defenceWeb is holding its first event, the Peacekeeping Africa 2009 conference at Gallagher Estate.

I`m pleased to report the first day – today – Wednesday – went well. All the speakers had something interesting to say. We`ll be posting their presentations online shortly so that those who could not make the conference can see. We`ve posted a number of reports for your attention in the meantime. Watch out for more tomorrow.   

Guilt by denial

I recently came across a classic “do you still beat your wife?” story. An online publication called Digital Journal carried an item just after last month`s beaching of a pod of 55 false killer whales at Kommetjie on the western side of the Cape Peninsula.

Titled “SA Navy not ‘responsible’ for beached Cape Town whales” the report says the South African Navy has rejected claims that its activities caused the beaching.

The report adds other, unspecified, reports in the South African media claimed a Navy live-fire exercise in Simon`s Town, which is roughly on the other side of the Cape Peninsula from Kommetjie caused the whales to beach. “Still others claimed it was naval sonar that confused the animals,” the Digital Journal added.

Navy spokesman Commander Prince Tshabalala said the last gunnery exercise was three weeks before the beaching “so any link would be highly unlikely.”
“The probability that we would be responsible is negligible. No study has been done to show that gunnery exercises affected the whales. Until such a study is done, until a scientist comes to us … (if a study proved it) then we would take responsibility, but until then we cannot take responsibility,” he was further quoted saying.

The item adds that the gunnery exercise involved fire from shore and that no sonar had been used. Linking whale and dolphin beachings to naval sonar is an environazi cottage industry in the United States. Add a bit of “politician`s logic” and you get something that goes like this: There are accusations that US naval sonars disorientate sea mammals. SA has a navy. It has ships with sonar. So it must be disorientating whales and dolphins.

The Navy does not have a monopoly on sonar. There is any number of vessels, commercial and leisure, banging away with echo sounders and fish-finders. Perhaps the unseen reports blamed them too…       

The trouble with this type of report is that even when one protests one`s innocence because one is innocent, one still appears guilty.

For the history-minded

This week marked the moment in 1944 that Stalin unleashed 43 armoured and 146 infantry divisions on the German armies occupying Belarus. In a matter of days they destroyed the field formations of Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Centre), 30 divisions in all of whom 44% of personnel were dead or wounded. It was the worst defeat the Nazis suffered and moved the front from Vitebsk-Mogilev to the suburbs of Warsaw.     

This cataclysmic battle was the direct result of one of dictator Adolf Hitler`s more serious mistakes – the invasion of the Soviet Union on June 21, 1944. Whether Stalin timed Operation Bagration to broadly coincide with the Wehrmacht`s attack three years before is not clear. What is certain is that Hitler`s misadventure was a catastrophe that would engulf all of Eastern Europe from the Elbe River in the west to Moscow in the East.

Operation Bagration, named for a prince who won fame against Napoleon, is well worth studying as one of the great examples of operational art and one of the few examples of a real Blitzkrieg.