Operation Sea Lion

October 12, 2019

Germany could have won World War II and were closer to winning than most people realize.  If instead of invading Russia during the summer of 1941, Hitler had followed the advice of his admirals and diverted more resources to North Africa, the German army would have easily swept aside the British and captured all the oil in the Middle East.  Then, he could have ordered the invasion of southern Russia and captured all of their oil supplies, and it would have been game over for the allies because the Germans would have controlled most of the available worldwide oil.  Another scenario that could have led to German victory was a successful invasion of Great Britain following the surrender of France.  Germany’s plan for this invasion was code named Operation Sea Lion.  If Germany defeated Great Britain, the allies would not have been able to supply the Soviet Union with war materials, and Germany could have gone on to conquer Russia.

Initial German plan; subsequently much changed

The German plan to invade England in 1940.  The Germans were unable to achieve complete air superiority, so Hitler canceled the operation.

By August 1940 the Germans seemed invincible.  Germany crushed the French army and the British Expeditionary Force in 2 months and had 300,000 British troops trapped at Dunkirk along the northern coast of France.  An incredible effort using hundreds of civilian boats rescued these troops and brought them back to England (as depicted in a recent motion picture).  However, the British were forced to leave all their heavy equipment and ammunition behind.  They were a naked army without tanks or artillery.  The British were so desperate for arms the U.S. gave them 300,000 surplus WWI rifles.  At this point of the war the British army was no match for the German Wehrmacht.  3 obstacles stood in the German’s way: the English Channel, the British navy, and the Royal Air Force.  The Germans knew it was critical to destroy the Royal Air Force as an effective fighting force before they could bring their troops across the English Channel on barges.  Otherwise, British bombers and warships would sink the barges and kill thousands of German troops before they even landed in England.  If on the other hand, the German Luftwaffe had complete air superiority, they could sink British ships attempting to interdict the barges.  Operation Sea Lion included a plan to create an alley for the barges using mines and submarines that would also stop British war ships from interfering with the landings.

Germany was winning the air war against England also known as the Battle of Britain.  Herman Goering, Chief of the Luftwaffe, ordered massed bomber formations protected by fighter escorts to attack British airfields.  Though they shot down more German fighters than they lost, England had fewer planes and could not afford the loss in attrition.  England was soon losing more planes and pilots than they could replace.  One day, Churchill, the prime minister of England, ordered a bombing raid on Berlin.  This so infuriated Hitler that he ordered a change in strategy.  Instead of continuing the winning strategy of attacking British air bases, Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe to bomb civilian targets.  With the aid of newfangled radar and coastal spotters British fighter pilots were able to down lots of German bombers without losing as many planes as they had during the previous phase of the battle.  Meanwhile, British bombers sank many German barges that were moving into position to ferry German troops across the English Channel.  Hitler kept delaying Operation Sea Lion until he finally canceled it during October 1940.  The Germans were just too afraid of losing too many troops in the English Channel.

Military strategists have long wondered what would’ve happened, if Operation Sea Lion had been launched.  Most simulated war games have England winning the campaign.  In the simulations Germans were able to land the 1st echelon of troops but 2nd and 3rd waves were stopped by the British navy, leaving German troops stranded.  However, some simulated war games do have Germany winning the campaign.  In any case it would have been a brutal battle.  Churchill writes they would have used poison gas and were prepared to fight a prolonged guerilla war.  The Germans had a list of prominent British intellectuals and Jews they were planning on arresting immediately.

Hitler didn’t hate the British because he saw them as fellow Aryans.  He just wanted them to surrender and let him conquer the Slavs in Russia who he considered a subhuman slave race.  Perhaps this is why he was so eager to turn his attention to Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of the Soviet Union) the following summer.

Reference:

Churchill, Winston

Memoirs of the Second World War

Houghton Mifflin 1959

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Bald Faced Hornets (Dolichovespula maculata) are Marvelous Engineers

October 5, 2019

Humans were not the first species to manufacture paper.  Wasps were building paper nests millions of years before  Homo sapiens  evolved.  The bald faced hornet builds the largest, most spectacular nest of any species of wasp, and I always love finding these in the woods.

Bald Faced Hornet

Bald faced hornet’s nest.

A mature bald faced hornet’s nest holds 400-700 workers.  A pregnant queen emerges during spring and begins building the nest but she is soon aided by workers she births. The hornets make the paper by chewing wood.  The workers are all sterile females, and sterile males also live in the nest.  Meanwhile, the queen keeps laying eggs.  By late fall these eggs become future queens and drones (fertile males).  The queens and drones leave the nest, and the latter impregnates the former.  The pregnant queens than overwinter under cover to emerge the following spring.  Bald faced hornets are carnivorous, feeding upon soft-bodied invertebrates and carrion.  They attack caterpillars, fly larva, and spiders that they then feed to their larva.  The adults get their energy from flower nectar and fruit.  People picking fruit need to be careful not to pick up a piece of fruit being enjoyed by a bald faced hornet.  They love my scuppernong grapes.  Plums are another favorite.

The bald faced hornet is not a true hornet but rather a yellow jacket wasp.  All hornets are wasps, but only some species of wasps are hornets.  Hornets are generally larger in size and less colorful than other species of wasps.  Hornets build paper nests, while most wasps build nests suspended in the air, on the ground, or underground.  But to add to the confusion, bald faced hornets do build paper nests though they are not true hornets.  The difference between true hornets and wasps involves technical anatomical differences that I am not going to cover here.

Bald faced hornet.

Bald faced hornets are widespread and adaptable.  This species expanded throughout deglaciated Canada in less than 10,000 years following the last Ice Age.

Bald faced hornet range map.  Note how they occur in the geographic region that used to be covered by glacial ice.  They’ve colonized territory all the way to central Alaska.  Amazing.

As far as I can determine, there is no Pleistocene-aged fossil evidence of bald faced hornets or their nests.  Insects are rarely preserved, and of course paper nests deteriorate rapidly when exposed to the elements.  I’m sure they were just as common during the Pleistocene as they are today.

The Alum Bluff Fossil Site in Northwest Florida

September 28, 2019

Scientists have known about the Alum Bluff fossil site for 100 years, but a recent study looked at 475 plant macrofossils and identified 46 species.  The site is located along the Apalachicola river where currents have eroded away sediment, revealing strata estimated to be between 13-16 million years old.  The site was dated using mammalian index fossils found in the same geological formation. Index fossils are used for estimating ages when there are no rocks at a site that can be radiometrically dated, but certain fossil species are known from specific ages based on radiometric dating from other sites.  Rhinos, 3-toed horses, and 4-tusked mastodons roamed the earth during the time these leaves, fruits, and seeds were deposited and preserved.  There are only 9 Miocene-aged fossils sites in North America containing plant remains.  In addition to Alum Bluff other Miocene plant macrofossil sites are found in Tennessee, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

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Alum Bluff alongside the Apalachicola River.

The most common plant macrofossils at Alum Bluff are species of palm, hickory, and elm.  The authors of this study believe this site is just a random sample of the local flora as it existed then, and they don’t think it exactly matches the floral composition of the time.  Pine was rarely represented, and surprisingly no oak was found at all.  The species of elm they examined was new to science and extinct, though it may be ancestral to modern species of elm.  Other interesting species included sequoia, ephedra, Jerusalem thorn, elderberry, magnolia, cypress, beech, sweetgum, willow, grape, and sedge.  Sequoia no longer occurs in Florida, and Jerusalem thorn no longer ranges into North America, though it is still found in Eurasia.  The presence of ephedra suggests an arid sandy habitat within a moist forest.  There are also plant fossils that compare favorably in appearance to sycamore and mulberry  but weren’t conclusively identified. 7 species just could not be identified.

Stock Photo: Christ's thorn, Jerusalem thorn Paliurus spina-christi, fruiting.

Jerusalem thorn.  Found throughout Eurasia it became extinct in North America millions of years ago.

Based on the species of plants present, the authors of this paper estimate it was a subtropical climate with an average annual temperature of 66 degrees F and average annual precipitation of 43 inches.  Modern day Tallahassee enjoys an average annual temperature of  67 degrees F and average annual precipitation of 59 inches.  Miocene Florida experienced similar temperatures as modern Florida but was noticeably drier.

Reference:

Lott, Terry; S. Manchester and S. Corbett

“The Miocene Flora of Alum Bluff, Liberty County, Florida”

Acta Paleobotanica June 2019

https://content.sciendo.com/view/journals/acpa/59/1/article-p75.xml?tab_body=pdf

The BDS Movement is Ignorant Anti-Semitism

September 21, 2019

I need a periodical to read when I sit on the can every morning.  Lately, I haven’t been able to settle on any particular magazine or newspaper.  For a while I subscribed to  The Nation, but I got tired of reading their articles unfairly criticizing Israel.  By subscribing to  The Nation I got on the mailing list for a periodical known as  The Progressive Populist. I am a progressive but not a populist.  Populism gave us the likes of Trump and Brexit.   The Progressive Populist also publishes articles unfairly critical of Israel written by Juan Cole–a regular contributor for them.  I never heard of this jerk, but the Wikipedia entry for him notes he espouses the stereotypical anti-Semitic trope that Jews hold dual loyalty to the U.S. and Israel.  (Incidentally, Trump expresses this same belief.)  The column he wrote for  The Progressive Populist that I read was nothing but a grotesquely distorted version of Middle Eastern history.

Adolf Hitler talking to Grand Mufti Haj Amin el Husseini

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was an ally of Adolf Hitler.  Cole didn’t mention this fact in his column glossing over the history of the region.

Juan Cole is considered by some to be an academic fraud.  They say his research is unoriginal and from what I have read merely parrots the ridiculous anti-Semitism taught in Arab schools.  In the column of his that I read he skipped 30 years of history and started with stating how Jewish militants attacked Arabs in 1948, making it sound like the Arabs were innocent victims.  Arab murderers had been attacking and even wiping out Jewish settlements for decades prior to the birth of Israel.  Jews were finally defending themselves, but much of the world considers it a war crime when Jews fight back.  The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, an ally of Adolf Hitler, began a war of anti-Jewish terrorism and violence during 1947, and when Israel declared independence a year later the entire Arab world declared war against them and started an invasion.  The dictatorships of all these Arab nations were patterned after Nazi Germany.  So Israel was battling for its life against Arabs influenced by Nazis.  Cole never mentions this.  Despite an enormous manpower advantage, the Arabs were defeated.

Juan Cole, an anti-Semitic professor on the faculty of the University of Michigan.  The University of Michigan should be renamed anti-Semite University.  John Cheney-Lippold, another professor on the faculty, refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student who wanted to study in Israel because the professor supports the BDS movement. This professor was sanctioned (he had tenure and couldn’t be fired), but 200 professors on the faculty signed a letter supporting him. Other professors host blatantly anti-Semitic guest speakers. Perhaps not coincidentally, there are more anti-Semitic incidents on the campus there than on the campus of any other university in the country.

Many Arabs living in Israel left their homes during Israel’s war of independence, hoping to come back after the Arab armies wiped out the Jews.  Cole accuses Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” but the only real “ethnic cleansing” that would have occurred in this region would have happened if Israel would’ve lost that war.  This left many Arab refugees who were forcibly kept in refugee camps by their fellow Arabs.  Instead of helping their fellows, Arabs wanted their misfortune to fester, so they would feel hostility toward Israel, and the world would become sympathetic toward the so-called Palestinian fate and not Israel.  But there is really no such thing as a Palestinian.  There was never a country known as Palestine.  Zahir Muhsein, a founding member of the PLO executive committee, once admitted as much.  This is what he said: “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people.  It is just an Arab tactic for the destruction of Israel.”  The so-called Palestinians are just Arabs who happen to live in the region.  They are no different from any other Arab.  Arabs who remained in Israel and didn’t flee are now Israeli citizens and can vote and hold political office.

Omir Barghouti, a citizen of Qatar, has lived in Israel since 1994.  He founded the BDS movement in 2006.  The BDS stands for boycott, divest, and sanction; and the goal of this movement is to economically strangle Israel.  Barghouti admittedly doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist, and he wants to see it completely destroyed.  The movement has been a colossal flop–Israel’s GDP has doubled since 2006.  Nevertheless, many liberal academic professors and brainwashed students support the BDS movement.  It is nothing more than ignorant anti-Semitism.  Why are they singling out the Jewish state?  There are hundreds of countries in the world with a worse human rights record than Israel.  For example why don’t they boycott Chinese goods to show solidarity with the Muslims in China who are oppressed by the Chinese government?  It is a moral double standard.  The call to boycott Israeli made products recalls the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses during the 1930s in Germany.

It is popular among critics of Israel to accuse them of “apartheid.”  This is just ridiculous.  Jews live side by side with Arabs throughout Israel.  Israel does restrict movement of Arabs living in occupied territories, but this is self-defense.  Those Arabs have started countless wars of terror against Israel, and many still want to see Israel destroyed.  I would like to ask these people critical of Israel, if they would let someone live in their house who has threatened to kill them.  If not, they are practicing apartheid.

Arabs unhappy living on the West Bank should just move to Jordan.  The West Bank was part of Jordan until 1967 when Israel won that land fair and square in a war.  West Bank Arabs were not clamoring for an independent state when the territory belonged to Jordan.  Over 20 years ago, there was a deal on the table that would’ve given West Bank Arabs an independent state, but they rejected it because they didn’t want to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

The BDS movement is the left’s version of anti-Semitism, but there is plenty of anti-Semitism on the right as well.  Whenever right wingers start talking about George Soros conspiracies, they are engaging in age old accusations that Jews control all the money and power–a classic tool of anti-Semitic propagandists.

Genetic Study Suggests Fox Squirrels (Sciurus niger) and Gray Squirrels (S. carolinensis) May Interbreed

September 14, 2019

Naturalists have observed male fox squirrels chasing female gray squirrels.  Male Squirrels chase female squirrels during mating season, and if they catch the opposite sex, it demonstrates their fitness for procreation.  Fox squirrels have never been observed actually mating with gray squirrels, and as far as I can determine, nobody has ever reported an hybrid between the 2 species.  However, a new study suggests they may interbreed or have interbred in the past.

Fox squirrel a coat of many colors

Black fox squirrel.

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Melanistic fox squirrel I photographed outside Spring Island, South Carolina.  This was before I had the benefit of a telephoto lens.  Click to enlarge.

It is estimated there could be as many as 25,000 black squirrels in the east of England

Melanistic gray squirrel.

The mutation for having a black coat (melanism) arose twice in fox squirrels from 2 different populations–an example of convergent evolution.  Western fox squirrels have 1 allele associated with melanism, while eastern fox squirrels have a different allele associated with melanism.  (An allele is defined as 1 of 2 or more alternative forms of a gene that arose by mutation and are found on the same place in the chromosome.)  Scientists believe the alleles for melanism in fox squirrels arose for different reasons.  The black coat on western fox squirrels helped them stay warm and more active in a region with colder climate.  The black coat on southern fox squirrels helps camouflage them because it makes them harder for hawks to see in a shady canopy.  The allele for melanism in western fox squirrels is exactly the same as found in melanistic gray squirrels.  Statistical models suggest the most likely explanation is interbreeding between fox and gray squirrels, though they can’t rule out 2 other explanations.

The allele for melanism may have originated in the common evolutionary ancestor of both species.  Alternatively, the allele for melanism may have arisen first in gray squirrels and was passed on to fox squirrels.  But the most likely explanation is it arose in fox squirrels and was passed on to gray squirrels during interbreeding.

Melanistic gray squirrels are more common in the northern region of their range because the darker coat keeps them warmer when they are outside during winter.  The authors of this study believe the black coat helped gray squirrels colonize newly deglaciated territory following the end of the last Ice Age when the climate was still quite cold.  They didn’t estimate how long ago fox squirrels passed on the melanistic mutation to gray squirrels.  It seems likely this may have occurred a long time ago when both species had recently split from their common ancestor.

Gray squirrels were introduced to England and have now almost completely displaced native Eurasian red squirrels ( Sciurus vulgaris).  Melanistic gray squirrels are replacing the original population of gray squirrels that outcompeted red squirrels in England.

It’s easy to tell the difference between gray and fox squirrels.  The latter are generally twice the size of the former.  A juvenile fox squirrel may be about the same size as an adult gray squirrel, but it is still easy to identify the correct species.  Gray squirrels generally have a white belly, while fox squirrels are solid-colored on the torso and belly.  Fox squirrels often have masks; gray squirrels almost never do.

Reference:

McRobie, H.; N. Moncrief, and N. Mundy

“Multiple Origins of Melanism in Two Species of North American Tree Squirrels (Sciurus)”

BMC Evolutionary Biology   2019

 

 

17,000 Year Old Cougar Crap Found in Argentina

September 7, 2019

When I was researching cougars for my book about 12 years ago and typed the word into a google search, the page was dominated by information about older women who wanted to have sexual relationships with younger men.  This was an unexpected result.  I wanted to learn more about the big cat,  Puma concolor, not about older women seeking younger men.  I see that has changed since then and there are more balanced results with equal representation between the 2 different definitions.

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Female cougar and young.  I hypothesize Pleistocene adult cougars were spotted.

Cougars were a common large predator throughout most of North America from about 500,000 years BP, until European colonization.  They apparently share a common ancestry with an extinct species of pseudo-cheetah known as Miracinonyx inexpectus.  The cougars that lived in North America then were an extinct ecomorph that was replaced from a population of cougars originating in eastern South America after the great Pleistocene megafauna extinction.  Recently, a cougar coprolite (fossilized feces) was found inside a rock shelter in Catamarca, Argentina.  This region is mountainous and dry, explaining why it was so well preserved.  Scientists used DNA to identify the turd came from a cougar.  They also found DNA belonging to Toxascaris leonine, a parasitic roundworm.  This is the oldest parasitic DNA ever recorded.  Scientists previously thought this species of roundworm was brought to North America inside the guts of domesticated dogs and cats, but this coprolite dates to 17,000 years BP before domesticated pets were brought to the New World.  The species of cat ancestral to the cougar likely brought this parasitic roundworm across the Bering Land Bridge millions of years ago.

Image result for Toxascaris leonina

Toxascaris leonine.

Cougars often ingest roundworms when they eat rodents.  Ingested eggs hatch in the small intestine, and the worms mate and lay eggs that are then passed in the feces.  Rodents consume the eggs and are in turn eaten by the cats and the lifecycle continues.  Adult worms can reach lengths of 3-7 inches.  This species of roundworm can make cats sick, but not as bad as other species that can cause fatal parasitic infections.  T. cati and T. canis  may travel to an animal’s lungs, causing death.  Most kittens are infested with T. cati  through their mother’s milk.  Most survive and naturally get rid of the parasites.  De-worming medications cure infections too.

Reference:

Petrigh, R.; J. Martries, M. Monding, and M. Fugass

“Ancient Parasitic DNA Reveals Toxascaris leonine Presence in Fossil Pleistocene of North America”

Parasitiology 146 (10) 2019

The Alcovy Conservation Center Revisited

August 31, 2019

I wrote about the Alcovy Conservation Center about 2 months ago.  (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2019/06/22/the-alcovy-conservation-center-part-i/ )  I didn’t realize that if I would’ve continued my walk for just a few more minutes, I would’ve reached 1 of the features of the preserve–a cypress/tupelo swamp.  This type of natural environment is common in the coastal plain of Georgia but rare in the piedmont.  On my 2nd visit I followed the trail to the swamp and found it was more like 1 tupelo tree next to a creek, rather than a swamp.  However there are other trails in the preserve, including 1 with a boardwalk that goes through a swamp.  I’ll have to check these out at a later date.

1 tupelo tree does not equal a swamp.

I was also hoping to find ripe pawpaws.  This is the only site in Georgia where I have ever seen wild pawpaw trees, not counting the trees I’m growing in my yard.  Pawpaws usually ripen during mid-September.  The pawpaws here weren’t quite ripe yet, but I picked some anyway, hoping to ripen them at home.

These pawpaws didn’t look quite ripe yet, but I picked them anyway.

I did find ripe muscadine grapes.  They were the best tasting wild muscadines I ever ate.

These muscadines were blackish purple and very good to eat.

I came at the wrong time of day again to see wildlife–another sultry afternoon.  I did see 5 species of butterfly, but they flittered around so I couldn’t take a photo or identify 2 of them.  I did recognize a black swallowtail, a great sulphur, and a common sulphur.

 

Republicans are Evil and Must be Destroyed

August 24, 2019

Republicans believe in 3 principles: tax cuts for the rich, punishing brown-skinned people and poor women, and letting polluters pollute as much as they want.  With their overwhelming support for Trump they have completely lost any claim of having the moral high ground.  Trump is a racist rapist who incited a mass shooting.  And he is a colossal crook.  There is plenty of credible evidence that this racist rapist is guilty of bank fraud, insurance fraud, tax fraud, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, and money laundering.  He is unconstitutionally profiting from the office.  Everyday, he says and tweets ridiculous lies in a way that demonstrates a mind that is falling apart.  Yet, the Republican Party of crooked pigs rarely dares to point to the emperor who wears no clothes.  Trump is a fake president.

My blog focuses mainly on natural history, so I will limit most of this essay to a couple of recent decisions by the Trump administration that will harm innocent animals. Killing the innocent furry creatures is a perfect example of evil.  The Interior department, now unethically led by an oil company executive, decided to allow the use of cyanide bombs to kill predators.  This decision is stupid, unscientific, and mean-spirited.  Studies suggest this type of predator control program does not work.  Coyotes produce larger litter sizes in response to human predation, and cyanide bombs often kill everything except coyotes, including endangered animals and people’s pet dogs and cats.  The Trump administration discontinued studies on the effectiveness of cyanide bombs because they know the science will prove they are wrong.

Trump administration pigs will allow the use of cyanide bombs that indiscriminately kill a variety of innocent animals. How disgusting.

The Trump administration has also decided to roll back protections found in the Endangered Species Act.  They are eliminating protections for threatened species. It will allow industry puppets who now work within the administration to list species as threatened rather than endangered, and they just won’t bother to protect them.

A minority of Americans support the Republican Party, but they enjoy outsize influence.  There are 3 steps that must be taken to politically destroy the Republican Party.  The electoral college must be replaced with a popular vote for the president.  Over the past 20 years the Democratic candidate for president has received more votes than the Republican twice, yet has lost the elections because of this archaic method that harkens back to the days of slavery.  This effects 2 branches of government.  With a popular vote instead of the electoral college, the Democratic president could have picked liberal justices for the Supreme Court.  Liberals would have a 7-2 majority on the Supreme Court, more accurately reflecting the wishes of the American people.  Instead, there is a danger that conservatives could have a 7-2 majority soon, if some of these elderly liberals pass away.  Another change should be a reduction of Senatorial representation in small states from 2 to 1.  The Dakotas, Montana, and Idaho have too much political power for their size.  Is it really fair that rural mostly white people have hundreds of times more political power than inner city mostly black people?  Finally, gerrymandering must be eliminated.  Districts are drawn in many states that give Republicans far more power than they deserve.  Wisconsin and North Carolina are 2 examples of this unfair representation.  The racist Supreme Court recently decided they weren’t going to do anything about gerrymandering because it was a state issue.  Talk about Catch-22.

I know these steps will be difficult to take, but it’s the only way to get rid of the evil Republicans who make up a minority in this country, yet have far more political power than they should.

Napoleon Bonaparte in 1794 Words

August 17, 2019

I always wondered why Napoleon Bonaparte was considered a great military strategist, even though he lost 3 entire armies over his career.  I read a 900 page biography of Napoleon this summer to help me understand his supposed brilliance.  This biography is so detailed as to include such facts as Napoleon had a good report card when he was 12 years old.  I’m writing this essay for those readers who have some interest in Napoleon, but not enough to care about what grades he made in school.

Image result for Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte.  He was a good, hard-working tactician in his earlier years.

Napoleon was born in 1769 on the island of Corsica near the coasts of Italy and France.  His family was of Italian descent and would be considered upper middle class by today’s standards.  His family sent Napoleon to military school in France when he was 10 years old, and he stayed there for 8 years, rarely seeing family members.  A French scholarship covered most of his expenses.  Napoleon was a voracious reader, spending much of his time in the library, and he had few friends.  He became an artillery officer, but most of his early years were spent on approved and unapproved leaves of absences.  He was busy straightening out the family business on Corsica (a silkworm orchard) because his father had died at a young age.  Also, he was reluctant to take part in a French Civil War between royalists and Republican revolutionaries.  He first distinguished himself as a competent military man when the artillery unit he commanded helped the French repel a British occupation of the French port of Toulouse.

European powers were almost constantly at war during this time period.  England used its powerful navy to dominate overseas trade, while France contested with Austria over all the little kingdoms that today make up Germany and Italy (neither of which existed as a country yet).  Victory in a battle usually meant the winner could insert a puppet king on the throne of a little kingdom.  Austria was mostly winning these battles when Napoleon was put in charge of the French army in northern Italy.

Napoleon enjoyed a rapid rise in rank for 2 reasons: his ability, and because most of the older French officers consisted of aristocracy that had been purged during the French Revolution.  Still in his mid-twenties, Napoleon commanded a French army that defeated the Austrians and conquered all of Italy except for Sicily.  Meanwhile, other French generals were losing against Austria in Germany.  Napoleon became a national hero and developed a cult of personality following because of his great military victories.

The French government next assigned the task of conquering Egypt to Napoleon as a way to counter British control of the Mediterranean.  At this time the Ottoman Empire owned Egypt, and it was defended by primitive mercenaries known a Mamluks who fought on horseback with spears and muskets.  The more technologically advanced French army easily outclassed them and conquered Egypt.  Napoleon dreamed of conquering the land all the way to India, like his hero, Alexander the Great, so he led his force across the Sinai desert and into what today is Israel.  The French army murdered prisoners and shot women and children during their advance.  Napoleon’s advance was finally stopped at Acre, a fort just north of the location of modern day Haifa, Israel where a cruel Arab king and his Jewish general organized a defensive stand with help from the British navy.  Napoleon was forced to withdraw his forces back across the Sinai desert because the British navy had blockaded his supplies from crossing the Mediterranean Sea.  Without orders Napoleon snuck across the Mediterranean in a boat, leaving his army to succumb to the plague and a British expeditionary force a few years later.

France was a democracy during this time, the only one in Europe, but it was weak.  The executive branch was run by a committee. France was at war with everybody, highway robbery was common, there was a royalist revolt in 1 province, overseas trade was ruined, and taxation and conscription were unpopular.  Elections were fraudulent, and government corruption was the norm.  A few politicians along with the police and the army decided to use Napoleon’s cult of personality popularity to stage a coup d’état and establish a stronger more autocratic government.  This is how Napoleon was installed as the leader of France.

Napoleon was a competent administrator.  He took measures to stabilize the economy and reduce the rampant armed robbery.  He married Josephine shortly before resuming France’s war with Austria.  While he led the French army across the Alps to reconquer Italy (France had lost it when Napoleon was in Egypt), Josephine had an affair with an Austrian military officer.  After Napoleon discovered this betrayal, Josephine never cheated on him again, but Napoleon had at least a dozen mistresses and fathered at least 2 illegitimate children during their marriage.  He was no great lover, though.  His mistresses referred to him as the 3 minute man.

Napoleon didn’t believe in royalty and thought people should achieve their rank through their ability, like he did.  Nevertheless, he made himself an emperor for life and installed his brothers on the thrones of Naples and Spain.

A peace treaty with England didn’t last long, and Napoleon planned to invade England.  He organized a massive army on the northern coast of France and Belgium.  Austria took this as an opportunity to resume their war with France–a big mistake.  Napoleon was able to rapidly move his army from northern France to Germany where he surrounded and crushed the Austrian army and its allies at Austerlitz.  Napoleon didn’t invent the corps level of operations that allowed him to execute this remarkable feat, but he was the first in history to use it.  Armies used this operational method through WWII.  It allowed for more flexibility and mobility.  Unfortunately, this great land military victory was offset at the Battle of Trafalgar where his navy was wiped out by the British navy.  This led to a long standstill with England, but the Austrians were forced to surrender when Napoleon occupied Vienna.

Napoleon had French, German, and Polish troops under his command.  Nevertheless, Prussia (now just a province in east Germany) decided to fight a war with Napoleon.  Napoleon’s army kicked Prussia’s ass at the Battle of Jenna.  Then he kicked Prussian and Russian ass at the Battle of Eylau. The allies were forced to agree to a peace agreement at Tilsit that overwhelmingly favored France.  Napoleon also used forces to occupy Spain, sticking his brother on the throne.  A long, brutal, and bloody guerrilla war was fought in Spain throughout the rest of Napoleon’s reign.  However, Napoleon sold North America west of the Mississippi to the U.S. because he knew he couldn’t hold that territory, now that he had no navy to speak of. During 1809 Austria declared war on France again and yet again Napoleon’s army kicked their ass, this time at Wagram.  Napoleon now schemed to make Austria a permanent ally.  He divorced Josephine and married Maria-Louise, the daughter of the Austrian king.  This did foster an alliance between the 2 countries, but it didn’t last when Napoleon started losing battles.

Image result for Extent of Napoleon's empire

This was the greatest extent of Napoleon’s Empire.

Napoleon’s economic dominance of Europe demanded that all countries under his influence stop importing British products.  Russia refused to boycott English goods, and Napoleon decided to force them to comply.  He led the French army in an invasion of Russia, hoping the Austrians would help him.  Austria officially agreed but didn’t really.  Napoleon’s overreach led to his downfall.

The Russians avoided major battles and fought rearguard delaying actions as they retreated.  The goal was to lure Napoleon’s army deep into Russia where his supply lines would get too thin and his soldiers would starve.  The strategy worked.  Typhoid fever and starvation took an high toll.  The Russians scorched earth strategy meant there was no food along the main roads.  Groups of soldiers leaving the main roads to forage in the countryside were murdered by Cossacks (irregular Russian cavalry).  Finally, the Russians stood and fought 1 major battle at Borodino in front of Moscow.  The French won, but it was an exhausting fight.  The Russians burned down Moscow, and there was no food for the French army when they captured it.  Napoleon mistakenly thought the Russians would surrender when he captured Moscow, like the Austrians did when he captured Vienna.  Napoleon’s army was forced to retreat back to Germany, and the Russian winter and the Cossacks pretty much destroyed what was left of the French army.

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Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.  There was no food and temperatures fell well below zero everyday that winter.  They returned on foot…they were forced to eat all their horses.

The next spring, Russia, Prussia, Austria, and England all ganged up on France.  Austria and Prussia, tired of getting their asses kicked by Napoleon, adopted his tactics and were much tougher opponents now.  Astonishingly, Napoleon was able to assemble a formidable army from remnants, new recruits, and troops from occupied Spain; but without much cavalry because they had eaten so many of their horses during the Russian campaign.  But now, Napoleon was outnumbered by at least 3-1.  He won a few more battles, but some of his generals and their army units defected to the allies, and he was forced to abdicate his throne.  He was sent into exile to the Italian island of Elba.

Less than 1 year later, he escaped from the island with 1100 men including 80 of his household servants, and he traveled through France gaining defectors from the army.  Napoleon was still popular within the army but was not well liked by the nobility and working class merchants who were tired of their sons dying in his constant wars.  Nevertheless, he regained the throne.  The allies went back to war with France, and this time Napoleon met his match in Belgium against the British general, Wellington.  When military historians war game the Battle of Waterloo, the French side usually wins.  But by now Napoleon was fat, tired, and out of shape.  He reminds me of an ex-champion boxer who makes a comeback when he is past his prime but just doesn’t have it any more.  Napoleon and his officers made numerous blunders that turned potential victory into disastrous defeat.  Napoleon abdicated his throne again and surrendered to the British.

The British sent Napoleon to exile on the rocky island of St. Helena in the middle of nowhere.  This time there was no escape.  He died in 1821 at the age of 51 from stomach cancer after suffering horribly.  Stomach cancer was a disease inherited within his family.  His father, brother, 2 sisters, nephew, and 1 of his illegitimate sons died of stomach cancer–most during middle age.

Reference:

Roberts, Andrew

Napoleon: A life

Penguin Books 2014

 

 

Saber-tooth Cats (Smilodon fatalis) and Dire Wolves (Canis dirus) Did Not Compete as Much as Previously Thought

August 10, 2019

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This classic painting of dire wolves contesting a carcass with a saber-tooth may give the wrong impression.  A new study suggests their diets didn’t overlap as much as previously thought.

A new study analyzing the isotopic chemistry of tooth enamel from carnivores excavated from the La Brea Tar Pits determined there was not as much overlap in the diets of saber-toothed cats and dire wolves as previously thought.  An earlier study examined the isotopic chemistry from bone collagen of La Brea carnivores, and the results of that study suggested the big 3 carnivores (saber-tooths, dire wolves, and giant lions– Panthera atrox) competed for the same prey items.  However, bone collagen can decay and become contaminated, altering the accuracy of the results.  Tooth enamel is more durable, and scientists believe it provides more accurate results.  This new study concluded both saber-tooths and giant lions were ambush predators that lived in woodlands or forests and fed upon forest-dwelling herbivores such as deer, tapir, and woodland bison.  Dire wolves and coyotes (Canis latrans) lived in more open environments and chased down horses, camels, and plains bison.  The diet of saber-tooths, giant lions, and Pleistocene cougars (Puma concolor) resulted in mathmatical values of isotopic bone chemistry identical to those of modern cougars.  The diet of coyotes changed over time.  During the Pleistocene coyotes scavenged meat from megafauna.  Following the extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna, coyotes evolved toward a reduced size and fed more on bone, smaller animals, and even fruit.  The diets of timber wolves (Canis lupus) and cougars did not change following the extinction of Pleistocene megafauna.

The results of this study did not surprise me.  Saber-tooths and giant lions were built for ambushing prey in the cover of thick vegetative growth found more in woodlands than grasslands.  So of course it makes sense they preyed upon animals in those environments.

Reference:

Desantis, L; et al

“Causes and Consequences of Pleistocene Megafauna Extinction as Revealed from Ranch La Brea Mammals”

Current Biology 29 (15) 2019