suez canal

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Otto Skorzeny and The Paladin Group

If any real life historical figure could be a Bond villain, Otto Skorzeny would definitely be a leading candidate. A former Nazi SS commando, stalwart fascist, and Cold War soldier of fortune, Skorzeny was the stereotypical cloak and dagger “bad guy” from any dime store spy novel, complete with a gnarly facial scar. Seriously, he could be a villain straight off of “The Blacklist”. During World War II he was an SS colonel, commando leader, and Hitler’s favorite soldier. He was best known for the daring rescue mission of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who was captured by Allied forces after the surrender of Italy.  He also commanded a special infiltration unit composed of English speaking German soldiers who wore American uniforms and infiltrated American units behind enemy lines. Throughout the war Skorzeny would become one of Germany’s most highly decorated soldiers, participating in and commanding several commando missions.

After World War II Skorzeny was prosecuted for war crimes, but was released when British MI6 decided not to use their evidence against him as it would expose their intelligence networks.  A man without official citizenship with any country, he first lived in Ireland, then Spain after gaining the support of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. He was eventually granted a passport by his home country, Austria, and Spain, but Skorzeny wasn’t the sort of man who needed a passport to travel across the world. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s he was a member of ODESSA, a clandestine group which smuggled ex-Nazi’s out of Europe to avoid war crime tribunals.  He founded a large fascist political network in Spain, which printed and destributed fascist propaganda and created branch organizations throughout Europe and Latin America.  He also served as advisor to Argentinian President Juan Peron and bodyguard to his wife Eva.

In the early 1950’s Skorzeny began to organize a mercenary group mostly composed of German SS, Gestapo, and Wehrmacht veterans.  The goal of the group was to support fascist regimes and right wing extremist movements across the globe. This was mostly in the form of training, especially guerilla groups, but also by providing crack commando troops and boots on the ground. In 1960 his mercenary group was officially incorporated as “The Paladin Group”, co-founded by a rogue American CIA Special Operations officer and ODESSA member named Col. James Sanders. If there was a conflict that occured in Europe, Africa, Latin America, or Asia during the 1950’s to mid 1970’s, you can bet your bottom dollar The Paladin Group (or it’s nameless predecessor organization) had some role in it. The roots of The Paladin Group can be traced back to 1952 when Skorzeny was recruited by CIA man and former WWII German General Reinhard Gehlen for operations in Egypt. At the time Egypt’s monarch, King Farouk (CIA codename “Fat Fucker”) had been overthrown in a military coup, and Egypt was led by President Gen. Muhammed Naguib.  Naguib used Skorzeny and his men to train the newly modernized Egyptian Army and various commando units in preparation for a possible plan to oust British forces from the Suez Canal. Skorzeny would later become advisor to Naguib’s successor, President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

For the most part, The Paladin Group supported fascist/dictatorial regimes or right wing extremist guerilla/partisan movements and vehemently opposed left wing or communist movements.  However, Skorzeny often took jobs that either suited his needs or put a lot of cash in his wallet. A perfect example would be in the mid 1950’s when he was contracted by both the Israeli’s and Palestinians.  Among his most famous (or infamous) clients was PLO leader Yassir Arafat, and Skorzeny planned Palestinian raids into the Gaza Strip in 1953 and 1954.

Throughout the 60’s The Paladin Group served a wide variety of clients. The Spanish Government hired them to fight a clandestine war against the Basque Nationalist Group ETA, they were hired by the South African Bureau of State Security, there were even rumors in the Soviet KGB that Skorzeny was training Green Berets for secret operations in Cambodia and Thailand. One of Skorzeny’s biggest clients was the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddaffi, who hired The Paladin Group to help plan and execute the coup which put Gaddaffi in power, then to train the Libyan Army.

Between 1967 and 1974 The Paladin Group also took part in the organizing and execution of a series of military coups in Greece, leading to a civil war in which the Greek monarch, King Constantine II, was ousted from power and replaced with a military dictatorship.

The Paladin Group came to an end in 1975 with two major events.  First, Otto Skorzeny died of lung cancer.  Second, Francisco Franco likewise passed away.  With Franco gone a new democratic government came to power, one which had little tolerance for fascist organizations.  The Paladin Group was expelled from Spain.  Without a home and the leadership of Skorzeny, The Paladin Group was disbanded.  Peashooter hopes that producers make a retro James Bond movie with Otto Skorzeny as the bad guy. That would be so awesome!

Soldiers of the Highland Brigade assaulting Egyptian trenches at Tel-el Kebir during the 1882 war with Egypt.

Illustration by Peter Dennis.

Quite the Bluff — The HMS Centurion during World War II

Despite a history of being master of the waves, the British Fleet often found itself stretch dreadfully thin during World War II.  Much of the fleet was occupied with defending the British Isles, hunting down u-boats in the Atlantic, and chasing down Germany’s few battleships.  The Mediterranean fleet was especially imperiled as it suffered from major shortages of warships.  One particular worry was that the Italian Navy would attempt to blockade the Suez Canal, cutting off Britain’s vital supply routes to India.

To solve this problem, the Royal Navy dug the old dreadnought HMS Centurion out of the salvage yards.  An aging antique built before World War I, the Centurion had been decommissioned in 1924.  In 1941 she was taken out of the scrapyards and refitted.  However no amount of fixing up was going to prepare the old warship for modern combat.  Instead the Royal Navy had other plans for her.

Repairs were made to the Centurion so that she would be once again seaworthy.  Other than that only cosmetic modifications were made so that the Centurion looked like a modern warship.  This went so far as to mount the turrets of the Centurion with fake 13.5 inch “guns” made from timber which were painted dull grey to look like the real thing.  From 1942 to 1944 the Centurion was stationed near the Suez Canal to deter any enemy ships from attacking.  The Italian Navy, believing the Centurion to be a real, heavily armed battleship, never called the Brits bluff.

In 1944 the Centurion was withdrawn from the Suez as the Italians had surrendered and the British Navy had firm control over the Mediterranean.   During the D-Day invasion she was purposely sunk off the coast of Normandy to act as a breakwater for the beaches. Reportedly the German 352nd Division claimed they had sunk the Centurion with their shore batteries, infliction terrible casualties as only 70 crewmen were seen escaping the ship.  Little did the German know that the Centurion was only manned by a 70 person skeleton crew.

Fusil Semi-Automatique Mle1949/56

Made by the Manufacture d’Armes de St-Etienne post-WW2 until 1965 at a total of 295840 units, including an initial production of 20240 MAS 49.
7,5x54mm 1929C 10-round removable box magazine, gas-operated semi-automatic fire, built-in compensator/Nato 22mm grenade launcher with sights.

This rifle’s had a long and tortuous development, in major parts due to a little historical event you might have heard of. First of all it’s important to note that its action is in fact based on Rossignol’s B5 prototype rifle of the French military rifle trials in the early 1900′s. This is in fact the direct impingement system that would later be used not only in these MAS rifles but also in the American AR series.

The Rossignol B5 ENT-1901 rifle.

In 1938, with a war looming and thus in the very same circumstances that saw France try to modernize its arsenal around the turn of the century, the Manufacture d’Armes de St-Etienne started development of a new semi-automatic military rifle. The resulting weapon was the MAS 38/39 and MAS 40 prototypes, both featuring a 5-round fixed box magazine like the bolt action MAS 36, but making use of the Rossignol system.

The MAS 40 rifle.

About 60 working prototypes were made during the early days of WW2, before being adopted in March of 1940. Unfortunately much like the A6 Meunier in 1913, there were no time or resources to implement a new military rifle during a world war. With German occupation becoming unavoidable, workers at MAS hid the plans to the gun as well as its prototypes.
They did their job extremely well, to the point that Free French forces in their now liberated country had to reverse-engineer the MAS 40 without blueprints to resume production, leading to the creation of the MAS 44.

The MAS 44 rifle.

Less than 7000 Mle1944 were manufactured for use by French Marine Commandos in the later stages of WW2. This is the first iteration of the design to introduce a detachable box magazine holding ten rounds.
Following the end of the war and the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure, the rifle was very lightly modified and rolled out for mass production as the MAS 49. It was supposed to see service with all branches of the French military but only ended up in the hands of soldiers fighting in the conflicts of the Decolonization era.

The MAS 49 rifle.

It was finally after these experiences in the Indochina war, the Suez canal crisis in Egypt and the start of the Algerian war that the MAS 49 was refined into the Mle1949/56, with an overall shortened and modernized exterior more fit of a battle rifle. Before that it still looked very much like the MAS 36 bolt action rifle, which is fine if you’re into hunchbacked Lebels.

The MAS 49/56 rifle ready to fire a 22mm grenade.

August 5, 1916 - Final Assault on the Suez Canal

Pictured - Soldiers from the Black Watch man a position alongside the Egyptian canal.

A Turkish attack on the Suez Canal failed in 1915, but in August 1916 the Central Powers tried a second time to capture the vital waterway that linked Britain to its far-eastern colonies and Dominions.  Reinforced and strengthened by German officers, elements of the Turkish Fourth and Eighth Armies advanced into the Sinai against the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force, which had been organized to defeat them.

German General der Infanterie Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein lead the attack, commanding 20,000 Ottoman, German, and Austrian troops as well as a squadron of German airplanes, which bombed British positions from Port Said to Cairo.   In early August Kressenstein hit the British at Rumani on the Sinai coast.

The battle developed into a pitched infantry and cavalry battle.  It culminated with the British and Anzac light horse making a number of charges with sabres that swept enemy infantry off a series of ridges.  By nightfall Kressentein’s army was withdrawing, having lost over a thousand men killed or wounded and 4,000 taken prisoner.  The Central Powers force fell back with almost all of its artillery however, with the British in pursuit.