[ Editor’s Note: Unusually for Michael, indeed very unusually, this week’s column is being written at a French pavement café, in Caen, over a glass of something refreshing, on a glorious summer’s evening, in the pleasant company of VT’s Paris Bureau Chief, Jane Rosenstein.
Having a few hours to kill in Caen at the end of today’s moving D-Day commemoration was not part of the plan, but the ceremonies were delayed, there was transport chaos at the end and Plan A fell through hours ago.
Actually, we’re now on Plan C. It’s a lot better plan than one British newspaper’s, which involves a mad dash through the evening to catch the last Eurotunnel shuttle back to Blighty. VT doesn’t cover speeding tickets on expenses, indeed so careful is the financial control at VT that an expenses scandal is unlikely.]
Please do not get the impression that the whole day has been chaotic. It started with some quite superb organisation by the French Ministry of Defence. They laid on a special train for VIPs, veterans and the press from Paris St Lazare Station straight through to Caen.
Security was very visible and highly effective, with lots of armed guards at St Lazare and on the train itself. Our impressively long express pulled away swiftly and smoothly, on time.
Everybody was unfailingly polite and SNCF treated us to a tasty complimentary breakfast, with plenty of refills for the coffee as our express slid purposefully through the glorious French countryside. We arrived in Caen bang on time.
The VT team made friends on board with journalists from China, Japan and France itself. Press coverage of today’s events has been huge, with apparently some 3,000 media types in all.
The International Press Centre, in a marquee right on the beach, was very well organised, with 600 workstations, plenty of TV booths and decent tucker. Your hard-working team naturally found time to sample some of the complimentary foie gras and oysters and the odd glass of something very drinkable.
We also stood for the French National Anthem, which not all the journos managed. This baffles me. You’re a guest in somebody else’s country, you’ve been fed and watered all day for free and treated with great consideration.
You’re in the presence of that country’s Head of State and Armed Forces, and they’re a sort of ally. Why would you not stand for their national anthem? It’s just rude, nekulturny as those nice people the SVR might say.
The French Ceremony at Caen Memorial
This was moving. President Hollande gave a fine address. OK, so I don’t like the guy’s politics. He probably doesn’t care much for mine. However, he didn’t become President of France without being able to deliver a good speech. He delivered today.
He also gave the impression that had he been around in 1944 he would have been on the side of the Free French, not Vichy.
Too many Fifth Republic politicians have just been watered down Vichy.
The choir was great and the music very moving. It was a simple ceremony, but it made the point that a great many French civilians – way too many – were killed on D-Day.
Somebody in the Allied chain of command was not looking out for the good people of Caen. Young people and veterans were front and center, which was a nice touch.
The International Ceremony at Sword Beach
HM the Queen attended, with that nice man President Putin from Russia, several other European presidents, the Canadian and Australian Prime Ministers and half the crowned heads of Europe.
President Obama was there too, which was odd, since the Kenyans weren’t actually at D-Day. Maybe he was representing America. HRH the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were there too. I am not sure when they came across.
The Queen came across to Paris on Wednesday night, I think, and has been staying at the British Ambassador’s residence, which I gather is rather splendid. The French have been kind enough to name a square after Her, which She is dedicating tomorrow. In a nice touch, the French included wartime photos of the Queen in uniform. Her Majesty is the last surviving Head of State actually to have served in World War II.
The Queen was given a rousing reception, not just by the many British and Canadian veterans, but by the French. The French thoughtfully allowed Her Range Rover to drive right up to the viewing stand. For a temporary stand on a beach this was a pretty impressive structure. The tent and marquee side of things was very well done. The organisers could definitely go into wedding planning, if they were so minded.
There was a funny moment during the ceremony when the screen was split, showing Presidents Obama and Putin apparently next to each other. They played up to the gallery and looked in each other’s direction, smiling. Angela Merkel was seated between President Putin and the new Ukrainian chap. It looked harmonious, but probably wasn’t.
The finale was spectacular, with lots of flame and smoke. The band of the Republican Guard played their hearts out and the dance troupe were better than they sound.
It’s a pity that we Tories are run by the Chamberlain wing of the party, which isn’t keen on celebrating German defeats. The British contribution was pretty feeble, apart from Her Majesty of course.
We couldn’t even manage a flypast from a Dakota, let alone pay to bring over the Canadian Lancaster, which is what I wanted to do.
The boys in Hamilton were up for it. I even sorted a couple of reconditioned Packard Merlin 224 engines, had anyone in Whitehall been interested.
What we should really have done, of course, was to refit dear old HMS Belfast, which was there on D-Day, and parked her right off the beach, with orders to fire a 21-gun salute, using 6” broadsides. That would have cheered up Angela Merkel!
The Great Heathrow Terminal 5 Toothpaste Scandal
There was an extraordinary incident at Heathrow Airport on the way out. For once my bag fitted in those very small looking cabin bag size guides they have at airports. Great, thought I, no need to drop the bag. Just take it on the plane. Huh. The contents of my small kit were of great interest to security. My toothpaste container was larger than 125 ml, so it was confiscated, as though the state has problems with gum disease.
My lawyerly protestation that it was half used and therefore less than 125 mil was ignored. Result, I needed to go to Boots the Chemist and acquire a small tube of toothpaste. Why seize my toothpaste? This is where airport security disappears up its own exhaust pipe.
All I could have done on BA Flight 334 to Orly with a half-used tube of Colgate would have been to clean a flight attendant’s teeth. It was never like this with BEA. An Englishman’s toothpaste is his private domain, indeed so is his small kit generally.
The Great Obama Visa Scandal
An even bigger scandal was the Administration’s refusal of a visa, to allow me to fly to New York to give evidence as an expert, in the case of Strunk v State of New York. My expert affidavit has been placed in the public domain.
Just one working day after the learned judge accepted that I was an expert, and rightly so with respect (the New York Attorney-General is not stupid and offered no opposition to the plaintiff’s motion) my visa was refused at the US Embassy in London, on the with respect specious ground that I might not observe the conditions attaching to my stay, under s.214 of the Immigration Act 1952.
Excuse me? I am a practicing barrister and former immigration judge. I have visited America on numerous occasions since 1991, most recently in October last year, and have scrupulously observed US immigration requirements, and US law generally, apart from that one small matter of doing 110 on I-70 westbound in Kansas (well, it was a Sunday morning, I had 750 miles to go and a powerful V-8 Caddy to do them in, the road was empty, the visibility unlimited and the weather was fine).
The actions of the Administration are a disgrace. They are also an effective admission that they have no real answer to my affidavit and that the President was indeed born in the Coastal Protectorate of Kenya. Playing dirty pool is not the answer. For the avoidance of doubt I held a confirmed reservation in Business Elite class on Delta Flight 402 out of Kennedy back to London on Saturday 21st.
Whilst the young man at the Embassy was perfectly polite and apologetic, the visa section of the US Embassy in London is pretty shambolic. Not to invite interviewees to sit down is a disgrace, as is the absence of an appeal mechanism. The refusal was clearly politically motivated. I may not actually be allowed to enter the United States again until there is a Republican administration.
The Obama Administration is lukewarm about good relations with Britain. Their pivot to China is also a pivot away from the UK.
After all the intelligence I have provided the US, without seeking payment, this was a slap in the face, frankly. Major intelligence players in other countries will get the message – it doesn’t matter how good a friend you are to America, German political influence in Washington is enough to ensure that sooner or later you will get punished if you help America.
Classic Movie of the Week: The Longest Day (1962)
Well there were only two choices, weren’t there, for this week? It was either The Longest Day, or Saving Private Ryan. The latter will become a classic, but it concentrated on a very human story and was fairly narrow in scope.
The Longest Day covered a broad swathe of Operation Overlord, still the biggest single military operation in history.
The ensemble cast was tremendous. There are cameos from John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Rod Steiger, Richard Burton, Henry Fonda, Richard Todd (who was at D-Day), Sean Connery, Kenneth More and hell, just about everybody.
The acting is superb, even if none of the leads was allowed to act to his or her true potential. The movie’s strength is its depiction of the war from the German side. On the whole the Germans are treated pretty fairly. Naturally, I approve! They may be the enemy, but that’s no reason not to be fair to them.
The air and naval aspects of the operation feature only tangentially in the movie, but no single picture could cover every aspect of such a vast enterprise. The soundtrack is stirring, the theme tune being played at today’s main ceremony on Sword Beach.
What the movie does not portray, hardly surprisingly, since Frau Rommel was a consultant and she was checking in with Admiral Canaris of the DVD, is the intelligence background to D-Day. In particular it avoids telling the truth about General Eisenhower.
In the movie he is depicted as being on the Allied side. Well there was a disclaimer at the end and the movie-makers did say that facts had been changed to suit the narrative. The true background will be revealed next week, although of course if you’ve read Spyhunter, you’ll know what’s coming!
Michael Shrimpton is a barrister, called to the Bar in London 1983. He is a specialist in National Security and Constitutional Law, Strategic Intelligence and Counterterrorism. Michael was formerly an Adjunct Professor of Intelligence Studies in what was then the Department of National Security, Intelligence and Space Studies at the American Military University.
Michael’s ground-breaking, 700 page intelligence text “Spyhunter: The Secret History of German Intelligence” was published in England by June Press on April 14th 2014.
Editing: Erica P. Wissinger