Posts Tagged ‘Red Army’

If D-Day Had Failed

June 9, 2014

I meant to write this on D-Day but with work and my own laziness, I procrastinated. Still, better late than never. There was an article which I read courtesy of Real Clear Politics, titled 5 Ways D-Day Could Have Been a Disaster written by Michael Peck  and published on D-Day in The National Interest. This article listed five ways in which things could have gone very wrong on that fateful June 6, 1944. Because the Allies did win World War 2, we are used to thinking that it was inevitable that they would win, but that is by no means certain. Launching an amphibious assault on the shores of Normandy was a terribly risky thing to do. Even under the best conditions sea-borne invasions are difficult and dangerous. The odds were against success No one knew that better than General Eisenhower. Before the battle he had written a brief statement to be released to the press in the event of failure. Eisenhower and his staff took extraordinary measures to keep the location of the invasion secret, even preparing a phantom army commanded by General Patton that seemed to be poised to land at Calais. If the Germans had discovered the location of the actual invasion and had troops ready to defend the beaches, the Normandy invasion would have been over almost before it began.

Reflection on D-Day

Reflection on D-Day (Photo credit: DVIDSHUB)

What would have happened if the Allied troops landing at Normandy had been defeated? The overall course of the war might not have changed all that much. Germany still would have lost. The destruction of the Sixth Army at Stalingrad the previous year ended any realistic hope of a German victory. The Soviet army would have continued to fight its way east. The British and Americans would have continued to fight in Italy. The invasion of southern France that took place in August might have gone ahead. Then again that invasion was successful because there had been a breakout from Normandy. Perhaps in the wake of a defeat it would have been deemed too risky.

There probably would have been another attempt to liberate France. The buildup for a second invasion would have taken time. It may be that the second attempt would not have been made until the following summer. World War 2 might have lasted for another year. If so the Soviets might have been able to move further west than they actually did. Maybe the meeting of the Allies would have taken place on the Rhine instead of the Elbe. Instead of a divided Germany, there would have been a united Communist Germany. That would have changed the balance of power in Europe in Russia’s favor. Maybe, with Soviet troops on their borders, the French and Italian Communists would have been more emboldened to seize power after the war. There is no way to know.

There are a couple of wild cards. Joseph Stalin was not a trusting man and he always suspected that the Allies were planning to fight Hitler to the last Russian.  This was why he agreed to the Ribbontrop-Molotov pact. He continually demanded that Roosevelt and Churchill open up a second front to relieve the Soviet Union. After a failure at Normandy, Stalin might have concluded that either the invasion was not really meant to succeed or that an invasion couldn’t succeed. Stalin might then have considered trying to negotiate an armistice with Hitler. Stalin wouldn’t have trusted Hitler, after Hitler had double crossed him by invading the Soviet Union and he certainly wouldn’t have forgiven him. Stalin, however, was patient and had often made strategic retreats in his rise to power in order to lull his enemies into complacency. Stalin might have decided to try for a separate peace until Hitler was engaged with the British and the Americans and then launched an attack.

I think this outcome unlikely, though. In 1944 the Red Army had the initiative and was steadily driving the Germans back. Stalin probably wouldn’t have wanted to slow or stop their momentum. Even if he had sued for an armistice, it is unlikely Hitler would have agreed. A Hitler who allowed the disaster at Stalingrad to take place and who ordered his army not to retreat one inch was not thinking very rationally.

Another wild card was the atomic bomb. The first atomic bomb was detonated at Alamogordo, New Mexico on July 16, 1945. By this time Germany had already surrendered. There was thus no question of using the bomb on the Germans. If the fighting was still going on, things would have been different. Since Truman authorized the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as much to deter the Soviets from post war aggression as to defeat Japan, the atomic bomb would have been used on Germany. Perhaps the first atomic bombs would have been dropped on Munich and Hamburg. I don’t think that Hitler would have surrendered, even then. By the end of the war, he had become nihilistic enough to prefer Germany destroyed rather than occupied. An atomic bombing of Germany might have sparked a coup among his top officials and generals.

If the first two atomic bombs had been dropped on Germany in August, 1945, what of Japan? We only had the three atomic bombs, so none would have been available to use on Japan. The Japanese were clearly defeated by then, but they had some hope that as long as an invasion of Japan itself was prevented there could be some sort of negotiated peace. Since the die-hard militarists did not surrender even when the first atomic bomb was used at Hiroshima in Japan, the use of the atomic bombs on Germany probably would not have convinced them. The Soviet Union declared war on Japan on August 8, just as the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and the war ended, so the Soviet Union did not have much influence on post war Japan. If the war had lasted longer, perhaps Russia and America would have invaded Japan  and the country would have been divided as Germany was. I don’t think the US would have attempted a landing on Japan after we realized that the atomic bomb was workable. I think that more bombs would have been rushed into production and the US would have intensified conventional bombing. I do not think that the Soviets had the capability to launch an amphibious assault on Japan.

Of course, there is no way to know what would have happened if D-Day had failed and maybe my speculations are not very realistic. I think it is obvious, however, that things could have gone very badly. World War 2 could have lasted longer and more men might have died. We all owe the brave men who fought at Normandy a debt of gratitude that we will never be able to repay.

D-Day 65th Anniversary

D-Day 65th Anniversary (Photo credit: The U.S. Army)

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Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov

August 26, 2013
Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov (biologist)

Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov (biologist) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A favorite character trope of science fiction and low budget horror movies is the mad scientist. The mad scientist is a scientist who is, well, mad, or at least eccentric. He works in his laboratory alone, or with a trusted minion. His researches are often considered beyond the bounds of respected science and he is either indifferent or oblivious of the moral and ethical implications of his discoveries. He could be evil, good, or amoral. The mad scientist is not always found in science fiction, however. There have actually been real mad scientists. Perhaps the maddest of these mad scientists was Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov. He was not mad in the psychiatric sense, but he was certainly willing to push the boundaries of scientific ethics. He is most famous for his attempts to create a human-ape hybrid. He was never successful, thank goodness, but that was not for lack of effort on his part.

Ivanov was born in 1870 in the town of Shchigry in Russia. He attended the University of Kharkov and graduated in 1896. He became a professor of biology at that institution in 1907. Ivanov was an associate of Ivan Pavlov. He also worked as a research veterinarian and his primary contribution to that science was the development of methods of artificial insemination which he could use on animals, especially horses. Ivanov was able to use the semen of a single stallion to impregnate 500 mares, far more that any stallion could manage naturally. Horse breeders from around the world studied his methods and he was put to work breeding fancy horses for the ruling Romanov dynasty. Ivanov was fascinated by the idea of creating animal hybrids from species that would never even consider mating with each other in the wild. He was able to create hybrids of antelopes and cows, guinea pigs and rabbits, and zebras and donkeys. The Czar and his court were fascinated by these hybrids and while the Russian Orthodox Church frowned on artificial insemination, at least in humans, Ivanov’s future seemed assured.

Unfortunately the Romanovs were overthrown in 1917 and the Bolsheviks seized control of Russia. The Bolsheviks did not have any use for fancy animals of any sort and Ivanov was out of a job. His troubles with the Orthodox Church seemed a recommendation to the militantly atheist Communists so he was able to find work at the State Experimental Veterinary Institute. At some point he had begun considering the possibility of making a human-chimpanzee hybrid. Chimpanzees were believed to be the animal most closely related to humans and he had managed to create hybrids from species farther apart, so the experiment seemed worth trying. He needed funding from the newly created Soviet government. Since the Soviet Union was just recovering from a devastating civil war, right after a disastrous experience in World War I, it might seem that the possibility of his getting the needed funds was remote. He somehow managed to persuade the Communists that a human-chimpanzee hybrid would show that man was nothing more than just another animal and its existence would serve to discredit religion and promote Communism and atheism. The Soviet government bought his line. The rising political leader Joseph Stalin was especially enthusiastic and in 1925, he got his funding.

There are no apes native to any part of Russia, so Ivanov had to go abroad to begin his work. By 1926 he had made arrangements to conduct his experiments at a primate research facility in French Guinea. The conditions there were not ideal. The chimpanzees had been captured by poachers  and half had already died of neglect. None of the females were sexually mature, so Ivanov had to wait, while trying to gather more chimps. By February the following year, two females had become mature and Ivanov could begin at last. The two female chimps did not appreciate being sexually assaulted by a man with a syringe and his first attempts were not successful. He tried again the following spring with a sedated chimp. This attempt was also a failure.

With his chimps dying faster than they could be replaced, Ivanov decided he needed to change his procedures. He decided to return to the Soviet Union. Earlier, Ivanov had helped to establish a primate research facility in Georgia, the southernmost part of the USSR and the only territory with a climate that apes could flourish. He also decided that since it would be easier to keep one male than several females, that he would use chimpanzee semen to impregnate a human woman. He tried to make arrangements to acquire a male chimpanzee from a Cuban woman who kept a private reserve for apes, but the Ku Klux Klan learned of their plans and threatened her into withdrawing her support.

Back in Georgia, most of the remaining apes fell ill and died. The only remaining ape was an elderly orangutan. Ivanov sought for volunteers to be fertilized with the old apes semen. They had to be volunteers since the Soviet authorities decided that it would be too capitalist or bourgeois to offer money. As amazing as it may sound, Ivanov actually managed to find a woman willing to undergo the procedure. Ivanov now had only to collect the semen from the orangutan. Unfortunately, he died before Ivanov could get a sample. He would have to get more apes.

Before he had a chance to continue, however, Ivanov was arrested by the NKVD. According to stories that may or may not be true, Joseph Stalin had had visions of invincible armies of apemen working in factories and farms and advancing the Socialist cause in the Red Army. Stalin was growing impatient with Ivanov’s lack of progress and he reacted in his usual way, arresting people and shipping them off to concentration camps. Ivanov was comparatively lucky. He was only exiled to Kazakhstan. He was old and his health had become fragile, so Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov died of a stroke just before he was due to be released.

His death was considered a great loss to science in some quarters and his old colleague Ivan Pavlov wrote his obituary. No one has ever tried to produce human-ape hybrids since his death and it is unlikely anyone ever will, at least I hope.

If you want to know more about Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov, as well as many other DNA related matters, I cannot recommend highly enough Sam Kean’s The Violinist’s Thumb.

  • Oliver the Humanzee (weird.answers.com) He wasn’t really, but a lot of people thought he was.

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