The Last Survivor
… by Michael Shrimpton
Congratulations to those who have found their way here! I am afraid that my column has been sent to the naughty step, after a bit of a bust-up over my reporting on Israel’s successful counter-terrorist operation in Gaza.
Yes I will be covering the air strikes on ISIL below, but prompted by his obituary in yesterday’s London Daily Telegraph I thought this week would be an appropriate moment to honor Werner Franz and his comrades on board the great airship the Hindenburg (LZ129).
Werner was just 14 years of age when she went down at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 6th 1937, taking 36 of her passengers and crew with her. Remarkably the majority of those on board survived (hydrogen burns quickly and tends to ascend).
Famously, Werner jumped from the airship just before she hit the ground. She carried a lot of water for ballast and he had been drenched as the tanks burst. He served, honorably, in the Luftwaffe in World War II. Sensibly, after he hit the ground he ran into the wind. This is always a good policy if you have just escaped from a blazing airship, especially one filled with hydrogen.
I am aware, of course, that some of my critics have deluded themselves into believing that I am anti-German. As I explain in Spyhunter I am no more anti-German that Bomber Harris. If a man has served his country honorably in wartime then I respect him, regardless of his nationality.
I don’t usually bump into German veterans, but I have done, and have always seemed to get along well with them, especially Luftwaffe veterans. I will usually be familiar with the aircraft in which they flew.
It is reported that only two survivors, both passengers, are still alive, together with one member of the ground crew. The disaster will always be remembered for Herbert Morrison’s recorded radio account – note, not a live broadcast, as many have assumed. Famously, he was overcome with emotion at the terrible tragedy, which probably says nice things about him as a person. It is also possible that he was expecting to record the destruction of the airship AFTER she landed.
The Helium v Hydrogen Debate
In my opinion too much has been made in the intervening 77 years over the hydrogen thing. Yes hydrogen is a flammable gas (we used to say inflammable, which actually reads better) and yes you have to take precautions, but it performs better than helium. That is to say the safety issues don’t just go one way – in some circumstances the greater lift of a hydrogen-filled airship will allow it to get out of difficulties that a helium-filled ship wouldn’t.
Cubic yard for cubic yard a hydrogen ship will usually have more powerful engines and a greater payload. Of course all modern airships are helium, but it’s not quite the no-brainer you might think. When the Hindenburg’s sister, Graf Zeppelin II (LZ130) was redesigned for helium her passenger-carrying capacity went down from 72 to 40. The application to the United States for helium was made after the disaster, not before. Hindenburg was always intended to use hydrogen.
In fairness to the Zeppelin Company they knew what they were doing, both as regards the design and safe operation of airships. Before her destruction the Hindenburg had made several successful voyages, indeed Werner Franz himself was on his fifth transatlantic crossing. I don’t accept that there was any fundamental defect in the design of the Hindenburg, the greatest airship ever built, nor would I accuse the Zeppelin Company of negligence.
What was the true cause of the disaster?
I respectfully agree with Dr Hugo Eckener’s initial view that the Hindenburg was sabotaged. That was also the view of US Navy airship specialist Commander Charles Rosendahl, who was in command of the landing party and was not only an eyewitness to the disaster, but an expert eyewitness. It was also the opinion of the Hindenburg’s commander, Captain Pruss, who bravely returned to the blazing wreckage in a vain effort to rescue his passengers. He was a man of considerable quality, and a very experienced airman.
Since these three men were three of the world’s leading experts on airship design and operation the suggestion of sabotage is hardly a conspiracy theory. I am aware that Eckener changed his initial opinion, but he lived in Nazi Germany and was vulnerable to political pressure. Hitler, remember, was even more autocratic than the Cabinet Secretary. He certainly liked people to toe the party line, as it were.
The static electricity theory is unconvincing. The Hindenburg was designed to fly through thunderstorms and had done so quite safely on several occasions. Some design changes were made for the LZ130, but only after the official line had switched to static electricity. The LZ130 could not fly without government permission.
Opponents of the sabotage theory have made three basic mistakes, as demonstrated in the movie Hindenburg, starring the great George C Scott. They assume that there was a German resistance movement, they fail to account for the hauling off of the FBI and Gestapo sabotage investigations and they assume a single device/saboteur.
The idea of an organized German resistance movement has always been a myth. It made for some great plot-lines on Hogan’s Heroes, but LuftStalag XIII was a fictional stalag, remember, and the German officer corps did not include officers of Colonel Klink’s level of competence, not until recently at any rate. The myth largely grew out of the Abwehr’s failed attempt to whack Hitler in July ’44. That was nothing to do with the German ‘resistance’ – it was part of an audacious attempted coup, planned by Otto Skorzeny and Admiral Canaris, i.e. it was an intelligence operation.
The Abwehr and its successor agency, the DVD, are the only intelligence agencies ever to have specialised in aviation sabotage. Other agencies have tried to sabotage aircraft from time to time, but compared to the Abwehr and DVD they’re rank amateurs. Movies like the Hindenburg describe what are essentially amateurish attempts to blow her up. Blowing up airships is a job for professionals.
None of these amateurs had any influence over the Gestapo and the FBI. Only one intelligence agency in the world in 1938 had enough pull to yank both the Gestapo and FBI investigations into the loss of the Hindenburg, and that was the Abwehr. The DVD can still apply heat to the FBI if they want. The lead Abwehr agent on the Hindenburg, and the FBI’s chief suspect, was probably the German-American acrobat Joseph Späh, who famously nearly fell off his ladder when his wife told him that the FBI had named him as a suspect.
To the day he died poor Captain Pruss also thought that Späh was the saboteur. Fortuitously, or not, Späh, who traveled on the Hindenburg at the last moment, his fare being paid from an unknown source, had a dog with him, which he regularly visited. The kennels were near the stern, where the fire started. At that point Späh was by an open window, in a good position to escape, which he did. Ho-hum.
The second saboteur was probably Eric Spehl, visited by Späh before he died. The Abwehr would always have two saboteurs for a job as big as this, and Spehl was a convenient patsy. Had he not been fatally burned he would probably have been murdered, indeed he may have been anyway, since he died as Späh was leaving the infirmary, having visited him, and nobody was keeping a close watch.
Späh was seen to be agitated by the delays in landing at Lakehurst. If he had set one of the time-bombs (since the fire appears to have started in two places there must have been two IEDs – there is no law which says you can only plant one IED on an airship) he had every reason to be upset. It’s always best to use an alarm clock with a snooze function if you’re traveling on the airship you’re planning to blow up! Basically, I go with the brave Captain Pruss, one of the greatest airship commanders of all time. I am sure that young Werner Franz served him loyally.
It is perfectly clear that the intent was not to destroy the Hindenburg in the air, but on the ground. The destruction of the Hindenburg came at a time of increasing tension between the Abwehr and the Nazis, who were battling for the control of Germany. Discrediting Hitler, and making a point, was the motive.
I see that Jonas Alexis thinks ISIL is sponsored by you guys! No, with respect. ISIL is sponsored ultimately by the DVD, i.e. the Bad Guys. Forget Mossad, who are the Good Guys, and don’t go around chopping people’s heads off, not unless they deserve it. There are a bunch of ex-Saddam loyalists in there as well – no surprise to those of us who understood that Saddam was a co-sponsor of 9/11 with bin Laden, who had been a guest of his in Baghdad in 1998.
The decision to launch air strikes against ISIL was clearly correct. There is no point however limiting the strikes to Iraq. We need to bomb them in Syria as well. The legal justification in each case is different. Forget the UN – Syria is no longer functioning as a sovereign state.
Assad has lost control of a chunk of territory to a terrorist organisation he has helped to bankroll by buying its oil. That organisation in turn has murdered British and American citizens. We are fully entitled to go to war with them, indeed we have a duty under international law to suppress terrorism. Of course air strikes alone will not do. We have to deploy ground forces, in both Iraq and Syria. ISIL are whackos, and they need whacking.
The Blackman Case
I have refrained from commenting further on the case of Colour Sergeant Blackman, as I had been approached, purportedly on his behalf, and asked if I would act for him. Since I was willing to do so, pro bono, professional etiquette dictated that I refrain from commenting on the issues raised by the case whilst there was a possibility that his solicitors might instruct me. Since Mrs Blackman has been good enough to let me know, via an intermediary, that my services are not required, I am again free to comment.
I have now studied the judgment of the Courts-Martial Appeal Court (2014 EWCA Crim 1024). I do not normally criticise the conduct of a case by fellow members of the Bar (in this case Anthony Berry QC and Peter Glenser, to whom I am sending a copy of these few modest remarks as a professional courtesy), but I am making a respectful exception in this case.
I respectfully agree with the decision of the Courts-Martial Appeal Court as regards dismissing the appeal against conviction. For reasons which frankly are unclear the appeal was limited to a point of law under the UK’s Human Rights Act 1998, the absurd piece of legislation which incorporated bits of the European Convention on Human Rights, largely drafted by the DVD’s Phillip Allen (a notorious German agent, who whilst at the Home Office arranged the hanging of Derek Bentley and Ruth Ellis and manipulated the result of the 1975 referendum on EEC withdrawal) into British law.
My learned friends’ point was a bad one with respect. They argued that the Convention was breached by the simple majority rule which applies in courts martial, under the new system imposed on us by the ECHR, although in fairness that feature survived from the older, much fairer, system, which had no civilian involvement. I have been privileged to know at least two former Judge Advocate Generals, one of whom was a judicial colleague. The old, military system was much fairer and should never have been scrapped.
The CMAC was bound by a previous decision, Twaite, which was binding precedent. It could only be challenged in the Supreme Court, so why challenge it in a lower court? There was a more fundamental problem, picked up by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, a nice chap, with respect. Many jury systems do not require unanimity, indeed the composition, numbers and majorities required vary from system to system. One has to be careful not to look at international treaties through the lens of the common law.
Even within the UK simple majority verdicts are acceptable. I am referring of course to Scotland, where a majority of 8 out of 15 jurors will suffice, even in a capital case, although for the time being they do not have the death penalty in Scotland (the policy in Scotland, as it is in England, being to encourage murderers by having soft sentences for murder).
The other members of the court by the way, were Sir Brian Leveson P (having appeared before him as counsel, I am sure that His Lordship will not mind my saying, indeed I am sure he would take it as a compliment, that he is not the easiest judge before whom to appear!) and Lady Justice Hallett. Her Ladyship, a nice person if I may say so, was made up to act as a Deputy Coroner on the, with respect, pointless 7/7 inquest, i.e. she is no stranger to controversy (unlike myself, I hear you saying!).
I strongly but respectfully criticise the decision on sentence. The minimum period to be served before release was only reduced by a token 2 years, with respect. The starting point, of ten years, was savage, in all the circumstances of the case.
I also respectfully condemn the language of the court, which sends out a signal that the senior judges are soft on terrorism. They repeatedly use the watered-down expression ‘insurgent’ to describe the dead terrorist. The so-called ‘victim’ was a bloodthirsty killer, intent on murdering innocent women and children, as well as members of our Glorious Armed Forces. When found he was armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, which he had no doubt used to kill, and hand grenades, which he would have used on Colour Sergeant Blackman and his comrades in arms without hesitation. He was part of a terrorist unit which specialised in humiliating our war dead. Humiliating our dead in this way is not a standard Taliban tactic, although it is by no means confined to the group of which the slotted terrorist was a member.
The Taliban are sponsored by, and take their orders from, Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Agency, Pakistan being the immediate state sponsor of the Taliban. The ISI does not do things without a reason. Why was this particular unit ordered to behave in this particularly foul and disgusting way? Was it to wind up members of the British Armed Forces on patrol in that part of Helmand Province?
Had I been defending I would have examined the circumstances in which the purported video from Corporal Watson’s helmet camera found its way into the hands of the police in September 2012 more closely. The prosecution version of events – that this was all just a coincidence – may have been right, although the Service Prosecuting Authority with respect takes its ethical lead from the CPS, i.e. lacks the ethical standards to be trusted to conduct prosecutions fairly in a democracy. I am not buying the coincidence theory, and I would want to give that video a second look.
As I have already commented on this website, to prosecute for murder without any autopsy evidence was wholly wrong. The prosecution could not show that the terrorist was still alive when Sgt Blackman fired a 9 mil round into his chest. The terrorist’s corpse was buried on the battlefield, and the prosecution case should have been buried along with it. If the terrorist had been fatally wounded, as the appeal court accepted he might have been, finishing him off was both morally and ethically acceptable, and in accordance with centuries of battlefield tradition. This lunatic prosecution means that in future mortally wounded enemy combatants, both legal and illegal, will be left to die on the battlefield in agony.
The case begins to look more and more like a set-up, from the very beginning, with ISI involved. Sgt Blackman should be given a Royal Pardon forthwith. The disgraced Service Prosecuting Authority should be disbanded, along with the Crown Prosecution Service.
Judges and lawyers have bungled the War on Terror, badly. It was a fundamental mistake for the UK and US to remain members of the UN after 9/11. Just as the German invasion of Poland condemned the League of Nations to the dustbin of history, so should 9/11 have condemned the UN. The organisation and its treaties are an anachronism, based on the same flawed theory – that you can have collective security – as the failed League.
The 1948 UN Geneva Conventions were bad enough to start with, but junk interpretations have made them worse. Liberal judges and lawyers are now even saying that waterboarding is torture, and that we can’t use torture to gather intelligence and evidence, leading to absurdities such as the acquittal in Jordan this week of Abu Qatada, who will probably now be appointed to the Court of Appeal.
I was sorry to learn this week of the death of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, ‘Debo’, the last of the famed Mitford sisters, one of whom met Adolf Hitler, although one shouldn’t hold that against her. You can’t say that someone is bad just because they’ve met an evil dictator. I’ve met Tony Blair, but that doesn’t make me a Bad Guy, except perhaps in the eyes of Jonas Alexis!
Andrew Devonshire, the 11th Duke, was my most charming client, and so far as I know the only one to actually own a Rembrandt.
I wasn’t acting for him individually, but as part of a group of distinguished peers, advising over the legal and constitutional implications of Labour’s silly House of Lords Reform Bill. His father, the 10th Duke, was a very senior Freemason and a major player in British Intelligence (MI18) in World War II, who helped expose the Whitehall Spy Ring led by the very nasty Cabinet Secretary, Sir Edward Bridges.
Book Review – Casino Royale (1953), by Ian Fleming
Welcome to my new Book Review section! Apparently the movie reviews have been a success. At any rate I’ve been asked to write a regular book review as well, starting with the Bond books, of course.
Casino Royale was the first ever 007 novel. It inspired the first Bond movie, starring, wait for it, Barry Nelson, as Bond! In the TV movie, part of a CBS series called ‘Climax’, Bond is mis-cast as an American. If you put aside the casting mistakes, it’s not actually that bad, for an early 1950s TV mini-movie that is, although as a Bond movie it remains a curiosity.
The book also gave its name to the silly 1967 spoof movie, into which big bucks were sunk by German behind the scenes backers in a failed effort to discredit the genre. The 2006 movie starring Daniel Craig pays more than the odd tribute to the book, by then over 50 years old.
Critics generally tend to slam the Bond books, but much of the criticism is simply left-wing pseudo-intellectual snobbery. Just because a book is popular does not mean that it is not well-written. The Bond books genuinely deserve to be described as literature.
Casino Royale is very well-written indeed. It moves at a cracking pace, but there is plot and characterisation. The description of the fictional Royale-Les-Eaux casino is superb, obviously modeled on a casino with which Fleming was familiar. The descriptions of people, such as the French couple at whose establishment Bond and Vesper Lynd make love, and places are very well done.
The intelligence aspects are based very much on Fleming’s own vast experience as an intelligence officer (only a journalist, QC, or politician could be naïve enough to believe that Ian Fleming’s pre-war work for Reuters was not a cover-story). For the benefit of those who have not read them the books are very different from the movies. They are set in the 50s and early 60s for one thing. The timeline for Bond is credible, and he is a much more believable character in the books. They also don’t rely on gadgets, fun though Q’s gadgets in the movies are. The car in Casino Royale the book is a Bentley, not an Aston Martin.
Intelligence officers and specialists will get more from the books than the movies. Casino Royale introduces M, Felix Leiter from the CIA and Rene Mathis from the Deuxieme Bureau in Paris. Mathis is a name virtually ignored in the movies, until recently that is. He actually makes several appearances in the books. Casino Royale is well worth reading and is available from all good jumble sales.
Classic Bond Movie of the Week – Live and Let Die (1973), dir. Guy Hamilton
This is the first movie to star my favorite Bond, Sir Roger Moore (even if OHMSS is my favorite Bond movie!). Famed for its soundtrack and the title song by Wings, Live and Let Die goes in for self-deprecating humor. The chase scenes with the bus, the boat and the Cessna are a hoot. Sheriff J W Pepper is an absolute scream.
Some of the special effects are a bit 1970s – the rubber Mr Big, e.g. – but you can’t complain about the acting. Sir Roger Moore has a wider range as an actor than he is prepared to admit (like me, he suffers from excessive modesty!) David Hedison is a very good Felix Leiter, and uniquely was later invited to reprise the role, in Licence to Kill. Jane Seymour is the leading Bond girl, and very good she is too.
Politically correct critics didn’t like its portrayal of the 70s Harlem scene and black villains, but not all the black people depicted in the movie are psychopathic Bad Guys. Quarrel Junior, e.g. son of the heroic fisherman from Dr No, is on Bond’s side. You could hardly say the movie was racist, given the uproarious way it sends up the Good Ol’ Boys in the Sheriff’s Department.
More to the point, I suspect Live and Let Die started the career of one of the greatest black actors of all time, Morgan Freeman. He is not credited, but I reckon the motorcycle cop in charge at the start of the bus chase sequence is none other than Morgan Freeman, with his wonderful, distinctive, gravelly voice. What do you think?
Future of this column
Whilst I am grateful to my small band of loyal readers, putting my column in the ‘Living’ section has seen its readership shrink to less than 1,000, when earlier in the year it was getting over 10,000 some weeks. It’s no secret that Jim Dean and I have had a bit of a bust-up over my writing on Gaza and strong support for Israel.
I have greatly enjoyed writing for VT, and I value my colleagues, not least Gordon Duff, but a readership of less than 1,000 does not justify the unpaid work involved in writing a weekly column. We’ll see how we go, but for the time being I am going to scale back to a column a fortnight.
There are four broad options it seems to me – syndicating the column, in effect, i.e. having it repeated on other websites, with VT’s approval, of course; setting up my own website, which I’m doing anyway, and putting my column there, copied on to VT; writing for another website (suggestions welcome) and copying that on to VT, or severing my association with VT altogether, which I would be very reluctant to do.
September 27th 2014
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” is available on Kindle.