2 Views from Fonzi’s Foxhole

Will We Ever Learn? – View 1

Memorial Day has passed for another year. This week we honored our fallen service members at the “Faces of Freedom” Veterans Memorial in Atascadero and the memories of loved ones. The family of Aviation Machinist Mate 2nd Class (AVM2) Don Henderson laid a wreath in his memory. He was a WWII veteran who served on the USS Helena, a light cruiser assigned to the Southwest Pacific in 1942-43. The Helena was sunk on July 6, 1943 by Japanese “Long-Lance torpedoes” fired from an enemy destroyer in the Battle of Kula Gulf, located in the central Solomon Islands.

AVM2 Henderson was not on board at the time; he was on home leave and shocked to read in the papers of the loss of his ship and second family.

The story of Helena’s loss actually began around 15 years before when the Washington Naval Treaty was signed, limiting the numbers of surface combatants permitted by the United States, Britain and Japan. Ostensibly hailed as a guarantor of peace by limiting naval armaments in the Pacific, the treaty instead ensured Japanese local superiority in capitol ships, such as aircraft carriers and battleships. The Japanese had 10 aircraft carriers to our 3 in the Pacific, the British none, as neither the British nor our government wanted to spend the money to build permitted ship numbers or quality. The Japanese Navy built to the maximum allowed and more. American adherence to the treaty became an end in itself to the detriment of American lives at the outbreak of war in 1941.

A pinch-penny mindset enveloped the Navy and all services as they desperately strove to maintain an ever-smaller military structure under increasing assault by a Congress driven to strip the military to its bare bones. The Navy Bureau of Ordnance, responsible for the development and deployment of the Navy’s arsenal, was particularly miserly in its allowance for the development of weapon systems for its ships. The story of the American Mark-14 torpedo has become a classic case of weapons development malfeasance with dire consequences for the seaman depending upon them to work. In combat, they failed spectacularly, failing to detonate at a rate of 50% or more when fired at enemy ships. They wouldn’t detonate at all when fired at a 90 degree angle to a target ship and only 50% of the time when fired at a 45 degree angle, a much harder shot in combat. The result was disaster when U.S. submarines and motor torpedo boats attempted to challenge the Japanese landings in the Philippines with no enemy ships sunk. The Japanese landings occurred almost intact but for American and Filipino shore batteries. For the first 18 months of the Pacific War, we sent submariners to sea with torpedoes that wouldn’t explode half the time. Early in the war, often fighting outnumbered and outclassed, we lost more than a few sailors and ships as a result. The Bureau of Ordnance insisted the problem was with the men, not the material. Finally, they tested the torpedoes and found a serious defect in the magnetic exploders of the warhead.

Why did it take so long to find out? It cost money to run live-fire tests in the 1920’s and 30’s, so the Bureau of Ordnance “assumed” the design would work and NEVER TESTED the MARK-14 Torpedo under live-fire conditions before they deployed it.

The Japanese Navy worked under no such assumptions. When told Pearl Harbor was too shallow for aerial torpedoes, they conducted extensive experiments and tests until they solved the problem with devastating effect on our battle fleet at Pearl. They did the same with their surface torpedoes, the Type 93 “Long Lance” developed in 1935. Its range was 11 to 22 miles with an underwater speed of nearly 60mph. Its warhead of 1080 lbs was larger and more destructive than any of our own torpedoes. The Helena was struck by three of these weapons, the first of which tore off the Helena’s bow, two more hitting midsection. The Helena sank in about 20 minutes, carrying over 400 crewmembers to their death. Another 200 sailors were trapped on the upended bow and drifted for nearly 11 days before rescue.

Naval surface combat in the Solomon Islands in 1942-43, including the famous sea-battles of Savo Island off Guadalcanal, was the most ferocious of WWII. In two battles off Guadalcanal in 1942, we were repeatedly bested by the Japanese Navy, suffering some of the worst losses of the war with 8000 casualties at sea, four times the number of Marines lost on Guadalcanal.

Today, the armed forces are under increasing pressure to reduce costs and eliminate ships; again we are told treaties, such as the Iranian nuclear treaty will protect us even as our military capability steadily shrinks.

Will we ever learn?


Democrat Control In California – View 2 

As you know, California is ruled by one political party, the Democrats. They control every state office and have a virtual lock on both houses of the legislature and the courts. Republicans fight an almost doomed fight every day and will continue to be in the minority as long as the “conservative base” spends more time condemning our own elected officials for failure to maintain ideological purity than they do the Democrats who are actually governing the state. There is very little local control remaining for local officials. If you fired half the county staff or any city staff, not much would change. You would just be remotely governed by the multiple state agencies, boards and commissions and their staffs, who are making the policies, writing the rules and enforcing compliance via heavy fines on businesses, individuals and communities. Jerry Brown advocated “regional government” during his first term as governor in the 1970’s; he has achieved a good part of his goals of elevating decision-making to regional governing agencies that are not elected and virtually unaccountable to voters. The plastic bag ban is a classic result; an unpopular decision made “for the greater good” by a board not directly accountable to voters in any one jurisdiction nor any county legislative body. Air pollution, water conservation and quality, building within “coastal boundaries” are the most egregious examples of state intrusion into local decisions. The State takes most of the gas taxes collected and redistributes them to urban areas leaving city and county governments without sufficient funds to repair roads. The State took the redevelopment money collected by local governments with the consent of local businesses to redevelop or improve blighted areas and re-directed it to urban areas where the Democrat Party voter base was concentrated. They impose mandates for compliance with whatever regulation is passed and demand that localities pay for it out of ever-shrinking revenues. This is the result of one party rule and it will continue as long as too many listeners to conservative information outlets refuse to recognize that the problem isn’t the people they elect, but themselves via their apathy and insistent demands for “perfect ideological conformity” on every issue. Thus, “self-styled Progressive-liberal democrats” win every election and laugh in derision as we tear each other apart like a pack of wild dogs fighting over a bone.

Written by Al Fonzi
5th District Chairman, Republican Party, SLO County
Past President, SLO County Lincoln Club

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