trunk that house booze for Fatty who took his film breaks getting toasted.

Jumping to 1975, Don took another creative tangent when he was signed on by the late J.B. Nethercutt, wealthy owner of Merle Norman Cosmetics, to restore one of his 250 rare classic cars, now on public display at the San Sylmar Museum. In this case, the project was a 1923 McFarlan, the chauffeur driven Knickerbocker Cabriolet Twin-Valve Six originally owned by the silent screen star Fatty Arbuckle who went down in flames after a major scandal.

Says Don, “I worked on that car every day for four months at the museum’s workshop. It had come out of the paint shop with just the bare body, so I put everything else on it…all the metal pieces, the bright work, glass…fabricated the front grill guard, the tail lights, you name it. The car, painted a ketchup color, won a Best of Class at the 1975 Pebble Beach. I was standing there next to the car when I heard a familiar sounding voice say, can you open the door, I’d like to look at the interior. I turn around and there’s Clint Eastwood. And I said, sure, you bet. He looks inside, and he says, thank you. And I say, oh, you’re welcome.” It sure rounded out a cool day. Then later, Mr. Nethercutt came up and said, “Put your hand out. I want to give you a good handshake for turning my old truck into a show winner.”

It was the first recognition of his talents, nor far from the last.

In 1978, while hanging out with Terry Dorsch at a party, Don met up with veteran screen actor Bobby Carradine who told Terry he had a Triumph he wanted to put together. When Terry looked at the Trackmaster frame, he noticed it had #1 stamped into it…so it was his first frame from back in the day. Terry was pretty busy so asked Don if he wanted to handle the project. “I asked how they wanted the bike to look and they said, just do it like you were building it for yourself. Now in high school I had drawn sketches of my dream Triumph and Bobby said go for it. It took two years but I got it done, a real race bike, the real deal.

As Don recalls the moment with his usual photographic memory when Carradine first through a leg over the bike, he says, “He’s wearing cowboy boots, pressed Levis, crisp white shirt, leather jacket with fur collar, shades, a scarf, no helmet, the bike wafting the distinctive aroma of Castor bean oil, it’s the pre-requisite Lee Marvin/Keenan Wynn classic attire for an actor blasting down Sunset Boulevard. One kick and the bike starts…rappa-rappa!…and he’s off blasting down Sunset Boulevard. Bobby’s riding his dream bikes, laying it over in the corners, wide open megaphone growling.  One of the better days in my life! And we got the photos. The Triumph was featured as a center fold in an issue of Motorcyclist. Bobby still has that bike, almost 40 years later.”

Then Don took yet another jog in the road, trying out a bit of “downsizing” when he was contracted by Fred Thompson, the new owner of the famous Los Angeles based Smith Miller Toy Company (circa 1948-55), known world-wide for their large scale model trucks, beautifully crafted and very expensive, even more so as collectibles when the company faded out. Getting things going again in 1979, Fred asked Don to turn a flatbed trailer into a low-boy to carry a Doepke D-6 Caterpillar Tractor, another top end classic toy. Using vintage photos to take measurements, Don made a balsa mock-up, then a metal version as the final prototype prior to production. In the process he also designed and built a pumper fire truck. Fashioned in 1/16th scale, the large models measured from 22-48 inches long. Don laughs and says, “It was up to me to figure how A fit into B, and I built 20 trucks, about one new design a year, both prototype and production, for the 20 years, producing about a 1000 trucks at my shop in the first three years. The rebirth of the Smith Miller company proved immensely successful, eventually producing 48 different hand assembled trucks, much sought after in limited editions.

It’s safe to characterize Don as a “Man for All Seasons and All Reasons.” For example, he even took a bite out of the dental industry. In 1980 he met the people at the Proma Company and designed several prototypes for fixtures and appliances used during dental procedures.

Now into the 1984, Don found time to build another fire-breathing motorcycle. In this case, it was commissioned by Michael Bowen, another Hollywood actor, and half-brother to Bobby Carradine. The BSA triple project featured a Marzocchi front end as well as a motor beefed up with an 840cc kit by hyper motor guru Jack Hateley. During the build, Don designed and fabricated a bunch a neat components as well as the 3-into-1 pipe. The badboy Beezer was also featured in a 1986 issue of Motorcyclist, the magazine recognizing the quality of Don’s work.

Then another quirk of fate occurred. While perusing model vehicle magazines, Don noticed the high-end car models gaining attention for French and Spanish artisans. “It got my wheels turning to try my hand at world class models. But I didn’t know what to build. Those guys already had a foot hold in car models.” But while talking with his buddy at the aforementioned dental company, he heard him say, Well, you big dummy, why don’t you build a Harley model. “Yeah, cool, okay, and I thought a ¼ scale, two-foot long man-sized model would be the real deal. So I got it going, that was in 1994.”

Meticulous attention to detail makes it difficult to distinguish the full-sized Softail from Don’s “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” version.

The prototyping alone took 13 months, the design based on the Harley-Davidson Softail with the Evo motor.  Previously, his only scratch-built bike building experience was with the Honda thumper and now he was going from full-scale to quarter-scale. So how to make it happen? It turned out that Nick Ienatsch, now well-known in the pages of Motorcyclist, was dropping by in the evenings to earn a few extra bucks by doing some spot-welding work on the model cars Don had been designing. Don says, “I go up to Nick and say, where’s your Harley. He says it was at his Dad’s house in Salt Lake City. I told him I needed a bike to get dimensions. He says hold on, and a few minutes later I get a call from Frank Kaisler the Editor at Motorcyclist. I told him my story. Later that day, he gave me a brand new Softail and I rode it around for a week. I started measuring the length of frame, the swing arm pivot, head stock angle, all the dimensions and then divided it by four, took my

blueprint paper and started drawing. I also got the dimensions from a set of brand new S&S cases. At Monday night bike gatherings at a burger stand in Van Nuys, I’d meet Frank who’d bring me a part, an oil pump, a hand lever, whatever I needed to get my measurements to make an exact scaled bike.”

Get out the magnifying class. For example, Don made the swingarm pivot bolts, the rear and front axle bolts and nuts, the front end bolts, the head stem bolts…all cut from stainless on his lathe and milled to attach the 1/16th inch Allen heads, then polished each tiny piece and we’re talking 152 miniature screws for each bike. Talk about labor intensity, just to make the rear axle sleeve nut, it took 55 separate moves. The frame parts alone took months of machining. In this case when they say big things come in small packages, they weren’t whistlin’ Dixie.

Don wanted the bike to “feel” right as well as look right. So the swing arm moves with 3/4 inch of travel as does the front fork. The left hand lever incorporates a spring for the operational feel of a clutch lever. The right lever is fitted with a rubber o-ring so that as you squeeze on it, you feel resistance, replicating the feel of a front brake lever, the same for the footbrake lever. For the shift lever, there’s a ball détente, so you click-up, click-down, echoing gear changing, again like a real bike.

He went so far as to upholster the seats in real leather, added .040  of an inch diameter individual polished stainless spokes laced to the wheels. He also contacted the Avon Tire Company in England to secure permission to cast from molds exact rubber miniatures of their tires including their logos, and the Avon people graciously agreed, eager to see the finished product themselves. To thank them, Don handmade a unique pen and pencil set incorporating the polished wire wheel and mounted tire. Don chuckles and says, “The Avon honcho wrote back saying “You really screwed me. Now I have to buy a brand new desk because your pen and pencil set is so nice.”

In 2000, with the dawn of new millennium, Don shipped a specially commissioned Knuckle version of his model to the Motor Company in Milwaukee, this before the new Harley-Davidson museum was completed, so it was kept in their archives department until moved to the new museum upon its opening in July 2008.

The paint for his bikes was various candy pearls, except for the Harley-Davidson Museum model. They wanted a Knuckle chopper that looked like something aa guy would have built at home in 1960. There was a custom red scalloped, yellow paint job, but no polish on the cases, the barrels black, aftermarket open primary, just like back in the day.

A motorcycle fan in Germany noticed Don’s creations in a local magazine and just had to have one…to the point that one day he arrived at Don’s house/work shop in Granada Hills, CA and “went shopping” and upon up close and personal inspection it turned out that he had to have not one, but three…including a black Fatboy based on his own bike and also a Knucklehead created in the likeness of the iconic Capt. America chopper seen in the classic 1969 film Easyrider.

Don’s workshop contains a wide spectrum of industrial grade  and vintage tools down to surgical instruments capable of fashioning almost microscopic components.

Don’s latest projects include building replicat of Bonneville speed record  bike, here seen in mock-up stage.

2017 and Don Nowell’s “Engineered Art Worth Its Weight in Gold”

Says Don during our most recent conversation with him, “For a long time I’ve been wanting to build some art for the real art world. I had tried some stuff with the bikes I built, pieces out of wood and aluminum but that didn’t fly, so put the pieces back in the drawer. But after I took some hard knocks including losing both my Mom and Dad and then my lady friend and most recently, in March of this 2016, seriously injuring my back which was keeping me mostly bedridden, I was feeling pretty low. I knew I needed to do something to get back on my feet mentally, something that turned a new leaf, to step in another direction besides the gearhead arena…so I put head together to create some world class art.”

“I wanted something both plain and elegant at the same time. Something that drew your eye and kept it, something that wowed your senses. So I gathered rare woods from South America, Africa and Australia, all with awesome colors and grains. I’m a wood nut and love the grain, and found that the use of clear coating really makes it pop, a mile deep… there’s nothing like it.

Don’s premiere piece was titled “GoldBlades” and in part was inspired by the vintage mirrors and golden pocket watches he had seen during his experiences at the Nethercutt Museum. Deciding to employ blade shapes and gold to create the reflections he sought, Don took out his French curve templates and starting drawing, counting on the smooth transitions the forms allowed. After making some full sized sketches, he started making parts, finally sending the parts to the platers, focusing on the ultimate richness of 24K gold matched to a black granite finish for contrast. Says Don, “When it all came together, it exceeded my expectations, the gold having this rich, rosy finish that is staggering when amplified by the reflections playing back and forth from any angle your view it from.”

Tasmanian veined Eucalyptus on Gold Base, the piece is titled “GoldenWood” and measures 22 inches long, six inches wide, 12.5 inches high.

A work titled “GoldenBlades” features a total of 100 pieces including 14 separate 24K gold plated blades set in a mathematical progression, creates unique visual impact from all directions and angles. It measures 36 inches high, 14 inches wide, 22 inches long.

As for his choice of materials, Don says, “You can’t ask for anything better than Mother Nature’s finest… gold…and the trickest woods available. There’s nothing like seeing the gold and woods together…it’s the best of the best.” Toward that goal he opted for 7075T6 billet aluminum, the hardest you can get but also the best for acquiring the 24K highly polished gold plating. The choice of woods offered include Maple, Walnut, Burbinga burl, Tasmanian Resin Vein Eucalyptus, Buckeye burl, American Redwood and others, all finished to perfection.

These GoldenWood and GoldenBlade models are currently available with more designs in the work. In addition to fine art collectors, it would seem they would also lend themselves well as exceptional corporate gifts or even as exceptional awards of achievement.

If you’re interested in investing in art that grows in value every day, check out www.donnowellart.com, email him at dn@donnowelldesign.com or call Don at (818) 363-8564. International delivery as well as local Los Angeles pick-up available.

Post-script:

As we put the final touches on this story, we’ve become aware of Don’s growing difficulties, time and gravity taking their toll. The sale of his awesome art will go toward easing the mounting financial stress of his long-term recovery now requiring round-the-clock healthcare. While it’s especially hard for a solid, self-sufficient guy like Don to reach out for assistance, at 75, he sums it up with his tell-tale sense of humor, “I’m happy, just fucked up! Don’t get old!”

 

BIO

Paul GarsonPaul Garson lives and writes in Los Angeles, his articles regularly appearing in a variety of national and international periodicals. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars and USC Media Program, he has taught university composition and writing courses and served as staff Editor at several motorsport consumer magazines as well as penned two produced screenplays. Many of his features include his own photography, while his current book publications relate to his “photo-archeological” efforts relating to the history of WWII in Europe, through rare original photos collected from more than 20 countries. Links to the books can be found on Amazon.com. More info at www.paulgarsonproductions.com or via paulgarson@aol.com

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Garson author

The Twice Fought War: Ethiopia 1935-1945

by Paul Garson

All photos and documents from author’s collection

 

Ethiopia Map 1935

In the early 1930s Italian Colonial aspirations included much of The Horn of Africa including Libya, Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

 

Once upon a time there was a country, sometimes known (in Europe) as Abyssinia, other times as Ethiopia. Or, if you were Italian and drawing maps of the continent of Africa for future conquests … Etiopia. In addition Ethiopia was a predominantly ancient Christian country tracing that history back to the first century A.D. In 330 A.D. Christianity was declared the state religion and eventually the only region of Africa to survive as such following the expansion of Islam in the area. Some even claimed it was the secret hiding place of the Ark of the Covenant.

 

mounted  warrior 1898

1890 Illustration – Mounted Ethiopian Warrior
The image appeared on an Italian pharmaceutical company’s advertising card printed in the 1930s. Although he still carries a shield, the soldier also shoulders a modern military rifle rather than the vintage flintlocks relied upon by the majority of his countrymen.

In 1906, the same year that Einstein set forth his Theory of Relatively that changed the face of science and the Great San Francisco earthquake changed the face that city, Ethiopia was granted its internationally recognized independence with Great Britain, France and Italy among those signing the historic document.  But within five years Italy would invade nearby Libya and begin carving out chunks of northern Africa for its colonies.  As the European powers began devouring African resources, Ethiopia still managed to survive intact, and furthermore, in 1923 was recognized by the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations) as a full-fledged member of that international community.

 

ethiopia Sellasie coin 1937

1937 – Coinage and Carnage
Along with the image of Emperor Selassie, his name appears in the abugida script form of Amharic, the country’s national language, and the second most-spoken Semitic language worldwide after Arabic.

* * *

While it went through a period of various potentates as rulers, a new leader appeared that would put Ethiopia firmly back on the world map. The face of Emperor Haile Selassie appeared on the November 3rd, 1930 cover of TIME Magazine. His titles included “King of Kings, Conquering Lion of Judah and Elect of God.” The text of the story stated, “Certainly the new Emperor is the greatest Abyssinian ruler of modern times.” That bit of hyperbole proved prophetic. TIME again placed him on its cover on January 6, 1936 selecting him as “Man of the Year for 1935” for his courageous efforts defending his country from the invasions launched by Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

 

ethiopia 225th departs for Ethiopia 1935

Banner of War
Standing by their battle flag, officers of the 225th Infantry Regiment of the 14th Italian Expeditionary Force prepare to depart for East Africa in 1935.

* * *

The Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935, lasting 17 months, would presage the European war that would erupt in 1939, and as such could be seen as one of the sparks that ignited that conflagration.

Since Mussolini dreamed of recreating the glory of the Roman Empire, he needed colonies to expand fascist Italy along with his own ego, thus Ethiopia became his target. The rest of Europe shrugged their shoulders for the most part. The attitude is summed up by the following quote from discussions at the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs on October 3, 1935, the eve of Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia.  “One can see now how thoughtless it was of the League of Nations to admit Ethiopia, a country which does not deserve other nations risking a war to protect it.”

As the war ground on, the modern Italian forces found themselves generally victorious, but on December 22, 1935, after Ethiopian troops managed to repulse an Italian attack, General Rodolfo Graziani launched airborne gas warfare including bombings on January 10 that killed thousands of Ethiopians trying to escape Italian advances, more gas attacks following in March. An estimated 300-500 tons of mustard gas were deployed, personally authorized by Mussolini along with the use of flamethrowers.

 

son and father warriors 1935 Harar

October 1935 – Mobilization in Harar, Ethiopia
Responding to Emperor Haile Selassie’s call for the defense of their country, an Ethiopian warrior and his young son prepar to leave for war, the boy acting as his father’s “squire” and carrying his rifle and gear. Like most of the soldiers facing the Italians, both go barefoot into battle.

* * *

On May 5, Italian General Badoglio and his troops triumphantly entered the capital of Addis Ababa. Eventually some 150,000 Italians would occupy Ethiopia, but the occupiers found themselves tasked with controlling over 1,000,000 sq. kilometers of some of the harshest topography in the world and home to some of the most tenacious and courageous peoples, many of whom joined in a protracted guerilla war.

Initially official international response was minimal. The only country to protest the Italian aggression and occupation was Mexico. A year later, five other countries…China, New Zealand, the Republic of Spain (fighting its own civil war against Fascism), the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were the only nations not to recognize Italy’ right of control over Ethiopia. However by 1940 only Stalin’s Russia recognized Selassie as the rightful leader, since at the time and prior to the isolationist leaning U.S. entry into WWII, America was considering acknowledging Ethiopia as part of the Italian empire.

 

ethiopia officer telegraph 1935

Ethiopian Royal Guard Soldier
Still bearing the original tag affixed to an album photo in 1935,  an officer of the Telegraph Corp is shown in his dress uniform complete with lion fur fringed epaulets and cap. Unfortunately the country’s communication system was such that the military had in most part to rely on runners and there was but one field telephone in service.

* * *

On June 30, 1936, after Italian forces occupied Addis Ababa forcing him into exile, Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie made a personal and electrifying appeal to the League of Nations which had convened in Geneva, Switzerland. His speech, warning of the threat of Fascism, was heckled by the Italian representatives, but brought him into the world spotlight as a champion of his people and an inspirational call to defend the weak against the violently strong. His statements included the following prophetic warning:

“If a strong government finds it can destroy a weak people, then the hour has struck for that weak people to appeal to the League of Nations to give judgment in all freedom. God and history will remember your judgment. It is us today. It will be you tomorrow.”

His words went unheeded, the League taking no action. On February 19-21, 1937 Addis Ababa was the scene of a bloody massacre of some 10,000 civilians including half the younger, educated population, shot, beheaded, and bayonetted by Italian troops with the pretext being an attempted and failed assassination attempt against Marshal Rodolfo Graziani the Viceroy and Governor General of Italian East Africa. It was one of the largest mass murders prior to the start of WWII.

 

ethiopia hanging

Souvenir Photo
An Italian soldier snapped this image of blindfolded Ethiopians as well as his pith helmet wearing comrades during one of countless public executions.

* * *

The Italians also operated notorious prisons, including Nokra located on an island on the Red Sea where prisoners suffered a mortality rate of 58%. The general Fascist attitude toward their colonial subjects was summed up by Gen. Badoglio when he stated, “the whole population of Cyrenaica should perish.”

In another instance, the Italian commander Graziani, employing Somali and Libyan mercenaries along with his Italian troops, successfully launched the decisive battle against the Ethiopian resistance on the Southern Front in mid-April 1936. His summary report of the victory indicated some 650 Italian casualties while the numbers exceeded several thousand Ethiopians. He commented, “Few prisoners as is the custom of Libyan troops.” While under Italian command who voiced no disapproval, the Libyans implemented their own “total war.”

Conquering Italian Troops 1937

axis Mussolini oct 1943

1937 Photo -Conquering Italian troops in High Spirits

Eventually an estimated 500,000 Ethiopians died as the result of Italy’s invasion and occupation, a genocidal policy that history relegated to its dusty back pages.

Italy would continue to control Ethiopia while the world lurched toward WWII. Then on June 10, 1940 Mussolini decided to enter the World War on Hitler’s side in order to share in the spoils. His forces attacked France via the western Alps, but suffered from poor leadership and freezing temperatures, obsolete weapons, without even adequate cooking pots or winter clothing. In the ensuing border area battles, the French sustained 40 killed, 84 wounded, 150 missing. The Italians lost 631 killed, 2,361 wounded and 600 missing not to mention some 2000 cases of frostbite. Later in Greece, Italian forces were driven back again, in this case losing some 14,000 dead and 25,000 missing. Hitler was called upon  to rescue his Italian allies by sending in his own troops and as a result did not meet his original schedule for attacking the Soviet Union, losing precious time, and perhaps the war in Russia and the War itself.

 

ethiopia Selassie man Oerlikon 1935

Attack on Dessie – Emperor Selassie Fights Back
The photo shows the Emperor at the controls of a Swedish made Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun. While the scene appears posed, it recreates an actual event. After learning that Selassie would be inside the vacated Italian consulate building, the Italians dropped bombs on the city, causing moderate damage and creating panic in the civilian population who had never experience aerial bombardment. The Emperor went unscathed while the bombing of civilians brought international attention.

* * *

In late January 1941, British and its Commonwealth troops (Indian, Nigerian, Ghanaian, South African, East African), launched attacks from bases in Sudan and Kenya against Italian-occupied Eritrea and Somaliland. By mid-February, 1941, Italian troops in Eritrea had sought sanctuary in the rugged mountains, for the most leaving their outposts in the hands of the Allies. By late March, German and Italian forces were evacuating by ship from Eritrea as British forces continued their successful operations against them. In one of the large engagements fought at the Battle of Keren involving tanks and infantry, the British recorded 536 killed, 3229 wounded while Italian casualties totalled some 6500.

On April 1, the Eritrean capital city of Asmara surrendered as an open city, the Allies collecting 5,000 Italian prisoners, the remaining forces making an effort to escape back into Ethiopia. By April 4th, Italian troops had fled the capital of Addis Ababa under threat of imminent capture by British forces who shortly took the city without opposition. On May 5, Ethiopia’s Haile Selassie made an historic return to the capital, marking to the day that he had been forced to flee Italian forces five years previously.

By May 16, Amba Alagi, the last major Italian stronghold in Ethiopia, lacking drinking water and counting nearly 290,000 casualties, began surrender negotiations. On May 17, 1941, Duke Aosta, the Viceroy of Italian East Africa, surrendered to the British followed on November 27 by the surrender of General Nasi, thus effectively ending Italian control of the area although some Italian guerrilla resistance continued until Italy surrendered in 1943, thus officially ending the Italian occupation of Ethiopia. It was Gen. Badoglio, the conqueror of the Ethiopians, who replaced Mussolini as Prime Minister after the dictator’s fall from power. Badoglio then surrendered Italy to the Allies.

Italian forces in East Africa would be captured en mass by Allied forces and during fighting on the Eastern Front alongside their German allies 87, 795 Italian personnel were killed or MIA, another 35,000 wounded. Over the ensuing decades, Italy was only able to repatriate the remains of 10,542 of its soldiers from the Russian Front, and of those only 2,799 were identified.

 

victory celebration

Selassie portrait

Victory Celebration
A rare private snapshot shows Emperor Haile Selassie standing on the main street of Addis Ababa on May 5, 1941, the day of his return to the liberated capital. The roadway is lined with smiling troops while two young riflemen aim for the cameraman. Today, May 5 is still celebrated as “Ethiopian Patriots’ Victory Day.”

temporary comrades

Temporary Comrades-in-Arms
The body language of an Italian Alpini trooper and a German Army corporal standing at their guard post could be interpreted as reflecting the differences between their individual and national personalities.

* * *

After the overthrow of Mussolini and as a result of the Armistice of Cassibile on September 8, 1943, Italy was split between the pro-fascist forces allied with Nazi Germany and anti-Fascist forces with Allied allegiances. The Germans exacted brutal reprisals against the Italians they saw as traitors, executing thousands and sending thousands more into slave labor.
Italy paid the price in blood, nearly a quarter million of its military killed and another 150,000 civilians perishing, a significant percentage caused by its former German ally.

1948: Aftermath
War crimes charges against Fascist Italy, while assaulting pre-WWII Ethiopia and during the war in Greece and Yugoslavia, were never officially recognized or prosecuted as the both the post-war Italian government and the Allies preferred to ignore them—in fact, actively denying and covering them up since they were now more concerned with the threat of the Communist Party in Italy. However, Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, late Italian ruler of Ethiopia, was sentenced in 1948 to 19 years in prison for his collaboration with the Nazi Party. Although he only served four months. (He later became active in a neo-fascist party, dying of natural causes in 1955 at age 72. Public money funded a monument to him in 2012.)

 

 

BIO

Paul Garson SelfiePaul Garson lives and writes in Los Angeles, his articles regularly appearing in a variety of national and international periodicals. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars and USC Media Program, he has taught university composition and writing courses and served as staff Editor at several motorsport consumer magazines as well as penned two produced screenplays. Many of his features include his own photography, while his current book publications relate to his “photo-archeological” efforts relating to the history of WWII in Europe, through rare original photos collected from more than 20 countries. Links to the books can be found on Amazon.com. More info at www.paulgarsonproductions.com or via paulgarson@aol.com

 

 

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I Spy Cameras:
Intriguing Cameras of Intrigue

Story and Photos by Paul Garson – Cameras and documents from the author’s collection

 

francis x bushman

 

Shoot Bullets and Photos

Sometime in 1933 the famous screen actor/director Francis X. Bushman seen here came up with the idea of melding an actual gun with a camera that could shoot bullets as well as still and motion pictures as an aid to law enforcement. The idea was even if the bad guy escaped the bullets, he couldn’t avoid getting his mug shot taken and thus sealing his eventual captured. Something smaller and less noisy was needed by real world spies which prompted inventors around the globe to search for the perfect spy camera. As a result untold variations were created, a few literally shaping the history of nations and wars, cold and hot. As an offshoot, “spy camera” compact design eventually entered the consumer market, some basically toys, others hi-tech wonders. Here are a few from the author’s collection of vintage cameras, but only touching upon the tip of the spy iceberg.

 

TheHitwasit

The HIT – Was It?

If you were a kid growing up in the 1950s and read comic books, you saw an endless flow of ads, small ones, for The Hit…and you just had to have one because it was so “spyish” and cool. Your parents probably tried to explain that it was a toy and you couldn’t photograph a barn door with the Honey-I-Shrunk-a Real-35mm Camera. But no doubt you pressed on as I did until you had one. Okay, so it took 40 years before I added a Hit to my current collection and now you many find many for sale on the Internet, some with their original cases and even film. In any case, The Hit seems to remain on the hit list of spy cameras even if no self-respecting agent would use one.

The Hit was the product of the Tougodo Optical company founded in Japan in 1930 and named as things often were at the time after a military personage, in this case Admiral Tougo of the Japanese Navy. The camera relied on 14x14mm film.

Actually there are several variations of sub-mini 1950s cameras from Japan, the prices ranging from $10- $3,000 depending on their level of rarity. This one cost me $3 at a garage sale.

 

mec 16 camera

MEC-16 SB – History Maker in Miniature

The MEC 16 was produced by Germany’s Feinwerke Technik around 1957-60. This example, an SB was updated in 1960, and gained milestone status as the first TTL Camera (Through the Lens Metering system) by incorporating a Gossen Selenium Exposure Meter in its subminiature design, no mean feat as the camera in closed position measures only 4 x 2.5 x 1.5 inches. It utilizes a high quality Rodenstock f 2 22mm lens, making it one of the fastest subminis ever made. Its “Cats Eye” pupil diaphragm is adjustable f 2.0 to f16 with focal plane shutter speeds from 1/30 sec. to 1/1,000 sec. with a range of focus form 1ft. to infinity. Considered a top of the line “mini,” they are considered rare, prices reaching $250 and beyond.

 

universal 16 mm

Universal Minute 16

Produced apparently for only one year, 1949, it was designed to mimic the shape of a movie-camera. While certainly spyish in appearance and size and all metal in construction, the optical performance of the f6.3-11.0 Anastigmatic fixed-focus lens with a fixed shutter speed of 1/50 second, was mediocre at best. It did sport a pop-up viewfinder, flash synch and provided 14 exposures per magazine. A later version included an f8 lens and a slightly fast single speed of 1/60 second. Boxed sets include the camera, flash and spare bulbs, negative holders, tripod and film and still have good cool factor.

 

mamiya super 16

Mamiya Super 16

Post-war Japan produced a slew of high quality cameras of various formats and sizes. One major company, Mamiya, made 16mm subs from 1949-62 and judged as exceptional in design and performance. This model, appearing in 1959, was its built-in selenium meter is actually larger than the original Mamiya 16 that came without the meter. As far as being “automatic” it was actually a matter turning various dials that provided for a quality image. The lens was either an f2.8-16 25mm with speeds up to 1/200 sec. It was also the first Mamiya 16 with a flash shoe.( I got lucky and found this one for a grand total of $18.10. It pays to stay up to 3 in the morning scouring the Web.)

 

true spy camera

True Spy Camera

Popular with the KBG and other international espionage organizations up until the 1990s when digital took over, the incredible Minox was actually designed and first built in Riga, Latvia, then later in Germany. This example, a Minox-B literally fits in the palm of your hand at least without its various attachments as shown here including flash and binocular mount. Production started in 1958 and ran to 1969 when it was replaced by the improved Minox C, but it never surpassed the popularity of the Minox-B.

The Minox B features a Complan 15 mm f/3.58 4-element lens with shutter speeds of 1/2 – 1/1000 seconds with a focal range from infinity down to eight inches. A special braided metal chain allows for precise distance measurements for documents being photographed. The Minox B is capable of producing up to 50 photos using a single cartridge and still a highly usable camera, film and processing available, though not cheap.

 

norton univex camera

Norton/Univex/Universal Micro-Mini

There are miniature cameras, sub-miniatures and micro-miniatures…all based of course on size and weigh though not necessarily quality of images produced, such is the case of this camera that wore several brand names.

Founded in New York City in January 1933, The Universal Camera Corporation was the brainchild of loan company exec Otto Wolff Githens and his partner, taxicab insurance agent Jacob J. Shapiro, both believing Americans needed a very affordable camera. With that idea in mind, they approached the Norton Laboratories requesting they design a small Bakelite camera, simple to use, and cheap to manufacture. Naturally, seeing a good thing, Norton started selling the camera under their own name. Not giving up, the original Universal company went on to manufacture the Univex Model A themselves as well as several other cameras.

Although most people have no recollection of the camera today, Universal eventually sold more cameras per year than any other company in the world, at least for a time. Keeping to their prime directive of affordability, the Univex Model A sold for 39 cents with over 3 million purchases in the first three years. Boosting the sales was the inexpensive six-exposure rollfilm that was packaged in Belgium and sold for only 10 cents in the United States. 22,000,000 rolls where sold in 1938. However, it was the monopoly on the special Univex film that contributed to the collapse of the company in 1958.

 

micro 16 camera

Whittaker Micro 16

Described as the size of a deck of cards, it was actually much smaller and could be concealed inside a pack of cigarettes, apparently a popular combination with detectives of its day. Using 16mm film via a 24 exposure cartridge, it appeared on the “spy camera” scene in 1946, just after WWII’s end, the design of a Hollywood, CA concern named after its founder, It relied on an achromatic doublet f6.3 lens with fixed focus and a single speed although the aperture could be adjusted for lighting conditions and color film usage via 1:11 (bright), 1:8 (dull), and 1:6.3 (color). Production ended in 1950, a short run for the popular mini that sold for a relatively expensive $30 in the 1940s, about what people were earning on a weekly basis at the time. Today prices range from $25 to several hundred for very rare editions.

 

last camera

In closing, if you’ve got the bug for vintage cameras, small or larger, remember condition, condition, condition….and keep both eyes open on the Web, at garage sales and swap meets. You may just find that treasure. But remember, the value is in the history, the quest and the kinds of cameras that open wide your own apertures of interest. Do your research by surfing the Internet or purchase a couple quality camera collector books as resources. Happy hunting!

 

 

BIO

Paul Garson SelfiePaul Garson is a writer and photographer. He has contributed to many magazines and periodicals, and has published both fiction and nonfiction books as well as written two screenplays that have been produced. He served as a university instructor of composition and writing, as well as a martial arts instructor. His public relations and marketing projects included several for national and multinational companies.

His previous books include Album of the Dead, concerning WWII in Europe, available through Chicago Review Press, and New Images from Nazi Germany available through McFarland & Publishers.

 

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Paul Garson author

Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Dogs of War:
Man’s Best Friend on the WWII Battlefield

By Paul Garson

All photos & illustrations from the Author’s Collection

 Dog Story Capt. David Vogel, of the 102nd Engineers, trains in war games with dog Rex in a photo taken in 1935.

 

When Shakespeare had Marc Antony, after Caesar’s assassination, lament … Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war… the phrase appearing in the Bard’s 1601 play Julius Caesar… he was not referring literally to dogs. Although huge canines were used in Roman warfare, the phrase was originally a signal used by English military commanders of the Middle Ages to signal their soldiers to begin the usual pillage and chaos accompanying engagements on the battlefields.

The Bark Heard Round the World

While the wolf became man’s companion 12,000 years ago, it would be 4,000 years before the historical record indicates they were first trained as wardogs, oddly enough in Stone Age Tibet. As far back as 800 B.C. illustrations of mastiff like dogs were trotting alongside King Tut’s chariot as seen in his tomb art. Apparently large fighting dogs were also popular with Kryos, then King of Persia who had then harnessed and sent to the frontlines of battle.

The effectiveness of the dog as weapon eventually took hold worldwide. Some 30,000 of the mastiff type dogs became a staple of Kublai Khan’s 13th century all-conquering army. In the following centuries, wardogs have appeared in times of conflict taking on a variety of roles from message carriers to sentries to first aid providers to living bombs and occasionally as supplemental rations.

Eventually brought into Europe, the Romans took hold of the concept breeding smaller dogs for herding and guard dogs, larger ones as weapons of war, the latter equipped with spiked collars and armor while some carried containers of open flame on their backs to create panic among the enemy’s warhorses. One of the first “hero dogs” recorded was named Sorter, the only survivor of 50 wardogs that were the first to meet a surprise attack by Athenian soldiers during the Corinthian War (395-87 B.C.). Sorter ran to the citadel arousing the sleeping garrison who threw back the attacking force. In appreciation the dog was awarded a silver collar with an inscription, “To Sorter, defender and savior of Corinth.”

Columbus brought 20 tracking dogs with him to the New World and the Spanish Conquistadors used attack dogs in their destruction of the Aztec empire. By 1500 dogs were serving as frontier guards, catching errant cattle in England and tracking runaway slaves in America where Benjamin Franklin in 1755 described the best way to use dogs “against the Indians.” By the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the French Army had organized complete camps to care for their canine soldiers. In the early 1900s when battling the French and Spanish in colonial Morocco, the Rif natives dressed dogs in their clothes to attract gunfire and thus reveal the enemy’s positions.

The very first recorded dog show took place in Belgium on May 28, 1847 near Brussels. Then in 1880 a Belgian breeder, Edmond Moecheron, became famous throughout Europe by giving sideshow-like demonstrations of his specially trained “police-dogs” which set the whole concept in motion. This breed of Belgian Shepherd, similar in appearance to the Rottweiler, came into official police use in 1899.

 

Wardog as Standardized Weapon

Moving forward to the first of the World Wars, the British embarked as it were on a head start program just prior to the outbreak of hostilities when they began organizing a War Dog Training Center under the leadership of a Lt. Col. E. H. Richardson. They however had taken the cue from the Red Cross which first promoted canines for ambulance duties on the Western Front. While England thought it a jolly good idea, its French allies found the idea unacceptable and quickly banned their ambulance attendant use shortly after the war began. In the autumn of 1914, Richardson, undaunted, then focused on equipping his charges for sentry and patrol duties. After finding the breed particularly adaptable to the requirements, Airedales were his main choice but the Catch-22 was that he had to requisition the dogs from their source in France. He managed to acquire a few four-footed French recruits that apparently learned English very quickly. The training went well and the British found support in their efforts when their Belgian allies were receptive to the idea, Richardson then supplying them with several of his graduates. Some also went to Britain’s WWI Russian allies who equipped the dogs with medical supplies and set them lose to find the wounded lost in the desolate landscape of Manchuria.

The Belgian military had previous experience with dogs of war, having employed a special indigenous breed, the now extinct Matin–Belge, apparently a very sturdy Mastiff variation that often pulled heavy machine guns and ammunition carts.

Meanwhile the English were looking for more uses for their dogs, so Lt. Col. Richardson provided two Airedales, aptly named Wolf and Prince, to his comrades at the Royal Artillery, 56th Brigade, 11th Division and received glowing reports as to their performance which accelerated further efforts to develop more dogs as messengers in the field.

A training school was subsequently established in France, the main kennels located in Etaples initially under the direction of a Maj. Waly, then by 1917 the operation came under the control of the Royal Signal Corp. Each human handler was acquainted with three dog trainees and vice-versa. As the British were particularly fond of their dogs and provided for those in need, many were found available from various Dog Homes in Bristol, Liverpool, Birmingham, and Manchester. Due to an ever increasing demand, strays from all over the UK were rounded up by the local constabulary, then as the need continued to mount, additional “volunteers” were requested from the general public. The appeal was well-answered by those felt they were unable to adequately feed their pets as a result of war rationing. Soon it was raining “dogs and dogs.”

The German Shepherd aka Alsatian aka Wolfdog was first developed in 1899 by Capt. Max von Stephanitz who through careful breeding produced an ideal service dog under the motto “utility and intelligence.” Their jaws exerted 238 psi of pressure, second only to the Rottweiler. Eventually introduced into the military by the Prussians, the Reichswehr had 6000 dogs trained for battlefront duty during WWI.

Germany also trained their dogs to carry and deliver medical supplies and sometimes a bit of schnapps. At times they wore the symbol of the German Red Cross (Rotes Kreuz), a collar identifying them as acomfort dog” or Sanitätshunde in the service of the German military. While they were trained to ignore corpses, the dogs were trained to retrieve from the wounded soldier his Bringsel, a decorative cord that was an element of the Prussian uniform. After bringing the cord to a medic, the dog would lead his human team mates to the wounded soldier. As the injured were treated, the dog would provide comfort therefore the name “comfort dogs.”

Back in America, with its isolationist policy looking askance at entering a European war, its canine contribution amounted to some 400 sled dogs provided for use by the French military, the war raging on three years prior to U.S. involvement. However, one French dog, a Highland Terrier, adopted by an American infantryman saved many WWI doughboys, his acute hearing warning of artillery attacks as well as his success in delivering critical messages under fire. Named Rags, and besides surviving many wounds, he was also the first dog to parachute when his owner found it necessary to bail out of an observation balloon. Perhaps the most decorated and most famous WWI canine was a bulldog named Stubby whose intelligence and bravery saved many American soldiers to the point he was presented to three Presidents-Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge.

By war’s end in 1918, some 30,000 dogs had served with the Allies and Central Powers and had brought aid to the fallen, acted as couriers, first-aiders, guards and early warning sentinels. Over 3,000 were KIA.

 

 dog sample breeds

Angels Disguised as Devil Dogs: America’s Elite Canines

 

“At Ease” – New Recruits at WWII U.S. Army Training Center

Several breeds are represented including a Great Dane, German Shepherd, Doberman, Airedale, Collie, Labrador and good American mutts. While not seen in this photo, one of the first wardogs was the poodle. One such four-legged French hero was named Moustache who though wounded rescued the French flag at the famous battle at Austerlitz on December 2, 1805.

 

* * *

Playing K-9 Catch-up

While the U.S. the military had neglected wardog training during the first war, they began to catch up prior to the following war, in part due to the campaigning efforts of a dog breeder named Arlene Erlanger who, anticipating the need, formed a group called Dogs for Defense. Celebrities of the day added their vocal support of the program including movie stars Rudy Valle and Mary Pickford who in fact gave their personal dogs in the hopes of inspiring the American public to follow suit. Eventually the U.S. military, who named their war dog project the K-9 Program, began experimenting with some 30 breeds before focusing mostly on German Shepherds and Dobermans, the selectees then trained for sentry, patrol, messenger, tracking, and mine-detection duties. Some dogs even joined U.S. paratroopers and British SAS parachuting with them into enemy territory.

All such dogs were held in high regard for their loyalty, intelligence and courage under fire, often laying down their lives for their humans. They were especially valued in the Pacific Theatre where the Marines faced stealthy assault by skilled Japanese infiltrators. The canine warriors often slept in the foxholes with their handlers. The dogs exercised exceptional hearing, up to 35,000 hertz per second as compared to a human’s maximum of 20,000 as well as the ability to close-off their inner ear and micro-focus on a particular sound. Acute audio skills were complemented by a sense of smell some 100 times more acute than a human and capable of following a scent several days after originally made and as far away as 250 yards. As a result, these war dogs served as “early warning systems” often sounding the life-saving alarm while their intense loyalty and fearsome aggressiveness often threw them into direct hand to paw combat.

 

Training Takes a Twist

A more than strange story comes out of the effort to train war dogs for Pacific duties, i.e. battling the Japanese. A plan was hatched to teach dogs to identify Japanese people. Some 25 Japanese-American soldiers were asked to volunteer for a secret mission. They found themselves off the coast of Mississippi on Cat Island which apparently had the climate of the Pacific islands plus plenty of alligators. According to veterans who took part, they spent four hours a day training the dogs, the rest fishing, playing guitars and drinking plenty of beer since the island’s water was sulfurous.

Training consisted of feeding the dogs meat and firing a gun at the same time for several months. Then a period when the Japanese –Americans were ordered to whip the dogs until they bled which resulted in the dogs being very eager to bite them anytime they saw them. It wasn’t popular with the dogs or the soldiers. As it turns out the plan didn’t pan out, the dogs didn’t differentiate between races, and most dogs were too civilianized to take well to the training. When a demonstration for the brass didn’t go well, the military pulled the plug on the program in July 1944 but not before 400 dogs went through the Cat Island experiment. A more traditional war dog training program was then initiated.

 

Leathernecks with Collars

During WWII, there were also rigorous programs organized at the Marine Corps War Dog Training School at Camp Lejuene, NC. As a result, several Dog Platoons were formed then sent with their handlers to take part in many of the amphibious landings on Japanese island strongholds including Guam, Bougainville, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jimo, the Philippines and Okinawa. On Guam alone, the dogs took part in over 550 scouting patrols during which 40% saw encounters with the enemy detected by the canines. Many of the dogs and their handlers seeing action in the Pacific campaign paid the ultimate price but in the process saved hundreds of American lives as well as contributed to the destruction and capture of hundreds of the enemy. Many of the Pacific islands had their own wardog cemeteries. On Guam alone, one such burial place held 25 K-9 soldiers.

The dogs, trained to withstand the sound of gunfire and explosions, were also taught to remain silent when they detected danger so as not to alert the enemy. A technique was developed that saw the handler, when sleeping at night in a foxhole, would lie with one hand, palm up, against the throat of his dog. Although trained not to bark or even growl when detecting an enemy soldier creeping toward the foxhole in the cover of darkness, the dog’s throat would emit a vibration that would be felt by his handler and thus awaken him in time to thwart the attack. Obviously both dog and man were very much in tune with each other, deep bonds that often saw sacrifice from both. In one instance, a Marine K-9 familiar with the effects of grenades, saw one land nearby a group of leathernecks, grabbed it its jaws and ran clear of the men, but not in time to drop the grenade.

 

war dog swims in pool

Pool Training

Special training installations could be used both for water and fire simulations. Here a dog is being gently introduced to a water training site used by the 508th Parachute Infantry, 82nd Airborne. Notations on the back of photo identify the dog as “King” and the soldier as “Pittman” while the installation is located in Frankfurt, Germany, the time frame a few months after war’s end.

 

war dog dober Aug 1944

The photo and caption appeared in the August 1944 issue of the American Legion Magazine. The sleek, almost elegant yet fear-inspiring Doberman-Pinscher was prized by American troops for their skills and bravery, especially in the Pacific battlefield and where, as a result of their short fur, the animals weren’t as affected by the heat and humidity as other dogs. Originally the Marines inherited many German Shepherds from the Army, but later gained many Doberman’s thanks to the efforts of the Doberman Pinscher Club of America. Some estimates indicate 75% of the dogs in Pacific service were Dobermans.

 

war dog parachute Dec 1943

Successful Landing – February 1943

In a Signal Corp photo snapped somewhere in England, a dog named “Salvo” is shown planting his feet on the ground to resist the pull of his open parachute while waiting to be released from his harness by his U.S. Arm Air Corps fellow soldiers.

Salvo appears to have some Jack Russell in him while the two aircraft in the background appear to be an American ‘spotter’ and a British open cockpit trainer, each bearing the emblems of the U.S. Army Air Corps and British Royal Airforce.

 

Marine Devil Dog 1944

Semper Fi – South Pacific – August 1943

A Marine “devil dog” named Andy joins his two legged comrades, PFC Robert E. Lansley of Syracuse, NY and Lt. Clyde A. Henderson of Brecksville, OH. The trio was photographed somewhere on Bougainville, the island the scene of savage fighting during the campaign that lasted from November1, 1943 until August 21, 1945 as U.S., New Zealand and Australian troops battled the deeply entrenched Japanese holding the island.

The term “devil dog” was actually the name given to U.S. Marines by their WWI German enemy, while G.I.s and Marines considered their canine comrades “angels.” In this case Andy and his handlers were “on point” during a patrol on the look-out for snipers and ambushes. Andy would trot ahead and “indicate” if danger lurked nearby. At one point Andy indicated something was not right with two banyan trees flanking both sides of a trail. The Marines then noticed the trees had been camouflaged as machinegun nests and destroyed them before they could unleash their lethal cross-fire.

Many dogs serving in the Pacific developed illness and contracted diseases caused by the climate as well as insects. Often the dogs had to survive on a diet of C-rations and many with thick coats suffered from temperatures reaching well over 100 degrees. Heartworms and kidney diseases were common afflictions not to mention shrapnel and gunshot wounds for which they were cared for by medics alongside their human comrades.

 

wounded Shepherd

Hail Caesar – Two Bullets Couldn’t Stop Him

While he may not have received a Purple Heart, a Marine-trained K-9 Corps Shepherd named “Caesar” earned the gratitude of the leatherneck with whom he served for saving his life and taking two bullets in the process. During the battle on Bougainville, Caesar, a member of the 1st Marine Dog Platoon, was on patrol with his two handlers Prvt. Rufus Mayo of Montgomery, AL and Prvt. John Kleeman of Philadelphia, PA, both members of M Company, 3rd Raider Battalion. In the dense jungle their walkie-talkies became useless so Caesar filled the gap as the main source of communications from the soldiers’ position at a strategic roadblock and the command post in the rear. Caesar made nine round trips under fire and later prevented a Japanese infiltrator from dropping a grenade into the marine’s foxhole, but in turn was shot twice. He recovered and lived on, but with a bullet lodged near his heart.

Meanwhile on the European Front, American K-9 soldiers were performing above and beyond the call of duty as sentry dogs, ammo carriers, messengers, mine detectors, search and rescue, even in combat roles and parachuting with Airborne troops. A Shepherd/Husky/Collie mix named Chips landed on Sicily with Patton’s Seventh Army during the operation ironically called Operation Husky. Detecting a camouflaged pillbox, the dog raced forward diving into the bunker and routed the Italian machinegun team forcing four to surrender. Chips was awarded a Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Star, the first and only dog in the history of the United States to do so. His act of bravery under fire spurred further recruitment and use of wardogs. However when he nipped Gen. Eisenhower’s hand, he was relegated back to sentry duty, but eventually was “pardoned” and took part in the D-Day invasion.

 

war dog comic Chips

The story even turned up as part of a comic book that gave the backstory about Chips, the dog volunteered by Gail and Nancy Wren from Pleasantville, NY. The story describes him as a “mutt” and both he and his handler, the latter named Rowell, as being clumsy and a lot of trouble according to their sergeant. One of the panels even shows Chips nipping Eisenhower, followed by Chip and his handler in a landing craft under fire during the landings on Sicily and also his routing of the machinegun nest.

 

dog press guard

Corporal Butch on Home Front Patrol – Spy Catcher – 1944

The Westinghouse press release photo dated August 10, 1944, appeared with the following caption:

 

“Good work, pard,” says Sgt. Denkel J. White to canine Corp. Butch after the war-plant police dog had discovered a strange man rowing a boat in the Delaware River near the Westinghouse Merchant Marine plant at Lester, Pa. “even if he didn’t turn out to be a saboteur.” Corp. Butch helps guard the waterfront and the plant where turbines to drive America’s merchant marine fleet are made. The police say Corp. Butch, part Shepherd, part Chow, is “nearly human” in intelligence. Each night he picks one of them to accompany on the beat. He won’t fraternize with anybody who doesn’t wear a uniform. He has his own floor fan, identification and police badges, and hospitalization fund (5 cents a week from each policeman.)

 

wardog stamps

Caes Na Guerra – War Dogs – 2009 S Postal Issue by Sao Tome e Principe

The postage honoring wardogs was printed by the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe, two volcanic islands straddling the equator located off the central eastern coast of Africa and comprising the continent’s smallest country (964 sq. miles), but they are big on stamps, a source of international revenue.

 

The Fate of Man’s Best Foxhole Friend

Prior to 2000 and new legislation allowing “discharged” wardogs to be adopted by civilians, service dogs were “euthanized” aka killed. An estimated 10,000 dogs were trained for WWII service. Of the 559 dogs still in the field at the end of WWII, 540 were “repatriated” to civilian lives. However of the estimated 4900 Vietnam wardog veterans still overseas, only some 200 made it back to the states. Thanks to new legislation, today most wardogs return to good stateside homes with applications for adoption far exceeding the number of dogs available.

 

 

 

BIO

Paul GarsonPaul Garson lives and writes in Los Angeles, his articles regularly appearing in a variety of national and international periodicals. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars and USC Media Program, he has taught university composition and writing courses and served as staff Editor at several motorsport consumer magazines as well as penned two produced screenplays. Many of his features include his own photography, while his current book publications relate to his “photo-archeological” efforts relating to the history of WWII in Europe, through rare original photos collected from more than 20 countries. Links to the books can be found on Amazon.com. More info at www.paulgarsonproductions.com or via paulgarson@aol.com

 

 

 

 

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